So I’m digging through my DVDs the other day and I discover a copy of a movie called Buddhist Life. The director was a guy named Luis Carapeto. He was Portuguese. I remember him coming to a number of Nishijima Roshi’s talks and retreats. Then he went back to Portugal. Later on he returned to Japan with a couple of people and a bunch of video equipment to make a movie about Nishijima.

He gave Nishijima a copy on VHS, which I then copied for myself and later transferred to a DVD-R. Then, as far as I knew, the movie just vanished. IMDB doesn’t list it. I checked around the interwebs and the only reference I can find is this listing from a film festival in Amsterdam. It gives the year of production as 2003. I think the movie may be a couple years older than that. But my memory is not so reliable. Amazon has a listing for it. Though the DVD appears to be out of print. So buy the download because maybe Luis is getting some money from those sales. And I’m sure it’ll look and sound a lot better than this third generation copy.

The synopsis on that Dutch film festival’s website says:

“I live my Buddhist life from day to day, from moment to moment sometimes in my office, sometimes in my home, sometimes in a temple. In every situation there was just my Buddhist life.” Gudo Wafu Nishijima was born in Yokohama, Japan. With a new and fresh approach to the Buddhist view of reality and the sense of balance to the philosophical and scientific investigations from last decades, Master Nishijima gives us the coordinates to start to understand Buddhism with our own method of thinking. He wants to pass the teachings of Buddhism to people all over the world who are searching for “Truth”. “We have to say that we live in a succession of moments rather like the frames of a film.” In these frames, from the present moment, the documentary is about Master Nishijima´s daily life that is all ready a Buddhist life.

I uploaded the whole thing onto YouTube this morning. Luis, if you’re out there and you want me to remove it I will. I’m under the impression that Luis and the others who made the movie have kind of forgotten about it at this point. I’m hoping maybe this blog posting might spark some renewed interest in it. I say again unto thee, buy the download! It’s only two dollars, ya cheapskates!

Watching it again I’d forgotten how good it was. It gives you a very honest look at who Nishijima Roshi was when the film was made. It shows him leading one of his annual retreats in Shizuoka for foreigners. It shows him in Europe giving talks and running a sesshin. It shows him talking to students of his from Israel and Ireland. There’s also a wonderful scene of him dragging his suitcase through Tokyo Station. He always insisted on carrying his own stuff when he went on retreats. If you wanted to help him out with his bags you’d have to kind of trick him by grabbing them before he noticed. But he was always very quick.

In one of the scenes Nishijima is in his office at the Ida Soap and Cosmetics Company working on the translation of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika, although the book itself isn’t mentioned. This would have been a couple years before I got involved with it. He was working on that thing for ages.

The opening scenes were shot one morning at Nishijima’s dojo in Chiba prefecture. It was a thoroughly urban Buddhist living space. At one time it had been Ida’s company dormitory back in the days when Japanese companies made new workers live together in dorms. After they stopped using it they gave it to Nishijima to run as a dojo. Then when Mr. Ida died his son decided to take it back and sell the property. Residents were required to sit two periods of zazen each day. Nishijima himself rang a bell at 5:30 every morning to signal the start of the first period. Residents weren’t required to attend that one. But the bell was there to offer encouragement to do so. I never lived in the dojo myself.

I appear at about 2:55 into part two sitting next to Nishijima in the zendo at Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka. I think maybe you can hear my voice as one of the people asking questions in one of the lectures too. But I’m not sure if it’s me or not.

I have to warn you, though. The movie is painfully slow. If I would’ve edited it I would’ve made it a lot speedier. But I think Luis wanted to give viewers a sense of Nishijima’s lifestyle. He seems to be attempting to recreate the feeling of sitting zazen in the form of a cinematic experience. You’ll have to judge for yourself if he was successful or not.




*At the time I posted this, part 3 was still loading up. So you may have to sit some zazen till it becomes available.

119 Responses

Page 1 of 3
  1. Jake Ritter
    Jake Ritter February 1, 2012 at 10:02 am |

    this is really cool, he's kind of hard to understand by my standards but it's really cool to view someone I've only read about.

    also, when i was 15 (I'm 22 now) i searched for hardcore punk in my school library, the only return was hardcore zen. i always had a curiosity about Buddhism, but reincarnation and a few other idea's threw me off, when i read that book it flipped my whole world upside down. I've never been able to sit though, zazen was always just "too hard". I've gone through a lot of emotional pain this past year and the only thing i could possibly think to do was zazen, and to start re-studying zen. I've been sitting a half hour everyday for a month and a half, and i can't think of anything that would have done what the practice has done even in that short time, and I am looking for a group in the frosty north of Maine(not really a hot bed).

    if it wasn't for the way you write, and put the philosophy into context i would have never found even the beginning of the path.

    basically, I'm assuming you look through comments, and thanks to the awesome power of the internet, i want to sincerely say thank you for the work you do.

    so, thank you so much.

  2. Roni
    Roni February 1, 2012 at 10:23 am |

    Thanks, Brad.

    I think the 3rd video is not available. Or is the problem on my side?


  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 1, 2012 at 10:34 am |

    this is really nice, thanks.

  4. mtto
    mtto February 1, 2012 at 11:05 am |

    Cool! Now I have something to watch on my long flight to the Middle East. It's $9.99 to buy the download, $1.99 to rent. I bought it since I'm sure I'll watch it more than once and share it.

  5. proulx michel
    proulx michel February 1, 2012 at 11:06 am |

    At the beginning of the 3rd part are images of the Brussels sesshin: that was 2003. I'm the one translating. Fortunately, you don't see me.

  6. Kyle
    Kyle February 1, 2012 at 11:52 am |

    Thank you very much for sharing these!

  7. skatemurai
    skatemurai February 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |

    Cool video! Thanks!

    proulx michel: Do you know Kaisen Sangha? Did you ever practiced with master Kaisen?

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm |

    Love the crow and the sound of wooden sandals!

  9. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner February 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm |

    Wow. That is your voice, Michel!

    Oddly my memory places this film as being made in the late 90s. Shows you what my memory is good for!

  10. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner February 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm |

    Thanks Jake! Your high school library had Hardcore Zen? What are our schools coming to these days?

  11. Seagal Rinpoche
    Seagal Rinpoche February 1, 2012 at 3:36 pm |

    Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn't more complicated that that. It is opening to or recieving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is,
    without either clinging to it or rejecting it.

  12. Khru
    Khru February 1, 2012 at 3:53 pm |

    I wholeheartedly agree.

  13. Mysterion
    Mysterion February 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. tattoozen
    tattoozen February 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |

    Hey Mysterion,

    Your posts here probably help you from shooting up a post office or something, but I'm willing to make the tradeoff.

    Please stop posting here.

  15. mysterion
    mysterion February 1, 2012 at 7:52 pm |

    Tatoo sed:
    "While there are millions of individual reasons we suffer, they can generally be put into the broad categories of Greed, Aversion, and Ignorance."

    Do you have an aversion to my posting here?

    Do you wish to forever remain in ignorance regarding so many things?

    Really! It's o.k. by me.


    A progressive High School Library would shelf Hardcore Zen.

    Jake said it best:
    "Thank you for the work you do."

  16. Jacques
    Jacques February 1, 2012 at 8:45 pm |

    I thought I caught sight of Jundo Cohen helping to carry a chalkboard in the video? He was a rather thinner version of the corpulent Jundo but I think it might have been him nonetheless.. He is seen smiling evilly at the camera plotting to dispose of Brad so he could become head of DSI.

  17. anonymous anonymous
    anonymous anonymous February 1, 2012 at 9:57 pm |

    mysterion asked TZ:

    "Do you have an aversion to my posting here?

    Do you wish to forever remain in ignorance regarding so many things?"

    mysterion, those two questions have no relationship to each other.. You are the only person who would think so. Your comments help anyone who reads them become more stupid almost immediately.

    For example you said Northern Japan is now destroyed? How is that typical bit of twaddle helping anyone?

    The answer is it's not.

  18. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 1, 2012 at 10:12 pm |

    Thanks, Mysterion, I cancelled my trip to northern Japan…

    Ha ha, Khru, you make me laugh allatime! Thanks for the work you do!

    Saint Brad, I like that.

  19. Harry
    Harry February 2, 2012 at 3:49 am |


  20. anon #108
    anon #108 February 2, 2012 at 4:02 am |

    Thanks for posting the film, Brad. I feel I've been losing touch with what's real lately. A picture of a rice-cake cannot satisfy hunger, but…we'll see.

  21. anon #108
    anon #108 February 2, 2012 at 5:55 am |

    Here's a link to recent recordings of three pop songs by the pop group I play bass in (It says Jan '12 but in fact recorded Sep '11. Two of the tracks are new versions of older songs):


    Inappropriate, off-topic and ego-driven? I guess so, but I would like to know what folks think of them…good or bad.

  22. A-Bob
    A-Bob February 2, 2012 at 6:19 am |

    Hi Brad, I really liked watching the vid thanks. I can't help but wonder what other treasures you have stashed away in your moving boxes.. I never saw your teacher at such length before. He seems very charming and a little amused at being filmed. Too bad he's no longer answering questions on his blog. I'd would have liked to ask him about a couple of things he said.. One being that Buddhists believe in God.. I never quite understood what he is going on about there. Care to weigh in on what he might be trying to say?

    CAPTCHA : preligin : I kid you not

  23. Blake
    Blake February 2, 2012 at 6:31 am |

    Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  24. A-Bob
    A-Bob February 2, 2012 at 6:51 am |

    108, I just now listened to the new songs along with some older ones.
    I like how you came in on "Jessica for Breakfast". Very nice!

    Oh, and "Country Music" reminded me a bit of Wilco.. I liked it. heh

    CAPTCHA : wheav : I kid you not

  25. anon #108
    anon #108 February 2, 2012 at 7:03 am |

    Perhaps my response to the film @ 4.02am was a bit cryptic. I had watched it and found it inspirational…is kinda what I was trying to say, amongst other things.


    Thanks A-Bob. Much appreciated. (Lots of things on the older demos I'd now do differently…but the Jessica bit's not one of them :))

  26. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner February 2, 2012 at 7:04 am |


    I'm writing a whole book about why I think Buddhists believe in God.

    The short answer is that I think God is the most obvious thing. The existence of God is not distant and mysterious. It's the one thing we can rely on without even investigating any further. People who search for God in far away places or in distant times are looking straight past God and into the contents of their own brains.

  27. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles February 2, 2012 at 7:14 am |

    Just past the 2:55 point in pt 2 where Brad appears, Nishijima talks about Master Dogen's dropping body and mind as our "original state," this is what I was talking about a blog post commentary or two back as "raw awareness" prior to the thinking/conceptualizing.

    Nishijima answers a question in the affirmative as to whether or not this "state" remains, or can remain outside zazen.

    The moments before going to sleep and waking up are opportunities to "catch" this original state/raw awareness when first looking for it, unless you have noticed it already in zazen (or otherwise).

    And again, Anon 108, there is nothing "special" about the original state, there are no bells or whistles, "enlightenment" etc., and that is why it is typically overlooked and undervalued.

    The Alchemists in their writings constantly speak of "the first matter" (primum materia) that is essential to transmutation as something that is found everywhere, so basic and common that it is usually discarded or ignored.

  28. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles February 2, 2012 at 7:20 am |

    Oh hey Malcolm! Just saw the link, great tunes!! Thanks!

    I found a used (cheap) cd copy of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars the other day and have been freaking out in a moonage daydream ever since in the car, watching pink monkey birds flying past. Oh, and this just in: we've got five years.

    Rock on, brother.

  29. anon #108
    anon #108 February 2, 2012 at 7:21 am |

    Understood, John.
    Can't argue with that 🙂

  30. anon #108
    anon #108 February 2, 2012 at 7:22 am |

    …I meant @7.14am – but yeah! All of it!

  31. A-Bob
    A-Bob February 2, 2012 at 8:39 am |


    My first thought is that anything said by naming God can be said more clearly by leaving the word shelved.. It can mean almost anything and using it causes confusion imo. Nishijima said in the vid that it is important to think about good and bad. I think God talk is usually not good.. but I'm looking forward to your take.

  32. Mysterion
    Mysterion February 2, 2012 at 8:40 am |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. Mysterion
    Mysterion February 2, 2012 at 8:54 am |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 2, 2012 at 9:26 am |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 2, 2012 at 9:50 am |

    Thanks, Brad, for posting the video. Thanks to Luis Carapeto and crew, I think it has a wonderful feel to it. I especially like the bullet train segue to rustic temple, complete with god-knows-what kind of bird expressing oneness (not) with the han.

    Thanks to Gudo Nishijima, for putting it on the line and in the frame.

    I was struck by Gudo's description of an awareness of the back of the neck and head, and a stretch that is engaged when the chin comes down and in. The stretch, Gudo said, is at the back of the head, and is critical to dropping mind and body. Am I remembering that right?

    Now from my research into cranial-sacral osteopathic theory, the stretch he's referring to is not only from the extensors along the back of the spine and neck to the mandibular bones of the skull (behind the jaw), and thence to the temporal bones, parietals, and occiput, but also to the sphenoid from the same base as the occiput but running forward and upward in the center of the skull finishing as outer portions of the eye sockets. The occiput and the sphenoid flex and extend as the volume of fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord (down to the tailbone) changes, ten to fourteen times a minute. Now the key point is how a stretch from the tailbone to the top of the head (one of Chen Man-ch'ing's three preliminary relaxations, by the by) facilitates dropping body and mind.

    I would say that this is connected to the fact that the pineal gland sits in the center of the sphenoid, and the pineal is the source of melatonin, affecting the rhythm of sleeping and waking. As John mentioned, there's a moment when we are falling asleep or when we are waking up when consciousness takes place freely with an equanimous response to sensation. Emphasis on place, there's a moment consciousness takes place.

    The practice I came up with for balancing the two respirations is really a practice connected with the cranial-sacral rhythm, but it's not possible to realize a hypnogogic state without allowing consciousness to be placed by both respirations. My practice, necessitated by the cross-legged posture, is to set up mindfulness of pitch, roll, and yaw wherever consciousness takes place, allow the weight of the body to rest on the ligaments and fascia that connect the sacrum to the pelvis, and realize activity and feeling out of the place of occurrence of consciousness. The movement of breath comes in because there's a moment where the breath ceases unless consciousness is allowed place in conjunction with both respirations.

    Comes a moment when I notice my state of mind, and I think I will explore "before and behind" with respect to the stretch and activity at the chin (and sphenoid) and at the occiput when the opportunity presents itself. Thanks, Roshi!

  36. Rev. Uncle Willie
    Rev. Uncle Willie February 2, 2012 at 9:55 am |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. Rev. Uncle Willie
    Rev. Uncle Willie February 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |

    Excellent video(s) in spite of the several mentions of the unsubstantiated, or undersubstantiated, pseudoscience that zazen balances the autonomic nervous system.

    Is god the universe or is the universe god?
    I say "No".
    The universe is the universe. Labeling the universe as "god", or anything other than "the universe", is not accurate and usually only results in a misunderstanding rather than a better understanding of the universe.
    It seems to me that "gods" are simply masks, usually anthropomorphic, that people hang on the universe, or parts of the universe, because they find it difficult or impossible to relate to a complex and impersonal universe. The "god" mask is an illusion and the universe is the reality behind the illusion. All other explanations seem to be just rationalizations for irrational beliefs.

  38. Manny Furious
    Manny Furious February 2, 2012 at 10:55 am |

    After seeing some of the posts, I think it's a good thing you're writing an entire book about "God" and "Zen," because there is no two or three or four paragraph response that it going to satisfy a certain segment of the population.

    Hell, a long-ass book wouldn't either, but at least you'd have an opportunity to really try to explain what is unexplainable. Or, rather, point to what is unexplainable.

    I think the biggest challenge is getting people to understand that our typical idea of "rationality" is limited as well as limiting. If we keep thinking in terms of "the universe is or isn't god" or that "people have trouble coping with the amoral impersonal reality of the universe" or whatever else gets tossed out there by the "rational" types, communication is going to be quite difficult.

    I agree with you that the existence of "God" is the most obvious thing in the world. I've thought so since I was a teenager. But it's something that's extraordinarily difficult to communicate with someone who has attached a lot of baggage to the ultimately meaningless word "god."

  39. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi February 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |

    From my earliest religious experience, God was "self-evident". Meaning, that the mere fact of noticing that we are conscious makes God obvious – if one takes that noticing seriously and directly.

    God is in the "self-position", not "out there".

    As for the existence of Gods and Goddesses and so on, we have to look at these the way we look at our own personal existence. We see our conscious self through a huge collection of cells functioning in ways quite autonomous from "us". And yet this functional body and brain obviously see their own consciousness as a "person", and even function in that manner. Why shouldn't the greater (and lesser) patterns of the universe also see themselves as "persons" of a greater (or lesser) nature?

    Buddha criticizes this "self" or "person" as an emergent illusion of these elemental patterns, and this is quite true. One could say that the universe and everything in it is conscious and aware, so that what is emergent is not "consciousness", but self-ness. We experience this self-ness ourselves in the emergence of a self-aware "person" from our bodily elements, so why shouldn't the larger archetypal patterns of the universe also emerge as God-like persons?

    I'd suggest they do, and that while one can analyze the universe in strictly material terms of functionality so as to eliminate the existence of the Gods, we really could do the same with ourselves. People who say the personal Gods are an illusion, but at the same time presume themselves to be real persons, are engaging in the reverse of anthropomorphism. I think what we have to realize is that the universe is self-aware, and that even if that limited self is an emergent illusion, it is also a universal one, applicable to everything, not just human beings. Learning how to relate to the Gods is just as important as learning how to relate to one's own body.

  40. boubi
    boubi February 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |

    Brad Warner said…

    The short answer is that I think God is the most obvious thing.

    Like a super Santa Claus?

    “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.”


    Can the enlightenment by the 10000 things be confused with a Santa's tree? Or with some superior being's presence?

    Or does a newborn baby, or a flower need to get another layer to acquire more "meaning", more "presence"?

    I remember a story (true?) about a passing merchant seeing Siddharta already buddha and asking if the where gods, the answer was that none had been seen.

    Brad, i really mean no disrespect, and i like what you saym and how you say it.
    But from my point of view "it" is.

    And it's not any god.

    But i don't have your realization, so that's maybe why.

  41. Rev. Uncle Willie
    Rev. Uncle Willie February 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm |

    A word of caution that some people here may be using the logical fallacy of "defining god into existence."


  42. A-Bob
    A-Bob February 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |

    Gads.. Saying that if we don't 'see' the obviousness of "God" it is because we have attached a lot of baggage to the word seems backwards. Non-believers are not usually the ones attaching things to the word. What I am saying is that I don't believe in God period. I am not saying that I believe there is no God. I am open to anyone's thoughts on the matter up to a point. Believers are the ones who have decided and attached meaning. And obviously I'm not going to accept anyone's word on this unless they tell me wtf they mean when they say it because people mean all kinds of different things when they start up with this God talk. Now if you tell me "God is the Universe", or "God is Love", or "God is a concept by which we measure our pain."© I'm down with all that. But if someone tells me that the existence of God is obvious, that they've known it ever since they were a teenager.. uh.. No. There is a very good reason why it is difficult for believers to communicate this obvious idea. It is only obvious to them.

    CAPTCHA : furever : I kid you not

  43. buddy
    buddy February 2, 2012 at 1:51 pm |

    I was pleasantly surprised when Nishijima says that zazen is not the only way to achieve the balanced state, or even the best, but simply the easiest. Takes away a lot of the sectarian posturing (pun intended) that occurs here and elsewhere.

  44. Mysterion
    Mysterion February 2, 2012 at 2:07 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  45. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles February 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm |

    Amen, A-Bob.

    Nice nod to John Lennon, too.

  46. Manny Furious
    Manny Furious February 2, 2012 at 6:07 pm |

    Rev Uncle Willie–

    I don't immediately see anyone right off to be making the fallacy of "defining god into existence." If anything, ironically, I think some people run the risk of defining god out of existence. The god of zen experience is not YHWH, or Krishna, or Zeus or Allah or any other typical idea of what "God" is. There is nothing in science that runs counter to the idea of god as I believe Brad and others have experienced it. It has nothing to do with soothing the idea of death or soothing any existential struggles, and in fact such assertions betray a sense of self-satisfaction and smugness–as if the person making the assertion is the only one–or one of the few– who can "face the brutal truths of reality".

  47. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm |

    Zen Safety Tip of the Day:

    If you want to be an
    ordinary zen superhero,

    NO ROBES !!!

    Kobun Chino would have made
    it back to the surface if he
    hadn't been held underwater
    by his FUCKING ROBES !!!

    So remember, kids, No Robes.

    Or, as Edna 'E' Mode, says…

    NO CAPES !!!

  48. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 2, 2012 at 7:16 pm |

    Rick Santorum for President!

    (paid for by the
    Assholes of Amerika
    Super-PAC to elect
    Santorum, Romney,
    Perry, Gingrich,
    Cain, or any other
    puppet douchebag,
    but NOT
    you know who 😉

    I kid you not!

  49. Unknown
    Unknown February 2, 2012 at 7:28 pm |

    Thanks for a good video, yes I think it does an adequate job of describing zazen on film. It's tough to tell people about it since it must be experienced to understand, and even that doesn't describe it if there is no practice. Anyhow thanks again. By the way have you ever noticed that people who say there is no God talk about God the most?

Comments are closed.