March 21, 1984 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi discusses the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, focusing on the first foundation: contemplation of the body. This series of talks examines the “Thirty-Seven Elements of Bodhi” (Sanjūshichi-bon-bodai-bunpō) chapter of Zen Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, which explains traditional Buddhist teachings in Mahayana terms. In this talk, he introduces the topic of why we must go beyond the idea of purity or impurity of the body. He discusses how samatha (tranquility) and vipassana (insight) function together, and weighs in on the practice of meditating on the decomposition of human corpses. Also: the meaning of “facing the wall,” and why the word Zen is overused.


(This talk is split into three files in the audio archive: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Part 1

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Katagiri Roshi: There are four kinds of mindfulness as one of the traditional Buddhist practices. The four kinds of mindfulness are:

  • Contemplation of the body as impure.
  • Contemplation of feeling as suffering.
  • Contemplation of the mind as impermanent.
  • Contemplation of existence as insubstantial. (Or “all dharmas are devoid of self.”)

These are the four stages of mindfulness, which are very general and traditional in Buddhist practice.

(Transcriber’s Note: These four kinds of mindfulness are often called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, or Four Abodes of Mindfulness, or another translation is the four areas of present-moment awareness. The above description of the four kinds is from the first paragraph of Sanjūshichi-bon-bodai-bunpō, “Thirty-Seven Elements of Bodhi,” the fascicle of Shobogenzo referenced in this series of talks.)

(Transcriber’s Note: Although Katagiri Roshi uses the word impure in this talk, starting in Talk 3 he uses not pure, or not-pure. In some – but not all – cases where he says impure, it may be helpful to substitute not pure, which carries less of a moral connotation in the West, or not-pure, which may carry a different sense altogether. He discusses this further in Talk 3.)

1 - 1:38

First of all I would like to explain the contemplation or observation of the body as impure. Generally speaking, it is considered as [contemplating that] the body is impure in the common sense, because human beings really attach to the human body or human life as pure, emphasizing strongly their wealth, their position, their family’s status, their cleverness, their property, et cetera. Very naturally we create too strong an attachment to these things. That’s why Buddha emphasizes to consider the body as impure: in order to be free from the attachment to the human body.

For instance, I always tell people, the more you live out your life with very hard effort, [then] the more you want to emphasize how wonderful your life is, and you want to give it forcibly to others. This is really arrogance; you are really arrogant with your life. If you look at your parents and grandparents, who have lots of experiences on the basis of hard work year after year, very naturally they really attach to their own lifestyles. We respect their lifestyle because that was very important for them, and also we can learn lots of things from their lives. But I don’t think it is necessary for them to attach to their own lifestyle, because that is really prejudice. So very naturally, a child doesn’t follow this; the child is naturally against it. The same applies to our lives. In many ways – social status, position, and your lifestyle, or your viewpoint, whatever it is – we always believe our viewpoints on the human world are “pure”; that means my views are “right”. That is attachment or prejudice, which is called wrong view in Buddhism.

That’s why in ancient times Buddha Shakyamuni tells his disciples and followers to practice this mindfulness, contemplating the body as impure. Not only in Buddhism, but also in Christianity, in monasteries they practice this, looking at human skeletons. That is very common, not only in Buddhist practice.

1 - 8:01

But Dogen Zenji understands this practice very deeply, so his teaching is quite different. He gives this teaching in Shobogenzo.

Shobogenzo is already translated into English, but we don’t understand it completely when we read it. Even the Japanese don’t understand it. If you translate it, it’s just like reading the Japanese. If you just read it, it doesn’t make sense. But it’s very deep understanding.

Here is one translation by Nishiyama. First of all I want to read it, but I don’t expect you to understand it. If you read this explanation of mindfulness in Japanese, it’s kind of like repeating a magic spell. When I was at Eiheiji monastery, I didn’t understand why Dogen Zenji had to explain this deeply. Traditionally it’s pretty easy to understand: contemplate the body as impure, it’s very simple. So why did Dogen Zenji have to explain this practice more deeply? I didn’t understand it. So in your whole life, you have to try to understand this one, again and again. This is very important for us.

But most people don’t understand it, particularly this chapter. The title is “The Thirty-Seven Conditions Contributing to Bodhisattva Practice”. This chapter is very difficult to understand because he explains the whole traditional Buddhist practice but completely beyond the traditional understanding. So it’s a very difficult chapter. If you understand it, you will really touch the deep sense of Buddha’s teaching, common not only to priest life, but penetrating into everybody’s life, and also all sentient beings. You can really taste it. But until you can reach this deep understanding… well, it takes time.

But even though you don’t understand, I have to say something. That’s the best attitude. Let me first read the translation by Nishiyama:

“Observation that the body is impure” is observing that the body is a bag of skin that covers the entire universe of the ten directions. This becomes the true body, and therefore transcends pure and impure. If there is no detachment, there can be no attainment of this observation. If there is no body there can be no attainment of practice, teaching, or observation of the body’s impurity. Yet the attainment of this observation has already been actualized, so we should know that it is gained through detachment. The attainment of this observation appears in such daily activities as sweeping the grounds and wiping the zazen platform. If we practice like this for months and years, it will become an absolute fact, covering the great earth in its pure suchness.

(This appears to be from Shobogenzo (The Eye and Treasury of the True Law), Volume 2, translated by Kōzen Nishiyama.)

This paragraph says that practice of this mindfulness, contemplating the body as impure, is taking care of the human body beyond the idea of purity or impurity. That is the point. But Dogen also explains why we have to do it. In ancient times this practice of contemplating the body as impure was done by monks; why is it he has to say contemplating the body beyond the idea of purity or impurity? The explanation is here, so little by little, we want to study it.

1 - 16:00

First of all, he says:

Observation that the body is impure is observing that the body is a bag of skin that covers the entire universe of the ten directions.

Usually we understand the contemplation of the body as impure is taking the body as impure. But he doesn’t take the human body as impure; he takes the human body as beyond impurity or purity. The human body you observe is nothing but a bag of skin, but on the other hand it is the entire universe; that is what this sentence says. Your human body is nothing but a bag of skin but on the other hand it is the universe means your body is Buddha. So take care of your body as Buddha, beyond good or bad, right or wrong, purity or impurity.

For instance, there are four very basic dimensions of human health: we have to take care of your skin, four limbs, nutrition, and also mental or spiritual life, in order to keep your body and mind healthy.

But the skin doesn’t mean only the skin. If you look at the skin and you feel someone is beautiful, at that time you can say he or she is beautiful. Of course you can say so, but on the other hand, you don’t know what’s going on inside of the skin. Even though the skin is healthy, you don’t know what’s going on inside of the skin or behind the skin, you cannot see it. So the skin is healthy, but the skin is not healthy. It means that the skin is the total picture of human life.

In a sense, the human body is always sick. But as a whole, you are not sick; you are pretty good. So are you sick? No, you are not sick. But are you pretty healthy? No; more or less, we have lots of sickness.

Your body is nothing but a bag of skin, but on the other hand, it is the universe. Universe means you cannot pin down whether your skin is good or bad, pure or impure; you cannot say so, because it’s big. Your skin is connected with mental life, and also your four limbs, which means your activities. If your activities don’t work well, it’s pretty hard to keep your body healthy. So you need to take really good care of the human skin, the physical body, and nutrition, and on the other hand, human activities are very important for us. If you have a lack of human activities, you cannot keep your body healthy. And mental life, this is also important.

So even though your human body is healthy, still your mental life is not healthy sometimes, or your activities are not good enough, or there is some problem with your nutrition. So in many ways you have lots of sickness – but on the other hand, as a whole, you look healthy. Pretty healthy – but on the other hand, not healthy. So what is the idea of “health”? We don’t know. Because if you really want to keep your human body healthy, you have to take care of human activities, nutrition, and mental activities or spiritual life. They’re all connected with each other. Spiritual life is really vast; connected with astrology, the function of the stars, the planets you have never been to – that is also spiritual life and your lifestyle. So you don’t know; it’s really vast.

That’s why Dogen Zenji says immediately in the first sentence, “The observation of the human body as impure is that which a bag of skin contemplating the body is the entire universe of the ten directions.” (Transcriber’s Note: The actual sentence is, “Observation that the body is impure is observing that the body is a bag of skin that covers the entire universe of the ten directions,” but this version seems interesting in itself.) The body you are observing in meditation is nothing but a bag of skin, but on the other hand it’s not, it’s huge, because you have to see the human body in the universal perspective, otherwise, you don’t understand human bodies. Otherwise you cannot keep the human body healthy. Because it’s connected with human activities, spiritual life. So you don’t understand it.

If we try to practice this mindfulness traditionally, you always say, “observing the human body as impure, watching the human skeleton.” That’s fine. But it is nothing but the moral sense, moral practice; it’s not religious practice. If you do religious practice in the moral sense, you never get a peaceful mind, a peaceful life. Religious practice in the moral sense is just like usual life: always you have to go forward, always you have to get a better practice, you have to do it, always. Finally, such religious practice makes you irritated, restless; it doesn’t make sense for you. So very naturally we have to consider again and again what religious practice is. We have to go beyond religious practice in the moral sense. That is very important for us.

1 - 26:16

I use the word observation or contemplation; I don’t know. In Sanskrit we say vipassana; vipassana is insight or discernment.

According to the Six Pāramitās, which is also one of the traditional Buddhist practices, we have concentration and wisdom. Concentration and wisdom always function together; you can’t separate them. If you are explaining them, you can separate them, but actually they function together. So in a sense, concentration means samatha and vipassana working together. Samatha is quiescence, tranquility, stillness, or sometimes samadhi, one-pointedness. And wisdom, vipassana, means insight, discernment.

Insight or discernment is to see a distant object clearly. The “distant object” is the source of existence. Existence means the phenomenal world: human life, the human world. [Seeing that] is insight. How can you have this practice of insight? That is tranquility. How can you experience tranquility? That is zazen. If you are very tranquil or still, quiescent, then simultaneously you can observe or contemplate the source of the phenomenal world. That is called vipassana.

The source of existence, the source of the phenomenal world, [doesn’t have a] sense of comparison. Pramā in Sanskit means comparison or resemblance. (Transcriber’s Note: It’s not clear whether pramā is the right word here. Possibly pramāṇa?) So [the source of existence is] exactly pure, nothing. If you are tranquil in zazen, simultaneously this is nothing but the experience of touching the source of the phenomenal world, without any sense of comparison, before you are conscious of your own experience.

Tranquility means samadhi, we say, or one-pointedness. In other words, tranquility or quiescence means to abide firmly in zazen, in one-pointedness, in right-now-right-here. That is samatha. Simultaneously this is nothing but the experience or clear observation of what the source of the human phenomenal world is, exactly. That’s why vipassana is clear observation of the source of the phenomenal world, but samatha guides you or takes you to truth itself, simultaneously. Our consciousness cannot reach it; that’s why we don’t know, that’s why we are struggling. Our mind is very busy, so we cannot reach it. But all we have to do is just to keep going, just like this, nothing else. But we don’t know that.

That is observation or contemplation.

1 - 32:56

In zazen we practice facing the wall. According to Bodhidharma, wall meditation means observation of the wall, looking at the wall. Looking at the wall doesn’t mean you look at the wall. The wall is emptiness. The wall is the source of existence; there is nothing there. So doing zazen, facing the wall, means abiding firmly in zazen, right-now-right-here – and then, what can you experience? This is emptiness, nothing. But nothing doesn’t mean nothing, because simultaneously vipassana means you can touch very deeply the source of the human phenomenal world. That’s why in the Nirvana Sutra it says, “If you want to see suchness, the truth of the human world, you have to see it through meditation, zazen.” That’s why doing zazen is very important for us.

And the contemplation of the body: I told you, in this case the body is both the body and the mind, in the modern sense. Then the human body means the human body, and nutrition, and also human activities, and spiritual life. So you have to observe the human body, including nutrition and activities, spiritual life. All are connected.

So what is the human body? We don’t know what it is; you cannot pin it down. Nothing to say means completely your body is emptiness. It’s vast. Finally, it is the entire universe, that’s why we say “the entire universe”. And “the ten directions”: The ten directions means the spatial dimensions and also the dimension in time. So your body is connected with all sentient beings which exist in space and time. That is your human body. So that’s why you cannot pin down what is your human body. At that time, that body is called Buddha’s body. Beyond purity or impurity, we say Buddha body. Or technically, we say dharma body: dharmakāya. Dharmakāya is completely beyond your speculation. Anyway, your body is dharmakāya.

That’s why first he speaks like this. That’s why “the observation that the body is impure is observing that the body is a bag of skin that covers the entire universe of the ten directions.”

1 - 37:44

[The next sentence is:]

This is the true body, and therefore is observing the body as impure, which transcends pure and impure.

It says “transcends pure and impure” – this is okay, I understand it, but literally Dogen Zenji says something more alive:

This is the true body, and therefore is observing the body as impure, which is vividly hopping along.

Literally he says “hopping long”, or “jumping along”, or “vividly living”. The observation of the body as impure is just like something leaping along, vividly, constantly. It means you cannot pin it down, because it is living, working constantly. Your body is leaping, jumping along, living vividly.

That’s why you don’t know. Even though you pick up breathing, you don’t know what the breathing is. Every moment breathing is different. Every day of sesshin is different. You always expect, “In this sesshin, I would like to have a good sesshin.” Of course, but if you’re jumping into it, sesshin is not an idea, sesshin is something alive, because you do it. Your human body is something alive, so […] finally the sesshin is going in a completely different way from what you have expected.

So whatever you say – sesshin, or human body, breath, your eyes, [your eye nerves], activities, spiritual life – all are something alive. And then, you have to observe or contemplate that human body which is vividly living. Not an idea; not the human body separate from mind; not the human body separate from the trees, birds, or human activities. We have to see the human body which is vividly alive: living, jumping, hopping along. Because when your body is really hopping along or living, you don’t know what the human body is. That is called transcend. So transcend your ideas – your idea of purity or impurity, or good or bad. You don’t know, you cannot pin down …

Part 2

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… That’s why your body is the true human body.

Rinzai Zen Master said, “The true human body is coming and going from every pore of your body.” But a monk didn’t understand this, and asked, “What is that?” Immediately Rinzai grabbed him and shook him, saying, “How stupid you are!” and pushed him away. (Transcriber’s Note: This is probably referring to Case 38 of the Book of Equanimity, “Linji’s (Rinzai’s) ‘True Person’”.) That was because the human body is considered very naturally as just the human body, completely separate from activities, nutrition, spiritual life, and the trees and birds, [but] if you do that, you cannot keep your human body healthy, as a Buddha. Real health is to take care of human life as a Buddha, beyond purity or impurity. That is really perfect health.

That’s why Dogen Zenji says, “This is the true body.” Your body is nothing but a bag of skin, but simultaneously it is something beyond a bag of skin. What is this? The universe. Your body is working with the universe! It is really true. That’s why it is the real, true body. You cannot separate what is the bag of skin and what is the universe; it’s working together.

So, this is the true body, and therefore it is observing the body as impure, which is vividly living.

2 - 2:26

And next he says,

If there is no detachment, there can be no attainment of this observation.

But literally he says “no jumping-around” or “no living”:

If there is no [vivid livingness], there can be no attainment of this observation.

It means, if you are really merging with your activities, you don’t know what you are doing. Your activities are very clear, you know pretty well what you are doing, but right in the middle of the process of the activities, you don’t know; observation doesn’t work. But it’s very clear.

Just like sleep. When you sleep like a rock, you don’t know, you don’t perceive what’s going on. But sleep exists, very clearly. And also your human body observes very clearly, but your perception doesn’t accept the observation, so [relation] doesn’t work. You cannot contemplate [it], but sleep is constantly going. Your human body, your human mind, exactly participates in sleep. At that time, there is no sleep. That’s why here it says that no detachment – but literally he said no jumping-around-ness or no livingness – is no attainment of observation. Because you don’t know. But sleep is there, very clearly.

So, no observation. This is just like zazen; samatha. If you do it exactly, you experience tranquility. But the real pure sense of tranquility is you don’t know. All you have to do is constantly abide firmly in zazen; that’s it. That is called tranquility or quiescence, if you want to put a name on it. But actually, you don’t know. No observations, no contemplation there.

And also he says,

If there is no body, there can be no attainment of practice, teaching, or observation of the body’s impurity.

[Detachment means] “no body”. If you see sleep as a result, as an idea, you are caught by the idea of sleep. But if you participate exactly as one with the function or process of sleep, there is no sleep. If so, there is no object. If there is no object, there is no subject either, because subject doesn’t make sense. Do you understand? According to a sentence: subject, verb, and object. If you see the object as an idea, you are constantly caught by the object. But if you participate in the object exactly, there is no object. No sense of sleep, because you are exactly one, so no object. If there is no object, there is no reason why we should have a subject, so no subject. That’s why it says “no body” here.

So if you do zazen, exactly no zazen. If there is no zazen, then no observations, because I don’t have a body. That’s why it says here that no body is no attainment of practice. There is no space to say “I am practicing”. Also, no attainment of teaching and no attainment of observations. Nothing to say. So constantly all you have to do is to abide firmly in zazen. That’s it. That’s all we have to do.

But we always make an effort to do zazen in terms of a result. We want to always see the result of what we have done. At that time, you forget the process of doing zazen, or participating in zazen. First of all, you have to participate in zazen; that is most important. And then you can see the result. But we don’t do it that way in everyday life.

Even if you don’t see it or you don’t notice this, our life is going just like this. So that’s why we have to explain this. But actually we don’t believe it, because we always first look at the result of what we have done, and then sometimes it is great encouragement for us, sometimes disappointment for us. So we give up, or we try to do it more… up and down, up and down, always.

2 - 9:45

So no body is no attainment of practice, no attainment of the teaching, no attainment of observation. But, he says:

Yet the attainment of this observation has already been actualized…

What is real observation? Real observation is constantly being with the process of meditation, doing zazen. But the idea of observation is to see something in the distance; that is [what we usually call] observation. That’s why we have to observe something closely or discern something in the distance. But that’s not real discernment. Real discernment or observation is to be constantly with it.

For instance, fires. You should observe fire, you should discern fire. When you see the fire in the distance, you are always thinking, “it is fire, it is fire” – analyzing, synthesizing – but it doesn’t make sense for you, because the fire doesn’t burn your body or your mind. So what is real discernment or real observation of fire? Put your hand in the fire. Immediately, you can observe real observations.

So if you observe the human body as Buddha, it is actually no observation, but observation has already been actualized. This is the total picture of the real reality you live in. That’s why Dogen Zenji says, “Yet the attainment of this observation has already been actualized.”

… so you should know that it is attainment of jumping-around-ness or living-ness.

What is the observation that has already been actualized? It is nothing but the jumping around; just activity. Just bubbles coming up constantly; just like energies gushing out. Like a spring gushing out from the ground, constantly coming up. That means nothing but the process, nothing but the practice, nothing but activity, constantly there.

That’s why he says, “so you should know that it is attainment of jumping-around-ness”. That means transcendent. We say transcendent, but we don’t understand it. What does transcendent mean? It is not that you should keep away from something, going to something else; that’s not transcendent. Transcendent is that you are always there, but there is no place for you or your object. You are sick, but you are always right in the middle of sickness, so no trace of sickness is left; that is called transcendent. It’s not to escape from sickness. You have to really be working constantly, just like spring water coming up. So that’s why it says it like this here.

2 - 14:39

The attainment of observation lies in such daily activities as sweeping the grounds and wiping the floors.

That is coming from a koan (Case 21) in the Book of Equanimity. Tenshin Sensei gave us that story in his last talk. It is a conversation between Dogo Zenji and Ungan Zenji; Ungan and Dogo are in the relation of dharma brothers.

Ungan was sweeping the temple grounds. Dogo passed by, and said, “You are working very hard, aren’t you?” So Ungan said, “There is one person who doesn’t know how hard he is working.”

So completely beyond hard or easy, there is another person here. Apparently, Ungan is working hard, but on the other hand, Ungan says, you have to see another person who doesn’t work hard.

Then Dogo Zenji said, “If so, that is a second moon.” That means the dualistic world. You want to say there is a person who is working hard, or there is another person who doesn’t work hard – so you want to say something in the dualistic world.

And then Ungan lifted the broom and said, “Which moon [sees] this?”

That is the whole story. That’s why here it says, “The attainment of observation lies in such daily activities as sweeping the grounds and wiping the floors.”

Because of sweeping the grounds with “which moon?” …

This is [referring to] Ungan lifting the broom and saying, “Which moon?” Like the truth, or hard work, or not hard work: which moon?

… or sweeping the grounds and wiping the floor with “the second moon” …

“The second moon” means, if you yawn, your zazen becomes yawning zazen. If you sleep, zazen becomes sleeping zazen. If you chase after thought, your zazen is also sleeping zazen… thinking zazen. Zazen is exactly one, connected with the whole universe. You cannot pin down what the zazen is. Do you do zazen, or is zazen helping your life? No. Real zazen is working together with the whole universe. But it appears in many ways. If you yawn: yawn zazen. If you feel bored: bored zazen. Many zazens appear. Those are second moons.

“Which moon?” means you have to do it, just do it. Just do it. But on the other hand, if you see it, there is a second moon: sleeping zazen, yawning zazen, bored zazen. You can see the many moons. Those are the second moons, the dualistic world. That makes you confused: what is real zazen? But all you have to do is just do zazen. That zazen is what? You do zazen with which moon? Sleeping zazen? No. Or enlightenment zazen? No way! [He chuckles.] Or [doing] zazen? No, but you can say so. So finally the zazen you do is what? What is that? What kind of things do you do zazen with? Your human body? Or Buddha? Nothing. Just sit.

That is Ungan holding the broom and saying, “Which moon sees this?”

And finally Dogen Zenji says,

… the attainment of observation is suchness of the entire universe.

Doing zazen is exactly suchness, the vastness of the entire whole world. It’s not suchness of your tiny human world; what you do in zazen is exactly manifesting the vastness of the entire whole world. You don’t know; there is no observation, and no bodies. But, zazen is clear. Exactly like sleep. If you sleep, you cannot perceive sleep, so no object. If there is no object, no subject. So who sleeps? You don’t know. But you sleep, clearly. So second moon, third moon is there. But practically, all you have to do is, lift your broom. And then, you have to say, “You sleep with which moon?” Just sleep.

2 - 21:34

So that is the first part of “The Thirty-Seven Conditions Contributing to Bodhisattva Practice”, where Dogen Zenji explains the meaning or significance of this practice of mindfulness. What does it mean to observe the body as impure? It is completely different from the usual, traditional understanding.

According to the traditional understanding, you should accept your body as impure. That is a completely dualistic understanding. That’s why you have to see always skeleton, skeleton, always skeleton. I don’t mean this is wrong; it’s pretty good. But it is a moral understanding. And also this practice is open to just a particular kind of person; it’s not [even]. How can usual people practice, people who don’t have this opportunity? How? If they don’t have a skeleton, they cannot do it; and if they don’t want to [contemplate a skeleton], they cannot have a chance to practice this mindfulness. It’s not [here]. But this teaching given by Buddha is universal; if so, how can we accept this practice as universal? For this, we should understand this practice very differently.

So first of all, simply speaking, please accept your human body as Buddha. You say, “What do you mean by Buddha?” You don’t understand Buddha, I don’t understand Buddha… so forget it! If you don’t understand the meaning of Buddha, forget it. Buddha is something beyond the idea of purity or impurity. Working together with all sentient beings, this is called the total picture of your human body. You cannot pin it down. Temporarily, we call that Buddha. Everyone has this Buddha. So why don’t you accept the human body as Buddha, and take care of it? That means, without any prejudice, from moment to moment you must be fresh. You must have fresh eyes to observe your human body as Buddha, constantly.

So that is what? That is nothing but everyday practice activities: sweeping the grounds, wiping the floors. You wash the dishes every day, but washing the dishes or wiping the floor is not separate, as you believe, it’s very profound practice for us. Our activities are not separate from Buddha’s teachings; that’s why Buddha’s teachings are very close to our everyday activities. But people misunderstand everyday activities in the common sense. [Everyday activities are] very deep, profound, to educate and deepen your life. We don’t understand that; that’s why Dogen Zenji has to constantly explain it like this.

Do you have some questions?

2 - 25:50

Question: Roshi, when you say “no trace,” do you mean no conscious perception?

Katagiri: If you have a conscious perception, you are already caught by the process of subject and object, so very naturally you separate. But right in the middle of process or activity, there is no perception of object.

Same person: So that’s “no trace”?

Katagiri: No trace. Just like sleep.

Same person: Also, could you tell me you mean when you use the word “defilement”?

Katagiri: Defilement is when you see something through discrimination […] complicated by consciousness. That means you leave a trace of your perception. That is called defilement.

Same person: So undefiled is just being in the activity.

Katagiri: Mm-hm. But it’s very clear; there is sleep as an object, and also a subject there. But when you are exactly participating in sleeping itself, the so-called process or function, there is no object called “sleeping”. If there is no object called sleeping, very naturally you don’t perceive you who sleeps. For you, there is no subject, no body, and no object. But there is very clearly subject and object. That is the total picture of sleeping, between you and sleep.

The same applies to [all] activities. Zazen is exactly [like] this; you can practice this point. And this zazen practice can be extended into everyday life. That is everyday activities: sweeping the ground, wiping the floor.

Same person: But at some point you can choose what activity you’re going to do?

Katagiri: Sure.

Same person: So then if you want to sleep rather than do zazen, or if you want to do zazen rather than sleep, at some point it becomes part of the consciousness.

Katagiri: Sure.

Same person: But then there’s a point at which you lose that choice?

Katagiri: You make a choice because we are living in the conscious world, so very naturally there are your objects and subjects. Your life is right in the middle of the conscious world. You must stay there, but nevertheless, you can go beyond.

Same person: Thank you.

Katagiri: That is called shikan: wholeheartedness. Or [speaking of consciousness], in Tenzo Kyōkun it says there are three minds: magnanimous mind, parental mind, joyous mind. If you want to express it in terms of the human emotional aspect, you can say magnanimous mind; psychologically, you can explain it like this. But your practice as activity is nothing but shikan: just [be].

2 - 30:10

Question: [Unintelligible] shikan [unintelligible] is automatically leading to the right way and the bodhisattva way?

Katagiri: It is called “right”, but that right is not the concept of right opposed to wrong. That is called sat dharma in Sanskrit. Sat means right or correct, but that sat means supreme right, beyond our common sense, so-called right or wrong. The same applies to impure. So temporarily we can use the term right, but it’s not “right” in the usual sense.

So if you practice continually like this, very naturally it is right, it is true human bodies. That’s why very naturally you grow, and your life is deeper.

Same person: If somebody wanted to be a very good thief, and he needed calmness while doing the job robbing the bank or something, then they can do zazen for doing those kind of, in a moral sense, bad things. But is doing shikan zazen, as you explained, or sweeping the floor, is there the same meaning or do you first have to have a direction to doing those?

Katagiri: Yeah, it’s a good question. [He laughs.]

That’s why people talk about “cross-country skiing zen”, “zen basketball”, or zen tea ceremony, zen kendo and judo. Or zen business… or zen perfume. [Laughter.] Sure, we say so – zen perfume, and zen basketball – because you can experience that shikan in every activity. Cross country skiing, or bank robbery… if you want, yes, you can do it. [He laughs.] But still it’s different, because real Zen doesn’t emphasize the short range. Zen is for the long range. If you want to do zazen for robbing money from the bank, that means very short range, don’t you think? You use your life in the small scale, you use zazen in the small scale, so [your] zazen becomes very small. That is what is called “zen bank robbery”. You can say so, but it’s not real, total Zen. [He laughs.] Don’t misunderstand this one.

People always think, “That is zazen.” Sometimes even the Japanese believe it’s not necessary to do zazen, because whatever you do, everyday life is zazen. Some Japanese emphasize this. Of course it is; but it’s not real zazen. That’s a very prejudiced, very narrow understanding: always seeing in a certain angle, so-called bank robber, or policeman, or cross-country skier; always looking at zazen in terms of a certain view. But it’s not Zen. It’s part of Zen.

Real Zen penetrates every area of human life; never only a certain area like stealing money from a bank. [Beyond] stealing from the bank, washing your face, or walking on the street, always real Zen penetrates, helping. Or right in the middle of death, or after death, or before birth, wherever you may be – Zen helps. This is real Zen.

2 - 36:03

Question: Before you were saying that if we have a [busy] mind, like bank robberies, in doing your zen, that’s short range. How about in taking vows then, too; if we vow to save all sentient beings, is [that] in the short range?

Katagiri: No, that’s big range. [Laughter.] How can you save all sentient beings? You have to [walk] constantly, you have to be right in the middle of huge oceans, because [you should be with] all sentient beings, countless number [of them]. It’s not short range, it’s not small oceans; it’s huge oceans. That is a vow to save all sentient beings.

I always say that vow is just like to swim in the ocean, which is vast. There is nothing to hold on to. You cannot stop swimming; you have to just keep going. Even though you say “tired,” or “hopeless”, or “hope,” whatever you think, your process, your activity must be going, completely beyond your ideas. That is a vow. It’s a huge range.

That’s why, in a sense, consciousness always feels boring. Zazen is a little boring. That’s why people cannot stand up there. So very naturally, even the teacher cannot stand up there. [He laughs.] Very naturally the teacher gives some candy – “Here, eat this” – in the process of swimming, on the way to reach the other shore. The teacher is always encouraging.

Of course it is encouragement, but that encouragement really is available for a certain period of time. But no [unintelligible]. This is life and death. You just swim.

2 - 38:56

Question: Can zazen be used as an escape from obligations in life?

Katagiri: Maybe in the beginning of doing zazen, you can see certain situations you can “escape” from. So you feel good, in a sense. But if you get into it more deeply, you can realize it’s not true. So next moment, you’re very confused.

For instance, in the beginning of practicing zazen, most people feel good, because you experience a lot which you have never seen before. But gradually you don’t feel good, because you cannot tune into the usual life. You can notice that there is trouble with having a good relationship with your friend …

Part 3

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Same person: You mean as a consequence of doing zazen … ?

Katagiri: Maybe so; maybe not. But in a sense you can get in too deeply. So it’s very difficult to live with people who are just right outside of the gate, you know? It’s very difficult. Or even the people taking one step inside of the gate: it’s still a little difficult, because you already get in very deep. So the next experience is, you don’t feel good. In the beginning, you feel good, but on the other hand, you don’t. So you have to go beyond this.

3 - 1:18

Question: Roshi? When I was being raised Catholic, the terms pure and impure had very narrow and guilt-producing connotations. Is there some other word to say the same thing?

Katagiri: Mm-hmm! A narrow idea of purity … ?

Same person: I have still my Catholic definition of “pure” and “impure”, so is there some other word you could use that would say … [she laughs.]

Another person: Wholesome and unwholesome may work?


Same person: At one time during your lecture this morning you said “true”. Is that another word? And I thought you were saying that instead of “pure”.

Katagiri: As in true body? Well, maybe. Mm-hm. [Laughter.]

Wholesome, unwholesome. It seems to me that wholesome or unwholesome is almost the same as purity or impurity.

Another person: Does purity imply some sort of clarity or straightforwardness?

Katagiri: Purity in Buddhism is not a result of doing something. Purity is the activity itself of doing something; that is purity. It is going beyond the idea of purity and impurity. The idea of purity is kind of a human sense of value. In terms of the dualistic sense, if you do this, then you can get this, and then you say purity or impurity. So purity or impurity are given to the result of the human activity.

Another person: That’s why some translators like wholesome, because wholesome implies whole, not like it is some result.

Another person: So would you say the spirit of shikantaza [is the same as purity]?

Katagiri: Sure. Shikan itself, activity of shikan itself, that is purity.

Another person: But it is not only that [in any sense].

Katagiri: Anything, if you do it exactly.

Temporarily, we say purity. [He chuckles.] But that is no trace of purity. That is called purity. So that’s why purity is manifested as no purity. In Buddhism we always use negatives: no purity, or no eyes, no ears – that is exactly that you have to see some other aspect, so-called purity. The function of the purity, constantly. At that time, no purity.

Another person: Well in a sense, then, what you’re saying is that purity and no-purity are the same thing.

Katagiri: Yes, same thing, exactly. No different. But it’s very difficult to say about that activity or process itself. That’s why temporarily we use “no purity”.

Same person: So there’s no impurity.

Katagiri: Sure, no impurity, no purity. That is the spirit of shikan; you are doing.

Just like sleep. Shikan sleep, you know? Shikan sleep is very pure, purity. That means completely you cannot perceive the idea of sleep, subject and object. So completely pure sense of purity.

Another person: Is that similar to what Dogen talks about whole-being Buddha nature? No Buddha nature, Buddha nature, whole-being Buddha nature.

Katagiri: [The self] is the entire whole world like this; that is the spirit of shikan. That is not an abstract idea, an abstract understanding of human life. You can manifest it in the concrete aspect of human life. That is sweeping the ground, wiping the floors. That’s why doing zazen or gassho is nothing but the entire whole world.

3 - 7:40

Question: Also we say “nothing to attain.” Then it’s like the question always comes up, why do we practice?

Katagiri: But you already attain a certain stage; that’s why you have questions, like “why do you have to do it?” Do you understand? You already touch it. “No attainment” means just the one [feeling], nothing around this. So at that time, who touches this [feeling]? Nothing. Just like sleeping. Sleeping as object and sleeper as subject, just one [feeling]. Who touches sleep? I? No. Or, “I am touching sleep” means already you attain. But actually you are really sleeping exactly, so no attainment.

Same person: So arrogance is to attain.

Katagiri: Sure.

Same person: [Unintelligible] subject and object.

Katagiri: That is called very pure purity; beyond purity or impurity, beyond idea or trace of subject and object, exactly.

3 - 9:45

Question: Instead of saying purity and impurity, could you also say complete and incomplete?

Katagiri: Sure.


End of Part 3

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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