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Katagiri Roshi discusses the Verse to Case 39 of the Blue Cliff Record, “Yun Men’s Flowering Hedge”. What is the real picture of a flower? There is an interesting statement of what samsara is, which is related to Sandokai (The Harmony of Difference and Sameness). The marks on the scale are on the balance arm, not on the pan. The rhythm of being means including all sentient beings.


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(Archive Issue: The beginning of this talk is missing, and about six minutes in the middle is repeated.)

0:00 start of recording

(Transcriber’s Note: Since the beginning of this talk and most of the previous talk are currently missing, here is the Case and the Verse from The Blue Cliff Record. When we join this talk, Katagiri Roshi is discussing the Verse, which refers to the Case.

The Case:

A monk asked Yun Men, “What is the Pure Body of Reality?”

Yun Men said, “A flowering hedge.”

The monk asked, “What is it like when one goes on in just such a way?”

Yun Men said, “A golden-haired lion.”

The Verse:

A flowering hedge:

Don’t be fat-headed!

The marks are on the balance arm, not on the scale pan.

“So just be like this”—

How pointless!

A golden-haired lion—everybody look!

From The Blue Cliff Record, translated by Thomas Cleary & J.C. Cleary.)

… [the answer] seems not to be related. Because [the monk asks], “What is the truth?” And then immediately the answer is just a flower. This is a very typical type of Zen question and answer; it’s always like this. It’s very difficult to understand.

But the important point is that it seems there is no relation between question and answer. That is a really great point which we have to take into account. Nothing to pin down, no relation between them, so there is nothing there – but within the nothingness there is a great “clue” for figuring out the crucial point: what is the truth? So let me say a little bit.


What is the truth? The answer is, “Just a flower.” At that time, the verse says,

Don’t be fat-headed!

Don’t be caught by the word. [That is the] first point. First of all, let’s see the flower very deeply, [more than] what you can see with your naked eye. What is the real picture of the flower you can see? What is it? That is the first step you have to take.

Dogen Zenji always says, “If you want to know Buddha Nature or the truth of human life, you should closely observe impermanence.” And this is also important. Impermanence means the fact [of] how the phenomenal world is going. You have to pay attention to a flower which is nothing but just a part of impermanence, changing constantly.

So anyway, let me say, what is the real picture of the flower? At that time the flower, from what you can hear now, is what? A being which its life is growing? Or a being which its life is declining or fading away? If you see carefully the flower which you can see with the naked eye, very naturally there are two points you can find: it’s growing; on the other hand, it’s not growing, it’s fading away. So very naturally, if you really want to know the total picture of the flower’s life, finally you ask yourself, “What is the flower? Is the flower a being which is developing or growing?” No, negative. So what you have grasped in your hand is negated, because it’s fading away. And the other answer, “Is the flower is a being which is fading away?” – it is also [negated], no, because it’s alive now. Alive means it’s growing; life is growing and developing and alive. So it’s not fading away, it’s [not in] decline.

So logically, if you really carefully pay attention to the total picture of the flower, very naturally there are two answers you can get. But either one of the answers: The flower is a being which is developing? It’s immediately negated. On the other hand, the second answer is also negated. If so, logically, what is the flower? The flower is a being which is negative. So finally, you cannot say what is the real picture of the flower which is alive. You cannot say, because the real picture of the flower which is alive from moment to moment, logically always has two answers – fading away, growing – but both are negated. So very naturally, logically, what is a flower? What is the truth of the flower? No flower.

So the flower you can see with your naked eye is nothing but a natural being. But you have to pay careful attention to natural being as a flower. What is it? Very naturally, that’s why Dogen Zenji mentions that first of all, we have to pay careful attention to impermanence. Impermanence means both growth and decline are interrelated, interpenetrated; that is called impermanence, change. You cannot grasp anything. If you grasp it, it is immediately negated.

Logically, whatever you grasp, it is negated. So through seeing deeply into the phenomenal world, very naturally you can get the logical answer that is emptiness. Very naturally [it’s] emptiness, or sometimes egolessness, no-self. Because the real flower has no self. You cannot say it is growing. You cannot say it is fading. The growing and fading are nothing but a partial understanding of the total picture of the flower, which is constantly alive. So whatever you say, it doesn’t hit the mark. So very naturally, the logical understanding becomes a very negative expression.

And also, this is a pretty good answer to the question, “What is the truth?” The answer and question are naturally related. For instance, “What is the truth of your life?” Your life you can see with your naked eye is nothing but the natural being. But you should pay careful attention to natural being: how it is going, how it is structured. So very naturally, simply speaking, your life consist of the two points: weakness, strength. Well, if you can get the one answer, “I am strong,” immediately it is negated, because you cannot say I am strong. On the other hand, you cannot say “I am weak.” What you can get in your hand is immediately negated. So very naturally [you ask], “What is the truth?” And then the answer is: “You; your life.” But your life is what? Strength. Weakness. But both are expressed as a negative. So what is the truth of your life? It is no-self. No particular self, so-called strength or weakness. This is a very logical answer. That’s why in Prajnaparamita [it says], “No eyes, no ears, no tongue, no body, no mind” – always a negative expression. This is a very logical answer, that’s why Prajnaparamita is a logical Buddhist explanation of human life, the human world; because that answer as a negative comes from very deep insight of the human world, human life.

At that time, question and answer are related very naturally. You understand [them]. So what is the truth? Katagiri’s life. And then that question and answer seem not to be related. But if I say, “What is the truth? No-self as Katagiri” – at that time, we understand it. It is very understandable, because through your eyes you can’t understand who you are. Finally you cannot pin down who you are, what is your life.

So this is a pretty negative answer, very naturally. That is logical. But if you answer just like this, understanding very deeply, logically, the answer is related with the question, but at that time there are two points that come up. One point is that you have to always say, what is the truth? Your life is in the truth. The truth is represented as a concrete state of being called your life. So that is a very logical explanation. That’s why a rose is not a natural being, the rose is in the kingdom of the truth. So the rose is nothing but the concrete expression of the truth, in the kingdom of the truth. You can say the truth is God; whatever you say. So very naturally you can explain like this; you can say so. That is a very logical understanding. That is one point.

From the first point, if you say the rose is found in the kingdom of the truth, at that time the rose is not a natural being. So rose becomes represented as a negative; always negative. And also, the truth is found in the blooming of the rose, seen in the kingdom of the truth. So very naturally, truth is also negative. So very naturally, the answer always comes up in a negative way. That is one point.

The second point: as long as you answer this question like this, there is always language, words by which you explain. Even though the rose is found in the kingdom of the truth, the rose is not a natural being. But still that is nothing but an explanation, because very naturally here is I, and then you see the rose, which is not rose [as] natural being but rose seen in the kingdom of the truth. So very naturally, you create a dualistic world: I, not nature. [Or] I, nature.


So [the] first point seems to be good, you know? You have to believe this point. Rose is not rose, rose is in the kingdom of the truth; you should believe it. But this is still questionable, because it is nothing but a logical explanation.

And then secondly, always there is a verbal explanation there. By verbal explanation, you create [a] dualistic world, because who uses the word? I. So I comes first, and then nature. Very naturally, the rose seen in the kingdom of the truth: I, rose. So it’s dualistic. Very naturally, no matter how long you explain like this, you cannot be free from the dualistic world. Constantly you do it. That is samsara.

So very naturally, Zen Buddhism always emphasizes the very crucial point that you have to participate in the real picture of the rose, the real picture of the flower, which is really, fully alive.

For instance, I walked around the lake today. In this sutra, Sandokai, there is a very interesting verse. Let me read it:

Light and dark are [relative] to one another…

It seems to correspond to walking: right leg, left leg. How can you walk? With your legs, with your feet. Right leg, left leg. So:

Light and dark are relative to one another like forward and backward steps.
All things have their function; it is a matter of use in the appropriate situations.

(Transcriber’s Note: “Like forward and backward steps” might be a misleading translation. A quick internet search suggests that Zoketsu Norman Fischer and perhaps others agree. The translation we’re currently using is “like the front and back foot in walking,” which matches Katagiri Roshi’s explanation.)

This is an interesting point you have to pay careful attention to. For instance, today I walked around the lake. At that time, if you see your motion, called to walk, at a distance, always there are two points you can grasp. That means, right leg, left leg. Because, what do you mean by walking? I walk, of course. I walk means my feet walk. My feet consist of the two, right or left. So if you see the picture of your motion called to walk at a distance, at that time two questions comes up: right leg, left leg. Does to walk come into being with right leg? No, negative. Can to walk be brought into being with the left leg? That’s negative also. So, to walk consists of the two negative parts: no right leg, no left leg. Because right leg, left leg doesn’t [live] its own concept, so-called “I am right leg” or “I am left leg,” because it is constantly moving. For instance, when you move constantly, when you dance on the stage, practically there is nothing to insert into your motion, but still your consciousness is very “sneaky.” That’s why consciousness still can sneak in to your motions. “Are you all right? Is your dance perfect, or not?” Sneaky. Strictly speaking, there is no space to let your intellectual sense get into, because this is the characteristic of perfect motion, with wholeheartedness. But if you see this motion, even for a moment, even slightly, at a distance, that motion becomes [“frozen,”] and then that motion is analyzed: so-called right leg, left leg. But simultaneously right leg, left leg both are negated, because in order to walk, you cannot say to walk is the motion of the right leg, and you cannot say either [it is] motion of left leg, so both are completely negated.

Logically, you can say the true picture of to walk is a negative expression of right leg in motion, left leg in motion – two negatives. You can say so; that is a really good explanation. But on the other hand, as long as you say so, still you cannot be free from dualism, because you still look at your walk at a distance, by explanation. As long as you do this, you cannot participate in just walking. You cannot participate [by] always looking at [the explanation]. As long as you are explaining like this, there is always verbal explanation of the total picture of your walking in motion, logically, but it is not [a] real answer. So Zen always emphasizes that that is fine, but what is the real picture of to walk? What is the real walk? You have to participate. Participate means completely the right leg in motion, the left leg in motion; both are constantly interpenetrated. You have to participate in this constant interpenetration of right leg, left leg in motion. That is called practice. That is a practice.

So you have to participate [in the] real picture of the flower. How? Well, if you see the flower which is growing, all you have to do is take best care of the growth of the flower, with your wholeheartedness, instead of comparing it with a flower fading away. Anyway, take best care of it. That is participating directly in the real picture of the flower as the truth.

So that’s why flower is not flower; flower is your life. Flower is the life of flower as well as taking care of the life of you – your life, exactly. So practically speaking, you have to participate in the flower, in the rhythm of the flower’s life.

So that’s why this verse says, “A flowering hedge.” What is the truth? It says, “A flowering hedge.” But don’t be cheated by the word! By the word, you just see the surface of the flower’s life. If you see the flower’s life just on the surface of its life, always you are going to the right, to the left, because its life consists of two points: growth, decline. So you have to always go into the growth, into the decline, going back and forth. This is called samsara. So you have to see something more important. Instead of explaining the real picture of the flower, you should participate in the real flower’s rhythm of life. So that’s why next it says, “Don’t be fat headed!” Don’t be cheated!


And then it says,

The marks are on the balance arm, not on the scale pan.

You know the old-fashioned scale? On the “stick,” there are marks, not on the pan. You have to put something on the pan, but the marks are always put on the stick. That means we have to participate in the real function, instead of verbal explanations.

If you see the [marks] on the pan, it is nothing but the verbal explanation. Which seems to be good; but explanation is explanation. So very naturally, that verbal explanation is also negated, finally. And then it leads you to be silent. Finally, you become silent. If you become silent, silence leads you to participate in real life, because [there is] nothing to pin down. You are strong, you are weak – you cannot say so. So there is nothing to pin down; if so, why don’t you do your best to live? If you see strength, take care of the strength. If you see weakness, take best care of the weakness. Because there is nothing to pin down. But if you see weakness, you immediately compare it with strength, because that is a logical understanding. Logical understanding always appears as two aspects of one being: just [like] a piece of paper with two aspects, back and front, always.

So very naturally, you have to see the mark on the stick. The stick means practice: you have to participate in, you have to pay careful attention to the function itself, the process of your aliveness.


And then next it says,

“So just be like this”—

This comes from the monk’s question. Yun Men said, “A flowering hedge.” The monk asked, “What is it like when one goes on in just such a way?” If so, you always participate in the function of your life, the working and the process of your life, instead of seeing the function or working or process of your life at a distance. Participate.

If so, just participate. If you want to do zazen, just do zazen. Because logically, there is nothing to pin down, [nothing] to get an answer from the zazen. Why do you do zazen? Always two answers comes up. It’s pretty good! But on the other hand, it’s not good, because there is lots of pain, not much growth in zazen. So what is zazen? Nothing to pin down logically. As long as you are looking at zazen at a distance, always there are explanations: such as, “Zazen must be Buddha.” Sure. “You are in zazen, zazen is in you.” You can say so. This is the teaching, anyway. But still you should keep this in mind, don’t forget this: as long as you teach like this, you immediately create dualism. Because if you explain, who explains? I. So I, and then zazen in you, you in zazen. So, dualistic. You never find a good answer. So finally, you are confused.

Finally, if you want to do zazen, then what should you do? You should participate in zazen itself, which is functioning. You should function. You should make your life work. You should make zazen work. That’s all we have to do.


So we say that is just to practice shikataza. So yes, “If so, just be like this.” So, all we have to do is “just do zazen”? What do you mean? So next it says,

How pointless!

It’s really pointless if you think it, because if you think, you are trying to find [it] logically. If you try to see something logically always, that is pointless. It’s pretty hard to say so. So if so, what is it that you just participate in? [Is it] the function zazen? Or the function of your life in zazen, or zazen in you? What do you mean? Then finally it says,

A golden-haired lion—everybody look!

I told you before, “a golden-haired lion” is just [an] explanation of the total function, zazen and you, without creating a gap. That is called freedom. But what is freedom? It’s really logical. If you say, “What is freedom?” “What is total function?” “What is, ‘Just do it?’” – what do you mean? If you say, “What do you mean?” it’s already you being logical; your head becomes logical. So very pointless.

So within the question “what do you mean,” there is an answer, because “what do you mean” points out to direct participation. Directly participate in real things, and on the other hand, to negate the logical answer. To negate the logical answer is to make your eyes open, to see what is the real thing. Very naturally, that means to communicate or participate directly in what zazen is. So there is no particular answer, but always the question comes up. As long as you think something, always this question comes up.


(At this point, the recording skips back to just before 33:20, and repeats about 6 minutes of content before continuing.)


… So very naturally, it says, “Everybody look!” Watch out. Constantly watch out.

Constantly watch out doesn’t mean to be critical. “Watch out” means positively we have to make our life work. You are constantly participating in the process of your life, under all circumstances. That is called “golden-haired lion.” It’s working constantly.

But what is it? “I don’t know; what is it?” If you say, “what is it,” the answer becomes pointless. But “what is it” as a question has a great answer, because it has two suggestions. One is it always negates your logical answer, so finally, pointless. Secondly, you should participate in the real function of your daily life, with wholeheartedness. You cannot participate in your life just as you like, because logically, you have two aspects, strong and weak. So if you do just as you like, you become confused. So very naturally, we need a good example the ancestors left behind for us, as a mirror. So just look at this example, and then follow, and then just make your life work, day by day.

And then if you see the teaching, how wonderful it is, very naturally people really get stuck in the teaching, so-called “the teaching is best.” Then if you see somebody who does not follow the teaching, immediately you criticize them. That means your real function is not functioning; the real function of your life is tied up with “teaching.” The teaching is just a mirror. You have to look at [yourself], and then follow this. And then the real function of your life must be constantly mirrored. That means total function – everyday life. That’s why it finally says, “A golden-haired lion – everybody look!”

So what is the [practice]? You must be constantly a golden-haired lion; but what is that? Everybody look! Look out, watch out. Constantly, from moment to moment, we have to [be a] golden-haired lion; that is called truth. Because truth is nothing but that which emanates continually from inside of the perfect quality of existence. Energies, constantly. Briefly speaking, it is just the rhythm of life. That is the truth: just the rhythm of being.

Your rhythm of being means including all sentient beings; [they are] exactly the same. So you cannot see only your rhythm of life. The real rhythm of your life is the rhythm of being; being means with all sentient beings. So very naturally, you can say, “One is all. All is one.” So you are you, but you are not you, you are the universe. The universe is the universe, but the universe is not the universe separate from you – so the universe is you.

That is the truth. So very naturally, truth is nothing but the rhythm of life inherent in human beings, and trees, birds, pebbles. That’s why Yun Men said, “A flowering hedge.” Maybe you might say, “a pebble.” You might say, “Just a frog.”

Okay. Next, please read Case Forty.

52:50 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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