April 12, 1986 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org

This transcript is in rough draft stage.


[Opening chant in Japanese]

An unsurpassed, penetrating and perfect dharma
Is rarely met with even in a hundred thousand million kalpas
Having it to see and listen to, remember and accept
I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagatha’s words.


Katagiri Roshi: In the commentary [on the] Zen Precepts, it says,

Precepts refers to restraint and extermination. Shakyamuni Buddha, who started sitting in zazen under a bodhi tree, ended in attainment of enlightenment and establishment of the precepts; this is named restraint. It means to put on a brake, to stop in the realm of the truth that I and all beings on the great earth both simultaneously attain enlightenment together. That is why it is called Buddha’s precepts.

(This is from The Essence of Zen Precepts (Zenkaisho), compiled by the eighteenth-century monk and scholar Banjin Dotan. This appears to be Katagiri Roshi’s own translation, as discussed later in this talk.)

From this, [the Precepts] in Buddhism must be understood carefully, because it has very profound meaning. (Transcriber’s Note: Katagiri Roshi sometimes here refers to precept in the singular, but it seems clear that he is referring to all of the Precepts.)

The other day, maybe I mentioned that the Precepts are Buddha Nature. Generally speaking, the Precepts are Buddha Nature, or Buddhahood. Or if you use plain words, the Precepts are the Truth, or suchness, or the universe. And Jukai [means] Receiving the Precepts. So receiving the Precepts is receiving Buddhahood, receiving the truth, receiving the universe. You bow, you prostrate [yourself] on the floor, and raise your hands. That is receiving the universe in your hands. Without any discussion, receive: this is [to] touch your forehead to the floor and raise your hands.

So receiving the Precepts is to receive the universe, the Truth, or as-it-is-ness of existence, or Buddha Nature. And to receive means to awaken. So to receive the precepts is to awaken the universe, awaken the truth, awaken the suchness or as-it-is-ness of existence.

So to awaken means you have to receive something with your body and mind and digest [it]. In other words, ingest the Precepts and digest with your body and mind; this is called awakening. And then you understand human life. And if you understand your life, you understand others’ lives, because you understand your life in the universal perspective, so your life is exactly others’ lives. So you can understand others. And then, if you understand [humans], it means to understand the world. So if you want to understand the world, you have to understand humans, individual beings. You have to understand through and through. And then, that is simultaneously connected directly [with] the world. That’s why to receive is to awaken.

And also, if you understand [humans] and [their] world, then you can really appreciate your existence and others’ existence, the existence of the world. Then, you really want to express it, manifest it, or transmit it to somebody. That’s why Bodhidharma says, “To awaken is to transmit.”

So receiving the precepts is not just to have a moral code, [as you] usually think. No, it’s not.

So first of all, please remember this point: the Precepts in Buddhism are Buddha Nature, the truth, or the whole universe. To receive the Precepts is to receive the universe. And then next, to receive means to awaken. To awaken means you have to ingest the Precepts and digest until they become energy for your life. That is to receive: to awaken. And then next, you cannot keep it [in] your individual life. You want to manifest, you want to reveal it, naturally. This is called transmit, teaching something to others.

That’s why [after] Buddha awakened the truth sitting under the bodhi tree, for a certain period of days he was concerned about whether he should stay there and keep his own individual experience without teaching it to others, or not. This was his question after he realized the truth of the world. For a certain period of days he stayed under the bodhi tree, and then he decided to go out to teach. For forty years, he taught the teaching of the truth, teaching of the universe, to everybody.

So not only the Buddha – everyone. If something touches your heart very deeply, you cannot keep it in your life alone. Sooner or later, it comes up. So you want to manifest it, you want to teach it. Not show off – you want to teach it. You want to guide, you want to help people. That is called transmit. That’s why from age to age you can transmit human culture. Otherwise, you cannot transmit human life, human culture, human history at all.

So everyone has this kind of heart, really wanting to transmit, to teach, to help people. This is called Buddha Nature; the universe. Remember this point.


And then, I would like to explain this commentary. In this commentary, it explains the meaning of restraint. But here it says, the Precepts refer to restraint and extermination, it says extermination.

Extermination in Japanese has two meanings. One meaning is to abandon, to throw away, or to cut off. The other meaning is to finish a work, et cetera, at [one] sitting or at a moment. Finish something at [one] sitting. Is that clear? It means, if you want to finish [in one] sitting at the moment, right now, [then] you should finish it. But if your mind is always moving, [thinking] this or that, or future or past, you cannot finish sitting perfectly. So to finish something [in one] sitting means to do something perfectly, thoroughly. [When]? Right now. [Right now] is a great opportunity to do this. So that is extermination, we say. So extermination is not to destroy something, or to throw away something from here to somewhere. No, it’s not. [It has] two meanings.

And then, I think maybe after explaining the significance of restraint, then that will make meaning of extermination clearer. So I would like to explain [restraint]. The commentary says it means to put on a brake, to stop, in the realm of the truth that I and all beings on the great earth both simultaneously attain enlightenment together. This is why they are called Buddha’s Precepts.

[I am translating this, but] it’s very difficult to translate it from Japanese to English directly. In Japanese the commentary uses the simple term restraint, but restraint is used as a verb: to restrain. But if I translate it literally [as] “to restrain,” it doesn’t make sense. For instance… let me translate it literally, okay? “It means to restrain, to restrain I and all beings on the great earth both simultaneously attain enlightenment together.” Do you understand this? [He chuckles] It means to restrain the truth that I and all beings on the great earth together attain enlightenment simultaneously. I don’t understand it. [He laughs.] Even in Japanese, it’s pretty hard to understand it. So I translate it in this way: “It means to put on a brake, to stop, in the realm of the truth that I and all beings on the great earth both simultaneously attain enlightenment together.”

So in to restrain there are two important points. One is to put on a brake, and then you can stop it. So when you put on a brake, where do you stop? Where can you stop? You can stop not in the realm of morality, or physics, or the dualistic world; you can stop in the truth that I and all sentient beings simultaneously attain enlightenment together. Even though you don’t understand it, if you put the brake, immediately you can stop it, beyond your senses. But your senses start to quickly work. [You think,] “Where? Is there a better place? Is this a parking [place]? Yes, this is a parking [place]. Is this the right parking [place] for me or not?” [He laughs.] Okay? You imagine the world. Even though you put on the break and stop, your car stops exactly, but your mind doesn’t stop. So [you are] always looking around. Even if you seem to stop, you don’t stop exactly in the truth. “I and all sentient beings simultaneously attain enlightenment” means I and all sentient beings completely stop in peace and harmony. Where? Right now. That’s it.

So how do I do [it]? Put on a brake; that’s it. “Put on a brake” means practice; practice means a positive way of life. You have to do something; without doing anything, you cannot stop. So to put on a brake and stop [are] not separate, not divided into two. If you want to experience [stopping] with all sentient beings in peace and harmony, you have to put on a brake, okay?

If you put on a brake, simultaneously it is so-called stop. But we don’t believe it. If we say so, still your mind is moving: “Yes, Katagiri, I understand. I stop. I put on a brake.” And then what does it mean? It is “I stop; I put on a brake” – it is still the moral sense. You practice dualistically, you put on a brake. And then, after putting on a brake, you can see the car stopping, but this is dualistic. So put on a brake, simultaneously that is stop. No gap between.


For instance, this teaching is based on two teachings in Buddhism.

One is the teaching of interdependence, the teaching that all things without exception are dependent on a support, or conditioned elements. Many things. This is one teaching. [In the] dualistic world, the human world, you never exist alone. No. You seem to be alone, but you are never alone. You live with all sentient beings. Even though you believe “I am alone” – no. Because where does the idea of aloneness come from? It emerges from relation with others; that’s why you say “I’m alone.” The idea of aloneness implies or brings on the idea of others’ existence; that’s why I say “I’m alone.” That means that beyond your understanding, your existence is connected with something else. Not only human beings; all sentient beings are connected. So that is called interdependent co-origination, or according to Buddhist Psychology we say [eka kisho], which means all are dependent on a support or conditioned elements.

This is the reality of how dualistic world is structured and is going. This is our reality. If you misunderstand this reality, you create an imaginary world, so-called deluded. If you understand this reality, you can touch the truth. So that interdependent co-origination is a very subtle point, from which can create delusion or you can you can touch the heart. So that is kind of a pivot of nothingness. That pivot is completely nothingness, because it’s constantly moving, connected. That is a pivot of nothingness, we say. If you understand that correctly, you can touch the heart of the universe and existence, but if you misunderstand it, you create an imaginary world, so-called deluded world.

The second is the teaching of emptiness in self-substance. [Emptiness] making up the substratum of individual being.

These two teachings are the Buddhist Precepts. To put on the brake, to stop is backed by these two teachings.

So let me say about this: number one, the teaching based on interdependent co-origination. Simply speaking, it means freedom lies in limitation, liberation lies in delusions, buddha is present in samsara. I think Saddharma Pundarika (the Lotus Sutra) says, “the place where Buddha should be is … ” nyan nyan budhi in Japanese… I forgot the Sanskrit – that is “solemn part of the universe,” that is the place where human beings exist. So in the Lotus Sutra it says the place for the Buddha is that human world, we say samsara. Samsara means repetition of life and death, going constantly. So freedom lies in limitation, or liberation lies in delusion, buddha lies in samsara, because nothing exists alone. So if you say liberation – “I want to have liberation,” or “I want to be free from something,” object or subject – you never see liberation or freedom within freedom. But people believe unconsciously freedom is only in the realm of freedom. No. It’s wrong. It’s completely misunderstood. Freedom must be found in samsara; limitation. Because everything is dependent on a support or conditioned element. That means what? Already the dualistic world. Dualistic world means already you exist – not only human beings, anything exists depending on something else, support. So when you think liberation, liberation comes into existence when you accept limitation of the world; then [liberation] comes into existence. So without the limitation, you cannot think anything at all, so-called liberation.

So, it is because of the self nature of delusion in delusions. Because of the self nature of delusion in delusion – in other words, it means that when a delusion is thoroughly squeezed dry, delusion disappears and liberation emerges from [it]. Just like you can squeeze juice from an orange. So if you squeeze delusions in your hand, in your body and mind, dry, thoroughly, the liberation emerges from [this]. Because it has no sense of self-substance. No sense of self-substance means always moving. The basis of your existence is constantly moving and connected with each-other, very quickly, at superspeed.

So that is according to the first teaching. I think if you squeeze something through and through, it turns into something else. You lose its own self nature; you don’t know what it is, if you squeeze something good or bad through and through. If you squeeze your life thoroughly, you don’t know who you are. Whatever it is.

For instance, if you look at your face in the mirror, then you say how beautiful your face is, or how miserable your nose is, because [it’s crooked], you know? But whatever you say, you should squeeze your crooked nose thoroughly, then your crooked nose becomes a beautiful nose. Because you love it. Because no choice, [no way] to escape. So completely you really love it. [He laughs.] And then if you start to love your crooked nose, crooked nose becomes delusion. [He laughs.]

So always, if you grasp this one through and through, something else comes up. And then you grasp that one, and then it disappears and something else comes up. So very naturally, nothing to grasp, and you don’t know what it is, why you suffer from [it]. Why you repeat life like this – we don’t know. Because everything has no sense of self-substance. So, next, the second teaching, that is called “emptiness in self-substance.”


So from this point, practically speaking, how can we reveal the freedom from dualistic sense? Dualistic sense means you live already in the dualistic world, because, I mentioned already, nothing exists alone. So if you think liberation should be found in the limitation of the world, so how can we be free from that dualistic world? In order to get the liberation, how can you be free from not only the limitation of the world, but the idea of liberation? How can we do this? This is just to practice. Very pure practice.

So I say “to squeeze dry thoroughly” means practice. Anyway, the important point is the contents of your behavior, how seriously you put on the brake. The brake doesn’t exist alone, without you. You doesn’t exist alone without the brake. So brake and you – how can you live to the full with the brake, so-called Precept? [I say] Precept; lots of Precepts there. That is a brake, material world, teaching. But that teaching doesn’t exist alone, it exists with you. In other words, how can you use that precept or material world by you? What is the contents of your behavior, in relation with the precept, brake?

And then, between the brake and you, you can see a bigger space. Between you and the brake, you can see space and time, and also you can create mood, wonderful mood, through the space. Not through “the brake” or “I”.

For instance, if I sit here and Ty Cashman sits over there – what do I mean, I sit here and Ty Cashman sits over there? Should I attach to Ty Cashman? Yes or no? [He laughs.] I cannot attach to Ty Cashman, because if I want to know real relationship, I should accept this space between Ty and I. What do I mean, this space? Space enables me to realize how I can have a close, warm, and compassionate relationship between Ty and I. This is relation. Without space, I cannot have any relation with Ty. Because Ty is always impermanent: now he is sitting over there; maybe next moment, he leaves. [Maybe] he might get tired of listening to the Buddha’s teaching [he laughs, and someone, presumably Ty, laughs], or pain from the legs, and boredom. So, we don’t know. But if I have a warm compassionate relation between Ty and I through this space, even though Ty leaves, still I can see this warm relationship. Okay? And then, simultaneously I can create a whole mood, imparting to every inch of this room. [He laughs.]

For instance, you come here and sit in zazen in this room. But this room itself is not different from rooms in other buildings. This is nothing but a building. But this is different, you can feel the difference from others’ rooms. If you visit others’ houses, you can feel different. The moment when you come here – something. So what we you mean? Who creates this whole mood? I use [the word] “mood,” but it’s not imaginary world, it’s something. Because your existence is always penetrating to every inch of space and time. When you come here, sit in zazen, immediately you are connected with many things, visibly and invisibly. And then, you can have a relationship between you and zazen, and space, and [okesa], and many things. And, you create whole mood, totally. Wonderful mood, imparting to every inch of this room. [We] leave here, [and] somebody comes after that, [it] feels wonderful, peaceful. That is most important. That’s why relationship is very important for us.

So how can we be free from the dualistic world, based on emptiness in self-substance? At that time, that means to squeeze the brake, and you. Squeeze the brake thoroughly. It means, wholeheartedness. We say sometimes wholeheartedness, or one-pointedness. Sometimes in Sanskrit [we say] manasikara, [which] means “taking to heart.” Take the brake to heart. That means thoroughly, deeply take the brake to heart. At that time, you and the brake become one. According to the Buddhist technical term, we say samadhi, or one-pointedness, or wholeheartedness. Through wholeheartedness or one-pointedness, you can squeeze something thoroughly dry, and then you can get something else.

When? Right now. Time is right now. How? Using your body and mind, according to the suggestion of the ancestors and Buddhas. And then if you do it, that is called stop, you can stop it.

So put on a brake in the common sense is the moral sense, morality, moral world, ethical world. According to the traffic code, you have to put on a brake. But put on the brake is not moral code or traffic code, because by put on the brake you can stop where? Not in the realm of moral code or traffic code, you have to stop in the realm of the truth. All sentient beings simultaneously attain enlightenment means you stop, and simultaneously all sentient beings must stop. That means you and all sentient beings are exactly peaceful. That is called stop.

But mind is always moving. So in a sense, strictly speaking, you have to stop moving your mind. But there is constantly minutely moving your mind. So if you come to the ultimate terminal station of moving your mind, terminal station of the mind moving minutely, at that time what you have to do is very simple practice: just put on a brake, that’s it. Because it’s minute moving. You never know how much, you never know how can you stop moving. No. What you can do is just stop, beyond intellectual [or] emotional discussion of how we should stop. When you come to the terminal station of the mind minutely moving, it’s very simple practice you can reach. That’s all you can do.


So [a] precept is to put on a brake, to stop. To stop means you have to put on a brake. Why do we have to put on a brake? It is not the usual moral practice, because you have to stop in the realm of the truth, so-called total, perfect peace and harmony. Stop your mind moving, anyway. When you stop it, very naturally there is actual practice there. That is called not kill, et cetera. Various precepts there.

So “not to take life” is to put on a brake. So you have to practice this one. But how? Simply: you just obey, you follow “not to take life.”

But when you look at your life, how much can you obey this precept? Well, lots of times you break this precept: killing insects and killing many things, unconsciously or sometimes consciously. But anyway, there is no room for us to discuss [whether] we can follow this precept or not: from moment to moment we have to just put on the brake. That means just accept and practice it. And then, this is exactly a way to enable you to stop in the peaceful, harmonious world.

That’s why in lay ordination we said, who obeys this precept? For what should we obey this precept? For whom do myriad flowers bloom in spring? For whom? If you see flowers, you are really impressed by the beautiful flowers in the spring. It comes from where? It comes from spring? [That] is already discussion. It comes from ground? [That’s] already discussion. It is blooming for somebody else? [That] is discussion already. So finally what you think is, for whom does this beautiful flower bloom in the spring? We don’t know. For whom you have to obey this precept? We don’t know. But it is reality, and it is very clear fact that flower is blooming from moment to moment, before your intellectual sense pokes into it. It’s already there. That is simple practice: just bloom. So all we have to do is just obey, and just follow the precepts as best as we can.

So that’s why in lay ordination we say finally… as Buddha mentions, who obeys this precept, for whom do we obey this precept? Who gives this benefit? What is the benefit of the precept? Who give this benefit, to whom? Lots of questions come up. But all questions, anyway, must be squeezed, thoroughly. Where? In your hand, so-called the moment, right now, right here. And then, all things disappear. And then digest it. And then, you can create a wonderful mood, so-called Spring. Extending into every being: rocks, and trees… everybody. Everybody feels wonderful, anyway.

This is the meaning of precept in Buddhism, okay? So I think, even if you don’t understand now, well, please keep it in your heart. And contemplate the meaning of the Precepts in your everyday life. Beyond whether you will be able to obey or not, we have to think, we have to maintain, we have to be mindful of this precept. And then, gradually, you become wonderful. Sometimes immediately – but, no guarantee. [He laughs, and the audience laughs.] You can just do it.

A guarantee is something coming from an insurance company. [Laughter.] It’s not yours. My life insurance company is not mine. It’s the Zen Center’s! [He laughs.] It’s for somebody else. So my life has a guarantee, yes. What is the guarantee? I don’t know… I cannot get it, because I’d have to die. [He laughs.] Do you understand? If you want a guarantee, you have to die, anyway. And then, it really works. That is the real meaning of life insurance. [Laughter.] So that’s why I say always, “You can be reborn in paradise.” Surely. Surely: I make a promise. But no guarantee. [He laughs.] It means, you have to do it. Not my words, not my life – your life. You have to do it. But we have to help others, that’s why we practice like this.

Do you have questions?


Question: At Hokyoji last summer, Narasaki Roshi … we had a full moon ceremony, taking the Precepts, which maybe they do every month […] in Japan?

Katagiri: Twice a month.

Question: Could you say a little bit about that, and say if we’ll ever do that here?

Katagiri: Yeah, I am thinking of practicing that one in Hokyoji. Someday.

57:56 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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