April 26, 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.

Archive Issue: the end of this talk is missing.

(Transcriber’s Note: The title of this talk in the audio archive says “Three Pure Collective Precepts,” but the term that is generally used, and which Katagiri Roshi uses, is “Three Collective Pure Precepts” – there’s a slight difference in word order. The title of the transcript has been adjusted accordingly. Although, it must be admitted that “pure collective precepts” does make sense, given the contents of the talk.)


Katagiri Roshi: Last time, I explained the Triple Treasure as one of the sixteen precepts. Today, I would like to talk about the Three Collective Pure Precepts.

I think the Triple Treasure is considered as the faith in Zen Buddhism. The Three Collective Pure Precepts are [the] indication of vow. So if you get into Buddha’s Way, it requires us to have faith, trusting totally in the existence of great depths, so-called suchness or the truth. We say Buddha Nature. And then, that’s why in the Gakudō-yōjinshū (“Advice on Studying the Way”) Dogen Zenji [says that] if you want to practice the Buddha Way, you should believe in the way which you are present right in the midst of suchness, with no confusion, no deluded thought, no misunderstanding, et cetera. So we have to trust absolutely in, through and through, this, the truth, or suchness. This is a gate of getting into [the] Buddha’s Way. And also, this is the beginning of getting into Buddha’s Way, and simultaneously it is whole situation of being one with the Buddha’s Way. So it is the end, and simultaneously it is the beginning.

In other words, if you want to cross the river from this shore to the other shore, the one step you are taking now is not the one step separate from the other shore. One step must be the whole of the river, including this and the other. And then, one step becomes very stable. But as long as one step is separated from this or the other shore, consciously or unconsciously, your one step will never be stable – always shaky, always uneasy. You feel consciously or unconsciously, in the bottom of your life, you can find something uneasy, uncomfortable.

So I think the beginning is not always the beginning; one step is not one step. In order to take one step stably, you have to completely deal with one step with wholeheartedness. At that time, one step turns into the whole situation of the river. So, I say the faith of Zen Buddhism is the beginning, but it is exactly the whole situation of Buddha’s way of life.

And today, I want to say temporarily, Three Collective Pure Precepts are the indication of the vow. If you get into the Buddha’s Way, next you need vow. Vow is very deep aspiration, coming from the bottom of your heart, completely beyond your speculation. You don’t know why you have to do it, or you don’t know whether it is useful or not, but you cannot stop it. So very deep aspiration coming up from the bottom of your heart. Even if you don’t have it, let it grow on you. Everyone has this vow, so if you don’t notice it, you have [to] let it grow on your life. This is vow.


Let me say [something about] the Precepts in Buddhism. In Sanskrit we say śīla. But śīla in Buddhism is not moral order, but it means habit or custom. You can find the meaning of śīla in the Sanskrit dictionary; it says, “habit, custom, [usage,] natural or acquired way of living or acting, practice, conduct, disposition, tendency, character, nature.” I mentioned before, śīla [is the meaning of] the Precepts in Zen Buddhism. But this time, I want to say the meaning of śīla in terms of the word.

So, śīla is kind of a habit. Śīla is a habit, or natural [or] acquired way of living. So [it’s] very natural; everyone has this kind of habit. But if you don’t, you can let it grow in your life. So that’s why [it’s a] “natural of acquired way of living and acting,” and also practice. You can do it. Conduct, and disposition, and also tendencies; you can have this kind of tendency. Attitude, and character. Because everyone has [this]; in many ways, everyone’s character is just like śīla. And nature; this is your nature.

So from this point, a Precept is that which gets into one’s life habit. But it doesn’t mean that which one addicts oneself to something. [This] is because the precept regarded as that which falls into one’s life habit has no sense of attachment to the self and its object. One forms the habit of practicing something beyond the samsaric affairs. This kind of a habit is called vow.


So if you say vow, vow is characterized, briefly, by three points.

One point is “letting the habit of actualizing one’s life of great depth grow on us.” Which is always wholesome. Whatever you do, this vow is something wholesome to oneself and others. And to make all things be present in peace and harmony. This is the vow.

The second point is “no sense of self attachment and object attachment.” Because of just practice for all beings. But according to the usual sense of habit, there is always self attachment, self consciousness, and also a sense of attachment to the object. That is the very usual dualistic world. If you fall into the habits of doing something, then simultaneously you let the self attachment or dumb attachment grow on your life, on you, naturally. But vow doesn’t require you to grow this self-attachment and dumb attachment, because all you have to do is to make every possible effort to let all things be present in peace and harmony, all the time.

“All the time” is the third point: vow is “to practice through countless lives in an immensely long span of time.” In other words, the vow is that which you have to practice forever, in the realm of eternity. Not for a certain period of time, so-called “during this life,” okay? Vow during just this life doesn’t last for long: always up and down, up and down. So vow is to practice through countless lives, life after life, in an immensely long span of time. This is called vow.

So you must be habituated to do something, but this must last for a long time, for the long run. And also, under all circumstances. Not only under favorable conditions, but under unfavorable or favorable conditions, you have to continue carrying on, on and on. This is a vow. And even though your intellectual sense doesn’t like doing this or that, anyway even a little bit we try to form this kind of habit of actualizing this practice. We say that is called vow.


So let’s [look at] the Three Collective Pure Precepts from this point [of view].

The first one [is] “collective all Buddha’s laws and rules.” The commentary says, “This is the abode of the Buddha’s laws, and the source of the Buddha’s laws.” So collective all Buddha’s laws and rules means not only human beings, but also all sentient beings, all beings are …

Question: Hojo-san? Is that “collective” or “corrective?”

Katagiri Roshi: Collective. So, collecting all Buddhas’ rules and laws.

… That means all beings are structured by Buddha, or the truth. The essence of existence is suchness. So not only human beings, [but] tables, and trees, birds, air, all beings are structured by the suchness or the essence of existence. Then according to The Awakening of Faith it is called tathāgatagarbha. In other words, the essence of your existence is Buddha Nature. So microphone, the cushions and tables, all are Buddha, all are suchness. That’s why here the commentary says, “This is the abode of the Buddha’s laws and the source of the Buddha’s laws.”

The second one is “collective wholesome dharmas.” The commentary says, “It is the law of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and the way to guide oneself and others to practice it.” So collective wholesome dharmas. So in terms of human eyes, all sentient beings are something bright; in other words, greatness. Because the essence of existence, the essence of all sentient beings is structured by suchness. If so, all sentient beings are something bright, so-called “One Bright Pearl.” So under all circumstances we have respect all sentient beings. Whatever you feel, basically what we have to practice is to respect all sentient beings, to deal with all sentient beings with deep respect. Because, “it is the law of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi”: our body is the law of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment, perfect greatness. “… and the way to guide oneself and others to practice it.” So we have to teach this; you have to guide yourself and others to practice this. And then very naturally you can let the habit of vow grow on you. Even if you don’t know what vow is.

The third: “collective inconceivable activities for all beings.” This is my translation: “collective inconceivable activities for all beings.” The commentary says, “It is transcending both the profane and the saint, and saving oneself and others.” So if you practice the first one and second one, we should accept totally all sentient beings, which are structured by suchness or the essence of existence, and deal with all sentient beings, which exude their own brightness in their life. At that time, you can manifest your activity, which is inconceivable. Very naturally, that activity enhances your personality, and you can help others. This is called [to] help; “save all sentient beings.” So that’s why here is says “it is transcending both the profane and the saint.” This practice is completely beyond the profane and the saint. Everyone can do it. “… and saving oneself and others.” If you practice this, very naturally your activity enables you to help [both] yourself and others.

This is the Three Collective Pure Precepts.


The other day, in a student talk, Dokai mentioned about Mother Theresa when he was with her in Calcutta. She scolded a young nun who was hesitating to deal with a patient, because that patient’s disease was terrible, so this young nun was really hesitating to take care of him. At that time Mother Theresa scolded her, “His body is Jesus’ body.” Yes it is. His body is not something different your body, and Jesus’ body. It is really, exactly Jesus’ body. At that time, you can deal with. It is really true. So you have to accept all sentient beings as Jesus’s body, as Buddha’s body.

You know Bendo ho (one of the essays in Zen Master Dogen’s Eihei Shingi, Pure Standards for the Zen Community). You don’t like Bendo ho very much, but we always teach it. Deal with gassho, and deal with the doors of the [bathroom], and chant the vow before you use the toilet, with a gassho. What do we mean? Zazen practice is not always zazen, okay? Of course zazen is important, but if you don’t do zazen seriously, you don’t understand this kind of practice, you don’t understand vow. Most people don’t understand the meaning of vow, of course. That’s alright. It’s no problem. The problem is, you don’t have any aspiration of actualizing […] the vow which you don’t know. If you don’t know, you should open yourself to accept vow. How can you practice? How can you move toward the vow? This is important for us. If you don’t do it, this is really a problem. So, every day when you get up in the morning, anyway get up in the morning. When you like a certain time to get up, you want to get up then – this is the usual worldly affairs. But anyway you have to get up in the morning: even though you don’t like getting up in the morning, get up. This is pretty good practice for us. It’s not [unintelligible].

I think it’s not only Buddhist practice. Even Christianity, lots of Christian priests and monks and ancestors mention about this. If you practice spiritual life only when you like, to do this or that, it’s not spiritual life. Because you never learn the meaning of vow, to help all sentient beings.

So that’s why in every day life, Zen practice is going very silently, calmly, dealing with everyday life as Buddha’s life, Buddha’s head, Buddha’s heart, by taking care of toilet paper as the lifeline of Buddha’s ancestors. You don’t trust this, you don’t believe it. But if you don’t practice this one, you never know, you never learn the real meaning of spiritual life. And also you cannot help anybody.

So I think from this point, I am not criticizing American Buddhism or Japanese Buddhism, et cetera, but I think the important point is [that] we shouldn’t see a certain situation in terms of a certain viewpoint, so-called American, so-called Japanese. You shouldn’t see it in that way. It’s very difficult to teach [a] universal point of view, that’s why temporarily we borrow a certain teaching, so-called Buddhism, or Zen Buddhism, or Dogen’s teaching, but it doesn’t mean you should always depend on it. Through that teaching you have to discover what is the universal way of practicing to help all beings, beyond races, beyond culture, beyond education, and whatever it is. This is our responsibility. But it’s very difficult to touch, to give you a real universal way, that’s why I “borrow,” I temporarily borrow the Buddha’s teaching and Dogen’s teaching. Through that, you should discover [the universal way]. But it doesn’t mean you should always try to discover [the] universal way in terms of a certain viewpoint. Because we have prejudice strongly, so very naturally we really consciously or unconsciously [see] a certain situation or a certain object in terms of our prejudice. That is called egoism. But Buddhism always gives the advice of being free from this egoism. If you practice this, you can realize how difficult it is to be free from egoism, because anywhere, any time, egoism immediately appears. That’s why everyday we have to form the custom or habit of practicing vow.

For instance, if you look around the world, nowadays, most people believe that the world is terrible, because many tragic situations have happened. And then, if you see the world in terms of your own understanding, you don’t know how to live in this world. Very naturally your life becomes pessimistic, because you see the world from your own viewpoint. Of course, the world is not going well, but I don’t think that is [the] true situation of the world. Still the world, the human beings, all beings are beautiful. So we shouldn’t be stuck in individual viewpoint or prejudice. We should deal with the world as truth, or peace and harmony, as much as possible. As much as possible, we try accept the world and human beings as truth and suchness, peace and harmony. And then, deal with the world in peace and harmony. Then, your activity becomes inconceivable. This is to obey following the Three Collective Pure Precepts. But most people don’t like the world. If people don’t like the world, very naturally the people behave in a not good way; always kind of trying to destroy, trying to take the pessimistic view of the world and life. At that time, you never have a chance to build up the peaceful world, peaceful life. You never help anybody.

So through and through, we have to practice this. Take the world, take the human beings, take all sentient beings as Buddha, as truth. Next, totally, without any excuse – just like Mother Theresa: his body, your body, is Jesus’s body, exactly. Gassho, and take a piece of toilet paper and clean your body. When you take the bus, you bow to the Buddhas and chant the verse. Even though you don’t understand, anyway you should accept your object, your bus, your toilet, your body, just like this. And then your can deal with the toilet paper as Buddha’s life. At that time, there is what is called kanno-doko, which means very profound communication between you and the Buddhas, you and suchness, you and the universe. Not you and a piece of toilet paper; you can have very peaceful, harmonious communion between you and the universe. At that time, you can can help the life of toilet paper.

So that’s why every day, without being bogged down with lots of spirituality, we just deal with everyday life like this. This is [the] Bendo ho we practice. But sometimes we don’t understand, that’s why sometimes […] we have to say “this body is Buddha’s body,” “the microphone is Buddha’s head,” “oryoki is Buddha’s head.” We say so, and deal with oryoki as Buddha’s head. We have to say it directly, because we don’t understand it, our consciousness always spins. That’s why that direct statement sometimes cuts off that tangle, [the] spinning of your consciousness. Just like Mother Theresa: this is the suggestion or instructions of a teacher.

Do you have some questions?


Question: Hojo-san? Recently, you gave the name for this temple, Living in Vow Temple, Ganshoji. Is that that same notion of precept that you say there?

Katagiri: Yes. That’s my hope.

Vow is a big hope, huge hope.

Question: Your hope meaning that kind of continuity.

Katagiri: Continuity.


Question: I didn’t understand “aspiring to the vow.” What … ?

Katagiri: Uh, I used [the word] aspiration, but that is not usual aspiration, [it is] profound aspiration. It’s exactly the same as vow; I [just] used a different term.

Question: Would you explain that point again? You said that most people don’t understand vow and that’s fine. But you said that the problem was that most people didn’t – what you said was, have an aspiration for the vow.

Katagiri: Mmm-hmm.

Question: So, how does that work?

Katagiri: I think… if you don’t understand the vow, most people ignore the vow. “It’s not my business,” you know? Something like that. In other words, you don’t want to do it because you don’t understand it. And also you don’t understand what to do, how to practice it, so you don’t have any intention to aspire for it under the guidance of a teacher; you don’t seek for it. That’s a problem. In other words, such a person has a very narrow point of view, always seeing the world which he can see, he can understand, that’s all. But he doesn’t see what he cannot see [in] the world. Is that clear? Because you cannot judge the world and your life in terms of what you have understood, or what you have seen. No. There is something which you don’t know; there are many beings …

(Archive Issue: the audio ends unexpectedly at this point.)

40:47 end of audio

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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