August 1, 1979 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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What is a buddha, and what does a buddha experience? Katagiri Roshi describes three kinds of enlightenment: kaku (awareness), satori, and shō (realization or verification). He explains three aspects of the utmost, right, perfect enlightenment from the Diamond Sutra: the marklessness of all things, the marklessness of their emptiness, and the marklessness of their suchness. Also: Why we exist, how to experience spiritual security, and why we shouldn’t get too caught up in Buddhist psychology.


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Katagiri Roshi: Chapter Seven:

The Lord asked: “What do you think, Subhuti, is there any dharma which the Tathāgata has fully known as ‘the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment,’ or is there any dharma which the Tathāgata has demonstrated?”

Subhuti replied: “No, not as I understand what the Lord has said. And why? This dharma which the Tathāgata has fully known or demonstrated – it cannot be grasped, it cannot be talked about, it is neither a dharma nor a no-dharma. And why? Because an Absolute exalts the Holy Persons.”

(From “Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra” by Edward Conze, pp. 30, immediately following the passage quoted in the previous talk.)

In this chapter seven, there are two questions: What is Buddha? The second question is, what are the dharmas taught or preached by Buddha, Tathāgata?

The Buddha asked Subhuti: “Is there any dharma which the Tathāgata has fully known as ‘the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment’?” So, what does the Buddha experience? What does he know about enlightenment? What is enlightenment? Has the Buddha fully known the utmost right or perfect enlightenment, or not?


In Japanese, enlightenment is described by three different characters. One is kaku: awareness. The second is satori – you are very familiar with this term, satori. The third is shō: that is usually translated as “realization”. So enlightenment, broadly speaking, is to know or to awaken to the real nature, the original nature of existence. The original nature of existence is, truth.

According to the first term, kaku, awareness, this kind of enlightenment is to know, to experience the truth at the conscious level. Still that experience of enlightenment which is called awareness is at the conscious level. So whoever you are, if you practice zazen – or even though you don’t practice zazen – if you do your best to take care of your life, living in peace with all sentient beings with your best effort, at that time, whoever you are, everybody can experience awareness, which allows you to touch the core of existence.

This is the first experience; everyone can do this. But this experience of awareness is still at the conscious level. So, even though you understand the universe, there is still some difficulty for us to know how we should put it into practice. We don’t know what to do, because the experience of the universe through awareness doesn’t work enough, appropriately, in our daily living.

So that is awareness.


The second is satori. Satori is a little deeper than the experience of awareness, because satori is that awareness which penetrates your body, your skin, muscle, bone, and marrow. You really understand what the universe is, how all beings exist, through your body and mind, skin, muscle, bone, and marrow. So your daily living is a little bit free from their difficulties, because you understand pretty well, and you know a little bit how to practice the universe in your daily living, how to practice the experience of satori in your daily living.

In your daily living, maybe your attitude gradually becomes very gentle, compassionate to everybody. But still this satori is not good enough, because it is still something which is going on at the conscious level. Sometimes you handle this satori at the conscious level, sometimes you can get out of the conscious level, but still, it goes back and forth, so it’s still very difficult for us to experience perfect stability in our daily living.

That is satori. Usually people understand Zen as cultivating the experience of satori. [They understand that] Zen practice gives us a chance to experience satori, and then that is the final goal we are aiming at. But this is not the final goal, because the experience of satori is still tinged with something intellectual, which is going on at the subconscious level.


The final goal is that you must be free from the experience of satori. That is the third, the one which is called shō, which literally means “verification”. Verification which is called shō is oneness with the original nature of being. There is no gap between; exactly your daily living is perfectly in accord with the original nature of existence, the rhythm of the nature of existence.

That is the third one, which is called shō, usually translated as realization. This third enlightenment is the highest spiritual level, in which you can be free from awareness and satori. There is no trace of satori, no trace of awareness. That is called shō, verification, because you are already one with the original nature of existence, even though you don’t realize it. You are already right in the middle of the nature of existence.

By this shō, enlightenment, your life is supported, helped, constantly, regardless of whether you like or dislike it. That is the total picture of [the] existence you have.

This is enlightenment. That’s why Buddha says, “Is there any dharma which the Tathāgata has fully known as ‘the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment’?” This is really pointing to the third enlightenment, which is called shō: perfect, right, supreme enlightenment. But if you get something at the conscious level, it is not real enlightenment, it is called awareness, or satori, et cetera. Real satori enlightenment, which is called shō, is nothing you can get in your hand. But, you can be with it, always, constantly.

That is enlightenment, real enlightenment. That’s why, if you are called Buddha – does Buddha experience enlightenment, which he has known perfectly, as perfect, right, supreme enlightenment? Subhuti says, “No.”


So let’s see about this utmost, right, perfect enlightenment, represented as shō in Japanese.

The commentary by Conze says:

Mahayanists are fond of saying that Buddha’s enlightenment is not real fact, and that likewise, the Dharma preached by the Buddha shouldn’t be misunderstood as a definite teaching of definite facts. In the Large Prajnaparamita Sutras the theme of this chapter has been treated at much greater length. A few parallels in “The Version in 8,000 Lines” may throw light on it, and show the connection with the basic doctrines of, first, the marklessness of all things, second, the marklessness of their emptiness, and third, the marklessness of their suchness.

(Transcriber’s Note: The current version of the book says, “(1) the marklessness of all things, (2) of their emptiness, and (3) of their Suchness.”)

So let’s understand, let’s think, one by one.


Doctor Conze said:

Subhuti asks, “All dharmas have therefore really not been fully known by the Tathāgata?” The Lord replies, “It is just through their own essential nature that those dharmas are not something definite. Their true nature is a no-nature, and their no-nature is their true nature; for all dharmas have one mark only, that is, no mark. It is for this reason that all dharmas have really not been fully known by the Tathāgata. For there are not two natures of dharma, but just one single is the nature of all dharmas. And the true nature of all dharmas is a no-nature, and their no-nature is their true nature. It is thus that all points of possible attachment are abandoned.”

This is the explanation of the first point, “the marklessness of all things.” That means all things are based on emptiness, exactly emptiness.

Emptiness means, the original nature of existence is that which exists constantly without any reason. If you say “why do we exist,” you have to answer, “we exist to eat,” “we exist to work,” “we work to live” – whatever you say. But, this answer to the question “why” doesn’t hit the mark, what the original nature of existence is, because the original nature of existence is exactly emptiness.

In Buddhism, I always tell you, emptiness doesn’t mean something in vain. Emptiness is total dynamic working. The original nature of existence is constantly, totally working in dynamism, without leaving any trace, without getting any ideas. You cannot catch it. That is original nature of existence.

So, if you ask yourself why you exist in this world as American, as Japanese, as a Buddhist, as a Christian – well, we don’t understand. Of course, you can answer this question “why” – but even though you get an answer to this question “why,” that answer is not good enough. Still there are lots of things you don’t understand.

Strictly speaking, whatever answer you get to the question why you exist in this world as American – before you answer this question, or before you make answer of why, you are already absolute being. You already exist; no reason. Before you make a question, you exist already. You have to get an answer to this reality, before you may question why.

If you try to get an answer to this question why, it means that already you look at yourself objectively, running it through your head, without directly touching existence itself. Existence itself has no reason. Because before I make an answer why, I am Katagiri. I am here. I am Katagiri already. Before I call myself Katagiri, the original nature of Katagiri is right now, right here. How can I explain this? No reason. The real nature of Katagiri exists with no reason.


One of the German poets said, “A rose exists without any reason. A rose blooms because it blooms.”

(Transcriber’s Note: The quote is from Angelus Silesius (Johann Scheffler), German mystic, 1624-1677. “The rose is without ‘why’; it blooms simply because it blooms. It pays no attention to itself, nor does it ask whether anyone sees it.”)

Rose exists without any reason. I think so: rose exists without any reason. Why the rose blooms in a beautiful, big garden, or in a small garden, or wherever. Or you say to a rose, “How happy you are. Wonderful, happy rose, you are.” Whatever you say, this is coming from human speculation.

Human speculation doesn’t hit the mark, existence itself, the rose. Before you say whatever it is, rose exists! Rose exists. Tiny flowers, poppy seeds, bloom in the heart of the mountain. You say, “Oh, poor, beautiful flowers.” But this is something extra. Whatever you say to a flower: “You are okay,” or “Let’s bloom there.” Or you say, “I don’t care.” Or you say, “Thank you very much, blooming flower in front of me, in the heart of the mountain.” Whatever you say, it doesn’t hit the mark, the bullseye. Before you say, “Little flowers bloom in the heart of the mountain,” already the beautiful flower’s own life force blooms. This is the life of the little flower itself. So, the tiny flower exists, without any reason.

This is emptiness. Emptiness means, no reason. With no reason, everything exists as it really is. And then, when your consciousness starts work, and consciousness catches your existence objectively, at that time, you create lots of things: toward, like, dislike, good, bad; whatever it is. Many things come up.

The utmost, perfect, right enlightenment is the nature of existence, which exists with no reason. Beyond the effective preferences, like or dislike, whatever it is, it exists constantly. When you understand this, nature’s existence which exists without any reason, at that time, emptiness is represented as – [finger snap] – stability in your daily living, stability. Perfect stability. But immediately, when the consciousness starts work, consciousness always catches something objectively. Consciousness takes something in possession of a form, always. Putting a name on it; judging, evaluating; this is characteristic of consciousness.


And consciousness works only when you don’t feel satisfactory, if you want to be something – [for example, if you want to be] a certain teacher, in a certain state of your life – if you don’t satisfy yourself.

In other words, if you see this book and start to read the book, if you understand [it] pretty well, then each word jumps into your heart, every time when you read. At that time, there is no gap between the book and you. But if you don’t understand – immediately you don’t satisfy [yourself]. So if you don’t satisfy, there is a gap, which is called a “psychic crack”, [there is some laughter,] through which cold wind blows in. And then at that time, that is unsatisfaction. And then this psychic crack calls consciousness “book”. Do you understand?

And then you say, “What’s that? What is this book?” And then you still encourage yourself to continue to read. “Come on, read. You want to be a good Buddhist. If you want to be a good Buddhist, let’s read.” So read, read, read; again and again, even though you don’t understand. So, your mind is continually busy. Busy, busy, busy. But when you understand exactly: nothing, no consciousness. Consciousness stops, exactly stops.

You experience this in your daily living. I sometimes take a trip to Omaha by airplane. When I am in the airplane, well, my consciousness doesn’t work, my consciousness completely stops. To know where I am, or what’s going on; I don’t know. Just be one with the airplane. But sometimes something happens, all of a sudden, when the airplane is in an air pocket, and then, boom. “What’s that??” Then at that time, I don’t feel satisfied. In that situation, immediately there is a gap between airplane and I. So that is “psychic crack”. And then cold wind blows into me: “Oh my, I don’t want to die!” [Laughter.] Or, if you see something through the window, immediately you can create a psychic crack, because you can see many things moving. So you see, “Oh, I am in an airplane.” But if you are completely one with the airplane, consciousness completely stops. That’s wonderful. But, consciousness doesn’t disappear. It’s there, but it stops. Consciousness doesn’t vanish.

The original nature of existence is just like oneness right in the middle of the airplane. That’s all. This is the original nature of existence, in which you are present constantly. But when you don’t satisfy this, immediately you create a psychic crack, consciousness starts to work. And then consciousness continually works, on and on. Finally, we create what is called “Buddhist psychology”. [There are a couple soft laughs.] A huge system of Buddhist psychology, which is called Abhidharma. [He chuckles.] Abhidharmahuge.

That’s wonderful. But this is still something you play with, constantly. This is important too, but the most important point is, be one with the nature of existence. Because the nature of existence is emptiness. Emptiness means no gap between you and original nature of existence. No gap. So all you have to do is, you must be present with original nature of existence. Constantly, whatever happens, under all circumstances, day after day: stand up there, take care of it. And then at that time, you can experience perfect stability.

And then this is called “the marklessness of all things”. Completely emptiness. Emptiness means, no gap between you and the book, you and breakfast. No gap. So all you have to do is, you should … experience stability there, in the oneness.


That is emptiness. And the second is “the marklessness of their emptiness.”

If we say “the original nature of existence is characterized by emptiness,” immediately we don’t understand it. So, we create a psychic crack, and your consciousness works, and you think of it, analyze it, synthesize it: what emptiness is. That means you are stuck in the realm of emptiness, in the realm of oneness.

If you’re stuck in the oneness, it is not oneness, it is already two. Oneness is just one only, not two. If we say “The universe is one,” we say, “Yes; I understand it.” But that is already two. Do you understand? [He laughs, and some people laugh.] We say, “Yes, I understand.” “Yes, I understand” is part of oneness. But real oneness is not something you understand. Oneness is real activity, which allows you to show oneness from moment to moment. This is real oneness. So even though you say “I understand,” next moment, you don’t understand. [You say,] “I studied for many, many years about emptiness. I understand emptiness today.” Next day, someone asks you from a different angle about emptiness: “I don’t understand.”

We chant in Prajnaparamita, wisdom, and emptiness, or impermanence – lots of Buddhist terms. We understand it in a sense; from a certain angle, we understand pretty well. But it’s not broad. If someone asks us about it from a different angle we have never seen, we don’t understand it. So, even though you say “I understand emptiness,” it is not good enough, because still emptiness does not work in your daily living. So you’re pretty easily stuck in the realm of emptiness. At that time, emptiness is no longer emptiness, emptiness is something. Already it’s not emptiness. Emptiness is perfectly emptiness. Perfect emptiness is dynamical working.

That is “the marklessness of their emptiness”. You cannot believe any form of emptiness you have understood. Finally, “the marklessness of their emptiness” means, formlessness. That means, concretely speaking, openness. Openness … to manifest the original nature of existence, [emptiness]. Openness to accommodate to conditioned elements, conditioned situations. To work freely. Or, openness is straightforwardness toward emptiness, toward the truth, constantly.


In your daily living, if you read this book on Diamond Sutra: if this is something you want to do, you have to read it. “You have to read” is your life, which you have to take care of. Under all circumstances, whether you like or dislike it, you have to take care of it. If you stop it, or if you give up, you cannot do it; that means you give up your desires, your hope. No, if you want to do something, like “you have to read this”: that is your life. If it is true, you have to continue to read.

And then, in the process of reading, there are lots of experiences: like or dislike, understand or not understand. Lots of bubbles come up, and pop. Next moment, different bubbles come up, and pop. Always there. But whatever kind of bubbles you can see, all you have to do is not to [leave] any form of a certain bubble, or say, “I see this bubble,” or “I see that bubble.” You stop there. But, don’t stop there. Just see the bubbles. Basically, all you have to do is, to be stable in the realm of emptiness.

Stability in the realm of emptiness is a very basic attitude toward human life. Continue to read – that means, practice. Continue to read. Like: okay. Dislike: okay. Comes up, disappears, comes up, disappears, but basically, your practice is just going on. That is stability. If you continue to do this, that life is very stable.

That is marklessness of emptiness. Formlessness. Openness. Continually, your heart and your mind must be open. Open to a sense of like, or to a sense of dislike, or a sense of good, a sense of evil, or right, or wrong, or feeling good, or feeling not good, uncomfortable or comfortable, or pleasant or unpleasant; whatever it is. Anyway, openness. Openness is formlessness.


And third, “the marklessness of their suchness”.

So finally, all you have to do is just continue to do it. That is what is called obedience: just to follow. Just to follow life.

Everyone has karmic life. This karmic life is completely beyond good or bad, right and wrong. Whatever kind of karmic life, you should totally accept karmic life. If you totally accept karmic life, and really take care of your daily living – moving toward the future, planting a good seed toward the future – at that time, the karmic life which you have accumulated will disappear, very naturally. Because, you continue to plant good seeds for future life, day after day. So, the karmic life which you have accumulated will disappear.

An important point is: don’t be obsessed with an idea of karmic life you have understood …

[Tape change.]

… But if it is necessary: just accept. If you cannot escape from it, just accept.

If you think, “I don’t like meditation,” or “I like meditation,” or “I don’t know,” or “I don’t know what meditation is, good or bad, right or wrong” – if you think so, your life is really unstable. If your life is really unstable, it’s pretty difficult for us to get the chance to plant a good seed from day to day toward the future. So if there is no escape from meditation, you should accept it totally. And then an important point is, if you do it, you really feel relief. If you feel really relieved, you can be one with your life, your real life. If you be one with your life, I told you before, there is no psychic crack. “I don’t like meditation,” or “I like meditation,” or “I don’t know whether it is good or bad” – this is already creation of a psychic crack. If it is necessary, [accept it].

Then, maybe meditation hurts your body and mind. Well, it is not alright, it is not okay – but it is not bad. Still there is a chance to take care of your life with your best. Yes there is. Right in the middle of meditation, still there is a chance to take care of your life with your best, planting a good seed toward the future. At that time, there is no chance to create a psychic crack. You become one with your life. If it is true, you feel good. You feel relief.

That is the third one, “the marklessness of their suchness”. “Their suchness” means obedience. Obedience means just to follow. Just to follow means, the rose blooms because it blooms. The rose blooms just to bloom. No reason.


Why do you exist in this world? I don’t know. “I don’t know” does not mean “I don’t know”; “I don’t know” means “I know,” and “I don’t know,” too. “I don’t know” means completely to accept the total picture of what you don’t know or what you know.

And then, why do you exist? Why do you live in this world? You live to work? Or you work to live? Or you make money to live? Or you live to make money? Or you live to be happy? Whatever it is, it doesn’t hit the mark. That is just a part of the purpose of your life. The total purpose of your life is – no reason. Just to live. No reason. That’s why the truth to live is, just to live. Just to live.

That’s why the German poet says, “the rose exists without any reason.” And finally, “the marklessness of their suchness” means you should throw away “without any reason”. And then finally, the rose blooms just to bloom.

If you say, “Katagiri exists without any reason,” this is still logical explanation, according to a philosophical understanding which is called emptiness. “The original nature of Katagiri is completely emptiness,” so “I exist [without] any reason”: this is still logical explanation. The second marklessness, “marklessness of emptiness” – that means formlessness. Openness means throw away the term “without any reason”. At that time, the third marklessness, you can just bloom. Just bloom, to bloom.

This is emptiness. If you understand Buddha – Buddha experiences this enlightenment. That’s why Subhuti says, “The dharma which the Tathāgata has fully known or demonstrated, it cannot be grasped.” If there is even slightly something you can grasp, which is called emptiness, or no emptiness, or neutral between emptiness or no emptiness – that is still something you can grasp. So, original nature of existence is completely the absolute. Absolute is one, just one.

One is not something you can think or you can grasp. When you think, when you experience, when you “get it,” it is always two. All religion speaks about the truth, but there are many kinds of truth. We fight each other, according to many kinds of truth. “Buddhism is right.” “Christianity is right; Buddhism is crazy.” But Buddhism and Christianity explain about the truth. The truth is exactly one. One means, nothing to get or to grasp.


“It cannot be grasped, it cannot be talked about.”

To talk is very important, because the activity you talk comes up from the original nature of existence. Otherwise, you cannot talk. Otherwise you cannot talk about the truth. The activity to talk is aiming at the highest speech and level, always aiming. Words cannot reach there. But the activity to talk itself, coming from the original nature of existence, aims at the high spiritual level. Words cannot reach there; that’s why there is some confusion.

“Emptiness”: this is a word. But the activity I talk about, emptiness itself, is not a word, because words are already emptiness, and the subject I am talking about is also emptiness. So I am not talking about the emptiness I can see or get. That is a word. When I am talking about emptiness, I myself am emptiness always. And words also are emptiness, always.

So, emptiness – this is, I have to talk about emptiness. To talk is important, but not the word. Most people are completely cheated by the word. If I say “emptiness,” [you say,] “Oh, I don’t like it, because emptiness is negative.” But emptiness is pretty nice. Emptiness is emptiness completely denied. Why do I exist? Why does the rose exist? Completely denied. That negation leads you to touch the exact core of existence of the rose itself. That is negation; that’s what emptiness is.

So emptiness is very important for us. A more positive, affirmative term is, I told you, stability. Stability, or maturity, or spiritual security. That is emptiness. Through the emptiness, you can really experience spiritual security, or stability. Perfect stability.


“It cannot be talked about; it is neither a dharma nor a no-dharma.”

Dharma is truth, or teaching… or whatever it is. Dharma is understood as a truth. Truth is, anyway, truth. But that truth that you understand is not the real truth, because truth has no “mark” of its own. No mark. That is emptiness.

Truth cannot be described by a word. So you cannot describe a truth as a truth or no-truth. If a truth is emptiness, you say, “Oh, no-truth.” But no-truth is already something; it’s not empty, because you are stuck there; that means it’s no longer emptiness. So whatever you think – dharma is emptiness, or dharma is not emptiness – all are something “extra”. Emptiness is completely absolute.


“And why? Because an absolute exalts the holy person.”

Exalts: that is the absolute. The original nature of existence exalts your life. Under all circumstances, whatever you think, like or dislike, this absolute takes care of you.

The commentary by Doctor Conze says: (pp. 34)

The Absolute is literally “the Unconditioned,” and according to Vasubandhu, it means here that which cannot be discriminated.

The absolute, or the truth, is the unconditioned. Well, the unconditioned means the truth; something which exists with no reason. That is something which always exists in perfect stability, constantly. That is the absolute: the unrelated, the unconditioned.

[To continue,]

… it means here that which cannot be discriminated. With an obvious and deliberate disregard for logic the Sutra claims that this unrelated Absolute can enter into a relation with certain persons. This is a difficult idea, and a difficult word is chosen to express it. Exalts – the word (prabhavita) contains a great wealth of meaning, and “exalts” is the best I can do. One could also say, “are glorified by,” “draw their strength from,” “owe their distinction to,” or “derive their dignity from.” The idea is that the holy persons have “arisen” from the Unconditioned, have been “produced” from it, are “brought forth” by it.

So, the absolute, the unconditioned, the original nature of existence [inherent] in all beings, exalts your life – basically. Giving encouragement to you, giving strength to you, giving dignity to you, constantly. This is [the] absolute. So, from this point, we are already right in the middle of this. All we have to do is just continually be present with this absolute. Absolute means, completely [unintelligible]. Under all circumstances, as much as possible, you should stand up straight, with stability and confidence. Your consciousness tells you whatever it is – “you are a good boy” or “bad boy”, whatever it is – anyway, you should be stable, stand up straight, and continue to take care of your life. And then, finally, you can really experience what is called spiritual stability.

Do you have any questions?


Question: Roshi? When you talk about the marklessness of all things, of their emptiness, and of their suchness, are those the three aspects of emptiness, or the three aspects of what?

Katagiri: Truth.

Same person: Of truth.

Katagiri: Dharma. Enlightenment. The ultimate, utmost, right, perfect enlightenment. Okay?


Question: Roshi, would one good way of putting it be, everything is within emptiness and emptiness is within everything?

Katagiri: Hmm? Emptiness is everything, everything is emptiness?

Same person: No, everything is within emptiness and emptiness is within everything.

Katagiri: Not “with”.

Same person: Within.

Katagiri: Not within. Everything is emptiness.

It is exactly here, but it’s not within, not with, not in, not on.

[There is a long silence.]

That’s why you can [survive] for many years, and you should be appreciative. You have been [alive] for twenty-five years, or for twenty-six years, haven’t you?

Person: Twenty-seven.

Katagiri: Right. And you should be appreciative – because you are already emptiness.

Person: I’m grateful.

[Long silence.]

Katagiri: More questions?

If you don’t have more questions, I want to tell you one thing. At Omaha Zen Center, they will have the opening ceremony of the new zendo on September 9th. So they need lots of help. I want to get some volunteers to help Omaha Zen Center before the opening ceremony; there are lots of things. So the sign is already up on the bulletin board in the basement. Really I want to organize two crews of volunteers; one weekend and second weekend. One crew going a certain weekend, the other, another weekend. So please sign up downstairs on the bulletin board. I don’t know when, it depends on the numbers of the volunteers.

1:10:15 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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