On Ejo Takata by Andreas Ekei Zettl - a monk at Sogenji, Okayama, Japan
Ejo Takata: ¿Cuál es el sonido de una sola mano? - an article in Spanish
S E N D A I R E P O R T on a visit with Shodo Harada Roshi soon after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 by Ekei Zenji
A Japanese Zen Monk Offered 30 Years of his Life to Help in Developing a Foreign Country
Read this article online with photos at One Drop Zen dot org
This is how Takata Ejo Osho, a Zen monk of the Rinzai school, used to describe the way he arrived to Mexico on December of 1967.
Before that, back in Japan, he had received doctorate in Buddhist studies from Hanazono University and underwent Zen practice at Shofukuji monastery in Kobe under Yamada Mumon Roshi. All in all after 20 years, when Mumon Roshi wanted to write out his certificate of transmission he said: “What is the use of that? Nobody gets enlightened by reading it and foreigners cannot even read it anyway. I want to go abroad as you said and see if what you taught me really works there.”
He called his zendo in Mexico 'Zendo Aguila Blanca' (White Eagle Zendo) and would teach his students: “While you climb the mountain you can see the mountain, once you are on the top you cannot see the mountain anymore”, stirring certain inquiry in some of his students. Soon he opted not to use koans, but somehow there were always two questions floating in the zendo: “Who are you?” and “How to serve the people of Mexico?”
Before long the Archbishop of Mexico, Cardinal Dario Miranda, invited him to participate at the ecumenical message opening the Olympic games of 1968. At this occasion he said: “If the athlete can forget himself completely and become one single strength that overcomes all egoistic limits, then the path towards victory will open and the public, while applauding, will express at that very moment its reverence towards life.”
The golden ball rolled in any direction: to the indigenous peasants in the southern mountains of Oaxaca he taught the use of soy beans. Medical health care was not available for people at the fringe of society, so he introduced acupuncture and traditional herbal medicine.
“If I have some soy beans in my hand and cannot teach Zen with this soy beans, I am not a Zen master – if I have an acupuncture needle in my hand and cannot teach Zen with the tip of this needle, I am not a true master of Zen.”
The peasants cleared the mountain near their village and planted a field of soy beans. He showed how to make soy milk which was distributed among the villagers. Among them, an old dying lady accepted it as her only food.
He had no intention to do social work, just being grateful for the food he had been served when he arrived.
“Yumei” - dream, was one of the first calligraphies he introduced, carved out from a wooden block:
Man must have dreams
Man must break dreams
Man must realize dreams
But reality was not always so smooth; in those times he was accused of being a revolutionary. He opened his hand full with soybeans and said: “Yes! and this is my ammunition.” For one whole year his passport was taken away. In one of the indigenous mountain villages he was even put into prison.
A group of children from the villages had received a donation of new music instruments. On their way to serenade the President in the capital they petitioned him out. When the President saw his work he told him: “all Mexico is your prison”.
Yamada Mumon Roshi came to visit in 1972 and 73; together they went to the indigenous peasant village of Ayautla, 700 km south of Mexico city where Mumon Roshi left a pilgrim's hat and a pair of straw sandals and planted some tea seedlings, he had brought from Japan.
With the outcome of Mumon Roshi's calligraphy show in the capital, and some other donations, 21 hectares of land were bought somewhat outside of the city. There, a center was projected where peasants from all around the country could come and be taught appropriate techniques to develop their own villages - “All Mexico is my zendo.”
In 1976 he founded the Mexican Institute for Ryodoraku Acupuncture and introduced a systematic Japanese technique based on scientific research, which was more accessible to western doctors.
As patients gathered he would teach his friends. With some of the outcome of their work together, doctors from Japan were invited to teach. With the years they went on to build the first acupuncture school of Latin America, with a registration with the Government.
There was the vision of searching a new medicine which combines modern western resources with eastern and local traditional ones (as recommended by the World Health Organization).
In this context, he taught about the functions of the left and the right hemisphere of the human brain and the balanced development of both in order to properly combine logic and intuition.
During all the years of building, money was always very scarce, kind of just for survival. Once he wrote a poem about it:
After twenty years of work, more than seven hundred medical doctors and health practitioners had received a course in acupuncture. These courses were nourished by ongoing clinical experience with about twenty thousand patients, each one with data methodically gathered, registered, and used for statistics and diffusion. Also some persons from the indigenous villages were trained to bring service to their villages.
For some members of the team however, it was very difficult to regularly do zazen practice. So he introduced a modernized method of guided development of the group based on the ancient means of the Chinese monk Tozan Ryokai (807-869) for the teaching of Zen. This active method is based on discussion and organizing opinions systematically. While doing this, the participants alternatively use reasoning and intuition. Organizing work in this way builds upon mutual interest and benefit. An ancient form of it has been popularly used in China and Japan, were it is called “Fushin”, meaning community work. In Mexico there is a similar system of social organization which was anciently applied to build the pyramids and actually its use is limited to the indigenous communities, where it is called “Tequio.”
In 1992 the Mexican Constitution was reformed and a certain ban on religion was lifted. Takata Ejo Osho, as a Buddhist representative, was invited to become a founding member of the Mexican Inter-religious Council presided by the Archbishop of Mexico, Cardinal Corripio Ahumada. He held this membership till the end of his life.
By that time, there were zazen groups in three universities and two other places where he sat regularly. The zendo in the National Autonomous University of Mexico had a huge enso calligraphy by Mumon Roshi painted on the wall and also served as a budo dojo where karate, kendo, aikido, iaido and also tea ceremony was being taught to the university students.
His teaching was without many words, he preferred to teach Zen in silence with his own body and his own life. ”I want to be like the air, everybody uses it freely for life, without being aware of it.” - and “Working for society without awaiting any applause.”
Among the writings he left is “Gestation of a New Eastern and Western Medicine in Mexico” which describes his work in society and “The Book of Sutras” which compiles his Zen teaching, the sutras to be chanted and the proceedings in the zendo.
Even though his lifetime was already limited by long disease his dreaming was far from exhausted; one of his later projects was to build a hospital with western and traditional oriental medicine combined.
Whatever he did, wherever he went, he was always in his full essence. He used up this energy till the last hours of his life, receiving people at his hospital bed and giving them some words without any concern of his own decaying body.
Takata Ejo Osho died in Mexico city on June 16, 1997, at the age of 69. 17 years after his departing, the institutions he built are still functioning under Mexican leadership. On the grounds in the countryside a zendo for retreats was built and a stupa in his memory is actually under construction.
'Suigetsu', 'Moon Above the Water', was one of his last calligraphies, carved on a kaihan board for the zendo.
Once he said to a close friend: “Life is a game, lets play big,” stirring again certain inquiry: how can we ever play as deep and correct as you did.
During his lifetime in Mexico Takata Ejo Osho deeply respected and adapted to Mexican tradition and custom. Mexican people would say of him that he was actually a Mexican who for some reason happened to be born in Japan.
In recent years some persons of Mexico have come to train at Sogenji temple in Okayama and also Tahoma Sogenji in the USA nearby Seattle. The abbot of both monasteries, Harada Taigen Shodo Roshi, who is also a Dharma heir of Yamada Mumon Roshi has visited Mexico already three times to teach.
Written by Andreas Ekei Zettl
It was in Mexico City that he encountered Ejo Takata (1928–1997), a Zen Buddhist monk who had studied at the Horyuji and Shofukuji monasteries in Japan before traveling to Mexico via the United States in 1967 to spread Zen. Jodorowsky became a disciple of Takata and offered his own house to be turned into a zendo. Subsequently Takata attracted other disciples around him, who spent their time in meditation and the study of koans. Eventually, Takata instructed Jodorowsky that he had to learn more about his feminine side, and so he went and befriended the English surrealist, Leonora Carrington, who recently had moved to Mexico.