Skip to the content.

Home | List | Previous | Next


Katagiri Roshi introduces a series of seven lectures on lay ordination (Jukai). In this first talk, he discusses the significance of lay ordination. The goal of lay ordination is explained as three points: first, realization of the truth, that all beings are Buddha. Second: the profound and steadfast aspiration for living our lives with all beings in peace and harmony. And third: helping all beings. For the first point, realization of the truth, he explains three kinds of knowing: the ordinary sense of knowledge; knowing something beyond the ordinary sense, in the world of impermanence; and supreme knowledge. This ties into a discussion of what it means to help all beings. The ceremony of lay ordination is an opportunity to realize the three points. Even if we don’t understand this, we can still take action to enter this world of the Buddha.


Listen to this talk on

0:00 start of recording

We will have lay ordination at the end of March. So I would like to talk about the significance of lay ordination for a couple of weeks, every Saturday. Today I would like to talk about just the significance of lay ordination. Then after that, from next Saturday, I will explain the contents of the ceremony, one by one.

Let me say simply the significance of lay ordination in Buddhism first. The achievement of the goal of lay ordination is signified by three points. By number one: realization of the truth: all beings are Buddha. The second: by the profound and steadfast aspiration for living our lives with all beings in peace and harmony, in the light of the Buddha. And number three: by helping all beings. This is the goal of the lay ordination.

The ceremony of lay ordination is to see this opportunity, in which we can realize these three important points. And if you don’t know this, we try to create this opportunity, in which we can realize those three important points. Anyway, I say the ceremony of lay ordination is to see this great opportunity, in which we can realize these three important points. But if you don’t understand this, don’t punish yourself, don’t withdraw, or don’t be cowed. Don’t be cowed means, you should create this great opportunity initiatively. Do you understand? Positively. Anyway, you should go ahead. Most people withdraw if they don’t understand. But more or less, everyone is seeking for something supreme. You don’t understand, consciously or unconsciously, that’s why you come here and practice zazen. How much do you understand zazen? You don’t understand exactly. But something compels you to do this kind of practice. So that is really a positive way of your life, you creating this great opportunity, because you want to seek for something supreme that you don’t understand.

This capability is endowed with everyone. Everyone has this capability. That’s why the ceremony is … later I will explain the meaning of the ceremony, but anyway, the ceremony is to see this kind of opportunity where you can really see directly those three important points, in order to live in peace and harmony. And next, if you don’t know, we try to create this great opportunity.

That is the ceremony of lay ordination. So let me explain the points one by one.


Number one: realization of the truth, we and all beings are Buddha. Realization: we already know this teaching, the truth, because Buddhas and ancestors already mentioned it. This is proof for us that we are great, beyond human speculation. This is a great proof for us, which the ancestors and the Buddhas showed, 2500 years ago. So all we have to do is, we should realize this truth.

To realize means two activities. One is to know. Second, to accept. That is realization. To realize this truth means to know this truth, and then next we should accept this truth. Everyone already knows the meaning of “to know,” but later I will explain more. “To accept” means to digest the knowledge which you have. Digest means … you should “eat” your knowledge. If you have knowledge, already you have food. By this food you can survive, you can live. But if the food remains in your stomach, you become sick. The food must be digested; it’s very clear. So if you have some knowledge of the human world, human life, you have to take time to digest it. That is called “to accept.”

“To accept” requires you to take time constantly … to put your knowledge to practice in your everyday life. This is to accept. If you have knowledge, if you have ideas, if you have hope, the next question is to know ways how to put it into practice. This is not so easy, so it takes lots of time to do this. But we should take the time.

That is called “to digest”. If knowledge is digested completely, there is no trace of knowledge, because knowledge turns into life energy. Just life. No trace of food; all you can see is just life energy in motion, every day. Is that clear? This is realization.


So let’s look at the “knowing”. What do you mean, “knowing”? Maybe some day I talked about this: the three kinds of knowledge.

The first one is the usual ordinary sense of knowledge. That means discriminative knowledge, or analytical knowledge, which you can use every day. So if you have a family, if you have a friend, always you separate everything from your time. Some of the time is given to your friends, or your children, to help. Some part of the time should be given to this person, and some part of the time should be given to “B” person, and the rest of the time is mine; and then I can use this time for me. Something like this. You always separate things like this.

So at that time, whatever you do for your children, for your friends, for your parents – reading, whatever – you are always something separate from the object, from persons, or friends. So there is never peaceful communication, because you are always separate. You never jump into it. You never devote yourself into the friends and children; always separate.

So all you can do is, when you have to help children, [for example] to teach mathematics, why don’t you teach mathematics to him, with full devotion, full commitment. At that time, his time, your life exactly can be found in the children’s life. This is your time. Your time doesn’t appear on the surface, but children’s time appears. Your time must be found within children’s time. But we don’t do it. How can my time be found in the children’s life? We don’t know. But Buddhism constantly teaches this, through and through. You should find your time within the others’. And then, this is called full commitment. At that time, it is called “help”. There is no separation. You are children; children are you.

That is the ordinary sense of human knowledge.


The second one is knowledge beyond an ordinary sense. It means to try to know something true in the world of impermanence. The ordinary sense means to know something fixed, in the world of fixed patterns of being.

In the usual, ordinary sense, you always see the tape recorder, which is fixed. We don’t see the tape recorder in the world of impermanence, because it is unusual, very unusual. So in the usual sense, you see the tape recorder as a fixed being. That is called the ordinary, usual sense. So I say “the knowledge beyond the usual sense”. That is, you try to see or you try to know something true in the world of impermanence. This is a Buddhist teaching, impermanence.

So that is, I mentioned before: when you teach, when you help somebody, you must be found within somebody’s life. That means the figure of your life must be leaving no trace of your life. So constantly you should give your full commitment to others, helping constantly. That means just like ice in the water. Ice is constantly melted away into the water. At that time, that is called ice, the existence of ice. If ice is not melting away into water from moment to moment, you cannot recognize the existence of ice.

The same applies to the relationship between waves and the water. If you recognize the existence of the waves, what do you mean? Waves are completely something separate from the water? No. Waves and water are working together. So what do you mean, “the existence or the presence of the waves”? If you recognize it, that means the waves must be found in the water. In the river water, which is the bigger scale of the world than waves. But according to the first point, according to the usual type of knowledge, waves are separate. We see the waves in terms of waves; that’s it.


Dogen Zenji mentions that if you want to know deeply what human life is, first you should put your mind in the truth of impermanence. And then next, immediately we feel something from impermanence, or we experience it. And then next, we attach to it. If you attach to it, you think the word, and you think by means of attachment to your own experience, and your own feeling. So if you feel pensive from the teaching of impermanence, you say, “Don’t teach that the world is impermanent; it’s dangerous, because it’s pessimistic,” something like that. But it is not true. Even though you feel so or even though you don’t feel so, the world is impermanent. It’s very true. So even though you say, “Don’t teach that truth; it’s very dangerous for Americans,” [he laughs, and people in the audience laugh] … Americans are human beings, same things as Japanese.

Next, Dogen Zenji mentions that you shouldn’t stay with your feeling and your experience of impermanence. What do you mean? You should see you who is always disappearing in the world of others. If I talk here, myself, I have to see myself who is disappearing in the realm of talking. In the realm of talking means in the realm of you. So I don’t leave any trace of myself. At that time it is called full commitment. No separation between. That means you shouldn’t stay with “my talk”. So [just here]. Is that clear? Just like the relationship between waves and the water, or ice and water, exactly.

That’s why Dogen Zenji says, if you do gassho, gassho occupies the whole world. And then, the rest of the beings are completely hidden behind one: gassho. Because this is the truth. When you help somebody, you just fully commit, at that time you occupy the whole world, and the other’s life is hidden within you. That is exactly full commitment. That is called help; it’s really help. But we don’t understand this way. That’s why we have to understand very deeply the meaning of human knowledge.

That means, Dogen Zenji says, don’t stay with the feeling and the experience of impermanence. Whatever it is, if you experience, if you feel, don’t stay with it.

Third, next, Dogen Zenji says, put value on the dharma. It means, not on individual experience and feeling. Put value on the dharma, put value on the truth. It means a bigger scale of the world. It’s really bigger scale. It means you should open your heart. Even though you feel pensive, leave it alone. Open your heart, and then help. Do what you have to do. When you have to take care of your life, take care of your life. Whatever you feel – pensive or not pensive, like or dislike – anyway, open your heart, and then do it. That means put value on the dharma; not on individual feeling and experience. And then, from that way of life, you can really take care of individual feeling, and experience blooming in your life. It’s really help.

That is the second point: knowledge beyond the usual sense.


The third knowing is “supreme knowledge”.

Supreme knowledge is to know a way how to live in the world where we can clearly see the total picture, the total scenery of interchanging one with another. Interchanging one with another means, when you help somebody, there is the same and one ground, where you can see one total picture of interchanging “I” with this gentleman, when I help. So I cannot separate it. If I say “I”, simultaneously his life is there. If I say “his life,” immediately his life can be found in my life; because his life is the contents of my life. That’s why I cannot ignore his life. So very naturally, I connect it. Is that clear? The content of my life is not my own life, but simultaneously his life. That means I include his life. So his life is not his life; his life is my life.

That’s why the third knowledge, supreme knowledge, is to know a way how to live in the world where we can clearly see the total picture or scenery of interchanging one with another. So you can see totally the one beautiful picture where two things are constantly interchanging. That place is your place; you have to stand up there. Religiously speaking, if you want to explain it, it is called faith. Or idealistically, if you see it objectively, it is called God, or Buddhas, or dharma – whatever. Philosophically we can say so, but in terms of personal religious experience, it is called faith.

So faith is the place where you have to stand up straight, where you can see one beautiful picture of interchanging one with another. So you cannot say, “I am a good boy, I’ve never done something wrong.” That is really arrogant. [He laughs.] Because, existence is already a problem. Don’t you think so? [He laughs, and some people in the group laugh.] Existence is already a problem. For instance, you don’t understand that my existence is already a problem. You don’t know why? [He laughs.] Okay, I will explain. [Laughter]

My existence: I exist in Minneapolis. So is my existence in Minneapolis very helpful to the people? Yes or no? I don’t know. Maybe yes. But not for everyone! Don’t know thing so? Sometimes people say, “Oh come on, go away.” [He laughs.] Or, here in the United States, maybe my existence is pretty good, helpful, for somebody. But on the other hand, the Japanese people in my village are waiting for me to come back. So at that time, is my existence pretty good? No; I don’t think my existence here is good. So what do you mean? My existence is already a problem. Here is a good: if I see my existence in terms of these circumstances, my existence is pretty good. But on the other hand, already there is a problem; already somebody is suffering from my existence. Do you understand that? It is exactly truth. It applies to everyone.

If I say my existence is really helpful to everyone in the United States, particularly in Minneapolis, that is really arrogance, you know? So I cannot say, “I am a good teacher.” [He chuckles.] No, no way. So I have to always make repentance every day. Do you understand why we have to make repentance every day? Because my existence is already a problem. A problem coming up from the Buddha’s world, anyway; because Buddha’s world is always to let you know one total picture where two things are interchanging constantly. If I say “I”, immediately the other person appears. I cannot exist, I cannot survive without all of you. No; I’d never survive. So if I say, “I want to survive,” I have to survive with all of you.

That’s why we can help: because others are not others, others are the contents of my life. That’s why others are completely embraced by my life. At that time, my life can be found within the others. At that time, I can do something with full commitment. This is called compassion. And also, wisdom. This is called “supreme knowledge”.


In the Dhammapada, Verse 228, Buddha says, “There never was, there never will be, nor is there now, a man who is always blamed, or a man who is always praised.” Do you understand? [He chuckles.] It’s true. I cannot say, “I am a great teacher” – no way! I cannot do it. Because I know already how my existence gives trouble to people. I cannot say, “good teacher.” But on the other hand, I cannot say, “Bad teacher, bad guy.” No, I cannot say that either. So you have to see one picture where two things are interchanging constantly.

There is another poem I translated. Let’s read it this way:

See an unfavorable person in the distance.
See a favorable person close at hand.
Come closer to an unfavorable person.
[Step] apart from a favorable person.
Coming close, and going away from…
How interesting life is!

Usually we see only the favorable person. If you see an unfavorable person, you always keep away. It is natural, but on the other hand, sometimes you have to come closer to that person. And then you really appreciate them. You cannot always keep away from unfavorable person, or you cannot always come closer to favorable person. Not always.

Where do you have to stand up? Is there a certain place where you can always come closer to favorable person, and that’s it? That is your place where you have to stand up, in order to see the total picture in equality? No. Or, the other aspect of life: you should keep away from unfavorable person. You cannot do it; this is not your place either. So your place where you have to stand up is one total picture, where you can see two things, always interchanging. Nevertheless, your place is very stable. Steadfast; immovable. That is your place. You have to stand up there.

If you don’t understand, there is a way to experience this anyway. How? Dogen Zenji mentions, “You must be magnanimous.” Generous. Next, you must be kind; compassionate. Next, you must be joyful. Joy doesn’t mean pleasure. Joy is coming from the bottom of your heart, naturally. If you become generous even for a moment, joy is coming up from the bottom of your heart. Joy means appreciation, gratitude. Just a little sense of gratitude, a little sense of appreciation, you can see. Even though you don’t see appreciation or gratitude, if you become generous or magnanimous in whatever situation you may be in, joy, appreciation, and gratitude come up from the ground, just like spring water. Because, you are Buddha. Because you are great being.

That is knowledge: to know, to realize. That is the meaning of “to realize” the truth: all beings are Buddha.


The second point: “By the profound and steadfast aspiration for living our lives with all beings in peace and harmony in the light of the Buddha.”

I mentioned, what is a place where you have to stand up constantly, in order to figure out a way how to live in peace and harmony. This is Buddha. This is the Buddha’s world: where you can see the total interchanging, one with another. Interwoven, constantly.

Practically speaking, your mind, your life, is always “wriggling” and “wobbling,” always. Complaining, because there are too many hinderances. And also, the world is changing constantly; that’s why you feel constantly uneasy. But, basically, you have to constantly carry on profound steadfast aspiration. This is called Vow. Constantly vow. This vow is to try to live in peace and harmony, with all beings, in terms of the Buddha: Buddha’s teaching, Buddha’s life. Not in terms of individual ideas; in the light of the Buddha.


The third point: “By helping all beings.”

Every day, in many ways, we can help. I always say, using toilet paper: that is already helping others! Don’t expect a big deal. From your every day life, you can help. Toilet paper: this is helping others. So, this is the third point: you always have to help somebody or something.

This is Zen teaching. Helping others means, helping the microphone when you use the microphone. When you use the toilet paper, you have to help the life of toilet paper. That is Zen teaching. People don’t believe this one. But this is really true.

And that is the goal of ordination. So when you see this opportunity, I think that opportunity lets you turn over a new leaf. More or less. A little bit, or middle sized, or big size: it doesn’t matter. Anyway, to see this opportunity of receiving lay ordination is to let you turn over a new life. That is the first step; you can get into a different world from before. Even though you don’t know, [you can do it].

And if you don’t understand this, still let’s create this opportunity. And then, on purpose, with your will, let’s go: getting into that world. This is also important for us. Alright?

Okay. Next Saturday, we’ll explain a little more about the concrete aspects of the ceremony, one by one.

44:33 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.

Home | List | Previous | Next