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July 22, 2022

Fresh Impression

The Japanese painter Ms. Yuki Ogura has lived to the age of 105. I once accompanied Koichi Tohei Sensei to visit her home in Kamakura.

Yuki Sensei was the wife of Tetsuju Ogura Sensei, one of Koichi Tohei Sensei's teachers, and she took care of Koichi Tohei Sensei whenever he visited Kamakura for Zen trainings.

When I visited her, she was quite old and was happy to see Koichi Tohei Sensei again with tears in her eyes.

Even though Yuki Sensei was in a wheelchair, she continued her painting every day. The day that we visited her, she was painting a still life, with bananas as the subject.

According to her family, the bananas had been ripening each day and consequently changed gradually from yellow to brown and from brown to black. Due to the slow pace of her work, the bananas in Yuki Sensei’s painting also changed day by day.

Finally, when she saw her own painting of black bananas completed, she said.

"It looks not so delicious. ......"

If she only wanted to complete the painting, she could have simply replaced the bananas each day. I was amazed by the way she continued to paint simply what she saw and felt, in a state of pure heart and soul.

It made me think deeply about what it means to paint.


After that, I began my “Uchideshi training”, apprenticeship under Koichi Tohei Sensei.

There were times when it seemed like a big wall stood in my way, and everything went wrong for me. This happened not once, but many times.

One day, I suddenly remembered Yuki Ogura Sensei.

“I see. I am not seeing or feeling what is right in front of me.” My mind was not focused on the present moment.

Then I noticed that, whenever Koichi Tohei Sensei touched something important or wonderful, he reacted as if it were the first time.

When I was accompanying him, I sometimes thought, "The same thing happened last time, so he must have forgotten about it." But actually, it was not so. Instead, it was precisely because each time he turned his mind to something, it was in a completely fresh state, and therefore he was able to receive only fresh impressions from it.

I began to follow this way of seeing. With practice, I realized that I had often gotten stuck on my past experiences, and my mind was not focused on what was right in front of me. Because of noticing this. I learned to use my mind in a completely clear state each time.

This made me think deeply about what practice means.

If we train our body, we can use it better. The mind is the same, and if we train it, we will be able to use it freely.

If we train ourselves to turn our mind to a see clearly every time we repeat something, we will not view it as “just the same old thing.” Instead, each time we will discover something new.

Conversely, if we repeatedly see our events in our daily life as the same, we will develop a chronic habituation and have no inspiration or discovery in those things we experience.

When we get used to people doing something for us, we may take it for granted. Then, we will no longer be able to feel gratitude.

This is a very frightening thing.

During a Q&A session at an external training course I taught for a management association, a business owner told me that he was not impressed by anything he did. This is despite the fact that his business was going well, his family was healthy and there was nothing wrong with him.

His face had a dull pallor, and he had no vitality at all.

When I asked him how he liked his experience in that day’s training, he replied, "Today was fun." And so I asked him, “Then why don’t you start practicing?”

I think that tackling something for the first time with all his body, mind and spirit began to turn his mind to a state of clear awareness. I was so impressed by the fact that when he passed the promotion examination he was as happy as a child!


Even now, at various moments, I remember the paintings of Yuki Ogura Sensei.

Today is another new day!

(Edited by C. Curtis)

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