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Diamond Sutra: Provisional Being
July 25, 1979 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi
Audio file at mnzencenter.org
0:00 start of recording
There must be a person who tries to establish [a] peaceful world, always. But when you see the world, it’s pretty difficult for us to see [a] beautiful aspect of [the] human world. At that time, [there is] lots of chaos. We are disappointed.
But, according to [the] Diamond Sutra, Subhuti, one of Buddha’s ten major disciplines, asks him, “How do we teach the Buddha’s teaching, which seems to be complicated – particularly in the confused world?” Buddha says, “There must be even one person who tries to teach Buddha’s teaching under all circumstances.”
That is Buddha’s answer. So, you shouldn’t be disappointed with this world, even though there seems to be nothing to help your life. Still there is a person who helps you, teaching Buddha’s teaching. So Buddha says, “Don’t think that; don’t be disappointed.” There is always some person who teaches Buddha’s teaching.
According to Buddha’s explanation, this person really practiced, in his past life, a certain particular Buddhist teaching based on no-self and also no perception of dharma: no perception of subject, no perception of object. For century after century – for many, many years – he saw many Buddhas and practiced under them. What did he practice? He practiced the particular aspect of Buddhist teaching that is no perception of subject, no perception of object.
Last week I told you, perception of self [is] divided into four [categories].
One is, we believe that there is something particular apart from ourselves. That something particular is a teaching of [the] five skandhas, because [the] five skandhas is [an] analysis of existence, how existence goes on. So, according to Buddha, he analyzes existence into five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, impulses, consciousness.
We believe pretty easily that [the] five skandhas are [the] self. But [the] five skandhas are nothing but the teaching, apart from ourselves. So, we believe pretty easily there is something particular apart from our lives, our daily living. This is one misunderstanding. So, no perception of self.
The second kind of ego consciousness is: we believe there is that which is continuous. Otherwise, it seems to be difficult for us to believe or go from child to adult. So, it’s pretty easy for us to believe that there is that which is continuous from birth to death.
And then you believe, “I am changing,” “I change.” Then the idea of change comes into existence. But if you don’t believe there is something which is continuous, it’s pretty difficult to get [to the] idea of change.
So, it is pretty easy for us to believe there is something particular which is continuous. This is also [the] second misunderstanding, this is [the] second ego consciousness. So, no perception of a being.
The third: if you believe there is that which is continuous, that is kind of a “soul”, unifying, harmonizing your life. Sort of a watchmaker. [The] watchmaker controls one watch, and the second watch; no matter how many watches there are, he always controls [them], so all watches go exactly right, in [the] proper way. That is, [the] watchmaker is sort of a “soul”, which exists forever, and also has almighty [power] to control your life and all sentient beings: trees, birds, [the] whole universe. This is also [the] third ego consciousness. That’s why Buddha says, no perception of [a] soul.
The fourth kind of ego consciousness is: we want to believe something particular [exists] which is called karma, which leads you to be reborn in the next life. So [we believe] karma is something particular, which is [an] eternal entity which leads you to [your] next life. But actually, karma doesn’t exist in that way, as an idea of [an] entity which exists forever. No. Karma is also one of the beings which is changing, constantly. Appear, disappear.
When you yawn, that is your karma. If you are rough, this is also karma. If you hate, if you express your anger, this is also karma. But [if] right after expression of your anger, you smile – well, another karma appears. So karma is really something vivified, constantly, without having a particular fixed idea which seems to exist forever. Karma is appearing, disappearing, appearing, disappearing, according to conditions. So that’s why, no perception of a person. This is a kind of idea of karma.
So, no ego consciousness. This kind of Bodhisattva, who exists under all circumstances, teaching the Buddha’s teaching, practiced for many, many years this practice of no ego consciousness. Second, he practiced the no perception of object. Object means trees, birds, and also Buddha’s teachings; everything.
There are four kinds of perceptions of object negatively, because according to Diamond Sutra, this Bodhisattva practiced four no-perceptions of object.
One is, everything is emptiness. Nothingness. Nothingness or emptiness is not to destroy subject and object, or trees, birds – no. Emptiness means that a thing exists without any reason – why, or what, how – no reason. If you say “Why,” you can explain. Why Katagiri is Japanese? I can explain. But that explanation of Katagiri doesn’t hit the mark. Why? Why I am Japanese? I don’t know. I didn’t choose. Why are you American? Can you choose? No.
You can explain why; but [the] explanation of the reason why you are American cannot hit the mark. So finally, “you are American” means: emptiness, nothing. That means: Americans exist. We’ve got enemies.
[A] rose, beautiful flower, blooms just to bloom. If you say beautiful flower blooms to work, or to live, or to please the people, or anything – that’s not [the] real life of the beautiful flower. Real life of beautiful flower is, bloom just to bloom. But when you see beautiful flowers in the heart of the mountain, immediately you think, “Oh poor flowers, kindly flowers, why don’t you bloom in the beautiful garden? People will see.” But that is speculation, human speculation. The real life of flowers blooms just to bloom.
… Why do you live? What is the purpose, to live in this world? So you say, “I live to work.” Or, “I work to live.” Or you say, “I don’t know. I just live.” Whatever you say, it doesn’t hit the mark. Okay? It doesn’t help you.
If you know “I live to work” or “I work to live,” this is pretty good; [it’s] a little helpful, for a certain period of time. But it’s not real help. Real help is, you live just to live. That’s all you have to do. Because … everything returns to emptiness – no reason. To live is [unintelligible]. Because, the nature of existence, your life, or your question, your answers, are absolute. Which you are pretty familiar with, absolute. Absolute is, it exists by itself. [The] original nature of the self exists by itself. That means you are free; really free. So, everything is empty. Emptiness.
And then, if everything is emptiness, that emptiness is that which is existent, that which is accurate, or that which is real. If it is true, the third no perception of object is no perception. That means, you cannot talk about it. You cannot talk about the absolute, or original nature of the self, or existence. Don’t touch it; [it’s] untouchable. If you touch it, if you [attack? attach to?] it, it’s not absolute.
I became a monk when I was 18. So, why [did] I become a monk? I don’t know exactly. I can explain, but if I explain why – it’s not quite right. So, [the] real reason why I became a monk is indescribable. Because, that reason has been connected into my past life. No reason. So it’s pretty difficult to describe.
But whatever you pick up; your nose, your eyes, your head, your body, whatever it is; finally, it’s very difficult to describe what really is. This is [the] third no perception of object.
Fourth is, if it is indescribable. [Is] the absolute completely indescribable? No. You can describe [it]. There is a term, absolute – from where [does] it come? [The term exists] because, someone knows. Maybe … in the past, someone knew the absolute, someone experienced the absolute. Someone experienced emptiness; someone experienced original nature of existence. Someone.
For instance, if I am master of making miso or tofu. No one can imitate exactly [the] same as my tofu, okay? Exactly good tofu, in my way. No one can imitate [it]. So that is the master of tofu maker. Tofu maker, miso maker.
But it’s pretty difficult to teach, making a [recipe] (he says “menu”). Of course I can make a [recipe], but it’s pretty difficult to teach exactly the same tofu as I make. I try to teach [it], but it doesn’t hit the mark. But I know. So, there is a master of tofu makers. That’s why you can get the title: Master of the Tofu Makers. That is [the] absolute, real meaning of how to make tofu.
But it’s very difficult to describe. But here is master of – as long as you have [the] title, Master of Tofu Maker – well, you are a person who experienced [it]. If it is true, you know [it], so, you can describe [it]. Then, next, we have to write [a recipe]: items one, two, three, four; describe. But [that] description doesn’t hit the mark. That’s why [the] absolute is indescribable. But absolute is, still there is a fact which you are describing.
Do you understand? This is no perception of soul, no perception of object.
So that is the particular practice for Bodhisattvas, for many years in his past life. No perception of the subject, no perception of the object.
And why? If, Subhuti, these Bodhisattvas should have perception of either a dharma, or a no-dharma, they would thereby seize on the self, on the being, on the soul, on the person. And why? Because a bodhisattva shouldn’t seize on either a dharma or a no-dharma. Therefore this saying has been taught by the Tathāgata with hidden meaning: ‘By those who know the discourse on dharma as like unto a raft, dharmas should be forsaken, still more so no-dharmas.’
(From “Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra” by Edward Conze, pp. 27-28)
So, if you have perception of either a dharma or a no-dharma, if you have a perception of either object or no-object, this is still perception. For instance, in zazen, all you have to do is be one with zazen. That means not-thinking; don’t think anything. “Don’t think anything” is – what do you mean? – “think not-thinking.” So what do you mean, not thinking not-thinking? That means, to think is also to think. Do you understand? Pretty clear. But not-think is also to think. Don’t you think so?
Both are perceptions created by your consciousness. You try not to think, but, you try to not to think is always to think. Is that clear?
So, you cannot have a perception of dharma or no-dharma. If Buddha teaches no perception of object, you say, “Oh, no perception of object.” So, you lose hope.
But this is nihilism; you fall into nihilism. I don’t mean that. That’s why here it says, “no perception of dharma, no perception of no-dharma”. You cannot attach to either one of them, because both are still thinking dharmas, thinking object. So you are still involved in [an] object, perception of object, whatever you say, perception of object or no perception of object, whatever you say, negatively or affirmatively. Whatever you say, you are still involved in perception of object. That’s why you cannot attach to either one of them, negatively or affirmatively.
If you attach to one of them, there is attachment to self. I told you before: perception of a self, perception of a being, perception of a soul, perception of a person. I told you before; do you understand? So, you shouldn’t attach to this.
That means the object is not something you can attach to. That means [the] object is not something which is accurate, or not something real. [The] object is [a] provisional being. Provisional being.
But it’s pretty hard to understand this. So, I want to explain this. Why do you believe a thing to be accurate? Even though Buddha says everything is provisional being, you don’t believe [it], because, there is a book. There is a book; no one believes this is a provisional being. You say, this is a being which is real, or accurate. Here it is! [So] you don’t believe [it].
Well, for instance, if you see [a] movie. You know movies – what are you watching? You’re watching the screen, pictures on a screen. [The] world created by the pictures on the screen is not a real world; this is a provisional world. You believe pretty well: this is a provisional world. So, don’t worry about whatever happens. Whatever scene happens, or whatever thing happens – don’t cry, don’t [be] surprised, whatever. So you sit down on a chair and watch the screen. Finally, you cry. You cry, and you jump up when something happens. Did you see “Jaws”? [laughter] You scream, immediately.
But it is not a real being. The artificial shark, also that is a provisional being, created on the screen. But you scream, simultaneously. Why do you scream? Because you are participating in that provisional world. At that time, provisional world is no longer provisional; that is actual being. It turns into actual being. Do you understand? Is that clear? It completely turns into actual being.
So, always you are being with creating pictures on a screen. Intellectually, you believe that is a provisional world, but while you are watching this, completely unconsciously or consciously, you are present with provisional beings, so provisional beings turn into actual beings. So that’s why you cry, and you smile, with the world created on the screen.
So with this point, we are always moving toward object. Always. At that time, object is no longer provisional being. Because if you move toward object initiatively, object becomes actual being. Because object is no longer object; object is with you, and you are in object. So finally, there is no object for you, completely. You become a tree. Tree becomes you.
Initiatively, we are always moving toward [the] object, participating in, being engaged in. At that time, [the] object becomes working with you, pretty well, simultaneously.
On the other hand, this is one point, subject always moving toward object. Another aspect is: not always subject initiatively moving toward object; sometimes object moves toward subject. For instance, when you walk on the street, and a big rock is right in front of you, and then you stumble over it. To stumble over it means, rock exists. That rock gives you a sense of resistance. A kind of resistance, or a kind of antagonism.
What is a being which seems to be very accurate, touching your consciousness, touching your body? Your hand. But sometimes you cannot touch your hand with your body. Sort of anger; your enemy. Your enemy, or your anger, cannot touch with your body. But it’s really something existent. Because, that hatred gives a sense of antagonism to you. So at that time, [the] object becomes not [a] provisional being; [the] object becomes completely [an] actual being.
So, object comes up to you, subject comes up to you. If you want to make a poem, or if you want to paint a picture of trees, you have to talk, you have to move initiatively to the trees and talk.
If you go to the wilderness, you are surrounded by perfect quietness. In the first stage, you start to talk to yourself, because [the] surroundings [are] completely quiet, so nothing to talk with somebody. So you talk with yourself. But even though you talk, for no matter how long, to yourself – in your heart, [or] sometimes with your mouth – still, [it is] quiet. So finally, you get exhausted, so you return to the quietness, completely.
So, second stage, you talk to nature, wilderness. At that time, if you talk to the wilderness initiatively, wilderness speaks to you. Finally, you … enjoy, really enjoy.
So, two types of provisional being. Why do we believe that a thing seems to be accurate, not provisional? Because you are participating in or you are engaged in the provisional being, initiatively. Always, we do. On the other hand, object [sometimes] moves, comes up to you, giving a kind of resistance or antagonism. At that time, it is also a sense of being accurate, or [an] actual being.
According to psychology, you know the idea of empathy. You are projecting yourself into [the] tree. At that time, [the] tree becomes you. So you, if you want to talk with the tree, you have to target yourself into [the] tree. At that time, [the] tree speaks to you. This is very natural. For instance, if you feel melancholy, pensive, at that time the surrounding environment becomes melancholy, completely melancholy. Whatever I tell you, you don’t accept, you don’t understand. If you feel sad, everything becomes sad. When it rains, the whole world becomes melancholy. But … go up to the sky with an airplane, above the clouds – it’s shiny. But rain – it’s rain. You don’t feel good, because we believe [the] whole world seems to be melancholy.
It means we can move initiatively to the object, creating our world. In other words, the world doesn’t exist alone. The world always exists connected with [the] subject, in many ways.
But not always; we cannot [always] believe in that way. For instance, even though you feel melancholy, if you see the beautiful morning sun rising – you feel good! Don’t you think so? Wonderful. So not always [do] we create our environment by our feelings; sometimes, [the] object creates you. Even though you feel sad, if you see the morning sun rising, you feel great! You feel how beautiful it is.
According to empathy … that understanding is a mistake, a misunderstanding, because… if morning sunlight makes you happy, at that time you believe a morning sun rising has a mind, as your mind. According to empathy, psychology, this is a misunderstanding, this is a delusion. Because, you project yourself into the morning sun and then you believe that it seems to have a mind, but actually it is the morning sun, apart from you. [That] is [the] psychological understanding, but [that] is a misunderstanding … broadly speaking, because we distinguish between subject and object. If you see or accept subject and object separately, always there is … not [a] warm feeling of the world, not [a] feeling of warmness communicating between the subject and object.
So [an] important point is, if you see the morning sun and the morning sun makes you happy, at that time, whatever you think intellectually, morning sun has mind, has a feeling. That feeling is completely universal. That feeling is something through which we can have mutual rapport between morning sun and you. Psychologically, this is universal consciousness, or according to Buddhism, that is Buddha Nature.
So, the morning sun, the subject, trees, all sentient beings, have feeling, universal feeling, as well as we have. That’s why we can communicate with each other.
So, object is not always something giving a sense of resistance or antagonism. Object is wonderful; object is a being which exists in [a] universal entity, a huge universal vision.
For instance, we exist in that way because when you were born, your mother took care of you. The mother is your object. If you believe the mother is your object, at that time, that object is consciously or unconsciously giving a certain sense of resistance. “Oh, your mother is such a [unintelligible] bossy. I don’t like it.” But baby? He doesn’t care. For baby, [the] mother is huge; a big tree, by which he is supported in [a] broad sense. So … you should accept your object … by which you are supported constantly, å not giving a sense of resistance, or a sort of antagonism. That’s why object and subject are always communicating, interconnected.
I think you understand why we believe things to be actual being[s], not provisional being[s]. I explained it to you: Because, by participation in your object, at that time, [the] object as a provisional being turns into [an] actual being. So that means there is always a sense of actuality.
If you take away this sense of actuality – because this sense of actuality comes from very common human activity – but if you take away this sense of actuality, there are two kinds of thinking. One is recognition, [the] function of cognition. The other is aesthetic contemplation.
[With] the function of recognition or cognition, you don’t [engage with the] object, you completely keep away from [it]. You see [the] object objectively. So, there is no feeling of warmness. Completely you see [the] object, and then try to understand [the reality?] of your object. This is [science?].
On the other hand, the function of aesthetic contemplation is through your consciousness. You don’t participate in [the] object, but through the consciousness, through the aesthetic contemplation, you can merge yourself into the object, exactly. Aesthetic contemplation means, in other words, intuition, or a particular term term is wisdom.
Through the wisdom, you don’t participate in your object, but, through the wisdom, you can merge yourself into your object, [unintelligible]. This is [the] function of aesthetic contemplation.
… another one is, aesthetic contemplation. This is kind of [a] religious way of understanding. But aesthetic contemplation is still in the realm of philosophy or psychology; the philosophical or metaphysical realm.
Religiously, particularly in Buddhism… practically, with our body, we participate, directly participate. But, you participate in your object with wisdom. At that time, the activity of participation in your object becomes very pure; [there is] a sense of purity, undefiled practice, because … you merge yourself into your object with your wisdom. Not carelessly; you don’t participate at random. You participate in [it] very carefully, with wisdom. [You] merge yourself into your object.
So, even though you participate, this participation is not defiled participation [or] human activity. This is undefiled human activity. So this is religious activity.
That’s why, according to Buddhism, the subject is no perception of subject, [and the] object is no perception of object. Then you cannot attach to, you cannot have, perception of object or perception of no-object. You cannot. That means [the] object is nothing but provisional being.
But provisional being is not to defile [the] object, not to ignore [the] existence of your object. You should take care of your object. How? This is the practice, how.
So, in a sense, [in the] common sense, we are always participating in [being]. At that time, provisional being turns into actual being, so there is no gap. But, without deep understanding, without wisdom, you can participate in [it] and also, finally, you will be confused pretty easily. [You may be] surprised, expressing [an] emotional situation, emotional feeling – crying, screaming – very naturally. Expressing anger, et cetera. But religiously, you have to participate in your object with wisdom. So there is some control; adjustment for your emotional expression or conscious pattern. There is [a] pattern of body and mind situation.
That’s why Buddha always says, everything is emptiness. That means impermanence. Impermanence is, everything is changing. That means, everything is provisional being. [Everything exists] temporarily. But [that] doesn’t mean through [that] you should fall into pessimism. No. That is pointing out how to participate in provisional being; how to take care of [it].
So it really depends on your attitude, how to participate in your activity. Sometimes it becomes a cause of pessimism, sometimes a cause of confusion, sometimes a cause of happiness, sometimes a cause of unhappiness. Sometimes cause of neutral; nothing to say.
That’s why it says, “If, Subhuti, these Bodhisattvas should have perception of either a dharma, or a no-dharma, they would thereby seize on the self, on the being, on the soul, on the person. And why? Because a bodhisattva shouldn’t seize on either a dharma or a no-dharma. Therefore this saying has been taught by the Tathāgata with the hidden meaning: ‘By those who know the discourse on dharma as like unto a raft, dharmas should be forsaken, still more so no-dharmas.’”
[The] simile of [the] raft [occurs] in Buddhist scriptures. If you have crossed the river with your raft, you cannot carry it with your back. You should leave it there, if you reach the other shore. So that means, no perception of the subject, no perception of the object. That means, if you study at school in order to get a master degree or Ph.D. – get a degree! Study hard, get a degree. But it is not [a] final stage you have to … stay with. You have to leave Ph.D. [for] the other shore. Then, without anything, you should share your life with all sentient beings. If you stay with the Ph.D. – well, you cannot be stupid; that’s not sharing your life with the poor people, with the suffering people. Because you are always proud [of] yourself too much: “I am doctor.” You are not doctor. “I am doctor. Student, I am teacher. First, bow. Then, what do you want? I want to teach you. Give me money.” [laughter]
That [makes it] pretty hard to communicate with each other, so – forget it. If you get the Ph.D., it doesn’t escape from you, it’s always with you. So: forget it. All you have to do is forget it, and share your life with all sentient beings.
Do you have questions?
Do you understand provisional being?
[a few quiet chuckles]
Question: [partly unintelligible] Somewhere in a story about the Buddha, he was practicing meditation in one of his lifetimes in a garden, and this king came up to him and saw him and remembered him, and got extremely angry [unintelligible], and butchered him, chopped him down into pieces. And Buddha just calmly watched him there [unintelligible] … that king… in the Buddha’s perception… provisional being?
Katagiri: Compassion? Yes, that is the motivation of his becoming a monk, leaving the castle. He saw something … farmers. Is that what you mean? Cultivated?
Same person: No…
[there is some back and forth]
Same person: Buddha was sitting in a grove, meditating, this is in one of his past lives … he was sitting in the grove, and this king came along into the grove and saw the Buddha there, and he remembered something he thought the Buddha had done for him in a past life, and got extremely angry, took out his sword. And the Buddha put out his hand, telling him to stop, and first he chopped off his hand, and then he just started chopping the Buddha to pieces, and the Buddha didn’t say a word and watched. Was the Buddha looking at that man … as a provisional being?
(This doesn’t particularly sound like a real story.)
Same person: Yes.
Katagiri: [calls on someone]
Different person: It seems to me that it wouldn’t be very good if you would act like that, if you would act like people weren’t real. If somebody comes up to you and starts chopping at you… [laughter]
Katagiri: Well, don’t commit suicide. [laughter] Because someone chops your neck and your hands; if you have a chance, you should take off. [loud laughter] Because it is also provisional being. [laughter] No; provisional being is a possibility, the eternal possibility. To kill you, or not to kill you. You see? Provisional being. But it really depends on you: to kill you or not to kill you. To animate you or to kill.
So, if you believe all sentient beings as just provisional beings, intellectually – well, someone can come and chop your neck: “Okay, you’re a provisional being.” Ridiculous! [laughter] Don’t you think so?
Person: Oh yes!
Katagiri: So, provisional being, in a different term, that means eternal possibility. Provisional being means we don’t know tomorrow, even a few minutes. We don’t know our life after going out of this zendo. Because, we are provisional beings. When you are sitting here listening to Buddha’s teaching, this is just a provisional being. And then when you go out, this is also provisional being. You don’t know. That means, possibilities. Wonderful possibilities, in which you can animate you, or you can kill you. Do you understand? Provisional being is not a teaching which creates pessimism.
Person: That’s like taking each moment as it comes [unintelligible]?
Katagiri: Always practice [in the future?]. Wonderful. Beautiful. If you feel sad – it’s not okay, it’s not easy, but there is another possibility here: in the moment. In the moment [unintelligible].
Question: Roshi? You speak of the concept of no-self, and at the same time, constantly refer to the idea of past lives. And somehow I have difficulty reconciling them.
Katagiri: No-self doesn’t mean to ignore the existence of self, ignore the existence of subject. There is still perception of understanding of the self, understanding of the subject. And if you understand the self, [then] through the present life, you can realize how sublime it is, how unfathomable yourself is. And you cannot understand yourself in the present, according to present time, because your life is pretty broad. Sometimes you don’t understand. Sometimes you understand who you are, but strictly speaking you don’t understand who you are, because your life may have been connected with a past life.
But if we say [it] like this, immediately we say there is something which exists for long, some task, from the past, through the present, to the future. That is perception of a soul, okay? So, I don’t think so. But even though no soul – but, still there is. You cannot attach to the soul, but you cannot attach to no-soul. Do you understand? You cannot have perception of the object or non-object. You cannot have perception of thinking or non-thinking. You cannot say.
Finally, self is broad, but what is that? I cannot explain. But, it’s there. It’s there, but it is not something which exists eternally, because you cannot pin down what it is.
Buddhism is always not to touch the extreme ideas, perception of soul or perception of not-soul, because everything is working dynamically, constantly. That means, understanding everything working dynamically leads you to touch the core of real life. Which is fully alive. Fully alive.
1:05:11 end of recording
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