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Katagiri Roshi begins a series of talks on Fukanzazengi, Zen Master Dogen’s universal recommendations for how to practice zazen (seated meditation), by examining the meaning of the critical line, “For you must know that just there, in zazen, the right dharma is manifesting itself, and that from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside.” He introduces a six-component system for understanding zazen from a physical and psychological standpoint, and discusses how important it is to arrange circumstances and let go. He also talks about life at Eiheiji monastery.
Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org
0:00 start of recording
The last sentence of the main subject of Fukanzazengi – Universal Recommendation for Zazen – says:
For you must know that just there, in zazen, the right dharma is manifesting itself, and that from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside.
This is a sort of conclusion of the main subject in Fukanzazengi. If you do zazen, “the right dharma is manifesting itself” means that the original nature of the self is manifesting, very naturally. And also [it means] that “from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside”: from the first, distraction and dullness are going away by themselves, even though there is nothing to force them to go away. This is the real meaning of shikantaza. It is pretty difficult to understand, but this is really true. You experience it in your daily living. Life is really based on this teaching.
When you yourself manifest, if you manifest yourself as you really are, at that time, very naturally, “from the first, dullness and confusion and distraction are struck aside” – because you are manifesting yourself as you really are, from moment to moment. In other words, you can stand up straight, right now, right here, [and] that means you can manifest yourself. So if you can stand up straight, right now, right here, that means you can’t be stumbling over distractions. From the first, they are struck aside.
Particularly when you get angry, when you’re confused, very naturally you really want to express anger and confusion through your daily living. But I don’t know exactly whether the best way is to keep away from anger, or to understand anger, what it really is.
If you really want anger to go away very naturally, all you have to do is, you must be a little bit scared of the world. In other words, if you do gassho, or sometimes, religiously speaking, you pray to God, you pray to the Bodhisattvas, you pray to Avalokiteshvara: “Please help me, please help.” And at least while you are praying to the God, or you are praying to the Buddha, or Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri – or while you are sitting here – there is quietness, tranquility. Well, very naturally, anger is struck aside, from the first.
But we don’t do this; completely the opposite. If you get angry, [you] express. But if you express anger, you know pretty well, the expression of anger influences others. So you create your circumstances, which are called angry world. Then very naturally, people don’t feel good; people get angry with you. And very naturally, anger is sort of snowballing, again and again.
When you do zazen, or when you pray to the gods, “Protect me” – even though you don’t know how to deal with anger, you pray to the gods, “Please help me” – why do you pray to the gods? Does God help you? Does God take away your anger? I don’t think so. Or, maybe you really believe God takes away your anger. Well, in a sense you believe it, but intellectually you don’t believe it, because anger is still anger even though you pray to the gods, even though you pray to the bodhisattvas. Avalokiteshvara is very nice, a bodhisattva expressing Buddha’s compassion. But even though you pray to the gods or bodhisattvas, still there is anger.
So you don’t believe, but in a sense you believe. Finally you don’t know why you are doing it in that way. So finally you say, “I just pray, because I don’t know what to do.” You pray to the bodhisattvas: “Avalokiteshvara, please.” Sit down in front of Avalokiteshvara, make your mind calm, and pray. That’s pretty nice. At that time, there is no room to let the anger express, even for a moment. The anger, from the first, is struck aside. It’s going away. That is alright.
We have the practice of bowing to Buddha. Bowing to Buddha is to express the deepest appreciation to your existence: how sublime life is, how important your life is.
But you don’t understand how sublime your life is, how important your life is, how important a tree’s life is. Even if you understand, that is just a speck of dust of understanding of the human world, so actually, you don’t understand. But anyway, how sublime life is is reality, real reality, completely beyond human speculation. This is reality. This is your life. This is a tree’s life. This is the Sun’s life. This is the Moon’s life. This is the Universe’s life.
So, if it is true, even though you don’t understand, why don’t you express the deepest appreciation to your existence? How? Just bow, to the Buddha. Touching your whole body to the floor, bow. That is a way to express appreciation to your existence.
Before you bow, you must be you, who has already accepted how sublime your life is. And then that’s why you can bow, [because] there is no ego understanding, ego consciousness, or selfish understanding. “I don’t understand” or “I understand” – whatever you say, there is nothing. When you are completely Buddha, when you really accept the sublimity of your life, of your existence, very naturally you can bow. So to bow is simultaneously to accept the sublimity of life. Very naturally, ego consciousness from the first is struck aside. That is what Dogen Zenji says.
So [the first point is], if you do zazen according to Dogen’s mention, or what the patriarchs mention, or Buddha’s suggestions – if you do zazen like this, then as a conclusion of your practice of zazen, very naturally the dharma, the original nature of the self, is manifest. And also, dullness and distraction from the first are struck aside, they’re going away.
But actually we don’t do zazen like this. Zazen is used as a means. At that time, you accept yourself as an immature person.
Through zazen you want to reach a certain higher level, which is called a mature level of human life. [When you see yourself] in the future, at that time the present life is immature or unhappy; that’s why you want to practice zazen. So at that time, zazen is completely a means to an end. That means you already accept your life as not sublime. Your life is unhappy; lack of sublimity there.
If you do zazen like this, as a means to an end, you accept the lack of sublimity in your existence; that’s why you really want to do zazen. But no matter how long you do zazen like this, it’s very difficult to realize real peaceful, harmonious life. Because at that time zazen is a means. Means means you are already creating something as a fixed idea. But the end itself is just actual movement-activity, which is called zazen.
So just do zazen. Do zazen means you are present from moment to moment within the actual dynamic working which is called doing zazen. Becoming one with doing zazen, not seeing zazen as a thing, objectively or conceptually. If you see zazen as a means, it is conceptualized; that’s why zazen is a little bit something far from you. That is the dualistic world.
The important point is, you must accept zazen as total activity, which is vividly alive from moment to moment. Even though you don’t understand what zazen is, accept zazen, which means, do zazen. Even though you don’t understand how sublime your life is, anyway, bow to the Buddha. If you bow to the Buddha, selfish understanding from the first is struck aside. That is shikantaza – very naturally.
Psychologically speaking, there are several component factors in living. One is circumstances. The second is the sensory world, sensory system. And also the movement world, movement system. And also, the gut system: your guts (the internal organ system). We have lots of guts. And also, the brain-nerve system.
The sensory system is to get some information or to give some information to somebody, and to learn information from the outside. Through the sensory system, which is called eyes, nose, ears – so, the sense of seeing, sense of hearing, sense of tangibility, et cetera – that is the sensory world.
The movement system is through the body and the mind, by getting lots of information inside, immediately you can do [something]. Your whole body and mind create a certain energy to compel you to act. That is the movement system; you have this. That is the complete unity of the sensory system and the nerve and brain system, lots of things; and then immediately you can create a certain movement.
And also, the gut system: you have lots of guts. And next is the brain-nerve system.
And one more system: that is total personality.
Total personality is the exact center of your living, the core of your living. Without total personality, you cannot get circumstances, or sensory world, or movement system – nothing.
There is Katagiri; that core of Katagiri is really supported by total personality. Total personality is the character created by Katagiri in the past, in the present, in the future. My parents, my grandparents, and my ancestors; that is total personality.
My personality is something I can create, after my birth, so that is kind of like character. If you say personality, psychologically speaking this is a little bit broad. So my personality is something I can create after my birth, but there is another personality I [can’t] create. I have carried that personality from before my birth; this is maybe my parents, and also maybe what I have carried from my parents, from my grandparents, from my grand-grandparents, and ancestors. That is total personality, the whole personality.
If I see myself – here is Katagiri – immediately there is a certain kind of a sense; a “smell.” A part of this “smell” consists of something I have created after my birth. The other aspect of my “smell” is something I have carried before my birth: from my parents, grandparents, grand-grandparents, and ancestors – maybe from before the world began. So at that point, that personality is really a “smell.” If you see somebody, there is a smell. Katagiri smells.
But Katagiri’s “smell” is a kind of a result that we have judged. From where does that smell come? If you research again and again, finally, there is no evaluation, because you don’t know from where it comes. You have to go back to the beginningless past; you have to go back. And you have to go to the endless future; then you can understand. So finally, that smell is not something evaluated. That is called Buddha – or, the original nature of existence. But psychologically speaking, that is called total personality. Total personality; or maybe trans-personality, whatever you say. (Transcriber’s Note: “Trans-personality” may be referring to transpersonal psychology.)
That trans-personality immediately smells: “I smell something; I smell myself as Katagiri.” So at that time it’s pretty hard to adjust, to make myself in peace and harmony, in a sense. In a sense I feel good, but feeling good is not always feeling good, not always helping you; sometimes it becomes a “stink.” So whatever I feel from my personality, there is always some confusion, waves of the mind. Feeling good, feeling bad; whatever you say, that is a wave, because that feeling comes from a “stink,” which is called total personality. Because I don’t know what my karma is. Why did I become a monk? I don’t know. I know why – but on the other hand, there are a lot of reasons. I don’t know why [exactly], so I cannot say.
That is really a “stink”… But where does that stink of Katagiri come from? Nowhere. You have to really go back to the beginningless past, to the endless future. Finally, that stink of Katagiri, which is called total personality, becomes trans-personality. That is the original nature of existence. That is the core of your daily living. You are already under this core, under this huge tree. It’s vast, a huge tree, because your personality is tuned into the past and the future. You have to believe this. Well – believe it or not, your life is really there.
So that is what is called Buddha Nature. If you want to know psychologically, that is called alayavijñāna in Buddhist psychology. Or sometimes, primitive Buddhism says that is karma.
Karma is completely beyond good or bad, right and wrong, but simultaneously, karma is something which is very powerful to carry your life in the samsaric world. If you want to know karma, you have to go back to the beginningless past, and to the endless future. Finally, there is no answer to what karma is. But karma is with you. How do you know? In your daily living, you can know.
When I became a monk and went to a monastery, at that time monastic life was completely blooming for me, so it really awakened me, every day. My eyes opened wide, and looking at everything, I learned lots of things. But some other monks were always creating a dull feeling, and indulgence, and they didn’t like sometimes doing zazen, and laziness… [He chuckles.]
But for me, it was wonderful. I felt wonderful, but on the other hand, people called me crazy. Of course, maybe so! According to indulgence, maybe to practice hard was crazy. It might be crazy, but I didn’t care, because I learned lots of things. So day after day was really bright. I just did it.
On the other hand, there is a completely opposite aspect of life I learned from all these monks. I really wanted to ask them, “Why do you do it that way? Why are you in the monastery? You want to learn laziness in the monastery? Well of course it’s okay, but what is the purpose? Why are you here?” I didn’t understand. On the other hand, the same applied to me: “Why are you practicing hard in zazen?” I don’t know.
We can create our own everyday life, but on the other hand, there is another aspect of life we cannot create, [which] something compels us to do. So, our daily living is in some aspect understandable, but our daily living is in some sense not understandable. Life is [unintelligible]. That is called karma; that is called Buddha Nature. We don’t understand, because the present – your life – comes from beginningless past, endless future.
We should be there. And finally, we should accept this, and we must be present there, constantly on the big tree. Psychologically speaking, this is called total personality.
Circumstances: In order to realize this core of human life, first of all we have to make arrangement of circumstances, and sensory world, and also movement system, and gut system, and brain-nerve system. That’s why Dogen Zenji said in Fukanzazengi, “Cast aside all involvements; cease all affairs.” This is arrangement of circumstances.
If we meddle with our involvements or our affairs right in the middle of zazen, we cannot experience calmness. You cannot stand up straight, you cannot sit quietly right in the middle of zazen, because there are too many things you are involved in. So first of all, we have to make arrangement of circumstances. Instead of expressing hatred of circumstances, or destroying circumstances, we just make arrangement.
And next, our sensory system. We have a sensory system; it’s not necessary to destroy it to keep away the human world, because we have it already. So instead of maligning or throwing away or destroying the sensory system, first of all we should accept the sensory system. And the important point is, how to use the sensory system.
That’s why Dogen Zenji says, “A quiet room is suitable.” Or, “Do not allow drafts of air to enter, or rain and frost to intrude.” Or, “The place of sitting should be lighted, and kept from becoming dark at any time, day or night.” “Eyes should be open, not too widely, nor too narrowly.” This is how to make arrangement of the sensory world. (Transcriber’s Note: “Do not allow drafts of air to enter,” etc. is from the Zazengi chapter of Shobogenzo, which is distinct from Fukan zazengi.)
So first of all, you should make a choice of circumstances. What kind of a room do you have to use? You have six senses. You can see this room through your eyes. It’s really dark. If you painted this wall red, green, and yellow, you would see it completely differently, don’t you think so? If this room is too dark, it’s not good; if this room is too bright, it distracts your mind, distracts the sense of vision. And also, if you choose a room in a very noisy location, it really distracts the sense of hearing. So the important point is, “A quiet room is suitable,” and also, “Not too dark, not too bright, at any time, day or night.”
So that is how to make arrangement of the sensory world, instead of destroying, escaping from, or expressing hatred toward the sensory world. You should [be aware].
And next, the movement system. The movement system comes from the unity of your physical and mental organs. Your body and mind work, and then simultaneously movement comes up.
You cannot destroy your movement. Sometimes movement comes from instinct; sometimes it comes from the sensory world; sometimes it comes from a higher level [of spirit]. Sometimes, we don’t know. Karma? But anyway, there is always movement.
So we have to make arrangement of movement. For this, Dogen Zenji says, that is the half lotus position or full lotus position. Or he says: “Place both your hands in this manner, close to the body, with the joints of the thumb opposite the navel.” Or, “Sitting upright in proper position, neither inclining to the left nor to the right; leaning neither forward nor backward. Sitting in zazen silently and immobile.”
This is very simple movement. The two hands are unified; your eyes are not wide open, not closed, just [half]. That is unification of the movement of your eye-nerve system. If you open your eyes wide, it really distracts your mind, so not wide, not closed. And two hands put together, lips together, and teeth together; the tongue should be touching the roof of your mouth. And full lotus, or half lotus. Just sit down; not leaning forward, not leaning backward, just straight up. This is movement simplified by our arrangement.
And next, the gut system. For this, Dogen Zenji says, “Eat and drink moderately,” and also, “breathe gently through your nose.”
(Transcriber’s Note: Parts of the next paragraph are very hard to make out.)
Actually, your heart, your lungs, and hormone system, or your intestines, your stomach, are completely beyond your control. They’re going on. Even though your heart is beating, [unintelligible], and then you put the gasoline into it and try to get the energy – you cannot do it. So when you see the heart slowing down, [unintelligible] – that is [the way it is]. Sometimes you have to accept it.
But there is one thing that you can control, and that is the breath. And the breath really influences the whole system: all the systems of the hormones, and the lungs, and the heart, everything. That’s why we try to concentrate on the breath, taking care of the breath. At that time, all your guts work very naturally. The circulation of your breath is pretty good; the pulse is pretty good. And your heart is beating normally, very naturally.
Next, the brain-nerve system. About the brain-nerve system, Dogen Zenji says, “Do not think good or bad; do not administer pros and cons.” Or, “Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no design on becoming a Buddha.”
(Transcriber’s Note: It looks like the translation Katagiri Roshi is using may be Norman Waddell’s, as it says, “do not administer pros and cons.” See “The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo” (PDF File). Alternative translations include “do not judge true or false,” or, “do not consider right and wrong.”)
That is the brain-nerve system. According to the brain-nerve system, we have to regulate the mind. Mind is characterized by attachment: attaching to one of two extreme ideas. This is characteristic of mind. So, we have to make arrangement of the function of the mind …
… “[Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging] of all thoughts and views. Have no design on becoming a Buddha.” Completely throw away any germination of wishes, thoughts, or views. Just [you yourself spin] with zazen. That’s all you have to do.
So Dogen says, “Do not think good or bad, right and wrong,” because we have to regulate the mind, which is characterized by attachment to one of two extreme ideas. That is mind. That’s why we shouldn’t attach to good or bad, right and wrong, or neutral. That means the practice of egolessness; selflessness.
If your mind really attaches to good or bad or neutral, immediately there are thoughts, views, or wishes, and thoughts, views, wishes create the dualistic world. Some go this way, some go that way; always going back and forth. And sometimes – stop it. But even though you stop for a while, you cannot stop always. So you start to move, to the right, to the left. That is the dualistic world.
Finally, you don’t know what to do; and in your life you are really disappointed. That is what is called dullness. Dullness is sort of completely sinking into the bottom of the ocean. On the other hand, there is distraction. Dogen Zenji says distraction is that your mind is scattering in all directions. Even though you sit down here, your mind is going to Japan, to India, to Europe, and all over. That is distraction. And finally, you don’t know what to do. Whatever kind of delusion, either dullness or distraction, both distract your activities. Then within your life, settling yourself in the self is very difficult.
So finally, we have to practice regulating the mind. That regulating of the mind is the practice of egolessness. But how can you practice egolessness? Dogen Zen Master says, if you really simply forget your body and mind, you throw away yourself into the heart of Buddha. That means, you should throw yourself away to something. That to something is to your object. But this object is not merely an object, this [object] is the house of the Buddha.
So first of all, if you want to deal with this book [for example], you have to throw away yourself into this book. But this object is not the book; this book is Buddha. So to throw away yourself into this book means to throw away yourself into the house of Buddha. That means deal with the book as well as dealing with your life. So you can deal with this book with compassion. It’s really compassion. At that time, the book really teaches you something. That is egolessness.
And also, if you throw yourself away, your body and mind, into the house of the Buddha, at that time, Dogen Zen Master says:
When function comes from the direction of the Buddha, and you go in accord with it, then there’s no strength needed and no thought expended. Free from birth and death, you become Buddha. Then there can be no obstacle in any one’s mind.
That means if you throw away yourself into the house of Buddha, that is nothing but expressing the original nature of existence. Very natural; simultaneous.
If you see zazen and you separately, that is a situation in which you can create the discriminatory world, the dualistic world. “I like zazen,” “I don’t like zazen,” whatever you say, that is the dualistic world. So first of all, you have to make arrangement of zazen and you, circumstances and the sensory world; you have to arrange all things. And then, if you arrange all circumstances, I told you before, you should take care of zazen with egolessness.
At that time, the practice of egolessness is to throw away yourself into zazen, [be] perfectly in the [flow] of zazen. Offer your body and mind to zazen completely. At that time, there is no-self. No self. But if you completely offer yourself to zazen, that zazen helps you, simultaneously.
That’s egolessness. Egolessness, based on the spirit of throwing [yourself] away, offering yourself into zazen, is based on the help of samadhi (one-pointedness). Only you can throw yourself away into zazen; you cannot do it without samadhi.
If you want to practice samadhi, one-pointedness, you have to arrange circumstances. Cease all affairs, and all involvements. There is no chance to involve in the sound of the cars, and trees, birds, whatever. Throw away everything, and then you can really focus on just one object. This is samadhi. If you practice samadhi, if you are right in the middle of samadhi, very naturally there is the practice of egolessness, because you can offer yourself to zazen.
So, it’s a very simple practice. If you offer yourself, and then after that if there is no design on becoming a Buddha or expecting a reward, et cetera, at that time this practice is exactly to manifest the original nature of the Buddha: existence.
So, there are three important points: samadhi, egolessness, and no design on becoming Buddha, no design of expecting reward. Those three points are very important.
Egolessness: that is to regulate the mind. How to regulate the mind? Egolessness. How to practice egolessness? Throw yourself away. In other words, offer yourself into zazen. How can you do that? By the help of samadhi, one-pointedness. With wholeheartedness, you can do it, very naturally.
If you really want to accomplish one thing which you want to do, you have to cut off all involvements and all affairs. In other words, make arrangement. The young kids are listening to the radio and also studying and also trying to accomplish one thing; it seems to be good, but it’s not the real achievement or accomplishment of doing one thing that you want to do. So if you really want to accomplish one thing with wholeheartedness, it is very natural that you keep away, you make arrangement of circumstances. This is a very natural attitude to our life. That’s why Dogen Zenji says, “Cease all involvement. Throw away all affairs.” Don’t worry about a certain sound of the cars; throw it away.
How can you throw away? Simplify. You should simplify your activity. [Simplify the relationship with] subject and object. See the relationship simplified between you and zazen, or study, or playing guitar, or whatever. How can you simplify? Let’s practice samadhi. Samadhi is one-pointedness. If you come from one-pointedness, there is egolessness. Let egolessness simplify your life.
Manifest simplicity, simplify your life; because then you can offer yourself to the object: zazen, or study, et cetera. And then, completely simplified, unified, that is what is called harmonious. Or regulating; we use the term regulating. Regulating is not to destroy, not to move from one to another. Regulating means that you know all things, many things around us. First, accept them, and then, how to arrange them; how to use the circumstances, the sensory system, movement system, and also the brain-nerve system, whatever it is. And then, let’s sit down in the core of your total personality. That is Buddha Nature.
And then this total personality, which is called Buddha, is completely perfect and all-pervading. Dogen Zenji says, “The origin of the way is perfect and all-pervading.” [It is] manifesting the original nature of existence. If you arrange the circumstances, and sensory world, movement system, gut system, and also the brain system, nervous system, very naturally you can practice samadhi, you can offer yourself into [zazen], and you can practice egolessness. And also, you can do something without any design on expecting a reward. That is perfect, harmonious life. That is peaceful life.
And then, even though you don’t understand, your total personality is perfectly peaceful, harmonious. How? This is belief. Belief really helps your activities, your practice.
So I told you three important points, but there are four important points. First, belief. That is faith. Faith is total acceptance that your original, total personality is perfectly peaceful, harmonious. That is a huge tree. When you are there, you are saved; and you grow, very naturally. This is faith.
And then, if you are under the huge tree, and saved, at that time that is called salvation. If salvation is experienced directly, that is enlightenment.
How can you experience enlightenment? Well first, practice egolessness. How can you practice egolessness? Samadhi; one-pointedness. And then, just do it. And then if you just do it, there is no design on expecting any reward. Just do it; that is shikantaza. That is really helpful. That is really a way of helping people: offering your merit, the merit of your practice, to all sentient beings.
According to a narrow understanding of human life, first you cut off the root of your weeds, [then] you want to be happy. That’s nice; but it is a narrow understanding – because you cannot completely cut off the weeds. You cannot destroy weeds. Weeds grow any time, anywhere. So the important point is arrangement of our circumstances: how to use the weeds. Even the weeds are nothing but being, which is helping all sentient beings.
So, that is the conclusion of the main subject in Fukanzazengi. That’s why Dogen Zenji says that if you do zazen according to what he mentions, very naturally the dharma is manifesting itself, and from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside. That is the meaning of the zazen [we always do].
If you believe by the zazen that “I should be happy,” or “I want to do something,” this is not real practice. You never find peace and harmony this way, because if you believe that, then zazen is always something far from you. And not only zazen: you accept yourself as an unhappy person. So you yourself are also a person far from the real person, [if you are] opposed to happiness or unhappiness. That’s why it’s pretty difficult for people to deal with you, and also it’s very difficult for you to deal with zazen and whatever you do. So, that is not the practice for us.
1:07:20 end of recording
This talk was transcribed by Kikan Michael Howard. Audio recordings of Katagiri Roshi are being used with permission of Minnesota Zen Meditation Center.
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