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Katagiri Roshi reviews Zen Master Jōshū’s dharma encounter with a monk regarding the Ultimate Path. The truth is always with us; yet in order to be one with the truth, we have to manifest ourselves as people who are not tossed away by picking and choosing thoughts and ideas. A problem is, if we try to avoid picking and choosing, we create more picking and choosing. Through study, we have to deeply understand the structure of our understanding, and then we can find the way of avoiding picking and choosing. There are three ways to understand something: perception, consciousness, and wisdom. (Those three could perhaps also be labelled as emotion, intellect, and deep understanding.) The third way is the Ultimate Path; however, this third way integrates the first two ways, it does not dismiss them. Finally, Katagiri Roshi says, what we do is very simple: practice, which is called shikantaza. But this simplicity is not simple as we usually understand it: this simplicity is to do something with no choice, on the edge of life and death.
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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 do not 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.)
Jōshū was one of the greatest Zen teachers in China, in the 8th century. They say that he became a monk at 60 years old, and until his death, he practiced again and again. Dogen really admired this Jōshū Zen Master; in Shobogenzo he mentioned Jōshū very often. And also, Jōshū was a great Zen Master who belonged to the Rinzai line, but he never used the shouting and the stick, hitting the monks. He used very common words; he lived in a usual way. But each statement was very sharp, to pierce all the monks’ heart. That’s why everyone admired him very much. Jōshū is the name of the place, which was location of his temple named Kannon-in (Chinese: Guānyīnyuàn).
So one day, 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 comes from the Third Patriarch’s statement, which occurs in the “Belief in Heart and Mind”. He says, “The Ultimate Path is without difficulty; just avoid picking or choosing. Just don’t love or hate, and you will be lucid and clear.” So Jōshū quoted just the first two lines, “The Ultimate Path is without difficulty; just avoid picking and choosing.”
The Ultimate Path means – yesterday I told you, it is the same as the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence. Usually truth is regarded as something which exists far from us, which no one can touch. But I don’t think Buddhism understands it in that way. The truth is always with us.
So, the characteristic of truth is completely something transcendent, which means beyond human speculation – good or bad, right or wrong. It makes all beings live in peace and harmony. That is characteristic of the truth or universe: unifying all things, beyond human judgement, good or bad, right or wrong. So from this point, how can we approach truth, how can we reach this truth? That’s why we have to manifest ourselves in the state of transcendence. Transcendence means the state of a person who is never tossed away by judgement, good or bad, right or wrong.
That’s why in zazen we shouldn’t judge ourselves, good or bad, right or wrong. Anyway right now, right here, all you have to do is to let the flower of your life force bloom. At that time, good or bad, right or wrong appears and disappears very naturally. But … if you meddle with those [thoughts,] judgements, evaluations – simultaneously, the many kinds of afflictive preferences appears. That is a problem for us, which leaves human beings in confusion and bewilderment.
So in order to be one with the truth, we have to manifest ourselves in the state of a person who is never tossed away by thoughts and ideas. That means, yesterday I told you, under all circumstances we have to release and forget ourselves, and throw ourselves away to zazen when you have to do zazen. When we have to do gassho, we have to do that. At that time, you can really manifest yourself: bloom the flower of life force from moment to moment. Wherever you may be, it is just like a lotus flower.
That is the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence, which is called the Ultimate Path. That is really the great vehicle which you are right on. Truth is not something which we can think, we can envision, we can believe, but it is something that you have to be right on. That is the Ultimate Path. At that time, it is without difficulty. It’s really just to be right on the vehicle, which is absolutely transcendent of human evaluation.
I told you earlier, there are three ways to know, to understand something.
One is to know something with perception. Through the perception, you can create the world where you can pretty easily express the emotional ‘stuff’: hatred, pleasures, many emotional things come up. This is very common, the very usual life style we do; because there is lots of affirmation, there is lots of fun, there is lots of excitement in the realm of expressing directly our emotional self. Whatever we are comes from this realm. But it is also, simultaneously, human trouble. This is the first way to understand, to know, our lives in human world.
The second way is to know through consciousness, vijñāna. Consciousness is the principle of intellect, understanding deeply using our intellect. So consciousness is very important for us; without consciousness, we cannot understand, we cannot exist as a human being. Consciousness is reaching to clarity, to the truth – but it is still not good enough.
So third, Buddhism emphasizes we should understand something with prajñā, wisdom. Through wisdom we should understand something which has already been created by our consciousness; that [conscious] understanding is really limited by individual experience, individual understanding.
I told you very often: first stage, mountains are mountains. This is the very usual understanding, but it is also a very limited, narrow understanding, because that mountain is something understood through our perceptions. So simultaneously, there are a lot of afflictive preferences. When the winter comes, and covers the mountains with snow, immediately we hate the snow, because snow interrupts the mountains’ life, which should be beautiful. So, we hate the snow, we hate the cold. But actually, no matter how long we hate the snow and winter and cold weather, well, when the time comes to be winter, winter comes. Those afflictive preferences come from perceptions.
So, the second stage: we should see that mountains are not mountains. The mountains which you have understood are not real mountains. So we should polish our own understanding a little more. Researching, studying the structure of the human world, human being – philosophically, psychologically, religiously, intellectually – and then we should know what is the basic essence of nature, the essence of being.
Then third, finally, we can reach mountains are mountains. Those mountains are really beautiful mountains, which are never tossed away by human evaluation or judgement. Zen always says, “river is green, flowers are red”: that means something seen at the third stage.
With wisdom, we can understand the mountains which are [intact], which are [interrupted] by nobody. So they are beautiful mountains. At that time, that is the Ultimate Path. Flowers, mountains, rivers, stars, water, creeks, pebbles, infants, animals: all are going on this path. That path is completely ultimate; no one can touch it, no one can contaminate it by afflictive preferences. When the time comes, winter comes; when the time comes, summer comes – whatever you think, whatever you feel. That is the state of being, which is called suchness, as-it-is-ness.
In the world, this is the ultimate path. Everyone – human beings, all beings – should go through this path. At that time, that path becomes the Great Vehicle, and all we have to do is just be right on it. At that time, it is without difficulty. It carries you to the ultimate path.
Just avoid picking and choosing.
The problem is, we simultaneously create afflictive preferences when we judge, when we evaluate … That is a problem for us. That’s why he says, avoid picking and choosing.
But actually, there is no way to escape picking and choosing. We are always picking and choosing. If you try to escape or avoid picking and choosing, you create more picking and choosing. So, what do you mean, avoid picking and choosing? Well we have to understand pretty deeply the structure of our understanding through psychological, philosophical study, and also [intellectually], religiously. Then, you can find where is the way of avoiding picking and choosing.
As soon as there are words spoken, ‘this is picking and choosing’…
The moment when you use words, that is already picking and choosing. In other words, when you see a microphone, the microphone is already the microphone picked and chosen by you, by your consciousness. So already the microphone is a fabrication of consciousness.
And “this is picking and choosing,’ ‘this is clarity’.” So the microphone being picked and chosen by human consciousness is being seen at the first stage, “mountains are mountains”. That is a really ‘perverted’ view; it’s not deep. “Perverted view” [does not mean] something wrong; it is okay, because we are there. But it is perverted, it’s not deep. It’s a very narrow understanding; that’s what we have to go through all the time there. That is second: if you realize the first stage, “mountains are mountains,” through perception, at that time simultaneously you can enter into the second stage, that is “mountains are not mountains.” But if you don’t awaken to the first stage, you are misusing your consciousness. At that time, this is what is called delusion.
So, we have to understand – we have to awaken to our understanding, how we understand. That is, that the microphone picked and chosen by your consciousness is nothing but delusion. When you realize this, simultaneously you can enter the gate of the second stage, which is called “mountains are not mountains”; this is called enlightenment. That is where it next says, “this is clarity.” So you can see a very clear vision of the microphone in the universe.
This old monk does not abide within clarity; do you still preserve anything or not?
Whatever you say, the Ultimate Path is completely beyond delusion or enlightenment. While you can say, “this is delusion,” or “this is enlightenment,” that is still that you are already in the world of picking and choosing. If you say “you are enlightened” or “you are deluded,” that is discrimination. Already that is in the realm of picking and choosing; that’s delusion. Even though you say “I am an enlightened person,” this already picking and choosing. Real enlightenment is completely no word. So when you see delusion through and through until the words drop off, at that time you can enter into the gate of enlightenment, that is enlightenment. But if you are stuck there, it is not enlightenment. Until the word of ‘enlightenment’ completely drops off, no word – at that time, that is – [finger snap] – real enlightenment.
When you want to help, while are you clinging to your intention of trying to help – at that time you cannot help somebody. So, lots of confusion there. Afflictive preferences come up. So, completely no intention. When you have completely no intention to help or not help, at that time you can really help, because your words – any words, any behavior – are really in accord with helping others. That is helping; the perfection of help, giving.
That’s why the old monk Jōshū says, “I don’t abide within clarity.” He doesn’t abide within enlightenment, because he knows what is real enlightenment. Real enlightenment is enlightenment [with] words completely dropped off, dropped away. At that time, enlightenment really exists. When you understand truth, there is no word. You cannot explain, but … it is with you constantly, through work on your life, constantly penetrating. That’s why everyone can realize who you are.
So Jōshū says, “I don’t abide within clarity; do you still preserve anything or not?” Actually there is nothing to preserve there. What you call enlightenment, what you call delusion, what you call something between: nothing to preserve. Just there. But Jōshū says, “do you still preserve anything or not?” That is really checking with the monk, to see how he understands the Ultimate Path.
At that time a certain monk asked, ‘Since you do not abide within clarity, what do you preserve?’
Because this monk is really sharp; he understands already what clarity is, what the Ultimate Path is. The older monk says, “I don’t abide”, so the monk really pierces his heart. “Since you do not abide within clarity, what do you preserve?” There is nothing to preserve; why do you think so?
Jōshū replied, “I don’t know either,” but this “I don’t know either” is really sharp, a great answer – just like Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma said “I don’t know” when he was asked by Emperor Wu, “Who are you in front of me,” because he said the essence of Buddhism is vastness and nothing holy; completely beyond holiness or non-holiness. This is the essence of Buddhism. If it is true: who are you, Bodhidharma? Who are you, in front of me? You exist! If there is no holiness, no sense of holiness, no sense of an ordinary person – who are you? Bodhidharma says, “I don’t know.” But this “I don’t know” is not exactly the same as when we say “I don’t know.” Completely different.
The monk said, “Since you do not know, Teacher, why do you nevertheless say that you do not abide within clarity?”
Jōshū replies, “I don’t know either.” We should understand; [walk deeply on our path]. Still the monk “takes on” Jōshū Zen Master: “Since you don’t know, teacher, why do you nevertheless say that you don’t abide within clarity?” This monk completely drives Jōshū Zen Master into the corner of no word. [Unintelligible.] Because he said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I am not present in the clarity.” “Why do you know you are not in clarity? [It is] because you don’t know.” [He laughs.] This is a very sharp monk; the monk is very sharp. Completely Jōshū was driven into the corner by this sharp monk.
In Ch’an most of the people are very confused, very confused. But Jōshū was a very great Zen Master, so he was not confused. He said, “It is enough to ask about the matter; bow and go away.” [He laughs.]
This is a great answer, too. Usually in a Zen monastery, the monk’s first bow – the monks who want to ask the teacher something, first they have to bow, then ask a question. After the teacher gives an answer to the monk, and the monk understands, at that time the monk bows again and leaves. This is custom; before and after, he bows. This is the manner of when we have to ask teachers in the monastery. So, he bows before he asks, and then he asks such and such, and finally when the time comes to leave, he has to bow. So Jōshū says, the time has come to go away. So just bow, and withdraw. This is Jōshū Zen Master using the real situation. For instance, when the time comes to have breakfast, maybe Jōshū says, go away to have breakfast. Maybe when the time comes to drink a cup of tea, maybe Jōshū says, go and drink a cup of tea, and leave. Maybe so. When it’s time to wash your face in the morning, just go to the bathroom to wash your face. Any time, his answer works. It’s pretty effective.
So that is Jōshū’s answer. It is enough to ask about the matter, for no matter how long you discuss using your head, it just goes endlessly; ridiculous. What for? You don’t know. Why [don’t] you know that? It’s ridiculous. Because the intellectual sense cannot help us; between the truth and delusion, truth and the dualistic world, always there is a gap. How can you stop up this gap? By intellect? No way, no way. If you try to stop up this gap with intellect, the more you create, the more the gap is getting bigger. So, sooner or later, you have to stop it. That’s why Jōshū said, “It’s enough to ask about the matter; please bow and go away.”
Let’s read Engo Zen Master’s notes.
The first note, for “Jōshū teaching the assembly, said…”, Engo Zen Master says, “What’s the old fellow doing? Don’t create complications!”
Of course. If the truth is just like mountains are mountains, flowers are flowers, pebble is pebble, then why do we have to explain? Truth is [just truth] [unintelligible]. The river is green, the flower is red. If it is true, why do we have to explain? That’s why [Engo Zen Master] said, “What’s the old fellow doing? Don’t create complications.” In other words, don’t give people trouble.
For century after century, Buddhas and patriarchs give human beings trouble; for 2500 years. But that is important for us; otherwise, we don’t know. We don’t know the river is green, the flower is red. Trouble is [not] complication; it is very good for us. Because complication doesn’t come from something else; complication comes from [fact]. We are already complicated. We as humans are already complicated. Who creates complications? We create them. Mountains are just mountains, that’s enough. But we don’t understand in that way. Why? So, we have to understand what is intuition, what is judgement, what is inference, what is a word. Then philosophically, psychologically, we analyze and synthesize. It’s really complicated. What is [our affliction]; why do we suffer? Why do we laugh? Those things come up very well, because human beings already complicated, and humans always [make that upon ourselves]. That’s why there are feelings of pleasure, suffering, pain, and also we can have understanding. So Engo Zen Master says, “What is the old fellow doing? Don’t create complications.”
The note for “The Ultimate Path is without difficulty” is: “not hard, not easy.”
The real truth is completely beyond hard and easy. That’s why he says the ultimate practice is not difficult. Ultimate truth is completely beyond hard and easy. But this is the note; Engo’s notes are always criticizing him, criticizing and raising [issues], and completely throwing away, always. In the notes, Engo Zen Master looks at the koans from a different angle. Because everyone looks at the same subject from a different angle. Someone praises his koan; someone criticizes Jōshū and the monk, et cetera. That’s why Engo Zen Master understands quotes from different angles. That’s why sometimes he praises, admires Jōshū; sometimes he admires the monk who makes a question, whatever it is, a ridiculous or wise question. Anyway, sometimes admiring, sometimes looking down upon him. But whatever he does, it has deep meaning. So here, the same applies to the note for “The Ultimate Path is without difficulty.” Why did he say “not difficult”? Because truth is completely beyond hard or easy.
The third note, for “… just avoid picking and choosing,” he says, “What’s in front of your eyes? The Third Patriarch is still alive.”
This is a statement that Jōshū Zen Master spoke, but this statement comes from “Belief in Mind,” mentioned by the Third Patriarch. So, what’s in front of your eyes if you say, “don’t pick up anything, don’t choose anything”?
In other words, the same applies to when Bodhidharma responds to the question, “What is the merit?” After practicing many, many years, what’s the merit? He says, “No merit”. So if you practice, there is no reward, no result. Well, what does Buddhism teach us? If you practice, you can make progress in your practice. But if you say “no” … ? So what is the essence of Buddhist teaching? Bodhidharma says “nothing,” and vastness, and nothing holy. What it means is nothing completely … If it is true, why, Bodhidharma, are you here, as what is called a Zen monk coming from India? You are here. What do you want to teach? You want to teach Buddhism. Where do you come from? You come from … already you are here. So Bodhidharma says, “I don’t know.”
Engo says, “What’s in front of your eyes?” Microphone is microphone, table is table. The table is exactly here. Whatever you say – don’t pick up anything, don’t choose anything – still here is the table, here is the microphone as it is. Why do you have to say it? What is the table; what is the microphone?
So Engo Zen Master tells Jōshū Zen Master, “You are just like the Third Patriarch, who is alive now.” He looks like the Third Patriarch. That means Engo Zen Master teased him.
The fourth note, for “As soon as there are words spoken, ‘this is picking and choosing,’ ‘this is clarity,’” says: “Two heads, three faces. A little boasting. When a fish swims through, the water is muddied; when a bird flies by, feathers fall.”
… Jōshū says at first, if you use words, already you [pick] …
… “Don’t use the words. Avoid picking and choosing.” Already you [have picked]. That’s why two heads, three faces. It means you [use] already. For instance, in zazen we say, “don’t think good or bad.” “Don’t think”; or “think not thinking.” Whatever you say – “don’t think in zazen” – what do you mean? “Don’t think” means [you think] “should I think?” or “shouldn’t I think in zazen?” So you say, “I am not thinking”. When you don’t think, can you say “I am not thinking?” No, you cannot say so; if you think so, you are already thinking. So always that is the “two heads, three faces.” That means you are already dualistic. Very tricky.
For instance, if we ask, “What is your purpose of your life?” and you say, “I don’t care.” But “I don’t care” is not exactly “I don’t care”. You really care; that’s why you say “I don’t care.” “I don’t care” is already your outlook on life, your principle, your [discipline] of your life. You cannot completely [think] you don’t care. If completely you don’t care, you cannot say you don’t care, because then you are dead.
If you are completely in the world of confusion – well, you can just accept confusion. But if you always say, “I am confused”, that is not exactly accepting confusion; you are already looking at the confusion in the dualistic world. That’s why you are really screaming, shouting. But if you are completely one with confusion, there is nothing to say.
If you are present in the realm of not-thinking completely, you cannot say, “I am not thinking.” So, that’s why Jōshū says, “As soon as words are spoken, ‘this is picking and choosing’, ‘this is clarity’.”
If you say so, why do you say, “avoid picking and choosing?” So, “Two heads and three faces. A little boasting.” “A little boasting” means, it’s really so. If you have complete concentration on breath or zazen, you really think, “I get real concentration, right concentration.” This is “a little boasting”. Because it is already the good concentration seen in the dualistic world. If you are exactly one with perfect concentration: no words. No two heads, no three faces; exactly one. The words just drop off.
“A little boasting. When a fish swims through, the water is muddied; when a bird flies by, feathers fall.” Anyway, when the fish swims through, the water is muddied. Well, a white crane stands up in the snow; it looks like all snow, so you don’t realize where the crane is. But you say, “white crane on snow.” That explanation is already something to add to white snow. Exactly no discrimination there, nothing to fix, because crane is white, snow is white. But if you say “the truth is just like a white crane on snow,” it is still explanation.
Complete concentration is no word of concentration – this is also still explanation. Real concentration, which is called no word of concentration, is is alive from moment to moment, without leaving any trace. Truth is really something which is realized from moment to moment. It’s not the intellectual sense, it’s not intellectual understanding, it is not emotional stuff, it’s not, well, spiritual ‘stuff’. Nothing to say; I can’t explain it. But [then] you can; you have to say something. That’s why, in many ways, [we need] to explain it.
The fifth note, for “This old monk doesn’t abide within clarity,” says, “His thieving intent already shows; where is the old fellow going?” [He chuckles slightly.] His thieving intent already shows because [the moment] you use a word, you are picking and choosing. Don’t use a word.
Then the older monk says, “I don’t abide within clarity.” That means, I already told you, when you don’t think, you say “I don’t think now,” but you are already thinking. That’s why his thieving intent already shows. You are a ‘thief’. Anyway, you already pick. Already you reveal yourself as a thief.
“Where is the old fellow going?” Where are you heading for? You say, “I don’t know. Ask my feet.” [He laughs.] It is already you showing yourself as a thief; you are not true to yourself. If you don’t know where you are heading for, you cannot say so. Just go. Just go with careful attention. If you say, “I don’t know where I am heading for,” it is not true. Anyway it is not the true way to get there.
I told you before, someone was asked by somebody on the street car, “Where are you heading for?” He said, “I don’t know where I am heading for. Ask my feet.” That is really confusion. [Unintelligible.]
The sixth note says, “He’s defeated. Still there is something, or a half.” It is a note for, “Do you still preserve anything or not?” It’s really Jōshū trying to pick up somebody, trying to find somebody who is [unintelligible] this question. That’s why Engo says, “He’s defeated. Still there is something, or a half.” Is there anyone who is against, who has some doubt.
So finally, he finds that there is a monk who wants to make a question. The seventh note is for, “At that time a certain monk asked, ‘Since you do not abide within clarity, what do you preserve?’” [Engo] says, “The monk presses him well; his tongue is pressed against the roof of his mouth.” That means, Engo really instigates the monk to ask more: “You are a ‘good boy’; go ahead.” [He chuckles.] He should drive the older monk or the thief into the corner, where there’s no word, no [explanation]. Anyway, go ahead. That means, Engo says, the monk presses him well: “Good boy. You did it.” So his tongue is pressed against the roof of his mouth; that means, you did it.
The eighth note, for “Jōshū replied, ‘I don’t know either’” says, “The monk crushed this old fellow dead; he has to fall back three thousand miles.” Anyway, Jōshū said “I don’t know either.” “I don’t know either” means “you did it, exactly did it; you crushed the old fellow dead.” You completely crushed the thief. Jōshū Zen Master completely hangs out the white flag. [Laughter.] And then he withdraws three thousand miles, and [hold up there]. That means, “I don’t know.” But it’s not exactly hanging out the white flag. It is not the same as we do. It’s a great answer.
The ninth note, for “The monk said, ‘Since you don’t know, Teacher, why do you nevertheless say that you do not abide within clarity?’” says, “Look! Where is he going? He’s chased him up a tree.”
“Look, where is he going?” That means, Engo Zen Master says, “Look at Jōshū! Watch out, he is great Zen Master! You should watch carefully where he is going, where he is escaping from, your question. Watch out, he is great Zen Master. So finally Engo Zen Master says, “He’s chased him up a tree,” because the monk drives Jōshū Zen Master into the corner, where there is no escape, no choice. That right now is on the verge of life and death. Great! Look, watch carefully. Where is he escaping [from], where is he heading [for]?
The tenth note, for “Jōshū said, ‘It is enough to ask about the matter; bow and withdraw’,” says, “Lucky thing he has this move; the old thief!” That’s great [action]. Jōshū did it. Very [naturally], he did it.
When you discuss human life and the human world, philosophical, psychologically… well, it drives you into the corner, where there is no chance to escape. That means, you are completely on the top of 100-feet high pole. The intellect cannot reach. And simultaneously that is reality, in which your life is present. It is reality, too. So, in whatever way you try to understand human life, intellectually or practically, you reach the same situation: being on the top of a 100-feet high pole where you cannot move an inch.
But, you have to. You cannot stay there. You have to do something. Because in this reality, many things are moving and changing. This reality is something which is moving and changing constantly. You cannot stay always without doing anything. So you have to move ahead from the top of the 100-foot high pole. This is daily living.
Intellectually, if you move from the top of the 100-foot high pole, you appear to die. But, you cannot stay there. If you stay, you are falling. If you go, you will burn out. Whatever you think, it doesn’t make sense. Finally, what shall I do? This is, your reality is exactly on the verge of life and death. And then finally, what you’ll do is, release, and forget yourself, and throw yourself away, into Buddha’s home. That means completely full concentration, with wholeheartedness. We have to deal with the book as it really is, before you pick and choose with your afflictive preferences. This is our practice, daily practice. Continually we have to do this.
But still our intellectual sense works every day, because we have accumulated it for many, many years. That’s why we have to handle [unintelligible]. That is philosophy, psychology. So we have to study things, one by one. But urgently, what we have to do is to understand where we are. There is completely no choice, to escape or to get into. Not to escape, not to get into: this is life, this is death. Life and death. It’s very simple: when the time comes to die, just die. This is very simple; this is the real death, and this is the real life. But, we cannot do this. That’s why we have to practice.
So, our reality is exactly no choice. No escape; no getting into. Just like being present on the verge of life and death, on the top of a 100-foot high pole, from day to day. You cannot stay there, you cannot move away. What are you heading for? What should you do? No way. At that time, words completely drop off. Nothing to say. So, when the time comes to sleep, go to sleep. When the time comes to have breakfast, have breakfast.
But this having breakfast is not something seen at the first stage, through perception. This is having breakfast seen from the third stage, deep understanding. And then at that time, you can really handle the breakfast with careful, compassionate, generous attention. That is release, and forget yourself, and throw away yourself into Buddha’s home. At that time, something comes from, not from you, from Buddha’s world, truth. There’s no need for effort. Something helps you. At that time, many things work pretty well, even though you don’t realize it. That is the best way to do it.
This koan also teaches in that way. And also Engo Zen Master really commented on the koan like this, particularly in the last two notes: “Look, where is he going? He’s chasing him up a tree”; “Lucky thing he has this move, the old thief.” Very important for us.
What we do is very simple: practice, which is called shikantaza. But this ‘simple’ is not simple as we usually understand it. This simplicity is to do something on the verge of life and death: there is no choice, to escape or to get into. This is what’s called ‘shikan’. It’s not just a simple way without using your consciousness, without awareness. It’s true awareness: understanding past, present, and future, [and] nevertheless you are completely not tossed away by past, present, and future, and [you] just continue to be present right now. From this presence, broad vastness, a vast world comes up, extending to your past, present, and future. This is what is called spiritual stability. In whatever situation you may be in – you are poor, you are rich, you are clever, you are not clever – you really stand up straight there.
Do you have some questions?
Katagiri: Well that is that love and hate, for all those people, those are afflictive preferences, [much] emotional stuff. But we already have love and hate and [much] emotional stuff. We don’t ignore it. We cannot throw them away, okay? [So] where does that [phrase come from], “avoid love and hate”? Because we love already. “We have already” means that we have to take care. That means we shouldn’t obsess with them, and, well, we shouldn’t be confused. Finally we must be free from them. In other words, what is the true love? You cannot say. While you can explain what love is, that is not real love. Don’t you think so?
Question: What I was wondering was do we have a choice, to hate or not to hate.
Katagiri: Of course, we should choose. But you cannot always be hanging on. Sooner or later, you must be free. Even though love is good, you cannot always be hanging on.
Question: We get to choose not to love or not to hate?
Katagiri: First choose, but we must be free from it, finally. That means we should understand what real love is, real hate is. Do you understand?
Well anyway, you have to reach the third stage. [He laughs.] But you should choose. That’s why you have to choose, you have to pick. By what? By you. That’s why we have to be careful of choosing and picking, every day.
But it is your understanding, your life. So, first, it is not perfect. If you realize this, simultaneously you get into the second stage, “mountains are not mountains.” And then you can research, one by one: why? That is our practice. And finally, we can come back again to “mountains are mountains”; this is the third stage. At that time, we can really understand what real love is, what real hate is. What is the real meaning of the afflictive preferences that human beings possess? But, no words. Completely, words drop off. That means, you can handle afflictive preferences from day-to-day, in a way in which you are still free from this. This is our practice.
Engo’s commentary is pretty nice. So, if you have time to read the commentary to this case, you should. I don’t have enough time to study with you the verses, the poem, and the commentary to the poem.
1:16:06 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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