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An alternative title for this talk might have been, “What Is Buddhist Faith?” What does faith mean in Buddhism, where the central philosophy is emptiness? Buddhist faith is intimacy with total dynamic working. Katagiri Roshi discusses how “the way we should practice within the intimacy between our lives and emptiness” is “to bear up, to enjoy, to desire, and to be limpid and clear.” Along the way, he talks about quarks, and driving on the freeway in Los Angeles. And he answers the question, “What does this have to do with zazen?”

(Transcriber’s Note: In this talk, Katagiri Roshi often says “the Buddhist faith,” so one might assume he is discussing “faith” in the sense of “a system of religious belief.” But what he is actually talking about is the meaning of faith within Buddhism – so it seems likely that he is simply adding an extraneous “the” to “Buddhist faith”. I have omitted the “the” in some cases.)


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Good morning. Today, I would like to talk about Buddhist faith, particularly in Zen Buddhism.

It’s pretty difficult to understand Buddhist faith in the usual sense, because if you study Buddhism, generally, the central philosophy of Buddhism is emptiness. From beginning to end, Buddhist teaching clearly emphasizes the teaching of emptiness as the ultimate nature of existence.

Emptiness means … emptiness. If you say “the ultimate nature of existence is emptiness,” and then you say, “I understand” – at that time, what you have understood about the emptiness of existence is no longer empty, because you [have] attached to the emptiness. Do you understand?


The moment where you attach to emptiness, emptiness is no longer empty, because you see there’s something you can grasp. Conceptually, mentally, or physically, you can have it; so it is no longer emptiness. That’s why Buddhism constantly emphasizes the ‘emptiness’ of existence.

From this point, Buddhist faith is to know there is nothing to believe in. Nothing to believe in, nothing to know. Because if you know emptiness, it’s not emptiness. So you have to know there is nothing to know. This is the human situation – for all of you, whoever you are.

So what is Buddhist faith? If you want to know the definition of Buddhist faith, Buddhist faith is to believe there is nothing to know, to believe in the human situation where you are standing in completely nothing to know. This is Buddhist faith: nothing to know.


But it is very difficult for human beings to believe in nothing to know. That’s why the many religions try to give you some ideas: so-called ‘god’, divinity, or angels, and ghosts, and many things. Do you understand? [Telepathy], and many things. So whatever kind of term you use – divinity, and God, Buddhas, Avalokiteshvara, or ghosts, and spirituality – whatever you say, whatever kind of words you use, you should consider them once again. What do you mean? What is a ‘god’? What is a ‘divinity’? What is a ‘buddha’? What is the truth? What is it? Can’t you know it?

If you don’t believe me, please go to a church and ask about God. Even the ministers, priests – no priest will try to explain what God is. Nothing. What is God? Or truth? What is the truth?

But anyway, it’s very difficult to live our lives without depending on anything. So-called emptiness, emptiness, emptiness: that’s pretty hard for human beings. That’s why century after century, human beings try to help you, because human beings try to get something to depend on. That’s why we put a certain name on it. So-called ‘god’, divinities, angels, spiritualities; you can say so. And then we say, “Yes, I believe in God.” At that time, you are really hanging on to the idea of God. It’s not real God. Real God is exactly emptiness. If I say so, maybe I could be scolded by Christian people, but this is very true. If you don’t believe this, please go to a church and ask, “Who can answer to this?”

In the history of Buddhism, Buddhism is really different from other religions, because Buddhism constantly pays attention to that emptiness [alone] without putting any name on it. Constantly see it, constantly face the emptiness as an ultimate nature of existence, exactly. Constantly. Because, that emptiness is nothing to know. That emptiness means nothing to know, or to depend on, or to believe with your mind, with your heart – nothing! But on the other hand, that nothing is exactly something which makes your life alive. Because that nothingness is not something separate from your life. From where does that nothingness come? Nothingness comes from every single human being, every single one of the “all sentient beings”.

Emptiness is not a philosophical or psychological or religious concept, it’s something real, because it’s very close to us, to our human life. So Buddhism tries to be honest about this situation, honest about the reality of how human phenomena and the ultimate nature of existence as emptiness are working very closely, without creating any gap. Is that clear? Can you imagine that? In other words, your basic nature, the basis of your life, is complete emptiness. Nothing to hold on to. Okay?

Even intellectually, you can see this a little bit. But on the other hand, your intellectual sense doesn’t accept it, because you hate it. [Some chuckles.] You don’t like it. And then I say, “I will give you some candy to believe.” And then you’re so happy. [Laughter.] And then you love me so much: “Thank you, Katagiri.” [More laughter.] But Buddhism doesn’t trick you. Even though you cry, or even though you scream, Buddhism doesn’t trick you. Constantly Buddhism tries to put you right in the middle of emptiness. Because it is the ultimate nature of existence, and simultaneously it is your life. And your life and emptiness are working very closely. That is called ‘intimacy’.

I talked about ‘intimacy’ at Hokyoji temple. At that time one of the psychologists said to me, “I understand emptiness because physically I can’t [connect] with anybody with intimacy”. I don’t mean that intimacy, okay? Of course, you have to experience intimacy through your body and mind, but you cannot hang on to the concept of intimacy, because that is emptiness. Emptiness and life are exactly connected, and working together. If you hang on to your life, next moment it becomes empty. And then if you see the emptiness, next moment it’s life! Your life is alive! Don’t you know the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra] says, “No nose, no ears, no eyes, no body, no heart.” Then nevertheless, immediately there is a nose, there are eyes, there are ears. How can you [say] “no”? How can you deny “no”?

So intimacy is no gap, no space between emptiness and your life: exactly connected, working together. And then the purpose of Buddhist practice is to have completely, absolutely no doubt [that there is] no gap between human life and emptiness, [they are] in total working.

That is called faith. So faith is intimacy. Buddhist faith is exactly intimacy.


Intimacy is something you have to experience, you have to jump into. If you want to swim, you have to be intimate with the water and your body. Constant, perfect intimacy between the water and your body and mind. You cannot separate water and body and mind. If you separate them, there are some ‘daydreams’ coming up between you and the water.

For instance, during dancing, on the stage you are always thinking. You are dancing perfectly in one moment; next moment, you think to yourself, “Oh, I am dancing pretty well!” [Laughter.] Do you understand? You do this always. Even I, I am sitting here, and at the moment I’ve got a pretty nice situation, and then immediately: “Oh, Katagiri – pretty good!” [Laughter.] Or during this talk, you know, if you have a pretty good reaction to me, I say, “Oh, pretty good!” Don’t you think so? So always there is some gap between.

But if I create the gap between my talk and your reactions, I’m always waiting for you reactions. I don’t mean that I should ignore your reactions; I should be concerned with your reactions. But I cannot hang on to your reactions. So, all I have to do is to talk with my whole body and mind. And then at that time, I can see your reactions.

So, real intimacy is to jump into the water and just swim. To swim is the total manifestation of intimacy between your body and the water. That is called intimacy. But if you create even the slightest gap, some delusions or ideas come into this space, and then you say, “I am pretty good.” Or, you criticize yourself. Or, if you don’t criticize yourself and if you don’t judge yourself, maybe you fall asleep, or you create daydreams. In that space, lots of things coming up. Sleep – [unintelligible] zazen.

When you create a gap between zazen and you, at that time you create lots of thoughts, ideas. And then you chase after them. Chasing after thoughts, ideas, and emotions, at that time you escalate the creation of the gap, bigger and bigger. Finally, you enjoy it very much, because you realize that time passes quickly when you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, five minutes are pretty long; you feel that the five minutes are like an hour. So very naturally, you enjoy creating your thoughts and ideas.

But if you don’t do that and just sit, with no space, at that time you fall asleep. In other words, if you’re not interested in sitting in zazen, or if you are not interested in yourself or zazen, anything, and then just sit down, immediately you fall asleep. And then if you fall asleep, you don’t know what’s going on there. [You don’t know the before and after of your practice.] Or, very often you can create daydreams within that gap. That is not intimacy.

Real intimacy is exactly total oneness between you and the water. So, in order to do this, you have to use your whole body and mind, and stand up straight there, and then next moment you have to return to the emptiness. That means, don’t hang on. All you have to do is manifest your total effort right there and don’t hang on, because you have to return to emptiness, the source of existence.

So that’s why in the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra, in the last sentence we say, “Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha”. That means you devote yourself to doing something right now, right here. Next moment, you have to go beyond. “Go beyond” means let it be. You have to be exactly you, as you really are. All you have to do is just continue to do this practice, continue to practice this.

So that’s why Buddhism always tricks you: seeing, facing emptiness directly. And within the emptiness, you have to see your life, how it works. That is the Buddhist total attitude toward human life: so-called faith. Empirically, it is called intimacy.


There is a statement which appears in a Buddhist scripture. It says, “Faith is, within the principle of the truth, to bear up, to enjoy, to desire, and to be limpid and clear.” Truth is emptiness, alright? [So,] faith is, within the principle of emptiness, to bear up, to enjoy, to desire, and to be limpid and clear.

Let me say it simply, because this statement is the teaching about how we should practice within the intimacy between your life and emptiness. Because you cannot attach to either one of them. [You cannot attach to] so-called your life, because it’s emptiness. On the other hand, you cannot attach to emptiness, because you have your life. So finally, we don’t know how to do it! That’s why the point of this statement is how we should practice within the intimacy between our life and emptiness, within Buddhist faith. This is Buddhist faith.

It says, “within the principle of the truth.” That means, within the principle of emptiness. In other words, your body and mind is already going within emptiness. It means your body and mind are with emptiness already – and then you can have your life. If your life is not emptiness, you cannot have your life [in aliveness]. That’s why “within the principle of emptiness” is very important.


And then it says, “to bear up.” There are three ways of “bearing up,” three kinds of patience.

One is “the patience of the unborn dharma”. “Unborn dharma” means emptiness. The patience of emptiness means nothing to hold on to, nothing to throw away, nothing to have, nothing get. Nothing. That is dharma, that is emptiness, that is the nature of your life. This is one point.

That is the patience of emptiness; we say “unborn dharma”. If you are interested in dharma, it is no longer interest in the real dharma, but you are interested in the concept of dharma. Real dharma is beyond the concept of dharma. Do you understand?

I always say: If you see something beautiful and you are very impressed by something beautiful, [unintelligible] then you say, “Wow.” This “wow” is a very grand word, the first word before you explain how beautiful it is. That grand word, so-called “wow”, is already something expressed, which you have had through your six senses, through your body. Do you understand? That is the very first [expression] of your experience. But dharma or truth or emptiness is something deep, prior to having created that grand word, so-called “wow,” because “wow” is coming from exactly oneness between nature and you, when you stand right in the middle of nature. Without this oneness between real nature and you, you cannot get the first, very original word, grand word, so-called “wow”. You never experience it.

That’s why real dharma is not something you can give, you can think, you can believe; but it’s there, with you. That’s why it’s very close; that’s why [we say] intimacy. This is a belief in Buddhism. We should believe this – even though we don’t. That’s why next, what should we do? That’s why next, there is patience. That patience is, you have to know dharma is completely nothing to hold on to, nothing to throw away, because it’s very close to you. When you try to get it, it becomes far from you. So very naturally, you don’t know what it is. That’s why you have to practice patience.

Next, “the patience of sound and echo.” It means that emptiness has lots of sounds, and also echoes, reverberating constantly, over every inch of your life. Emptiness is very quiet, tranquil; but that tranquility is not necessarily still, because it is penetrating every inch of your life. Emptiness is very quiet, and simultaneously dynamic, because it is supporting you. That’s why when you are very confused, emptiness makes you calm. You can bump your head into trouble and make a big bump on your forehead, but it doesn’t matter how many bumps you have; finally, all you can do is to make yourself calm. In other words, realizing the total picture of your life. So from this point, whatever you do, that emptiness is supporting you. That emptiness is penetrating to every inch of your life, whoever you are. That is called the patience of sound and echo, reverberations.


The next one is “the patience of flexibility and adaptability”. Flexibleness, and also adaptableness. Emptiness is very flexible. If you touch it, it turns into something.

You know the ‘quark’ in physics? I told you, a ‘quark’ is a very tiny [being], and scientists say it has five flavors, which have nothing to do with the usual sense of flavor you know. They are so-called ‘top’, ‘bottom’, ‘beauty’, and ‘ugly’, et cetera. And then if you touch the ‘top’ quark, immediately top turns into ‘bottom’. If you touch the flavor called ‘ugly’, it immediately turns into ‘beauty’. So you don’t know what the quark is. [He laughs.] Do you understand? This is your nature, so-called emptiness. No particular pattern here; no particular idea. You can touch it, but if you touch it, it turns into something.

So very naturally, emptiness is very flexible and also adaptable, because you can touch it, but it is not something you can get. It’s very flexible, very adaptable, to everyone. That’s why you have to be patient. Patience is not to [persevere] under the suffering, under the affliction. Is that clear?

So you have to see human life deeply; that is “to bear up”. “Bear up” means to be patient with, to know the dharma. The dharma is emptiness; nothing to hold onto, to know. That is your situation, everyone’s situation. But human beings always try to know. They try to know, try to know, try to know – constantly. That is a human problem for us. We don’t want to let it be. So we need a practice to let it be, to let go of yourself and listen to the echos and silence, which are flexible and adaptable to your life. So anyway, be patient.


Next, “to enjoy.” To enjoy means to have a deep aspiration to enjoy your life, a deep aspiration for seeing deeply, touching the basic nature of existence. This is so-called “enjoy”. It is not to flounder about. If you see trouble, immediately you flounder about your life, and that floundering makes you very confused, so it’s very difficult to deal with your life. “To enjoy” means constantly to have the practice of patience, and seeing human nature deeply. And then you can enjoy your life – with deep aspiration your life, and for all sentient beings.

And next, “to desire.” To desire means, for instance, desire to use your life your life for all sentient beings, every one. Not only this life, but past life, present life, future life. Or in the sutra, it says, “ever making this my thought: ‘how shall I guard all beings to enter the supreme way?’” It means the truth, and [speedily] accomplish the buddha way. In other words, to awaken to your life, what it is. So constantly you have to have a strong desire how to guide all sentient beings to know human life, based on emptiness. Without tricking [yourself or] others; constantly facing that nature. It’s pretty hard for us, but it is our practice. That’s why we need to help each other.

And also Dogen Zenji mentions “speaking of dharma,” speaking of the truth. Speaking of the truth and listening to the truth, with each single body, life after life. That is really huge, that is a really marvelous way of giving with your life. For your life, and also for others. Not only this present life – past, present, future. This is a spiritual aspiration for how to use your life. This is “to desire.”


And the last one is “to be limpid and clear.” That means if you practice patience, and enjoyment, and desire, we pretty easily fall into the career of carrying those practices – patience, and enjoyment, and desire. But next, what you have to do is to be limpid and clear. That means, let it go. Just do it. That’s pretty hard for us. But this is the final goal for us.

For instance, if you’re Christian, you go to church and pray. What do you mean by this? God talks with you? Someone who experiences this strongly says, “Yes, God talks to me.” [Unintelligible]? If you start to think, there is nothing to think of, nothing to hold on to. But you cannot stop going to church and praying. So what do you mean by this?

So all you have to do is, whatever kind of career you have, religiously, finally you yourself, your career, must be limpid and clear. Let go of your career, anything. All you have to do is go to church, and just pray. That is called ‘faith’.

In other words, no intent to make your career ‘useful’. If you try to make your career useful, that is always the give and take, or pros and cons, success and failure. But spiritually, religiously, you have to stand up in the vastness of existence, where there is no sense of pros and cons, success and failure. And then you can help all sentient beings – under all circumstances, which are called pros and cons, success and failure.

This is faith. That’s why finally what you have to do is, your life, your career, all things must be limpid and clear like water. You must be like water, clear and limpid. Just like water. And just see, and just take care, and just help, and pass by. That’s pretty hard practice for us. But this is the best way to practice faith, religious faith.


As a conclusion: to practice patience means not to bring religious life, or careers, or emptiness or truth, down to the level of the usual sense of human life. If you try to know [something], that means to bring the truth down to the level of human sense. Truth is not something like that. It is emptiness, exactly. If it is true, instead of scooping the water of the truth into your basket, why don’t you soak your basket in the stream of the truth? That’s all you can do.

But we don’t do it. We want to know. [He chuckles.] To know is to scoop the water of the truth, and pour the water into your individual basket. But your body and mind are just like a bamboo basket: not [meant] to hold the water you have poured. I’m sorry for you. But this is the total picture of your life. [Some laughter.] So if you don’t want to lose the water: please, soak your basket into the stream of water, so-called truth, instead of floundering about in your life. That is patience.

And “to enjoy” means your life is exactly intimate, very intimate with emptiness. It means the basic nature of your life is freedom, complete freedom. So you should enjoy this life. Your life is freedom, so-called emptiness. That is “to enjoy”.

Next, “to desire”. “To desire” means how to use your life for you and for all sentient beings, life after life. Using your body.

Next, religiously, all you do in your life must be limpid and clear, like water. That means, just do it, from day to day.

Do you have questions?


Question: Roshi? Would you say a few words about zazen and this practice. [Unintelligible.]

Katagiri: That is zazen. I mentioned the meaning of zazen is exactly your life; I mentioned that here. Zazen is sitting, but your sitting is not your individual sitting. That “your sitting” is simultaneously that emptiness or the universe is with your practice of zazen. If you do zazen, always you think “you”, you always think of zazen limited by you. The zazen you do is “yours,” but simultaneously that is something more than you. That is one point. That is called Buddha’s samadhi. Buddha’s samadhi means manifestation of the Buddha, manifestation of the intimacy between your life and [emptiness] …

[Tape change.]

… We have to carry that kind of zazen, and also in your whole life, you have to have great determination to carry your zazen, which is exactly the same as universal zazen. So individual is not individual; individual is the universe. You don’t believe it, but in Buddhism, we say “one is all, all is one.”

For instance, a circle. A circle consists of many points, many dots. That is called a moment. A circle consists of many moments; each single moment is the implication of an individual life. But an individual life doesn’t make sense if it’s separate from the other moments. Individual moments must connect very closely with other moments. How? That is only when the circle is moving. At that time, it is called an individual moment which is the universal moment.

For instance, if I have a flashlight at night and make a circle, simultaneously the light is not one light, it is a circle. You can see this. But that circle is consisting of many moments. So each moment is your life. But your life is not your life. That is the total picture of the circle created by the flashlight. How do we know that? Just revolve the flashlight; that means your life. To continually revolve your life means to make your life alive, day by day. It means do zazen; exactly your zazen, but simultaneously it’s not your zazen, it is one circle, so-called universal zazen. When you really make your individual zazen [flow], that is the whole universe is working, pretty well.


Question: Is the trick in avoiding the gap to be living emptiness and living life at the same time?

Katagiri: Yes. Because the gap is something you can create in movement. In other words, it depends on the degree of your concentration, intention. Do you understand?

For instance, if I drink this cup recklessly, I can talk with you and I can drink this cup of tea. But if I don’t want to create a gap between this cup and I, all I have to do is keep my mouth shut and drink the cup of tea. That’s pretty good. But in our daily life, do you do this kind of practice? No, you don’t. You always have breakfast reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, and watching TV, chatting with each other. That is a gap.

That’s why if the people go to the Zen monastery and practice, or if you go to a Christian monastery, you are really impressed, because they are just doing [things] very quietly, one by one, with wholeheartedness. No gap between.


Question: Would you say why it is bad for there to be a gap?

Katagiri: It’s not bad. It’s not bad. But it’s not good, anyway. [Laughter.]

The gap is not bad because if you create a gap, you enjoy it very much, you know? [He laughs.] Don’t you think so? For instance, if I drink a cup of tea and am talking with this person, that’s pretty nice. You can have communication with people, and you can be friendly with people. I’m drinking a cup of tea and shaking hands. And reading a newspaper while eating breakfast; you can know the whole world. So you can do two things. [He chuckles.] Maybe not more. [Everyone laughs.] But that’s why it’s not bad.

But on the other hand, that is pretty confused, you know? Because while I am drinking a cup of tea and talking with him, sometimes my mind is completely blown away. [Laughter.] Because I don’t know what I am talking about! [He laughs.] Sometimes my daydreams come in: “Oh, this guy is a pretty nice guy.” Something like that. The daydreams come in, if I create something like that. So it’s not bad; but it’s confused. You don’t know what it is, what’s going on, because there is too [much enjoyment] to know who you are. [He chuckles.]

Someone: Do you still have a question?

Same person: If you’re drinking your cup and talking to me and you don’t think about it, you don’t create a gap. But once you are either thinking about me or drinking the cup, you have created a gap?

[Everyone laughs.]

Katagiri: Does everyone understand his question? Pretty good. That is the human intellect. [He laughs.] Human intellect is always going like that. So I think yes, it’s pretty clever. But I think in human life, sometimes you have to cut that string of human intellect, and keep your mouth shut – just do it. That is also pretty important. If you don’t, constantly you are going, and finally you don’t know in which direction you should go, because there are too many detours.

When I was in Los Angeles, the first time I drove on the freeway I was not scared, because I did not know anything about the United States. [Everyone laughs.] So I was completely blind. I got the license, and I was very happy to drive on the freeway in Los Angeles. Can you imagine Los Angeles? I cannot do it now. [Everyone laughs.] But I did it, anyway. I really hesitated to get off, the moment when I tried to see the sign. I couldn’t get off, and then a big truck behind me honked it’s horn. [Laughter.] So I lost the chance to get off. And the next exit, I had the chance to get off at that time. But I didn’t know where I got off, and then simultaneously I saw the sign, “Detour.” So I detoured. But I didn’t know Los Angeles exactly – I had a map, but I didn’t know how to read the map. So I stopped at a gasoline station and asked which way should I go to get to certain freeways. And a gentleman kindly helped me in English, but I didn’t understand English well. [He laughs.] So I asked twice, and a third time, but I couldn’t ask again a fourth time, fifth time. So the fourth time, I said, “Thank you.” But, nothing to get! [He laughs.] So all I had to do was to start once more to drive. So, detour, detour, detour, detour. Finally, I didn’t understand how to get there. That happened in the morning; and then I got to my temple in the evening. [Laughter.] I was completely scolded by the archbishop. [Laughter.]

So, I think the human intellect is very [interesting], but on the other hand, you have to deal with the intellect – how? You have to cut it off, sometimes. That’s pretty good for you. That’s why sitting is pretty good for us. I’m not talking about ignoring the human intellect, okay? You have to continue to think; that’s fine. But sometimes, keep your mouth shut and just sit. That’s pretty good for you.

Thank you very much.

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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