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Katagiri Roshi introduces Case 2 of the Blue Cliff Record, “The Ultimate Path Is Without Difficulty,” with an examination of the pointer to the koan. Engo Kokugon (Chinese: Yuanwu Keqin) expresses the Ultimate Path in terms of “the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence.” What is the nature of truth, and how do we realize it? To express it, Katagiri Roshi uses an analogy of “grabbing the bar” in gymnastics and “getting 100 points” – not 90, not 99, only 100 or zero. He also uses the example of turning on a TV set instead of intellectually studying the TV set. How do we have faith when there is nothing to depend on? How did Chinese monks keep Buddhism alive when institutional Buddhism was dismantled? What did Gempo Yamamoto Roshi say to a practicioner who wanted to “save all beings”? And also, how to drag yourself in muddy water like a sewer rat chased by a cat.
Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org
0:00 start of recording
At this time, I would like to study with you the second case of The Blue Cliff Record. The title is “The Ultimate Path is Without Difficulty”. Let me first read the main case:
Jōshū, teaching the assembly, said, “The Ultimate Path is without difficulty; just avoid picking and choosing. As soon as there are words spoken, ‘this is picking and choosing,’ ‘this is clarity.’ This old monk doesn’t abide within clarity; do you still preserve anything or not?”
At that time a certain monk asked, “Since you do not abide within clarity, what do you preserve?”
Jōshū replied, “I don’t know either.”
The monk said, “Since you don’t know, Teacher, why do you nevertheless say that you do not abide within clarity?”
Jōshū said, “It is enough to ask about the matter; bow and withdraw.”
(From The Blue Cliff Record translated by Thomas Cleary. ‘Jōshū’ is substitued for ‘Chao Chou’, since Katagiri Roshi uses the Japanese name.)
This is the main case. This morning I would like to read the pointer, before the main case, which is pointing out the most important keys in the main case [unintelligible]. The pointer is written by Engo Zen Master.
Heaven and earth are narrow; sun, moon, and stars all at once go dark. Even if blows of the staff fall like rain and shouts roll like thunder, you still haven’t lived up to the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence. Even the Buddhas of the three times can only know it for themselves; the successive generations of patriarchs haven’t been able to bring it up in its entirety. The treasury of teachings of the whole age cannot explain it thoroughly; clear eyed patch robed monks cannot save themselves completely. When you get here, how will you ask for more instruction? To say the word “Buddha” is trailing mud and dripping water; to say the word “Ch’an” is a face full of shame. Superior people who have studied for a long time do not wait for it to be said; late coming beginners simply must investigate and apprehend it.
In this pointer, Engo Zen Master emphasizes the significance of “the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence”. In other words, that is the path – the great path, or the ultimate path. He uses a different term, which is called the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence. This is the main point in this pointer: the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence.
Plainly speaking, this is the truth, or original nature of existence, or dharma. Dogen Zenji said in Fukanzazengi, “The dharma vehicle is free and unrestricted, why should we expend sustained effort?” So Dogen uses the term “dharma vehicle”.
You know, the truth is explained in many ways. If you use a word, whatever you say, all expressions of the truth come into just one term: truth. Many kinds of religions use a different term, but all come into the truth.
The truth is not a subject which we have to understand objectively, or philosophically, or psychologically, which is called ontology. Well, we know pretty well that truth is not something which we try to understand philosophically, psychologically, which is called ontology – but we get use out of (or used to) thinking of something objectively, philosophically, psychologically, very naturally. That’s why even though we understand it, it’s very difficult to get rid of that. So very naturally, whatever you say – truth, Buddha, or impermanence, or dependent origination – all are immediately something objectified by you. This is very natural.
It’s very natural, but the problem is, we believe it; we believe in such a way of life, immediately. So patriarchs and Buddhas constantly say, “It is your understanding; it’s not real universal truth beyond human speculation.” But we don’t believe it, because the intellectual sense cannot reach there.
So whatever kind of religion you study, even Christianity, even Buddhism, this attitude is very fundamental, universal. In Christianity you really have to devote yourself toward God; whether you believe or not, you have to throw away yourself into God. This is the first request. If you don’t [do this], there is no sense of Christianity. This is very true. And the same applies to Buddhism: if you don’t have this fundamental attitude toward the truth, throwing yourself away, forgetting yourself and throwing yourself into Buddha’s house, it’s very difficult to understand what the truth is, directly connected with your body and mind. It’s very difficult.
That’s why Dogen Zenji says, in Shobogenzo: “Life and Death” (Shōji), “When you simply release and forget both your body and mind and throw yourself into the house of Buddha, and when functioning comes from the direction of Buddha, and you go in accord with it; then, with no strength needed and no thought expended, free from birth and death, you become Buddha. Then, there can be no obstacle in any one’s mind.” This is a very famous statement mentioned by Dogen. [He repeats the quote.] This is the correct attitude to research the truth, what the truth is; because this is human life.
I told you before, one of our famous Zen Masters says, “Zen is that we should get one hundred points, or zero points. Zero points or one hundred; exactly perfect. There is no other points between one hundred and zero.”
I didn’t understand at the time, but this is really true. You should get one hundred points. That means forget and release: forget yourself, and throw yourself into Buddha’s house. This is first, but you don’t understand yet.
For instance, if you want to perform gymnastics on the bar, what should you do? It’s very clear. If you want to perform gymnastics on the bar, first of all we have to do what? We have to grab the bar perfectly. If you don’t, even though you approach 90 percent toward the bar, it’s not perfect. You cannot then show your perfect capability in gymnastics, which is called Buddha Nature. So even though you approach 90 percent toward the bar, it’s zero! You cannot say, “I got 90 points.” 90 points doesn’t make sense. If you cannot grasp the bar perfectly, it’s completely zero. There is no other number between 0 and 100 points, because this is what you have to do if you want to perform gymnastics on the bar. How should you catch the bar for this? With your best effort, you have to perfectly jump into the bar. That is what is called release and forget yourself, and throw yourself into Buddha’s home. At that time, very naturally, if you catch it, immediately your body will start to move. You don’t know how to move, but anyway your body moves, and you can perform gymnastics freely.
That’s why Dogen Zenji says here, “When functioning comes from the direction of Buddha and you go in accord with it, then, with no strength needed and no thought expended, free from birth and death, you become Buddha.”
At that time, do your gymnastics come from the bar? Or does the function of your gymnastics come from you? Or from where? Can you say, “from the bar?” Or can you say, “your capability”? Can you say “in between”? You cannot say either. Because, if you catch the bar immediately, perfectly, very naturally you can perform gymnastics. Gymnastics are on the bar; that means it is not a study of existence which is called “what is the bar,” “what is Katagiri as a practicer?” It is completely out of the question. Usually we ask, “what is the bar,” before we jump into it. And then we try to study what the bar is, what the Katagiri is. Of course you should know! But you cannot research it perfectly until you satisfy yourself. You can never satisfy [yourself].
So, you should use your consciousness and understand what the bar is, what you are, to the minimum. And then what you have to do is release: forget yourself and throw yourself into the bar. This is the point. But we always research what the bar is; this is ontology. Buddhism is not ontology. Buddhism is [etiology], the study of [recognition]. That means the bar and you – not to research what the bar is objectively, but right now, right here how you can understand or recognize the bar. That is what is called Buddhist psychology, Buddhist philosophy. That is still something objective. And then, the final goal is you should communicate with the bar. This is Zen: directly practice.
(Transcriber’s Note: Etiology is “the study of causation or origination”. I’m not sure that is what he is trying to say, but it makes more sense than ‘etymology’, the study of the origin of words. It is also not clear what he means by ‘recognition’: it seems like he might be referring to ‘causation’ or ‘conditions’.)
So, that means you should get one hundred points. How? It is not the study of [recognition], is not the study of ontology; what you have to do, right now, right here, is you have to grasp the bar, one hundred percent. Not 90 percent, not 99 percent. You have to grasp. This is always the main point that Buddhism emphasizes.
For instance, if you have a TV set, or if you have an electric machine of whatever kind, what you have to do is to communicate with them in your daily living, instead of studying what the TV set is by your knowledge. Well, you have to know what the TV is, but what you have to know is how to deal with the TV set. This is sort of the study of [etiology], [recognition].
But the final goal is to communicate, get one hundred points. That means turn on the TV. That’s a very simple practice. At that time, you can see the picture.
But this picture is not the picture on the TV set; this picture is the universal picture. By the help of energy, human effort, and many things, then simultaneously you can see the picture. And at that time you are completely released and forgotten by this picture, and you become one with it.
Buddhism, particularly Zen, is always emphasizing that point. Finally, where is the Buddha? How to throw yourself into the Buddha’s house? Buddha is not something else apart from us. But if you think of Buddha as something particular, at that time Buddha is something you handle as ontology. So [at that time] you always have to ask, “What is the Buddha?” – you don’t do. [It’s the same] whatever you say, even though we don’t use a particular term [like “Buddha”]. “Original nature or existence”: what is the original nature of existence? We don’t know. What is the truth? Always the question comes up.
But this is not the main point which Buddhism emphasizes. Our main purpose is, Buddha says, “How can you throw away Buddha?” That is the point at which you have to communicate with the Buddha. How? That is: release, and forget yourself; throw yourself into the bar. At that time, it is completely Buddha’s world at the bar. That is called gymnastics, the performance of gymnastics – becoming one. All things become one in gymnastics.
That’s why Engo Zen Master and Dogen used the term “vehicle”, dharma vehicle. Vehicle is not something your intellectual sense should be on; vehicle is that which you yourself must be on, working in peace and harmony with the passengers. That is the vehicle.
Where is the vehicle? That vehicle means Buddha, Buddha’s world, in which the subject and the object work perfectly in peace and harmony. You and the bar and gymnastics are all working dynamically; that is what is called vehicle.
So, vehicle is one hundred points. You can get it. At that time, it’s really perfect. That is called the vehicle.
Zen is sometimes misunderstood by people because we don’t have a particular object which is called a divine entity, which is called God, which is called soul, or whatever you say. No object.
So, very naturally, in the Buddhistic world, it might be easier for us to lose what is called faith. A new word: we use the term “faith” and “Buddhist faith,” et cetera. It’s pretty easy [to lose faith], because there is nothing to depend on.
We want [something]. But usually if you see something you want to depend on objectively, that is something different from your daily life – because we always have to research what it is. Buddha or Avalokiteshvara, whatever it is: you very naturally want to research what it is. That is ontology, philosophy, psychology: “What is it?” Always the question comes up. And that question really prevents you from releasing and forgetting [yourself], and throwing into Buddha’s home, very naturally.
[The question] is important, but you cannot be obsessed with it. That’s why Buddhas and ancestors constantly say, get one hundred points. If you want to perform gymnastics, get 100 points. How? Right now, right here, what should you do? Jump in. This is very practical … because it is not an ontological project, it is something [where] you have to communicate very closely with your daily life.
For this, what should you do? Jump into it. Throw yourself into Buddha’s home. Without this, it’s very difficult. Particularly when you do zazen, this is the very fundamental practice for us. That’s why we have to throw [ourselves] into zazen itself. If you always create some delusion or fascination within your mind, it is not perfect zazen. I always tell you, zazen must be pure zazen. You have to get 100 points. We have to grab zazen perfectly. If you can’t, that is zero, completely zero. No 99 points.
We don’t believe this, but this is a very fundamental, important practice for us. Only when you throw yourself into zazen, at that time, what is called zazen blooms. That is what is called Buddha, Buddha’s home.
If you believe zazen is like this, well, you believe zazen is a particular practice. So Zen says, zazen is not a particular practice; your daily life is practice. Gassho, walking, having breakfast; anyway, we have to get 100 points. We should handle our daily life with wholeheartedness. It’s this what is called shikan.
At that time, your daily life becomes vehicle. What you call the task is “the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence”.
Transcendence means completely there is no need of your effort; something comes from Buddha’s world. Something takes care of you, if you do it. If you create your circumstances which are called perfect zazen, then perfect zazen takes care of you – even though you don’t want it.
If you always see the zazen from your viewpoint, always there is a question. There is nothing to get; so that’s why you are very skeptical. “Should I spend my whole life doing zazen, which is useless? Nothing to get, nothing to develop?” Ridiculous. You cannot do this.
But even though you don’t know how much your life or your personality develops or not, well, get someone with open eyes, who knows pretty well how much you have been developing.
At that time, there is no need for your particular, sustained effort. Why should we expend sustained effort? All you have to do is throw yourself into zazen. At that time, something helps you. That something is complete transcendence. Nothing to say. Nothing to do.
That’s why that is the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence. All you have to do is, constantly you should be right on this vehicle, 100 points. That is really vast. Nothing holy or not holy, nothing good or bad. All you have to do is, just get to the bar, with wholeheartedness.
So, let’s read the pointer, line by line.
Heaven and earth are narrow; sun, moon, and stars all at once go dark.
“Heaven and earth are narrow” – in comparison with this task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence, which is called vastness, and the truth. If you actualize it, this is actual practice. What is that? Throw yourself into it, into the bar; that means do something with wholeheartedness. At that time, you can create vastness.
If you compare [them] with this vastness which is called truth, even heaven and earth are very narrow. Even the earth and any other planets – whatever you see or you can picture in the human world, including other planets – that is still pretty narrow, because it is still something you can think, you can envision. In comparison with vastnesss and the truth, even the heavens and earth are too narrow.
And “sun and moon and stars all at once go dark”. Even the sun, even the moon, even the stars – all are still dark, because that vastness is completely clear. You cannot stay there; but it’s very clear. Even the sun – it’s bright, very bright, the brightest being in this world – it’s still dark. That is what Engo Zen Master wants to say.
Even if blows of the staff fall like rain and shouts roll like thunder, you still haven’t lived up to the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence.
“Even if blows of the staff fall like rain“: Rinzai Zen Masters or other Zen Masters use a staff or stick, hitting the monks in order to encourage insight. [Even if] that giving the blows to the monks is just like rain, falling rain, constantly hitting, still you cannot live up to the truth, no matter how long you hit the monk, screaming, shouting. Screaming means “shouts roll like thunder” – a big shout which makes everybody wake up. Even though you use this, still you cannot live up to the truth. It’s still something explained, demonstrated. So that’s why he says he says, “Even if blows of the staff fall like rain and shouts roll like thunder, you still haven’t lived up to the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence.”
Even the Buddhas of the three times can only know it for themselves; the successive generations of patriarchs have not been able to bring it up in its entirety.
“Even the Buddhas of the three times…” – Past, present, future; all Buddhas.
“… can only know it for themselves.” Just for themselves; not for the good of all beings. Even the Buddhas, from the past, through the present, to the future, all Buddhas can only know this truth just for themselves. Because it’s vast. Because the universal, the truth, open to everybody, is not individual understanding. But even the Buddha says, “I know it” [he chuckles]; at that time that that is Buddha’s understanding; [their] particular personal understanding. So, it’s not universal.
And also he said, “the successive generations of patriarchs have not been able to bring it up in its entirety.”
Originally it says, “Even the successive generations of patriarchs haven’t pulled it down entirely as it is and stood up there.” ‘Patriarchs’ are the practicers. The many patriarchs understand the truth – that means pulled down toward the patriarchs. “I understand the truth,” so you say; that means you pull it down toward you. And stand up: “I understand”, which is called “I am an enlightened person”. Well, it is not a real truth. That’s why he said, “the successive generations of patriarchs haven’t been able to bring it up in its entirety.”
Whatever you say “I understand” – that truth you understand is something you have pulled down toward you; that is a personal experience. That’s why Buddhism always says, “No God, no Buddhas, no Avalokiteshvara” – nothing, completely nothing. Because it’s pretty easy for us to say “I understand it, “I experience it,” always.
Particularly when the people respect you and other great persons, you believe, “Yes, I understand. I understand everything better than you… so I am great.” This is not the final goal Buddhism emphasizes. Because, life must be alive, from moment to moment, under all circumstances. Whenever people put a certain label on you – ‘advanced,’ or ‘beginner,’ or ‘top [practicioner]’ – it doesn’t matter, anyway your life must be alive, day to day. If you’re really obsessed with personal experience, it is not the real truth, it is not the real teaching of Buddhism.
That’s why he says, “the successive generations of patriarchs haven’t been able to bring it up in its entirety” – because there are patriarchs like that, constantly alive in their daily life.
Look at the Chinese Zen histories. If Buddhism were completely destroyed by the Chinese politics; if all monks were completely destroyed, and the government kicked them out of the temples – wherever the Zen monks went, either fishermen, either boatmen, still Zen is alive in their life. And when the world becomes peaceful, harmonious, all the Zen monks come back to Buddhism. It’s very strange, but it is very true. Only the Zen monks come back very naturally when the war becomes peace. But when the government is excited and gets angry – well they can live any time, anywhere. “Goodbye” – but it doesn’t mean that Zen Buddhism dies; it’s still alive in their life. That’s why when the time comes, conditions are arranged, it comes back.
The treasury of teachings of the whole age cannot explain it thoroughly; clear eyed patchrobed monks cannot save themselves completely.
“The treasury of teachings of the whole age” – that means all Buddhist scriptures, from generation to generation, for 2500 years. We try to collect all the Buddhist scriptures, and try to explain what the truth is. It doesn’t hit the mark.
“Clear eyed patchrobed monks cannot save themselves completely.” [Unintelligible.] How? Much as they cannot save others. Because even patch robed monks, full of enlightenment, cannot themselves [manifest] how they can save all sentient beings.
There is a very interesting story of one of the famous Japanese scholars; he was a scholar and also he was a communist. For a time he practiced under the guidance of Gempo Yamamoto, who was the teacher of Sōen Nakagawa, [unintelligible]. This gentleman worked in the kitchen as a clerk.
One day, Gempo Roshi passed through the kitchen and saw this gentleman. He asked him, “What do you practice Zen for?” The man said, “I am practicing Zen to save all sentient beings.” Then Gempo Roshi said, “Oh, is that so.” Then he left.
In a few days, when he passed through the kitchen, and he saw him making rice on the stove, he asked, “What do you practice zazen for?” The man said, “I want to save all sentient beings.” Gempo Roshi said, “Oh.” He left.
The third time, he came and asked the same question. And still this gentleman said, “I want to practice to save all sentient beings.” So immediately, Gempo Roshi screamed, “Stupid!” [He laughs.] “That practice is just for you!”
“… because my practice is evaluated in a great way, so you should be patient. Please, take care of me.” If you have a family: “I want to go to zazen, so you should stay here and take care of things.” This is off; don’t you think so? It’s really a cause of fighting. It’s really true. That’s why Gempo Roshi ‘crashed’ that idea: “Stupid! Your practice is just for you.”
I don’t think practice is just for you – but don’t touch it, okay? Don’t get one ‘setting’ for ideas. Practice is not just for you, practice is not just for all sentient beings; whatever you say, it doesn’t hit the mark.
Anyway, what do you practice for? Do you practice for the good of all sentient beings? It is still one-sided, because your practice is limited by this. Or on the other hand if you say, “I practice for myself” – [in this case] also, your practice is limited by certain ideas. So, “release, forget yourself, and throw yourself into zazen,” means – what is that? Is this perfect practice, practice beyond saving all sentient beings? Or for saving yourself? They are just ideas. Practice must be alive. At that time, you simply cannot perceive that practice. But it is really universal.
That is called [unintelligible] practice. That is, throw yourself into the Buddha’s home.
When you get here, how will you ask for more instruction? To say the word “Buddha” is trailing mud and dripping water; to say the word “Ch’an” is a face full of shame.
So, even the clear eyed patchrobed monks cannot save themselves completely. “When you get here, how will you ask for more instruction?”
When you get there, when you get the real truth – how will you ask for more instruction? Do you want to get some more instruction from [me]? [He chuckles.] Do you understand? How can you get instruction? Because you are there already.
If you get even slightly some information or instruction from there, it is already something particular; objectively you can see it. At that time, it is not truth. Truth is – you should be right on the vehicle. It is really truth then.
At that time only, zazen blooms. How can zazen touch [the tip of zazen by itself]? No way. If you see, even slightly, something else around zazen, it is something seen objectively, so you can touch it. “You can touch” means to get instruction or information from zazen, or chanting, gassho, whatever.
So Engo Zen Master says, “When you get here, how will you ask for more instruction?” No way, no way. Nothing to get, any instruction. That means, you simply cannot continue, where you are, what you are doing.
But – it’s really work. If you don’t know, you feel restless. This restlessness comes from your interest in Zen, understanding. The restlessness is a part of your life; so don’t worry, don’t be obsessed with restlessness. All you have to do is, just continue to do it. Finally, your life works pretty well.
“When you get here, how will you ask for more instruction?” – Engo Zenji says, “To say the word “Buddha” is trailing mud and dripping water…” If you use the word “Buddha,” it is still trailing mud and dripping water.
Originally it says, sort of, “to drag yourself in mud and gargle yourself with water.” Can you imagine this? It looks like a sewer rat chased by the cat. Do you understand? Can you imagine? Let’s imagine a rat in the sewer, and then the cat comes in and tries to chase us. What’s happening? Can you imagine? Completely you are dragged, you drag yourself in mud. All over you’re mud; you become mud, covered with mud and dripping water. Anyway, completely you get wet with water. Sort of covered with mud, so that means to gargle yourself with water.
Even to say the word ‘Buddha,’ immediately you are covered with mud, just like a sewer rat. And then you enjoy it very much: “Yes, I understand Buddha.” But where is the Buddha? You don’t know.
So, to say the word “Buddha” is trailing mud and dripping water, “to say the word ‘Ch’an’” – that means Zen, to say the word Zen or Ch’an – “is a face full of shame.” Even though you say ‘Zen’, it’s really full of shame. If ‘Zen’ is based on this word, it’s really a shame. Completely based on words? Forget it.
People say Zen is stupid; that’s okay. In Nichiren Buddhism – do you know Nichiren, founder of the Nichiren Buddhist school? He criticized Zen: “Zen is [something created by a] devil.” I [don’t] think so. Maybe [created by] a devil [?] (Transcriber’s Note: It’s actually hard to discern whether he’s agreeing or disagreeing with Nichiren here.)
Somebody says, “Zen is pretty intellectual; Zen is pretty idealistic.” There are lots of criticism, don’t you think? [That’s good.] “Zen is [unintelligible].” “Zen is ridiculous.” Lots of criticism – because Zen is freedom, free. Freedom is… do you know freedom? Freedom is a free state of being, which appears in many ways, in many situations. But it doesn’t bother us; [it only] appears. It is never contaminated by a certain condition. It always appears under certain conditions, but it’s never contaminated by ideas. That is what is called freedom. That’s why … if you use a particular term, “Zen,” it’s very shameful, because immediately you can see that idea of denomination. That’s why Engo Zenji says, “to say the word Ch’an is a face full of shame.”
“Superior people who have studied for a long time do not wait for it to be said;” – well he doesn’t explain, because from moment to moment his life must be alive. So even though he doesn’t say it, his life is really Zen.
Well, if you want to perform gymnastics, you should jump into it, right now actually, throw away yourself into it. This is the point. You cannot wait for the chance to be [unintelligible].
“… latecoming beginners simply must investigate and apprehend it.” Well, if you are a beginner, how should you do it? This is a very important point.
That is the pointer. And then, the main case: …
58:33 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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