May 18, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi examines Engo Zen Master’s notes on the meeting of Te Shan and Kuei Shan, and the dynamics between process itself and doings as a result. The wild fox spirit and the board-carrying fellow live right next door to each other. “Wrong” and “sure enough.” Check!


(Archive Issue: In the Online Audio Archive, Talk 1 and Talk 2 are listed in reverse order. Since Talk 1 must have come before Talk 2, I have switched the dates accordingly.)

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Katagiri Roshi: We will study Engo Zen Master’s notes [on the case].

Even if you read the notes of the Blue Cliff Record, probably you don’t understand. It’s very complicated, because sometimes [the effect] [unintelligible]. [It depends on] the situation. Sometimes [unintelligible] is good, sometimes [unintelligible] is evil, so completely you don’t understand. But there is a very important point if you read the notes: the most important point you have to take into account is that Engo Zenji always is focusing on process itself.

Process is sort of one’s doing not as a result. Constantly Engo Zenji’s notes focus on process itself, working itself, not as a result. […] In our daily living, whatever we do, usually we see our doings from result. We judge. [But] we are mostly living in process itself, so Engo Zenji always takes us to see process itself and doing itself.

But [then] this doing itself or process itself is [something not to do with] doings as a result. It’s a close relation, but pretty often we miss the process itself, that’s why Zen always takes us [there]. But [then] if we realize that we should pay attention to process itself, lots of people ignore the doings as result, or experience. We ignore consciousness. So very naturally our attitude toward human life is very haughty, because we are always staying in a certain high level of life. That is really haughty.

So simultaneously we cannot ignore that it’s connected with human doings, human behavior as a result. It’s very complicated, but actually process itself is completely beyond human judgement and evaluation. This is life itself. There is no comment.


Like the other day I went to see somebody who has cancer, to talk with him. He said that he has really appreciated his sickness, because he realized [that there is] no difference between life and death. Life is exactly the same as death, and death is exactly life: he really realized that point. And then he said that his practice called upon him… I told him about his brother’s life, because he had some problems. [Unintelligible.] [His brother’s problem was that he was] sort of an addict of smoking cigarettes. He really wanted to stop, but he couldn’t. [He said he finds it] really boring to listen to that problem. [He laughs] Because smoking cigarettes is not a big problem for him; his problem is right on the verge of life and death. [It is not really a problem a problem for him], it is really for us, so he smiled and he laughed. Anyway, what I want to tell you is, there is no difference between life and death.

Death is a very good example, because death is not a matter of discussion. Is death something you have experienced? Or is death something before you experience death? Or is death the middle of death? No way; nothing to say about death. But even though there is nothing to say about death, death is really there. But how can I say it? In other words, process itself, the process or the working of death itself. Pay attention to death. Nothing to pin down, what it is.

We do this always, when dancing, or walking, or playing piano: whatever you do, [you are] always right in the middle of process itself. Playing piano is no comment; all you have to do is just to play.

But usually we get use of judging our life through result. Of course result is important, but human behavior as a result should be backed by the process itself: the pure nature of doing, the pure nature of human behavior. At that time there is no comment, no discussion. And then if you want to talk about that process of doing human behavior itself, at that time you can say it many ways: it is good, it is not good, it is so-so. You can say so. But whatever you say, it doesn’t hit the mark.

For instance, death. Do you like death? Well, death is beautiful. Whatever you say – death is beautiful, or death is ugly, or I don’t like death, or I like death – you cannot hit the mark, the bullseye of death itself as a process. All you have to do is be right on the process of death itself.

But it’s connected with human consciousness, looking at human doings as an experience, as a result. That’s why if you say something about process itself, always there is “yes, it’s good.” Okay, but it’s not good. Pay careful attention to it, okay? And then, there is, “It’s not complete, it’s not enough.” But is it completely not enough? Well, it’s okay, it’s alright. So, always there is “it’s okay,” “but it’s not okay.” Always [like this].

That’s why Engo Zen Master always says it in that way. That’s why it makes us confused. We don’t know what he is talking about. Well, I will read it; you [won’t] understand. (Or you will understand why you don’t understand?)


The first note, for:

When Te Shan arrived at Kuei Shan…


The board-carrying fellow, the wild fox spirit!

Te Shan was really haughty; his life is always staying at a high level of spiritual life, which is called enlightenment. So from the high level of spiritual life, many people, trees, birds, and pebbles in the human world [seem] really ridiculous to him. So whatever they are – the teacher Kuei Shan Zen Master, Buddha, patriarchs, trees, flowers, birds – so what? He doesn’t care, because he’s always staying in the high level of spiritual life.

For instance, maybe you can see people who experience another religion. If people really experience a high level of spiritual life through a certain religion, they don’t care what you say. They don’t have ears to listen to you, because they are always staying at the highest [level]. Whatever you say is really ridiculous [to them]. They are always very happy; that’s why we are very confused: “Is that real religion? Maybe I should learn such a religion, because they are happy.” Very naturally we are drawn by it, because they are very happy, because they are staying at the high level. But it’s not real religion or real spiritual life, because it is exactly the same as a haughty air.

At that time they are just like the “board-carrying fellow” we call tanpankan in Japanese. I told you very often, tan is a board, pan means carry on the shoulder, and kan is a fellow, a guy. A person who carries a board cannot see the [other side of the board], just one side. If you experience religious life, you feel happy; you don’t see the unhappiness, you don’t see the people who suffer. You are always looking at the high level of spiritual life, so you always see everybody from the high level of spiritual life. So whatever you say, people don’t accept you.

So that is really tanpankan: the board-carrying fellow. It’s really “pig-headed”. That is nothing but prejudice and egoism. Under the beautiful name of religion or spiritual life, we create problems.

And also it says, “the wild fox spirit.” I told you maybe last Wednesday, the wild fox is a person who has practiced for many, many years. According to the Zen stories, anyway, a Zen Master became a wild fox by answering the question of whether or not an enlightened person falls into causation. This person answered the question by saying, “Not fall into causation.” Then immediately his life became a wild fox. Since then he lived his life as a wild fox for five hundred years. That means a really old fox, [he chuckles,] old, old fox, completely [beyond] human control. You cannot take care of him; he is really too old a bird to be caught with a trap. [He laughs.] That’s why Engo Zen Master says [this about] Te Shan: this is really the wild fox spirit. In a sense he really understands this monk, because by such hard practice he attained enlightenment, and also he has great capability to handle even a Zen Master named Kuei Shan. No one could take care of such an old, wild fox. In a sense, Engo Zen Master praised him. But on the other hand, that is not praise, that is really the “board-carrying fellow”. Do you understand this?

If you’re a painter [for example], and you become famous, people say “you’re a great painter,” so you really boast of yourself, “I am a great painter” – that is pretty good, in a sense: you become an old wild fox. But if you boast of yourself, you are just like a board-carrying fellow. Do you understand? If you become famous, very naturally fame makes you boast. The board-carrying fellow, that is very stiff. Always you look at everything – trees, birds, and people – from fame. Other painters seem to be ridiculous [to you]. If you are not famous, you are a ridiculous person. That is real tanpankan: carrying the board, looking at just one side.

Life is not something like that. We should look at all directions, and take care of [them]. That means egolessness, we have to practice egolessness.


Note two says:

Unavoidably he causes people to doubt. He has suffered defeat.

This is the note for:

… he carried his bundle with him into the teaching hall, (where he crossed from east to west and from west to east.)

“Unavoidably he causes people to doubt”: well, of course, you know, if you go into the Buddha Hall without putting down your travel clothes and bundle, and then just walk from east to west and west to east, back and forth in your friend’s house – people feel that maybe you are crazy. What are you doing there?

And then Engo Zenji says, “He has suffered defeat.” With that attitude already he was defeated, in a sense. He was too much of a “show off”. If you become famous, very naturally you become too much of a show off; if you show off, you are defeated. If you are a really great famous person, even if you don’t show off, it’s really you become famous.

The same applies to enlightenment, or your life. Buddha says if you have a bottle filled with water perfectly, when you shake it there is no sound. But if you have a bottle with a little water on the bottom and shake it… do you understand the difference? Big noise. [He laughs.] If you become famous and then at that time if you boast of yourself, then that means a little water in the bottom of the bottle, and you shake it: “I am a great person.” That is really tanpankan, the board-carrying fellow.

But I don’t mean that you should ignore your career. Your career is really wild fox: great! But on the other hand, the wild fox is exactly living next door to the board-carrying fellow. [Laughter.] They are shaking hands with each other. Watch out!

This is really true; that’s why Engo says it in that way. And Engo Zenji already realizes this, that’s why [he says], “What are you doing there? You are really making the people doubt. And also, you are already defeated.”


And then Engo says, “What are you doing there? Maybe you are expressing, manifesting the experience of Zen. But [what is it]?” Engo Zenji says,

He has a lot of Ch’an, but what for?

What for? To show off? Or beating the Zen Master? Or slandering Buddha? [Is this] Zen? Or always being high – or being low? It’s not Zen, because Zen is life itself, death itself – nothing to say. [If] what you call Zen is showing off, or Zen is beating somebody, or Zen is discussing something, or Zen is a certain subject, it’s not life and death. Death is what? Life is what? What for? You have a logical idea of death – what for? You have a death, a great death – what for? Nothing to say.

Well we always have some ideas of life and death, even at death. Whatever kind of good idea of death [you have] – if you write a book, and you become famous from the book of death – [or] through science, or religion, or Buddhism – it is just like a person who is selling water by the river. It’s not something special. Death is not something special, death is just the usual death. It’s exactly the same as life. If you’re always writing the book on death, and you become famous, and you are invited to talk about death – well, what is [that]? You are selling death by the death. Is there something special? No way.

That’s why Engo Zen Master says, “He has a lot of Ch’an” – Zen Buddhism. The same applies to all of us: we have lots of ideas of life, death, Zen, Christianity, or nature – lots of ideas. Well, it’s okay. But we should ask, “What for?” It’s not religious. It’s okay, it’s alright, but still we have to [unintelligible] again. What for? Because we have to understand, we have to focus on the practice of death itself, we have to see [it], which is exactly the same as life itself.

What is zazen? By zazen is there something you can sell? No way. Even though you can [talk about it], this is nothing but the dregs. By these dregs, even though you feel good, there is nothing special you have to sell. So, what is zazen? Zazen is just focus on the process of zazen itself. That’s all you have to do. When you do zazen, do zazen. [Be] one with zazen. This is real zazen, the process of zazen itself.

But simultaneously, [we are] going back and forth [between] the pure process of zazen and conceptualized zazen. Immediately back and forth; that’s why we judge it. And then you say, “It’s ridiculous. Zazen is boring.” But who makes it boring? You do. Zazen doesn’t care. Life itself doesn’t care; death itself doesn’t care. Whatever you say – death is boring, death is beautiful – it doesn’t matter. When the time comes, death is death. How can you be one with death? Within the oneness of death, is there something you have to sell? Nothing. If you say [there is] something to sell, it is just like selling water by the river. It is not a particular thing.

So, that’s why we have to pay careful attention to the process itself, the working itself, zazen itself. This is shikantaza.


That’s why immediately Engo Zenji says,

He deserves thirty blows of the staff. Indeed his spirit reaches the heavens. A real lion cub can roar the lion’s roar.

“He deserves thirty blows of the staff” because he’s really tanpankan, the board-carrying fellow. If you say something about death, you deserve thirty blows. But on the other hand, if you can say something about death, and become famous, it’s great, just like a lion cub can roar its roar. But in a sense it’s not [great]; he deserves thirty blows. Do you understand? This is life and death. If you focus on the process or function of death itself, you should accept both: you are a great person, but simultaneously, you are deserving thirty blows. And then at that time you can be right on the process of death itself.

For instance, I told you before, some Zen Master was asked by his disciple priests, “[Please] leave [a helpful remark] for your disciples, according to Buddha’s teaching, because you are about to die.” He said, “I don’t want to die.” So it was completely different from what the monks had expected. The disciples asked him, “Please say some great last words for us,” and then he said, “I don’t want to die.”

Those are great words. If you are really right on the process of death itself, you can say “I don’t want to die.” But I don’t want to die is not I don’t want to die opposed to I can die right now. It is completely beyond I don’t want to die or I can die, because [there is] no comment right in the middle of the process of death itself. Nothing. So I don’t want to die is just a flashing light in front of you. Or I can die, this is also a flashing light. But real death is that you must be right in the middle of real death. How can I talk about real death itself? Nothing to say. What you can [see] about death is just a flashing light in front of you: black, red, yellow; that’s all. That is a commentary to real death.


That’s why next, Engo Zen Master says,

Wrong. After all. Check!

“After all” means sure enough. He translated it as “after all,” but there are three points: wrong, sure enough, and check. That means: what you did is wrong; simultaneously, sure enough! That’s enough. And then the third point: check. What should you check?

Right in the middle of the real process of death itself, [there are] three points. [The first is], real death is just the function. Death is death. Flower is flower, green is green, bird is bird. You have no comment to make. This is [unintelligible].

The second point is: within “flower is flower,” “death is death,” there is no trace. There is no leaving a trace of death. That is “death is death.” If you can say something about death, it’s only a trace of death. But if you are right in the middle of death, you cannot leave any trace of death. You can [talk about it], but what you can say is nothing but the trace of death, not real death. That’s why the second point is that there is completely nothing to leave a trace of death. That is “trees are trees, birds are birds.” River is green, flower is red.

And the third point is perfect comprehension. Perfect comprehension means that which ensconces or settles yourself in death. That is perfect comprehension, with majestic spirit.

So that is check; we have to check. That is the real nature of death itself, real nature of life itself. The real nature of the trees, the real nature of zazen. Your zazen is okay? Wrong! No, it’s not okay. Simultaneously, your zazen is okay: sure enough. It’s okay. But is your zazen judged by you [as] wrong, or sure enough? No way. Still there is something you have to do; that is check.

How can you check? Your zazen is zazen. Zazen is just zazen; when you have to do zazen, that’s enough. And then that zazen is not something you can do always leaving a trace of consciousness, thinking, judgement. You have to do zazen without leaving any trace. That is shikan zazen, right in the middle of zazen. At that time, you can really have perfect confidence within zazen. That is really check, it’s real check. Real check is real practice.

You can explain [this] philosophically, psychologically. [Nagarjuna] always points out that stuff, the philosophical. But [Zen] doesn’t explain it philosophically; just directly he says it.

In the story, Setchō adds the comment to Te Shan’s behavior, he says “Completely exposed.” And then for this, the statement Engo Zen Master makes is, “Wrong. Sure enough. Check.” That is “completely exposed.” So, death is completely exposed, life is completely exposed. The tree, zazen: completely exposed. What is it? Is it good? Yes. But it’s not good. It is something you have to check. Check is, day by day, we have to practice. Through the practice we have to deepen it, and get a taste of what is the real process of nature, what is the real death, what is the real meaning of life. We have to get a taste of it through practice, on a daily basis. Otherwise, [there is] no way to get a taste. That is Setchō Zen Master’s comment, “Completely exposed.”

So Te Shan’s behavior – walking to the west, to the east, back and forth – is it wrong? It’s wrong. It’s not wrong. Sure enough, because he has practiced for many, many years, so he can do it. And he left immediately, saying nothing. It’s wrong. Sure enough; it’s great. But simultaneously, it’s not only sure enough; Te Shan still has something to check. That is to achieve the continuation of his practice: getting a taste of what is the real meaning of practice, which is called life or death, mentioned by Buddha.


Well, that is the first [part of the koan]. [Tape change.] Anyway, Te Shan tried to leave the Zen Monastery, and he came to the gate. At that time he reflected upon himself: “Oh, I was so rude.” Do you remember? So rude. “I’m very sorry to Kuei Shan Zen Master, so I should go back to see the teacher with a more [correct] attitude and behavior.”

And then, in the story, Te Shan went back from the gate [without pride], and said just, “Teacher!” And at that time Kuei Shan reached for his whisk, like this. Whereupon Te Shan shouted and shook out his sleeves, and he left. This is the second part of the koan.

And also Setchō added the comment to this, “Completely exposed.” Setchō made the same comment to the second part of this koan [as to the first part].

[About the second part of the koan,] Engo Zen Master says,

Letting go, gathering in.

Letting go [refers to] the first part of the story; saying “Mu” (nothing) and leaving, that is letting go. And then when he reached the gate of the monastery he reflected on himself, and then he went back and saw Kuei Shan; that is gathering together in Engo’s comment.

At first too high, in the end too low.

The first time, he was really high. [He said,] “Nothing,” and he left immediately, without seeing Kuei Shan. And the second time, he reached the gate and reflected on himself, “that is really pride, and that is low,” and went back. So in the beginning he really boasted of himself, and secondly he reflected upon himself and was a little bit disappointed, so he went back.

When one realizes one’s fault one should reform…

Te Shan was really straightforward. He thought how rude he was; immediately he reflected upon himself straightforwardly and went back. That’s great. [He did not stay] at a certain “stage” which is called enlightenment. So he went back. That’s pretty great.

… but how many people can?

This is very nice; how many people can do it that way? If you have certain positions, it’s very difficult to be straightforward. Even though we realize how rude we are, still we stick around and hold on to our positions, because we don’t want to hurt the positions, fame, et cetera. So very naturally you cannot be straightforward. That’s why in a sense Engo really praises Te Shan. It’s great; he reflected on himself, and went back to see Kuei Shan. How many people can do that like [him]? But on the other hand: well, it’s okay, but it’s not. [He laughs.] So, always going back and forth; that’s why you don’t understand these notes.


(So he reentered (the hall) with full ceremony to meet (Kuei Shan).)

Engo says,

As before, he acts like this. It’s already his second defeat. Danger!

“As before”: he left the first time, reflected on himself, and went back. The first time he left, saying “Nothing”; this is already he was defeated, because he shows [off] too much. That is, there are lots of traces there which are called enlightenment. That is already he was defeated, because Kuei Shan could read his attitude and mind, even though he didn’t speak. So he was already defeated; Kuei Shan Zen Master already saw through his practice. Secondly, he went back to see Kuei Shan, and he was also defeated, because Kuei Shan knows: “Aha! He came back.” [He chuckles.]

Just like real death. If you are right in the middle of real death, well you can say “You like death?” “Yes, sir.” “You don’t like death?” “Yes, sir.” You can say either; whatever you say is just like a flashing light. So the first time, you can leave, because you don’t like death: “I don’t care. But it’s death; I want to live more.” And then second, well [that’s pretty good] for death, because death is here, so why don’t we see death again, with [unintelligible] attitude, what is the meaning of death. But real death is real Kuei Shan Zen Master, always understanding this flashing light: red, white. So whatever he does, the real process of death named Kuei Shan understands pretty well. So, Te Shan was already defeated, because Kuei Shan saw through his [pride].


(As Kuei Shan sat there, …)

Kuei Shan watches this fellow with cold eyes.

When Te Shan went back to the teaching hall, Kuei Shan sat there in zazen. He already knew everything there; whatever [Te Shan] does – leaves or comes back – he knows pretty well. Whatever Te Shan did, he was defeated, because before whatever he did, Kuei Shan saw through his practice. That’s why Kuei Shan can watch Te Shan “with cold eyes” – that means no waves, just sit down there. And then at that time Te Shan is just like a frog, right in front of cold eyes – like a snake watching the frog. He couldn’t move. He cannot escape. If a snake glares at a frog, practically the frog cannot move, because the snake has strong powers. [He laughs.]

So Kuei Shan watches this fellow with cold eyes…

It takes this kind of man to grab a tiger’s whiskers.


Te Shan doesn’t know exactly, but he’s really touching the tiger’s whiskers. It’s very dangerous! But he didn’t know. If you don’t know, everything is okay, you know? [Laughter.] If you know, it’s very dangerous. That’s why Engo says, “Oh, it’s dangerous.” He went back to see Kuei Shan, but Te Shan didn’t know, so that’s why. But Engo Zen Master knows pretty well.


(… Te Shan held up his sitting mat and said, “Teacher!”)

He changes heads, switches faces; he stirs up waves where there’s no wind.

“He changes heads, switches faces”: That is criticism toward Te Shan. In the beginning, he left, saying, “Nothing. There is nothing at this monastery.” And then secondly he reflected on himself: “Oh, I was so rude.” So that’s why he changes his head, switches his face.

“He stirs up waves where there is no wind.” Actually, right in the middle of death, there is no wind. You have to stir it up: “This is real death, watch out!” There is nothing to say, right in the middle of death: no wind, you have to stir it up. If you start to stir it up, it’s already something extra, apart from real death. So real death, real life, real gassho, real zazen – what is it? Well it’s not necessary to stir it up. But we are always stirring up zazen, don’t you think so? How many can do real zazen without stirring it up? Because there is no wind, but actually we always stir up waves with no wind.


(Kuei Shan reached for his whisk, …)

Only that fellow could do this; he sets his strategy in motion from within his tent.

That means Engo Zen Master says about Kuei Shan Zen Master’s attitude, “Only that fellow could do this!” He sat right in the middle of the Buddha Hall, with cold eyes, seeing through Te Shan’s practice. Whatever he did, he knew pretty well. Only Kuei Shan could do this.

And that is “he set his strategy in motion from within his tent” – that means, [there is a] great world which is called tent, and then he always is right in the middle of real death or real life; that is a big tent. So from within the tent, he looks at what Te Shan is doing. He understands very well, so his strategy is already set up. Flashing light, red: be right there. Yes. Still, are you sure? No. Always [like this].

Anyway, Kuei Shan always looked at those flashing lights with cold eyes, just watching. But Te Shan is always stirring up waves. Do you like death? Yes. Are you sure? No. […] Always stirring up. Zazen is good? Yes, it’s really good. Are you sure? No, I don’t know. [He laughs.] It’s all stirred up. But actually, no wind.

Nothing can stop him from cutting off the tongues of everyone in the world.

So there is nothing to stop Kuei Shan, because he is right in the middle of death, life, zazen, gassho; no one can stop him. Whatever you say, he’s just like a fox, winking once. Do you like it? Yes. That’s enough. He knows. Whatever Te Shan brings up, the many fascinating [facts], leaving or coming back or whatever he did, Kuei Shan knows pretty well.


(… “whereupon Te Shan shouted, shook out his sleeves, and left.)

This is the understanding of a wild fox spirit.

Te Shan is really a wild fox, a really old bird.

They’re all people who can grab the clouds and grasp the fog, but he is outstanding among them.

In a sense, Engo Zen Master praised Te Shan, because all patriarchs and Buddhas experience enlightenment and arrive at the stage which is called enlightenment, just like Te Shan. So his spirit is really powerful, just like a dragon flying in the sky: very strong, tough. You know Rinzai teachers are really tough and strong. [He laughs.] If you are grumbling about Zen, the Rinzai Zen Master will give a blow to you.

At San Francisco one of the students [had] practiced under the guidance of [unintelligible]. And this student said, “That Zen Master was always scolding me, screaming and shouting, without compassion.” So one day in the [dharma talk] he asked, “Buddha says to you that we should be compassionate, kind. Why do you always scold the students?” And the Zen Master said, “Stupid! Get out!” [Laughter.]

It’s really true. He got out!

If you get out, the story is over. Don’t give up. [Laughter.]

If you want to be a Rinzai Zen [center], I wish I could, but… maybe next life. I like very much this powerful, strong [unintelligible]. But if I do imitate Rinzai’s way, no one believes me! [Laughter.] So I give up! Katagiri must be Katagiri, okay? I don’t have any capability to combine Rinzai and Soto, like Maezumi Roshi. He is very smart … [unintelligible] can show this is Rinzai, and this is Soto, this is Buddhism. That’s pretty good. But I can’t do this.

Well, I think I should stop.


There are still a few notes left, you should read them. Do you have some questions?


Question: The first time that he went into the teaching hall, was the Zen Master doing anything?

Katagiri: I don’t know, it doesn’t say. Well, it doesn’t matter whether Kuei Shan sat in the teaching hall or not: if you come into a monastery, through your attention you can feel something, you can understand. So immediately Te Shan knew something. So he walked back and forth and said, “Nothing.” Nothing does not mean [unintelligible]… it [has] deep meaning in a sense. Well, it has two meanings: it means there is nothing here, or, on the other hand, everything is emptiness. But anyway, he immediately felt something from his intuition.


Question: Is that all we hear from Te Shan? Are there any other stories that maybe some day his [hardness] went away?

Katagiri: Well, no, his way of teaching, his way of Zen, was pretty tough and hard. This is his type; [it’s] strong.


Question: [Unintelligible]

Katagiri: Well I don’t mean that exactly, just saying “Nothing.” Mu means manifestation of the true aspect of human life. So whoever Kuei Shan is, great Zen Master or not – [but] of what? Kuei Shan is human, and nothing but a part of impermanence and change. This means [Te Shan] really shows the experience of enlightenment he had. That is “nothing”.

So [Te Shan] directly shows his experience, because he always stays at the highest level of spiritual life, which is called enlightenment. That’s why Kuei Shan, unintelligible, Buddhas, are all part of impermanence. What shall I say? If you are always right in the middle of death, well, what should I say? Nothing.

But on the other hand, we have to see the flashing lights. Te Shan didn’t see this; [he was] just staying right in the middle of death. [Unintelligible.] That is the quality of his [unintelligible]. Kuei Shan knew that point: of course he is still there, so sooner or later he has to get out there, and know the flashing lights.

Same person: He was expressing like [unintelligible…] very haughty. And then when he was leaving he came to realize that he should pay more respect. And then in the story he says he was defeated, when he came back. Well that’s very good, isn’t it?

Katagiri: Well yes, pretty good, in a sense pretty good. But “he was defeated” means whatever he does, his way doesn’t hit the bullseye. It is not “sure enough.” But it’s not wrong.

Same person: He knew it was time to go back, he just presented himself…

Katagiri: Sure. It’s pretty good. But already he was defeated. [He laughs.]

We must be defeated. We try always [to get wind]; that’s a big problem. We try to be a “good boy.” But it’s not necessary [in order] to bloom. Sometimes [there is] no way to escape [blooming].

Different person: Were both of them enlightened?

Katagiri: Well, sure. But still, the quality of enlightenment is really different between the two. Te Shan always directly shows enlightenment itself. But Kuei Shan Zen Master shows enlightenment very quietly: nothing to say. His way, whatever he does, it’s really quiet, [unintelligible] very gentle – sometimes hard, but Kuei Shan doesn’t show enlightenment directly.

So that’s why he reaches for his whisk. Whisk is the human world, dualistic world. Because Te Shan always stays at the highest level of spiritual life; there is no dualistic world, so always there. Kuei Shan knows both, but Kuei Shan was not confused or tossed away by both. [Unintelligible] from moment to moment. So that’s why without saying anything he tried to reach the whisk; that means suggesting to Te Shan, “You are staying at the high level of spiritual life. It’s good, but watch out! There is still the world where you live. Where do you live now? You live in the dualistic world.” So that is a suggestion. That’s why immediately Te Shan shouted and left: “Shut up!” From the high level of spiritual life, there is no dualistic world. No matter how long you discuss the dualistic world, [unintelligible]. Do you like death or do you not like death? Whatever you say, at the high level of spiritual life, there is nothing to say. So immediately he shouted to Kuei Shan and left. Kuei Shan suggested very gently, “here it is.” He didn’t explain why, but Te Shan immediately noticed his way of suggestion, that’s why he shouted immediately and left.

Same person: Why did he shout?

Katagiri: Because at the high level of spiritual life, there is nothing, okay? No dualistic world; nothing to discuss.

Same person: So he was angry?

Katagiri: No, not angry. Showing directly the [mood] of the truth. In the truth, nothing to say, no discussion. So if you want to learn the truth of [unintelligible], die. To die means nothing to discuss. But we really want to discuss, we really want to poke our heads into the discussion about living, about dying. So that’s why it’s very difficult to die directly, that’s why some day we have to cut off. If I shout, maybe you get a big shock and [realize], “Oh, yes. [Just like that.]” That is directly showing the [mood] of the truth itself. So a Zen teacher always shows the shouts and [cuffs].

Our consciousness is always complicated: always looking at something and discussing something. That’s why it’s very strange there. You cannot see. So someday you have to cut off, and then just [unintelligible]. That’s pretty good for us.

Same person: I wonder why he shook out his sleeves.

Katagiri: That is a really haughty air; he shook out his sleeves and left. That is very strong […]

Same person: [Unintelligible.]

Katagiri: No, it’s just like this. And he left.

Same person: Very dramatic.

Katagiri: Yeah, dramatic. The Chinese people are like very [dramatic]. [Loud laughter.] If you read the koans there is lots of drama. For example Nansen making a fire … He closes the doors, and makes smoke on purpose inside of the building, and then he screams, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Really dramatic. [He laughs.] “Help! Help!” He did it on purpose. And then, many monks came together and tried to help him, and he said from inside, “If you say one word by which my mind attains enlightenment, I will open the door!” It’s really dramatic, don’t you think so? [Laughter.] Right before the fire, you know, “Say one word!” [He laughs.] […] Joshu Zen Master at that same time … tried to help, but Joshu Zen Master is really quiet, and Nansen is always screaming, “Help, help!” And then all the monks didn’t know what to do. So Joshu Zen Master threw the key through the window, and then Nansen opened the door with the key. That’s the whole story.

It’s dramatic, but it’s really human life, spiritual life. We are always making smoke inside: “Help, help.” And then we always want something to open the door. That is the key through the window. So we always do it dramatically. [Unintelligible] knows pretty well how dramatic our human life is. [Always] pain.

(Transcriber’s Note: According to Radical Zen: The Sayings of Jōshū, Jōshū set the fire and Nansen threw the key through the window.)


Question: I’d like to know [why the] the monk turned into a fox… […]

Katagiri: Well, it doesn’t matter whether it is a fox, or a rabbit, or tree. I think in China and Japan the fox was believed to be a sort of magical animal, with the power to change its figure into a beautiful woman or boy to cheat human beings. That is a fox, the Japanese people or the Chinese believed.

Question: But was it a punishment or […]

Katagiri: It’s not punishment. Apparently it seems to be punishment, but that’s not a deep understanding. Wild fox means you have to return to the human world, the dualistic world. Day by day, when spring comes you have to be in spring, when winter comes you have to be you in winter. That means that you have to change, constantly. But this change is not change, [it is] fitting into reality, instead of staying at the high level of spirituality, where there is no dualistic world. If we [stay] there, we always create some problems. But when [summer] comes, you take off the winter clothes, you cannot wear winter clothes in the summer. So you have to accommodate yourself to the [each] moment, but with open [eyes]. That is the fox.

Question: But he was asked a question, and then he gave an answer and he was turned into [a fox].

Katagiri: Right. “Not fall into causation”; that was the answer at that time.

Question: [So] he gave the wrong answer.

Katagiri: Well, it’s not the right answer, but on the other hand, “not fall into causation” is also right, in a sense, because you cannot always take care of [life] just according to the law of causation. If you take care of your life just according to causation, you cannot move an inch in the realm of causation, you cannot find freedom there. So in order to be free, you have to be free from causation, sooner or later. So “not fall into causation” is freedom from causation. But what is freedom from causation? It doesn’t mean to ignore [causation]. So intellectually, it’s [suggesting that] basically you have to be right in the middle of the bullseye of life, constant change – what is the real meaning of death, what is the real process of life or death. You have to be there. And then look at the human world, flashing lights – white flashing light or red flashing light – that is causation, or freedom [from] causation, or not freedom [from] causation, always there – [ideas]. And then this old monk picked up one; that’s why on the other hand he forgot this. It’s not punishment, but in the story he didn’t say the other aspect, so that’s why he became a “wild fox” – that means even though he forgot and he picked up one, well his life is what? His life has to go back to the dualistic world. When the spring comes, he has to be. When the winter comes, he has to be. So that is wild fox. And “for 500 years” means century after century all humans beings do this in that way.

And then, after that, the wild fox asks Hyakujo (Baizhang), “Please give me a suggestion, a pithy remark, in order [for me] to be free from [being a] fox.” And so [Hyakujo] says, “Not ignoring causation.” And then, he [was released.] So that is a flashing light. And then, he can accept both flashing lights. That means he awakens where he is, right in the middle of samsara. But if he picks up one, he cannot stay right in the middle of samsara; he attaches to something.

So we have to see [the] flashing lights. But where you are is right in the middle of life or death; this is the basic nature of human being. Even though you don’t know, that is the place where you are. So that’s why Hyakujo shows the other side.

And then [the wild fox] realizes, “Oh, yes.” That means he awakened to where he is. And then he says, “Please perform a funeral service for me.” That means freedom.

This story is really dramatic. [He laughs.] Well, that koan is pretty hard for many monks to try to understand [through] the practice, again and again. But if you understand the basic teaching, the way of understanding Buddhism, it’s not difficult. [It’s easy.]

1:19:11 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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