Book Bits, The Masters

Taisen Deshimaru on Becoming Truly Free

Taisen Deshimaru was a student of Kodo Sawaki who traveled to France to teach in the 1960s. In Paris he set up the headquarters of the Association Zen Internationale and roused a large following. In this excerpt from a book of his teachings compiled by his student Philippe Coupey called Zen and Karma. In it, Deshimaru talks about karma and breaks down the idea that it is simply about a balance of good and bad actions. Rather, he says, karma is ‘intuition over the eternal power of nature’, reminding us that the ‘pure wind and the clear moon cannot be painted’.


For some of you the sound of the river is just noise. You try to get beyond it, to escape it, or to conquer it. That is very difficult to do. It is better to become intimate with the sound than to try and conquer it. Then you will become profound.

Nietzsche has written that to conquer one’s destiny is difficult, while to be indifferent to it is not so good. He felt that one should become intimate with one’s destiny, that one should love it. But Nietzsche was a determinist. Our destiny is not necessarily determined. Nietzsche never really analyzed profoundly this question of destiny.

Other Europeans too, such as Leibniz, dealt with the question of finding harmony in our destiny; and Spengler and Keyserling dealt with the destiny of European civilization on the whole. But they too never really went deeply into the problem. That people should accept their destiny is very fine—but what about those who suffer because of this destiny of theirs? It is not so easy for them to simply accept it, to love it.

The question is: Who is it or what is it which determines our destiny? And how can we analyze this destiny of ours? Through an understanding of karma you can analyze profoundly this question of destiny.

I always say the same thing: to practice zazen is to become intimate with one’s ego. My Master Kodo Sawaki also said this. Master Dogen, using another expression, said that Buddhism means to forget the ego. For him zazen was to forget the ego. There are many other expressions. For instance, zazen can also mean to understand the ego, or to conquer it, or to be beyond it. All these are true.

Through zazen we can resolve our destiny—and our karma too. The questions of solitude, of the ego, and of sex too can be resolved. You must become intimate with sex—but this is not so good. This is a koan. Abandon sex, conquer it, understand it, go beyond it. Forget, abandon, conquer, understand, go beyond solitude, too. And so with karma. How can we understand our karma?

How do we observe it? How can we cut it off? How can we conquer it? How can we go beyond it?

To reflect properly upon this question of destiny, we must have a vision empty of the illusions created by man.

No one can create your destiny for you.

Karma itself teaches us that we have our own personal illusions about destiny. This too is karma.

So karma includes destiny. Nonetheless, if we observe carefully our karma, we can cut off the illusions. And in so doing, we can then jump into a higher dimension—into a dimension of true freedom.

This desire for true freedom, for true freedom of action and true freedom of behavior, is but the other side of karma. It has nothing to do with modern behaviorism. Anyway, this action is the principle of karma.

The doctrine of fatalism is inbred with the hope for eternity. In its fundament, fatalism is an act of surrendering. We surrender to fatalism, and so we hope for eternity. so we create the term (word) destiny, and so we also create the vision of destiny.

But karma is not vision, nor is it illusion. Rather it is intuition over the eternal power of nature. But karma is also reality which enters into intuition.

Do not become an object of the five sense organs. Reality of mind, reality of thought, reality of intuition are not objects of the five sense organs. But this does not mean that they are not real.

The truth is beyond the five sense organs. We can understand this through the practice of zazen.

The real truth cannot be explained through the mouth. This is why I always say: I Shin Den Shin (from Mind to Mind). The pure wind, the clear moon cannot be painted, not even abstractly.

Anyway, to conclude this kusen: the doctrine of karma includes fatalism, and at the same time it is beyond it. Karma is intuition, and through a deep understanding of karma man can find true freedom.


Taisen Deshimaru (1914-1982)
From: Zen and Karma

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