June 28, 1986 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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This transcript is in rough draft stage.

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Katagiri Roshi: Today I would like to talk about the third of the Ten Prohibitory Precepts: abstaining from sexual greed. The comment [on this] by Dogen Zenji says:

The threefold wheel is pure and clean, nothing to be desired. They go along together with the Buddhas.

So today, I would like to talk about the threefold wheel. Then maybe next time I can explain the meaning of purity and cleanness.

I think in the meal sutra we chant almost the same thing: “The threefold wheel is pure and clean.” We chant that every time we have a meal. In that sutra it says, “May donors, receivers, and offerings” – in that case those are the threefold wheel. But here, the threefold wheel means body, mouth, and mind. These are the three categories of human life: the body, the mouth, and the mind. Sometimes we translate this as body, speech, and thought, because with the mouth we can speak, and with the mind we can have thoughts.

And also, one more meaning is greed, anger, and ignorance. So the threefold wheel has two meanings: one is body, mouth, and mind, and the other one is greed, anger, and ignorance.

Wheel is translated from the Sanskrit word mandala. Tibetan Buddhism is very popular in the United States, so everyone knows the word mandala. The mandala is a kind of diagrammatic picture which represents the cosmic structure of the Buddha and bodhisattvas and other divine beings. So the word mandala in Sanskrit is sometimes translated into Chinese as [dan], meaning platform. Or another translation is aggregates.

Another translation, in Japanese, is rinengusoku. Rin is wheel. En is circle, or perfect. Gu is with, or in, or to have already. And soku is being contented with. This translation is a little bit difficult, so I want to explain in more detail.

Strictly speaking, rin means magnificent. En is usually translated as perfect, but literally it is a circle. Circle means inexhaustible; the circle is the symbol of the cosmic universe, which is inexhaustible, endless, boundless. So circle is translated sometimes as perfection. Here let me translate it as inexhaustible. Gu is being endowed with everything, endowed with all. You are endowed with all means, in other words, the universe. Soku means everything arises from this basis of existence, that each of the beings is endowed with all. So from this point, if we put all of the characters together, maybe we can understand it like this: each of body, mouth, and mind, or each of greed, anger, and ignorance, is endowed with everything, and becomes the basis of existence with magnificent and inexhaustible time and space.

So threefold wheel means each of your body, mouth, and mind, and your anger, hatred, and ignorance, is already endowed with the functioning of the cosmic universe, and becomes fundamental for your existence. And it is constantly going, without stopping even for a moment. This is the meaning of wheel.


But as you know pretty well, we usually understand that body, mouth, and mind are not pure; we believe they are something contaminated, or deluded. And [of course, even more so we believe] that greed, anger, and ignorance are something deluded. That is a very common understanding of the three wheels. That’s why in Buddhism, if we see threefold [wheel of] greed, anger, ignorance in terms of ordinary viewpoint – in other words deluded viewpoint – they become poisons, so we call greed, anger, and ignorance the Three Poisons. In terms of the ordinary sense, they are the Three Poisons. But in terms of bodhisattvas and buddhas, the three poisons are not poisonous, but wheels. That means [they are] something more than the speculation of ordinary beings. I think in terms of bodhisattvas and buddhas, each of the three – greed, anger, and ignorance – becomes a wheel. Instead of the poison of anger, in terms of buddha, it is the wheel of anger. [And] the wheel of greed, and the wheel of ignorance. That is the real nature of the three categories of existence, so-called body, mouth and mind. And also from the body, mouth and mind we create the world based on greed, anger, ignorance; so even […] they are nothing but the wheels of greed, anger, and ignorance.

So how can you turn the poison of greed into the wheel of greed? Simply speaking, as you know, the Buddha taught us that we are Buddha. So if Buddha [teaches us] that we are perfectly Buddha, if [it is] so, we can use this teaching completely, inexhaustibly, constantly. From the beginning to end – in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end of life – we should accept this teaching and the truth, and digest it, and make it alive in our everyday lives. This is called samadhi, we say; [or] jijiyu [zanmai]. The ji means the self. Ju means receive. Yu means use. The zanmai is samadhi. So jijiyu samadhi means you yourself receive the truth that Buddha mentions, that all are Buddha, and use it inexhaustibly – being present in the truth that all are perfect and pure.

I think in the Prajnaparamita Sutra, it says that constantly everything is perfectly innocent and naive. And also everything is perfectly contented with itself, because it is perfectly innocent and naive; [there is] nothing to be contaminated. This is the basic of existence we live in. This state of existence is going constantly, beyond human speculation. This is a point which the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Avatamsaka Sutra, Madhyamaka, all Buddhist scriptures constantly [teach]. And then, finally, they emphasize that we should receive this truth and use it, and be with it. That means samadhi. Constantly you have to be present in this truth in samadhi. In samadhi means constantly focusing on this truth, and being present with it, by virtue of total recieving and using it. This is called jijiyu samadhi. I think in our sutra book there is the sutra called Jijiyu Samadhi by Dogen Zen Master. It is a very beautiful sutra. So you should read this one again and again; that’s why I put it there.

So in order to turn the poison of greed into the wheel of greed, we should receive and use that truth that all are Buddha, and constantly be present with it, in samadhi. In samadhi means in one-pointedness. What is the target we have to aim at? That target is the truth that all are Buddha, all are perfectly innocent and naive, very pure, undefiled. So we should have this target and constantly move toward it and aim at it. This is samadhi. Every day, we have to do it. So at that time, it is called the wheel of greed. In other words, great greed. Great greed means living in vow, which makes your life totally alive; not for a certain period of time, but life after life. This is great greed; in other words, living in vow.


I think Dogen Zenji constantly presents this point in words; that’s why it is difficult to believe it and to accept it. Other sutras, whatever kind of sutra you read, always [explain] this point, but Dogen Zenji constantly [expresses] this point regardless of whether you believe it or not, and then awakens people to this truth. If you read his works, it’s really amazing, because first of all he [blows it up]; he presents something in oneness, [something which is not an idea but] is really alive, immediately, right in front of you. So we are very surprised, amazed, startled. That’s why we don’t believe it.

Here is an example. In Baika, which means “Plum Blossoms,” Dogen Zenji quotes his master Tiantong’s poem. In Japan, the plum tree blooms in midwinter. It’s very beautiful, with scarlet flowers; everywhere is covered with snow, and the plum flowers bloom. It’s really beautiful. So Dogen Zenji and his teacher love the plum trees very much. The poem says:

Tiantong’s first phrase of midwinter:
The old plum tree, bent and gnarled,
all at once opens –
one blossom, two blossoms, three, four, five blossoms,
uncountable blossoms.
Not proud of purity,
not proud of fragrance,
blowing over grass and trees,
balding the head of a patchrobed monk.
Falling, changing into wind,
while rain falling, snow all over the earth.
The old plum tree is boundless;
a hard cold rubs the nostrils.

Can you see this [scene]? In the world of complete whiteness, one blossom, two blossoms, three, four, five blossoms, all of a sudden bloom. Without showing arrogance; so he says, “Not proud of purity, not proud of fragrance.” [They] just bloom. It’s very beautiful. In this kind of expression, Dogen’s teacher immediately, in words, brings up total oneness of plum flowers with all sentient beings.

Dogen’s commentary is also interesting. He says:

When the old plum tree suddenly opens, the world of blossoming flowers arises. At the moment when the word of blossoming flowers arises, spring arrives. There is a single blossom that opens […] At this moment of a single blossom, there are three, four, and five blossoms, a hundred, thousand, millions, billions of blossoms.

So first, “When the old plum tree suddenly opens, the world of the blossoming flowers arises.” That means the whole world is occupied, embraced by blooming flowers. So the whole world is flowers; even though the world is covered with snow, it’s completely flowers. And then, that is simultaneously spring. So that’s why it says, “At the moment when the world of blossoming flowers arises, spring arrives.” Which of the two comes first? Does spring come first? Or do blooming flowers come first? That is human speculation. Reality, as it really is, is completely the truth that blooming flowers and spring come together, simultaneously. We don’t know how. But this is true.

Dogen Zenji and many teachers try to present this total picture of the one working with the whole universe. So if you see the one plum flower, immediately you can see the whole world working with this one plum flower, through his words.


Another example is [that Dogen Zenji] talks about everydayness, everyday mind. What is everyday mind? Everyday mind. We know [it] pretty well. But he says (in Shinjin Gakudo: “Studying the Way with Body and Mind”) that everyday mind is quite different from our understanding. He says:

Everyday mind is everyday mind throughout this world and other worlds. Yesterday lept from that [place]; today comes from that place. When you go, the whole world goes. When you come, the whole earth comes. The gate of this everydayness [is] opening and closing at the moment; the gate[s] of myriad, myriad beings are opening and closing at the moment.

Can you [understand this]? If you read this in Japanese, it’s more beautiful, but when I translate it into English, maybe it’s not beautiful. But behind my English words, please understand what is everydayness. We don’t understand everydayness, but if you listen to [these words], I think [we can hear that] everydayness is something more than we have thought: everydayness is like something exists with all sentient being simultaneously. And then, even though you don’t understand it, you are really captured by this statement. So naturally, you can memorize [it]. If you read a wonderful statement written by whoever, naturally you are captured by words of the beautiful statement, even if you don’t understand it. This is important, because they always represent something as a whole – not the one particular thing.

That is so-called all are Buddha. Everydayness is not [what] you have believed through your experience, through you education, et cetera: it is nothing but the total picture of the Buddhas with the universe. So everydayness is something cosmic, with all the universe. So we should receive it and use it, and also try to be present there, and constantly focus on it and aim at it, moving toward that, day by day. This is called the wheel of great greed.

So we should totally accept this everydayness. And then naturally you remember this statement; very naturally it gives lots of instructions to you.

[That is the first aspect: the wheel of greed.]


Second, the wheel of anger. How can you turn the poison of anger into the wheel of anger? I think Dogen Zenji says it (in Sanjūshichi-bon-bodai-bunpō, the “Thirty-Seven Elements of Bodhi” fascicle of Shobogenzo) like this:

When a demon becomes Buddha, you should subdue him and let him become the Buddha by dealing with it. When the Buddha becomes the Buddha, you should intend to become the Buddha and let him become Buddha by dealing with the Buddha. When a person becomes the Buddha, you should harmonize him and let him become the Buddha by dealing with him. You should know that there is a passage to freedom the moment when you deal with.

“Demons” means demons, devils, whatever. First of all he says, “when a demon becomes Buddha” – because as long as demons exist in this world, they have their own reason why they exist. That reason is completely beyond our speculation. I think within the realm of demons, we have to find the realm of buddhas: peace, harmony. In other words, in the realm of sickness and pain, we have to find the peace and harmony. This is religious practice; this is the spiritual life. You cannot find any peace escaping from pain and samsaric human suffering. So right in the midst of samsaric human pain, we have to find the peace and harmony, perfect peace. Even though it is difficult, [or] whatever you think, that is the purpose of spiritual life.

So that’s why when a demon becomes Buddha – yes, becomes Buddha – “you should subdue him and let him become the Buddha by dealing with it.” The important point is that we should deal with the demons not with immediate hatred or anger; don’t react quickly with the usual sense of hatred or anger. That is the cause of human troubles. Right in the realm of the demon’s world, we try to deal with them with calm, peaceful mind, as best as we can. This is our practice. So that is that “we should subdue him.” Naturally, they subdue themselves by themselves, if you do it in that way.

And then, this is a passage to freedom. The moment when you deal with demons, immediately, right here right now, at that time that is a passage to freedom. The passage is not a philosophical idea, not a metaphysical idea; it is a very concrete way you have to work, [right] now. So that is a passage to freedom: the moment when you deal with. [It] is a passage, but that passage is really opening itself only when you deal with [something]. In the act of dealing with something, the passage opens to you.

So, at that time it is called the wheel of anger, instead of the poison of anger.


Next, the wheel of ignorance. How can you turn the poison of ignorance into the wheel of ignorance?

I think in Song of the Jewel Mirror, in the last sentence, it says, “practicing secretly, working within.” So in order to turn the poison of ignorance into the wheel of ignorane, I think we should achieve continuity of “practicing secretly, working within”. “Practice in secret” means, as Dogen Zenji teaches, practice in a monastery must be carried out quietly, calmly – not something showy. Because passage to freedom goes to you only when you deal with, right now, right here. That’s why practice is what? When you yourself want to be peace and harmony, right in the moment of sitting, from moment to moment – where is the passage to freedom, to peace and harmony? Right now, right here, you should receive your body and use your body and mind in peace and harmony; be present in peace and harmony. That means, bring the peace and harmony to your body and mind, right now, right here. This is nothing but practice in action.

So what is this? This practice must be going very calmly, not showy. That is called the wheel of ignorance, instead of the poison of ignorance.


So that is [what] “the threefold wheel is pure and clean” [means]. Naturally that practice is pure and clean.

[At first], it’s very difficult to believe or receive this representation by buddhas, ancestors and Dogen, presenting something with the whole universe. It’s very difficult to receive, because human speculation doesn’t catch it! Always human consciousness gets [just] one corner of the universe, so it’s very difficult to get, to hold, to have the whole universe through the one thing. That’s why we have to receive it and use it, as best as we can; this is the purpose is spiritual life. Otherwise, no matter how long you try to understand the universe intellectually and metaphysically, you never get the spirit of spiritual life, based on peace and harmony.

44:06 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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