November 22, 1981 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi discusses the pointer to this case. What is our potential? What is the rhythm of life? What does it mean to be a “smoked dry fish,” and how can we avoid it? Should we look for a “flashy” enlightenment? Should we become a Zen bank robber? Also: How to cook puffer fish. How to lose money in San Francisco. And: wherever you may go, you can feel pain.


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Katagiri Roshi: [The pointer to the case:]

If your potential does not leave (its fixed) position, you tumble down into the poison sea. If your words don’t startle the crowd, you fall into the streams of the commonplace.

Suddenly, if you can distinguish initiate from lay in the light of sparks struck from stone, if you can decide between killing and giving life in the light of a flash of lightning, then you can cut off the ten directions and tower up like a thousand fathom wall.

But do you know that such a time exists? To test I’m citing this old case: look!

If your potential does not leave (its fixed) position, you tumble down into the poison sea.

“Your potential” means possibility. Possibility means that our nature is just like a vast expanse of the ocean from which water comes up constantly. So potential is not something [unknowable], because it’s coming up; but you cannot grasp exactly what potentiality is. A potentiality or possibility is something which you can verify right in the middle of the full aliveness of your life, day by day. At that time potentiality or possibility is coming up.

Possibility appears and disappears. Many things appear and disappear, appear and disappear; that is possibility. Countless things are coming up: your capability, your knowledge, whatever it is. That is our original nature. It is not a matter of philosophical discussion, the philosophical world, but [rather it is] nothing but just function, process. So we say working, or function; according to my term it is full aliveness.

So, “if your potential does not leave its fixed position” means “if the full aliveness of your life does not leave its fixed position.” The full aliveness of your life actually doesn’t consent to stay with full aliveness, because full aliveness is constantly full aliveness. So if you “fix” your life [in place], immediately you stumble down into the poison sea, because your original nature is constant full aliveness, so-called potentiality or possibility. [You have] eternal possibility, whoever you are.

I always say, “Let’s give away our life to eternal possibility, constantly.” That is just like the water pouring into an empty water pump, and then you move the handle of the pump, and grab any water that comes out. All of your life – the bitterness, and sadness, and pleasures – all things return to eternal possibility, just like a pouring empty pump. It means work, it means nothing but functioning and full aliveness. It’s not a matter of the philosophical world you can discuss. So day by day, you have to work. Very naturally, water comes up.

But if you don’t do this, it’s pretty hard to live in this world. If you look at existing religions, not only Christianity but even Buddhism, I always feel that they always mold human life into certain patterns. [They say,] “You should believe this,” and then religion comes into existence. Your belief is first. Of course belief is important for us, but what is belief? Always something [is given], and then your life has to be fit into this candle mold, and then you are a “good boy.” I don’t think so; you are not a good boy, you are a “dry fish”. [Laughter.] You are exactly dead, but you don’t know, you don’t realize it. And then if you are happy [to] become a dry fish, you become a very obedient person. “Do this.” “Yes, sir!” “Do that.” “Yes, sir!” Very obedient. But in a sense, your intellectual, rational, and theoretical knowledge doesn’t work.

Existing religion tries to mold your life into a certain pattern in many ways, not just believing in divinities. Look at Zen in the United States. Zen is always giving you some koans, and then you “pass.” This is also you being formed into certain patterns. And then if you pass this koan, “next.” So again and again, religion gives you something and molds your life into a certain pattern. At that time you are not a dry fish, you are a smoked dry fish. [Laughter.] We’re not satisfied with dry fish, so we try to smoke the dry fish. That’s interesting, isn’t it? That is existing religion; we always do this. [He laughs.]

Of course dry fish is pretty tasty, but remember it is not real fish! It’s not alive; it’s dead. [He laughs.] You cannot [be a] dead fish, because you are alive. But if you think you’re alive, … [tape problem] … cannot. That’s why you’re completely confused. And if you become confused, you try to find some way of [explaining to yourself] and molding your life into a certain pattern, many so-called disciplines, and then you become smoked fish. It’s tasty. Smoked fish is more tasty than dry fish. But it is still not real fish. Real fish is really alive. Remember this!

So that’s why “you tumble down into the poison sea.” The poison sea means the smoked fish; you become a smoked dry fish. At that time it doesn’t work.

It’s pretty hard to live right in the middle of human suffering, but remember, suffering is already great proof you are alive. So we have to handle it in many ways, day by day.

And also, a point is that the people around you are important. If the people around you are very critical, if the people around you are dry fish or smoked dry fish, it’s very hard to live, don’t you think so? Mostly in human society, if you go to work, the people around you seem to be alive but not really alive, almost half dry fish, or smoked dry fish. That’s why you feel it’s hard. That’s why each of us must be present around a certain person not as dry fish, but as vivid, real fish. At that time you can really help, whatever happens. That is very important.

So that’s why it says here, “If your potential doesn’t leave it’s fixed position, you tumble down into the poison sea.”


When you’re a child, it’s very easy to educate you: “You should believe A, B, C, D, E.” But then when you grow up, it’s pretty hard to escape from such education. It’s very hard to be free from it, because already such a way of life is rooted in the bottom of your life. To be free from it means to be face-to-face with your real life, regardless of whether you believe in something or not. We have to directly see what is real life. That is pretty hard, pretty hard.

You may still have doubts, such as, if that is true, why does Katagiri give [instruction for] zazen, shikantaza, “just do it.” [You suspect that] this is Katagiri molding the student’s life into a certain pattern, so-called shikantaza. I don’t think so. Don’t misunderstand this. [Laughter.]

Dogen Zenji says [in unintelligible] – I don’t remember exactly, but he says if you want to practice the Buddha Way, you should believe first. What should you believe? You should believe that life is completely in no confusion, no delusion, no perverted ideas. That means what? [That there is] nothing to grasp, so-called “I want to believe.” Nothing. So you should believe that you are in no confusion, no delusion, no perverted views, no mistaken understanding. What do you mean? Can you say, “This is God?” It is not a certain idea. You should believe that you are in no delusion, no confusion, no mistaken understanding, et cetera: that means nothing. But believing in nothing means it’s not a matter of the philosophical world, it is something you have to do. It is a practice. That’s all.

That’s why I don’t want to mold your life into a certain pattern, so-called zazen or shikantaza. If you believe this, shikantaza becomes sort of, not a dry fish, but a gold dry fish. We put gold around the dry fish, and light comes up from the gold dry fish, and then you really think, “Wonderful, wonderful! Thanks!” So the dry fish becomes gold. But I don’t think this is Zen. If you believe shikantaza is like this, it’s the same thing [as praying for the] the wonderful angels to come down from heaven, “Please help,” you know? Exactly the same as something like this. But I don’t think so.

Anyway, to do zazen means you have to do zazen. To do zazen means to believe that you are in no confusion, no delusion, no mistaken understanding. That is not a matter of philosophical discussion, it is just to be there, right in the middle of zazen. What is no delusion, no confusion, no mistaken understanding? Well, you must be no mistaken understanding, right in the middle of zazen. What is that? Just sit zazen, becoming as one with zazen. So no confusion, no delusions, no mistaken understanding.

But the mind is always going fast, you know? Just like Spider Man. Super Man goes pyoom like this, and catches something, and brings it back, and then you say: “Oh, there is a mistake.” That is really the human mind, consciousness. Just like computers: your brain is really a computer, a fascinating computer. It’s wonderful… but it’s trouble for us. [He laughs.] It’s great, but, if you do zazen and you don’t accept zazen exactly as it is, the zazen you accept is zazen you have decoded. Do you understand? You have translated it. So I say, “Shikantaza: just sit down there.” You say, “Yes, sir.” And then immediately, you translate it by your consciousness. So it’s pretty hard for us to accept zazen as it is, without decoding the zazen; or others’ words, language, whatever it is.

I told you before: A woman had a facelift operation. And people praised the one hundred percent perfect operation. People said, “Wonderful! You had a one hundred percent successful facelift!” And then she didn’t feel good, because she did not accept the wonderful praise strictly as-is: she decoded it as meaning she used to look ugly. So immediately she decoded, do you understand?

[If you say,] “Katagiri is a wonderful teacher,” actually all I have to do is accept that. But immediately I cannot accept “Katagiri – wonderful, thanks”; still I decode: “Is that right?” [He laughs.] “How about my past life? Why don’t I look at my past life?” Always we do that. Of course we should accept the past and present and future. But we are going to the future, not going backward.

Buddha is very compassionate to all sentient beings – even a person who kills nine hundred and ninety-nine people, in order to make rings of human fingers. You know that story? And then he became a monk anyway, by Buddha Shakyamuni’s guidance. And then one day he was practicing begging in the street, and people asked him to perform a Buddhist ceremony for delivering a child in safety. In India they have a custom that if you can get a priest to chant for the pregnant lady, she can give birth to her baby in safety. So they asked this monk to chant, but he immediately accepted that request with decoding, because he had killed lots of people. So he went back to Shakyamuni Buddha and asked, “What should I do?” Buddha said, “Tell her, ‘I don’t do anything to kill anyone.’” So, just perform. That’s really great compassion.

So immediately we decode. But if you decode your life and decode others’ message or whatever, it’s pretty hard to make your life alive. So we have to do, without decoding, we have to practice like this constantly. Day by day, we have to live with all sentient beings. It’s pretty easy to live vividly just in your own territory, but to live vividly with people is not so easy.

That’s [also] why here it says, “If your potential does not leave (its fixed) position, you tumble down into the poison sea.”


If your words don’t startle the crowd, you fall into the streams of the commonplace.

Words coming up from very deep silence: that’s full aliveness, when your life is fully alive day by day. Even though [you are] holding the suffering, the pain, [your life is] endlessly alive and “hopping along.” People are really educated by those words.

I told you before: words should come not from your head, but from silence. Silence means the silent world behind you. Because the world we can see, the world of your life that I can see, that is just the front. But behind your life, there are lots of stories, long stories, which are silent, very silent. It’s pretty hard to [explain], but this huge vastness of the world behind your life is really working. If a word is coming up not only from the front, but from the silence, that word is not just the word. So you shouldn’t understand just the word, because behind the word there is a huge world. That’s why the word is important for us.

Bodhidharma says, “Vastness and nothing holy.” Those are simple words: when Emperor Wu asks, “What is the essence of Buddhism,” Bodhidharma says, “Vastness and nothing holy.” Actually we don’t understand it, but they are very sharp, very wonderful words coming from Bodhidharma’s silent world. That’s why still, from generation to generation, even though we don’t understand, still we have to think of it – or we are captured by thinking of it. So that is important for us.

So how can we get those [kind of] words? There is no particular pattern. Basically, all we have to do is just practice day by day. That is really planting a good seed day by day. And then planting the seed is what? Can you get some reward from planting the seed? Nothing. Planting the seed is planting the seed. Actually you cannot get a reward from it, because day by day it is changing, so the next moment, we don’t know if that seed will grow or fruit. But planting the seed is planting the seed. And then, next moment, it becomes silent.

So this silence is really affecting your life. But usually we plant the seed and then expect something. And then we want to let the seed grow completely. If it doesn’t grow, we’re really disappointed. Of course we should take care of the seed you have planted, but nevertheless, we don’t know what will happen, actually. So silently we have to accept the seed which we have planted, and silently we have to take care of the seed which we have planted. That is important. And then very naturally, our life is deepened.

So, “If your words don’t startle the crowd, you fall into the streams of the commonplace.” Commonplace means your words becomes very usual. Other people use them.


Language is very interesting.

I went to Omaha one day, and went to have lunch with people at a Japanese restaurant named Genji. (Transcriber’s Note: The restaurant, or one similarly named, still exists, apparently: And a young lady was there and was very surprised to see me, because she had never seen a Buddhist priest in the United States since she came [from Japan]. So she was very surprised, and looked at me. “Are you … a priest?” “Yes I am.” [He laughs.] She said, “You’re a priest!” She was very happy to see me. And then she asked, “What kind of Buddhist school did you belong to?” I said Zen Buddhism. “Zen? Well what do you do?” I said, “I do zazen.” [Laughter.] She knew the term zazen, so she said, “Oh… that’s terrible.” [Laughter.] She said, “If I do zazen it’s painful, isn’t it?” I said, “Oh yes, it’s painful. But wherever you may go, you can feel pain.” She was very surprised! [He laughs.] She was very surprised, and she couldn’t forget those words. Finally she came again later and just sat zazen with us. She was very impressed: “Wherever you may go, you feel pain.” Like sleeping in bed all day and keeping the same posture: you feel painful. [Even] without doing anything, just sleeping, it’s very painful in many ways. Wherever you may go, pain is pain.

It’s very interesting: [pain is] just a simple, usual word, but it depends on the speaker and the listener. How can the listener accept that word? If the listener is ready to digest a certain word deeply, it becomes wonderful. But if they are not, if you as a listener are not ready to digest a simple word, [then it’s] just the usual, common word, don’t you think so? So you must be ready to talk, and also you have to have people who are ready to accept your words. That is also a very interesting point.

So we don’t know what are sharp, helpful, suggestive words. Any kinds of words can become suggestive and instructive, very good words. It depends on you, and it depends on the listener. That’s why Buddha always used words according to the individual’s personality and circumstances, et cetera.


Suddenly, if you can distinguish initiate from lay in the light of sparks struck from stone,

That is according to being [compounded] with time, and also meeting the circumstances. You have to do something, you have to say something, but it is not something you can do after your thinking, or by your technique. No; it’s just coming up. So that’s why here it says “in the light of sparks struck from stone.”

Zen, particularly the Blue Cliff Record, pretty often uses these kind of expressions: “the light of sparks struck from the stone,” or “the flash of lightning,” [and so on]. And then you believe enlightenment in Zen is just like this, and you should get such enlightenment, otherwise you are not a Zen student. But I don’t think so; don’t misunderstand. This is just words. Flashing lightning comes up in many ways. You don’t realize it sometimes; it comes up very naturally. Sometimes you can realize it, but it’s very rare. If you realize it just like a flash of light, it’s very rare. That is what is called satori. Satori: poof. But don’t expect such satori always. If you cannot [have it], forget it; never mind. Still you can live in the light of flashing lightning, because you are in the middle of the truth.

I told you, the truth is characterized by rebalancing your life, constantly rebalancing. Rebalancing means if you touch [the truth] you cannot stay with it, then immediately you have to rebalance your life. That means a spiritual shock. If you really try to, you can have a shock, but if you don’t, well, you don’t. Actually we are always touching [the truth], but our mind is very “dumb,” so we touch it but we don’t know. Always touching [the truth] and rebalancing our life. How dumb our mind is; that’s why we don’t know. Then you practice constantly, and someday you really touch it: boom. And then that is called satori, maybe. [He laughs.] But it’s very rare, very rare. You believe satori is a sort of [sneaky], coming into your life. [Laughter.] And then when you realize, “Oh – already I am!” – this is also satori, okay? Don’t worry. Never mind. [Laughter.]


if you can decide between killing and giving life in the light of a flash of lightning, then you can cut off the ten directions and tower up like a thousand fathom wall.

“If you can decide between killing and giving life in the light of a flash of lightning” – then you think just like Nansen: “Say something, and if you don’t say, I will kill the cat!” I don’t think so; it’s not Zen. It is a part of Zen, but it is a very dramatic Zen, it’s not common. Don’t imitate it.

There is another of the same style of book as the Blue Cliff Record, called Shōyōroku, the Book of Equanimity, which is very different from this Blue Cliff Record. If you read the Blue Cliff Record, always there is a fantastic enlightenment “show” in front of you, and then from that enlightenment, always words are coming up, just like a flashing light. How is this? How do you [do] like this? Always very fantastic, and very sharp and dynamic energy there. But Shōyōroku, the Book of Equanimity is very quiet. It’s very interesting: using the same koan and the same explanation, but a different feeling. So one Japanese Zen Master didn’t use the Blue Cliff Record, always used the other one, Shōyōroku. [He laughs.] That’s interesting. I understand that one. So we should know this aspect of Zen teaching, but don’t imitate it. Zen must be something coming up from your heart. Digest Buddha’s teaching in your life.

So, “you can decide between killing and giving life in the light of a flash of lightning,” that means you must be constantly alive, instead of being stuck in a certain pattern of your life which you have experienced, good or evil, whatever. You must be constantly alive. At that time you can really decide between killing and giving life in the light of a flash of lightning.

“Then you can cut off the ten directions and tower up like a thousand fathom wall.” You can really see the vastness of the human world without [unintelligible]. That means full aliveness of your life – not “dry fish.”


I told you yesterday, Descartes, one of the famous philosophers, said “I am thinking therefore I exist” … [Tape change.] And also Dogen Zenji says to learn Buddhism is to learn the self. And Buddha says the self is something you can depend on. [He says] you can make yourself a light; you can make a self a light. So self is a light for you, a place for you to depend on.

I understand “I am thinking therefore I exist” – but this self is not the individual self. Dogen Zenji saying “to learn Buddhism is to learn the self” is also not the individual self. It is the universal self. Universal self means completely beyond “should I live or should I die” – there is nothing to discuss about this, [such as] “Why do you live,” or, “What is the purpose of living?”

Maybe you have the question, “Why do we do zazen?” To do zazen is really a question of living; that is zazen. So if you want to know the reason why you have to do zazen, it means you have to know the reason why you live. This is very basic. “The reason why you live” means not the [mode] of discussing “I should live or I should die”. No; [there is] no sense of preconditions, no sense of presuppositions. A presupposition itself has a question: why? “The reason why we have to live” is pointing out to presupposition itself, before you think “I should live,” or “I shouldn’t live,” or “I should die.” Completely beyond this. Because this is the original nature of the self.

For instance, when you get cancer, or when you are about to die – these are very good examples, that’s why I told you [those stories yesterday]. When you get cancer or become sick … do you believe sickness in reality is something you can discuss, like “should I escape or should I stay,” or “should I live or should I die?” No way. No matter how long you discuss it, sickness is going [on]. Who is sick? You are sick – not some other people, you are sick. At that time, do you discuss in your head, “I don’t like sickness,” or “I love sickness?” Well, it’s ridiculous. Even if you say you like sickness, can you stay with sickness forever? No. “You don’t like sickness?” – “No, I don’t like sickness.” – “Should you escape from this?” – “Yes, I want to escape.” Well that is nothing but thinking with your head. Sickness is here. Who accepts this sickness? You accept it. This you is completely beyond discussion. That is what is called the self in absolute reality. So you have to learn the absolute self – beyond discussion of “should I live or should I die,” completely beyond that. This is the real self. You can experience this. We have to learn this self.

From this point, if you discuss “should I live or should I commit suicide” – it depends on you. If you want to die, you can die. If you want to live, you can live. Strictly speaking, there is nothing external forcing you to live or to die. Nothing. Because the real self is just going, completely beyond “should I live or should I die.” [It is completely this.] This is the real self. Through zazen you can really taste this.

And that self is what? Dogen Zenji says, you should believe the self is in no delusion, no confusion, no mistaken understanding. Completely beyond. What is this? You. Just depend on this you. That’s all.

So it’s very absolute. This is nothing but the rhythm of your life, just the rhythm. Rhythm is not that you should “catch” it, rhythm is that you must be tuned in on the dial to this rhythm and you should dance with it. That is your rhythm, completely beyond whether you like or you dislike, you should live or you should die. When you really tune in on the dial to this rhythm of the self, it is called truth. Truth is to follow the rhythm of the self in absolute reality, completely beyond your like or dislike. So if you want to die, you can die. If you want to live, you can live.


So you say, “So let’s do something that I like, because sooner or later we have to die.” Or, “Life is completely beyond good or bad, right or wrong – if so, why don’t I do as I like?” So is it alright to make a choice of an unwholesome way of life? It’s fine. Well, is it alright to become a bank robber? It’s fine. But if you become a bank robber, you have to accept something: that you must be in jail. Then in jail you say, “Sooner or later we all die, so at that time all I have to do is just die.”

But that is really cowardly, don’t you think so? It’s really cowardly. Because you are living in Buddha’s world, completely beyond “you should live or you shouldn’t live.” That is already you must be fully alive. And then you make a choice and rob a bank, and then if you are put in jail you say, “I can die, because sooner or later we have to die.” But at that time you cannot die, because you are pretty cowardly. Cowardice means you don’t realize where you are, what living is; and then always you justify yourself in a certain aspect.

So we say, “We are Buddha. Why don’t we do as we like?” But it’s really a conceptual way of life – very “dry fish.” Life and death is not something you can think. You cannot say, “When something happens all I have to do is to die,” or, “I am ready to die,” because death is something you have to accept not as a “dry fish,” but you as a human being accept death or life, good or bad, many things. All we have to do is face opportunity and meet circumstances, and then we have to keep our eyes open to deal with everything carefully. As much as possible, let’s live with people, instead of hurting and interrupting others. That is all we have to do.

If you can choose many things, you can choose becoming a bank robber – but you don’ feel good if you become a bank robber. Even though by your determination you make a choice in your life, actually you don’t feel good – and also you make yourself a trouble to yourself and to others, both. So it’s not a peaceful life. Full aliveness is to live in peace and harmony. If you don’t live in a proper way, you don’t feel good, so your mind is very wavy. So that is pretty hard. But if you always tune into the rhythm of life, the rhythm of the self, so-called “in the absolute reality, beyond thinking I should live or I should die,” at that time you can feel very peaceful. That’s why we have to open our eyes to see opportunity and meet circumstances, and take care of our life, because everything is changing constantly.

So if you want to do zazen, you can do zazen. If you don’t want to do zazen, it’s not necessary to do zazen. There is nothing external to force you to live or to die, or to do zazen or not to do zazen. Nothing external to force you. That means, you can do anything.


But do you know that such a time exists? To test I’m citing this old case: look!

“Do you know that such as time exists”: This is always the question. Do you know that such a time, such way of life, exists? Yes, it does, if only you are ready to see it. It’s there, constantly there.

Do you have any questions?


Question: When you are talking about following the rhythm of our life in the truth … how deeply are you talking about? On what level?

Katagiri: That is the absolute self. Absolute reality means taking care of the big scale, of the big self.

Same person: [Unintelligible.]

Katagiri: That’s why I gave the example about sickness. If you face sickness or death, if you are about to die, there is the self in absolute reality. That is the absolute self, big self. That big self, the absolute self, is not completely “should I die or should I live a long life,” don’t you think?

Completely there is the absolute self going on. All we have to do is to tune the dial into this rhythm of the absolute self, day by day. But the mind is always screaming, crying, shouting, and [asking for help] – trying to get something. I understand this is being human, but all we have to do is to tune in the dial to this, listen to the absolute self, the self in absolute reality. That is called the truth, we say. Truth is not something far from us, truth is just focusing on the rhythm of self in absolute reality. It’s not so easy, but from now on, particularly in the 21st century, we have to live in this way, because human beings are more complicated, everything is done in a way we can be civilized. Your intellectual sense is very sharp, you can go any place, and you cannot make your rational sense of life blind. So we have to know, we have to use our rational sense of human life, and the emotional [sense], and many things, and then we have to think how to live. In order to do this, we have to realize the self in absolute reality, [so] everyone can live. Not can; everyone already is in a such a way.

I took care of a young man who was about to die. At that time he screamed and shouted. He was very wild at that time, because he didn’t want to die. Well, right before he died, he became quiet, because there was nothing to do. And also I was by his bed, but I could not do anything, just be there. So I thought, there is something big that I cannot take care of, [which is] just going. And all he had to do was from moment to moment… I watched him, and he was just tuning the dial into real reality. On the other hand, his head was screaming – but totally screaming is also in the rhythm of just going. But he didn’t realize. So all is going in a big river, just going. If you realize it, it’s not giving up your life or death; we just jump into it, and realize it, and live fully. Instead of becoming “dry fish,” [we jump into] so-called death, or life. So we can do it, we can do it.


Question: Hojo-san? Yesterday when you talked about the abbot of the Asian monastery who became paralyzed, and he said, “Well, it’s my karma.” Had he become a dead fish or a dry fish, in saying that?

Katagiri: I don’t know. We should invite him to ask. [Laughter.] Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway; he already died.

Same person: I guess I didn’t understand your point yesterday. I wasn’t quite clear about your criticism.

Katagiri: Oh. One point that I wanted to tell you yesterday was that for many, many years we don’t realize the rhythm of nature, the sun coming up in the east and setting in the west. For many, many years, we don’t realize just becoming one with it, without any doubt. But we have a mind, and sooner or later we start to think, “Why is the sun coming up in the east? What is the earth?” [And so on.] And then we try to explain that rhythm of nature, which human beings completely became one with, without any questions. But when you have mind, you have to think, and then explain. That is myths, stories, philosophy, psychology, et cetera. And then finally, we really enjoy creating the story of myths endlessly. If we explain, endlessly we can go on like this. There is no end [to it].

This is a wonderful world, depending on the myths and philosophy, psychology, but they are nothing but explanations of oneness with nature, the rhythm of nature. The rhythm of nature is exactly one with us, so it’s not necessary to think [about it]. Primitive people don’t have any ideas to think, they just tune in constantly, just like animals do. Animals are instinctively tuning in, so they’re happy, you know, compared to human beings anyway. Or completely beyond happy or unhappy – just tuning in, day by day. Human beings can do that, but human beings have consciousness, so we always tune in just like the animals but immediately we have to think and explain. That is culture coming up. And then we depend on just the culture, and myths, and philosophy, psychology, forgetting oneness with the rhythm of nature.

And then we try to find out what is life and what is death. But life and death is [just] going, so finally we try to get something we can depend on very strongly – that is happiness, position, fame, power, and lots of things. And then if you get the power, if you get the social status, then you think, “This is all I wanted.” And then you say, “I am a happy boy,” you know? But finally, no one knows how they have to die. [A certain man] becomes paralyzed. That sickness paralyzing his body is something he didn’t expect before. But for an Abbot of Eiheiji monastery, he realizes, because he practiced for a long time, that’s why he said, “It’s my karma.” He accepts it very quietly. But the other person is very confused, saying, “I didn’t know there was such a big trap to fall into,” because so far he believed that becoming happy, getting a better life, is the final thing we want to do. But finally there is sickness, or in this case paralyzation, and then he couldn’t do anything. So that was a big disappointment, a huge hole he had to fall into.

Yesterday I told you this point. So I told you we have to return to the original nature of the self, so-called “we are born with nakedness, we die with nakedness.” That means the self in absolute reality, just going, nothing to put into anything extra. This is the basic rhythm of life.

… If you have a certain position, you can feel that. Regardless of whether you have the capability to explain some aspect of Buddhism or not, if you are in a certain position you have to sit down here and talk, and teach. [He laughs.] That’s pretty hard, don’t you think so? If you have enough capability to teach, that’s fine. But if you don’t, or even if you have enough capability, you don’t feel satisfied completely. Endlessly we don’t feel complete satisfaction. But the real self in the absolute is going. Your life, Zen Center, Minneapolis, my life, including all things, are just one big rhythm of life, going. So I must be there, basically. But my head is always going, “No, don’t come.” Even just once a week: “Don’t come, please.” But everyone comes! So I cannot sleep in, you know? [Laughter.] I have to get up for you. So my head is always screaming, “Help! Please! Don’t come. I want to sleep more,” but my life is going. That is the self in absolute reality. That’s wonderful. So all I have to do is just tune the dial into this rhythm. And the head screaming, it’s fine – just like a flashing light, you know? Screaming, and then it disappears the next moment, because the rhythm is going. So I have to be just right on there, day by day.

The Zen terms your original face, Buddha Nature, the original face of the self – big terms there, but practically speaking, it’s very realistic. Practically, you have to do [something]. It’s not philosophical discussion.


Question: Yesterday you talked about the importance of having hopes … and earlier this week you talked about less desire being full absorption in the present … How do you have a big hope without having lots of desire and lots of distraction and lots of suffering? [Laughter.]

Katagiri: If you have a big hope, you should have a big trouble, anyway. [Laughter.] You should be prepared for the possibility of troubles, if you have a big hope. If you want to have a big business, there is lots of trouble there. You should accept [that].

[Tape change]

… That’s also the big [scale], don’t you think so? So you cannot say, “I want to have big hope, but I want to have less trouble.” That is egoistic. [He laughs.]

For instance, I always tell you about puffer fish. Puffer fish is very delicious. Very clean, transparent meat, very beautiful. If you go to Japan you can have it. But you have to cook it in the proper way. If you make a mistake in the cooking, you die. It’s very quick: in a minute, you can die. So I want to eat puffer fish, but I don’t want to cook it in the proper way. [Laughter.] I don’t care, because it’s lots of trouble: there are regulations, and you need a certificate, credentials from the city as a cook. So you have to train, and it’s big trouble; and also it’s pretty hard to get a job cooking it. So I want to eat the pufferfish, but I don’t want to cook it in the proper way. We always do the same thing in our life: I want to be happy, but I don’t want to do zazen, because it’s painful. If you want to be happy, or if you want to deepen your life in the big scale with the universe, why don’t you do it? That’s pretty good.

So if you want to run a big business and make big money, you have to have big money, but simultaneously that money doesn’t stay with you constantly. Money is coming in and the next moment it’s leaving you. Coming in, leaving: that is the circulation of the money. At that time you can run a big business. Look at the Zen Center in San Francisco. Actually they are not rich, they are very poor. At the end of the month, they don’t have any money! At the beginning of the every month, money is coming in; at the end of the month, all the money is gone. [Laughter.] But they have great grocery stores, and green restaurants, and a bakery, bookstores; big business. So money is coming in, leaving, coming in, leaving. But when it leaves, it’s pretty painful. We don’t want the money to leave, we want to keep it, but at that time we cannot run a big business. If we want to have a big hope, we should accept this.


Question: Hojo-san, in your example of yourself, you said in your mind you would like to sleep in, you said screaming I think. But it’s not your whole mind that screams, is it? Only part of your mind? [Laughter.]

Katagiri: Because I am the teacher? [What do you expect?] [Laughter.]

Same person: Alright, here’s the question, Hojo-san: if the whole mind is screaming, what do we tune into? And who does the tuning?

Katagiri: Well, you do. I have to do it.

Same person: Well, that’s the problem.

Katagiri: Sure.

Same person: So it’s not your whole mind screaming.

Katagiri: Not the whole mind, no; just a part of my mind. As a whole, all I have to do is to kill my life or to give life. Do you understand? To give life in the light of a flashing light. So [unintelligible]. But life is going, so get up, and wash your face. If you feel sleepy, pour cold water on yourself. [He laughs.] Sometimes I don’t like it – but, just do it. From moment to moment, that’s all. Is that okay?

Same person: I was thinking that, when I was sick for a couple weeks, or other people I have seen, some part resists very much, you know? Sickness, or getting up, or anything. But another part doesn’t seem to care either way, it’s just always the same. Just calm; you used the term calm or quiet. And I’ve experienced that, and I’ve seen that with some people. For example, I worked a bit with the Indian people in Alaska. In their tradition they had no religion, they were just hunters and fishermen. And when I got there there was lots of trouble: no work for the men, and there was pain, and not enough food. But one thing that was striking was, I came from Berkeley California, and one big difference was these people were as unhappy as people I’d left in the cities, but they didn’t seem to be as upset. I mean they were unhappy, but they were much calmer. I don’t know how to explain it exactly.

Katagiri: I understand.

Same person: So I mean, they were hungry, but they didn’t seem to care so much. Or you know, somebody died, but it wasn’t such a big deal as with people in the city. So some part was always just quiet. And I have also seen that in sick people: on the one hand they scream, but on the other hand some part of the mind just goes. That’s what my question to you was about.

Katagiri: Yes. But for instance, in Japan when I was at a temple, and the temple was very cold; the temperature was exactly the same as outside in the winter, no heating system. I didn’t feel happy or unhappy, because I had never experienced a wonderful house with perfect heating – I believed this is my life, so just accept it. So, no trouble. But if I know this… [Laughter.] My goodness! Just two days ago, [the power goes out]: Argh! [Laughter.]

So if you don’t know there is something different from the situation where you are, at that time there are no troubles, because you don’t know. But if you know, it’s big trouble.

But Buddhism is not discussing about that. Buddhism is that you have to know that [real] happiness, no trouble, when you are right in the middle of unhappiness. Because people don’t know what is real happiness. So right in the middle of unhappiness, [you] are not confused.

1:19:02 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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