March 15, 1986 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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The Triple Treasure – buddha, dharma, and sangha – is the sublime goal in life. We must take refuge in the Three Treasures in terms of the whole situation of our lives: intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. To this end, Katagiri Roshi looks at the Three Treasures in terms of philosophical worth, virtue or characteristics, and functioning. The teaching of “The Three Thousand Worlds in a Moment / Thought” from the Lotus Sutra means that there are buddhas and bodhisattvas even in hell, so there are ample opportunities to take refuge. Also: how Gandhi dealt with events and circumstances.


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Katagiri Roshi: I told you already, [the ceremony of lay ordination] consists of repentance, the Three Treasures – buddha, dharma, and sangha – the Three Collective Pure Precepts, and Ten Prohibitory Precepts. I already talked about repentance, and also a little bit about the Three Treasures.

The ritual of lay ordination is based on the idea of repentance, which means perfect openness of your heart. Repentance is not to apologize to somebody or something. You should open yourself, completely. If you do it, then consciously or unconsciously you are ready to listen to the voiceless voice of the universe. This is our practice, okay? So that’s why repentance is called formless repentance.

Anyway, briefly speaking, first we do repentance, which means perfect openness of your heart, which allows you to be ready to listen to the voiceless voice of the whole universe. That is repentance.

And then, the Triple Treasure is that if you open your heart, next, you have to behave in the realm of the universe. Not outside of the universe, and not inside of the universe – because your whole body and mind is completely embraced by the whole universe, so you have to behave in the realm of the universe. You have to manifest your life in the realm of the universe. There is no other way to go. How should we manifest ourselves in the realm of the universe? That is the Triple Treasure, the Three Refuges.

The Three Refuges are the three goals in life. When you realize your existence in the realm of the universe, then naturally you can see the goal in life – in other words, how you manifest your life in the realm of the universe, with all sentient beings.

Then, the Three Collective Pure Precepts. This is living in profound aspiration to help all sentient beings.

And then, the Ten Prohibitory Precepts are [how] to throw yourself into the universe, putting aside your ego, putting aside [the assertion of yourself in the ego]. How do you put aside [the assertion of yourself] in the ego? Well, you have to follow the teaching, and at least [the] ten prohibitory precepts.

So [let’s review] the structure of the ritual:

Repentance: this is perfect openness of your heart, which allows you to be ready to listen to the universe. This is completely beyond your judgement or understanding. If you do it, exactly you can open. So all you can do is […] carry the continuity of this practice forever, day by day, regardless of whether you can feel the voice of the universe or not. […] Your consciousness is always irritating to know or not to know, [but] perfect opening is completely beyond the irritation of your consciousness. Anyway you should open [your heart]. How? This is repentance.

Next, the Three Treasures: this is the three goals in life. Everyone should go to that target. Our effort is directed toward the Three Treasures: buddha, dharma, sangha.

Next, you have to have very profound aspiration for living in peace and harmony with all sentient beings. This is the Three Collective Pure Precepts.

And then next, individually, we have to throw ourselves into Buddha’s world, the universe, putting aside [the assertion of] yourself in the ego. Constantly we assert ourselves within egoistic life.

That is the structure of lay ordination.

Today, I would like to talk a little more about the Three Treasures. I use a different term sometimes: the Triple Treasure, or the Three Refuges. Whatever term I use, they are all the same, okay?


I already said that the Three Refuges refer to the three goals in life. But what is the goal in life toward which one’s effort is directed if one becomes a Buddhist? Buddhist means a universal being. Without being caught by the idea of sectarianism, what is the goal in life toward which one’s effort is directed? If you become a universal being, what is the goal?

Goal means the lofty ideal image of human beings, from which repose and bliss originate, or peace and harmony. Everyone [consciously or] unconsciously is seeking for something trustworthy, something dependable, beyond worldly affairs, by which we can feel relieved. More or less everyone is constantly seeking, or groping, for this. That’s why we suffer. This is called the inception of suffering. This is suffering. Even if you feel happy, there is suffering – because you want to keep it. Why do you want to keep it? Constantly, whatever your lifestyle may be, happy or unhappy, there is always suffering. Suffering means unsatisfaction, there is an unsatisfactory feeling there. [That’s because] you want to perfectly grasp or get something trustworthy or completely dependable. This is that which we are always seeking for.

So we say that is the goal in life. That goal is not something you can get in the realm of the conscious world, and not in the realm of the unconscious world – it is something more than the conscious world and the unconscious world. You don’t know what it is, but you are seeking for it everyday. That’s why we say it is suffering, or unsatisfaction, because whatever you get in the realm of worldly affairs, happiness or unhappiness, justice or injustice, you aren’t satisfied. Why aren’t you satisfied? Because you are still seeking for something more than you have gotten. This [goal] is pretty deep. I don’t know what it is. No one knows what it is; but we are seeking [for it].

That goal is the very lofty, sublime, ideal image of human beings. Everyone has it. I say lofty; lofty is sublime. Sublime means “of high spiritual, moral, and intellectual worth.” So you have to appreciate your life, because your life is sublime; lofty. That means your life, physically and mentally, has spiritual, moral, and intellectual worth. That’s why everyone respects others.

The Three Refuges means we take refuge in the Three Treasures: buddha, dharma, sangha. So very naturally, how do we take refuge in buddha, dharma, sangha? Not only in terms of sensation or emotion. Not only in terms of intellectual worth. And not only in terms of the moral sense. No. You have to accept the Three Treasures in terms of spiritual, moral, intellectual, and emotional worth. And then, this is called faith. If you do it, very naturally faith comes up from the bottom of your life.

That’s why I say “the lofty, sublime, ideal image of human beings” – how we should live in this world in peace and harmony. As long as you are born in this world as a human being, there is a goal in life, there is a goal in human society. Everyone’s effort should be directed toward that goal. Because you exist in a certain society: so-called America, so-called Minnesota. Minnesota has the goal in its society, according to a [difference in] the weather, and according to the Midwest, et cetera. So very naturally, everyone’s effort should be directed toward the goal in Minnesota society, if you live there. If you live in the United States, you have to go toward the goal in American society. And then, everyone can live in peace and harmony.

So let’s see the Three Treasures in terms of the spiritual, moral, ethical, emotional, and intellectual. Otherwise, if you ignore intellectual worth, your effort is directed toward the Three Treasures very emotionally, or, if you are really depending on the intellectual worth, you ignore the emotional aspect of human life; so [either way], it is not the proper, right way of faith. You have to accept faith or the Three Treasures in terms of the whole situation of your life: emotion, intellect, and spiritual.


(Transcriber’s Note: In reading the following sections, the question arises, how do philosophical worth, virtue or characteristics, and functioning map to intellect, spirit, and emotion? Or do they? This question is not directly addressed in the talk. My interpretation is that philosophical worth corresponds to intellect, virtue or characteristics might correspond to spirit or ethics (or both), and function corresponds to emotion. A different interpretation is offered in the book Returning to Silence, in the section “The Triple Treasure.”)

First, let’s see the Three Treasures in terms of philosophical worth.

At that time, Buddha refers to the truth itself; Buddha means exactly the truth itself, the whole universe itself. The essence of the universe, the essence of being itself, we call the truth. We call [this] universal life, common to all sentient beings: trees, birds, human beings, pebbles, rivers, mountains.

Dharma refers to cleanness and purity, which allows all beings to be free from worldly dust.

So from this philosophical point of view, look at winter. According to your individual emotional pattern of life, someone accepts this winter, someone doesn’t accept this winter. Someone hates it; someone loves it. So various styles of life come up. But according to dharma in terms of philosophical worth, I think winter is beauty itself. So if you see winter, immediately you are impressed by it, because winter is dharma, which refers to cleanness and purity, which allows all beings to be free from worldly affairs, which means free from our thoughts and evaluations or judgements. Dharma completely allows everything to be free from any dust. That’s why at the very moment of meeting this winter, you are really moved. The next moment, you don’t know the reason why you are moved, but anyway, you are moved. The way you are moved by the presence of winter in Minnesota means you are connected, you really have communion with the universe.

So from this point, winter, trees, snow, sky – we say all are dharma, which means cleanness and purity, or peace and harmony. Originally all sentient beings are really peaceful and harmonious, and clear and pure; that is the state of all sentient beings in terms of philosophical worth. That is completely beyond our judgement or evaluation.

Next, sangha (in terms of philosophical worth). In this case, sangha means peace and harmony which allows all beings to be free from confusion, perverted views and misunderstandings. That why Dogen Zenji says if you want to practice the Buddha Way, you should believe in the human world which is based on no confusion, no upset, no perverted views, no misunderstanding. So originally, all sentient beings are exactly peaceful, harmonious. This is called sangha.

So in terms of philosophical worth, Buddha is the truth itself, and dharma is the form of all sentient beings regarded as just purity, cleanness. That’s why you can learn many things from all sentient beings: good or evil, war or peace, you can learn lots. And sangha means all sentient beings are originally peaceful or harmonious, that’s why you can communicate. If you open your heart, you communicate naturally; you can have very spiritual communion between you and the universe.

That is the philosophical worth of the Three Treasures.


[Second,] let’s see the Three Treasures in terms of virtue – that means the characteristics of the Three Treasures.

At that time, Buddha means actualized realization of the supreme way. Buddha means constantly existence is nothing but the total manifestation of the truth; that’s it. Temporarily we call this existence, if you use [a philosophical] term. But existence is not a philosophical term; this is something more than a philosophical concept, so-called existence. How can I say it? I don’t know. If you use [the word] existence, immediately existence can be seen in terms of philosophical concept. But it’s not. So very naturally, you have to see something more than the philosophical sense of existence. So we say not-existence. That’s why we have to negate the usual concept of existence: because in order to see something more than the philosophical concept of existence, we should forget that term, and then open ourself, and practically, let’s see what it is. So intellectually we have to negate that term, the usual concept called existence. So that’s why if you want to know real Buddha in terms of the virtue of the Three Treasures, you have to see existence as a whole.

[This is] actualized realization of the supreme way. The truth is already actualized, before you poke your head into existence, so that’s why I say actualized realization. I told you before, realization means to accept and to digest. Realization means you should accept something [in] your life [as] subject and object, and next, you have to digest both of them totally, until […] subject and object don’t leave their own trace, concept, or idea; they turn completely into life energy. This is realization. The world [and] all sentient beings are exactly actualized realization of the truth. That’s why we can live in the world.

Dharma in terms of the virtue of the Three Treasures means that which the Buddha has realized. What he has realized is, “I have attained enlightenment simultaneously with all sentient beings.” In other words, all beings are nothing but realized being, enlightened being. So you have to see or hear with your whole body and mind, and deal with all sentient beings in terms of enlightened beings. So very naturally, you can share compassion or kindness to all.

“I have attained enlightenment simultaneously with all beings” means [the Buddha is amply present in all beings], in other words, the truth is amply present in [all beings]. Everyone is the truth. So what is the form of Katagiri? The form of Katagiri is manifestation of Buddha, truth. This is the content of what Buddha realized, 2500 years ago. Even though we don’t understand it, it is really true. […] The Buddhas and ancestors have transmitted that essential teaching from generation to generation.

Next, sangha. Sangha in terms of virtue is to learn, to study, to practice this Buddha, this dharma. So very naturally, you can feel appreciation, because […] the truth is manifested constantly; temporarily this is called existence. And also next as dharma, each of our existence is what? All beings are nothing but that which Buddha has realized; all sentient beings are enlightened beings. So [there is] nothing to waste. You have to really deal with all sentient beings with compassion, with kindness, with appreciation. And then, whether you understand or don’t understand, it doesn’t matter, the sangha is that you have to continue to learn and study and practice this Buddha, this dharma in everyday life.

This is the Three Treasures in terms of virtue.


Third, the Three Treasures in terms of functioning.

In this case the Buddha refers to he [who] constantly edifies all beings wherever they may be.

[Consider the] aspect of the Buddhist teachings (in the Lotus Sutra) called “The Three Thousand Worlds in a Moment in a Single Thought”. In other words, there are three thousand worlds manifested in a single thought. That is ten categories of the world: hell, hungry ghost, fighting spirits, animal spirit, human beings, celestial beings, pratekya buddhas, sravaka buddhas, bodhisattvas, and buddhas. And each of the ten categories of existence has the rest of the ten categories of existence. It means that hell is not only hell; hell has the hungry ghosts, fighting spirits, animal spirits, human beings, celestial beings, bodhisatvas, sravaka buddhas, pratekya buddhas, and also Buddha’s world. So within hell, there is a Buddha. Even in the hell world, still there are bodhisattvas, sravakas, pratekyas, human beings, celestial beings – always. So from this point, wherever you may go, you have great opportunity to be saved.

In [the classic 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, there is a character called] Son Gokū, which means Monkey (or Monkey King). Monkey was very jealous of human beings, who can do everything, so he really wanted to do something more than human beings. So he started to practice asceticism and mysticism, and finally he got enormous power which allowed him to fly in the sky by his magic. Finally he tried to test where the end of the universe is. He flew through the universe and [thought he] reached the end, because [there were] five poles right in front of him. So he thought, “Here it is, the end of the universe! I have reached it!” Immediately, the five poles fell down over the monkey, [he laughs,] and the [Monkey was crushed], and he screamed, “Help, help!” And then from the sky, somebody said, “Who are you? Where are you going?” [Monkey] said, “I am Monkey. I tried to test where is the end of the universe. I have reached the end of the universe, so I put my mark on the bottom of each of the five poles.” (Transcriber’s Note: marking the poles probably means urinating on them.) [Monkey pleaded,] “Help me! I want to go back to the human world.” And then the Buddha said, “Oh, poor Monkey. Do you know where you are?” “I am at the end of the universe.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, I am sure! That’s why I put the marks there! Look at this one!” Then Buddha opened his hand. “This is my hand; it’s not the universe.” [He laughs.] Do you understand this?

So whatever you do, wherever you may be, you are doing it in the Buddha’s world. Buddha’s world means the universe. The universe is nothing but the total manifestation of the truth, by which all sentient beings are naturally supported and upheld. That’s if you open your heart, okay? If you don’t open your heart, it’s a little bit difficult; that means it takes a long time. But still, basically the universe and truth is very compassionate and kind toward all sentient beings. It constantly gives compassion, helping. Just like rain. Rain is accepted by many kinds of beings, but some of our plants grow, and some don’t grow. If you don’t open your heart, it’s pretty hard. Pretty hard means it really takes time, that’s all. But basically, rain is rain. Rain is falling to support all sentient beings.

So that is [how] in terms of functioning, Buddha refers to a person who consistently edifies all beings, wherever they may be.

Dharma means [Buddha] edifies animate and inanimate beings by virtue of appearing as Buddha statues, as paintings of Buddha, as statues of bodhisattvas – of Avalokiteshvara, and Manjusri, and Samantabhadra – and also as Buddhist scriptures written in words. [Samantabhadra represents] the principle of existence and practice; Avalokiteshvara is the symbol of a being who [represents] compassion and kindness; [Manjushri represents] wisdom. [Buddha or truth manifests itself constantly as statues, as paintings, or as scriptures] because it’s very difficult for human beings to have communion with the truth itself. It’s pretty hard. So very naturally human beings have very deep feelings and sensations, which we try to make into something through which we can have very deep, compassionate communion with the universe: that is the Buddhist arts, religious arts. That is a Buddha statue. A Buddha statue is not an idol; it is beautiful art. Art means manifestation of the perfect beauty coming from the human heart.

[Tape change.]

So from this point, not only the paintings and statues, but also the form of the trees, the color of the mountains, the sounds of the valley streams – all are teaching us, teaching the truth to us constantly. That’s why Dogen Zenji says the color of the mountains, the sounds of the valley streams, all are the voice and the features of Buddha Shakyamuni, or truth. Or, a Chinese poet says: “The sound of the valley streams is his long, broad tongue. The color of the mountains is his pure body. At night I hear the eighty-four thousand verses uttered. How can I show others what they say?”

Sangha in terms of the functioning of the Triple Treasure refers to saving all beings from their suffering, and freeing them from the house of the Triple World – the house of worldly affairs. The sangha in this case means the profound aspiration for letting all beings be free from suffering, including subject and object. Because generally, sangha means peace and harmony. In terms of the function of sangha, I think there must be something actualized by you. That something actualized by you, so-called activity or action, human behavior, must last for a long time – not only in your lifetime, but life after life. In order to carry this refined human action for a long time, we need profound aspiration: so-called vow. So this action is based on vow: vow for helping all sentient beings [be] free from suffering – not only you yourself individually, no. Then simultaneously, this profound aspiration for letting all beings be free from suffering naturally turns into human action to build up the peaceful, harmonious, human world – the so-called Buddha land.

So, [there are] two aspects of refined human action based on the sangha. One is you have to constantly carry on refined human action. That is to save or to help all sentient beings. In order to carry on that action for a long time, we need profound aspiration, which means vow. And then secondly, simultaneously, this human action based on vow shows itself as establishment of the Buddha land, where all beings can live in peace and harmony, because you are constantly thinking and helping all sentient beings practically, in many ways. Not only one particular way; in many ways you can help. This is the sangha.

Very naturally, you have to understand the Triple Treasure in terms of philosophical worth, and also the characteristics or virtue of the Triple Treasure, and the functioning of the Triple Treasure, so you can see a dim image of the lofty ideal of human life, toward which our effort should be directed. So very naturally you can establish your life as a whole, total personality – which is lofty, which is profound, and helping all sentient beings. Emotionally, philosophically, and morally, ethically, in many ways, you can help. Then this is called Buddhist faith.

Do you have questions?


Question: Roshi? What do you see as the goal of American society?

Katagiri: American society and Japanese society and Philippine society – wherever you may go, the most essential goals in life are the points I have mentioned. The goals in life I have mentioned are open to everywhere, anybody, not only a particular race.

Same person: I’d say the society is very different …

Katagiri: But it doesn’t matter. The surface is different, anyway. [He laughs.] Japanese society is different from American society. The customs, habits, and mores of the American people are different from the Japanese, of course. But it is not good enough to understand the different mores or lifestyles of human beings, but also you have to realize the same and one ground where different lifestyle of the beings exist. That is the most important thing. But usually we try to understand the different aspects, different styles, of race, human beings, and then we thing we can create peace. No. You have to find the same and one ground, where the many, many different lifestyles of existence exist in peace and harmony. That is the point I mentioned. That is the Triple Treasure.

Of course, we should understand what is different. Japanese culture is different from American culture; Japanese are different from Americans. Yes, they are. But it’s not good enough. If you only understand the different lifestyles of beings, we’re always fighting.

Even though I try to teach something universal, beyond American or Japanese, still I am Japanese, so people always say, “You are Japanese, so you are talking about the Japanese Buddhism.” I’m not! [He laughs.] I am Japanese, of course, who is different from you. But I am trying to disclose a universal lifestyle.


Question: Hojo-san? I heard you say toward the beginning something like, when human beings assert themselves, that’s egoistic. And I was wondering if you’re saying from your experience that being passive is egoless.

Katagiri: I’m not clear; would you say it again please?

Same person: I thought you said that when we’re assertive, that’s egoistic, so I wondered if you’re implying that being passive is egoless.

Katagiri: Do you think egoless is passive?

Same person: I wondered what you were thinking. [Laughter.]

Katagiri: No, not passive. [He chuckles.] Egoless is passive and positive. For instance, you cannot ignore ego and [egolessness]; you have both. It’s not real practice whether you should accept a style of ego or a style of egolessness. No. It’s not important, alright? This is secondary. The important point is, first, how do you see humans – [for example] Katagiri – as a whole? From where? From ego-style, or egoless-style?

Let’s look at an example. For instance, if I get the flu, and then two people try to see me. One person, A, says, “I don’t want to catch the flu from you, so please, don’t give a lecture today. You should sleep.” B person says, “You’ve got the flu, so please take a rest. It’s not necessary to give a talk today, because you’re very tired; it’s not so good for you. So please take a rest.” And then what kind of world comes up between the two? Do you understand?

The important point is not whether you should [choose] ego or egolessness; the point is, how do you take care of one person, one reality, one event. In terms of what? Ego? Or egolessness? And then, quite a different world comes up. Do you understand? If B person says, “Oh, poor Katagiri, please take a rest, because you’ve got the flu, it’s very difficult for you to give a talk today,” that’s pretty nice, because B person is completely practicing egolessness. But A person says, “I don’t want to catch the flu from you”; that means A person deals with other person in terms of his own standpoint, so always he’s attached to himself. This is really manifestation of ego, don’t you think so? [He laughs.] So then, a different world comes up. Completely different. So very naturally, B and Katagiri can come together and also create a peaceful [mood] (or mode) of circumstances. And then, everyone can get into this peaceful [mood] of circumstances.

That is called egolessness. Egolessness is not the idea of egolessness opposed to ego, because you cannot discuss always about egolessness and ego, which of the two are important. We cannot say, you know? [He chuckles.] We cannot always be practicing egolessness, because if you try to practice egolessness, immediately ego comes up, and so you can always see both.

Question: On the same point, it seems like if someone is threatening violence, and A submits, that would be egoless, and B does not submit, or asserts some sort of defense, that might be ego coming up – but that being egoless doesn’t necessarily create peace and harmony.

Katagiri: Sometimes. But egolessness can accept whatever situation happens.

Same person: Egolessness is always acceptable?

Katagiri: It’s [accepting]; all kinds of events which occur in the egolessness world can be acceptable.

For instance, Gandhi. How did he deal with events and circumstances, human beings? Everyone’s really violent, et cetera, but he saw both: violent or nonviolent. But he doesn’t always discuss, “which should I accept, violent or nonviolent?” No. Because completely he stands up beyond the idea of violent or nonviolent. It means he is constantly standing in total nonviolence, beyond the idea of violent or nonviolent.

In other words, if you see the rose, I say, “Oh! Rose is beautiful.” But be careful: there is a thorn, a terrible thorn. If I say, “Rose has a terrible thorn behind the beauty,” and you say, “Oh yes, rose has a thorn, but how beautiful the rose is,” what’s the difference [between] my life and your life? You’re standing completely beyond the idea of thorn which is terrible or rose which is beautiful, and then you actually deal with the rose which has two [aspects]: thorn and [rose], ugliness and beauty. You are always standing in total beauty. If you stand up in the beautiful world, you can establish a peaceful world, [a peaceful world] comes up.

So the same applied to Gandhi. Gandhi always stood up in the perfect peaceful world, whatever happened. And then he can see human beings, violent, with a thorn, behind the beauty. But he doesn’t always argue. He’s constantly standing [in] how beautiful human beings are. That’s it. Is that clear? A quite different world comes up.

So real peace is not discussion of the idea of peace or not-peace, or violent or not-violent. You have to show real peace, or perfect non-violence. At that time, any kind of event which occurs in the realm of perfect nonviolence can be accepted by you.

So finally, Gandhi was killed. But he forgave. That’s a martyr, in a deep sense.

Maybe I can accept my death. Emotionally, I cannot accept death. [He laughs.] But as a whole, I can accept it. So part of my body, you know, my mind, consciousness, is screaming, “No, I don’t [accept death].” But as a whole, I can accept it. Because, [there is] no excuse. [It’s not giving up], you know?

Do you have more questions? [He laughs.]

Question: [Sometime] I’ll have more questions.

Katagiri: Yes. [He laughs, and the group laughs.]

But Gandhi’s example is very good for you. You can think of it. If you are Gandhi, what do you do? You have to think of that person.

1:10:03 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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