Why the demon?

Oni Zazen – Shunsō Shōju (1751-1839; Hakuin’s student)

Oni is a demon in Japanese mythology. He’s crude, rude, angry, and generally unpleasant. Why choose such a nasty beast as a mascot for creative passion?

Shoju’s ink drawing above depicts an Oni sitting zazen next to an offering of incense. He illustrates that this practice of attending to whatever arises with bare awareness, and the liberation that it brings, is available to everyone. Immediately, in every moment.

Intelligence or lack of it does not matter; between the dull and the sharp-witted there is no distinction. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the Way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Going forward in practice is a matter of everydayness. – Eihei Dogen, Fukanzazengi

Dogen reminds us of the immediacy of reality and its accessibility to all. The liberation Buddha found isn’t limited to ascetics on mountaintops or divine intervention. Even a demon can sit upright and alert, and just take care of this.

This concept and approach was a lesson that guided me through very difficult times throughout the journey I’m documenting on this site. The discipline of zazen and attending to what arises taught me to transform the dark times with equanimity and compassion. I learned that the demon was a teacher, and my passion and direction came from the dark times as much as the light. I chose to make Oni the mascot for my new efforts to understand and create, as a reminder of the dark times past, and those ahead.

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