July 10, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi discusses karma in terms of Dogen’s teaching, including three main points: continuation of karma, karma as energy or emptiness, and Buddha’s karma. He explains why Dogen Zenji focuses on practice over study or even realization. Karma does not mean just cause and effect or action, but includes unmanifested karma, the impression left behind by our actions. Karmic retribution is illustrated by a story about a talking bear and a shockingly antisocial woodcutter. The line “learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self” from Fukanzazengi relates to eko – giving away the merit from our actions – which is the fundamental attitude toward studying the Buddha Way. We must understand that our life right here and now is connected with the past and the future: that connection is through unmanifested karma.


Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org


Katagiri Roshi: First of all, I and all members of the sangha want to express appreciation to Doctor Huston Smith for his compassion of spending his valuable time with us, to guide [us] to Buddha’s Way. We learned a lot from Doctor Smith, not only through his words, but behind the words. [We deeply appreciate your visit]. Thank you very much.

I still have three lectures to give you in this seminar on karma, particularly on karma according to Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen. I pretty often emphasize Dogen Zenji’s way.

If you use [the term] Dogen Zenji’s way, you immediately say that is the Soto tradition. If you use the term Soto tradition, it is already a certain tradition opposed to other traditions. That is a problem, a human problem. Without words, we cannot communicate […] with each other, so we use words; but if we use words, immediately we fall into a trap. So it’s pretty hard. We have to [be aware of] that.

When I came to the United States, for a time I stayed in Los Angeles and served at Zenshuji Temple. At that time I lived with a young American boy who was very serious as a Buddhist. He could speak Japanese pretty well, and he [had] studied Buddhism by himself, so he knew a lot about Buddhism. One day I had a discussion with him about what Buddhism is. I explained Buddhism according to Dogen’s way, who doesn’t want to attach to a certain idea of Buddhist teaching, in terms of a certain school, Rinzai or Soto tradition, or Tendai or Kegong, [with the] Lotus Sutra, et cetera. I emphasized the broad scale of Buddhism that Dogen tries to talk about. But he didn’t understand, because I use Dogen’s teaching. So finally he asked, “If you want to teach us general, broad-scale Buddhism, why do you use Dogen’s way? You are already attached to Dogen’s way!” [He laughs.] This is an important point.

Finally I said to him, “Buddhist teaching is always aiming at the original nature of human being, which is constantly free, and not belonging to a certain teaching – Buddhist teaching or Christian teaching, whatever it is. And then finally, all you have to do is, as Dogen Zenji says…” [He laughs.] Here’s Dogen’s way again, but Dogen Zenji says, “To learn Buddhism is to learn the self.” So whatever you may be, or whatever kind of religion you believe, whatever occupation you follow, or even if you don’t believe anything at all: that’s okay, that’s alright! Why don’t you learn the self? Because you are [free]. (Transcriber’s Note: Or possibly “great.”)

Remember: human life, your life, is always moving where? In the moment. In the moment, many beings coexist simultaneously, regardless of whether you like [it] or not. That means you should totally accept all beings. Nevertheless, you can’t go back to the past, you have to go forward. In order to move forward, you have a privilege to make a choice of what to do. For this, broadly speaking, under all circumstances – whatever kind of occupation you have, whatever you do – do your best to take care of life, accepting all beings totally.

And then, the problem is, there is a future! For the future, you have to make a choice of what to do. Even if you don’t like it, this is life. And when you try to make a choice in your life, then at that time you can find how weak human beings are. Don’t you think so? Even [if you say], “Okay, to learn Buddhism is to learn the self.” Fine! Well, let’s go! Let’s go. If you don’t like Buddhism, fine. If you don’t like Christianity, fine. If you don’t like Katagiri, fine. Wherever you may go, do your best. [But] how can you do your best?

To do your best is, with great determination, you have to make a choice of your life from moment to moment. At that time, it’s [beautiful]. The more your life is sincere or humble or modest, or very compassionate, the more you realize the weak points which your [being possesses]. At that time, it’s very difficult to do your best by yourself.

So finally, we have to have something we can depend on! That is a teaching, mentioned by Jesus Christ, mentioned by Buddha Shakyamuni, mentioned by Dogen – taught by great persons who existed in the past. Temporarily, why don’t you open your mind to listen, to depend on [a] teaching?

Well, later I will explain this. Dogen’s point is always focusing on actual practice.


You have a system of entering into the Buddha’s world, in other words, the human world. First: teaching. Second: practice. Third: result, which is called realization. According to common sense, we take them one by one, from the top: teaching, practice, and realization. The teaching means we should believe in the teaching first, and then after understanding and believing the teaching, then you can get into the practice. So you can practice. And then after practice, you can take one step into the gate of realization: the result. And then you understand: “Ah, this is human life.”

But Dogen Zenji’s way is a little different. He really focuses first on actual practice.

This is very good for us, because whoever you are, whether you don’t understand human life or you understand human life, it doesn’t matter! Because that you are a human being is real fact, which no one can contaminate, no one can interrupt. This is your individual life.

So this is the fact and reality of your life. If so, your life is wonderful, beyond human speculation. Your life is great being. You can really take care of [it]. That’s why Dogen Zenji says, “To learn Buddhism is to learn the self.”

From this point, completely beyond a certain situation, whether you understand the teaching or whether you can believe in something or not, still there is a fact, that you are entitled to live as a human being. What is a human being? A human being is a great being who can help all sentient beings. This is a great being; this is individual life. For this, live! The truth [of living] is just to live. For what? For you? No, for all beings. This is really actual practice.

Day by day, anyway, you can live. And then through this actual practice of living, you can learn something. And then the teaching comes up from actual practice.

But [usually] we understand that the teaching comes first, and then the teaching brings the practice to you. That is opposite. That way is really limited, because if you don’t understand the teachings, you cannot practice, you cannot live in this world. If you don’t understand human life, how can you live in this world? But no matter how many years you live in this world as a human being, how much do you understand human beings? We know just a little bit. [He laughs.] Even though you live for fifty years, or a hundred years, it’s still just a speck of dust that we understand.

So from this point, teaching is really coming from the actual practice. If you try to understand or believe in the teaching first, and then practice comes after, that is really hard. So that’s why Dogen Zenji always focuses on actual practice, and then the teaching comes up from this actual practice.

But, still teaching is there. That teaching is not [something] that you should understand or believe in, but the teaching is really just a mirror for you.

Because, I told you before, human beings are pretty weak, in a sense. In a sense, human beings are strong – creating modern civilizations, technologies – very strong, powerful. But on the other hand, the more you show how strong human beings are, the more you realize how weak human beings are. Look at modern civilization. It’s really true, don’t you feel so? I feel so. We’re really happy using modern civilization; we should appreciate it. But on the other hand, how [struggling], how weak we are. Still human suffering is alive, don’t you think so?

So without the teaching, it’s very difficult to live, to act, to have actual practice. That’s why the teaching is important. But the teaching is constantly a mirror for you. It’s really a mirror for you, which you can depend on – [by] which you can awaken [to] who you are, where you are.


So for a certain period of time we can depend on [the teaching], and then, also, realization comes from actual practice.

Dogen Zenji says, “After becoming Buddha, enlightenment, nirvana exist.” Well, yes, it is [true]. Nirvana, enlightenment, doesn’t exist if you don’t do anything. No matter how long you discuss about nirvana, happiness, or enlightenment – well, it’s there, but it doesn’t penetrate your life. So regardless of whether you understand or not: live. Live, with your best [effort]. This is actual practice. And very naturally, realization comes up from actual practice.

That realization is not enlightenment. Realization is, for instance, you say, “Ah!” Don’t you think so? “Oh, this is Katagiri. Yes, alright.” At that time, I cannot say anything about Katagiri. [He laughs.] Well, if I say something, I can pick up a part of Katagiri as a whole. At that time there is always something “stinky”. Well, “stinky” is not bad always; sometimes “good” stinky. [Laughter.] Sometimes very stinky.

So that is realization. Realization is not enlightenment, it is just when you become human life, exactly you say, just the sound, “Ah.”

Well, read the poem [by Rilke]; Rilke always uses just the sound. “Rose. Oh!” If you see the beautiful scenery which is really perfect, at that time you cannot say how beautiful it is. You just stand up and right in front of the beautiful scene, and just sigh. This is realization.

This realization is constantly there. If you have actual practice, with wholeheartedness, [it’s] very natural. But you don’t, because you already have a certain karma. Karma means customs and habits you have accumulated from the beginningless past. That’s why it’s very difficult to understand this. But even though you don’t understand, realization is always with you. Through this you can learn what human life is – what the pain is, what the suffering is, what the zazen is – right in the middle of actual practice.

So, those three (teaching, practice, and realization) are always connected, but if you emphasize which of those three is important, well, actual practice is important. And then, very naturally, faith comes up. Well, it’s very difficult to tell which of those three comes first, but we can analyze human life in that way. [So] in your daily life, actual practice is simultaneously faith, and understanding.

Understanding is not to [think] something in your head: “Yes, I understand Buddha, I understand zazen.” [He chuckles.] That is not understanding. If you understand zazen, well, just do it; understanding is simultaneously actual practice.

So faith and understanding should be backed by practice and realization. The same applies to practice and also realization. That is Dogen’s standpoint.


So at this point that is too long an introduction. [He chuckles.]

I would like to talk about karma in terms of Dogen’s understanding. Briefly, there are three points. The first point is continuation of karma. The second is a great source of energy, which is called emptiness; that is karma. The third is Buddha’s karma: karma is Buddha’s karma.

Buddha’s karma should be understood from what I mentioned already from the three points: teaching, actual practice, and realization. And then if you really focus on actual practice, from which teaching comes and realization comes simultaneously, at that time, that karma becomes Buddha’s karma.

Buddha’s karma is not something particular; Buddha’s karma is karma which is completely transparent. If you see karma [like] crystal, for instance. It’s beautiful. You can see the bottom of it. [If] it’s pure water, [unintelligible] really penetrates [to] the bottom of the river. That is Buddha’s karma: complete beauty of karma. If your karma becomes transparent – whatever you do, wherever you may be, if you can see your life as karma – it becomes Buddha’s karma, helping your life.

A great source of energy is really, according to the Buddha’s teachings, emptiness. According to Diamond Sutra, that is no abode. From where does karma come? No abode. [There is] no root of abiding [which] karma depends on. That is emptiness. Plainly speaking, [karma] is nothing but dynamic function of energy.


The first one, continuation of karma, is that [karma] which each of us individually inherits since the beginningless past.

I told you, according to the Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation, karma is samskara and bhava. Bhava is existence; samskara is… it’s very difficult to translate, but this is the first stage of human movement. But this first stage of human movement is really connected with avidyā, ignorance.

I told you already, ignorance is a state of being in which one tries to understand what the truth is, but cannot understand it, [while] nevertheless one is constantly present in the truth. Can you see what ignorance means? Ignorance is not bad, okay? But it’s not good. Well, it’s not neutral. [He laughs.] It’s [only] something that is there. We don’t know why. But anyway, if we see something is there – right now, right here – through our wisdom, temporarily we say ignorance. But ignorance is really the state of being in which one simply cannot pin down what the truth is, although one is constantly present in the truth.

Let’s understand [avidyā] through your daily life. Avidyā is not karma; avidyā is klesha: delusion, or affliction… pain. The state of being is afflicted […] because we want to know, but we simply cannot. We are really “doomed” not to understand, not to pin down what the truth is, but nevertheless, we are there. That is really affliction, don’t you think? But the question is, why is it that we are already in such a situation? There is no answer. If we say something about this, there is only one thing we can say: because we have done so for many, many years; that’s why we are right in the middle of such a situation.

This is not [something to understand], this is something you have to get a taste of through your life. And if you get a taste of such a situation of human life, [your] life becomes pretty deep: extending to the beginningless past, and to the limitless future. That is very good, because it makes your life very modest: humble, or respectful. If you see your life pretty deeply, extending to the beginningless past and endless future, you cannot judge your life right now, right here. And also you cannot be crazy about getting something right now, right here, right after doing something.

[Usually] right after practicing something you try to grasp it, but that is not the practice for us. I always tell you the practice is [to be] just like a turtle, just like a cow. That’s why modern people don’t like it. But, there is nothing to do more than this. Is there a better way? If you find it: good!

People try to find a better way, which is called busyness. But, it’s not the best way! The final best way is, all you have to do is just [be like a] cow, or a turtle. The turtle is not slow. [Well,] it’s slow, but it’s really the best, fastest way. [He laughs.] You know the children’s story, the race of the turtle and the rabbit? It’s really human life. So if you want to practice, first, please, be [like a] turtle, or [like a] cow. And then you can find what real practice is.

But if you think the practice [is a] kind of sweet candy you can get, or you can get happiness, or whatever – that is not practice. In such a practice there are always lots of waves: big waves, ups and downs. If you become [like a] turtle or cow, it’s slow, but it’s really the shortest way, it’s really a shortcut. But you don’t believe it; that’s why I have to explain karma as Buddha’s karma, as Dogen mentions. I would like to talk about this point more later.

That’s why in the first point of karma according to Dogen, karma is really continuation of karma from the beginningless past. And also, it is yours. [It’s] no one else’s, it’s really yours – as property, as [unintelligible]. It’s yours.

Don’t misunderstand this. If you misunderstand this, such [an idea of] karma makes you pessimistic, nihilistic, or fatalist. I don’t think [it’s like that]. This is looking at your life in the broad perspective, and really making your life humble and modest and compassionate. There is no other way but to be compassionate.

The teaching of karma comes up from human beings very naturally. It is not a characteristic of Buddhism, it is not a characteristic of Eastern peoples; it is really characteristic of human beings. Even though Western people don’t talk about karma, it doesn’t matter, it’s really a characteristic of human beings.

Dogen Zenji is very straightforward [in] accepting the… what shall I say, authority? I don’t know. [Laughter.] I don’t know the word exactly, but anyway, Dogen Zenji is very straightforward to accept the patriarchs and buddhas. This is very true not only [for] Dogen Zenji: you must be straightforward to all beings. That’s why Dogen Zenji says, “When all dharmas are Buddha’s dharmas, there are ordinary people, Buddhas, enlightenment, delusion,” and all beings exist. This is reality, completely beyond your like or dislike.

What is reality? Reality is the great cosmic universe, where all sentient beings completely coexist. So whatever you do, you have to do something with all sentient beings. You can’t ignore morality, and constitutions, and trees, birds, and pebbles, and even cow dung; you cannot ignore this. All things exist simultaneously. So we should be straightforward to all sentient beings. That’s why Dogen accepts very straightforwardly the patriarchs’ and buddhas’ ways.


So [Dogen] explains karma as continuation, as inheritance. He explains three points [about this]. One is retribution experienced in one’s present life. The second is retribution experienced in one’s next life. And the third is retribution experienced in the life after next life. Do you understand? [He laughs.] Retribution experienced in subsequent lives, so that is life after next life, [and so on.] That means continuation of life. Dogen also accepts this very straightforwardly, but this is not Dogen Zenji’s way, this is already the Buddha’s way.

Dogen Zenji doesn’t explain logically why we should have this teaching, but he quoted a very simple story from Abhidharma Śāstra (Abhidharma Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra, fascicle 114). Abhidharma Śāstra is one of the oldest Buddhist scriptures. This is a very simple story, because karma as one’s inheritance is not something we try to understand, but it’s something we should get a taste of through our actual practice. Let me read the story:

There once lived a woodcutter. One day when he was in the mountains a heavy snow fell and he lost his way. As twilight approached the snow lay even deeper, and it became colder and colder. Just as the woodcutter was about to freeze to death, he stumbled into a dense thicket and came upon a bear that was living there. The bear’s fur was dark blue in color, and its eyes shone like two torches. The woodcutter was so frightened that he almost fainted.

In reality, the bear was an incarnation of a Bodhisattva and, upon seeing how frightened the woodcutter was, consoled him, saying, “Don’t be afraid, for I, unlike some parents who harbor ill feelings toward their children, wish you no harm.” Having said this, the bear approached the woodcutter and, picking him up, carried him to a nearby cave. Once inside, it warmed him with its body and restored his spirits, bringing him various kinds of roots and nuts to eat. Furthermore, fearing that the woodcutter would be unable to digest this food, it continued day and night to warm him with its body and look after his other needs for the next six days.

On the seventh day the weather cleared, and the woodcutter decided it was time to try to make his way back home. The bear, knowing of his feelings, once more prepared a dinner for him of numerous sweet nuts, then accompanied him to the edge of the thicket, where it bade him a polite farewell. The woodcutter, for his part, fell down on his knees in gratitude, saying, “How can I ever repay you [for your kindness]?” The bear answered, “I ask for nothing in return, other than that you protect my life as I have protected yours.” Respectfully agreeing to do so, the woodcutter picked up the firewood [he had previously cut] and left the mountains.

As he neared home the woodcutter happened to meet two hunters, one of whom asked him if he had seen any wild animals in the mountains. He replied: “Apart from one bear, I didn’t see any wild animals.” Hearing this, the hunters asked him if he would show them where the bear was. The woodcutter agreed to do so on the condition that they give him two-thirds of the bear’s body in return; and it was not long before the bear had been killed and its flesh divided into three parts. When the woodcutter reached out with both hands to pick up his promised flesh, however, his bad karma caused both his arms to fall off, just as if a string of pearls had suddenly broken or the root of a lotus flower had been cut.

The hunters, seeing this, were both surprised and frightened, and they asked the woodcutter for an explanation. Deeply ashamed of what he had done, he gave them a detailed account of the whole story. The two said to him reproachfully, “How is it possible that you were able to perpetrate such a treacherous crime against this bear when you were so deeply indebted to it? It’s a wonder your whole body doesn’t rot away!” Having said this, they took the flesh to a nearby temple and offered it to the community of monks.

One of the senior monks in the temple, who was endowed with penetrating Wisdom, entered into samadhi in order to see whose flesh it was. Seeing that it was actually the flesh of a great Bodhisattva who had bestowed abundant benefits and happiness on all beings, he immediately came out of samadhi and informed the other monks of its true nature. The other monks were quite surprised by this revelation, and they decided to cremate the flesh with incense wood. When this had been done, they further built a stupa for the bear’s bones and respectfully venerated them. As this story shows, bad karma never fails, sooner or later, to produce its result.

(From Zen Master Dogen: An Introduction with Selected Writings, by Yuho Yokoi with Daizen Victoria)

This is a story, okay? It’s not something you should understand. [There is some soft laughter.] You don’t understand it, but this is something you can feel, you can get a taste. Don’t you think so? In the human world, such things happen so often.


And also I want to explain a little bit about one thing in this story. It says, “Seeing that it was actually the flesh of a great bodhisattva who had bestowed abundant benefits and happiness on all beings, he immediately came out of samadhi and informed the other monks of its true nature.” The monk realizes that the bear used to be a bodhisattva, and this bodhisattva had abandoned his benefit and happiness for all beings. This is the point that I have to say a little bit about, because it is connected with Buddhist teaching.

I told you before, karma has two kinds: one is manifested karma, the other is unmanifested karma.

In ancient times when the Buddha was alive, the [term] karma was used in a simple way, but it had lots of meanings. For instance in the Sutta Nipata, the Buddha said, “Birth neither a brahman nor non-brahman makes. One’s life and conduct mold the brahman true.” Brahman means priest. This is verse 650 of the Sutta Nipata. […] In ancient times you remember that people were evaluated by their birth. If you were born of a noble family, you [would] be a noble person forever. If you were born of a farmer family, you were completely a farmer; you could never be a noble person, or a soldier, priest, et cetera. That is the caste system in India. But Buddha was a little bit against this system; that’s why Buddha says “birth neither priest not non-priest makes.” You cannot be evaluated as a priest by your birth. Are you a priest if you were born of a priest family? I don’t think so. So, “[life and conduct] molds the brahman true”: if you act as a priest, at that time, [you’re a] priest.

That is a very simple meaning of karma: if you act in that way, you become a certain person. If you steal something, you are a robber. Is that clear? In this meaning of karma, there are two things: cause and effect coexist simultaneously. So karma is sort of a result, and simultaneously karma is sort of a cause. The sutra explains this just in a simple way.

But with the development of Buddhism, karma has been very popularized; everyone uses [the word] karma, but just as “action” (simple cause and effect). The more a certain term is popularized in human life, sometimes it is misunderstood. So very naturally, in the process of developing Buddhism from the ancient times, [karma was divided in two].

[Abhidharmakosha-shastra] is Buddhist psychology: defining each term of consciousness, et cetera; analyzing, synthesizing, trying to understand whatever terms Buddha used as clearly as possible. It is very complicated, huge. It takes more than eight years to understand it. [He laughs.] But this is a first assignment for Buddhist students; if you want to be a Buddhist priest, et cetera, you have to learn this one first. It gave me a headache; it’s really complicated. I had to study it, so I did… but I’ve forgotten it now. [Some laughter.] Very naturally in [Abhidharmakosha-shastra], karma is divided into two: one is manifested karma, the other one is unmanifested karma. Unmanifested karma is the sort of impression left behind your doings. You don’t know [what it is]; [it’s an] impression which doesn’t appear on the surface, but it’s always with us. It is completely beyond the category of the moral sense, good or bad or neutral.

In Buddhism the moral sense is divided in three: good, evil, and also neutral. Neutral is something more than good or bad, right and wrong. For instance if you study sports or arts, calligraphy or archery, whatever you do, constantly you have to practice. [If you want to be a painter, you must be] painting, constantly. And if you want to be a dancer, you have to constantly move your hands and legs, et cetera. This is completely beyond good or bad, right or wrong, don’t you think so? This is sort of neutral action. But this is still a portion of karmic life, so it is very important.

Unmanifested karma is an impression or sort of a “perfume” left remaining in your body and mind – somewhere. I don’t know where it is. But it is constantly remaining with you, without defining it according to a certain moral sense. It is completely neutral. But it comes up on the surface of human life because it is still a portion of karmic life, the samsaric world. How it comes up: when the time is right, conditions arranged perfectly, it comes up. That’s all.

This is called unmanifested karma, and also, with the development of Buddhism, there are more terms for this. Another term is virtuous quality. Virtuous quality is that you have carried some good seeds from beginningless past. This good is completely beyond good or bad, right or wrong; [it is] supreme good.

For instance, [perhaps] if you see somebody, you feel great, you feel relaxed, wonderful, peaceful, just by [seeing] him or her. [Regardless of] what he or she does, or whatever occupation he or she has, as a whole you feel peaceful. From where does that peaceful quality come? It’s not something from their education, which he or she has accumulated after birth. We don’t know; but completely beyond speculation, you can see or meet somebody in this way. Have you experienced this? How can we explain this? We say that he or she has some kind of virtuous quality. He or she did [something] in the past, maybe. That is, he or she planted good roots in the past, and then [appears in this] way. That is virtuous quality.

The other term is eko. Eko is turning the merit to all beings, instead of holding on to it by yourself. If you do something – if you practice Buddha’s way, or if you help somebody – then at that time, of course, according to the teaching of causation, you have cause and effect. So you can have merit, from the help as a cause. But at that time, you don’t grasp it. You let go of it, to give it to all beings. In other words, [don’t attach] to that merit. That’s why [we say] just do it. And then at that time, this practice is what is called good roots you can plant for the future. It [shoots]. That is what is called virtuous quality. Virtuous quality is always you do something, and then you can have unmanifested karma – but this is completely beyond good or bad, right and wrong. But anyway, you do something good, and have unmanifested karma. How? Do something good, but the merit should be returned, given to somebody. That is virtuous quality.

Or in Zen Buddhism, particularly Dogen Zenji says it another [way] (in Fukanzazengi). He says, “To learn that one withdraws one step, and turns the light inward on oneself.” To withdraw one step doesn’t mean to escape from something. To withdraw means not to attach to what you have done, [but be] aware of what you have done. Whatever good or bad, don’t [attach to] it, don’t be crazy about it. It doesn’t mean you should ignore it, but you should awaken to what you have done. That is “to withdraw one step.” And then, if you do something good, withdraw one step and “turn the light” – [the light] means merit. “Inward on oneself”: inward means wisdom; on oneself means oneself and another, all beings. Anyway, share life, or merit. Give life, or light, coming from what you have done, to everybody. That [is the meaning of] “to learn that one withdraws one step and turns the light inward on oneself.” At Eiheiji Monastery, in the entrance of the study room, a handscroll there says [this]. This is the attitude toward studying the Buddha Way.

That means constantly take care of the unmanifested karma you have done. Because manifested karma is beings which appear and disappear constantly; if you really depend on this karma, then your life is really decadent, because moment after moment it appears and disappears. You should not understand your life [as being] exactly right now, right here which doesn’t connect with yesterday and tomorrow. Life is connected with yesterday and tomorrow, the future. It’s really true. How can life continue like this? Well, finally, something [is] there; this is called unmanifested karma.

So very naturally, you can see your life not only in terms of manifested karma, but also unmanifested karma, which manifested karma is backed by. So very naturally you can see your life extending to the beginningless past and endless future. This is called eko, or virtuous quality, or “learn that one withdraws one step and turns the light inward on oneself.” Very naturally that means that you can learn humility, and modesty, compassion, toward oneself and another.

That’s why here it says, “That flesh is a great bodhisattva who had bestowed abundant benefits and happiness on all beings.” And also Dogen Zenji comments on this, saying, “As it shows, we should always aspire to reward those to whom we are indebted. At that same time, however, we shouldn’t seek any reward from those who are indebted to us.” This is exactly the same as I have mentioned.

(Transcriber’s Note: From the Terebess Glossary of Zen Terms:

Ekō 回向 The dedication read after recitation of a sutra, to direct the merit gained from the recitation to a certain person or group.

Ekō henshō 回光返照 Turning the Light Around and Shining Back; “turn around your light and look back on the radiance.”

See also Turning the Light Around and Shining Back: ekō henshō from the same source.)


So it is really reality, whatever happens. For instance, [Chris] was murdered in San Francisco… do you remember? Of course we understand how sad his parents are. But there is nothing to explain about this reality. Nothing to say.

So the question we should focus on is not being killed by somebody, et cetera. If you always focus on the problem of being killed by somebody, at that time you focus on criticism [of] the victim and also the murderer. But that is not our business; that is the business of constitutions and laws, et cetera. Our business is religious. Religious means understanding a certain situation in a deep way.

If you understand the fact that [Chris] was killed, you cannot criticize him because he had done something wrong in the past and you say he was “payed back.” “He’s dead, he had [done something] in the past” – this is just [partial] understanding, it’s not real understanding. On the other hand, we should understand… his death. [We are] pained by his death, and simultaneously [his death is] teaching us something something more deeply about death, about human reality.

For instance, when somebody dies all of a sudden when a bridge collapses. […] If someone survived right on the edge of the broken bridge, how can I explain this? We cannot explain. But we cannot ignore this. Because [Chris] was in his parents hearts and in our hearts. In order to keep his life in our hearts, we have to understand his life not according to his manifested karma, but according to unmanifested karma too. We should understand very deeply.

So his death really teaches us what is the reality of life. It’s pretty deep; something more than human speculation. That’s why reality is, of course, sort of the samsaric world, but simultaneously the samsaric world teaches us Buddha’s reality. Because reality is pretty deep, profound. That is Buddha’s reality.

So, his death teaches us in that way. If you understand his death in that way, we can accept his death – not ignoring, not completely confused, but constantly being compassionate to his death, and his parents. And [we can] help. And [we can] learn something, human life, […] according to his death, et cetera. At that time, his life is always with us.

That’s why Dogen Zenji also says it like this. Because […] the bear’s life [is not only] helping the woodcutter in this story, but all beings benefit [all beings]. So there is no reason we should hurt anything. We should take best care of all sentient beings, with wholeheartedness. That is our effort, our practice: sharing compassion with all sentient beings.

[Here] I explained one of the three karmic retributions, which is called retribution experienced in one’s present life. But if you want to know more, you can read this [chapter from Shobogenzo], Sanji-no-gō, “Karma in Three Times”, in this book, Zen Master Dogen. Karmic retribution in the three stages of time: past, present, and future. [It is presented as] very simple stories there.

1:21:21 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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