June 10, 1979 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi expands on the six-component system for understanding zazen that he introduced in the previous talk. He further discusses the relationship between regulation of body and mind, samadhi (one-pointedness), egolessness, “no design on having a reward,” and shikantaza (just sitting). The distinction between “religious zazen” and philosophical or psychological zazen is explored. There is an extended question and answer period.


Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org


Katagiri Roshi: … Whatever kind of questions you have about the subject I mentioned yesterday, this morning I would like to discuss them. Do you remember? Did you have some questions while I was talking about that yesterday?

Well, let’s think of what I said yesterday. If what I said yesterday is graphically shown – well, I will show it, okay?

[Katagiri Roshi’s voice gets more remote from the microphone, and there are sounds of him writing on a blackboard.]

Yesterday I told you, number one is circumstances.

Number two, that is the sensory system, the sensory world through the five consciousnesses. Contact with the objects: seeing, hearing, and touching, [et cetera]. That is the sensory world.

The third is the realm of movement; that is, broadly speaking, the body. So, according to zazen, this is really regulation of the body.

And fourth is the internal organ system. The internal organs work very smoothly, perfectly in balance when you do zazen; that is very important. And also in your daily living they must be going smoothly, perfectly in balance. This is the internal organ system. That is really regulation of the breath. Yesterday I told you the heart, lungs, intestines, nerves – the central nerves or [further out], whatever they are – you cannot control them. They are completely beyond human speculation, human control. Only the breath is one thing you can control; that’s why regulation of the breath is very important.

The fifth is the brain-nerve system. So that is, according to zazen, regulation of mind.

Also number six is, I told you yesterday, the whole personality or total personality; the personality that, according to general Buddhism, is buddha nature, or according Buddhist psychology it is called karma.

That total personality has a double face. One face is karma; you have carried this from the past. And the other face is [that] that total personality is completely beyond human criticism; that is really buddha nature. You cannot know what karma is, because karma comes from the beginningless past, and is going to the endless future. So that’s why in Fukanzazengi, Dogen Zenji says, “The origin of the way is perfect and all-pervading.”

And then also, if you do zazen, the original face of existence appears, manifests itself. That is, as Dogen says in Fukanzazengi, [perfect and all-pervading]; the origin of the way, the origin of existence, is perfect and all-pervading. That is buddha nature. If you do zazen, immediately [it] appears. That is what is called the original nature of existence manifesting itself.


So that is really the total picture of our personal living, everyday life.

That’s why for circumstances, all we have to do is, first, we have to throw away all involvements, and also cease all affairs. At that time, we cut [them] off; [sit]. Completely we are free from circumstances. But it doesn’t mean that we destroy circumstances; circumstances are existent, but they don’t bother us. So circumstances just exist.

[The] point is, usually we are completely tossed away by circumstances. That’s why Dogen says that in zazen, we have to first be free from circumstances. That’s why we have to throw away, cease all affairs and all involvements. This is the first thing we have to do.

And then, second, he mentions that we have to make arrangement of the sensory world. So, let’s […] choose the room: not dark, not bright. That is the sensory world.

Also there is regulation of the body; so we have to have full lotus or half lotus position, and hands in the position of the mudra. And also, finally, we have to sit in the proper way, immobile.

Even though you sit quietly, your body is always shaking and moving, because there is a certain gap between zazen and you. That is what is called suki in Japanese (隙). Suki is a crack, or [a pivot]; a crack between the two objects. Immediately you can see mental or psychological agitation, so mental or psychological agitation immediately becomes the physical wave. That’s why if you sit quietly, you don’t see [it], but actually you always move.

So, sit in the proper way, immobile; and immobile means just sit physically, and also mentally, psychologically, you must be completely one with sitting. Because if you have a mental, psychological gap, slip, or crack between two objects, you and zazen, it means that, when attention slackens, certain signs of laxity appear. That is called suki, or crack […]. And then immediately, your body is moving.

So that means it’s not real zazen; so [the] continuity is broken up. At that time, you can create suki. That is mental or psychological agitation. That’s why we have to do zazen not with the mind first, but with the body: legs, hands, and the whole body. But [the body] is very closely related related with mind, number five. That’s why if there is [a] mental, psychological crack, the body shows something.

So if you do zazen, immediately that is really closely connected with number six, [total personality.] Because if you become one with zazen physically, there is no sign of oneness between zazen and you. Very naturally, there is no sign of concentration. That means you are connected with number six: manifestation of total personality. You can manifest very naturally.

That’s why we do zazen physically first.


And then fourth, if you do zazen concentrating with [the] breath, that regulation of the breath leads the internal organs to work smoothly, very naturally. The amount of oxygen is spent less than usual, and also carbonic acid gas is produced less than usual. Well, sort of like this, if you control the breath. “If you control” means if you pay careful attention to your breath, very naturally your breath is going to slow down a little bit. When you inhale, the inhale is a little faster, and the exhale is a little slower and longer.

Because when you exhale it’s pretty easy to create a mental, psychological crack. Through the psychological crack, [usually] there is something missing. Because that mental crack means that when the [continuity] is broken up, attention slackens, and certain signs of laxity appear. That is called suki, or crack, mental crack. So [you] completely concentrate on taking care of your breath, becoming one with breath, and then simultaneously, by the regulation of the breath, you are closely related with total personality, very naturally. Because physically [unintelligible] very well.

That’s why if you concentrate, which is called practicing samadhi (one-pointedness), through the regulation of the body and the breath, you can very naturally experience calmness, tranquility. And then you experience enlightenment, the highest spirit of life.

This is in both Hinayana or Mahayana [Buddhism]; everybody. All the [kinds of] Buddhism emphasize this kind of zazen.


The [fifth] point is regulation of the mind; that is very important in shikantaza.

I told you yesterday, if you do zazen, first you have to do zazen while making arrangement of circumstances, the sensory world, and your body and breath. [He taps on the blackboard for emphasis on body and breath.] And then that’s where life leads you to connect very powerfully to the center of life that is total personality. That’s why if you do this, very naturally you can experience something.

But at that time, the point is, you have to do zazen with mind!

That mind is characterized by attachment: attachment to one-sided, extreme ideas. If you experience something good, mind immediately attaches to it. If you don’t experience anything, mind really wants to attach to a certain highness of spirit, which you will not yet experience. So you’re really greedy; that is also attachment. If you experience something wrong, you really want to escape from it; that is also attachment. So, mind is characterized by strong attachment.

That’s why there is [a] most important thing, which is called regulation of mind. You have to do zazen with body and also mind. That mind must be egolessness. [He pronounces ego-less-ness phonetically and writes it on the board.] That egolessness is something you can manifest […] through throwing away yourself into zazen, or giving away yourself to zazen, offering you to zazen. That is called samadhi. [He writes it on the board.] So by the help of samadhi, you can really practice egolessness.

So, samadhi is what? Samadhi is completely [flow]; regulation of the body, regulation of breath. Anyway, through offering your body and mind to the body and to the breath. And then, at that time, you can experience samadhi. By the experience of samadhi, you can practice egolessness. That is regulation of the mind.

That […] is called no [design] on having a reward. [He writes that on the board.]

So if you concentrate on body and breath, that is samadhi. By the help of samadhi, there is the practice of egolessness. But that is not enough. So egolessness [is] something which we have to actualize, every day, in moment after moment. When you see the breath: long breath, you should take your long breath, short breath, you should take care of short breath. […] Practice the continuation of samadhi; at that time, there is the practice of egolessness.

That egolessness is what is called “having no design of having reward.” [That’s why,] finally, something is left. That something is just activity. That is called shikantaza.

So, this regulation of the mind doesn’t connect with this (shikantaza). Of course, it connects, because regulation of the mind is really closely related with number three, regulation of the body. The body and mind are one; that’s why it’s very close. But if you completely practice the regulation of the mind based on samadhi and egolessness and no design on having any reward – at that time, you don’t know; you cannot perceive what total personality is, what […] buddha nature is. You can experience it, but you don’t know what it is. It doesn’t connect. In a sense it connects, but it doesn’t connect [totally]. So you don’t know what it is.


Usually, there is always some attachment. [People say,] “Zazen is for the sake having the experience of enlightenment.” Any kind of book says it in that way. “Do zazen so you can attain enlightenment.” Or, “Zazen makes you strong.” Or, “Zazen makes you happy.” Et cetera. It’s always [said so]. “By the regulation of the body and regulation of the breath, you can preserve physical and mental health.” That is [that] zazen is seen as a means.

But in shikantaza, there is no sense which is called for the sake of. “If you do zazen, you will be healthy, mentally, psychologically, or physically” – nothing to say. All you have to do is practice samadhi, through the regulation of the body, through the regulation of the breath. And then at that time, there must be the practice of egolessness, based on no design on having any reward. So that’s why finally there is something left, which is called actual practice, activity. That’s all.

This is shikantaza. Shikan taza. [He writes it on the board.] That is really Buddha’s zazen – as a religion. Not philosophical, not psychological. That shikantaza is Buddha’s zazen, religious zazen.

Taza is just to hit right in the middle of the head of zazen, completely beyond whether you can know or you can’t know. You have to hit it. That is just practice. Taza is just do it. Actually you have to do it, right now, right here.

Shikan is egolessness, or samadhi. If you have some ego sense, you cannot practice samadhi, because ego sense creates a certain gap, or mental crack, or slip. Through the crack, cold air blows. So, that is not real samadhi. [Unintelligible], we have to practice samadhi in zazen.

That’s what I said yesterday. So, if you have questions about this, please, let’s discuss.

[There is the sound of seats being rearranged. Katagiri Roshi returns to his seat.]

So, that’s why yesterday I said, as Dogen Zenji says, “Dharma is manifesting itself and from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside.” How can you do it? If you practice like this, immediately dullness and distraction from the first are struck aside. They drop off, very naturally. So very naturally, total personality appears. But the problem is, you cannot perceive what it is. That’s a problem. Because mind is always wanting to poke its head into the hole, whatever you do. Like a cat! That is characteristic of mind: analyzing, synthesizing.

Do you have any questions?


Question: I don’t understand circumstances; I don’t quite understand the idea.

Katagiri: Circumstances are outside; outward circumstances. The sound of the car.

Question: Situation? Environment?

Katagiri: Situation. Mmm-hmm. Environment.

Although, there are lots of environments. Some environments are connected with you directly, but some environments are not connected directly; they are indirectly connected. But even though there are some environments connected indirectly, they are also environments; we cannot ignore them. Circumstances includes all things, all environments, connected directly or indirectly.

For instance, we are in America. We don’t know what’s happening in Japan. But Japan is an environment – connected indirectly. Or consciously or unconsciously, everything is connected.

That’s why if you do zazen, immediately you think something which you have never thought. Don’t you think so? For instance, Paris? I have never been in Paris. But when I sit zazen, immediately Paris appears in my head. Because I know [about it], maybe. So Paris is also one of the environments for me.

So cut off all things. “Cut off” means put them aside. You cannot destroy them.


Question: Roshi, did Pali scriptures or did pre-Mahayana scriptures talk about these six categories?

Katagiri: No, I don’t think so.

Same person: Where do they appear?

Katagiri: Well, the regulation of body, regulation of the breath, regulation of mind, is the teaching of Zen Buddhism, the practice of zazen, through regulation. So that’s why I want to explain that. But those six categories are very common categories according to psychology.

Same person: I see.

Katagiri: So, you know them pretty well.

If you don’t understand number one, number two, number three, four, five: number one is circumstances, environment; number two is the sensory world; number three is body; number four is internal organs, breath; number five is brain and nerves. Do you understand?

Same person: Oh yes.

Katagiri: Well, it’s very easy. So that’s why, according to zazen, we can make arrangement of those five, or at least four. And then immediately, you can get a chance to manifest total personality, because all circumstances are perfectly arranged.

For instance, if you want to feel comfortable, you cannot get a comfortable feeling without making arrangement of the environment. That’s the environment: number one, number two, number three, number four. So anyway, first of all make arrangement, that is the point. Instead of escaping, or attaching, or destroying, et cetera.

But on the other hand, the problem is we have a mind. [The] mind is trying to attach to a certain result which we have experienced. That’s why zazen immediately is seen as a means to an end. So you say, “Let’s do zazen; you can attain enlightenment.” Or, “Zazen makes you happy, zazen makes you strong, psychologically, mentally.” It seems to be good; but actually it’s not the real experience of touching the core of the problem of life and death. Life and death is completely no design. [The basis] of life and death has no design on having a reward after doing or before doing. Just do. So death is a good example.

So that’s why the regulation of the mind is very important.


Question: Roshi? We talk about and we chant that the natural condition of mind is to be free from clinging. Sometimes I wonder, I’m not clear about, if it’s our natural condition to have this freedom from clinging, why is it so difficult for a human being to see it or to attain it? It seems like it requires so much continual regulation and it’s almost impossible to attain it. Why is this called the natural condition in life?

Katagiri: Well, in a sense it’s not difficult; in a sense it’s a very simple practice. You think it is difficult because your consciousness is limited by your education and your environment, and you try to see your experience. At that time it’s really difficult to know or to experience [the] natural [condition], or the basis of ego consciousness, et cetera. But usually, I told you, total personality: through this person, through this you, we can see the total personality.

In a sense, according to the common sense – you know, consciousness, our sense, our mind – I can “smell” you. Or, I can smell myself. That is a “stink,” in a bad sense; but in a good sense, it’s pretty good. So the total personality shows you the judgement, good or bad. But that good or bad is something you understand through consciousness.

On the other hand, that total personality comes from where? Beginningless past, and endless future. So finally that’s total personality, [so] Katagiri is Katagiri. So why don’t I take care of Katagiri with compassionate attention, completely beyond judgement [of] good or bad, right and wrong? So we must be right in the middle of total personality, everyday life. Total personality is the core of life, so we must always be there.

So from this point, it’s pretty easy, no difficulty. That’s why Dogen Zenji says that the Buddhist faith – if you believe total personality, or buddha nature, whatever there is – within total personality or the original nature of existence, there is no suffering, no confusion, no agitation, et cetera. Completely perfect.

So it’s pretty easy, in a sense. But in a sense, according to the six consciousnesses, it’s pretty hard. Because in the six consciousnesses we can understand our life according to the huge pile of experiences which we have accumulated. That’s why it’s pretty hard. Arrangement, regulating the body – it’s not so easy, because you have your own posture. From where does that posture come? You have accumulated it from the past. But, here is the proper posture: why don’t you do it?

So basically, it’s very easy: just do it. Just, proper posture. But it’s not easy, because you already have your own posture, and also you already have your [own] sense. You don’t like pain, you don’t like being uncomfortable; that is our preconception. That’s why, if we try to have proper posture, we don’t feel good. From this sense, it’s pretty hard. But it’s not pretty hard: proper posture is just proper posture.

Same person: In terms of the senses, it seems like zazen is not natural. It seems like […] when your legs are hurting badly, that’s your body naturally telling you that something is wrong. You know, the pain is a sign that there’s something wrong. And so from a sensory point of view, it doesn’t seem very natural. [Katagiri Roshi laughs.]

Katagiri: It’s not masochism, okay? [The group laughs.] Don’t misunderstand. There is physical ache, physical pain… well, it’s pain. So, it’s not necessary to commit suicide. Physical pain is in the mind, up here. Even though it is natural.


Question: (Transcriber’s Note: This question is mostly unintelligible on the recording.) Roshi? … [about] regulation … if at some point you’re experiencing something that seems good, pleasant, then there’s a natural tendency to think you’re doing something right in terms of regulating your body … Then maybe the next moment, you experience something [that seems like suffering], and there’s a natural tendency that you seem to be doing something wrong. Is that the correct way to look at it?

Katagiri: Well, if you see the sleep, it’s not right, but it’s not wrong.

Same person: (This is still mostly unintelligible on the recording.) But I mean, in terms of regulation… If it seems as if you are experiencing something that’s tranquil … There’s some effects of that… You want to have that happen again. But isn’t that the purpose of regulating everything, in order to have everything working smoothly?

Katagiri: Regulating is not to control. Basically, we have to regulate what? Body and breath. These are something that have to do to the minimum in zazen. Number one, number two, regulating. At that time, many things happen: sleep or not sleep, dizziness, fantasies, many things. But they are just a [bump]. Our mind attaches to it, if you see that “oh, that’s good,” “that’s bad.” But without mind, if you let it go, just [a bump]. Come back. If you see the sleep, just sleep: “Oh, it’s sleep.” If you realize. Awareness is important, okay? And then, [adjust]. That’s why there is number three, regulation of the body: sitting in the proper way, immobile. It means, sitting with the body and also mind, which leads you to awaken totally [to anything].

That’s why at that time, the mind is very sharp. Immediately you catch something which happens – sleep or not sleep, dizzy or some other condition between sleep and waking up, you can realize [it]. If you see the sleep, just awake. All that you have to do is regulate the body; that means, let’s sit down, right now, [totally in your body]. The mind immediately attaches to it and gets it – good or bad, right or wrong. Awareness is just to see, and correct, adjust. [That’s] just the total dynamic working. That is awakening, that is wisdom: see, and adjust. Very good.

The mind is always there, interfering, judging good or bad. [Enlightenment, practice] – that is no design.


Question: Roshi? It seems like that adjustment is constantly in the direction of samadhi – you constantly make that adjustment, but how do you – ?

Katagiri: Well, maybe it depends on the individual; maybe so. But, constantly adjusting and adjusting – what’s wrong with adjustment? [It’s] just all that adjustment. Just adjustment. But if you adjust and you say, “Oh, constantly I have to adjust” – is there something wrong? …

[Tape change.]

… immediately you attach to the adjustment you have made. [You] try to judge, “it is good,” or “it is bad,” “I am doing zazen,” “this is the real zazen,” or, “this is really shikantaza,” et cetera. Do you understand?

Question: Roshi, I wonder the same thing. I sort of feel like the effort is to follow the breath, and then suddenly I realize I’m getting a little sleepy, or I catch myself thinking about something. And at that time, you’re saying, just return to your effort to follow the breath.

Katagiri: Mmm-hmm… That’s all.

[There is a pause.]

Is that something wrong?

Same person: No.

[Katagiri laughs.]

Same person: I just wanted to make sure I heard you.


Question: Roshi? Sometimes so many things come up, especially the first couple days of sesshin, it seems like it takes enormous effort to return to the breath. Should we use that enormous effort?

Katagiri: [Use] enormous effort, but we cannot continue enormous effort. So, sometimes [use effort]; don’t attach to enormous effort constantly. Sometimes enormous effort makes you exhausted. At that time, forget it! Just relax, okay? [The group laughs.] Just relax! And then, taking a breath, and a short breath, and a long breath; letting [it] go.

And then […] you take a breath very naturally, as naturally as you can. And then, your mind can calm. Maybe it takes an hour? Maybe two hours; maybe a day. It’s okay. And then if your mind is very relaxed, let’s return.


Question: Roshi? Are you saying then that you should just go with whatever amount of effort you feel?

Katagiri: Mmm-mm. No.

The center is always the center. Okay? You must be in the center.

So you have to see. [Someone] says many things always happen [in zazen]; and at that time you really need lots of effort. Sometimes you need that enormous effort. Of course, you have to push yourself. And on the other hand, it’s not always good. In the process of using the enormous effort, you can see that lots of things happen […] which you have never seen before – so, [you are] adding something more, adding to the enormous effort. There are lots of extra things happening. For instance, enormous effort makes you exhausted: that is something extra. That’s why in the process of enormous effort, we have to see what enormous effort is. We have to take care of enormous effort.

Same person: I’m a little confused, I’m not sure I’m understanding you. What I was thinking of is that, sometimes I have enormous effort to put out, or even if I don’t feel it right now, I can get myself to put it out. Other times, I don’t have the effort here; I could try to force myself to find it, but it really feels like I don’t want to put much effort. I thought I understood you saying to [the person] that when we’re feeling not a lot of effort, it’s okay to go with that for a while.

Katagiri: In zazen there is a basic rule, [there is] a basic way of life which is called zazen. Physically, already we have it here. That’s why, even though you forget the enormous effort, still there is an effort, physically. Breathing.

That’s a point, but in daily living, it’s a little different. For instance, a person’s diet may be difficult. But still there is that you must be [in the] center of life. It means, even though you forget enormous effort, it’s not necessary to be confused by [it]. “To be confused by” means you are completely dragged away by the “mess”; lots of questions. So, still there is effort. “Forget enormous effort” doesn’t mean completely throw it away; still there is effort.

Same person: So there’s kind of a minimum level, that you always have to…

Katagiri: A minimum and maximum; it depends on the situation.


Question: Well, how does this compare with… Let’s say if you read Kapleau Roshi’s books, and a Rinzai approach is to just force yourself continually to break through and find some kind of enlightenment. Do you see any merit in that, or are you saying that that isn’t necessary?

Katagiri: Yes, it’s necessary, because that is the regulation of the body, regulation of the breath. Through the concentration, [this and that], samadhi, you can attain enlightenment. According to Rinzai, maybe that is the main purpose of zazen: through zazen you have to attain enlightenment, that’s why the teachers push you so hard. That means, you are Buddha but you are not Buddha now, so why don’t you attain enlightenment? So, the subject is already seen in the dualistic world. And also zazen is seen in the dualistic world.

Of course, it is okay. But the final stage is not that zazen and subject and object should be seen in the dualistic world. We have to take care of subject and object according to total personality. We have to settle ourselves in total personality, from the beginning to end.

That means, finally, we have to do zazen with no design on having any reward. That means, offering yourself perfectly.


Same person: I was reading an account of Tibetan Buddhism, and the author was talking about Zen, and they were talking about the purity of Zen. You know, it sounds like you’re talking about Zen in a very pure sense of just entering nondualism. And they were saying that for very rare people, they can go into that very pure practice and get into it, but for say the typical American, who’s completely caught in dualism, they can’t just step into that kind of purity, they have to work on it step by step, and Tibetan Buddhism gives you the various steps to work on, so you can get to that pure point. It sounds like that’s what you’re saying, that me as an individual striving for enlightenment is already dualistic, and so you’re being very pure about it. But maybe me as a person caught in the middle of duality, how can I get into that kind of purity? Isn’t that awfully hard?

Katagiri: Well, that is not only Americans, but also Japanese, or whoever you are. But if you attain enlightenment in dualism, that enlightenment is nothing but dualistic enlightenment; that’s all. Don’t you think so? That means dualistic enlightenment is sort of [the] “dregs.” It’s pretty hard to see those dregs… sort of always a trace, or track.

Same person: You’re saying that it isn’t really the enlightened state of mind?

Katagiri: No, I don’t think so. It seems to be good; wonderful. [In that little] things are encouraging people. But finally, if you attain enlightenment in the dualistic world, it’s nothing but enlightenment in the dualistic world.

For instance, I will show you calligraphy written by a first grade child who is an expert of calligraphy. So you should look at this and learn calligraphy. And then, this child tells you that you are great: master of calligraphy. Can you imagine? That is enlightenment. Do you understand?

Same person, and others: No.

Katagiri: A first grade child, who is master of calligraphy. But a first grade child is a first grade child; they’re not a perfect master of calligraphy. So, in the realm of first grade children, he is a master, an expert. But he is still, well, a childish calligrapher.

This is interesting, so I will give you this example. So you should practice with this; day after day, you should write [calligraphy]. Finally, this professional person says to you, you have reached the highest level of calligraphy. What is that? Do you understand?

Same person: No, I still don’t get your point.

Katagiri: So that is the highest level of calligraphy you can reach – that is what? It’s perfect?

Same person: I don’t see it.

Another person: Are you saying the highest calligraphy level is in the first grade?

Katagiri: Well… [The group laughs.]

Another person: He means if a first grade child tells you that you’re a master, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a master.

Katagiri: No… If I practice, okay? If I practice calligraphy by looking at his calligraphy, written by a first grade child, but he is the best person in the realm of first grade children. Is that clear?

Another person: Highest in the first grade class?

Katagiri: Sure. Mmm hmm. [Laughter.]

So it is different from the great masters’ calligraphy, the second grade and third grade calligraphy. And then, I believe that is interesting calligraphy, I like it. So, I want to practice it, again and again. And then finally, the kid says, “Katagiri, your calligraphy is good, so I will give you a certificate. You are a Master of Calligraphy.” But look at this: this is nothing but the calligraphy written by a first grade child. The same, don’t you think? Do you understand?

Another person: And you’re comparing that [to a] teacher … of meditation.

Katagiri: Yes, yes, that’s right. Sure, it’s a wonderful, wonderful calligraphy – but you don’t understand. But it’s universal, everyone understands this is good. [Or] even though you don’t understand it is good, some great authority of calligraphy says, “This is the best in the world.” And then even if you don’t like it, you look at this, and write it, again and again. Maybe it takes time. Maybe tomorrow you could be a master, but maybe it takes time, too. But it doesn’t matter. Whatever happens, always we have to look at that kind of example, and we have to write it again and again.

That means, if you attain enlightenment in the dualistic world, that is nothing but dualistic enlightenment; that’s all.

So “no design on becoming Buddha” – such zazen is pretty hard. We don’t understand it. But this is a very good example, because it is nothing but the problem of life and death, that’s all. So we have to look at this, and follow it.

But on the other hand, lots of [real] zazen in the dualistic world – psychological, philosophical – that’s very fine. Rinzai, and Tibetan, and many things. I don’t criticize them; it is okay, because it is still enlightenment. But that enlightenment is nothing but [the] dualistic world. Even though you become a master of calligraphy under the guidance of the first grade child, well it is a master calligrapher, but it is nothing but master calligrapher under the guidance of a first grade child, that’s all.

Is that clear? Is that okay?


Question: To carry that analogy further: does that mean that to practice under a teacher, that teacher is like a calligrapher? Then to do zazen with a teacher…

Katagiri: A teacher and his teaching.

Same person: … and his teaching – Dogen, Buddha – again and again you’re doing the calligraphy, until it’s like the teacher’s calligraphy?

Katagiri: Mmm hmm. I think so; that is the best way.

Same person: So if the teacher is a poor teacher, then there’s no way you could…

Katagiri: Yes. Well, you can attain enlightenment, that is but a poor enlightenment. Minimum size of enlightenment, highest size of enlightenment; well, there are many kinds of enlightenment.

So, the teacher is important, but the teacher is a teacher – that this teacher also followed – of real zazen. I have to teach real zazen. I have to show [the] real zazen mentioned by Buddha, and Dogen, et cetera.

Same person: Our connection to Dogen and Buddha is through you?

Katagiri: [Sure.] The teacher is Buddha, and Dogen, and patriarch, simultaneously. That’s why the teacher is also a student, who is continually learning, every day. Working like Dogen, and buddhas, every day.


Question: Roshi? Is that why… You don’t see Zen emphasize other realms; you know, like having psychic experiences, or coming in contact with bodhisattvas and buddhas, or demons, things like that? And Tibetan Buddhism, for instance, seems to really emphasize entering these other worlds. Is that because of that; because those other realms still exist in duality?

Katagiri: Sure. Even though I don’t emphasize them, we are with them already, don’t you think so?

Same person: I don’t know. I have no idea. [Everyone laughs.]

Katagiri: You don’t like them, but you are already present with them. That’s why you suffer, no? Don’t you think so?

Same person: Can you ever see them?

Katagiri: Oh, you can see them. [Katagiri and others laugh.]

Can you see this? I want to ask you. I think so.


Question: Roshi? It seems to me that you’re trying to do something a little different than most of the other teachers in the United States. It seems that you’re not so concerned with us fitting exactly to the older way of teaching, and that people who won’t fit exactly into it should leave and not participate, and you should either sit or go. It seems more like you’re trying to show us that anybody can practice, and they can fit their lives at least partially to practice; so that you’re more willing to have people fit as much as they can, and if they don’t fit a hundred percent, that’s okay. You know, just fit your life to practice as much as you can; just do that. Is that true? Is that what you see yourself doing?

Katagiri: I don’t understand exactly…

Question: Well, like at other Zen centers, with training periods and sesshins, they’re very rigid, and if you don’t fit their schedule exactly, you don’t participate at all. Like, they would kick people out if they left during periods during sesshins, or, if you couldn’t fit to the training period schedule they would say just don’t do the training period. Whereas I see you being much more open and just encouraging people to keep coming even if they can’t do it totally. And it occurred to me that this is true not just for training periods and sesshin, but overall that you really seem to be trying to encourage everybody to do as much as possible.

Katagiri: Well, I don’t think it is good, I don’t think it is right, but what I can do is to see the reality, okay? That’s all. And then, sometimes I give lots of rules; rigid rules, sometimes. Even though I give the rigid rules, the rigid rules are still open. So, again, a rigid rule; but still – [he laughs] – something happens within the rigid rule, so someone doesn’t appear. This is a training [situation] that I run into a lot. [Laughter.] I don’t say anything to the students, but I look at it every day. [I] say the rules; I say “This is the rule. Do you want to attend a training session?” Yes, you want to. “If you want to, why don’t you follow this?” But – [he laughs] – something happens. I know that I don’t know.

But I didn’t say it’s always good. Or, when I say something rigidly, it’s not always good. So I always look at the situation. I don’t know what it is. Actually, I don’t know exactly what to do. [He laughs, and the group laughs.] So I always look at the reality, and then: what should I do? I always think about that.

But it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the future, or I don’t care about the past. I know the past, I know the future. That’s why I have to do something for the future, I have to do something for the past. I have to do [it] for the present.

Same person: Would you agree that there’s this difference in emphasis? Like, it seems like other teachers almost don’t care if people get involved or not. You know, it’s like, “Get involved my way, or we don’t want you.” Whereas your emphasis seems much more humanistic. It’s like, trying to help people get involved. It’s not like saying, “Either do it my way or don’t do it.”

Katagiri: [Inaudible.]

[Katagiri and others laugh.]

Well, I don’t know.

[More laughter.]

I don’t know other teachers, so, I just follow the, well, Buddhistic sense. That’s all.

Another person: That seems like such a relative thing, because compared with your average American lifestyle, to me this girl seems pretty disciplined and…


Katagiri: Where do you get that? [Laughter.] [Unintelligible] is still a different person from you, okay?

Another person: You just get used to it because you’re [up there]…

Katagiri: That’s why I told you, well, “open to everybody” is not always good – because you cannot say it in that way. Katagiri is a different teacher from others – it seems to be good, but it seems to be not good. I don’t know, really, what to do. So, whatever you say: “okay”. But I have to do it.


Question: Can I ask a question about [unintelligible]? Does that process happen in certain stages?

Katagiri: No. No stages. Simultaneously happens.

Same person: What does samadhi mean?

Katagiri: Samadhi is one-pointedness; to take care of. Dogen Zenji says, […] “When you get one dharma, you penetrate it; when you encounter one practice, you practice it.” [Unintelligible]. That is samadhi. One-pointedness.

Same person: Is there an arrow going from breath to samadhi?

Katagiri: Samadhi is through the regulation of the body, through the regulation of the breath, you can practice [it]. Okay? You can practice samadhi. But that samadhi should be practiced with the mind, too. That’s why, by the help of samadhi, you can practice egolessness. That is because you have to practice samadhi with the mind too, but the mind is always creating a certain kind of attachment, that’s why [you need] egolessness. Simultaneously we do both body and mind.

So you have to practice samadhi with body and mind. But with the body, it seems to be simple: just to use the body, and just do it. Plunge into it; that’s simple. But the moment when you plunge into it, the mind can see lots of things, and also the mind attaches to [them]. That’s why by the help of samadhi we have to practice egolessness. If you have real samadhi, very naturally, there is egolessness. That means offering yourself completely into your regulating of breath and mind.

And also, after doing that, there is still something we have to do: that is no design of having reward. Because, the mind is still very sticky. When you concentrate, [when] you practice samadhi with body and mind, it seems to be very clear and simple. But still, mind is very sticky; attaching to [thinking].

For instance, if I say “no design of having reward”: [then, I think,] “I did it.” [He laughs.] Immediately we say, “I got it! I am doing zazen in that way.”

For instance, here is a story. A monk who attained enlightenment tells the teacher, “I have [come] here without carrying anything at all. What should I throw away, because I have nothing to carry.”

The teacher says, “Why don’t you throw away that nothing?”

The monk says, “I have nothing to carry.”

Then the teacher says, “If you think it is important for you to carry the nothing, why don’t you go back, carrying it on your back.”

Do you understand? That is the very sticky mind, still. You cannot get out! Immediately, your tail is stuck in the door. Well, your sleeve is stuck in the door. [He laughs.] That is the sticky nature of the mind.

That’s why we have to [continually] practice no design of having reward. It’s pretty hard, but we can do it.


Question: Roshi? I have a question about the regulation of the breath. If I feel like I can’t breathe, is that my mind attaching to the difficulty?

Katagiri: Yes, in a sense, the mind is connected with your breath and body. So, sometimes when your mind is very agitated and very uneasy, it’s pretty hard to breathe smoothly. But sometimes breath is connected with the body, and also nerves; well, many ways. And also sometimes circumstances, environment. So, we have to check. Okay?

Question: Check what?

Katagiri: [Laughing.] Check what. Your body; and also your mind.

For instance, if you sit zazen [strain in voice] too hard, like this – you can’t breathe. Or if you sit down like this, also you cannot breathe smoothly. Or even though you are straight, if you have too much tension on your chin, or your shoulder, you cannot breathe; immediately, it influences your breath. So you have to check: your body, your posture, and also your mind. Is that okay?

Same person: Well what if you check them all out and you still can’t breathe and don’t know why…

Katagiri: For instance, what happens with your breath? You can’t breathe? You mean smoothly, or … ?

Same person: Well I can breathe enough to stay alive, I just can’t breathe from here up. It just – doesn’t come. So it’s very hard to find any equilibrium for a long time. You know, it doesn’t expand, it just goes “bleh” …

Katagiri: Hmm. Did you check your posture? If you change the posture: sometimes relax, sometimes a little tension; sometimes straighten more your back and straighten more your head; or sometimes, a little bit adjust your lower abdomen, et cetera. And then take a breath. In many ways, change the posture a little bit, and then breathe. Try, okay?


Question: Roshi? [Unintelligible] It seems like the greater your teacher, the less likely it is that you’ll do everything [unintelligible].


Katagiri: If you have a great teacher, your calligraphy becomes great. If you have a little, old teacher – [he laughs] – your calligraphy is little.

Same person: [I said that,] if your teacher of calligraphy is very great, probably you are less likely to feel that you can do calligraphy.

Katagiri: Hmm?

Same person: If you have a very great calligraphy teacher, it seems to me that it’s less likely that you feel that you can do calligraphy than if you have a first grade teacher.

Different person: If you have a very good teacher, always you feel like there’s something lacking in yourself. You are living up to that great calligraphy.

Katagiri: Ah, ah. I see. Right, right. Dogen Zenji says that in Genjokoan, he always says [that]. So that’s why you don’t understand this. So, lack of “achievement.”

Question: You’d rather keep doing…

Katagiri: Yeah, keep doing. [He sounds a bit out of breath.] Keep doing. [Everyone laughs.] But how do you keep doing? That [depends on your] practice. If you use too much enormous effort, you exhaust yourself. If your attention slackens […] then certain signs of laxity appear. So, how can you keep the equilibrium in your life, physically and mentally, in the practice of calligraphy? That is very important.

For instance in my life at the temple, the circumstances [in] my teachers and I. The teacher told me that, “You are a monk. A monk has to have a good capability of calligraphy.” But I had no practice, so I was very scared. He always threatened me [he laughs]: “You have to do this, and that; A, B, C, D”; always. Well he [didn’t] always say that to me, but I had nothing, no idea of Buddhism as a monk or as a priest. So if I thought of the future, I was very scared. I wondered, “Can I do that? No, I can’t do it.”

But, no way, I could not escape, so [I thought,] “Let’s do it.” So I started to practice calligraphy by myself. My teachers took a nap from twelve to one, because in the summer it was very hot and humid. At noon, everybody took a nap, in the country. So instead of taking a nap, I practiced, by myself. [I thought], “Continue; it’s good for me.”

So, I did it. But I don’t know if my calligraphy is good or bad, right or wrong; I don’t know. People say, “Oh, your calligraphy is pretty much the same as your master.” I didn’t notice that. Every day, I looked at his calligraphy and wrote, but I didn’t notice anything. But people told me, “Oh, your calligraphy is exactly the same as your master.” It’s wonderful, don’t you think so?

Here is another good example. When I was at Eiheiji monastery, one of my friends was very enthusiastic; he was always present with Hashimoto Roshi, my second teacher. And [Hashimoto Roshi’s] gassho is a particular gassho. His face is very – not rigid, a very wonderful face. And his bow is his particular bow. But [this friend] is completely the same as the teacher: […] gassho, bow, exactly the same. But he didn’t try to imitate [the teacher’s] gassho and bow; all he had to do was just to be present with it. So finally, his gassho and also calligraphy are the exact same. [He laughs.] [Isn’t] that helpful?

So, that’s pretty good. So if you are always with a first grade child who is a master of calligraphy, you become a first grade child. It’s not bad; it’s good.


Question: Is that true on various levels? Like right now, we’re working at the level of discussion and lecture; but does the Zen teacher work with the students at deeper levels of mind as well? In other words, as we sit and practice with you year after year, are we talking about more subtle and deeper qualities too?

Katagiri: That means…

Same person: For instance, psychic levels of awareness, or subconscious levels, deeper of levels of mind that we’re also working on. My inclination is to believe that that’s true; but I can’t prove it or I don’t really know that that’s true.

Katagiri: You mean the teacher is always in there? Ah. Otherwise you cannot talk, [he laughs] you cannot express. Don’t you think so?

Same person: I mean, just sitting with you in zazen, hour after hour, my feeling is that there are deeper levels of being that also go on during sesshin.

Katagiri: Uh, no. You cannot say that the teacher is always having the Zen exactness and wonderful zazen – no. Even the teacher has to take care of zazen from moment to moment, as you do. Exactly the same. There is no sign of priding yourself, as a master, as a teacher. No way. Because, even for the teacher, there is a mind, there is a body, there is breath, and environment, and sensory world. So immediately, my mind reacts to the sound the car.

Same person: Yeah, I hear you saying that about your own zazen, it sounds like. But I’m asking, I guess, when you’re sitting with thirty of us, doesn’t the Zen teacher also work with the students at deeper levels of mind?

Or is that something that you don’t want to talk about?

[A few people hesitantly laugh.]

Katagiri: Well, we are already working, okay?

[Some loud laughter.]

Same person: Oh yeah…

Katagiri: Don’t worry. If you sit, we are connected immediately, and working with each other mutually, okay? But the moment when you start to think that, it’s pretty hard to work.

Same person: It creates confusion.

Katagiri: Yeah, confusion. That’s right.

That’s why that is number six: total personality. Let’s be there.

1:30:30 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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