July 2, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi explains how karma is the source of our lives. He reviews the Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation, noting that karma is samskara (link two) and bhava (link ten). So karma originates from the first link: avidyā (ignorance). This means that avidyā is really vitality – it is how we get into the human world of the present moment. Our karma cannot be understood intellectually; the way to understand karma is to return to the source, which is to do zazen (sitting meditation). That is how we can look at who we are and where we are, and experience real joy. Katagiri Roshi describes four stages of zazen and five related mental factors; in particular, the descriptions of prīti and sukha may be helpful in understanding what is meant when we see the words joy and happiness in English translations of Buddhist texts. 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.


Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org


Katagiri Roshi: I talked in the early morning zazen, I said, “to deport oneself in samādhi.” I have to correct this term: to disport, not deport. 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 karma occupies. What part of one’s life does karma occupy? This is pretty difficult to explain, but let’s return to the Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation. Let me [review it]. Please remember:

First is ignorance: [in Sanskrit,] avidyā.

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

Next, consciousness (vijñāna).

And fourth, name and form (nāmarūpa). This is all beings. 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. Katagiri Roshi later translates this as contact.)

Seventh is reception, or feeling. (Vedanā.)

Eighth is craving. (Taṇhā in Pali.)

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

Tenth is existence. In Sanskrit we say bhava. Bhava in Sanskrit means being.

When you say being, that being already consists of a system of subject and object; this is a picture of being. Do you understand? This is a being. We call [this a] being, or existence. If you use the term existence or being, it’s already something consisting of subject and object; in other words dualism.

That’s why yesterday I told you, we already see this table in the relationship [of] subject and object. I am here, that’s why I can see this: 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 and 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-Linked Chain of 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. We don’t understand intellectually. We are already 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 also, 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.

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; and birth, old age and death: those are called suffering. [Karmic] resultkarma-vipāka.

Karma-vipāka means your body and mind you have now. For instance, name and form is your body. Body and mind, six consciousnesses, and six objects, whatever you say. Anyway, name and form – this is your body. And also six consciousnesses.

And also if you have six consciousnesses, if you have the six organs, the six organs immediately have to face six objects. Always six organs face six objects. This is tangibilitycontact. Without contact [we cannot exist.] [This is the present life.]

So, consciousness, name and form, six consciousnesses, contact… and then reception. So you can receive this table: you can contact with this table [and] immediately you can receive. 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 if you were born in this world, next is old age and death.

This is what is called karmic result. Is that clear? Remember this, otherwise you won’t understand.


So first, what I want 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? A pure sense of action? No – it is ignorance. We don’t know exactly what the truth is, where you are. You don’t know the real, 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 this 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 (samskara), encouraged by avidyā, ignorance. And then this consciousness enters into the present, the human world. 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 means including will, volition, all mental/psychological functions – this is consciousness.

Dogen Zenji says that even 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, exactly, but you act already. By what? This is ignorance. Ignorance means you are there but 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, this 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? It’s vitality!

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 the basic nature of human being. But in a sense, by this, thanks to this ignorance, we are moving, acting, and creating consciousness, and by the consciousness we can get into the human world.

So from this point, anyway, ignorance is really “dumb.” [He chuckles, and there is some hesitant laughter.] [But] in a sense, thanks to dumbness, we can get in the human world. According to me, this is really vitality in human life. Don’t you think so? If you don’t, if you really 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 are really bored. It’s not the place where human beings should be! [He laughs.] So, you are 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 this, the 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 are 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. 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 this samskara movement is already [that you] see something, understand something, hear something in the realm of [world-system], which is called dualism: subject and object. That is called existence.

So karma is the very basic nature of human action, but this karma is always acting toward subject and object already. That means already karma always [sets] up a certain fixed idea: subject, object. Karma has already set up something.

So [with] karma it’s very difficult to understand where the table and Katagiri [are], or where the see-er and the seen [are]. 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.

But this karma really occupies a very basic portion of human life: [it is] describing 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, the 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.


Here is a Buddhist scripture which explains it 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 one’s own. 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. Karmadāyāda means inheritance of action. Inheritance of action means karma has been lasting since the 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 action. Generally speaking, karma is understood as general action, including physical action or even psychological action. And next, karma is really occupying the source of human action. So 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, a 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 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 [is] the very basic nature of human desire.

Human desire is always there. You want to know something, to hear something, to see something. 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, [if] karma is a field or garden, and also 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 Twelve-Link Causation [there is] ignorance, samskara, and consciousness. From where does consciousness come? 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 constantly moving. This is samskara. And then, in this samskara, which is called “yard” or “garden,” there is [the seed of] consciousness growing there. If [samskara] is not there, [the seed of] 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.

One of the famous Zen Masters, an abbot of Eiheiji monastery, died at 96 years old. He was a very wonderful person and Zen teacher. At that time, three famous Zen teachers died in the same month. The first person died; at that time 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 anyway, this person was walking down the hallway with his attendant, on the way to perform the funeral service for the abbot of Eiheiji monastery. At that time 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-Link 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 this consciousness is really growing in the garden. That garden is constant movement. From where does it come? It’s really vitality, which is called avidyā. Ignorance. We don’t know where we are, but we want to know, 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 [this] mumyo, [this] ignorance, is really vitality.

So that’s why karma is a yard or garden, and consciousness is a seed. And the thirsty feeling of desire is water. That is what is called grasping, craving, according to Twelvefold Causation. [It’s] always there. By what? By reception, contact. You cannot ignore [it] 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 the meaning of the teaching of the Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation. It’s very interesting.


Let me say simply what I have taught today. What I want to tell you is that karma is really the very source of one’s life. That’s why you cannot understand [it]. If you try to understand karma intellectually, Buddhist scripture says you become crazy and confused. [So] how do you know [karma]? There is only one way: that is meditation, zazen. [This way is] handed down from generation to generation. Coming back to the source: return to the 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 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; that joy comes not from you, [but] from others, because your consciousness is always going out. And then you feel joyful, but that joy is coming not from you but from others. So strictly speaking there is no sense of subjectivity which is called Katagiri as a 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 we are and where we are. But: if you come back, return to you and sit in [you], at that time exactly you can be there.


But the problem is… maybe you think returning home is pretty easy, 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 [to] you, return home – 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 after thoughts, and you are roaming around. [He laughs.]

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

In the first stage of Zen, all unwholesome dharma [stops]. Unwholesome dharma means unwholesome things, including physically and mentally, 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 [do much]. It’s really true. If you sit down like this, 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 you think still, “I am a bad boy.” So you can think. But that is already imagination. Imagination is imagination. If you don’t meddle with [it], imagination disappears. Sooner or later. So 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 really true.

And then, next, there are very important things still left. That is what 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 [this stage of] 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 [still] you can do many things. What do you do? Chasing after 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. […]

So in zazen, you’re really playing with imagination. But finally, there is nothing to do, because you realize how stupid you are. If you are chasing after thoughts, playing 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.] [Unintelligible.] 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 consciousnesses 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. 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. (Transcriber’s Note: Elsewhere these are described as five mental factors, cetasika.)

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 you feel [stupid] 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 get 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 then 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.

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 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.

And then at the third stage, gradually your interest in zazen is snowballing. So you try to poke your head into joyful interest, what the truth is. 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. [He chuckles.] 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 [the source], which is called karma. And then, you can see karma, what karma is. It’s [real]; 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, metaphysical understanding, 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 Katagiri also laughs.]

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, at that time pain is here[presumably pointing to his 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.”

[“Why not?”]

“Because I am alive.”

“Oh, okay. I will give you a pain.”


[This always happens.] 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. [He laughs.] 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 something else, as an object, all you have to do is take care of your mind. So, mind, take care of the mind! [He laughs.] [You feel] boredom. That’s it.

So you really hate that. But […] some would say the main purpose of zazen is to feel the boredom, to research boredom. I don’t think so. [He laughs.] 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, if you really feel good boredom, that’s [alright]. So what is boredom? Boredom [is], “Bye-bye.” When [you’re done], well, boredom comes up.

This is zazen. Really zazen. Finally, [there is] completely nothing, but if there is nothing, all you have to do is come back home and sit. […] With whom? With [yourself]. That is what is called experience; experience through zazen. [Zazen is to see yourself.]

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 [your] karma is.


So, today, two points that I taught. One point is, the location of karma is really in the source of one’s life. [The second is,] 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; finally all you have to do is 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 the karma is.

Do you have questions?


Question: […] I’ve experienced that if I try to fight [pain], it gets worse…

Katagiri: Right.

Same person: … 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, and so forth. So, does it get better with sitting?

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

Katagiri: Well…

Same person: Am I sitting wrong, or what… ?

Katagiri: No, no; it’s pretty natural.

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

Katagiri: Yeah, but be careful if your feet are numb, okay? After standing, usually the numbness goes away, but if numbness is staying with your feet for a long time, you must be careful. Sometimes such things 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. That’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: But 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…

Katagiri: Yes. Flexible; that’s pretty nice. In many ways we try to fit to the 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. For this, physically we should understand our human body and mind and try to fit to zazen. For this, we have to take exercise sometimes.

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 the posture.

Katagiri: Oh. Do you think so?

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

Katagiri: Oh. Well, I don’t know, biologically speaking. Maybe so, but it’s no worry. You cannot do always something good 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. But I don’t mean to break your legs, okay? [Laughter.] So listen to the 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 will have pressure, you know, in your bones. So it’s not good, but whether you sit or stand up, it’s always pressure. The best way is all day 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. So why is it all chiropractors refuse sitting? If chiropractors refuse sitting, they should refuse standing or walking too; just lie down. Don’t you think so? [He laughs.]

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, but 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 though. The one is, you said that consciousness comes from ignorance. Am I understanding that? And also karma?

Katagiri: [They are related], yes. Consciousness acts [with the attribute] of ignorance. The action of consciousness is based on samskara. Do you understand? Samskara means the basic first stage of human action. So, the action of consciousness is based on samskara. And then, consciousness acts […] with the attribute of ignorance.

Same person: So they’re related.

Katagiri: Yes, related.

Same person: But karma is the source of consciousness.

Katagiri: Yes… 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, that 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.

Same person: Oh, okay. Then the other thing I was wondering is, from them being related to ignorance, is that how karma [is] not understanding dualistic nature? […]

Katagiri: Karma is action, already action.

Same person: Okay. Is it the 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 the 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, 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!” [He laughs.] 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 [won’t].” So, going this way, that way.

So basically we are really driven by the stress of alternatives: uneasy conditions, unstable conditions. 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 know how uneasy, how unstable the situation we are in is, 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: 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, uneasy, unstable conditions. Whatever you say, there is not exactly something clear you can pin down. But under such 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 we 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, [if you say,] “Zen is better than some other religion” – what is Zen, and what is “better”? So you come to Zen, and then say, “It’s not better, because you have to feel all this pain.” Very naturally, the concept of 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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