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The ancestors all convey Buddha Mind – magnanimous mind, compassionate mind, and joyful mind – to the next generation. This is why Feng Hsueh Zen Master explains Buddha Mind as being just like an Iron Ox. Katagiri Roshi further examines this case. Should we add our own ideas to Buddhism?


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(Archive Issue: The online audio for this talk seems to include only the first side of the tape. Any discussion of the verse or notes is missing.)

0:00 start of recording

Let me explain again, simply, the main case we studied last time, before making remarks about the Verse. In the main case, one day Feng Hsueh Zen Master, at the government headquarters in China, talked about some aspect of Buddha’s teaching.

Bodhidharma came to China to bring the Buddha’s teaching from India, for the sake of conveying Buddha Mind. Buddha Mind means you are great. Buddha Mind is characterized by three points. One is magnanimity: big mind. Second is very [attentive], compassionate, and kind. The other one is: very joyful. Joyful is not necessarily a sense of pleasure, but joy is spiritual joy coming from the bottom of your heart. Simultaneously it brings on physical joy; that means happiness in everyday life. So that is Buddha Mind.

Buddha Mind is very big, vast. That is magnanimity; very magnanimous, very tolerant. And the second point is very kind, compassionate. Compassionate just like grandparents. Grandparents are very compassionate, very kind. They don’t talk so much, but if you go see them, they are really kind and compassionate, [teaching] from their body, their mind, their silence. That is one of the characteristics of Buddha Mind. The third point is [great] joy coming from the bottom of your heart. Understanding, realizing very deeply the picture of the dualistic world, and it makes you walk calmly, steadfastly. Very steadily, solidly walking on the path, day-by-day: that is joy.

So Bodhidharma went to China to teach Buddha’s teaching to the Chinese, for the sake of conveying this Buddha Mind to the Chinese people. The main purpose of Buddhism is, I told you during sesshin, learning the good example [of what] the Buddhas and ancestors did in the past. Through the teaching, through the actual teacher, you have to learn. Through the scriptures, through the chanting, [through] Buddha’s teaching, teisho – talking, and practicing – we have to learn the good example which Buddha’s patriarchs did in the past. And you have to be completely the Buddha as well as the patriarch. So you have to be exactly the same person as you follow. You practice under the guidance of that person.

I told you during sesshin, in Science you have to learn the good example left by the ancestors in former times, and study it completely. [Like] physics. [Or another example:] if you want to be a good American, you have to learn the past, and you have to completely master the good example left by the ancestors in the former time. And then you have to add your new idea, coming from mastering of the good example left by the ancestors. And then you become famous. Science, physics, biology, psychology, whatever you do: learn the past. Completely you should learn, without throwing away your egoistic sense – you have to promote the ego, and get the new ideas, and add your new ideas to the mastering of the good example left by the ancestors. And then you become a great scientist, a great psychologist.

Look at the professors at the university. If you want to keep the position of professor, you have to always study. You have to write a book! So everyone struggles to write a book. [He chuckles.] In order to what? Not learning completely perfectly the good example left by the ancestors, [but] because they want to add their own new ideas, and they want to convey their own new ideas to everybody, in order to be famous. That’s very common. But in Buddhism, you have to learn the good example left by the ancestor, and you have to be exactly the same type of ancestor, but you shouldn’t add anything to it. That means, egolessness. And then, from this, you can create a new life of your own, exactly [like] blooming flowers. That means Buddhism is not putting the individual life into the teaching; you have to learn completely and become the same type of ancestor you have practiced under the guidance of. And then, throwing away your egoistic sense. And then you completely bloom; you let the flower of life force bloom exactly. That is creative life. It’s not adding new ideas. No ideas. But if you learn, completely throwing away, then you can create your own life. That is creative life.

So Buddhism, wherever it may go, for a moment […] helps people to create individual creative life. So in China, in Japan, in Tibet, Buddhism helps the people in every country to create their own creative life under all circumstances. Look at the histories. Buddhism doesn’t bother any original culture, primitive culture. It accepts all things, and then helps, promoting all the culture. That is Buddhism.

So if you want to learn Buddhism, you shouldn’t add any new ideas. [He chuckles.] If you want [to add new ideas], you shouldn’t practice Buddhism, you should go to school and become a famous scientist; that’s better than studying Buddhism [for that]. But if you want to create your own life, [you should learn Buddhism.] Whoever you are. Even stupid people have their own creative life, because even the tiny violet flower, blooming in the heart of the mountain [where] nobody knows, it is entitled to live in this world, without comparing to anything else. The same applies to human life. Whoever you are, you can create, you can live. You [are] entitled to live, creating your own life. It’s not help in the egoistic sense. First of all you have to learn to completely forget your ego sense.

For instance, studying calligraphy. In Japan, the way you study calligraphy, you have to completely follow the teacher’s way. Again and again you have to write [the calligraphy], exactly the same. And then if you can write the same calligraphy as your teacher does, that’s not the final purpose, it’s not the main purpose. Next, you have to go through, go over. That means, if you master through and through, then you can go over, you can go beyond. And then next your own creative calligraphy comes up, blooms. It’s really true. While you are really caught by your teacher’s type or so-called stinkiness, it’s not good enough, so you have to go beyond this. For this, you have to learn through and through, again and again. That is Buddhism. That is the Buddha Mind. So Buddha Mind is one point which we have to convey to people from generation to generation, just like pouring the water from one cup to another, from century after century – that is Buddha Mind.

So Bodhidharma tried to convey Buddha Mind to the Chinese. Shakyamuni Buddha also did the same thing; Bodhidharma and Dogen Zenji and all the patriarchs did like this. So from now on, we have to do this. If you receive Buddha Mind, you are exactly the same as Shakyamuni Buddha, patriarchs, Dogen Zen Master. That’s why Dogen Zenji says, if you practice exactly in the same way as ancestor did, you become Shakyamuni Buddha. So the practice [today] is exactly Shakyamuni Buddha’s practice, so we are Shakyamuni Buddha.


That’s why Feng Hsueh Zen Master talked about this Buddha Mind. He explains Buddha Mind is just like an Iron Ox. “The workings of the Iron Ox” means in China, I told you – I have never seen it, but it is said there is a huge iron ox as protector of the Yellow River. That is a huge Iron Ox. So if it is an Iron Ox, it is dead, it’s not alive. But if it is a protector, guardian of the Yellow River, respected by Chinese people and celebrated religiously every year: if so, Iron Ox is not something dead, it’s alive. That’s why it is respected by the people. But if it is Iron Ox, it is dead. But it’s not dead; actually it’s powerful among the Chinese. So Buddha Mind is just like that: it’s kind of dead, because you don’t understand where it is. It looks dead; you cannot see it. That’s why Buddha Mind is kind of dead. But actually it’s really alive in our daily life, physically and mentally. I told you three characteristics of Buddha Mind. (Magnanimous; compassionate; joyful.) It really works every day. So that is the Buddha Mind. It is open to not only a particular person but to everybody.

So it works everyday, but we cannot see it, that’s why from this point it’s kind of dead. But it’s not dead; it really works. So that’s why he says the Mind Seal is formed like the working of the Iron Ox. So that means, in other words, just like he said here: “when taken away, the impression remains; when left there, then the impression is ruined” – just like a Japanese seal. You can have your name engraved on a piece of wood or on a stone, your name or your pen name, et cetera. And then you paint something, and then you write your name and put the seal on. So it’s just like a seal: you have to press down on the paper. But if you want to see your name on the paper, you have to have to take the seal away from the paper, and then you can see the name. If you leave it on the paper, you cannot see it. So that’s why here it says, “When taken away, the impression remains; when left there, then the impression is ruined.” You cannot see it. So that is kind of [like] Buddha Mind. While you really want to see Buddha Mind, trying to grasp it, at that time it’s like leaving a seal on a piece of paper, so you cannot see it. Because while you are seeking for Buddha Mind outside, it means you don’t have a Buddha Mind. If you don’t have a Buddha Mind, you have to see the Buddha Mind outside of you; at that time, you never see the Buddha Mind, because you don’t have a Buddha Mind. How can you understand the Buddha Mind when you see the Buddha Mind? You know diamond: if you don’t know any idea of diamond, then if you see the diamond, you don’t know, don’t pay attention to it. But if you have experience and you have certain memories in your head, through a book, through your experience, [then] if you see the diamond you immediately say, “Oh, it’s diamonds,” immediately you want to [capture it]. That’s means diamond is not outside, diamond is already in you. So while you are seeking for the truth or Buddha Mind outside of you, it means you don’t have Buddha Mind. But it is not true; you have Buddha Mind. That’s why you are seeking for the Buddha Mind outside, [it’s] exactly that you don’t know. It’s just like your Buddha Mind doesn’t work. So it’s just like leaving your seal on the paper: you cannot see the Buddha Mind.

So anyway, Buddha Mind is already in you, so you have to press down on the paper and then take it away. It means: practice. That is everyday practice for us. Zazen: if you do zazen, that is just like pressing down the seal on the paper. So do zazen. And then at that time, take it away means you have to go through and through. You have to go through and through thoroughly; you have to have a thoroughgoing practice of zazen, and then that means taking away. You can go beyond this; that is called taking away. It means you become one with zazen [and] you. That is a practice.

And then at that time, Buddha Mind blooms. Even though you cannot see it, even though your feeling doesn’t catch anything at all, [still] that practice is exactly great cause of letting the flow of your… anyway Buddha Mind blooms, every day. That is the best way. That’s why “when taken away, the impression remains; when left there, then the impression is ruined.”


“But if neither removed nor left there, is sealing right or is not sealing right?”

That is the Zen Master testing the monks. That is a very tricky question, because you cannot pin down what the Buddha Mind [is]; it’s dead, but it’s not dead, it’s alive. But how do you know? If you want to see your name on the paper, take it away; that is thoroughgoing practice. On the other hand, don’t: why are you seeking for something outside of you? That is just like leaving the seal on the paper, so it doesn’t work.

That is our actual practice, so all you have to do is just practice like this. But if you explain it, you don’t understand what it is. Nothing to pin down. So the Zen Master says, “But if neither removed nor left there, is sealing right or is not sealing right?” It’s a very tricky question.

The Elder Lu P’i was among the monks listening to this teaching, and he suddenly came up in front of Zen Master Feng Hsueh, saying, “I am the Iron Ox, and don’t press anything at all on me.” He is a really brave monk! [He chuckles.] Right in front of Feng Hsueh, talking about the Iron Ox, which means Buddha Mind. “I am already Iron Ox” means “I am already Buddha Mind.” [The monk is saying,] “You said, ‘when taken away, the impression remains; when left there, then the impression is ruined’ – that is a ridiculous discussion! Please leave me alone!” [He laughs.] “Because I am already the Iron Ox. Don’t touch me! If you touch me, saying, […], if you don’t take it away, well you have a problem. You should take [it] away immediately, and then you have a real thing. If you say so, don’t tell me in that way, because I am already Iron Ox.”

That is really brave. But Feng Hsueh said at that time,

“Accustomed to scouring the oceans fishing for whales, I regret to find instead a frog crawling in the muddy sand.”

[Lu P’i’s] answer is pretty good. Feng Hsueh says, “Oh, you are great! I expect from you something just like fishing for whales in the ocean.” If you catch a whale from the ocean – you know a whale is huge, so a whale stirs up the ocean’s water. [He laughs.] If you catch a whale, the ocean becomes very calm and [clear]. So [he says], “I expect you [to be] just like fishing for whales, making the ocean waters clear and calm. But unfortunately [it’s] not; it looks like I catch a little frog crawling in the muddy water.” That is not putting him down. This monk Lu P’i is really proud of himself, [saying] “I am Iron Ox,” and that means, “I am already Buddha, so don’t touch me. Don’t say anything; I am already Buddha.” That is just like catching a whale, making the ocean of the human world very calm and clear – but unfortunately, it is not! So he said it looks like catching a frog crawling in the muddy water. It’s just [tiny], because he is still really attached to idealistic Buddha Mind. But he understands, he knows what Buddha Mind is, that’s why he is very brave, appearing in front of the Zen Master, saying, “I am Iron Ox”; in many ways he really gets a taste of [that] Buddha Mind. But Zen Master Feng Hsueh doesn’t accept this directly, because he wanted this monk to check once more, again and again, until his understanding of Buddha Mind penetrates his skin and muscle, until it is settled down in his heart. So he checks it. So [his first words] are this very piercing, pithy remark, piercing his heart. That is, “I regret to find instead a frog crawling in the muddy sand.”


And then Lu P’i couldn’t say anything, because the Zen Master immediately took his ideas, took his understanding away, so he was all of a sudden speechless. So Lu P’i stood there thinking. Hsueh shouted and said, “Elder, why do you not speak further?” P’i hesitated, and Hsueh hit him with his whisk, and said, “Do you still remember the words? What did you say? You are an Iron Ox? Do you remember this? If you said so, why don’t you say [something] about this? If you are Iron Ox, you have to say something.” But [Lu P’i] couldn’t; that’s why Feng Hsueh still really checked again and again, in many ways. And then as Lu P’i was about to open his mouth, Hsueh hit him again with his whisk. So first, second, the Zen Master hit him with a whisk. That hitting him with a whisk means giving him a big shock, a really big shock. That big shock really settled him down… regardless of whether he understands or not.

And then next there is another person, the Governor, who practiced under the guidance of Feng Hsueh for many years, and he said, “Both of you are pretty good, both 50-50, you know? This monk said bravely, ‘I am Iron Ox’ – it’s not wrong. Even though he cannot say [anything], he was speechless and just stood silently, [still] it’s not wrong. He knows; his silence already speaks about that meaning of Iron Ox, because you cannot touch it, you cannot pin down what Buddha Mind is. It’s huge.” This is the original nature of your life.

This morning, I watched the TV news, and a famous actor and producer talked about their life of many years. They became famous and are invited by schools and communities to speak about their life, et cetera. So wherever they may go, there are always particular questions always asked. People ask them how to make it work. How do you make it work? In other words, how do you make your life work well? And they said, “[To that] final question I always say, ‘I don’t know.’” It works; actually their life works. But if they try to make an answer to this question, whatever they make of [it], always he has to say, “I don’t know.” But I don’t know is not I don’t know. They know, because their life really works; that is [that] they know already. But what they know is what they don’t know. Do you understand this? [He chuckles.] It’s not a puzzle. If you really understand your life, you don’t know.

Whatever you can say about Buddhism – just like me, always talking about emptiness – that is really stupid. If I know emptiness, I cannot say anything. But emptiness is working in our daily life, or so I have to say, because you want to know. [He chuckles.] That’s why I have to say. Which is wrong. [Laughter.] You are wrong; I am wrong. Well, anyway, forget it. [Laughter.] Finally, if you really understand something, really you don’t know.


The Governor said, “The Buddhist Law and the Law of Kings are the same.”

That means “both of you are pretty good.” The monk Lu P’i says “I am Iron Ox.” Then he couldn’t say anything. But it is not wrong; it’s really he understands so well what the Buddha Mind is. But anyway what Feng Hsueh wants to do is to make doubly sure – double sure, triple sure, again and again – he wants to make sure of the Buddha Mind he has understood. For this, his idealistical sense must be taken away. It’s not so easy to do that. So very naturally some Zen Masters are very strict and very rough behaving, sometimes shouting. But sometimes, nothing to say, always sitting; many kinds of Zen Masters, if you read [the histories]. One Zen Master was always sitting, facing the wall: every time a monk came to his temple to ask about Buddhism, he was always sitting facing the wall without saying anything. So, [there are] many ways, but even [so], this is very strong way of teaching.

In Japan there were two famous Zen Masters: Bokusan Nishiari Zen Master (Nishiari Bokusan, 1821-1910), the other one is Hioki Zen Master (Hioki Mokusen, 1837-1920). Both of them were the abbot of Eiheiji Monastery. One was very strict: he never smiled; he was always very strong and very rough. His face was always a very rough face. Whenever anyone went to see him, he never smiled; that’s why everyone was very scared. But the other Zen Master was smiling very much, and he never scolded anybody. One of the Buddhists asked the Zen Master who never smiled: “Why do you always make your face without smiling?” The other Zen Master who was always calm and never scolded, smiled and asked, “Why do you do that?” [He said,] “It’s none of your business.” [Laughter.]

(Transcriber’s Note: the online audio seems to include only the first side of the tape for this talk.)

42:31 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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