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Maître Deshimaru

Master Deshimaru and Zen in Europa

Buddhism was discovered by the West in the 19th century and since this time has attracted great interest : this was the start of Buddhist studies, the first translations, and the engagement of certain intellectual milieus. The Zen tradition became known a bit later through the works of Daisetz Suzuki, which were very influential before and after World War 2. It was more or less an intellectual approach based on the Rinzai Zen tradition. As for the practice of Soto Zen, it spread in the West from the  1960s, first in the USA then in Europe with the arrival in Paris of Master Taisen Deshimaru in 1967.

The Reverend Taisen Deshimaru ( or Yasuo, his birth name) was born in 1914, near the town of Saga on the isalnd of Kyushu. His father was a notable, who was in charge of the local fishing syndicate. His mother was a fervent devotee of Jodo Shinsu Buddhism, of the Pure Land school, founded by Shinran. She transmitted her faith in this school to him. He was also influenced by the ideas of bushido which was widespread in Japan at that time, particuarly in the town of Saga, which was very high in samurai spirit.

In 1935, whilst he was following studies in economics in Tokyo, he started to practise Soto Zen with Kodo Sawaki Roshi, one of the great Zen masters  of the 20th century, who was at that time godo ( an instructor of monks in a dojo) at the temple of Sojiji, one of the two principle temples of the Soto Zen school He wanted to become a monk, but Sawaki Roshi encouraged him to continue to practise as a lay person, which he did for the next 30 years. During the war, where he didn’t fight due to short sightedness, he spent several years in Indonesia,and went back there later.

In 1965 before he died, Kodo Sawaki ordained him as a monk. Taisen Deshimaru felt that he had finally resolved  the contradictions he felt between the spiritual and material aspects of life and  between the teachings of Jodo Shinsu and Zen.
In 1967, invited by a French macrobiotic group,he came to France, where he threw himself whole heartedly into teaching zazen and the Zen tradition. It was just the right moment and his mission rapidly  grew. In a few years, he was giving more and more seminars and practical sessions, he had translated fundamental texts of Zen, published his works, and created the European Zen Association, ( which later became the interntional AZI) The number of his disciples grew and he set up several practice places. At the same time, his activities were also known in Japan. He received dharma transmission from Yamada Reirin Roshi in 1970 and was named Kaikyosokan ( in charge of missionary activities) for Europe in 1976.
From that moment, his missionary work grew and culminated in the creation of the Zen Temple of La Gendronniere in 1979. At the same time, the growing number of disciples, the work of teaching and adapting the tradition, the management of the whole , necessitated even greater efforts. He had a project to bring more Japanese teachers to help him, but he fell ill in 1981.Taisen Deshimaru roshi  died of the effects of cancer in Tokyo on April 30th 1982.
Endowed with exceptional energy, Taisen Deshimaru Roshi was animated by an unshakeable faith in the practice of zazen, in the pure teaching of the buddhas and patriarchs of zen, and in the importance of this practice and these teachings for civilisation in the future.  Although he never named a direct successor and never gave transmission (shiho) he transmitted his faith to many disciples he had trained, amongst whom he had singled some out as future masters.
Founder of Zen in Europe,Taisen Deshimaru in this way implanted a long lasting and living tradition of Zen in a new land.

A text written by zen master Pierre Dôkan Crépon

A video from the monk Stanislas Komyo Wang-Genh

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Maître Deshimaru

En 1935, alors qu’il suit des études d’économie à Tokyo, il commence à pratiquer le zen Sôtô avec Kôdô Sawaki roshi, un des grands maîtres du zen au XXe siècle, qui était alors godo (instructeur des moines dans le dojo) du temple de Sojiji, l’un des deux temples principaux de l’école Sôtô. Il souhaite devenir moine mais Sawaki roshi l’encourage à pratiquer tout en continuant une vie laïque, ce qu’il fait pendant les trente années suivantes. Pendant la guerre, réformé grâce à sa myopie, il passe plusieurs années en Indonésie où il retournera plus tard.

En 1965, avant de mourir, Kôdô Sawaki lui donne l’ordination de moine. Taisen Deshimaru ressent qu’il a alors résolu les contradictions qu’il éprouvait entre les aspects matériel et spirituel de la vie, et entre les enseignements du Jôdô Shinshu et du zen.

En 1967, invité par un groupe d’adeptes français de la macrobiotique, il vient en France où il s’investit totalement dans l’enseignement du zazen et de la tradition zen. C’est un moment favorable et sa mission reçoit rapidement un grand écho. En quelques années, il multiplie les conférences et les sessions de pratique, traduit les textes fondamentaux du zen, publie des ouvrages et créé l’Association Zen d’Europe (qui deviendra Internationale - AZI) : le nombre de ses disciples grandit et il fonde de nombreux lieux de pratique. Au fur et à mesure son activité est également reconnue au Japon. Il reçoit la transmission du Dharma de Yamada Reirin roshi en 1970 puis est nommé Kaikyosokan (supérieur des activités missionnaires) pour l’Europe en 1976.

À partir de ce moment, son œuvre missionnaire prend encore plus d’ampleur et aboutit à la création du temple de la Gendronnière en 1979. Dans le même temps, le nombre croissant de ses disciples, le travail d’implantation et d’adaptation de la tradition, la gestion de l’ensemble, nécessitent des efforts toujours plus grands. Il a le projet de faire venir d’autres enseignants japonais pour le seconder, mais il tombe malade en 1981. Taisen Deshimaru roshi décède des suites d’un cancer le 30 avril 1982 à Tokyo.

Doté d’une énergie exceptionnelle, Taisen Deshimaru roshi était animé d’une foi inébranlable dans la pratique de zazen, dans l’enseignement pur des bouddhas et des patriarches du zen, et dans l’importance de cette pratique et de cet enseignement pour la civilisation à venir. Bien qu’il n’ait pas nommé de successeur direct ni donné de transmission officielle (shiho) il transmit cette foi à de nombreux disciples qu’il avait formés, parmi lesquels il avait désigné un certain nombre pour être de futurs maîtres.

Fondateur du zen en Europe, Taisen Deshimaru a ainsi implanté durablement la tradition vivante du zen dans une terre nouvelle.

Pierre Dôkan Crépon

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