May 23, 1987 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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Katagiri Roshi summarizes the origins and development of the concept of karma, and then explores both its deeper meaning and its practical application. Karma is related both to the problem of whether there is a world after death, and how we should live in the present world. Practically, we can feel karma in our lives through whole personality. This is connected with the Buddhist concept of vedanā (feeling). After we feel our life and other’s lives, we judge and make distinctions, limiting our view. First, we should understand how narrow our intellectual understanding of the world is, and we should work day-by-day to understand the human world in the broader perspective, through meditation. Second, there is no way to find a perfect understanding of life and death, so we must simply entrust ourselves to our life as it really is. But that doesn’t mean just to accept; karma includes dynamic energy to move toward the future. We have to develop our individual character, and simultaneously the global character of human beings, in order to build up a peaceful world.


(This talk is split into two files in the audio archive: Part 1 and Part 2.)

Part 1

*Listen to part 1 on*

Katagiri Roshi: Are you familiar with the term karma? I think karma is a big subject; you have to consider it in your whole life. It’s a very important subject in order to find the solution of our problem of life and death: [the problem] related with whether the other world exists or not, [and] related with the present situation of human life, how we should live. So karma in Buddhism requires of us the very careful, serious research of human life for the long run.

[Karma is] very complicated. We don’t understand exactly what it means. But Buddhist teaching gives us a certain hint, in order to know the overall picture of our life, related with the past, present, and future. So I don’t think it’s necessary to get a definite answer what karma means, but I think you should get a certain hint, a certain feeling – a practical feeling, through your body and mind, through your everyday life.

I think karma is quite different from the English term fate or destiny. Most people understand that karma [is kind of] like fate or destiny – not only Americans, but also Japanese people believe in that way. If you believe karma is fate or destiny, I think consciously or unconsciously you [believe that you] have kind of a divine entity as manipulator, who has your fate on a string. So if you believe karma is fate, I think you fall into fatalism, and very naturally you become pessimistic. But karma is not exactly fate. I don’t think it is the same as fate or destiny.

Practically, in Buddhism, karma means to act, to work, or to do. In Buddhism, to do something or to act is not only the mental act separate from the physical act. So if you say to act, I think it includes mental and physical act as one. That is the very common sense in Buddhism: you cannot separate them. So karma means to act, to work, or to do; that means [a] mental or physical act is going.

I think in general Buddhism, there are two kinds of karma: one is non-individual karma, and the other is individual karma.

Individual karma is individual character. There is a certain character in everything, even this table, and the floor, and the microphone. There is a particular character in the microphone which is different from the character in the table. So everything has individual karma, [not just] human beings.

And non-individual karma means the karma common to everyone [in a group]. For instance, if you say tree, that is whatever kind of trees; all [of them] are trees. All of you are human beings. But you are American, not Japanese, so you have a certain karma, so-called American. [So socially], or in terms of American customs or culture, I think all of you have almost the same kind of karma.

Those two [kinds of] karma are produced by three kinds of activity: body or physical deeds; [speech] or linguistic deeds; and also mind, mental deeds. And then if you do something with the three categories of human deeds, then you can create your own life. There are your physical deeds regarded as a cause, and then you can create your own life as a result. So very naturally, your deeds are produced in the stream of causation: cause and effect.

If you do something good, you will get a good result: this is a very natural and common understanding. But the [result] of causation is not so simple. [Sometimes] even though you do something good, you don’t get a good result. You may work hard to make money your whole life, but still be poor. […] But on the other hand, you cannot ignore the characteristic of causation, so-called “good cause brings good result.”

So very naturally, we consider three kinds of karmic retribution in Buddhism. One is that if you do something good, that good cause will bring a good result in this life. The next is, maybe not in this life, but maybe next life. And then the third is, maybe not next life; good cause will bring good result in the life after next life. In other words, life after life: life is constantly going, that’s why maybe the good cause will bring good result in the life after next life after next life – something like that. Very naturally Buddhism considers it in that way, because if you look at human action based on causation, it teaches us how complicated it is; it’s not so simple. Dogen Zenji also talks about these three kinds of retribution.

1 - 11:50

The question is: if you think of karma in Buddhism like this – where is this karma? [In] what part of your life does karma exist?

In the very beginning of Buddhism, I think a certain Sanskrit term was used, yoni (as in karmayoni) – kind of something stored in the womb. Or in Abhidharmakosha, I think they used the term kalalam, which means the first seven days after you become pregnant, and also arbudam, which is the second seven days after you become pregnant. Abhidharmakosha is very old Buddhist psychology, researching how you produce your life, including past, present, and future. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Buddhists tried to understand human life like this. So in Abhidharmakosha, I think karma is something [like] continuous energy somewhere in human life. It’s a little bit vague, but [according to] Abhidharmakosha, maybe the first seven days there is a certain energy there – a very basic, continuous stream of human energy – prior to your contemplation, prior to your human agency. Or maybe the second seven days. Something like that.

And then Buddhism developed more, and in Mahayana Buddhism we have the Buddhist psychology called Vijnanavada, which means merely consciousness. (Transcriber’s Note: Vijnanavada is also known as Yogachara.) In this Buddhist psychology I think they use a certain term, musho-go, which means unmanifested karma. Or they say unmanifested matter or unmanifested form.

[By] this term unmanifested karma, I think they thought [of] a kind of potential power in human life. Like in the deep sense of Western psychology – Jung, or [maybe] Freud – they are talking about a kind of potential power, potential consciousness, something like that.

But where does the potential power or potential consciousness belong to – the mental aspect of human life, or the physical aspect of human life? Even if you believe the potential power belongs to the [mental] aspect of human life, still the [mental] world is classified by two [parts], unconscious or conscious. So we are thinking, “Where is the karma? Where is the potential power there?” But in Buddhism, we don’t separate it: body and mind work together. So Buddhism doesn’t talk about where the potential power belongs to.

Anyway, Buddhism thinks about a certain kind of potential power in human life.

Another term in Mahayana Buddhism is alayavijnana. [Consciousness is] eight consciousnesses, and then the last consciousness is called alayavijnana. Alayavijnana has another name, karma-vipaka. It means kind of a storehouse of various heterogeneous acts, which you have accumulated for a long time. Can’t you feel that? That is alayavijnana. We have consciousness, but eight kinds of consciousness, and the last one is called alayavijnana, which means a huge storehouse of various different human acts, which you have accumulated for a long, long time, so it’s a huge storage there. That is your life, okay?

This term [alayavijnana] also teaches us that there is a certain potential power, but that [potential power] belongs not just to human life, but to everything. Alayavijnana is universal. Even the desks and tables, floors, trees – all have alayavijnana. It’s very interesting. This is Buddhist psychology. So [alayavijnana is] very basic consciousness, deep consciousness – more than the meaning of unconscious or conscious.

From this point, I think Buddhism developed [even] more, [for example with] the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Garland Sutra). The Avatamsaka Sutra is a very clear, definite explanation of how the human world is going. It has been translated into English, so you can read it, but you don’t understand it, because this huge world is represented by many buddhas and bodhisattvas, so it’s a very complicated philosophy and psychology. But in this sutra, I think karma is accepted as not only the mental or physical potential power, but it is a kind of energy in the stream of interdependent co-origination. Interdependent co-origination means that everything is produced by many conditioned elements. So before you think or you don’t think, there is a certain energetic stream always creating. By what? By conditioned elements. So that is completely beyond your control. If you see very deeply [into] the structure of the human world, human life, you can see that philosophical background of human existence. That teaching is called interdependent co-origination. It’s very deep Buddhist philosophy.

Anyway, karma is working in the realm of interdependent co-origination. [It is a little bit like] karma is not only belonging to human life or particular beings, but it belongs to the depths of general existence, cosmic existence. So in Mahayana Buddhism, the idea of karma is accepted in a broader perspective.

1 - 25:28

So very naturally, I think if you study Buddhism in order to research what karma is, it’s still very vague. So I would like to say [something] paying attention to the human life which you are taking care of day to day. How do we accept karma [in day-to-day human life]?

But first, I think we should understand personality. [We always use this word, but] what is personality?

Personality is sort of a very simple entity including its multitudinous nature, such as the intellect, emotion, and volition or will – not only intellect. Or, [it is] very deep feeling, profound feeling, where the intellect, emotion, and volition are working together.

We [talk about] the five skandhas or aggregates of form, feeling, perception, impulses, consciousness. That second one, feeling (vedanā), is [the] very deep, profound first stage of human emotion. The very first [stage] – before you poke your head into it. So that is very deep feeling. The moment when you face or see your object, the image of your object is accepted by the first stage of your emotional/intellectual function. That is called feeling. So that is very deep.

[Personality also includes] custom, habit, and also individual character. Or heredity. And also memories.

So what is personality? We see personality simply, but personality is working in your everyday life in a very complicated way, because it includes many things.

From this point, what is your everyday life? You always understand who you are [and] who they are. You evaluate yourself, and you are critical toward others, critical towards the present situation – by which you always create anger, hatred, fighting, and many things. What is your present life? How do you understand it?

Even if you don’t evaluate, you don’t think, you don’t criticize people, still you always give rise to a certain “smell” from your body and mind. Can’t you believe [that]? [He laughs.] Even though I sit down here without saying [anything], you can smell a certain [something] from me. So even though you don’t judge, you don’t criticize, or you are very nice, or not good, or whatever you say… if you just sit down here, then something speaks of you. What is it? This is called personalitywhole personality.

What is whole personality? What is it structured by? That’s why I mentioned those things: emotions, [intellect] and will, and also oneness of the emotions and intellect and volition; and also customs, habits, and [character]; and also heredity, and also memories.

Memories come from your beginningless past. You have lots of memories. Some memories come up in the present, but that is just a little bit of your memories. But if you sit down, what kind of memories come up? You are surprised to see that.

So from this point, I can say [it] like this: First of all, by your intellect you feel your life and others’ life, and you judge yourself and others and the world, et cetera. But that intellectual understanding is just a speck of dust of your whole personality. It’s not perfect. But a problem is that the intellect fully believes that your understanding is perfect. That is a characteristic of your intellectual habits.

That’s why we so much love the world which is clear and neat. We don’t want the “dark” aspect of the human world; we don’t want to have what we don’t understand; we try to understand everything. So we always ignore the back. The back is [what you] don’t understand.

1 - 34:13

The back means space. […] What is space?

Space is also the front. [The space in front] is clear, understandable, reasonable. This is the intellectual world, alright? Created by science.

And behind, that space is very dark. You don’t understand it. But you cannot ignore it; you have to always carry it on your back! What is the past? What is heredity? We don’t know. What is religion – dealing with life and death, in the past, in the future? We don’t know what it is. That is the space behind.

And the space to the right and to the left – this is human relation. That space is really taken care of by human relation: working hand in hand, under all circumstances. This is taking care of space.

And also, there is space underneath. This is everyday life, rooted in the earth. That is completely beyond wise or not wise: everyone has to be rooted in everyday life.

One more space is above the head. Above the head is something mysterious. But it helps us so much, when we are confused. When we are confused, we always pray. To where? We say God, but where is God? We always look up to the sky, don’t you think so? [He chuckles.] So space above is wonderful – clear, vast openness.

So even though we say space – what is space? Not a philosophical term, but practically, what is space? Front, behind, to the right, to the left, beneath, and above. Those space[s] should be understood.

But intellectual understanding is very narrow. A problem is that intellectual understanding fully believes that it is perfect understanding, but it is just a speck of dust. You always love the front, [and] that’s it. You don’t reflect upon the relationship among human beings, you don’t accept the relationship among human beings with compassion. If you ignore this [relationship], you never exist in peace and harmony. So if you want to live in peace and harmony, you have to take [care of] many kinds of space: front, behind, to the right, to the left, above, beneath.

But it is a fact that we have intellectual understanding. So from now on, what we have to do is to train our intellectual patterns. In other words, change a little bit. Change means patting our head and [saying], [he laughs,] “Okay, you are good – but wait a minute. I will tell you something; a little more broad aspect of human life which you don’t know. I think you shouldn’t [hide it] or throw it away; no, you should take care of it.”

That [is what change means]. So from now on, what you have to do is to practice a changing of the usual pattern of your intellectual system. Alright?

1 - 39:03

Another thing is, intellectual understanding always fully believes that there is nothing [after] you die. Your skin, muscle, bones and marrow burn out [like a candle]. Including consciousness. All gone. So intellectual understanding always fully believes that death takes away everything; there is nothing left, including the other world. But – is that true? We have to think about it.

This is pretty good practice for us. The first thing is that you should train the usual pattern of the intellectual system which you have had. Second, I think intellectual understanding always believes that there is nothing left after your death – but is it true, or not?

If you try to believe in that way [of intellectual understanding], you aren’t satisfied. Even though intellectual understanding fully believes that there is nothing left behind [after] your death, still you aren’t satisfied. So finally what you do is chase after your own tail, just like a cat. That is the intellectual world. [He laughs.] Always playing a game… do you know the see-saw? Or playing with your own tail.

But if you understand your whole personality, I think you should understand something more than the intellectual world – including many things, as I already said. So how? Let’s make our mind calm. Calm your body and mind, and then practically, touch the depth of your whole personality, something more than the intellectual world.

How do you touch something more than the intellectual world? That is the experience of the practical feeling of your life, touched by deep meditation. Make your mind and body calm; and then you can go deeply into something more than the intellectual.

Because you have to understand the whole personality – not only your life, but also others’ lives, and also trees, birds. You cannot understand trees separate from the sky and seasons, so you have to understand the whole personality of the trees, birds, mountains. That’s why Dogen Zenji says that the mountain is not only the mountain: mountains should be understood as mountains and also as Buddhas and ancestors. That means cosmic trees and birds. At that time, that understanding is touching the intellectual world and also something more than the intellectual world.

But we don’t believe this. We always [understand,] “Oh, that is a tree. I understand it. I know that.” But we never know.

1 - 43:54

So the second [point] is, even if you find a solution for the life and death problem, saying that there is the other world – it’s not enough. It’s not a final solution. Because nobody proves whether the other world exists or not. Through a book, or through philosophy, through religions, or through the words of wise people, et cetera, we [may] believe in that way, but there is no practical proof

Part 2

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… whether the other world exists or not is not our final solution for the problem of life and death.

But, there is a certain fear of what will happen, on the assumption that the other world may exist. What will happen in my life after death?

So Buddhism [talks about] ten categories of existence: hell realm, hungry ghosts, fighting spirits, heavenly beings, human beings, [animals,] and bodhisattvas and buddhas, et cetera. And then, you will have to experience these ten categories [after death]. How do you know what kind of world you will have to experience after death? We don’t know.

Finally, I can tell you this: it cannot be helped. [He laughs.] You should [live] your own life as it really is. That’s it. Because no matter how long you research about the other world, and this world, and what kind of world you should depend on – we don’t know, because it’s very complicated. Buddhism talks about ten categories of the world after death, but it’s not after death – this is the present world. [It is about] how complicated your present world is. Do you understand? Right now, [sitting here,] you are really bodhisattvas, you belong to the bodhisattva world, listening to the Buddha’s teaching and [being] very peaceful. Next moment, when you leave this zendo and go out of this house, then you fight, and cry, scream, et cetera – immediately you fall to the hell world. What is your life? It’s very complicated.

And then still the intellect compels you to understand what this world is, what the other world is, constantly. So you play with your own tail, and finally, you have to be in a mental hospital! [Some laughter.] That always happens in the human world.

So I think there is nothing to know clearly, [no way] to find [a] perfect solution. So all you have to do is, you should entrust yourself to the life given to you now. That is the second point.

So the first point is how narrow your intellectual world is, and that you should change a little bit, day by day, in order to understand the human world in the cosmic perspective. This is our practice. How? That is meditation. Second, [there is no way] to find a perfect solution about the problem of life and death, so all you have to do is entrust yourself to the life given to you, or [in other words,] as your life really is.

2 - 04:38

Another [point] is that to “entrust yourself to your life as it really is” doesn’t mean just to accept. No, [it means] to accept your life by the practice of faith, deep understanding. Faith means very profound belief; belief means profound understanding and also awareness.

Awareness means that through everyday life you have to touch something practical. Awareness is not only the intellect or your “head trip”. And faith is also not your head trip, so-called belief. What is belief [beyond a] mental trip? Belief is to accept totally something greater than as usual – in other words, greater than the intellectual world. Accept, and take it, and then digest it, every day. Through your everyday life, digest it.

Digest means you have to take care of your everyday life with total acceptance of something greater than the intellectual world. In other words, that is to go deeply into the human world. How? By making your body and mind calm. That is faith, and also awareness. Faith and awareness are not an intellectual or physical trip, but feeling, touching your life very deeply, practically, profoundly.

Because, let’s see it like this: you believe that there is nothing left behind after your death – this is one understanding. The other understanding is there must be something left after your death. But this is [just] another idea. Beyond those two ideas, when you die, what can you feel, practically? What can you touch? Something real, something profound – through your death, through your life. What is it?

That something practical and realistic, and also pretty deep, profound, that you can touch through the life and death problem is: all gone. Beyond discussion of whether the other world exists or not, when you die: all gone! Through this real touching in your everyday life and death, if you have to believe – what is belief? If you have to be aware, if you have to awaken to something – what do you mean by awakening?

Constantly you have to research this. What is belief? Is belief simple – to believe in deities, or [someone who is the] authentic power controlling the human world? I don’t think so. [He laughs slightly.] Does it exist outside or inside? I don’t know!

But anyway, when you die, all gone. This is a real practical feeling; you can touch it. I always feel this. I am talking about the Buddha’s teaching – related with the past, present, and future – but when [I have to] die, my life is gone. [So,] what do you mean, Buddha’s teaching? What do you mean, awakening? What is belief? Not kind of [the idea] of trying to get a happy life or unhappy life – whatever I say, I don’t feel anything. But all I can do is [ask], “What do you mean, Buddha’s teaching?” [Buddha’s teaching] is supposed to make human life be happy. What is the Buddha’s teaching? In terms of life and death, when you die, there is nothing left behind – and then in this life, in this fact, this reality of nothing left behind after death: what is belief, what is awareness?

It’s a big subject for us.

Zen Buddhism really focuses on that, okay? [He laughs.] That’s why the question is, how do you live, day by day. That’s it. Because no matter how long you are thinking about life and death, it’s always you playing with your own tail. But I don’t mean you should ignore intellectual understanding – this is why you have to take care of the intellectual world. But how? Patting the head of the intellectual world. How? Calming your body and mind, [which] lets you go deeply into the human world, something more than the intellectual world. This is always our practice.

So whatever intellectual understanding brings to you as a conclusion, I think you should open your heart enough to digest [it], again and again, to deepen it, again and again. This is your life. Because life is really vast. You never get a definite solution in terms of whatever kind of “ism” of outlook on the world or human life, so Zen Buddhism really focuses on day-to-day life, how do you live. Not how do I understand the human world, in terms of outlook on the world or human life. How do we live? Even if you don’t understand the world, or [yourself], how do you live? Day to day – taking care of yourself, not only your life, but also your life with others’ lives. How do you live in peace?

The conclusion is, [we live] on the assumption that there is something temporarily called the other world. In other words, life is going from the past to the present to the future. Because if you see your life, you can feel how deep your life is; you don’t understand your life only by your intellectual world. Can’t you feel [that]? This is a very realistic and practical feeling, touching your life.

So life is something extending into the past, to the future. Alright? So even though we don’t give any perfect proof whether the other world exists or not, [we live] on the assumption that the other world may exist. This is a beautiful world, looking at the human world not only by intellectual understanding, but by something more than intellectual understanding. Let’s get [to] the other world.

And then, should we always be crazy about the other world? [He chuckles.] Well, it is a beautiful world; it is a kind of target you can aim for. It is a destination you have to go toward. But you shouldn’t be crazy about it, because everyday life is exactly right now. That everyday life is very important; it gives you very vast data [about] what your life is, how vast your life is. So you can’t ignore day-to-day life.

So there are two ways: destination, and also day-to-day life. The [prow] of your boat should be directed toward that destination, but your boat should be stable and calm, and taking one step, one step, day to day – with the whole circumstances, which are very changeable. Is that clear?

That is called what? Shikan. Zazen. Day-to-day life.

But taking care of day-to-day life is not “what will be, will be.” It doesn’t mean that. Day-to-day life is day-to-day life, but day-to-day life directs you to the destination, through which you can see the vast expanse of human life. That is your destination.

2 - 17:34

From this way of life, you can really understand why you have to have a funeral service. [If a person dies and their ashes are scattered wherever] – that’s fine. But are you satisfied, or not? It’s questionable. So finally, we want to do something for her or him, after his or her death, beyond the idea of “nothing left behind after death.” It doesn’t matter; just perform a funeral service.

The content of that funeral service is a good lesson for you: [you] can always direct [yourself] to the beautiful destination and take care of day-to-day [life]. That means just take care of the funeral service with wholeheartedness. At that time, the funeral service really helps everyone, and also [it’s helpful] for you. This is the meaning of Buddhist services.

Dogen Zenji always talks about this in detail, but simply speaking, [it is] a very simple practice: sit down. So-called shikan: wholeheartedness. But that really gives you lots of information. Without the quality of this wholehearted way of life, you cannot take care of […] everyday life, because everyday life is very complicated. Within the complicated and multitudinous aspect of everyday life, you have to manifest your whole personality, regarded as simple entities including your very complicated life: heredity, karma, customs, many things.

How do we know? That is very simple: personalities. That’s why we can feel this from everyone. Even though you don’t say anything, you’re talking about your own life.

So this is our practice, and also this is our study. Day by day, we have to study.

So finally the conclusion is: karma is… guess. We don’t know. [He laughs.] I can say I don’t know what karma is. But I think I can give you some hint what karma is. Okay?

So don’t accept karma as kind of pessimistic. No. It’s not [just a] good aspect of human life, but it’s not fate or destiny. It’s kind of destiny or fate, but it includes dynamic energy to make your life productive.

This is karma. Practically speaking, I don’t know [what it is], but everyone can feel it. That’s why you can use karma, even though you don’t understand it. [He chuckles.]

Do you have some questions?

2 - 22:15

Question: You said two things that I wanted to hear more about. I don’t remember them exactly. One of them was something like trusting your life. And the other one, you said when we die there is nothing left, and before we die, you were saying we can touch it, and I wanted to know if what you’re saying we can touch is nothing left.

Katagiri: That is not an idea, okay? It’s really something you can touch practically and deeply.

For instance, [if] I believe strongly the other world exists. Well, someone says, “I don’t believe it.” And then, let’s try to find a certain middle way, [where] we can compromise through discussion. But that goes endlessly. Finally what I have to do is, to face the fact that I have to die. [He laughs.]

Through this practical death, what can I feel, practically? … I want to scream. [He laughs.] Because there’s nothing left – because after death, I don’t know. Even [if I know] what death is, if I participate in death actually, I don’t know then what death is, because I am already death. Do you understand? There is no I right in the middle of real death. So if I die, actually nothing left. Why [do] we have to believe in this situation of life and death? Why [do] we have to believe in something? What is awareness? Why is it necessary for us to be aware? If it is necessary, what do we mean by awareness? That is the question.

Because even if I actually experience enlightenment, [he laughs,] when I die, all the enlightenment I have experienced is gone! And Zen Center and the people all gone from before me! And then I’m always thinking I want to be haunting over the Zen center after my death. [People laugh, and he laughs with them.] Watching all of you, and how you feel [about] Zen Center, how you are taking care of Zen Center, how you feel [about] Katagiri, what he has done. Do you want to criticize Katagiri, or do you respect him? [Laughter.] If you don’t respect me, I want to haunt you! [He laughs.] I always feel in that way. [He laughs some more.] Watch out!

Why is it necessary to be aware? What is it? Don’t you think this is questionable?

So finally, what you have to do is what? Researching awareness? Yes! But day-to-day life, what is it? What do you have to do? Should you believe in something? Yes! But what is most important [that] you have to do? Not only that you have to do in the realm of the intellectual world, [but that] you have to do in the vast expanse of the world, something more than the intellectual world. That’s what I want to say: what you have to do.

2 - 27:14

Question: Hojo-san, there are so many references in traditional practice to “evil karma.” And when you talk, you’re talking about something much more basic, about acts and deeds that just are, and it’s very much broader than [that]. But then at the very end, almost the last thing you said, when you came back to talk about karma, I thought you said “maybe it’s not so good,” or something like that. What do you mean? […]

Katagiri: Well, the “not something good” of your life which you have understood is just the picture of your life through the intellectual world. Don’t you think so? But the overall picture of your life in the dispassionate and imperturbable perspective: what is life? Is that life understood only by the intellectual [sense]? No, by something more than intellectual.

So I think karma is not only the bad. If you say, “I have bad karma,” that means simultaneously you have good karma too. That is the overall picture of karma you use.

So what is karma? [He laughs.] Finally you don’t know. Karma is bad, or karma is good? Karma is neutral? No. It’s vast!

I don’t know what karma is. But I can feel practically, deeply, something about karma extending into the past, present, future.

2 - 29:23

Question: I understand how there can be an individual karma and a non-individual karma, but I wondered if you could say any more about how non-individual karma can apply to a certain group, like a Japanese karma, or an American karma, or a Brazilian karma. I don’t understand how there can be a non-individual karma that applies to a group, rather than to all things.

Katagiri: Excuse me, I’m not clear.

Another person: I think I have the same question, but I’m looking at it more personally. I’m wondering, do you ever wonder why you’re here… with us?

Katagiri: [Cackles.] I don’t know.

Same person: And why it’s us, this group here, and not somebody else, you know?

Another person: Sometimes I look around at our group and I think, there’s nobody really super-exceptional here, we’re all kind of average people, but what are we doing here? You know, with this Japanese teacher. Because I think we have a particular American karma, we have American history and world view, and yours is quite different.

Katagiri: Yes, I am different, so-called Japanese. But on the other hand, I think individual karma is not separate from non-individual karma. Individual karma cannot be developed in the vast expanse of the human world, the so-called non-individual world, […] if you ignore society or nations. In other words, if you ignore belonging to or participating in nations or society, you can develop your own character, but it really develops based on ego. So in order to develop different individual character, I think it must develop in the broader perspective, in other words by belonging to or participating in peoples, groups, or society, nations. And then, your personality develops very gently, in a humble way.

That’s [what I said] a couple years ago to the Zen Center in San Francisco. They don’t want to look at the Japanese custom of Zen Buddhism, so they try to escape or ignore [it], and then they want to develop their own Buddhism. Yes, it is [your own]! But I say, if you want to [have an] American way of Buddhism developing naturally, I think you should pay attention to American Buddhism connected not only to the American situation, but also [to the whole] cosmic situation, including Japan, and Europe. How can you understand America separate from Europe and the East? No way.

But nevertheless, you have to develop your own character. How do you develop your own character? Humbly.

The American spirit is very, [he chuckles,] what would you say, energetic. Yes, I understand. But I think you should develop that energetic American spirit humbly, in a humble way, not an egoistical way. Do you understand what I mean?

That’s why I can live here, and also I can teach Buddha’s teaching, beyond races and beyond culture. I have to teach this, I have to talk about this. If I always talk about [the Japanese way], you don’t want to practice, [and then] I cannot exist here. But I am different from you. But I am exactly I who is different, but who is exactly penetrating in the universal understanding. Okay? Then, we can walk together.

That’s why I can develop my own different personality in a humble way. It means, we have to practice humility.

Well, Americans don’t like the Japanese way, or the other ways, I understand this. But pat your head, anyway. [Soft laughter.] That is your intellectual understanding, but the world is something more than that. That’s what I always [talk about].

For instance, if you live together with someone, for instance boyfriend or girlfriend: how do you live, how do you develop your personality? It’s no so simple. [If] I don’t care [for] you, but I want to live with you – how do you live in peace? You have to be married, next moment you have to divorce, if you really become egoistic, you know? So we have to develop taking care of human life in a humble way.

First person: I’m not sure my question was clear. I guess what I meant was that it seems sufficient that there should be a global karma, a cosmic karma, rather than one that adheres to certain groups.

Katagiri: Yes.

Same person: But maybe as there is a karma that applies specifically to, say, Japanese culture, or to American culture, there’s one that applies to individuals, and that they depend on the whole. So that there can be a global karma, […]

Katagiri: Yes, that’s right. So, it’s very complicated. All things [are] interconnected. So [those are] very simple entities which you can see, practically, but the contents of the simple entities are very complicated, consisting of many situations.

The global or cosmic state of existence is very complicated. [There is] the individual character of a nation, but also the common character of humans. Wherever you are, American, or Japanese, or European, [you] are human beings. If so, if you say human beings, human beings really have something stinky. And also peaceful being. So that is very common. You are American, which is different from others, but on the other hand, you are human, which is the same as I.

So that’s why the total overall cosmic or global picture – whatever you say – consists of many, many things. But practically, we have to take care of that overall picture of global existence.

That’s why we have to be careful. For instance, we are creating nuclear weapons, and all beings might be destroyed. Who created this? Particular races? No. That is human beings. That is really the global character of human beings. [He laughs slightly.]

But, should we ignore the individual different characters? Where should we find the different characters? We should find different individual characters in that global character which all human beings possess. What is this [global character]? There is the example of creating nuclear weapons. Should we destroy individual character? No, we have to develop individual different characters in that global character of human beings.

How? That’s why it’s difficult. But we shouldn’t ignore it. So we have to develop individual character and simultaneously the global character of human beings. Beyond any ideas of whether we can build up a peaceful world or not, let’s do it: be peaceful.

That’s why Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile with joy.” What is this practice? What does he mean? No discussion. But still, discussion there. But I think sooner or later we have to stop discussing, and then day-by-day we have to build up peace in the very complicated overall picture of global existence, so-called human being. This is our peace work, [religiously speaking].

2 - 41:05 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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