June 11, 1979 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi examines the meaning of the line “from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside” from another angle. He talks about three different kinds of zazen (sitting meditation), and why shikantaza is not a means to an end. He also explains what it means to accumulate merit and virtue, how to understand and work with past karma, and why we have to aim at the life after next life. There is a story about a commando who visited the Zen Center. Also: what to do when death taps your back.


Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org


Katagiri Roshi: [I want to] say something a little bit more about the subject I talked about yesterday. The subject was, “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.” I would like to explain a little more about the same subject from a different angle today, because this is a very important characteristic of the zazen we do, which is called shikantaza.

Briefly speaking, I told you yesterday and the day before yesterday: if you do zazen even for a moment, you become Buddha. This was the first impression for me when I was at Eiheiji monastery, listening to a lecture given by Hashimoto Roshi. I didn’t understand the meaning, but I was moved very much by this point: if you sit down, if you do zazen, shikantaza, even for a moment, you become Buddha. I accepted it, totally – no question. I think now, I was lucky. [He chuckles, and there is some mild laughter.] I was lucky, anyway. If I had had a big head, I couldn’t have accepted it. But I accepted it, totally. I was a lucky guy.


Particularly [with regard] to dullness and distraction: dullness and distraction here are meant to exemplify all kinds of delusions. According to the Abhidharmakosha, dullness and distraction are just [two] of the delusions. You can find them [on the list of dharmas] in the Abhidharmakosha: thirty-seven and thirty-eight say dullness and distraction.

Dullness in Sanskrit is styāna. The translation says, “torpor, stiffness, or obduracy, stolidity, indifference. […] Or sluggishness, languor, sloth.” Many translations.

And the other one is distraction: they present it in Sanskrit as auddhatya. That means restlessness or agitation; restlessness of mind, recklessness, or frivolity, et cetera.

But in Fukanzazengi, the dullness and distraction mentioned by Dogen are meant to exemplify all kinds of delusions. So, if you do shikantaza, not only dullness and distraction but all kinds of delusions drop off from the first. This is shikantaza.

First let me say a little bit about the meaning of dullness and distraction. Broadly speaking, dullness and distraction are states where the mind acts reactively, like the swing of a pendulum. The body and mind lose their state of equilibrium in either distraction or dullness, just like a pendulum.

It is represented as konsan in Japanese. Kon is dullness. San is distraction.

The structure of the Chinese letter kon consists of two parts: one is bottom, the second is the sun. The sun sinks or sets at the bottom: complete darkness. So kon or dullness means the state in which the mind becomes gloomy and doesn’t work, as if the sun sets and the surroundings become completely dark. That is the meaning of kon, dullness.

San is distraction. Distraction is a state in which the mind is [bothered] with troublesome [things] and is entangled. So distraction, broadly speaking, means relative understanding: various relative views, relative thoughts, or worldly thoughts. Worldly thoughts means to understand or view something in the dualistic world. So if you understand something in the dualistic world, whatever kind of idea or view you can get, it’s a cause of distraction. For instance, good or evil, or neutral; or hard practice, easy practice, or so-so. Whatever kind of idea you get in the dualistic world, it all becomes a cause of distraction. That is the meaning of distraction.


There are many types of zazen in this world, but broadly speaking, let me say there are maybe three types of zazen.

One type of zazen is that by zazen we try to remove weeds on the ground, and reach certain stages of “no weeds” perfectly. By this zazen, at any cost we struggle for weeding out and making the whole world perfectly clean. But that is nothing but resting weeds. Resting weeds are temporary, for a certain period of time. Someday the weeds come back up, because you cannot destroy weeds. Weeds are nothing but being, just like your existence. Weeds, flowers – beautiful flowers, ugly flowers, many kinds of flowers – as long as flowers exist in this world, immediately there are weeds.

But in the dualistic world, we don’t like weeds. So, with hatred, we try to cut them down. While you maintain hatred, by that hatred maybe you can cut them down, but it is not completely removing the weeds from the human world. Sometime, somewhere, the weeds come up.

We can see this kind of practice in the human world – for instance, in business circles. If you want to learn a business – restaurant or whatever – you have to develop [the] business. You want to be successful in running the business. So usually, in the common sense, we really struggle for being successful in the business. [Stumbling along,] removing the weeds and gaining the flowers; in order to be successful in the business, we struggle for our lives, and reach the other shore. We can do this. If you struggle with wholeheartedness, with your effort, you can do anything. If you risk your life, you can do anything. You can reach the other shore.

But if you reach the other shore, that is [not] the final goal, because […] the other shore is also a part of transiency. So the goal you have reached is no longer the goal. Immediately, you have to go back to the first step, you have to do something from now. Do you understand? This is very clear; this is human life, we do this. Immediately your goal goes far from you; that’s why the moment that you reach the goal, immediately you don’t feel satisfied; that’s why you want to do something more. So that desire is endless, just like snowballing. And then finally, we have to die. Death waits for you. That’s all. This [way] is very common, very common. But I don’t know whether it is [the] real way or not.

That is one type of zazen. If you do zazen like this, of course you can attain enlightenment. You can completely “weed out.” By arranging your physical conditions, and concentrating your breath, and adjusting or arranging your breath, taking care of your breath, you can reach a certain spiritual stage which is called calmness or tranquility, which enables you to feel happy, et cetera.

But, when the circumstances are changed, you cannot maintain the calmness and tranquility that you have experienced. Immediately it’s gone; so you are very much confused. I know several examples of this in the United States. Under certain circumstances, for instance if you are right in the middle of a monastery in Burma, you can follow the rules, the strict practice, and you attain enlightenment. But when you come to the United States – it is a completely different situation, okay? A very different situation. And then, the weeds come back. It’s really so.

Well, I don’t mean it is good or bad, right or wrong. We should know that such is life, such are human beings.


And the second type of zazen is, that we remove the roots of the weeds and even the seeds from the ground. Weeds no longer grow. They are completely free from the samsaric world in the Six Realms of Existence: hell, hungry ghost, fighting spirit, animal spirit, human beings, heavenly beings. But unfortunately, we weed out perfectly only on the ground of our own property, and we cherish a feeling of having reached the final goal. In other words, by way of having done our final goal, we spent our whole life without considering others’ life.

So by the practice of zazen, it’s possible to weed out even the seeds completely, and the weeds no longer grow. Some Buddhism says that means that if you attain enlightenment, which is the highest level of spiritual life, then at that time it’s not necessary to come back to the human world. You can stay constantly in heaven. Arhats and many saints in the history of Buddhism showed us this, they experienced it. That’s why one of the four results of Buddhist practice, what the arhat does, is the highest spirit of spiritual life, which enables you never to come back to [being a] human being, the samsaric world. This is arhat practice.

This is also zazen. You can do this. But that is just weeding out on their own territory; that’s all. And then, when they completely weed out on their territory – they don’t know what to do. So there is only death to wait for; that’s all. All they have to do is just to wait for their death.

Can you imagine this? If the people don’t offer them food, they can survive, because they can stop their breath for many hours. Yes, they can do that. Still there is a possibility to survive. So, it’s not necessary to struggle for their life, just be there. No more weeds come up. Very clean. But they don’t know what to do. Just wait for their death; that’s all.

Here is a very good example in Japan. This is a recent news story of one of the famous Japanese actors, who was interested in business. He cherished for a long time some project he really wanted. He waited for the chance to do it. He got that chance; he started to do that business project. Finally, he finished. Perfectly [fitting], risking his whole life – he did it! Everyone respected it: wonderful job, perfect. But finally, he didn’t know what to do next. And then… can you imagine what would happen? He committed suicide. Why? He must be happy, because he did it, but he committed suicide. Why? People didn’t understand this.

That is a really good example. This is not only Buddhists, this is really human life. If you really want to do something, to completely weed out and be successful in any kind of business or Buddhist practice – if you want to live in a paradise – you can do it. But, this is not the final goal Buddha mentions. Because, if you do it, there is still confusion. You don’t know what to do. Finally, there is nothing to do. After reaching that highest level, there is nothing to do, because that highest level is nothing but something in the dualistic world. The highest level is a certain level opposed to the lowest level, so it’s always the dualistic world. So if you reach the highest level in the dualistic world, still there is confusion.

Or another confusion is, by way of having reached the highest level, and having stayed with that highest level, they have nothing to do; just enjoy themselves. And all they have to do is just to wait for death.

That is what is called dullness. In other words, too much pride. “I finished. My task is done. So, at any time, any where, I can die.” So you can wait for death in peace and harmony, without having the weeds. But this is called dullness, because that high spirit is just one of the lifestyles in the dualistic world. It’s not completely happiness.


The last type of zazen is something we do: shikantaza.

Struggling for reaching the other shore at any cost: this is also distraction, [which is good] distraction. Even though you reach the highest level of spiritual life, still there is a struggle, because the moment you reach the final goal, the final goal turns into the beginning. You have to start again. That’s why struggle is constantly going on. That is distraction. And on the other hand, dullness. But if you do shikantaza, dullness and distraction drop off, from the first.


You know the karma that we planted in the past: some karmas were good, some karmas were evil, some karmas were neutral. We created many karmas in the past. And then those karmas are where? You know pretty well, they are at the bottom of this body and mind. Karma is here.

Through your daily living, you can realize that your present life is influenced by something else which you don’t understand. Maybe some people call it karma – but only when they realize that something’s wrong. Because only when you realize something’s wrong, then you really get the chance to reflect upon yourself very seriously. That’s when you put a certain label on your life: “That is something wrong. That karma is wrong; evil karma.” But actually, the karma [that] exists with you is completely beyond the moral sense of good, bad, or neutral.

I tell you very often, that karmas in the past and existing in the present in your life, appear or don’t appear when time and occasion are ripe and conditions are arranged. All kinds of karmas are still here, but nothing happens. Only when time and occasions are ripe and conditions arranged perfectly, some karma appears. That is a characteristic of the karma you have created in the past. That’s why karmas you created in the past are completely beyond the moral sense of good, bad, or neutral. They are always there. If you don’t touch it – if you don’t have particular time and opportunity created, or conditions are not arranged – then completely karma sits. But if you create certain conditions and time and occasion, it appears.

So the question is, what kind of time and occasion and conditions should we create in our daily living? That’s the point, don’t you think? Rather than keeping away or criticizing karmas you did in the past. Because, karmas in the past are completely quiet in your daily living. But any time, anywhere, they appear and disappear according to time and occasion and conditions you do.

So this is karma. The point is that life is not going backward; life must go forward. We know that pretty well. In order to go forward to the future, actually there is no chance to discriminate or to blame the karmas you did in the past, because karmas are quiet in your life. But karmas appear why? Because you move toward the future. You do something: you create time, occasion, and conditions; that’s why karmas appear. That means you are alive.

Anyway, we have to move toward the future. There is no chance to blame your karmas in the past. Good or bad, right or wrong, whatever you say: karmas don’t care.

And also, karmas appear ignoring your judgement, evaluation, and dislike – whatever. Karmas appear only when time and occasion are right, and conditions arranged. They appear even though you don’t like it; that’s why you are confused. So, the very important thing is what kind of time and occasion and conditions we should make from moment to moment in the process of moving to our future – rather than criticizing and blaming the karmas in the past. So the important point is that we have to create good time and occasion and good conditions, as best as we can.

If you create good time and occasion, and good conditions … immediately some of the karmas in the past which are called “good” appear in the present. And, if you have done it, immediately that will be a seed of the karma which will appear in the future. So, you can always sow a good seed, because of good conditions and good time and occasions you create, day after day. And then, evil karmas don’t have a chance to appear. The evil karmas are always here, very quiet; but if you always create good karmas, then the evil karmas will disappear of themselves. They lose the chance to appear.


What is “good”? What is a good time and occasion, and what is a good condition? That is a point.

This good is not the good opposed to evil. This good is … super-good. The supreme good: beyond good or bad, right or wrong. Such a good seed should be sowed, right now, right here, from day to day. At that time, that good seed is planted in your life, and creates new life.

We call this fukutoku o tsumu. Fukutoku means “merit and virtue.” Tsumu (積む?) means “to accumulate.” So, to accumulate merit and virtue: that means sow a good seed. That good seed originates from the intrinsic value of very pure human activities. That is fukutoku: merit and virtue. Fukutoku o tsumu, we say.

But let me say about this, still we don’t understand it. Because why is it that dullness and distraction drop off from the first if you accumulate merit and virtue?

In order to understand this point, first of all we have to see practice for the long range, life after life. Not only seeing your life in this life, in this world; you have to see your whole life, life after life. Maybe the next life, or the life after next life. Anyway, life is continually going on, because we created karma in the past, and also we are creating new karma now. And then, as long as we are creating new karma from moment to moment, it means a future will exist. So, you can get a chance to be born in the next life. That is the meaning or sense of the theory of karma. As long as we have karma in the past and we are creating karma in this life, we have to have a future. Life is going on, constantly.

So, the point is that we sow a good seed. We sow a good time and occasion, and good conditions. According to my talk yesterday, when good time and occasion are ripe, when good conditions are arranged, finally there is something left: that is total personality. That’s why all we have to do is to arrange.

Arrange number one, the environment. [Arrange the] second, the sensory world. Arrange them in many ways, with careful consideration.

Third, the movement system – that means the body: hands, feet, tongue. We have to arrange all the movement system, and then finally, sit down in the proper way: immobile. [In an] immobile state. At that time, very naturally, the body can be kept in equilibrium.

And fourth, regulation of the breath. Very naturally, the regulation of the breath influences so much: the system of your hormones, circulation of the blood, and also your nerve system, and internal organs; it influences all those very much.

And also, finally, regulating the mind. That means, no [design] of having a reward, becoming Buddha: just do it. Because the mind has a certain [stickiness], which is called attachment. If you attach [to] it, immediately there is a string between zazen and you. So you cannot [cut it]; you cannot see the zazen clearly. So immediately, there is … that is a type of …

[Tape change.]

… regulation of the body and regulation of breath. That is what is called samadhi, perfect samadhi. Often at that time, there is no chance to insert [any] sign of becoming Buddha or having rewards. So, [it is] very pure; there is something left, which is called the intrinsic value of pure human [activity]: just [doing]. Psychologically speaking, that is total personality.

You cannot get the total personality without arranging circumstances or environment, and sensory world, and movement system, and brain and nervous system, and internal organs. Without this, you cannot do it!

So how can you touch the core of your life, which is called total personality? Total personality is extending to the past, extending to the future; completely beyond human speculation and judgement. How can you touch it? We don’t know, because there are too many [circumstances]: environment, sensory world, movement system, nervous system, brain system, internal organs, and many things.

So, first of all, “let’s sow a good seed” means completely beyond good or bad, right and wrong according to common sense. That means let’s make arrangement of number one, number two, number three, number four, number five. And then finally, there is something left: that is total personality, which is called buddha nature. It appears very naturally.


Here is a good example. I know a gentleman – I forgot his name. He has a particular job: he was a commando. Do you know that word? Commmando is one of the soldiers hired by the government. But the commando, his task is, well, very hard…. Sort of a spy, but not exactly a spy. One of the novels in England – I saw it on TV probably – the man in this novel was just like a commando. The government asked him to do something, a secret task: you have to go to another country, and serve somebody who could be killed or who could be [arrested].

That is [what a] commando does. He is very sharp, and his eyes are very sharp eyes. If you look at him, immediately he glares at you. [He chuckles.] You’re just like a frog in front of a snake. Can you imagine? Because he has to maintain continually a certain mental, psychological tension; no suki, [no] psychological crack between him and object. Always there is no crack. So he is very sharp.

But he suffered a lot. And he likes it very much here. So he came several times to see me, and he sat here a few times. He lives here, but he doesn’t have a particular home; every day, he has to move, he has to do something secretly. He wants to come here, but, the government, FBI, everybody follows him. So he cannot walk in the sunshine; he has to walk in the darkness. He wants to come here because zazen starts in the dark. [He laughs, and the group laughs.] It’s dark in the morning, that’s why he wanted to come, and he came once.

He has a small passport; that passport is a special passport issued by the government. This is a secret passport. Any time, any place, he can go. Any time, anywhere, he can kill anybody. [Some laughter.] That means, he is also at any time, anywhere, killed by somebody. Don’t you think so? That is his job: any time.

And also, if he kills somebody his task is successful, and the government gives asylum to him. He doesn’t want the government, FBI, to look for him, always look for him.

But he came here. And I said, “I would like to give a Buddha statue [to you].” A statue carved in ivory, from India; so that is wonderful, the Buddha statue. Somebody gave it to me, so I gave it to him: “Please keep this.” And I asked him, “How about this Buddha statue? Can you feel something?” Or, I showed him the Bodhisattva picture, sitting like this. Do you know, the beautiful picture? Miracle Bodhisattva in Japan, one of the national treasures. I wanted to know his soft, gentle mind, so I asked, “How do you feel there?”

He said, “No, I don’t like it.”

“How come?”

He said, “He’s a strict teacher.”

Maybe so, maybe so!

And also, [I showed him that other Buddhist] statue. “How about this? Do you feel something quiet, or calmness?”

He said, “No.”

“How come?”

He said, “He’s still suffering.”

I think so; he’s very sharp. Because Kannon Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, is showing Buddha’s compassion. That is completely pure, what is called buddha nature – but we cannot touch it directly. That’s why [we ask] how can we touch that Buddha’s compassion or buddha nature? Let’s touch that Buddha’s compassion through a human shape: that is a bodhisattva. That’s why Avalokiteshvara has a double face: a human body, and also on the other hand, compassion. That’s why he sees suffering. We see suffering in Avalokiteshvara – of course. That is human. But without a human body, a human shape, we cannot find any way to touch the Buddha’s compassion. That is the art of the Buddhist statue. We have to see the double face.

So, [we find] nothing he likes here. I point out, “How about this?” or “How about that?” He doesn’t like anything. So finally, right before he left, he stands up here, and he says: “Only this place is very calm. No one sitting here, no one there; only I am here.” He said to me, “Only this place makes me calm, quiet. Return to human.” Can you imagine?

That’s why making arrangement of the environment, and also the sensory world, and the brain system, and the movement system, and the internal organs – all things arranged perfectly – at that time, immediately, he can feel calm. The moment he feels calm, that means dullness and distraction drop off, from the first. Don’t you think so? Yes it is. Not only dullness and distraction; all delusions drop off.

“Drop off” doesn’t mean destroy. Just drop off; no chance to poke their head into someplace. Just, keep quiet.

For instance, as long as he is standing here, feeling quiet, no one can hit him. I don’t want to hit him. Even though an FBI person came, I told him, “Just wait a minute. I can tell him.” Even the FBI cannot hit him, because he feels calm.

And even though you get angry with me, [if] I just sit down here and gassho, can you hit me? Or I smile at you; while I am smiling at you, can you hit me? No. [He laughs.] So finally, you smile too. That means anger drops off. Anger drops off while you are smiling.

Little boys in Green Gulch Farm: during the mealtime, we shouldn’t say anything, so everybody is quiet. Kids’ delusions drop off very naturally, so the moment when they come into the Green Gulch dining room, all delusions drop off, so they keep quiet. That’s interesting. And then, during the meal, the Ino hit the clapper – [clap] – that is the sign of giving permission to talk. So the Ino hit the clapper once, and immediately a little boy said, “Hi!” [He laughs.] Immediately he said to me, “Hi!” So I said, “Hi!” [Laughter.] This is very interesting.

Anyway, we don’t know how much delusions drop off. We don’t realize, we don’t perceive how much they drop away. Because the dropping off is possible only when you feel right now, right here, calm. At that time, no delusions come up – so, immediately you are right in the middle of total personality. You can manifest yourself just like a lotus flower, blooming. But you don’t perceive [it]. And also, we don’t know how much, we don’t realize what it is, because it’s too quick – simultaneous.

That is to sow a good seed. We can create good time and occasion, and good conditions, right now, right here.


That’s why shikantaza is not a means to an end – leaving here to reach the other shore, struggling for getting enlightenment, et cetera. This is fine; well this is very nice, this is a kind of zazen. So, you can do this – but, what you are struggling for is nothing but a distraction. This is really true. Distraction is one of the delusions. This is still a delusion.

And also, I told you, on the other hand, you can completely clean your whole life, so weeds no longer grow. But after reaching that stage, you don’t know what to do, so all you have to do is just wait for death. That’s why the Japanese actor committed suicide. It’s not necessary to commit suicide, but he did it. Why?

Because, whatever it is, all things are completely delusions, created in the dualistic world. In the dualistic world, if you say “good,” you are really holding this, but on the other hand, “evil” comes up. You don’t like the evil, you like the good – but within the good, immediately evil comes up, and then you try to move to the other place. So you are always going this way, going that way. That’s why it is like a pendulum.

Distraction and dullness is that life moves reactively, just like a pendulum: going to the right, to the left, constantly, no end. If you want to stop it, we have to sow a good seed, right now, right here. That is, we have to create good time and occasion, and arrange good conditions. That’s all we have to do.

That is freedom. Anyone can do it. Even though you are not Buddhist, or even though you cannot come [to the Zen Center], you can sit down, arrange your room, and arrange circumstances, environment, and your sensory world, breathing, and internal organs, and you can sit down. Don’t you think so? This is shikantaza. Just arrange your environment, everything; that’s all we have to do. This is freedom – open to everybody! No exceptions.

That’s why Dogen Zenji says “Universal Recommendation for Zazen” – Universal Recommendation. It’s really universal – not only weeding out on your own territory. Anyone can do it. Wherever you may be, you can do it.

But, when you do it by yourself, it’s pretty hard, because making arrangement is done by your [own] sense, that’s all. But first of all, by your effort, by your sense, by your understanding, do your best to make arrangement of all circumstances, including environment, outwardly or inwardly. Inwardly means the sensory world, movement system, internal organs, and also the brain and nervous system. We have to arrange them according to a certain [way].

And then if all environments, inwardly and outwardly, are arranged perfectly, immediately there is a blossom which blooms. That is total personality – buddha nature. At that time, very naturally, all delusions drop off. Just like a lotus flower blooms through mud water. While the lotus flower is blooming, mud water exists, but it doesn’t bother us. It’s really appreciated; lotus flowers just bloom. And then, the mud water drops off, very naturally, and then, whole lotus flowers bloom in the universe.

That is shikantaza. If you do this, that practice creates merit and virtue, which [will] bloom in the future. In the life after next life, [or] after next, next life, it’s blooming. Yes it is. I promise. [He laughs softly.] I promise.

This way is exactly to cut off the stream of karma. Without this, there is nothing else to cut off karma. This is the best way.

But we don’t know. We really want to know; we are always curious, poking our head into a certain hole, always. That is a dualistic world, okay? Anyway, stop it. If you stop, everything comes up very naturally, passing by you.

You cannot ignore all circumstances, environment, outwardly, inwardly – so all you have to do is take care of everything, with your best [effort], and then stop it there. Just like that gentleman: he doesn’t feel peaceful from anything, even a Buddha statue; but he stands up here, and he feels calm. That is very important. At that time, completely [all his] delusions drop off.

This is shikantaza.


So, shikantaza is arrangement of all things, and then sit down. That’s all.

This is really bodhisattva practice, to help all sentient beings. If you practice this, your life is really helpful, for you and for others. It is very true. Even though you don’t say [anything], somebody realizes. You have something to tell him or her.

So that is shikantaza – the zazen you do, mentioned by Buddha. It’s pretty difficult to understand for us, intellectually, because we are getting the use of always analyzing and synthesizing everything in the dualistic world; it’s very difficult to stop immediately. That’s why even though you stop for a while, you don’t appreciate that practice. But this practice is the only best way.

We can explain how important this kind of [Buddhist] practice is philosophically, psychologically – but it takes time. That is a huge world, the philosophical background, psychological background. But even though you don’t know [it], you can do it – right now, right here. This is a very urgent need; we have to do it. Whoever you are, wherever you may be, you can do it.

For instance, if you are in an office – well still you can do it. If there is no one there, you can sit down in a chair and calm yourself. If you are talking with somebody, you can realize a certain pause, where no words come up. For that time, you can return to yourself, and breathe.

You can do it, okay? Wherever you may go. It’s really universal. It’s very simple. It’s too simple to realize. But, this is the best way. Not only for your life in this world, but in the next life, in the life after next life, after next next life, continually. That is to accumulate merit and virtue. That practice is really just [to] sow the seeds. Arrange circumstances, environment – inwardly, outwardly – and just stand up there. That’s all you have to do. That is to sow good seeds. Good time and occasion and good conditions must be arranged, and then stand up there. That’s all we have to do. And then at that time, Dogen Zenji says, right dharma is manifesting itself, and from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside. Very naturally, they drop off.

So that’s why when I was at Eiheiji monastery, Hashimoto Roshi said, “If you sit down even for a moment, you become Buddha.” Yes, you become Buddha. If you can accept this, you are a really lucky person.

Okay… Shall I discuss now, or tomorrow, if you have some questions? Tomorrow, of course, I want to have a chance to discuss with you about this; or now.


Question: Roshi, what’s the difference between the second kind and the third kind, if our goal becomes to do shikantaza. Isn’t that the same thing?

Katagiri: What is the … ?

Same person: You said there are three types of zazen? I didn’t understand the difference between the third one and the second one, if … to do shikantaza becomes our goal.

Katagiri: No. Our aim is not to focus on a goal. Goal is goal; we know goal. Goal is just image of the goal, because we don’t reach it yet. In order to reach the goal, all we have to do is, what? Take one step.

Same person: Okay, to be present.

Katagiri: To be present, yes.

Same person: Well isn’t that a goal?

Katagiri: It’s a goal, and also a practice. Goal and practice, simultaneously: just be present. But there are many ways of being just present, because everybody has a different idea. Sleeping all day, this is also just be present. Doing zazen every day, all day, this is also just be present. Old men fighting with each other all day, this is also just be present. Don’t you think so?

Same person: No.

Katagiri: [He chuckles.] Well, [there are] many ways of existing.

Same person: That’s not what I meant.

Katagiri: You don’t understand the second one and the third one?

Same person: Well it seems to me that the third one is the true nature of the second one. [It seems that] even if you try to do the second one, you have to do the third one, because as soon as you’re going over, there’s another one.

Katagiri: Okay, yes. I understand your question. Yes.

[The second one seems like] buddha nature; but, it is still seen from the dualistic world. That’s all. That’s a different point.


Question: Roshi, were you making a distinction between the enlightenment of the arhat versus the enlightenment of the bodhisattva? Doesn’t the arhat attain enlightenment and can then enter nirvana, but does it for himself or herself, whereas the bodhisattva, at the point of enlightenment, refuses to enter it unless all sentient beings go along with it? Is there a distinction there? Sometimes in literature, you see a distinction, [with] the bodhisattva ideal being the higher ideal to attain. Was that what you were trying to say?

Katagiri: Uh, bodhisattva practice, yes… Because a bodhisattva says, without re-entering nirvana, they really want to save us, the people, to enter nirvana. That means his practice is really open not only to him, but also to all sentient beings, and also time – not only his present time, but also his past life and his future life, and also his life after next, and after next.

Then what he has to do is, he practices. Continually, he practices. But he aims just to sow good time and occasion, and good conditions, [making] arrangement. That means, without entering nirvana, the Bodhisattva just sows, arranging environment, and then just stands up there, that’s all. But it is immediately the blooming of his Buddha Nature. That is tathāgata. The bodhisattva has a double face: Bodhisattva and Buddha.

When the Buddha appears, it’s quiet. Nothing – you cannot see it. But a Buddha is hidden behind the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva walks as a human being. The bodhisattva disappears, and Buddha appears. And then that Buddha is just like a blooming lotus flower in the mud water.

Same person: But is the bodhisattva practice of the third kind?

Katagiri: Mmm hmm. Sure. Yes it is.


Question: Roshi, is the difference between the second and the third, then, that the second one, there is a goal, and the third, there is in a sense no goal? Is that what you mean?

Katagiri: The goal in third type of zazen is broad. It’s really broad. That goal is not only open to him, his own practice, but also to others’ practice. It is open to everybody; [it is] everybody’s goal. And also, it’s open to not only the present, but also the past and future – for the long range. The goal is extending through the three times. It’s huge. We cannot [understand] such a huge goal, because it’s too big. [He chuckles.] But, we are such a huge goal. So, how can I say it? Let’s say that a huge goal blooms with your life. How? By making arrangement of environment.

So finally, we can say the third type of zazen doesn’t have a goal, but it doesn’t mean [there is] no goal. There is a goal, but that goal is broad, huge. But in the second type of zazen, the goal is limited by individual views and thoughts. So according to his [own] life, of course, his task, his business, is to succeed. But I don’t know whether it is good for others. So finally, he doesn’t know what to do next.


Question: So what is the practice of the arhat, Roshi? When he’s already an arhat, what is his practice? You said he just waits for death – but he has to practice something.

Katagiri: [Quietly:] Oh, of course. Waiting for death is also practice for you.

Same person: Mmm-hmm. Well, I don’t know, of course, but it seems like if a person practices so that he or she becomes an arhat, automatically it must move to the third type.

Katagiri: Oh, of course, this is… automatic.

Same person: So it can’t stay the same.

Katagiri: Not automatic, sometimes. [He chuckles.] Not automatic. No.

[The arhat’s practice is] not open to everybody. Only the person selected among the human beings can do this. Automatically, you can get into the third type of zazen practice; that is, you can do it. But not everybody, because everybody has different karmas. But it is not the object of our criticism, because if I look [at the arhat’s] life in this world, his life is happy, because he entered nirvana: wonderful. So, better than nothing. If you can enter nirvana, drinking just one cup of juice every day: wonderful. And when you can wait for death, peacefully: wonderful. It’s very wonderful.

So [not only] there is no chance to come back to the samsaric world.

Same person: They don’t?

Katagiri: No. They’re just a river: practicing, waiting for death. But a bodhisattva and tathāgata are a little different.


Same person: What about [unintelligible], Roshi? Based on what you were saying about karma, and dropping off [mind]? Does that relate to your talk?

Katagiri: Of course, it’s related. Of course.

Same person: Well, maybe sometime [unintelligible]


Katagiri: That’s a good goal for you: think about it. That’s a big “homework assignment”. [He laughs.] [An assignment] you can think of your whole life.

Well actually, briefly speaking – if you want to reach the other shore, let’s take one step, huh? Shikantaza, okay? Just take one step. [He snaps his fingers.] It’s a very simple practice: let’s take one step. [There is a loud sound of an engine as a vehicle accelerates and passes by.] But we do this mostly. On the other shore, go and gassho are included, simultaneously. This is one step. That is shikantaza.

There are many ways to take one step. Everyone is different and takes one step in a different way, don’t you think so? Everyone takes even one step in a different way. Somebody takes one step and immediately stumbles; somebody enjoys it very much; somebody always suffers; and somebody has sadness and is pensive… lots of types of one step. So, how to take one step in the best way? That is [unintelligible]. I don’t know. But we know we can do one step.

Can you see the difference? If you aim at just one step, or if you aim at this shore in the long range in the time process, from this shore to the other shore, we see [the difference]. If you focus on just the goal, and the main purpose of life is to reach this goal, the lifestyle becomes different. Do you understand? It’s different because you want this goal, and in order to reach this goal, you have to struggle for life. Creating many things, trying to do many things, and [having] successes, failures; many things. And then you reach the goal, and immediately you have to start to do something again, in order to reach the new goal. So always there is a struggle. What you have struggling for is a distraction. This is very common – the dualistic world.

So in modern civilization, we can have a better life. The better life we aim at is sort of a goal. But it’s not a goal, already: it’s still suffering. We suffer from the goal. [Maybe we have reached the goal, but we are] still struggling. That is really distraction.


Question: Are you saying then that when you take one step it isn’t a struggle?

Katagiri: Yes.

Same person: There is no struggle?

Katagiri: No struggle. Perfectly no struggle; no suffering, no delusions. Perfect.

Same person: So, if this goal becomes just to take one step?

Katagiri: Just one step.

Same person: That means take the next step?

Katagiri: This goal is immense; not the goal you are looking at. This goal is immense, long.

Same person: How do I look at [myself] then?

Katagiri: Well, through taking one step, you can see that.

[Tape change.]

… How do we know? No way. But we have to aim at the life after next life, and next next life – because, it’s going on.

So, just arrange all circumstances, inwardly and outwardly, and stand up. Bloom. Your tree must bloom. And if you bloom, everyone looks at you. Everyone realizes. Because if you bloom, according to Buddhism, one is many, and many is one. You are connected with many [thousands]. So, if one tiny seed, one tiny rose flower blooms here, immediately the whole world is connected. They will all be connected, directly or indirectly. It’s very helpful for you and for others.

Dogen used the phrase, “A flower blooms, the world arises.” Spring comes, flower blooms. Which of the two comes first? We don’t know. [Unintelligible.] Flower blooms; that’s [you]. And then, how can you know? The world exists; look at the flower blooming. That blooming flower is very active life, carrying on in spring. And the world exists; and also, in turn, the other seasons exist. Anyway, bloom; first of all, we have to bloom. If you bloom, you are not one, you are many.

So, take one step. If you take one step, one step … it’s many steps, immediately. That’s why if you take one step perfectly, one step connects to the second step very naturally, and also [zero] steps. You can do it. And next, it continues. But it’s perfect.


Question: Can you say what an arhat is?

Katagiri: Well, arhats, bodhisattvas, and tathāgatas are all categories of Buddhist capabilities. So temporarily, we categorize the buddhas’ capability, the quality of buddha is categorized. [Unintelligible] … there is arhat, and bodhisattva, and well-gone, et cetera. Arhat means a person who deserves to have respect from others. To deserve respect, to command respect from others, that is arhat, because he becomes arhat by reaching the final goal, entering nirvana. So everyone respects that; perfect.


Question: What happens when death comes to an arhat? If an arhat is just waiting for death, what happens when death comes?

Katagiri: Well, he can’t discriminate between death and his life. His death is just the same as his life. Just wait for death, but that death is not something particular apart from life. Just death; that’s the exact same as life.

You know that death consists of many moments; life is the same. Life is also consisting of many moments, according to the time process. What’s different between death and life? We can try to put a certain name on a certain moment, which is called death, or which is called life. That is our name. But basically, it is all the same. Moments are just going on: moment, moment, moment.

But we cannot completely depend on a moment without any name; it’s very difficult, because a moment comes and goes fast, that’s why we cannot stand up there. So we need cultural background, and we need to know that the beginning of the world, the end of the world, and what’s happened from the beginning of the world, are such and such. And then, if our theory is systematized perfectly, we feel relief, because that is something we can depend on. But in the time process, time is not something we can depend on; it’s completely going on. So is life something we have to completely depend on? Yes or no. Life is completely going on. It’s pretty hard.

In San Francisco, there was a lady who came from England to get married with a young man, a situation where I performed the religious ceremony for her. And then they left for their honeymoon. Two weeks later, they died by accident on the freeway. Can you imagine? That was the first funeral service for Suzuki Roshi and I in the United States. Her name is White Rose; he gave the name White Rose….

So of course, life is something you can depend on – but it’s temporary. We cannot depend on it completely. But we cannot ignore life. So temporarily, we have to take care of life, with our best. “With our best” means, temporarily, we have to deal with life. No excuse to escape.

From this point, death is the same. Is death something we should depend on, or should we expect something after death, through the death? No one knows. But there’s finally something left, which is called time, which is going on fast. So right in the middle of death, what should we do? Should we think about death, or shouldn’t we think of death? Nothing to do, because it’s nothing but time. Life is the same: nothing but time.

So for the arhat, if you understand this original nature of life and death in that way, you can wait for death, exactly the same as life. You can do it.

And then, as long as we have consciousness, consciousness always shows you certain flickering lights. Like or dislike, always. Because we analyze death. We [unintelligible] into our life. So we always analyze; we [fear] death. But that death we can see objectively is nothing but flickering lights. Appear, disappear, appear, disappear. And the arhat can accept death: “Oh, flickering lights.” So that’s why people ask you, “How do you feel about death?” Maybe he’d say, “I don’t want to die.” “I don’t want to die” doesn’t mean “I don’t really like death.” That death is accepted by him just like flickering lights; that’s why he said, “I don’t like death. I want to live more.” But these words are very different from if Katagiri said, “I want to live more.” That is really deluded. [He chuckles.] Hating death; clinging to life. Well, for the arhat, it is the same – but, there is a kind of humor. “I don’t want to die” – but, he knows peace, right in the middle of death.

And he knows, on the other hand, it is flickering lights. All these flickering lights push you, poke you. It taps your back. [Tapping sound.] “Hey Katagiri. Do you like death?” – “No.” – “Do you want to live more?” – “Yes, I want to live.” –  *[Unintelligible] You don’t like death. But death says, “I will take care of you.” [He laughs.] “I will take care of you, Katagiri. Even though you don’t like it, death is good for you. Death will take care of you.” So finally I say, “Okay, okay; that’s up to you.” [He laughs.] Completely give up. [Unintelligible] Because I, and death, and life, are all the same. Come and go, just the same.

So, maybe for an arhat, his life is very peaceful, his death is very peaceful. But for a Zen Master maybe someone says, “Would you give me some wonderful message for the disciples, because you are dying, please? Leave final words for us.” [The Zen Master] says, “I don’t want to die.” [He laughs.] These are the final words for him. That means, watch out – you should know flickering lights, right in the middle of death, tapping your back, always. But it is not bad, it is your life. So, all you have to do is, please die. Death is always tapping your back. That’s what [the Zen Master] expressed to him. There is kind of humor, but it is really true.

So, there is no time [to know] whether I can die in peace, or pain and confusion. I don’t know what will happen right before I die. Maybe I will scream, “Help!” [He laughs, and the group laughs.] Maybe I will scream, [unintelligible] [Laughter.] So, no guarantee, no guarantee. But I know that; that’s why I cannot ignore my life, my death. But I have to, anyway, move – [he taps on the lecturn repeatedly] – take one step, forward, one by one. That’s all I have to do. But even though I take one step, there is no guarantee before and after. That’s all I have to do.

We cannot [unintelligible] freedom. So whatever you say – “Oh, help, Katagiri, help, please,” or, “I can keep quiet and die. Bye-bye, for a while.” [A few people laugh.] – this is also my death in [freedom], in the realm of no guarantee. But sometimes it’s, “Bye bye” – “Oh, don’t say bye-bye. Why don’t you go with me, just for a while?” – “No, not to death.” – “Oh, come on.” – “Shut up. Just go by yourself.” [Loud laughter.] Maybe this happens. These are flickering lights… [unintelligible]


Well you know, sometimes I take … an airplane when I take a trip, and my son says, “Dad, you should have insurance.” [He laughs.] And I say, “No. I don’t want insurance. Because, how can I take insurance money with me? Insurance for whom? For you? No.” [Laughter.] I don’t like it. If I’m going to die, I want to take the insurance with me. [Laughter.] Well, I pay the money for the life insurance. I really appreciate it; but I don’t appreciate it. I cannot take the $200,000 with me. So I have to believe that money is for whom? [unintelligible]

Such delusions come up, always. This is really flickering. But whatever you say, take the insurance or not take the insurance, death comes.

1:51:05 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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