August 15, 1979 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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If, as the Diamond Sutra says, there is no dharma which the Buddha Shakyamuni has experienced, no dharma which the Buddha Shakyamuni has preached, then how does the Buddha experience and preach the dharma? Katagiri Roshi addresses this question in relation to the practice of giving. He begins by discussing seven ways we can be giving, even if we don’t have the ability to give a material gift or preach the dharma. To explain how the ungraspable can be taught, he talks about the three divisions of the Buddha body: nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya, and dharmakaya. This helps explain the role of virtue and merit, and also knowledge, in Buddhism. (Those looking for an explanation of Bodhidharma’s famous statement of “no merit” would do well to refer to this talk, in conjunction with the next two.) There is more about the Rilke poem, and why we have to experience a “big shock” to realize the dharma. Also: is enlightenment forgetfulness?


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Katagiri Roshi:

(Chapter 8)

The Lord then asked: “What do you think, Subhuti, if a son or daughter of good family had filled this world system of 1,000 million worlds with the seven precious things, and then gave it as a gift to the Tathāgatas, Arhats, Fully Enlightened Ones, would they on the strength of that beget a great heap of merit?”

Subhuti replied: “Great, O Lord, great, O Well-Gone, would that heap of merit be! And why? Because the Tathāgata spoke of the ‘heap of merit’ as a non-heap. That is how the Tathāgata speaks of ‘heap of merit’.”

The Lord said: “But if someone else were to take from this discourse on dharma but one stanza of four lines, and would demonstrate and illuminate (Katagiri says “illustrate”) it in full detail to others, then he would on the strength of that beget a still greater heap of merit, immeasurable and incalculable. And why? Because from it has issued the utmost, right, and perfect enlightenment of the Tathāgatas, Arhats, Fully Enlightened Ones, and from it have issued the Buddhas, the Lords. And why? For the Tathāgata has taught that the dharmas special to the Buddhas are just not a Buddha’s special dharmas. That is why they are called ‘the dharmas special to the Buddhas.’”

(From “Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra” by Edward Conze, pp. 34-35.)

I think you remember, the Buddha asked Subhuti before, “If there is nothing special to experience and to preach, how does the Buddha experience and preach the dharma?” The Buddha said to Subhuti, “Is there a particular dharma he has enlightened, or is there a particular dharma he has preached?” So Subhuti says, “No dharma the Buddha Shakyamuni has experienced, no dharma which the Buddha Shakyamuni has preached.”

If it is true, how does the Buddha experience and preach the dharma? Chapter 8 is the answer to this question, according to the practice of the perfection of giving, one of the six paramitas.


In Buddhism usually there are three kinds of giving in the perfection of giving. One is material gifts. The second is dharma gifts. The third is the giving of fearlessness.

Material gifts, dharma gifts – but if you don’t have any material gifts, or if you don’t have any capability to preach dharma, what should you give? In one of the Buddhist scriptures, there are seven kinds of giving for such a person who doesn’t have any material gifts or dharma gifts.

One is “giving with eyes”. This is to come in contact with people with a tender look. This is also a giving practice. Even though you don’t have any materials or dharmas you can preach, still there is a practice of giving.

The second is “giving with face”. It means to come in contact with people with a soft, gentle, joyous expression on one’s face.

But this is very important: it’s not necessary to always smile. If you have a very gentle, soft, magnanimous, joyous mind, your face speaks of your mind, how joyous it is, how gentle it is, even though you don’t smile. But if your mind is always angry, or always expressing complaints, et cetera, your face is always something miserable, ugly – even though you smile. Do you understand?


The third: “giving with words”. It means to use peaceful words when one comes in contact with people.

Peaceful words are very important. But peaceful words are not always gentle, not always soft. Even though the words are very pithy or very strong, it is also peaceful words when it is helpful for the person to turn over his own new life.

But even though it’s not necessary to scold or to scream always, there is a very interesting story. One of the famous Japanese novelists had one of his sons who wasted lots of money. This novelist was also one of the great painters. So he painted, and the larger pictures were in his room. Sometimes he could sell them, but usually he didn’t sell them. But his son sold most of them without saying anything, in order to spend his life at the bar – [mild laughter] – drinking beer, wine, whisky always. Unfortunately, he got an ulcer. So he went to the hospital to recover, but after he recovered he still continued to spend lots of money to drink brandy. And finally, he got cancer. [All the way] until his death, his father didn’t scold him at all; he didn’t say anything. But his brothers and sisters were really angry with the father because he didn’t say anything to him – just watched him.

This novelist was one of the very enthusiastic Buddhists, believing the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. In the Lotus Sutra, it’s always explaining the oneness of the world. So, right before he died with cancer, the son really expressed appreciation to his father. He didn’t say anything, but the son really expressed his gratitude to his father. This is [beautiful], because the world is one.

So, it’s not always scolding, using [harsh] words, but it’s not always to use soft words or gentle words. It really depends on the situation. Basically, anyway, we have to practice giving with words.


The fourth: “giving with the body”. That means to help people with the body first.

Most people think something with their head, saying, “I want to help the people.” Or, “I think I can believe.” In Buddhism, to think is not to think, to think is to do something with your body. So to believe is to practice with your body. To believe is not to do something with mind alone; you cannot do this. If you believe something, you have to do it with your body.

On the other hand, you cannot do it with your body alone. So next: “giving with mind”.

You have to do something with body, but also mind must be present with body. Because we are human. If you’re a cat or dog, you can do with just body alone. If we have breakfast, of course, we have to have breakfast with your body first. No one can have breakfast with the mind. So first you have to have breakfast with the body – but you are not cat, you are not dog, so you have to have breakfast with mind. That means, why don’t you use a fork; why don’t you sit down on the chair. Why don’t you keep silent; why don’t you appreciate the food given to you. Why don’t you appreciate your existence; why don’t you appreciate your parents and teachers, sisters and brothers, nature. This is the way to have breakfast with body and mind. This is also the great practice of perfection of this paramita, giving.

Sixth: […] The gift of making room for a person, or offering a blanket to people.

Sometimes on a bus, old people come in, but young people don’t care whoever comes in, so they keep sitting. But if you see the old people ride on the bus, why don’t you make room for them? Or sometimes you can offer a cushion, blanket, or sleeping bag. Or [phone], et cetera.

Seventh: the gift of sharing a room with people. Sometimes you can share a room with people.

Those seven practices are the perfection of giving for a person who doesn’t have any material gifts or dharma gifts.


Strictly speaking, material gifts and dharma gifts are all on the same footing. For example, if material gifts are given to a person of a preacher’s fiber, one can help him to study and practice the teachings and become a preacher. Material gifts of this kind are on an equal footing with dharma gifts, because in the future he will be a preacher to give the Buddha’s teachings to people. Or, by dharma gifts one can regain one’s footing from difficulties in one’s life, and feel grateful for one’s life, without wasting any kinds of materials. Dharma gifts of this sort are of the same value as material gifts. Even though one is very poor, even though one has just enough materials to live to the minimum, he can find happiness in such a situation, because he can listen to dharma teaching, teaching given by preachers and people.

Doctor Conze says in his comment:

The merit derived from material gifts is called great, that derived from the spiritual gift of the Dharma immeasurable and incalculable, “inconceivable, incomparable, and measureless” … To be generous with material things brings a “great” reward – wealth or reputation in a future life, or even rebirth in heaven.

But in Chapter 7 the sutra discriminates between material gifts and dharma gifts. Merit derived from dharma gifts is greater than merit of material gifts. So Doctor Conze says,

Infinitely greater is the reward of those who teach the Dharma. Their spiritual welfare and stature will grow by leaps and bounds, and ultimately they will become fit to gain the Dharmabody of a fully enlightened Buddha.

That means the dharma gifts are the direct cause of leading people to reach spiritual welfare and stature – so-called enlightenment, or dharma body. So in terms of givers and gifts themselves, there is no discrimination between the material gifts and dharma gifts, but in terms of the recipients, there is discrimination between the two.


The dharma gifts are, I told you, the direct cause of leading people to reach spiritual welfare or stature, so-called enlightenment or “dharma body”. In Buddhism, Buddha body is divided into three. One is dharma body. The second is nirmanakaya: nirmana body. The third is sambhogakaya. Nirmanakaya Buddha, Sambhogakaya Buddha, and Dharmakaya Buddha.

Dharmakaya Buddha means dharma body, or dharma itself, or the essential nature of dharmas. That is Buddha himself. That is the essential characteristic and character of the Buddha. So we call the essential nature of dharma the Buddha himself. That is called Dharmakaya Buddha.

The second, Nirmanakaya Buddha, is a visible Buddha. For example, Shakyamuni Buddha, who was born 2500 years ago in India as a human. This is Nirmanakaya Buddha.

The third, Sambhogakaya Buddha, that is where we can reach at the stage of the Buddha as a result, through one’s virtuous quality and practice as a cause, in the context of the understandable ways. This is Sambhogakaya Buddha. (Transcriber’s Note: Katagiri Roshi says something like “virtual quality” here, but the word “virtual” has a different meaning than he probably intended, so I am substituting “virtuous”.)

So, Dharmakaya Buddha – dharma itself, or the essential nature of Buddha himself – is completely beyond human speculation. You cannot grasp it. That’s why the no-dharmas [are those] through which Shakyamuni Buddha has experienced and preached, because dharma itself is completely beyond human speculation. But Nirmanakaya Buddha is the Buddha as human. So Buddha as a human tries to teach dharma itself, but that dharma explained by Shakyamuni Buddha as a human is no-dharma. It’s not real dharma, because dharma is completely beyond human speculation.

But on the other hand: Real dharma, dharma itself explained by Buddha, is no-dharma. That’s why in Diamond Sutra it always says “Dharma is no-dharma. This is dharma.” It’s contradictory, but this is really true, because truth is completely human speculation. Even though you can teach, you can explain what the truth is, with this body and mind as a human the truth mentioned or explained by you is no-truth. It’s far from real truth.


But if it is true, is there no way to teach? Shouldn’t we teach the dharma?

We have to teach, because there is Sambhogakaya Buddha, which means you can reach at the stage of Buddha by your own virtuous quality, which you have accumulated in the past. You have planted good seeds in the past; this is your body and mind which exists now as a result. This is your existence; that’s why your existence is very valuable.

So, [we use] this virtuous quality and practice, which we can understand using our head: knowledge. Get some knowledge, and then we try to practice, and then we can reach the stage of Buddha. That is Sambhogakaya Buddha. That means that real dharma, explained by the human body, is completely no-dharma, not real dharma. There is already a contradictory structure there. But through no-dharma, there is dharma you can explain. The verbal explanation of dharma is no-dharma, not real dharma, but through the verbal explanation of dharma, you can reach real dharma. That’s why the verbal explanation of the dharma is very important for us, because through this we can experience, we can preach, and we can lead people to be fit to gain the truth, or enlightenment, or Buddha. That’s why words are important.

This is Sambhogakaya. So using your head, knowledge, you have to study, one by one. That is Buddhist philosophy, Buddhist psychology as a background, behind the little switch of a TV set. In our daily living, we have to always turn on a “switch”. Get up in the morning, turn on the switch. [Click.] If you go to work: go to work, turn on the switch. [Click.] Every moment, we have to turn on a switch. That’s all we have to do.

But on the other hand, even though you understand human life through this continuous turning on the switch every moment, it is not real dharma. You cannot reach the real dharma. Because behind the switch, there are huge worlds unfolded. That is solidity, universal energy, electric waves, human effort – lots of things going on. [Music.] Many things.

And then we have to learn [things] one by one; this is philosophy, psychology as a background. And then through this understandable way, [we go] to the total picture of the truth. According to philosophical and psychological explanation, we can reach at the stage of the Buddha as a result. That is Sambhogakaya Buddha.


From this point, the real dharma is something which you cannot touch, [yet] you cannot ignore it. Because, if the truth is beyond human speculation, well, sometimes you try to ignore it, you try not to study or practice, so very naturally, no hope will be found in your life. But that is not a good way; because we are right in the middle of the truth, or dharma, or Buddha. Regardless of whether you don’t like it or you are conscious of it or not, we are there. Even though you try to ignore it, you cannot ignore it, because you are right in the middle of truth. So you have to realize where you are.

And then, through the virtuous quality you have had, you can realize what the truth is. And then if you realize the truth, you can explain what the truth is. At that time, very naturally, we try to attach to the truth, explained by our human body and mind. But it is not real truth.

So, real dharma is neither attachment nor dis-attachment. No detachment, no attachment. So, we have to always practice in the realm of the truth, regardless of whether we are conscious of it or not. This is our practice. Just the practice.

And then, through this practice, sooner or later you will reach at the stage of the same experience which the Buddha experienced. That is the individual experience of religious life. But you can’t attach to individual experience, because it is individual, it is not universal truth. So, you cannot attach to individual experience of religious life, but through the individual experience of the truth you can explain what the truth is. And by the explanation of the truth, you can lead the people to be fit to gain the core of human life. That’s why explanation is important, even though explanation of the dharma is not real dharma. But, it is dharma, because the dharma explained by you leads the people to be fit to gain the truth.

So, there is nothing to attach to; not to Sambhogakaya, not to Nirmanakaya, not to Dharmakaya Buddha – nothing. All you have to do is, at the stage of each moment, when the time comes to [preach], just to preach. When the time comes to practice, just to practice. When the time comes to keep silent, just to keep silent. This is a simple practice.


Finally in Chapter 8: “The Tathāgata has taught that the dharmas special to the Buddhas are just not the Buddha’s special dharmas. That is why they are called ‘the dharmas special to the Buddhas.’”

That means the buddhadharma mentioned by human body, human speculation, is no buddhadharma, because buddhadharma is completely beyond human speculation; [it is] truth itself. You cannot touch it. If you touch it, your body is burnt out. If you ignore it, your body and mind is frozen. You cannot ignore it, you cannot touch it: this is real state of the truth which exists constantly, with you wherever you may go.

So, you have to open your eyes to see the dharma truth constantly, under all circumstances. Neither touch nor ignore, always. Just the practice: open your eyes, open your heart toward it. How? Through the practice, through the individual vituous quality you have planted in the past. So, [a] good seed in the past.


So, no-buddhadharma is real buddhadharma. Or, before this, Chapter 8 says that no-heap of merit is real merit. In other words, no-merit is real merit.

Merit is two kinds of merit. Worldly merit: if you practice, you can experience something. That individual experience is a kind of merit, worldly merit. But real merit is completely no-merit, because you cannot attach to the individual experience of merit. Real merit is completely no-merit; no-merit is real merit. If you completely throw it away, give it to somebody, if your individual experience is given to the truth or universe again, at that time you can get real merit.

For instance, if you chant the sutra to the Buddha, this is practice. But through the practice we expect something from the practice, from ritual. By ritual, by chanting the sutra, can the merit of chanting the sutra reach to the Buddha’s heart or not? Of course. But actually, all you have to do is, just chant the sutra. By chanting the sutra, very naturally you can experience something from ritual. But that experience is completely individual. I always tell you, there is no reason to attach to individual experience. Next, we have to put it aside. So practically, all you have to do is just continue to chant the sutra, in the presence of Buddha. Just practice zazen. That is shikan zazen, or shikan chanting. This is the meaning of Zen Buddhistic ritual.

So, no merit. Always putting aside individual experience, whatever it is, and then [continuing to] chant – that is no-merit. But this no-merit is really merit, because you can deeply settle yourself in the middle of ritual. It’s very stable. So sooner or later, you can touch the core of existence.

And that is no-heap of merit. So according to Dogen’s term, giving is not to covet.


Last Wednesday, I read a piece of a poem by Rilke, which occurs in the Duino Elegies. He’s in the later years of his life, and in this book, he really explains the oneness of life and death. Apparently that poem seems to be a pessimistic view of human life, but actually it is not.

I read just a piece of the poem. He points out the attitude of human life, what we do usually. He says, “Never, not for a single day, do we have pure space in which the flowers are always unfolded.” Never, not for a single day: because, if you get the merit, we stay with the merit. This is the very usual state of human life, always staying with the small world created by the individual. At that time, very naturally, we can fight, we can create problems. So he says, “That is what destiny is, to be face to face. It is forever world, and opposed …”

[Tape change.]

… but why don’t we have pure space in which the flowers are always unfolded. That means the universe, or truth.

It is important to be face-to-face, but not always face-to-face. Without being face-to-face, we cannot experience individual life. If you want to practice, you have to be present with zazen, practice face to face, directly. And then very naturally you can experience individual things. But at that time, there is no merit. That means put it aside, and then why don’t you open your heart. Why don’t you throw away your heart to pure space.

Pure space means not face-to-face. Just be with zazen, if you do zazen. Just be present with gassho if you do gassho. Just have breakfast with breakfast, with mind and body. That means, we have to be sometimes behind breakfast, or side by side to the breakfast, not face to face. Or sometimes just be in, be right in. Or sometimes, be just next to breakfast. Or just be nestling close to the breakfast. [Some chuckles in the group.] And walk hand in hand. This is very important: [do it] without saying anything, without arguing, or whatever it is. Why is it we have to have breakfast every morning? We have to, when the time comes to have breakfast, just have breakfast. If you don’t want, don’t have breakfast. That’s all. No problem. But if you’re always present with breakfast face to face according to your intellectual sense, you create lots of argument. Why? In India, they have just one meal a day. Why don’t you have one meal a day? If you want, you can have. Well, lots of complaints, argument. But no matter how long you argue with any problem, any subject, the argument is going endlessly. Finally, all you have to do is, keep your mouth shut; just have breakfast with your best. That’s all we have to do.

That’s why Rilke said to us what we do usually: “never not for a single day, do we have pure space in which the flowers are always unfolded,” but we are always face to face, fighting each other, arguing always. And this is a very usual attitude of human life. But you cannot do it in that way – because we are human beings. So, sometimes, sooner or later, you have to be in pure space, in which the flowers are always unfolded – even though you don’t like it. Because we are always there. Sooner or later, we have to realize it.


So, that is the explanation of the buddhadharma, or merit, in the negative sense in the Diamond Sutra. The negative sense, no-merit or no-buddhadharma, doesn’t mean to destroy the buddhadharma itself, or truth itself, or merit itself. No merit, no buddhadharma, is [no] attachment to individual merit, individual buddhadharma we experienced. This is a suggestion or hint Buddhism always does, always criticizing human life like this, because we don’t realize it, usually.

If Buddhism uses the negative sense, you will get a big shock. Why? “Life is characterized by suffering.” – “What’s that?” We don’t like it. That is a really big shock to your mind. That’s very good medicine for you. It is bitter, but the bitterness of good medicine. That’s why Buddhism always uses unusual terms, in the negative sense. But it’s not a real negative. It’s positive, it’s really positive. Because that is such a human quality, humans are very stubborn with ego. Because humans are pretty weak. If you’re strong, it’s not necessary to be stubborn: you can open pretty easily. But we are weak. That’s why in order to perfect weakness, we have to be stubborn. [He chuckles.] Do you understand? We always do this. That’s why in order to – not destroy – in order to realize stubbornness of ego, unfortunately we have to experience a big shock, physically and psychologically. We don’t like it. But we have to do it.

Okay. Do you have some questions?


Question: Roshi? In one of D.T. Suzuki’s books, he says that enlightenment is forgetfulness. Is that true?

Katagiri: I think so. In other words, enlightenment is no-enlightenment, that is real enlightenment. If you say enlightenment, what you think is the individual experience of enlightenment. That is not universal enlightenment. Universal enlightenment has no frame which is called enlightenment or which is called not-enlightenment. No frame. That is the real picture of the truth. That’s why forgetfulness is real enlightenment. The term is different, but it is the same.

So you must be free from the enlightenment that you have experienced – and then at that time, that is real enlightenment. I always tell you, if you gain a degree or PhD as a Doctor, you cannot always stay with the Ph.D. without working with the people. You have to forget the degree or Ph.D. And then, all you have to do is to be stupid, and work with the people. [The group laughs.] See the peoples’ bodies, and anyway, examine, day after day. There is no reason to stay with the title of the Ph.D. or Doctor. Always you have to be free from the experience you have had individually – not only enlightenment, but also whatever you do. Painter, or photographer, mountaineer, or dancer – whatever you want to do, this is the final goal you have to do. If you want to be a real great dancer or painter, you have to be forgetful. Continually, you must be stupid, and continually practice. That is real enlightenment.

58:56 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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