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Katagiri Roshi explains how karma is the source of our lives. He reviews Twelve Chain Causation (or the Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation, sometimes referred to as the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination), noting that karma is samskara (link two) and bhava (link ten), and these are produced by avidyā (the first link: ignorance). But avidyā is really vitality: this is how we get into the human world of the present moment. He describes four stages of zazen, and five related consciousnesses: vitarka (thought), vicāra (discursive thinking), prīti (joyful interest), sukha (happiness), and samādhi (oneness). (The descriptions of prīti and sukha in particular may be helpful in understanding what is meant when we see the words joy and happiness in English translations of Buddhist scriptures.) Ultimately, the only way to understand karma is to do zazen. In the fourth stage of zazen, we are exactly one in the realm of source, which is karma. Then we can see what karma is.


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I said in the first early morning zazen, “to deport oneself in samādhi.” I have to correct this term: “to disport,” not “deport”. (Disport is defined as “to enjoy oneself unrestrainedly; to frolic.”) That’s why maybe I said after that, “playing freely.” That is to disport.

Today, I would like to explain what part of one’s life does karma occupy. This is pretty difficult to explain, but let’s return to Twelve Chain Causation. (The Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation, also known as the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination.) Let me [review this] again; please remember:

First is ignorance: [in Sanskrit,] avidyā.

And samskara: This is the first stage of movement, psychologically or physically. This is human process and function.

Next, consciousness, and name and form. (#3 vijñāna is consciousness; #4 nāmarūpa is name-and-form.) This is how all beings exist and we understand [them], through name and form.

Fifth is six consciousnesses, six senses. (In Sanskrit, Āyatana.)

Sixth is tangibility; touch. (Sparśa in Sanskrit, or phassa in Pali. More commonly in English, contact.)

Seventh is reception, or feeling. (Vedanā.)

Eighth is craving. (Taṇhā in Pali.)

Ninth is grasping. (Grasping is upādāna in Sanskrit and Pail. Also clinging or attachment. It literally means, “fueling the fires”.)

Tenth is existence. In Sanskrit we say bhava. Bhava in Sanskrit is being. When you say being, that being consists of already a system of subject and object; this is a picture of being. Do you understand? This is a being; we call this being, or existence. If you use a term existence or being, it’s already something consisting of subject and object; in other words dualism. This is existence, or being. That’s why yesterday I told you, we are already seated at the table, in the relationship, subject and object. I am here, that’s why I can see that here is a table; that’s why I can see the table itself. So that means already existence. So table always is something existent, something being. That means subject, object: dualism. That is the tenth; I will explain this one too.

And the others are birth (jāti), and the last one is old age and death (jarāmaraṇa).

In this Twelve Chain Causation, karma is the second one, samskara, and also the tenth, bhava. Only two things: bhava, which is existence and being, and also samskara. Just these two are karma. Remember this.


The first one, ignorancemumyo in Japanese – and also craving and grasping – those three are klesha in Sanskrit: delusion. Klesha means affliction. This is because, yesterday I told you that mumyoignorance, avidyā – is that we are doomed not to understand. Doomed means fated. We are “doomed” not to understand what the truth is, as it is, intellectually. We are all always there, but we don’t understand; we are “doomed” not to understand truth as it is. This is what is called pain; affliction. That’s why Buddha says life is characterized by suffering. This is really suffering. But we cannot stop it – because we are already there. So even though intellectually we don’t understand, still we feel, and we want to know. We want to know but we cannot understand, that’s why that is affliction, suffering. This is the basic, basic nature of human being. That’s why first [there is] avidyā, ignorance. And avidyā, ignorance, and craving and grasping, this is what is called klesha, delusion.

And also consciousness, name and form, six consciousnesses, tangibility, and also reception, birth, old age and death: those are called suffering. Karma result; karma-vipāka (result of actions). Karma-vipāka means the body and mind you have now. For instance, name and form is your body. Body and mind, six consciousnesses, six objects, whatever you say, anyway, name and form, this is our body. And also six consciousnesses. And also if you have six consciousnesses, if you have the six organs, immediately you have to face six objects. Always six organs face six objects. This is tangibility, contact. Without contact…

[There is a loud airplane noise.]

So… consciousness, name and form, six consciousnesses, contact, and then reception. So you can receive this [unintelligible] in contact with …

[Lots of airplane noise.]

… That is feeling, very basic feeling; we can accept. That is reception. And when you receive something, then you can create your own world. That is a [birth]. And you were born in this world; next is old age and death. This is what is called karmic result.

So remember, this is karmic result. Is that clear? Remember this, otherwise you won’t understand.


So, first what I wanted to explain today is, the relationship between ignorance, and samskara, and consciousness, and also number ten, bhava or being.

So, let’s remind you that karma is samskara and being. And also, samskara as karma is already produced by avidyā, ignorance. This is the first stage of human action. What is it moved by or encouraged by? Pure sense of action? No, it is ignorance. We don’t know. We don’t know exactly what the truth is, where you are. You don’t know the true face of existence. But you are there, that’s why you want to know. So finally avidyā is called klesha: we have affliction. So samskara, the first stage of human action, is produced by this avidyā. Remember this.

And then next, consciousness is there. But consciousness is produced by the first stage of human action, it is encouraged by avidyā, ignorance. And then this consciousness enters into the present, the human world. You can get into it; you can get into the gate of the present life: name and form, six consciousnesses, et cetera. You can get in. That’s why consciousness is, in a sense, pretty important. Consciousness includes will, volition, all mental / psychological functions; this is consciousness. Dogen Zenji says that in the moment right before you die, you [can] chant the Triple Treasure, and you can take a vow to be reborn as a human being in the next life, to help all sentient beings. You can… because this is consciousness. Consciousness is really powerful! Why is consciousness very powerful? Because consciousness is created by the first stage of human action. You don’t know why you do this, you don’t know exactly, but you act, already. By what? This is ignorance. Ignorance means you are there but you don’t know. You don’t know, but as long as you are there, you want to know. So finally, very naturally, you move. This is the first stage of human movement.

So, the first stage of human movement, according to my terms, this is really vitality. In a good sense, this is really vitality, don’t you think so? In a sense you don’t know what the truth is, you cannot understand, that’s why you suffer. You are afflicted with human life: that is basic nature of human being. But in a sense, by this, attached to this ignorance, we are moving: moving, acting, and creating consciousness; and by the consciousness we can get in the human world.

So from this point, ignorance is really dumb. [Hesitant laughter.] For in a sense, attached to dumbness, we can get in the human world. According to me, this is really vitality in human life. If you don’t [have ignorance], if you always understand the truth and you are always there, well you cannot get the vitality, because you are always in heaven. No suffering; you are always there in heaven. You know heaven? Heaven is really paradise. Completely no suffering, because if you want anything, if even for a moment you think “I want,” immediately something happens. Everything you want is given to you, so it’s not necessary to suffer. That is heaven; paradise. Everybody wants to go there; that’s why we struggle in human life. But apparently, if you go to paradise, you’re really bored. [Laughter.] It’s not where human beings should be! So, you’re lucky, anyway, to suffer. [Scattered laughter and sighs.] Because suffering is really vitality; creating human vitality to live. Even though you don’t like it, it is true, according to these twelve causations.

First, there is ignorance. Where does ignorance come from? We don’t know. Where do you come from? You were born from your mothers. Why did you choose your mothers? We don’t know. When you are conscious of where you are, it’s too late! [Laughter.] You are already in the mother’s womb. If you are conscious of where you are, you’re already in the mother’s womb, and also you are already moving. Don’t you think so? So from where do you come? No choice, completely no choice. You don’t know from where you come, but you are there, and you are moving already. And then that basic first stage of human movement creates human consciousness. And consciousness leads you to get into the human world. That is name, form, six consciousnesses, contact, reception, and craving, and grasping. And then this is really something that makes your life possible to exist: and then, that is what is called birth. And then, next, we have to go to old age and death.

But from this point, I think you can understand what karma is. Karma is the first stage of movement, which is called samskara. And then this samskara movement is already… see something, understand something, hear something … in the realm of world-system, what is called dualism: subject and object. That is called existence.

So karma is what? Karma is really the basic nature of human action. But this karma is always acting toward subject and object. That means already karma always sets up a certain fixed idea: subject, object. Karma has already set up something, so karma [cannot] understand where the table is and where Katagiri is, or where the see-er and the seen is. Karma cannot understand the basic nature of existence which makes it possible for the table and I to exist. Karma doesn’t know. Karma always acts in the realm of world-system, which is called dualism, because karma is produced by ignorance. That’s why karma consists of the two, samskara and existence. Do you remember? Samskara and existence; those are the only two things [that are] karma. So karma really occupies a very basic portion of human life: you can get the description of who you are, what human being [you are]. In other words, karma is sort of the description of one’s life. Or, karma is really the source of one’s life. So, everyone is on the basis of karma.

Do you understand? What I want to tell you is what portion of one’s life karma occupies. Karma occupies the original nature, very basic portion of one’s life. In other words, karma is a source. Karma is something you can depend on; something that one’s life depends on.


In the Buddhist scriptures it explains in a different way; this is a very interesting point. I don’t know how I can translate it, but the scripture explains that we have karma, but karma is sort of like this: karma is once-around. In Sanskrit we say karmasvaca. Karmasvaca means having one’s own actions as one’s property. We have karma as what is called one’s own property. That property is a place where you live in. So that’s very basic.

And next, it says karma is karmadāyāda. Dāyāda means inheritance of action. Inheritance of action means karma has been lasting since beginningless past; it’s going on. And also you are the inheritor, or successor, of karma.

Next it says, karma is karmayoni. Karmayoni means source of an action. Action means karma; generally speaking, karma is understood as action, including physical action or even psychological action. That is karma; that’s why it’s the source of action. And next, the karma is really occupying the source of human action. That is the very basic nature of action.

And karma is karmabandhu; karmabandhu means a friend of action. Karma is really your friend. So you cannot keep away from it! It is always with you, like a friend, or relative, or parents.

And also karma is karmapratiśaraṇa. Karmapratiśaraṇa means that which one’s life depends on; a place which one’s life depends on.

(Transcriber’s Note: Most of the above is mentioned in Abhidharmasamuccaya: The Compendium of the Higher Teaching by Asanga.)


Maybe you can envision the place where karma exists. Another explanation in the Buddhist scripture says that karma is just like a garden. Karma is a garden, and consciousness is just like a seed. And a thirsty feeling means the very basic nature of human desire.

Human desire is always there. You want to know something, to hear something, to see something. This is ego. But why do you do in that way? Because this is ignorance. The basic nature of human beings is really ignorance. We cannot know but we want to know; that’s why we always move. We don’t know why we move in that way, but, we move. This is ignorance.

So, very naturally, consciousness is a seed, and the thirsty feeling of desire is moisture. That’s a very good expression. So let’s imagine: garden, seed, and water, moisture.

From this point, karma is a field or garden, and consciousness is a seed, that means a very interesting relation between karma and consciousness. Karma is a garden: it’s big, which makes it possible for a seed to grow. That’s why in the Twelve Chain Causation [there is] ignorance, samskara, consciousness. Where does consciousness come from? What is the place consciousness occupies? That is really karma. Consciousness is always in the realm of karma. Karma is constant moving. You don’t know why you move in that way; you cannot pin it down. Always constant moving. This is samskara. Then, in this samskara, what’s called yard or garden, there is consciousness growing there. If consciousness is not there, consciousness doesn’t grow. As I explained, that means that consciousness is really powerful, it makes it possible for you to get into the human world. That’s why this consciousness is very important. For instance, if you consciously take a vow, “I will be reborn as a human being next life, to help all sentient beings” – you can. You can get in. Don’t you think so? Yes it is.

One of the famous Zen Masters, an abbot of Eiheiji monastery, died at 96 years old. He was a very wonderful person, Zen teacher. At the time he died, three famous Zen teachers died in the same month. The first person died, then the other person went to Eiheiji monastery to perform the funeral service; and then he came back to Tokyo, and he died. It’s a very strange thing that happened at that time, almost three years ago. But this person was walking down the hallway with his attendants, on the way to perform the funeral service for the abbot of Eiheiji monastery, and he said, “Next life, I will be reborn as a human being again, to help all sentient beings.” And he smiled. And then he returned to Tokyo, and he died.

That’s why consciousness is very important in the system of Twelve Chain Causation. By consciousness, you can get into the human world. The human world is not only this life, and next life, and also life after next life: life is continuous. So from this point, if you take a vow, “I will be reborn,” you can get in. That’s why consciousness is very important. And then, if consciousness is really growing in the garden, that garden is constant movement. Where does it come from? It’s really vitality, which is called avidyā, ignorance. We don’t know where we are, but we want to know, so that’s why [we say], “Let’s go, let’s go.” [He laughs.] We do this always, don’t you think so? This is human life. So if mumyo is ignorance, it’s really vitality.

That’s why karma is a yard or garden, and consciousness is a seed. And the thirsty feeling of desire is water. That is grasping, craving, according to Twelve Chain Causation; always there. By what? By reception, contact. You can’t ignore if you contact. This is an inevitable situation: you have to contact, and receive, and then next, you can get feeling, and lots of psychological functions come up. So very naturally, we can repeat life and death, constantly. This is meaning of the teaching of Twelve Chain Causation. That’s very interesting.


Let me say simply what I have taught today. What I wanted to tell you is that karma is the very source of one’s life. Actually you cannot understand [it]. If you try to understand karma intellectually, Buddhist scripture says you will become crazy and confused. So how do you know [karma]? There is only one way: that is meditation, zazen. [This is] handed down from generation to generation. Coming back to the source: return to source, return to home, and sit there! But we don’t know exactly how to explain why we have to do this.

In daily life, consciously we don’t know, we don’t have enough space to look at our selves and look at the source of our lives, because consciousness is always going out. That’s why it’s very difficult. While you are going out, there are lots of things you are interested in; that’s why you feel joyful. But actually it’s not [joy]. That joy comes not from you, [but] from others, because your consciousness always going out. And then you feel joyful, but that joy is coming not from you but from others. Strictly speaking there is no sense of subjectivity which is called “Katagiri” that is human being, because Katagiri is sort of a person constantly dragged away by something else. So that’s why we don’t have any space to look at who I am, who you are, and where you are. But: if you come back, return to you and sit [there], at that time exactly you can be there.

But the problem is, maybe you think it’s pretty easy to return home, but I don’t think it’s pretty easy. [He laughs.] If you return home, maybe you will complain for months! Because if you return home – [there is] completely nothing. That’s why you complain or grumble at such a situation. And then finally, what are you doing when you come back home? You are always thinking. You are chasing the thoughts, and you are roaming around. [He laughs.]


[But this means,] according to Buddhism, there are four stages of Zen. (Transcriber’s Note: These are the four dhyānas.)

In the first stage of Zen, all unwholesome dharma [stops]. Unwholesome dharma means unwholesome things, including physical and mental, or whatever it is. If you get into zazen meditation, in the first stage of zazen, you can experience no unwholesome thing, because you don’t bring it up if you sit down like this. It’s really true. Maybe you cannot do anything, because your legs are fully cross-legged, crossing each other; your hands are like this [so] you cannot hit somebody; and also your mouth is closed, you cannot talk; and your eyes are cast on the floor, so you can’t see anybody, facing the wall. And also your thinking is coming and sitting in zazen. So all things come back to zazen, and there is nothing you can do.

But still you think, “I am a bad boy.” That is imagination; so you can [think]. Imagination is imagination. If you don’t [meddle with anything], imagination disappears. [So just notice.] You cannot put a label on that imagination. If you like, you can chase after it; but all you have to do is just to exhaust, that’s all.

So, in zazen, if you return to you, all unwholesome things stop. This is very true.

And then next, there are very important things still left. That is which is called vitarka in Sanskrit, and also vicāra. Vitarka means thought. Thought consists in [setting] the human consciousness to an object. This is thought. In other words, we are always thinking something: I see this. […] So in other words, in zazen still you attach to the object. Well, I [will talk about this] later. And also, vicāra means discursive thinking. You can realize this, don’t you think so? Your thinking is going on and on, in zazen.

Well, if you sit down, there is completely nothing for you to do; but you can do many things. What do you do? Chasing all the thoughts, and roaming around, thinking. But thinking and thoughts are completely something you do in the dualistic world, and also the problem is that they are all imagination, just imagination. What do you think? All imagination.

So in zazen, you’re really playing with imagination. [There is the loud sound of a plane in the background.] But finally, there is nothing to do, because you realize how stupid you are. If you are chasing after the plane with thoughts, imagination, [you realize] how stupid you are. Finally you think: “How stupid zazen is.” [Laughter.] It’s not the fault of zazen, it’s your fault, don’t you think so? Because you are chasing after thought, imagination. And then finally you criticize zazen: how stupid zazen is. I don’t think so; you are stupid. [He laughs.] Don’t you think so? I’m sorry for you. [Laughter.]

Well, if you return home exactly, you can experience this, this is what Buddhist scripture says. That is the first experience, the first stage of zazen. First believe… well, it’s not necessary to believe it. If you don’t believe it, that’s okay, …

[Tape change.]


… but you start to poke your head into that joy. Because you don’t know, but you feel something. So you start to poke your head into joy. That is prīti in Sanskrit: joyful interest.

But joyful interest is still your six consciousness always working; that’s why you start to poke your head into it. But [that is not happiness]; next, still you can experience happiness. Happiness means samādhi, being one with zazen. That is what is called happiness in Buddhism.

So at the first stage you can experience five consciousnesses there. (Transcriber’s Note: elsewhere these are described as five mental factors, cetasika.) One is vitarka, and vicāra. And also prīti; prīti means joyful interest. And happiness (sukha), and also samādhi. [Those are the] five consciousnesses; in other words, you can experience [those] five things psychologically. And also, basically, at the first stage of zazen, all unwholesome things drop off. That’s great! And then finally … nothing. [He laughs.] This is zazen.

At the first stage of zazen, you realize how stupid you are, because [you are] always chasing after thoughts, and because […] you completely exhaust from chasing. If you sit a seven day sesshin, you really understand this. The first day, second day, you really struggle – trying to make your mind calm. The third day, fourth day, well – you start to get tired, really tired. The fourth, fifth day, you start to give up chasing after thoughts, because you start to realize, “How stupid I am,” because you exhaust. Finally, the sixth, seventh day, you completely give up all thoughts. That’s pretty nice. And finally, completely beyond trying or not trying, you can do zazen. Just sit down.


So at the first stage, you really understand how stupid you are.

And at the second stage of zazen, then vitarka and vicāra both drop off. And then you can experience joyful interest. Still your consciousness is working, poking your head into, “What is this joyful interest? What is that? Is this enlightenment? Maybe so!” [He laughs.] You are still asking yourself, “Is this enlightenment? Wonderful!” So, joyful interest is always there. And also simultaneously, you don’t know what the truth is, but you touch it a little bit, that’s why you feel happy. You can experience happiness. You don’t know exactly. Even though consciously you really hate zazen, you really hate pain, et cetera, still you feel happy.

Then at the third stage, gradually your interest in zazen is snowballing. So you try to poke your head into what the truth is, joyful interest. In the realm of joyful interest still your consciousness works, but finally, the six consciousnesses also drop off. Very naturally, all you have to do is just sit down. And then, there is a smile, a little smile. And then you can be exactly one with zazen. So, no joyful interest, and then just happiness there. Just happiness means exactly samādhi itself. Samādhi is oneness.

And then at the fourth stage of zazen, completely there is no happiness, because there is no space to touch the happiness. If you touch the happiness, it means you see the happiness there, and you are here, and then this person looks at this happiness. At that time, this happiness is not real happiness; that is an image of happiness. That’s why you touch it, just like this. And then you enjoy it very much, but at that time, while you are touching this happiness, that means that your six consciousnesses are still poking your head into this. That’s not happiness, that is joyful interest.

So if you see the happiness at the third stage of zazen, completely at the fourth stage of zazen there is no trace of happiness, just one. At that time, you don’t know. This is what is called enlightenment. But most people think enlightenment is still sort of the “dregs,” the trace left behind your experience. That means always touching the top of the enlightenment, but that is just the image of enlightenment. Real enlightenment is no trace.

That is zazen. And then, when you really return home like this, exactly you are one in the realm of source, which is called karma. And then, you can see karma, what karma is. Really. You can touch it.

And this karma is really the basic nature of your life. This is not only a particular person; all human beings are just like this.


So you cannot understand karma through literature, or through your experience in daily life, or through philosophical understanding, or metaphysical, or through science. Whatever you do: nothing. It makes you crazy. Just through meditation, zazen. That’s all. [Pause.] I’m sorry for you, anyway. [A few laughs from those sitting close by.]

And then you believe it’s ridiculous, because, you say, “Katagiri says in zazen there is nothing, but it’s there!” What? “Pain.” But even pain: pain is not something [that is] here, because the pain you believe, you say it’s real, but I don’t think so. If you think the pain is real, that pain is here[presumably pointing to his head] – in [your head]. That is the image of pain. Whatever you think, pain doesn’t care.

So pain is what? Pain occurs under certain circumstances. That means, when you sit down like this, pain comes up, [and says,]

“Hello, Katagiri. What are you doing?”

“[I am] doing zazen.”

“Oh. Are you a dead person?”

“Well, no.”

“Then, why?”

“Because I am alive.”

“Oh, okay. I will give you pain.”


[Unintelligible.] And then when you stand up from zazen, stand up from your seat, well, the pain goes away.

But you say, “The pain is here! It’s real!” That is the image of your pain, don’t you think so? It’s an image. And then you play with the image of pain. Finally, you add psychological, mental suffering to pain itself. But pain doesn’t care! This pain, it really doesn’t care. But if you add something to this, it becomes huge; it becomes a monster. And finally, you say, “I hate zazen,” so you quit. Very naturally, you quit.

But, it’s not zazen. Completely [there is] nothing there. That’s why you feel boredom. It’s really boring! And then you say, “The boredom is really something real.” But it is not; boredom also doesn’t care. Just, under certain circumstances, boredom comes up. Because you have been busy with taking care of your mind, going out in your daily life; that’s why when you return to your mind you feel boredom, because there is nothing to deal with as an object, all you have to do is take care of your mind. So, mind takes care of the mind. [He laughs.] “You’re boring.” That’s it.

So you really hate that. But some would say main purpose of zazen is to feel the boredom, to research boredom. [He laughs.] I don’t think so. If you feel the boredom, and analyze or synthesize the boredom, that is really that you are chasing after the image of the boredom. Boredom comes from where? Boredom comes from your discursive thinking, that’s all. And then, if I give you a certain sweet candy, boredom is gone. If I don’t, you really feel boredom. That’s all. So what is boredom? Boredom means, “Bye-bye.” When you’re done, well, boredom comes up.

This is really zazen. Finally, [there is] completely nothing, but if there is nothing, all you have to do is come back home and sit, just sit down. With whom? With [yourself]. That is what is called experience. Experience through zazen; [unintelligible]. Finally, completely nothing, all you have to do is just sit down, that’s all. And then, this is a pretty good way to get a taste of what karma is.


So, today, two points that I taught.

One point is, the location of the karma is really in the source of one’s life. That karma, in the fundamental ground of one’s life, is not something you try to understand intellectually. No way. There is nothing else to understand. All you have to do is, finally, return home, just sitting. This is zazen. Only through zazen, you [are really close], that you have access to what karma is, what human nature is. And then if you continue to do zazen like this, you really understand the total picture of karma.

I would like to explain more, but we still have to have three or four questions. For today please remember these two points: that karma is the source of human life, sort of the description of one’s existence. And also, that there is no other way but just to sit. This is the way to know what karma is.

Do you have questions?


Question: So what you suggest when you get pain is to – and I’ve experienced that if I try to fight it, it gets worse, and if I get into it, then I can stay with it, but then all of a sudden inside my mind, all of a sudden, that’s it, and then I have to move… So, does it get better with sitting?

Katagiri: Mmm, well, if you continue to sit, you can be free from pain, you can get better. But, don’t worry too much, okay? Anyway, pain is also your friend. Because pain is coming from thought. Whatever you do, [there is] always pain. Not only zazen; if you want to be an athlete, a football player – there is always pain there. Even though you become a janitor, there’s always pain there. So, not only zazen.

Same person: I have a sensation, like, I can see my feet turning blue. Is there a danger to this? Am I sitting wrong, or what?

Katagiri: Well. No, no; it’s pretty much…

Same person: I mean, they do come back to life eventually.

Katagiri: Yeah, but be careful, okay? If your feet get numb, sometimes after standing, usually numbness goes away. But if numbness is staying with your feet for a long time, you must be careful. Sometimes such a thing can happen. But usually, when you stand up, the numbness is gone, no problem. It’s very natural, because if you cross legs, the circulation stops. It’s very good for you. After stopping the circulation a while, circulation goes well. Just like day and night. You cannot always stay in the day time. If you want to get the vitality of the daytime, you should sleep. So, stop the circulation for a while. That’s good.

Question: Roshi, is it good to also work at strengthening your muscles? To do some other kinds of exercise, or running, so that your body would be strong, and it’s not going to eliminate the pain, but to be more flexible?

Katagiri: Yes. In many ways we try to fit to zazen posture. If you want to do zazen, zazen never comes up to you; you cannot wait for zazen to come up to you. If you want to do zazen, you should go to zazen. Do you understand? For this, physically, we should understand understand our human body and mind, and try to fit to zazen. For this, we have to exercise.

Question: Roshi? I was concerned because the conditioning expert who came and taught us some exercises and some stretches said that our knees shouldn’t bend that way, that they should just bend this way.

Katagiri: What is the question?

Same person: Well I felt concerned about that, because she felt it was not good for our knees to sit in posture.

Katagiri: Oh. Do you think so?

Same person: I don’t know. There’s a rumor going around that it’s not.

Katagiri: I don’t know, biologically speaking. Maybe so, but there is no worry. You cannot do always something perfectly, okay? For instance, your diet, or whatever you do. Even though you live here, do you take in completely fresh, pure air? Intellectually, we want that. But look at this room! It’s really dirty, dusty. We cannot see this room’s air, but if morning sun comes in, you can see lots of dust, don’t you think so? We always take a breath in such a situation. But we’re alright. [He laughs.] I don’t want to recommend for you to get dirty air. I don’t think so. But I don’t recommend you to take always pure air. Sometimes, dirty. [He laughs.] But I don’t mean to break your legs, okay? [Laughter.] So listen to that situation? You know, assess. For instance, people will have a problem with their low back. All chiropractors say, “Don’t sit; sitting makes it worse.” But, we’re sitting. Intellectually it’s not good, because if your spine is wrong, sort of like this, then you have pressure. You know, wrong. So it’s not good, but even though you sit, or even though you stand up, it’s always pressure. The best way is, all way you should lie down, that’s better. But you cannot lie down all day! You have walk and you have to go someplace. If you stand up, immediately pressure comes. Do you understand? So why is it all chiropractors refuse sitting? Not only sitting; if chiropractors refuse sitting, they should refuse standing or walking too; just lie down. Don’t you think so?

So it’s not reasonable for me; but I don’t tell anybody, “Please sit down, do zazen.” I always say, “Please follow the chiropractor’s advice.” But they still continue to sit.

So maybe it’s true, I don’t know. But I don’t have any problem.


Question: I’m trying to understand something – I think it’s the same thing from two different angles. The one thing is, you said that consciousness comes from ignorance. Am I understanding that? And also karma?

Katagiri: [Related], yes. Consciousness acts [with attribute] of ignorance. The action of consciousness is based on samskara. Do you understand? samskara means the basic first stage of some action. So, the action of consciousness is based on samskara. And then, consciousness acts – acts means samskara – consciousness acts with attribute of ignorance.

Same person: So they’re related, but karma is the source of consciousness.

Katagiri: Yes, related. So that’s why karma creates consciousness.

Same person: That’s why?

Katagiri: Yes, that’s why. Consciousness is produced by samskara. Because this is the original nature of consciousness’s actions. […] Or you can say, from a different angle, consciousness creates samskara too.

Same person: Okay. Then how is samskara related to karma?

Katagiri: Karma is exactly samskara itself. Karma is samskara, and also existence, bhava. This is karma.

Same person: Then the other thing I was wondering is, from them being related to ignorance, is that how karma, not understanding dualistic nature? Well, maybe this is too…

Katagiri: Karma is action, already action.

Same person: Is there a relation to ignorance? Our thoughts come and are trying to grasp…

Katagiri: Because we don’t know where we are. We are here; but we don’t know where we are. Very naturally we want to know. Do you understand?

For instance, if you’re in this room, you are here. Even though your consciousness doesn’t work, if you are here, you can feel something. You contact always. So very naturally, information comes from this room. This room sends information to consciousness constantly; that’s why even though you try to ignore it, you can know. You want to know; you are curious of where we are. But actually we can’t know exactly what it is. That’s why the more we try to know what it is, the truth, we cannot know. But we are there. And then the truth gives a lot of information to us. That’s why we cannot ignore, but we cannot know. That is a struggle. This is the basic situation. So, very naturally, there is no particular guarantee how to know what to do. But, all we have to do is just act. This is samskara. Is that okay?

Same person: Yeah.

Katagiri: Well, this is, through the reality you can know. So for instance, intellectually, you want to do zazen, so you decide, “Yes, I would like to do zazen.” So you do. But when you sit down and do zazen, immediately you are skeptical. “Should I do such a stupid zazen forever? It’s ridiculous!” So immediately you think, “No, I want to do something better!” So immediately you try to go some other place. And then you move, but still, it is not exactly [the right thing] you have to depend on. Finally you say, “Is this right? Should I stay here always? No. I don’t.” So finally going this way, that way. So basically we are really driven by the stress of alternatives: uneasy conditions, unstable conditions. Do you understand? This is what is called ignorance. But, we have to say something, we have to do something. But how dangerous, how unstable it is. We don’t know. That is what is called delusion. If you don’t now how uneasy, how unstable is the situation we are in, that is called the foolish, ordinary people. If you realize it, you are a wise person.


Question: Hojo-san, my understanding is that my karma already is in motion. And I don’t know what it is, but there is a place where it exists. So that I’m obviously trying to find out “my way,” whether it will be through more zazen, or through less, or this way, or this way. And… it sounds like there’s no guidance, other than my making that choice, I will go here or here. But that’s already determined somewhere. It feels like I’m choosing, that I can do this or this. But what you’re saying is, in one sense it’s not my choice.

Katagiri: It’s not, yeah, but finally whatever you say – “not my choice,” “not your choice,” or “someone gives a choice” – whatever you say, that is the state of your life. Anger, and ease and stable conditions – whatever you say, there is not exactly something clear you can pin down. But under certain situations or conditions, you have to make a choice. This is the total picture of reality; you are there. So that’s why it’s a very unstable field. But all you have to do is do our best to make a choice. Let’s do it. That’s all we have to do.

Same person: But aren’t you saying that some choices would be better than others? Like a choice to be more disciplined in our practice would be a better choice?

Katagiri: Sure, a better choice. But I don’t know, what is a better choice? Better choice is the concept of “better” you create. So for instance, “Zen is better than some other religion,” whatever you say. What is Zen? What is “better”? If you come to Zen and then sit: “It’s not better, because you have to feel all this pain.” So very naturally, the concept of the better is always changing.

[He chuckles.] In Japan, Zen … appears different. In the United States, Zen appears in a different way. So what is better? That is the real situation, the total picture of your reality. But anyway, we have to make a choice of better or worse. Do you understand? Better or worse? But, you cannot completely depend on this “better” when you have made a choice. So, leave it alone. It’s just a choice.

1:20:31 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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