April 20, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi examines the notes and verse for the “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha” koan. If the Buddhas and ancestors dwell in nirvana, in eternity, then why do they have to die? Why do we have to practice hard, even if our practice is less than a drop in an ocean? Why do we have to continue even if there is no one who we can talk to about our suffering? Katagiri Roshi says that compassion is not something given by Buddhas or Buddhist teachings; compassion comes from us. We must have clear eyes to make it alive in our daily living. Also: What is the difference between zazen and taking marijuana?


Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org


Katagiri Roshi: [We will go through] Engo Zenji’s notes [on this case].

Great Master Ma was unwell.

Engo Zenji’s note says:

This fellow has broken down quite a bit. He’s dragging in other people.

I think Shakyamuni Buddha lived for 80 years, and Jōshū Zen Master lived for 120 years. But sooner or later, whoever they are, when the time comes, they have to die. But the question is, why is it that they have to die? They dwell in nirvana and the truth, eternity; if it is true, why is it that they have to die?

Dogen Zenji died when he was 53 years old. This is really Buddha’s compassion. Whoever you are, enlightened person or unenlightened person, [that you] have to die when the time comes [is] Buddha’s compassion, because if you live in paradise, where it is not necessary for you to die, that is not human life. In that situation I don’t think you can enlighten your stream of consciousness, [your] stream of time and space, whatever it is, because you can live so long without becoming old. When you want to get something in paradise, you can get it immediately, without suffering. There are no desires, because you can always satisfy yourself. If you can satisfy yourself, there is no need for desires. Before you say “I want to get this,” already it appears. So, there is no sense of time, no sense of stream of consciousness, no sense of impermanence. That is not the human world. At that time, you cannot have any chance to attain enlightenment.

Of course, Buddha Shakyamuni can dwell in nirvana, eternity. But when the time comes, he has to die. This is Buddha’s compassion, in order to guide other people to attain enlightenment. Because the truth is not something which Buddha Shakyamuni gives to you, but [something] which each of us individually gets a taste of, directly from the truth as it is. [For this], you cannot always go to a teacher who exists forever.

Buddha Shakyamuni’s patriarchs, they have to die. At that time, you are – Ānanda, many of Buddha’s disciples are – confused. But the truth is confusion. They found a great opportunity to see the truth, which is the same enlightenment or truth as the Buddha saw.


The same applies to your practice. If you look around the human world, sometimes – not sometimes, probably pretty often – you have big doubt: why is it that you have to practice like this? Because your practice is just like a dewdrop in a huge ocean, the universe. How much does this practice affect the human world or help human beings? How much?

If you practice in the human world, lots of people don’t understand why you practice. Whatever you explain – to save all sentient beings, or to see for yourself, or to understand human beings well – whatever you say, people don’t understand. Finally, maybe you feel pensive and sad, disappointed. I experience this a lot, anyway. Because, you can see how many people are really ignorant. But on the other hand, if you ask yourself, “Are you not [also] ignorant when you are enlightened?” – no, I don’t think so. That’s why we practice, every day. So from this point, broadly speaking, you who are practicing or others who don’t practice are exactly the same; not so much different. If you practice Zen, which is a little bit different from others’ practice, you are really proud of yourself. That is sometimes too much. But if you ask yourself, strictly speaking, basically you are not different from others.

Anyway, you have lots of questions. “How long should I practice like this?” Or, “Will it be possible for us to attain enlightenment and nirvana? How long do we practice zazen?” Et cetera. Through the practice you are doing day after day, you don’t know when that will happen. And also, if you look at the human world, the human world is constantly going. There are lots of people who are starving, and there are lots of people who are fighting, and you really have a big doubt: what are you doing in this practice? You really want to save [people], get out from this zazen and help human beings. But how much can you help?

Well, if you can [help], anyway, do it.

Finally, no matter how long you discuss this point with yourself, there is no way to find any perfect solution. So finally what you have to do is, keep quiet. Why don’t you sit down when you have to sit down? That’s all that we have to do.

In Zen, there are lots of scriptures explaining no-mind. Read The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind written by D. T. Suzuki. He is quoting the topic of no-mind from the words written by Bodhidharma; the title is “Discourse on the Absolute” [He chuckles.] This discourse really discusses no-mind: again and again, it asks what no-mind is. If you really dwell in no-mind, how can you know no-mind? [Laughter.] Those questions are always coming up – and answers, and questions, and answers, and questions, always appear. Read that book; that’s interesting. But finally, what is that? What do you have to do? Finally, all you have to do is, keep your quiet. When the time comes to die, just die. When the comes to sit, just sit. When the time comes to live in this world, to live. That’s all we have to do.

Unfortunately, before you reach this terminating abode, we have to suffer. We have to struggle. That’s interesting.


Human beings are really interesting. We know pretty well, “Don’t do this. Don’t suffer. You don’t like suffering.” You know this pretty well. But in order to reach the terminating abode where there is nothing to do – verbally, or practically, or philosophically, metaphysically, nothing to do – finally what you have to do is, sit down when you have to sit down, walk when you have to walk, that’s all. It’s a very simple practice. We know this too. But still we have to go through bitterness. That’s an interesting point. That’s why this kind of koan comes up.


If you attend sesshin, even for today’s sitting, I think you have a lot of questions. But whatever you think – if you see human beings who are really ignorant, who don’t understand this kind of practice, who don’t understand the depths of human life, or who are not interested in this kind of understanding – it doesn’t mean you should give up. It doesn’t mean you should be engaged in normal human life, forgetting this kind of practice, forgetting the deep understanding of human beings. It doesn’t mean that.

If you give up this kind of practice, there is no compassion. Who helps human beings except you, except each of us individually? Who helps [then]? No one helps. So, you can help; each of us individually can help. This is [the] point. If you see the really ignorant human world, with ignorant people fighting each other – at that time you can really practice. That’s why you have to practice at that time, because that practice originates from your compassion.

Compassion is not something given by Buddhas or Buddhist teachings; compassion comes from you; each of us individually. We have to understand ourselves, understand people, how ignorant people are, how wonderful the enlightened world is… even if there is only you who practices, who tries to understand the human world deeply. Lots of human beings are really ignorant. [Even with this,] we have to have compassion, and to practice. Even though they don’t understand now, we should sow a seed for future generations.

Even though modern civilization cuts down trees and destroys nature with building mansions and apartments, and whatever, [these days]. If you went to Japan and you really understood how modern civilization is wonderful or awful… Japan is not so big; it’s small, a little smaller than California. And the people live more than in America. Can you imagine how wonderful it is, and how awful it is? [Laughter.]

Nevertheless, even though modern civilization cuts down trees and destroys nature, still there is hope, if there is even one seed. Do you know the picture book for children – Doctor Seuss? Doctor Seuss – that’s an interesting book. [Laughter.] Modern civilization completely destroys the human world, building the factories, and companies, and mansions. And then on the last page, the little boy finds just one seed. All the environment around him, there is nothing there, it is completely destroyed, but there is just one seed left. So he was very happy, and put it in the ground. That is the last page. [Laughter.]

The same applies to your practice. This is compassion, this is really Buddha’s compassion. Without this compassion, you cannot help anybody, you cannot help any beings.

That’s why Engo’s note says, “This fellow has broken down quite a bit. He’s dragging in other people.” Lots of questions. If you practice zazen and enlightenment, then immediately you can save all sentient beings – wonderful, no problem. It’s not necessary to become sick. Why did Vimalakirti become sick? This is really true. Even though you obtain enlightenment, even though you try to practice deeply again and again, you become sick. Because, I told you before, if you look at human beings around your life … immediately you suffer. [You ask,] “Why do you do this? Is this work useful for human beings? Or is it ridiculous?” You get really sick.

And also, when the time comes, whoever you are, you have to die. Regardless of whether you attain enlightenment or not, there are ignorant people there who don’t understand you, absolutely. This is a really big problem, dragging in all human beings. Why do you have to practice?

So, that’s why Engo Zen Master says, “This fellow has broken down quite a bit. He’s dragging in other people.”


The temple superintendent asked him, “Teacher, how has your venerable health been in recent days?”

Four hundred and four diseases break out all at once. They will be lucky if they’re not seeing off a dead monk in three days. (This question) is in the course of humanity and righteousness.

“Four hundred and four diseases break out all at once.” [Laughter.] That means, all the suffering comes up. When you sit down, if you look around at the human world, immediately four hundred and forty things comes up. Don’t care about the numbers: more than four hundred. Thousands of diseases come up. All of your suffering comes up.

You see just one disease: “Why is practice [like] this?” But this is not [just] one; this is coming from ignorance. You know ignorance? Ignorance has a thousand diseases, a thousand thousand. You don’t know what it is.

The moment when the intendant first asks the Zen Master, “How have you been?” – this is already a disease, the question. For Baso Zen Master, when the time comes to die, just to die. No way, so he doesn’t care. The same applies to your practice: when you have to do zazen, just sit down to do zazen. When someone comes and asks, “What are you doing? Are you happy to do this?” – this question is really ignorant, don’t you think so? It is. It makes you sick.

So, no way. When you have to sit, just sit. If you don’t like it, then get up, go out; you can do that. But even though you can go out, or you can come back, or you can go out again and again, there is no basic solution for a human being. The basic solution for a human being is very simple: when the time comes to sit, just sit down. When the time comes to live, to live, under all circumstances. This is the basic solution.

“Four hundred and four diseases break out all at once. They will be lucky if they are not seeing off a dead monk in three days.” [He chuckles.] It’s probably [that] you are a lucky person if you don’t “crash” during zazen. And then, if you have a question of how ridiculous it is, you can’t stand up in such zazen, so it’s completely crashed. It’s pretty easy to get up: that is really a dead monk. You perform a funeral service for the dead monk. [He laughs.] If you can still sit down there, you’re lucky, you are a lucky person. That’s why Engo says, “They will be lucky if they’re not seeing off a dead monk in three days.” Not three days; the number is dangerous, the number doesn’t matter. Right now, that is the question. Right now.

“(This question) is in the course of humanity and righteousness.” If it is true that Baso Zen Master doesn’t care what you say when he has to die, why did this intendant ask him, “How have you been?” It’s not necessary to say “how have you been”; let him go! But Engo says, “This is in the course of humanity and righteousness.” It’s just like a good morning. “Hello, how are you?” “Good morning.” You cannot ignore this. “Hello, how are you?” “Good morning.” “Good afternoon.” “Good night.” This is really humanity. And also this is righteousness, in a sense.


The Great Master said, “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha.”

The note says:

How fresh and new!

Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha is “fresh and new” because it’s pretty rare to hear “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha.” There are lots of Buddhas, but he has never heard of Sun Face Buddha or Moon Face Buddha. That’s why Engo says, “how fresh and new!”

But it’s not necessary to name them. He says “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha,” that means whether his life is long or his life it short doesn’t matter, just a Buddha. He can live long, or he has to die. If he has to die now, does his body disappear completely, no life anymore? Or can he still dwell in nirvana, eternity? Whatever you say, it doesn’t hit the mark. If it is true, where can he live? That is Buddha.

Sustenance for his fledgeling.

If this is just to take care of young birds [so they can] fly in the sky, well, “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha” is a really gentle, soft suggestion how to live, how to affect life and death. But [unintelligible]. It’s not always [something] gentle; there is a very strict, sharp suggestion there too.


[Now] the Verse. This is Setchō Zen Master’s verse for the koan, and also Engo Zen Master’s comment on each verse.

(Transcriber’s Note: First, here is Setchō Zen Master’s complete poem, without the comments.)

Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha;
What kind of people were the Ancient Emperors?
For twenty years I have suffered bitterly;
How many times I have gone down into the Blue Dragon’s cave for you!
This distress is worth recounting;
Clear-eyed patchrobed monks should not take it lightly.

(From The Blue Cliff Record translated by Thomas Cleary)

(Transcriber’s Note: And now, here is the poem with the comments, as Katagiri Roshi read it.)

Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha

This is the first [line]. The comment says:

When he opens his mouth you see his guts.

[Some laughter.]

Well, you have to see guts, anyway! If you open your mouth, you have to see guts. Between Setchō Zen Master and Baso Zen Master, there is no gap. The moment Baso Zen Master says, “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha,” immediately Setchō Zen Master can see Baso’s guts. In other words, he understands completely what is death, what is life, through his words.

Baso Zen Master and Setchō are like two facing mirrors; in between there is no image or reflection.

There is no image, just like [two facing mirrors]. If you see the mirror, immediately [there is the] mirror and you, the dualistic world comes up. But [if there is] exactly no image and no reflection in the mirror – that means, yesterday I told you, dive into the ocean, and simultaneously the ocean and you, all your guts, work simultaneously. There is no mirror, no image, no reflection. Immediately it’s working.

That is “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha.” Engo Zen Master said it that way. The moment when you dive into the ocean, you can see the ocean’s guts, and the guts of interdependent co-origination, simultaneously.


The second verse says,

What kind of people were the Ancient Emperors?

That means, what kind of people were the Ancient Emperors before Baso Zen Master. And Buddhas and patriarchs, and all beings, and enlightenment and delusion, and life and death – what are they? What is useful? Whatever you say – “paradise,” and “health,” and “enlightenment,” “nirvana,” whatever you say – for Baso who was about to die, what is useful? That is the meaning of this verse, “What kind of people were the Ancient Emperors?”

Too lofty.

Engo says, “Too lofty.” That means, “Uh-oh, Setchō, you’re too proud of yourself.”

Don’t belittle them. They can be valued high or low.

Engo Zen Master says to Setchō, do not be proud of Baso Zen Master, it is not desirable to insult him. “What kind of people were the Ancient Emperors” means Setchō Zen Master understands immediately Baso’s feeling about his life and death, why he said, “I don’t care. Whatever person, whatever it is – life and death, delusion and enlightenment, nirvana, paradise, the world after death, whatever you say – I don’t care. What is useful? All I have to do is to die when the time comes.” That is Setchō Zen Master’s feeling or understanding. That’s why Engo says, “Uh-oh, too lofty.” So it’s not criticism.


In the third verse, Setchō Zen Master explained his life:

For twenty years I have suffered bitterly;

This is Setchō’s history: “For twenty years I have suffered bitterly.” He has practiced for twenty years, and experienced lots of things. Engo says,

This is your own fall into the weeds – it’s none of my business. Here’s a mute eating a bitter melon.

Engo Zen Master says, “This is your own fall into the weeds.” That means in the basic nature of the human world there is no extra [world]: nirvana, enlightenment, paradise or not paradise, et cetera. Finally, [in] the original nature of existence, all we have to do is be quiet, just do it. That’s all we have to do. If you practice for 20 years and experience bitterness, that is your fault, you did that. Engo says, “That is none of my business; you did it. Basically, the human world is no-suffering.”

“Here is a mute eating a bitter melon.” If we practice, we know pretty well there is the original nature of existence, embracing all sentient beings. There is no suffering, no pleasures – a completely peaceful, perfect world. We know it pretty well; if it is true, why don’t we always stay there? But we cannot stay there, so we experience lots of bitterness. But if you experience bitterness, you cannot say anything about how awful bitterness is, how wonderful bitterness is. If you experience real bitterness, you become a mute: nothing to say.

But this mute has lots of words, because you know how bitter it is. In order to live in the vastness of the human world, life and death, delusion and enlightenment come in and out. We have to experience bitterness, but if you experience bitterness, you become sort of mute. That mute means completely beyond good or bad, right and wrong; nothing to say. So finally, as old memories, you can talk about bitterness. At that time, bitterness is not bitterness; you can talk about bitterness with a smile.

That’s why Engo Zen Master teased Setchō: “This is none of my business; you did it. But on the other hand, your bitterness is just like a mute, nothing to say. How wonderful it is!”


The next verse says,

How many times I have gone down into the Blue Dragon’s cave for you!

This you is the attitude [where] Baso calmly and [simply] enters into death without saying anything; just Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha. That is [the] you. But in order to get to this point, how many times I have gone down into the Blue Dragon’s cave for you! How many times we have to get into the Blue Dragon’s cave: that means bitterness, lots of strictness, hard practice, and lots of things there.

It is said that a dragon possesses a jewel in his jaw. So in order to get the jewel from the dragon, you have to go to the cave where the dragon lives. Without going to that cave, you cannot get it. But going to the cave and getting the jewel is very hard practice, risking your life to go there, to get the jewel. This is really practice for us.

So, “How many times I have gone down into the Blue Dragon’s cave for you!” We cannot count, or we cannot envision how many times we should go there. We should experience the hard practice how often, how many times? And then we can get the jewel? We don’t know.

Setchō says,

How was it worth this? Don’t misuse your mind. Don’t say there isn’t anything extraordinary here.

“How was it worth this?” Because Setchō says before, it’s your behavior, falling into the weeds; that’s your fault, it’s none of my business. So, how many …

[Tape change.]

… But Setchō says, “don’t say there isn’t anything extraordinary here.” If you want to do that, just do it! Because you want to, just do it; none of my business. But on the other hand, he says, don’t say there isn’t anything extraordinary here. This is Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha. It’s sort of nothing to say, nothing to comment on.

So this is coming from how many times? Many, many times of going into the Blue Dragon’s cave. But now, what you can see is “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Budda.” Nothing to [comment] about this. Is there some particular extraordinary thing or excitement there in Baso Zen Master? Nothing. If it is true, “just to die when the time comes” means just a simple practice: just to die when the time comes. But Engo says, “No, no – it’s not. Watch out! Because it comes from many, many thousand times of going to get the jewel from the Blue Dragon’s cave.” But behind this is Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha. There is lots of background, practically, philosophically, psychologically. This is the human world.


This distress is worth recounting;

How long has Setchō been practicing? It’s really distress; it’s really hard practice. But Engo says,

He saddens people to death. Sad man, don’t speak to sad people.

You know pretty well, if you practiced in the past, hard practice, if you suffered so much, then you can speak about the suffering you had in the past, but it is spoken as a good memory for you. So, you really want to talk about your suffering to somebody. But it saddens people.

So Engo says, “I understand, Setchō, I see your practice. Yes, yes. I understand how distressful it is, because I know pretty well, I’ve practiced for many, many years. But if you say so, you sadden the people to death.” Engo says, “You are a sad man; don’t speak to sad people.” Maybe sad people means if you want to talk to the sad people who experience the same thing as Setchō, then […] you really agree with Setchō, then you cry with him. At that time, you really shake hands with him, and you understand Setchō, and Setchō understands you. But, it is nothing but staying in a den.

To whom would you speak of it? If you speak of it to sad people, you will sadden them to death.

To whom would you want to speak: to a sad man, or not to a sad man? If you speak about your hard practice to a man who is not sad, he doesn’t understand. Look at yourself: if you go to human society and talk about your practice to people who are not interested in it – well, nobody understands your practice. They say, “You are crazy.” Have you experienced this? [Some laughter.] Then if you explain your practice to the people who are called “sad man,” who practice and know how terrible, how awful sesshin is: well, people cry with you. “Yes, I understand you.” [Laughter.]

So that’s why Engo says, “To whom would you speak of it? If you speak of it to sad people, you will sadden them to death.” [Laughter.] Because you can cry pretty easily, and shake hands.


Clear-eyed patchrobed monks shouldn’t take it lightly.

According to Engo Zen Master, hard practice, human suffering, is unsentimental, not something you should deal with as sentimental. If you talk about your practice to a sad man, well you can cry with each other, you can shake hands – but this is nothing but the sentimental. Patchrobed monks should have clear eyes. Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha: that’s just simple manifestation, revealing Baso Zen Master himself as a whole. There are many, many thousand times of hard practice behind this, but it doesn’t show.

How can Baso speak of this? To whom? To sad people? Well, maybe they’d understand. But even if somebody understands Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha – who dies? Baso Zen Master dies, not the person who understands Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha. So that’s why Engo Zen Master asks, “to whom would you speak of this?” Finally what you have to do is, you should have clear eyes. Who dies?

Sometimes I feel in the United States, Buddhism is still staying in the realm of Śrāvakabuddha. Śrāvakabuddha means a buddha who attains enlightenment through listening to the Buddha’s teaching. Lots of people are interested in listening to Buddha’s teaching, and in enlightenment. It’s not good enough, because it doesn’t work in your daily living. Of course you can attain enlightenment intellectually by listening to Buddha. But, why is it that a Bodhisattva has to practice a thousand years continually? Why? Because it’s not simple to practice your enlightenment in daily living. It’s not so simple.

Even though you understand Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha through your practice – who dies? You die. When the time comes, you have to die. You’re really confused: “I am talking about my understanding of Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha.” Of course, but there is no proof. “Katagiri, can you die as a Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha?” There is no proof. I can say, “Yes, I can die,” or “No.” Yes or no – there is nothing to say. Finally, we have to learn death exactly from death directly.

That’s why yesterday I told you, all beings are all beings connected with each of us individually. If there is something else apart from you, it cannot be called all beings. Whatever it is, all beings are really something closely connected with you; that is what is called all beings. But simultaneously, it’s not real all beings, because they are beings seen from each of us individually. It’s not all beings. Finally, we have to learn all beings through all beings themselves; that means through your individual understanding of all beings connected with you.

In other words, I told you yesterday: when you have to talk, talk is one of the all beings, [it is] nothing but all beings. This talk is something connected with you. So completely speaking, you have to study; at that time, this talk becomes all beings connected with you. And then, is this enough? You [just] have to learn about the talk? No way. Next, forget it. All you have to do is sit down and talk. When you talk, you can exactly learn the talk from the talk directly. You cannot speak of the talk to you. This is really important for us.

Even though you attain enlightenment, it is not enough, because it must be something alive in each of us, individually. At that time it is called enlightenment. So enlightenment is what? Enlightenment is really your life, which is alive day after day. It’s really close. That is enlightenment.

In order to see this, we have to have clear eyes. Dogen really emphasizes that point.


After “clear eyed patch-robed monks shouldn’t take it lightly,” this is the last comment on the verse, which in English says:

You must be even more thoroughgoing. Bah!

[There is some amused crosstalk about “bah” as an exclamation.]

Setchō Zen Master says, you should have clear eyes, finally. Whatever you experience – enlightenment, delusion, whatever – it doesn’t make sense, so finally you should have clear eyes in order to make it alive in your daily living. And then Engo says, “You must be even more thoroughgoing. Watch out, Setchō! What is that? Nothing to say. Bah!” Forget it! All you have to do is Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha. When the time comes to die, just to die. No extra excitement, no extra sadness or pleasure; nothing, just there. That is “Bah!”

Because Engo cannot say, “What do you mean by, ‘You must be even more thoroughgoing’?” If you have clear eyes, after attaining enlightenment, after understanding Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha – what do you mean? Nothing to say. Well, according to my words, “Keep your mouth shut and just do your best.”

Fall back three thousand miles.

This is more than simply “keep your mouth shut, just do your best with wholeheartedness and compassion”; this is really going back three thousand miles. That means it’s very hard to reach. The words are simple: keep your mouth shut, and just do your best, with compassion and wholeheartedness. Simple words. But for us, it’s really going back 3,000 miles. It’s far away.

That’s why we have to practice. We have to go to the Blue Dragon’s cave to get the jewel. How many times? We don’t know how many times.

Do you have questions?


Question: What is the Blue Dragon?

Katagiri: In Chinese literature and Buddhist scriptures, there is always a wondrous creature which is called a dragon. It is the king of creatures in this world, because he has all the parts of human beings and also the animals: eyes, nails, hair, scales – he has all the things. The dragon is a symbol of all creatures: human beings, animals, and also fish, et cetera. And also he can create fire: [fwoosh]! [Laughter.] He can live in the bottom of the ocean in a great palace; that is his place. That is the Blue Cave. We don’t know where it is; the Blue Cave is where dragons exists. The dragon is the symbol of all creatures, it is the beautiful ideal image of a human being.

This dragon also has a jewel. We want to get that jewel. And if you don’t want it, this is also want to [unintelligible]. Whatever you say – “I don’t want” – well, if you really don’t want, you cannot say anything. If you say “I don’t want,” “I don’t want” is really something connected with “I want”. [Unintelligible] It is very true.

This is the Blue Dragon’s cave. The human world.


Question: I have a question. I think I have some feel, when you talk about “when you walk, just walk, when you sit, just sit, when it’s time to die, just die,” without adding any other confusion to it, speculating about the mystical world or whatever. But I’m confused about different teachers saying different things. I mentioned to you a couple of weeks ago that this last Friday the American spiritual teacher Ram Daas was down in Iowa City, and so Friday night we went to see him. And a lot of what he was saying came I think from his Hindu training, and reincarnation, and different levels of consciousness – all these things are important. He talks about things like death as things that you can consciously know about as a human being. Like, if you’re an expert in meditation, he talks as though he can go into death and experience it, and come back out again as a human being and know about it. But you always say things like, how will Katagiri die, no way of knowing ahead of time, the only way to find out is to die. So I’m confused: teachers that stress the importance of the mystical thing – do they really know what they’re talking about?


… Or shouldn’t that be taken seriously?

Katagiri: Well this life and death is not a psychological point of view, psychological [unintelligible]. Even though, you mentioned, Ram Daas says he can go to death and come back – I understand, I can go to death. But it is something just like psychological stuff, don’t you think so? Because your body or any body [are] here.

Look at the Indians and yoga. You can get in a certain casket and close the door, and completely you can stop the breathing. Maybe you can go to death. But whatever you say, this is – [He laughs.] I don’t know; I read a little article where wires were coming in to his body, checking him, how long he can stop his heart. But it’s not exactly stopped; he’s not exactly dead. I am talking about exactly death. [Laughter.] Not psychological stuff! Do you understand? You are talking about something a little bit psychological. I can understand, I can feel psychological stuff.

Same person: Yeah, but, it seems like what you’re saying, that’s a little bit different from what he seemed to be talking about.

Katagiri: Yes, so if … something [is] like real, I can say so. Or I can experience not necessarily metaphysically, philosophically; I can experience it before. Sort of like judo, where you can “die” immediately – like this, you know, a choke? I went to death. That’s interesting, right in the moment when you “die”. But it’s very simple, just like a [unintelligible] – that’s all. [Laughter.] But then immediately the teacher [picks up] and boom, you can come back. [Laughter.] [Unintelligible.]

Same person: I don’t understand that; it sounds like you’re saying death is like getting knocked out or something.

Katagiri: Yes, knocked out, just knocked out. Let’s imagine you are on an airplane going down to the ground. You are scared – not just you, everybody is scared, going down. And then boom – “What is that?” Just like [unintelligible]; that’s all.

Same person: For example, when Ram Daas spoke last Friday, and other stuff I’ve heard from him, he always says that isn’t the end, that there are states of consciousness that continue on.

Katagiri: Yes, I understand. That is a metaphysical understanding, okay? Still metaphysical understanding. It’s going on – I understand this. Life is going, of course. But you cannot say “life is constantly going.” What is that? How can you show it? The eternity of life, death and life connected exactly – how can you show it? Well of course we can explain it metaphysically, psychologically, or philosophically – but I am talking about real death itself. I told you before … all beings, death and life, is something connected with each of us individually, otherwise you cannot say life or death. But death itself and life itself are completely something you have to deal with directly; that is real death. How can you show it? Can you?

Well, I don’t want [you] to understand it completely. So, can you feel this? But never mind. [Laughter.]

Of course, I understand. And also I understand – Ram Daas? – I understand this.

Same person: It’s just like they’ve got, even the Buddhists, like say the Tibetan Buddhists have this whole system for the bardo, what happens when you die. Are we to take that seriously or not?

Katagiri: Yes – but that’s why here it says, “We already become sick.” [He laughs.] Finally all you have to do is just to die. [If] you have to die, this is a simple practice, and no sadness, no suffering, nothing. But if you die, people say, “Are you okay? How have you been? How are you?” – right in the middle of death. This [question], it makes you sick. Because, where are you heading for? After death, what happens? We want to know. This really makes you sick; just like Vimalakirti.

So it is okay, if you are interested in that stuff, you should research it, understand it. But – don’t mix up the psychological, metaphysical, philosophical death and also real death itself. Don’t mix them up. It’s not others’ stories, it’s not the metaphysical death stories; real death is you. If I think [about] that, it always opens my eyes: “Who dies? I die. Oh my goodness! How can I help? How can I scream?” I am talking about this. And also, when we die, we want to be present in peace and harmony, don’t you think so?

[There is a long pause.]

So, Tibetan Buddhism and also Abhidharmakosha explains a little bit about this. So that’s interesting. It makes you sick for a while. [Laughter.] You experience bitterness, and that’s wonderful, in a sense. But, don’t stay in the den of sickness. Sickness is sickness, so sooner or later you must overcome sickness. Even though the Dharma is good – if you always hang on [to it], you are sick. Nothing but sickness.

Just like marijuana. Marijuana is wonderful, you know – makes you high. [Laughter.] And you understand immediately what death is. “Well I understand. Why don’t you take marijuana? You can understand death; you can go to death and come back.” You can understand, don’t you think so?

For instance, the other day the poet Ginsburg talked about that, and he recommended to me, “Why don’t you take marijuana?” [Laughter.] He always asks me, “Did you experience taking marijuana?” Well, I didn’t. “Why don’t you take it?” So I asked him, “Why?” And he said, “It’s very helpful for you.” [He laughs.] Yes, I know it’s helpful; but on the other hand, I know it’s not helpful. So, how can I say it?

So he said, “If you take this marijuana, you can go to see a wonderful high, a wonderful world you have never seen according to common state of consciousness.” And that is good because it makes your life transform, turn over a new leaf. Well of course, maybe so – but maybe not! There is no proof! [Laughter.]

Different person: But Roshi – you say the same thing to us about zazen.

[Raucous laughter.]

Katagiri: You’re great.


You realize that now.

That’s wonderful. Yes it is.

Same person: [Unintelligible.]

Katagiri: But zazen is very simple: just sit down. It means, just to die, just to live; that’s all. So, no proof – but it’s proof, anyway. [He laughs.] Because you can bloom, you can die. It’s real proof; not metaphysical proof, not psychological proof. It’s real proof.

Person 3: It’s physical proof?

Katagiri: Oh no. Well, physical – that is part of the proof. Physical, mental proof – that is part of it, not the whole.

Person 3: What’s the rest? [Laughter.]

Katagiri: [He laughs.] I don’t know what it is.

Human beings are really interesting. [Laughter.]

That’s why [unintelligible] is necessary for us. Why don’t you read “The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind”? That’s interesting.

Person 3: I have read it. [Laughter.]

Katagiri: There is no mind. That simple practice, again and again. Answer, question, answer, question – again and again. Finally: “What’s going on here?” Nothing to say. But you have to go through this; that’s why human beings really have a lot of fun.


1:17:28 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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