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Diamond Sutra: Emptiness
August 1, 1979 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi
Audio file at mnzencenter.org
0:00 start of recording
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 7, there are two questions: What is Buddha? The second question is, what are the dharmas taught or preached by Buddha, Tathāgata?
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. Third is sho - that is usually translated as “realization”. So enlightenment, broadly speaking, is to know or to awaken to the real nature, 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 your 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. So, you really understand what the universe is, how all beings exist, through your body and mind, skin, muscle, bone, and marrow. You understand pretty well. 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 [with] 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 sometimes it goes back and forth, so it’s still difficulty. It’s very difficult for us to experience perfect stability in our daily living.
That is satori. Usually people understand, then cultivate [the] experience of satori; 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 something tinged. It is still tinged with something intellectual which is going on at [a] subconscious level.
So, [the] final goal is that you must be free from [the] experience of satori. That is [the] third, [the] one which is called “sho”, which literally means “verification”. Verification which is called “sho” 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 nature of existence.
That is [the] third one, which is called “sho”, translated usually [as] realization. This third enlightenment is the highest spiritual level, [in] which you can be free from awareness and satori. So, [there is] no trace of satori, no trace of awareness. That is called sho, 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 “sho”, enlightenment, your life is supported, helped, constantly, regardless of whether you like or dislike [it]. That is the total picture of 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 point[ing] out to the third enlightenment, which is called sho: perfect, right, supreme enlightenment. But you cannot… 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 sho, 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, that Buddha experiences 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 sho in Japanese.
According to the commentary by Conze, he 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 (1) the marklessness of all things, of (2) their emptiness, and (3) of their Suchness.” (Katagiri phrases this last part as “the marklessness of all things, the marklessness of their emptiness, and the marklessness 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 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 emptiness doesn’t mean, always I tell you, not 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, why do 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 answer this question 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 touching existence itself. Existence itself has no reason. Because before you make answer why, I am Katagiri. I am here. I am Katagiri already. Before I call myself Katagiri, original nature of Katagiri is right now, right here. How can I explain this? No reason. The real nature of Katagiri exists without reason.
One of the German poets said, “A rose exists without any reason. A rose blooms because it blooms.”
(“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.” - Angelus Silesius (Johann Scheffler), German mystic, 1624-1677.)
Rose exists without any reason. I think so; rose exists without any reason. Why rose blooms in the beautiful, big garden, or in a small garden, or wherever. When you say to a rose, “How happy you are. Wonderful, happy, wonderful 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 seed, blooms 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, bullseye. Before you say, “Little flowers bloom in the heart of the mountain,” [it is] already letting the beautiful flower of its own life force bloom. This is [the] life of the little flower itself. So, [the] tiny flower exists, without any reason.
And this is emptiness. Emptiness means, no reason. With no reason, everything exists, 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,] 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 pretty well each word, [then] each word jumps into your heart, every time when you read. At that time, no gap [exists] 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 “psychic crack” [mild laughter], psychic crack 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, well 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 airplane. But sometimes something happens, all of a sudden, when [the] airplane is in an air pocket: 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 could 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 original nature of existence, in which you are present constantly.
But when you don’t satisfy this, immediately you create psychic crack, consciousness starts [to] work. And then consciousness continually works, on and on. Finally, we create what is called Buddhist Psychology. [a couple soft laughs] Huge system of Buddhist Psychology, which is called Abhidharma. [he chuckles] Abhidharma –huge.
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; some people laugh]
“I understand, yes.” “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. Emptiness: “I studied for many many years about emptiness. I understand emptiness today.” Next day, someone asks me from a different angle about emptiness: “I don’t understand.” Do you understand? The emptiness you chant in Prajnaparamita – wisdom, and emptiness, or impermanence – lots of terms, 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 it,” it is not good enough, because still emptiness does not work in your daily life. 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 perfect emptiness. Perfect emptiness is dynamical working.
That is [the] marklessness of the emptiness. You cannot believe any form of emptiness you have understood. Finally, the marklessness of emptiness means, formlessness. Formlessness. That means, concretely speaking, openness. Openness to … manifest the original nature of existence; openness to accommodate conditioned elements, conditioned situations. To work freely. Or, openness is … straightforwardness, toward the 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, 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. Continue to read. And then, in the process of reading, there are lots of experiences: like [or] dislike, understand, not understand. Lots of bubbles come up, and pop up. 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, “I see this bubble,” or “I see that bubble.” You, stop there. But, don’t stop there. Just see the bubbles. But basically, all you have to do is, to be stable. To be stable in the realm of emptiness.
Stability in the realm of emptiness is 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 which is called obedience; just to follow. Just to follow life.
So, 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, 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…
… 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. So, 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], at [a] certain point, if you do it, you really feel relief. And then, 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. If you create [a] 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, [pivot?].
Then, maybe meditation hurts your body and mind. Well, it is not alright, 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 for 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. Marklessness of suchness – suchness means obedience. Obedience means just to follow. Just to follow means, flower, 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” means not “I don’t know”; “I don’t know” means “I know, and I don’t know”. “I don’t know” means completely to accept total picture of “I 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. 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 German poet says, “the rose exists without any reason.” And finally, the marklessness of suchness should throw away without any meaning. And then finally, rose blooms, just to bloom.
If you say, “Katagiri exists without any reason,” this is still logical explanation, based on [and] according to [a] philosophical understanding which is called emptiness. So, [the] original nature of Katagiri is completely emptiness. So, I exist with [envy?]; this is still logical explanation. The second, marklessness of emptiness – that means formlessness. Openness means throw away term without [envy?].
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 absolute. Absolute is one, just one.
One is not something you can think or you can grab. When you think, when you experience, when you “get it,” it is always two. That’s why religion, 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, [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, is not [a] word, [it is] emptiness itself. 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: “Oh, I don’t like it, because emptiness is negative.” But emptiness is pretty nice. Completely emptiness is emptiness 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. So truth cannot be described by a word. So you cannot describe 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 absent.
Next, “And why? Because an absolute exalts the holy person.” 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.
… 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, under all circumstances, as much as possible, you should stand up straight, and with stability [and] confidence. Your consciousness tells you whatever it is – “you are 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, or the emptiness of [unintelligible], are those the three aspects of emptiness, or the three aspects of what?
Same person: Of truth.
Katagiri: Karma. 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?], it’s not within, not with, not in, not on.
That’s why you can be alive for many years, and you should be appreciative. You have been alive for 25 years, 26 years?
Katagiri: You should be appreciative. Because you are already emptiness.
Person: I’m grateful.
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 new zendo on September 9. So they need a lot 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
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