April 6, 1983 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi explains the Five Ranks, a fundamental teaching of Zen Buddhism. (Warning: the archive audio cuts out before the explanation of the fifth rank.)


This transcript is in rough draft stage.

Archive Issue: The audio ends abruptly at 1:18:54.

Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org


Katagiri Roshi: Today I would like to explain the Five Ranks of Zen Buddhism. This is a kind of philosophical background for Soto Zen teaching.

The development of Chinese Buddhism might be divided into three periods. Perhaps the first period was between the first century and the fifth century, during which the Buddhist texts were translated. And the second period is maybe the sixth century to the [seventh] century, during which the teaching of Buddhism in China was established and systematized, after translating the texts. That is Chinese Buddhism: the T’ien-t’ai and Avatamsaka schools – school also means Buddhist psychology – and also the Nirvana school; several schools were established in those days. And the third period is from the seventh century to the thirteenth century: the Tang and Song dynasties.

During the first two periods, it was very difficult for the Chinese to experience directly a spirit of Buddhism, because during the first period of developing Buddhism, they really concentrated on translating Buddhist texts, and during the second period, they tried to systematize all the teachings of the Buddhist texts after translating them. So the philosophical system of Buddhism was already established, but still there was a lack of experiencing directly the spirit of Buddha’s teaching. And during the seventh to [thirteenth] centuries, the Tang and Song dynasties, Zen Buddhism was flourishing in those days, in order to experience a spirit of Buddhism directly. And then, in the history of China, very naturally the five schools of Zen are [founded].

But unfortunately, the more Zen Buddhism was flourishing, the more there were various understandings of the spirit of Zen Buddhism. That’s why many schools were established. And then very naturally among those many schools, we are very confused: what is the essence of Zen Buddhism? [This is] because it was too popularized, through various schools of Zen Buddhism. Look at Japanese Buddhism, there are various schools in Japan: Zen schools, Tendai schools, [unintelligible], Shingon schools, tantric schools, et cetera. That [reflects] how popular Buddhism was among the people. The more Buddhism is popularized, the more there is some lack of developing a spirit of Buddhism, and also misunderstanding the spirit of Zen Buddhism. Do you understand? [For something to be] very popularized, you have to explain using plain words in order to appeal to people. So very naturally, Buddhism is gradually getting popularized, but on the other hand, you can easily lose the spirit of Buddhism. So I don’t know what is good: should you popularize Buddhism in the modern age, or should you preserve the original spirit of Zen Buddhism instead of trying to popularize Buddhism among modern people? I don’t know what is better, which is good, which is bad. But we cannot escape from [either]. You have to teach Buddhism to the people. On the other hand, when you try to teach Buddhism, you individually try to focus on preserving the original spirit of Buddhism, that is very important for us. But when Buddhism is very famous and popular, people are really infatuated with it, because people believe that which is popularized is real Buddhism. I don’t think so; you have to be a little bit careful. Do you understand what I mean?

So, Tōzan Zen Master (Transcriber’s Note: Tōzan is Tung Shan’s name in Japanese), who lived [in the] ninth century, […] tried to restore the original spirit of Buddhism. That is one reason why he established this teaching of the Five Ranks of Zen Buddhism. The second purpose is that he tried to unify the teaching of all five Zen schools. In other words, beyond the teaching of the five schools of those days, what is the real essence of the teaching, the spirit of Buddhism talked about by Buddha? Not in terms of the teaching of each school; what is the real, original spirit of Buddhism, beyond the idea of denominations?

The same applies to Buddhism here in our days. Of course, in the beginning maybe Chinese Buddhism came to America, Japanese Buddhism came to America, Tibetan Buddhism came, various Indian religions and philosophies came to the United States. But look at those Buddhisms. You’re really confused: what is the real Buddhism? If you try to learn Japanese Buddhism, you don’t like it, because it’s very stinky. And if you try to learn Chinese Buddhism, or Tibetan, or Indian, you cannot be completely satisfied, because there are so many schools there, so very naturally you start looking around. That means you start to compare the Buddhism you have learned with others; then you start to grope for the best Buddhism for you. But you never find it. So finally, just confusion is left.

So I always tell you, the Buddhism that you study is best. You don’t believe this, but for instance, [take] the zazen you do. There are a hundred kinds of meditation in this world: East Asian meditations, Western meditations, Catholic, Protestant… many kinds of meditation there, more than a hundred. And then among them, you try to find the best meditation you want to do. There is no way to find the best one, because there are too many things. So finally you have to return to only one. That one is the meditation you are just devoting yourself into. That’s all.

Or gassho: If you study the book of Mudra (transcriber’s note: it is not clear what book he’s referring to), it explains many kinds of gasshos. And also if you study the gassho under a teacher, always every teacher gives you a different type of gassho. What is the right gassho?

So very naturally, not only Buddhism but anything, whatever it is – if something is popularized, you can find something missing there. On the other hand, you cannot always preserve the original spirit of Buddhism or whatever philosophy, without opening it to the people by teaching it. So there is some contradictory feeling there when you try. But we should be careful, anyway.

So that’s why you really want to practice just the simple practice, so-called zazen, individually. Don’t you think so? [Accepting] the shifting complications of human life – teaching and ceremony, philosophy and psychology, et cetera – you just want a simple practice. So then mainly the way you want to practice Buddhism is not to belong to the community, the sangha, and practice something that depends on the sangha itself. Because if you depend on the sangha, very naturally there are complications there in relation to the people who practice together. Very naturally, there is struggle there in the relationships, so you don’t want to belong to a community, you want to try to keep away those complications and trouble and just practice zazen. It seems to be fine – if you can. But it’s pretty difficult to do that. Because humans beings are too weak to preserve such a simple, strong, brave practice by yourself. So very naturally, we have to have to practice together, helping each other.

So very naturally, this organization, community comes up. But this is a culture. So this is important, but if you have a culture called sangha practice, then very naturally you can see something missing. You don’t want to do it.

The same applies to the development of Buddhism in history. During the Tang and Song dynasties, Zen Buddhism was really flourishing. Very naturally, five schools of Zen Buddhism [came about]. But finally, it caused people to be confused; it was very difficult to find the real essence of Buddhism. That’s why Tōzan Zen Master tried to emphasize what is the real essence of Buddhist practice, Buddhist spirit.

The same applies to Buddhism in the United States. There are many Buddhisms here. Well, you should study many kinds of schools; that’s alright. But the important point is, through the teaching of those denominations, you have to find individually what is the real essence of Buddhist teaching, beyond Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, or Chinese Buddhism. Beyond American Buddhism, too! Don’t see Buddhism in terms of the American sense. You must be a person, beyond human cultural background. If you see Buddhism in terms of a certain human cultural background, it is already limited. In that limitation of Buddhism, we cannot develop Buddhism, that’s why we have to think of Buddhism in terms of American sense, but simultaneously it’s not all we have to do. Still we continually have to see the real essence of Buddhism, beyond that American effort toward Buddhism.

So that’s why Tōzan Zen Master tried to unify [Zen]. Unify means discover what is the essence of the Buddhist spirit, beyond denominations. So that is the Five Ranks of Zen Buddhism. Historically, the teaching of the Five Ranks was described philosophically; it’s a really huge explanation. But here, [in the commentary on Case 43], this is a very simple explanation in gatha, verse. It is a poetic explanation appealing to human feeling, human emotion, instead of appealing to human intellect, philosophically or psychologically. So this is a very simple explanation.


First, let me read it. Or Cliff, will you read it?

(Cliff reads:)

Thus it is said:

The biased within the correct:
In the middle of the first night, before the moon shines,
No wonder, when they meet, they don’t recognize each other:
Each is hidden, still embracing the aversion of former days.

The correct within the biased:
At dawn an old woman encounters an ancient mirror;
Clearly she sees her face—there is no other reality.
Don’t go on mistaking the image for the head.

Coming from within the correct:
Within nothingness there’s a road out of the dust.
If you can just avoid violating the present taboo name,
You’ll still surpass the eloquent ones of former dynasties who silenced every tongue.

Arrival within the biased:
When two swords cross points, there’s no need to withdraw.
A good hand is like a lotus in fire—
Clearly he naturally has the energy to reach the heavens.

Arrival within both at once:
He does not fall into being or non-being—who dares to associate with him?
Everyone wants to get out of the ordinary flow,
But after all he returns and sits in the ashes.

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

Katagiri: Okay, thank you.


So the first rank is the biased within the correct.
The second: the correct within the biased.
The third: coming from within the correct.
The fourth: arrival within the biased.
Fifth: arrival within both at once.

The first two are the philosophical aspects of explaining the Five Ranks of Zen Buddhist teaching.

The next two are the teaching of the Five Ranks which are really alive in a person’s life.

And the fifth is what is the real original spirit of Buddhism. What is that which is pure? Purity means a state of being which is continually alive, boundlessly, under all circumstances. Wherever you may go, whatever you may do, under all circumstances, your life is really continually going, boundlessly. [This is] called liberation, freedom.

So what is the meaning of freedom, liberation? Liberation or freedom is the real, original spirit of Buddhism. What is this? Is this a teaching? Is this a matter of discussion? Is this something you can see through the six consciousnesses? Or is this something [where] you should completely ignore the function of your six consciousnesses? Whatever you say, it doesn’t really hit the mark of what liberation or freedom is in your daily living. So that is the fifth rank.

So the first two, those are the philosophical explanation. Philosophical explanation here doesn’t mean a certain doctrine in the philosophical sense which is open only to Buddhist teaching. That’s not the philosophical explanation here. Philosophical explanation of the Five Ranks means [a] natural principle, open to all human beings, all sentient beings – [it is] how they exist. Christianity or any kind of religion, they have their own terms or particular ideas, but if you take off those clothes or cultural background, then you become [just] a human or person, [the same] as the existence of trees, birds, snow. What is [this] original principle of existence? This is natural law, which is never limited by any dogmatic teaching. [That’s how] you should see the first two points.


First, The biased within the correct. Let’s look at [Note A]:

‘Correct’ symbolizes emptiness, nirvana; ‘biased’ symbolizes matter-energy, samsara. The intrinsic identity of emptiness and matter-energy, nirvana and samsara, and hence the complementary unity of wisdom and compassion, is basic to Mahayana, or Great Vehicle Buddhism.

So biased means relative, the phenomenal world. The correct means the absolute. A simple explanation of the five lines can be found in the book Zen Dust. Look at “The Koan of Five Lines” in Zen Dust, explained by Isshū Miura and Ruth Fuller Sasaki.

The first line of the verse:

In the middle of the first night, before the moon shines, …

That means complete darkness. But in the darkness, many things exist. The problem is that your consciousness cannot reach [them], that’s all. But regardless of whether your consciousness can reach [them] or not, there are many beings existing in the realm of darkness.

No wonder, when they meet, they don’t recognize each other: …

We cannot see them, but they exist, and also they meet each other. But they don’t recognize each other.

Each is hidden, still embracing the aversion of former days.

“Each is hidden” means there is something, though [it is] unclear, uncertain. There is something, even though it is very dim.

“Embracing the aversion” means something beautiful which is inviolable. Embracing aversion means total beauty, perfect beauty, including aversion, suffering, pleasure, good and bad, all things. Embracing aversion is including all. Aversion and pleasure and peace are interconnected with each other, and then that is the total perfect beauty.

“Of former days” means there is something, but it is unclear, dim, pretty uncertain, but it is something beautiful you cannot explain.

In the Lotus Sutra Chapter Four, you can find the Parable of the Poor Son. Do you remember? The poor son used to be the son of a very noble, rich family. But unfortunately he wandered all over the country for fifty years. One day he came to his father’s home by chance, and his father found him, […] his son. But the son didn’t recognize him as his father. So the father tried to get him to stay in his home, but he ran away. So the father sent one of his servants to ask him to work at his father’s home as a janitor – cleaning the toilets, cleaning the house, et cetera, anything that what was a low-level job. So the son started to work there, but still he didn’t recognize that the man was his father. So again and again his father tried to let him recognize the house or the property, that the treasure belonged to him, but it took a really long time. But finally, the son realized. The house was his house, the father was his father. So that means the son wandering for fifty years as a beggar, seems to be very poor, dirty, wearing dirty rags – but nevertheless, there was really something beautiful which was indescribable. That is that he used to be son of a noble, rich family. That means you are Buddha; you are greatness of existence.

This is not a particular son of a [particular] noble rich family. If I explain this [story] philosophically, you say “that is a philosophical explanation, which seems to be extra” – but it’s not. Because it’s always illuminating in your life, but your consciousness, your knowledge, your senses cannot see it, that’s all. But someone who really realizes that point very easily sees that beauty which is indescribable.

[Tape change.]

… We are Buddha. Not “we have Buddahood” – we are Buddha. Even though apparently you are poor, wearing dirty rags, or you have a miserable life, or you are not bright – nevertheless, right in the middle of this poor, miserable life, still there is something beautiful which you cannot ignore.

This is a natural law; everyone possesses [this]. The natural law is not something you should try to understand, analyzing and synthesizing. Of course Buddhism explains this philosophically, if you want to study that. But after studying, first of all you have to participate in this natural law. That means totally accept this.

Totally accept means in your daily life totally accept the natural law, [that] you are Buddha. You are beings illuminating something beautiful which no one ignores. That means that under all circumstances we have to look at human existence with a profound glance, seeing deeply into the original picture of existence. First, that’s all we have to do. Even though you don’t understand, you should accept [this], that means listen to this with your heart. Listening to that rhythm of natural law by your intellectual sense is something coming after you really accept, you really listen to the rhythm of natural law with your heart.

Later I will tell you, with your heart means that practically, you must be patient, continually. You don’t understand natural law, because you have never experienced it, but you are right there. If you are right there, all you have to do is just continue to live there. You should live [there] with your true heart. If you try to live [there] with your intellectual sense, with your six consciousnesses, it’s very hard. But that is something coming after total acceptance of your existence with your heart. Then intellectual understanding comes, step by step.

That’s why Tōzan Zen Master says in the first line, “In the middle of the first night, before the moon shines.” Everything and everyone, all sentient beings, exist totally in equality in the realm of darkness. You never see them through your intellectual sense. That is darkness. But we meet each other. We meet each other but we don’t recognize it. We meet this rhythm of natural law, but we don’t recognize it; that’s all.

So what should we do? “Each is hidden, still embracing the aversion of former days.” What is that? That is that we should believe there is something which is very dim, very unclear, but it is something beautiful which you cannot ignore.

[It is] just like the dim image of the mother for the baby. [The mother holds it the baby in her arms]; the mother’s face is dim, unclear, for the baby, just like in the darkness. A dim image of the mother’s face comes out, illuminated by the light of a candle in the darkness; just like that. Just before you become completely blind, you can see a little bit, but you cannot see exactly. So the image of the mother for the baby is just like that, because the baby’s consciousness doesn’t work exactly. It’s very dim and unclear, but it’s really [there]. Baby is completely settled there, in the realm of the dim image of the mother’s life. Baby’s life is exactly alive. It’s not a matter of discussion. All baby has to do is just stand up there and depend on it, totally accept.

That is natural law. So if you want to understand natural law philosophically or psychologically, first of all your life must be firm, standing straight, in the realm of Buddha’s world. That means looking at the total picture of existence with a profound glance, continually. That is just to stand up. When you do zazen, completely beyond “useful” practice or “useless” practice, completely beyond whether you want to do zazen, just be present there, firmly. At that time, probably you can see a dim image of zazen’s face, appearing in the darkness. But it’s pretty good. If you see it, that’s pretty nice.

So that is the first rank. The biased within the correct means the relative within the absolute. The absolute [is like a] vast expanse of horse pastures, which is called truth. All sentient beings exist there, completely beyond your speculation.


The second rank: the correct within the biased.

The absolute is not something separate from the relative. The absolute is exactly right in the middle of the relative. For this, it says:

At dawn an old woman encounters an ancient mirror; …

“At dawn”: that is space. There are discriminated entities in the spatial dimensions; that is at dawn.

“An old woman” [represents] the many entities which exist in the time process.

“Encounters an ancient mirror”: ancient mirror means the truth, the absolute. Ancient does not mean old; ancient means completely beyond old and new. It means truth.

So at dawn, all sentient beings in the realm of space, in the realm of time, encounter the realm of the absolute. That means regardless of whether you understand or not, we are constantly encountering there, reflected in the ancient mirror, the absolute.

So for this, practically, what should we do? Very naturally, according to the first rank, you have to stand up straight, constantly; this is the first attitude. Believing or not, stand up straight, every day. Secondly, try to research and learn human existence until you can touch the bottom of the river. That’s pretty hard. But that is continuous effort. If you stand up there, you cannot take a nap in the realm of standing straight. You have to stand up there in the realm of natural law, and next you have to make continuous effort, until you can reach the bottom of the river. That is the second rank.

So “at dawn an old woman encounters an ancient mirror” – at that time you can really reach the bottom of the river. At that time,

Clearly she sees her face—there is no other reality.

Exactly you can see your own face. But this face is not an old face or miserable face or beautiful face. No; it’s not. If your face is reflected in the mirror, the absolute, by reaching the bottom of the river, then at that time there is no other reality; exactly you are one with the bottom of the river. You are the bottom of the river. Because there is nothing to interrupt between you and the bottom of the river, because the water is completely limpid and clear. So if you see the bottom, that is you, exactly you.

But if you see that is the bottom separate from you, that is already that you see your face in the mirror [as usual] in the common sense. At that time, it’s dualistic. At that time, you can see, “Oh, it is beautiful,” or “it is miserable.” But if you touch the bottom of the river, you cannot say anything, you cannot comment on what your life is exactly. Is it good? Is it bad? No. All you have to do is just see your face in the mirror. There is no other reality, no other truth. That’s all you have to do.

That is continuous effort: stand up straight, according to the first rank, but secondly, make continuous effort, until you can see the bottom of the river. Make continuous effort itself is to reach the bottom of the river. Remember this point! After making the effort for many, many years, and then you can see the bottom of the river – that’s not real effort. Real effort is identical with seeing the bottom of the river. That means you have to stand up straight first, whatever happens, then next, make continuous effort to move toward the bottom of the river. That’s all we have to do.

That is a very quiet practice. No commentary, nothing to say. No showiness. So that’s why if you see your life deeply, you cannot say anything. Very quiet. While you can comment on your life, it is not yet touching the bottom of the river. If you understand really deeply, there is nothing to say. Very naturally understanding human life deeply makes you quiet. But it doesn’t mean keep silent; no. From this silence, from this no-words, lots of words come up, naturally – just like a spring comes up from the ground.

That is the second rank. So philosophically means in terms of natural law. You have to participate in natural law. How? Completely beyond your speculation, continually participate there, be present there, stand up straight there constantly, under all circumstances. That means, please live. The truth, to live, is to live. This is the first point. Because you are great. Whatever you comment on your life, anyway you are great. So please stand up there. And then next, let’s move toward the bottom of the river. That is continuous effort.

Don’t go on mistaking the image for the head.

This comes from the Lankavatara Sutra (Transcriber’s Note: apparently he meant the Shurangama Sutra). There was a man named Yajnadatta who was really a crazy person, who looked at his eyes and eyebrows reflected in a mirror and enjoyed how handsome he was. Every day he looked at his face in the mirror, enjoying his handsome looks. One day, I don’t know why, he stood up in front of the mirror but he couldn’t see his head, so of course he couldn’t see his eyes and eyebrows, because there is no head. So he was very confused; he ran out of the house, looking for his head, screaming, “Where is my head? Where is my head?” And then Buddha said, “Yajnadatta, your head is on top of your body. Touch it.” He touched it, and said, “Oh, yes.”

We always do this. Even though you don’t understand the rhythm of natural law, it’s always with you. But if you cannot see it through your six consciousnesses, you’re always confused, and running out of the house and screaming. But this is really a perverted way of life; it continually makes you confused. That’s why Buddha says, “Your head is on top of your body; why don’t you touch it?” Touch means you should touch your life with your heart, not with your intellect, not with your six consciousnesses; they come after touching your life with your heart, and then naturally your consciousness starts to work. Otherwise, you don’t know how to use the function of your consciousness.

So that’s why here it says, “Don’t go on mistaking the image for the head.” This [image] is a philosophical attitude to human life. It means, regardless of whether you understand or not, you should just face [this attitude] directly.

And then next, how should we do [this] in our daily life? That is the third and fourth rank.


The third and fourth ranks are the teaching of the Five Ranks which is alive in a person’s life. The third, coming from within the correct:

Within nothingness there’s a road out of the dust.

All sentient beings are exactly coming from the absolute; that means you cannot separate all sentient beings – the phenomenal world, the relative world – from the absolute. If you understand intellectually, then very naturally you separate. But realistically, in terms of real reality, you cannot separate. You cannot separate your body from your mind, mind from your body. You cannot separate good from evil, evil from good. [They are] simultaneously there. So finally, what is real reality? Real reality is really… well, something. You don’t understand it. This is your life, which is present in that reality. That’s why philosophically [speaking], how we should live [is], please pat your head, stand up there, and make continuous effort to live, with your best effort.

And next, the real reality we are present in is what? This is completely nothingness. [It’s] just like a pivot of nothing. Just one dot of nothingness. A dot still has width and length, but a pivot of nothingness has completely no sense of width or length or thickness; exactly nothing. That is the pivot of nothingness. This is exactly your reality. That’s why [it is] “coming from within the correct.” Your reality really comes from this reality, this truth: the pivot of nothingness.

That’s why it says here in the first line, “Within nothingness there’s a road out of the dust.” It’s completely a road out of the dust; [there is] nothing to contaminate. If you say it’s a dot, it’s already something contaminated, because you can [get] the dot. But a road completely out of the dust means the pivot of nothingness, with no sense of width, length, or thickness.

If you can just avoid violating the present taboo name, …

In China, it is a very [correct] attitude toward people, particularly toward a superior, that we don’t use the whole real name. For instance [with] Dogen, Do-gen is his real name; if we don’t the use real name, [we might use] Gen-zenji, Gen Zen Master, something like that. That’s why very often we see just one word, one [character], instead of two [characters], like we don’t say Dogen Zenji, we say Gen Zenji. That is a polite attitude in terms of Chinese custom. That means you cannot touch the real name. You cannot touch the pivot of nothingness; it’s the real name, but its very difficult to touch.

… You’ll still surpass the eloquent ones of former dynasties who silenced every tongue.

But even though that pivot of nothingness is very difficult to touch, it is the reality you are present in. [So] you cannot take a nap there, you have to say something. Even though you sit down quietly, still that means speaking up, about your life, about others.

So, “you will still surpass the eloquent ones of former dynasties” means [for example] there was a person named [unintelligible] who lived in the Sui dynasty in China, who was a very eloquent speaker, a very bright person. Tōzan Zen Master who established this system of Soto Zen teaching lived in the Tang dynasty, after the Sui Dynasty. So in other words, Tung Shan Zen Master was exactly the same as [this] eloquent person in the Sui dynasty, because Tung Shan explains the pivot of nothingness, which is called the real reality you are present in. If you look at the real reality you are present in, there is nothing to say, because always two ideas come up. You cannot evaluate, you cannot say good or bad, right or wrong, so finally, all ideas drop off. But there are still lots of words [coming] from this. That’s why he is silent, but he is a really eloquent person, talking about this.

So that means, practically, what should we do? Be patient. Because your real reality is the pivot of nothingness, a road completely out of the dust. You are there constantly; if so, practically, in your everyday life, under all circumstances, don’t be panicked. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, don’t get panicked; that means [don’t be] confused. Under all circumstances, be patient, quiet. Make your mind calm, imperturbable. That is a pretty difficult practice for us, because we pretty easily get [used to] making noise under all circumstances. So being quiet, being patient, is a very difficult practice for us. That’s why we have to practice it. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be necessary to practice it. We have to practice something which is difficult for us, which we cannot bear. That is patience.

So the third rank, practically, [means] we have to practice patience every day. This is our basic practice.

Patience doesn’t mean just to accept; it is not a passive way of life. Patience is to accept your life while simultaneously moving toward the future in a positive way, doing something. That is called the passive way. So that is silence. Silence is not to be silent without doing anything. In the silence, we have to say many things. That means doing something with your body, your mind, and your heart.


The fourth rank: arrival within the biased.

When two swords cross points, there’s no need to withdraw.
A good hand is like a lotus in fire—
Clearly he naturally has the energy to reach the heavens.

[In] the third rank, we have to be present in the realm of silence, from which many words spring up constantly. And then the fourth [is that] if you live there, you become a very particular person, who no one can imitate. This is not only [about] human beings, but first of all, look at yourself and your friends. You always criticize somebody or praise somebody, but beyond criticism or praise, people are really great entities. That’s why everyone is qualified to be present every day, under all circumstances. This is the real picture of you and everyone, all sentient beings. Microphone, table, floor, tatamis, cushions, toilet paper, et cetera – all are exactly the same, because everything has a certain reason why it exists, completely beyond your speculation, your judgement or evaluation. That’s why Buddha says, we are Buddha.

So from this point, “When two swords cross points, there’s no need to withdraw.” It is just like swordsmanship, facing each other with swords. There is no way to escape, no way to move forward, no way to withdraw. Because microphone is microphone; you cannot abandon this entity. You cannot abandon others’ life; you cannot abandon the life of toilet paper. You have to accept this, you have to face it directly, with your heart. So there is completely no need to withdraw, no need to move forward, no need to get the win or the loss; no conclusions, breaking the ties. You are you, I am I, table is table. Both are completely equal.

At that time, you are called a good hand. Good hand means [an expert], an adept. An adept of sport, adept of art, adept of speaking, adept of Buddha’s teaching, adept of human life – that is called a good hand. A good hand is totally [that] you are great, completely beyond human speculation. (Transcriber’s Note: The pointer to this case, covered in the previous talk, refers to “the forge and bellow of an adept.”)

What do I mean? “A good hand is like a lotus in fire.” A good hand is not like a lotus blooming in the water; that lotus is very common. A good hand means like a lotus in fire. That means under all circumstances, you are great.

Look at your life. If you always evaluate your life according to data on nutrition or health, scientific understanding, then according to this you have to sleep eight hours every day; if you don’t sleep, you cannot keep your body in good shape, and your brain doesn’t work. So you have to continually keep your body in good shape; in order to do this, you have to follow the scientific data. At that time, you cannot get up at four o’clock in the morning, come to the zendo and talk for thirty minutes about some aspect of Zen Buddhism. It’s ridiculous! It’s nonsense; it’s completely against the evaluation of human life according to the data, scientific understanding. So if you don’t want [to], please keep your life according to the data, the scientific, psychological, philosophical understanding; that’s alright. But if so, you become a lotus blooming in the water, that’s all. That means you are a very ordinary person.

Remember this. My teacher said, when I complained a little bit about life (in the monastery)…

(Archive Issue: The audio ends abruptly at this point.)

1:18:54 end of audio

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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