June 6, 1987 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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This transcript is in rough draft stage.

Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org


Katagiri Roshi: At this time, I would like to study egolessness through Dogen’s teaching, particularly Genjokoan. You have the textbook; the title in English is “The Issue At Hand.” (Transcriber’s Note: The translation is Thomas Cleary’s; it is available on thezensite.com.)

There are two crucial points in practicing and studying Buddhism in general. The first one is the practice of egolessness. I don’t know how I can say it; you don’t understand “the practice of egolessness”… or excuse me, [I should say,] probably you have questions how you should practice egolessness. But anyway, temporarily I’ll use [the term] the practice of egolessness.

In the early development of Buddhism, they used the term anatman; that means “no-self”. I use no-self and egolessness with almost the same meaning. And in relation with idea of egolessness or no-self, there is another teaching called karma. That is a little bit complicated. If you see the idea of karma in terms of Buddhist history, it is very difficult for us to understand karma very clearly, because that idea has been connected with the teaching of original Indian thought based on the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, et cetera. Buddha didn’t ignore the original Indian thought, he accepted it smoothly, but he digested that [concept of] anatman in a different way. Well, I don’t want to explain this now, so I think you should [just] remember that the teaching of anatman or no-self is little bit complicated, if you try to understand what is the point of egolessness or no-self according to the development of Buddhist teaching. But now I want to study egolessness focusing on “The Issue At Hand,” Genjokoan, taught by Dogen.


The first crucial point in Buddhism is to practice egolessness or no-self. Simply speaking, egolessness or no-self is not to deny the existence of the self, but to go beyond, or to be free. Or, to go deeply into the self, and then the deepest level of existence, ego or the self, is something cosmic, something universal, which is directly connected with your five skandhas, six senses, and eight consciousnesses, et cetera. And [you can] experience it very clearly, and you can manifest it, without moving or without transforming anything, or without breaking [anything], even a speck of dust. Self is self, but self is acting or manifesting completely in [a] productive state of human action. That is cosmic self, we say. If you go really deeply into the self, finally you can see [this].

But temporarily we call [it] egolessness. […] Ego is there, but [we say] no-self, not-ego. Not in this case means to be free, to be not restricted by anything. The self is there, the self is not destroyed or restricted, but [it is] very productive, from day to day.

So it’s a little bit complicated, a little bit [of a] contradictory situation, if you try to understand the total picture of egolessness. Intellectually, that is a little bit contradictory, [the] state [or] the function of the ego, the function of a self. [If] you study all the Buddhist scriptures, Buddha says to deny the ego, but on the other hand, Buddha emphasizes how important the ego is. That ego is not the small scale of ego, but the big scale of ego. So even though you study all the Buddhist scriptures, [it is a] very contradictory situation of understanding of ego. [It is] two things.

So [egolessness is] not merely to deny or destroy ego. Usually people misunderstand the teaching of egolessness, regard it as a way to destroy, or ignore, or keep away from. But it is not.


I think the first crucial point is to practice egolessness; the second crucial point is to see how you can practice it.

Generally speaking, for most people that have the chance to hear the teaching of Buddhism, it is based on two points: wisdom and compassion. I think all of you know [that]. If you are asked by somebody, “What is Buddhism,” maybe you can say, “Buddhism is wisdom and compassion.” Those are the contents, the quality of Buddha’s teaching, [that] has been handed down to human beings from generation to generation, in whatever ages we are facing.

But according to me, maybe wisdom and compassion is still a pretty theoretical teaching. We seem to understand it, but compassion is not something all of you understand exactly. So, I want to use another term. This term will probably make you more confused. That’s alright. But anyway, let’s see these two crucial points from a different angle.

Wisdom is regarded as enlightenment – in which you really see deeply into the original nature of existence, or how the world is structured. You try to see it, and then when you touch something deep, then you attain enlightenment, and you say, “How wonderful the world is.” Visually or emotionally or intellectually, something fills your heart. This is enlightenment. Alright?

And also, compassion is not merely kindness or friendliness; compassion is salvation.

Are you familiar with salvation? What do you understand [from the word] salvation? If I use the term salvation, how do you feel?

Person: Being saved.

Katagiri: Being saved. What do you mean, being saved?

Person: Something will come from outside and save you.

Katagiri: Oh, I see. [Laughter.] Alright, okay… that’s fine. That is one way. Any other?

Person: To be separated from something undesirable.

Katagiri: Oh. Do you understand that one?

Person: To be saved from what you don’t like.

Katagiri: Oh, what you don’t like… I see. That’s what she said. Okay, another one?

Person: I see salvation as more positive. Expressing gratitude and joyfulness…

Katagiri: Great. That’s an interesting point. More positive. Positive life is including the undesirable world or desirable world. Including all, otherwise you cannot express or manifest a positive, productive life. So that’s one way. Any other?

Speak up, that’s alright. Anything? How do you understand it?

Person: Traditionally it means redemption. It means being bought back from slavery. That’s the traditional meaning in the West.

Person: Being brought back from the slavery of sin.

Person: Bought back. Somebody bought you back; you were in slavery and someone paid your price, and bought you back to freedom.

Katagiri: Oh… That’s in Christianity…

Person: Redemption.

Person: Like a pawn shop.

[Everyone laughs.]

Person: No, literally, that’s the image!

Katagiri: Redemption. Is that okay? Do you understand that? Oh, all of you understand already. [Laughter.]

Okay, any other person?

Person: It could also be positively being included.

Katagiri: Being included …?

Person 3: Something desirable.

Katagiri: Oh, I see.

Person: Salvation would imply the meaning of helping all sentient beings escape suffering, avoid suffering.

Katagiri: Would you say that once more? Salvation is what?

Person: The saving or the rescuing of sentient beings from suffering.

Katagiri: Oh, I see.

But, at that time, how do you feel, directly, from that? That is the point. I’m not talking about ideal salvation, but salvation which you can feel directly, you can touch directly. Salvation. When you understand salvation as saving all sentient beings from suffering, at that time, how do you feel or touch yourself and all sentient beings, directly? How? This is what I want to say to you. Is that okay? It’s not an idea of salvation. That’s what I want to ask you.

Person: Peace.

Katagiri: Peace! That’s it. If you use the usual term: peace.

But peace is very popular. The more something is popular, the more people misunderstand it. If something is not popular, then people are more careful to understand it. This is the human world. [He chuckles.]

Buddhism is not popular now; that’s why you really struggle, paying attention what Buddhism is, what your life is. Being free from existing philosophy, psychology, religion, Western culture – you really pay attention carefully. But in the future, probably Buddhism could be popular in the United States. At that time, I don’t know, it could be good for you, or not. I bet you, anyway. [Laughter.] You could see the many people who misunderstand it.


Of course, strictly speaking, the term peace is different from salvation, terminologically. But I think the spirit of peace, the spirit of salvation, or the spirit of harmony… I always use two terms, peace and harmony. Peace is where there’s stillness. Harmony is really including all, and then, a little bit dynamical. That’s my feel. So, salvation… Is that alright?

Person: It seems to me that the word liberation or free is part of it.

Katagiri: Yes. Yes, that’s right.

Person: And that includes the idea of salvation, in all the senses, too.

Katagiri: Right. Let me say it like this. [With wisdom,] salvation means that the overall picture of your life must be liberated from… anything. This is one point.

The second point is that such a salvation is not something limited by any idea, any sciences, anything, but it is something alive – peacefully, harmoniously – from which you can take a deep, slow, long breath. In other words, relief. Very deep relief there.

Do you understand? Is that okay?

So, salvation is [that] you must be… not must be, you are liberated. Not in the future, not in the past moment: right now, right here, you are liberated. The total picture of your life is liberated, right now. And then, this is not something idealistical, but it is something alive, day by day, from moment to moment. This is called peace or harmony.

In other words, salvation is – what? Finally salvation is what? How can you manifest salvation? How can you practice salvation?

Person: Celebration.

Katagiri: Celebration? I know the term but still I don’t understand.

Person: To celebrate your life, to live it.

Person: To have joy and appreciation.

Katagiri: Gratitude. That is a part of salvation. [He chuckles.]

From salvation, you can feel this deep gratitude, and celebrating your life, with joy, et cetera. And you can share your life with all sentient beings, something like that, when salvation is really alive in your everyday life.


So two crucial points I mentioned, alright? Wisdom and compassion; in other words, in my terms, this is enlightenment and salvation. Salvation means peace and harmony. Peace and harmony is not idealistical, theoretical, or not talking about human life in terms of the world of conceptualization, but it is something you have to manifest from moment to moment, through the form. Okay?

For instance: You’re sitting there. Where is the salvation? Where is the salvation, when you sit down there? I want to ask, where is the salvation? If you understand salvation, next, where is the salvation?

Person: Everywhere.

Katagiri: Everywhere; yes. Only everywhere is very vague. [Laughter.] Everywhere… Where can you see that everywhere from? [Laughter.] When you say everywhere, who’s talking about everywhere? You are talking about everywhere. [He laughs.]

So everywhere comes from here; but if you are not there, you cannot say everywhere. Do you understand? When you say everywhere, at that time, you are [a] really important pivot, [the] pivotal position of existence. And then with that pivotal position of your life, it is very peaceful and harmonious. At that time, you can see everywhere. But when you are very confused, you cannot see the everywhere. You are limited; that’s why you are very confused. Is that clear?

So when you say everywhere, yes we understand it, but it’s very vague, very abstract. So finally, where is everywhere? Where is [the] cosmos? Where is the universe? [If we say,] “The universe is…” – immediately we can see the universe is a word, out of our life. But it is not [our of our life]. If you see the universe like this, out of you, you never understand the universe. Because such a universe or cosmos is nothing but the theoretical, nothing but the world of conceptualization; that’s [all]. So in the conceptualization you are always playing a game; like chasing after your own tail, like a cat.

[We always do this.] In philosophy, in psychology, in physics, even in religion, we do it. That’s why finally, it’s [sort of] fun, but simultaneously, fun is not always fun; it’s trouble. We are fighting and killing each other, under the beautiful flag of religion.

Particularly priests. I have been a monk since I was 18 years old. I am talking about compassion and egolessness… how much do I understand egolessness? You know, my mouth is always moving, just like the croaking frog Dogen Zenji mentions, the croaking frog in the rice field. Just like a cricket at Hokyoji in the autumn. [Some laughter.] But it doesn’t connect with me. Just my mouth moves, that’s it. Lots of noise, but I have never experienced directly what egolessness is. Do you understand? You don’t understand. [He laughs.]

The question I ask you, “Do you understand,” it is already something questionable. But what I want to tell you is, egolessness is not something conceptualized or understandable, or [reasonable]. No, it’s not. You have to directly touch it. I don’t know, how can I say it? I have been talking about Buddha Nature, compassion, wisdom, for many, many years – but I always slip off. Real egolessness, real compassion, I haven’t realized it for a long, long time. But, talking is better than nothing. If I talk about compassion through my head, it penetrates my skin and marrow. So talking or preaching is pretty nice. But if I preach, if I teach something compassionate, and then I fully believe that “I am good Buddhist” – no way! [He laughs.] That’s prejudice and ego. Okay? You don’t notice. Particularly when you become priest, you must be very careful, very careful, because you are a person who conveys the teaching of egolessness to others, by which people must be relieved and liberated, and guided to have a productive life. But we don’t do it.


So, I think that’s why there are two crucial points. Let’s go back to the crucial points: egolessness, and also wisdom and compassion. Enlightenment and salvation, alright? Wisdom and salvation.

One more point is, wisdom and salvation are not separate. They must work together. Wisdom and salvation always work together. That is temporarily called egolessness. But, we’re always [separating] enlightenment and salvation.

[Mostly], we don’t like salvation. Because if you love salvation very much, you feel bored, and also you feel cold from humanity. Do you understand that? You feel cold, because you’re always keeping away from it. And then you also have to get something from heaven… [He laughs.] […] Always you have to be mindful of something great, beyond the human world. Okay? But I don’t think that is salvation. Salvation is something manifested in concrete details, every day. That’s why when you do gassho, there is enlightenment and salvation there; otherwise, you cannot deal with gassho as a form, with stability.

Dogen Zenji mentions Buddha’s teaching in terms of wisdom; that is Shobogenzo Genjokoan. On the other hand, salvation is described by regulation of the monastery, the Eihei Shingi. A couple years ago, we had that practice: how to wash your face, [he chuckles], how to use the bathroom, how to cook in the kitchen, and how do you deal with toilet paper, and how do you deal with your clothes, and hair, et cetera, according to Dogen’s teaching. And everyone said they [felt] they could kind of be suffocated to death. [He laughs.] Because the form, gassho, is do this like this, and not like this, not like this, not like this; something like that. Dogen Zenji puts you in a certain frame or form. And then you don’t like it; because you like freedom. The freedom that you like is not freedom! [He chuckles.] Confusion. In terms of Buddha’s eyes, your freedom is missed. That’s why Buddha always expresses his own compassion, and puts you in a certain frame, so called Buddha’s land, Buddha’s world. “Cosmic” – whatever you say. But we don’t like it. But, there is salvation there.

Then where is the salvation? Right now, right here. That’s it.


So how can you manifest salvation backed by wisdom?

Salvation and enlightenment both work together. But usually, we very much love wisdom, understanding the teaching very deeply. [But salvation,] we love it emotionally, but we don’t like it intellectually, because we don’t feel freedom. Do you understand? Even Christianity: if you become a Christian, then if you want to have salvation, there are lots of forms. And then you don’t free, and you don’t feel relaxed. You become rigid. I think in a sense, you need the tension. [He laughs.] Not too much. Tension is necessary for us. Without tension, you cannot do anything based on salvation and wisdom.

Just like a sportsman, jumping from the top of a cliff into the ocean in Acapulco. How much tension do they have? Without tension you cannot jump from the top of a cliff to the bottom of the ocean; how can you jump? But it’s not too much. [And] it’s not slackening of tension. Tension is nothing but his whole body and mind working together. So he doesn’t feel tense. But his whole body and mind is manifested; it is nothing but the manifestation of tension. At that time, he or she can accept or receive [everything]: earth, ocean, emotions, feelings. Rock, top of a cliff, position – anything. The same applies to spiritual practice.

But then we don’t like it. We are always trying to live our own way; particularly when you get into spiritual life. Intellectually, you really want to have freedom, but when you get into it, you don’t like it! But when you don’t do it, how can you create productive life in the process of action, so-called “jumping into the ocean”? [The diver] creates a beautiful form; this is nothing but productive life. That is art. It’s really a beautiful art. Even though it’s on the TV screen, you feel it’s really beautiful. His process, movement, action from moment to moment is perfect. It’s a circle. It’s not a circle, it’s straight – but it’s a circle, moving. Do you understand that one? If you don’t believe it, you should watch the jumping divers in the next Olympic games. It’s a beautiful art; it’s such a beautiful form there. Human art, [like a] painting drawn by a human body and mind, including all. And then, this is a [unintelligible]. It’s beautiful. So how do you do it?

So the same applies to the spiritual life. You don’t understand spiritual life, that’s why we take divers as an example. Much more so, you who are seeking for a spiritual life should follow in that way. Otherwise, you can never understand a spiritual life. Spiritual life is touching the liberation, freedom directly.


So, I think the point that I want to make is, the merging of enlightenment and salvation.

Without everyday life, religion is ridiculous. It’s really something. If you don’t make it alive in everyday life, it is exactly the same as philosophy, psychology. When you do gassho, there is a spiritual life there – otherwise, how do you express appreciation to your life, to everything?

So we need both, okay? That’s what I want to tell you; two crucial points in the Buddha’s teaching.

So one point is egolessness. Egolessness is being liberated from the self. That is the meaning of none or no, negative expression. It’s not destroy. Be liberated, be free from self or ego. So ego is there: the big scale of ego, big scale of self. That is egolessness; anatman or no-self, we say.

The second crucial point is that the quality of Buddha’s experience or Buddha’s teaching is wisdom and compassion. Wisdom and compassion, or enlightenment and salvation; both should work together from moment to moment. That is called spiritual life. You understand it, and you should live in it. This is our practice.

But a problem is, you have never experienced it before. That’s why I always tell you, when you do zazen, do zazen with wholeheartedness! But, you never believe it. [He laughs.] It is salvation, backed by the whole universe. But you never believe it! So always, you don’t like it. Because it’s too simple; too simple to know. Something you have to touch directly is too close, too close to know. Very delicate. Do you understand? No. Never mind.

Too close means, when your stomach is functioning smoothly, you don’t pay attention to it. If you don’t pay attention, is your stomach somewhere out of your body? Or is the function of your stomach something different from the function of your eyes, ears? Same thing. Your stomach is too close to know for you. That is what too close to know means. Do you understand?

But when you stomach is a little bit expressing some sound; you know, your stomach growling during zazen? “Uh oh, my stomach is [causing] trouble.” At that time you pay attention to the existence of your stomach. At that time, that stomach you pay attention is something different from you. […] That is called to know, to understand the existence of your stomach. But before you understand or know your stomach, your stomach and your whole body and everything are working exactly in the same and one ground. At that time, what is that? Is it [absent]? No. Your five skandhas are very peaceful, because there is no trouble. That’s why, when something is perfectly peaceful, relieved or saved, at that time you are perfectly peaceful and harmonious. That is not something to know. It’s pretty difficult to know. So all you can do is just to manifest.

That is called genjo koan. Okay? The title of this, called genjo koan. Gen of genjo is manifestion or present. Jo is becoming, to become, or to complete. So literally [it is] manifestation and completion. Genjo means what has been completed – and is completing, is being completed, and will be completed – from day to day, from moment to moment. That is what? That is called present. Reality. So reality is something more than you have understood – or you tried to understand. Something more than that. That is called gen jo.

So in genjo, present is what has …

[Tape change.]

… present as it truly is. This is called gen jo. Present perfections. That is your reality.

So, what is the present of what you are doing? That is called zazen. It’s something more than you believe. So, present of zazen is what you have completed, and is being completed, and will be completed, constantly. That means the present of zazen becomes the present of zazen, right now, right here, and settle in the present of zazen. That’s it! […]

If I explain it’s complicated, but if you practice it, it’s very simple. Too simple to know. So that’s why this is called shikantaza. You have never experienced it before, that’s why Buddhas constantly express compassion over everyone, whoever you are, enlightened or not-enlightened, and try to put you in that reality. How? Please do zazen. Please take care of gassho as a form, as best as you can. That’s all. Put yourself in the form of your life. Buddha always expresses his own compassion over all sentient beings.

So that’s why that is genjo. And also koan means absolute truth. So genjo is simultaneously absolute truth. Nothing to know; but, you can totally manifest it. You can do it. You can manifest it because everyone feels peaceful. When you feel peaceful, when you feel relief – what is that? Beyond your speculation, that [present] atmosphere of your relief is supported, or backed by, all sentient beings. And also your life from moment to moment is saved, relieved. Very peaceful.


In my case: I have taught Buddhism in English since I came to United States, but in the beginning it was very difficult for me to talk about Buddhist teaching in English. But beyond the difficulty or not difficulty, I myself felt that all I had to do is just do it. Practically, just do it.

So, what makes it possible for me to make my personality mature? It is just continuing to do it with wholeheartedness, beyond difficulty or not difficulty. That’s all I can do, or all I have to do. That’s it.

But for you, there are lots of choices in your life, that’s why you have never felt that way. But if you [have] exactly […] no choice, you have to do it. So simply speaking, that moment to moment continuation of just doing with sincere heart, is [that] my life is supported, backed by the whole universe, and [it is] total relief for my life. But intellectually, immediately my consciousness never believes it, because consciousness is always slipping in, getting into that reality, and analyzing, synthesizing, just like computer; very quick. And then, it makes me confused. And then [I] cry, suffer; expressing anger toward object, toward myself. And finally, fighting. Finally, sometimes we kill each other.

That’s why in Buddhism if you forget the practice of egolessness, no matter how long you study Buddhism, it doesn’t make sense for me. [That is] how important egolessness is. In Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji doesn’t use [the word] egolessness, but he tries to tell you why we have to practice egolessness, and what is salvation based on egolessness. That is Genjokoan, “The Issue at Hand.”

So if you read it, you can feel something from this. It’s a little difficult, but if you read it very carefully, step by step – very theoretical, in a sense; understanding very deeply with wisdom. Very clear, simple sentences. That’s why we don’t understand it: it’s too simple. But it’s a very wonderful chapter.

So I would like to study this. Tomorrow, I would like to explain a little bit why the practice of egolessness is important in terms of Buddhist psychology. Today, just the general point: what is the crucial point in Buddhism.

Do you have a question?


Question: It seems to me that what you’re saying is that wisdom and compassion, or enlightenment and salvation, are aspects of the same thing. You cannot have wisdom without having compassion; you can’t have compassion without experience of … Is that correct?

Katagiri: No. It’s the same, working together. Compassion is understood usually whereby people are living with kindness, sharing our life with people. That’s fine. Because, there is nothing else for us to do; that’s why [it is to] be kind, be compassionate to everyone, sharing your life with all sentient beings. It is true; but it is not all. Compassion is that you must be saved. In other words, you must be based on deep relief. Do you understand? That is compassion: relief. Total relief.

That is compassion. So, where is the compassion? Something more than the idea of kindness et cetera. So how can you experience salvation, that is seeing very deeply into the human world with wisdom? How? This is a practice. You know, meditation, and the six paramitas, like that.

Is that okay? Do you have any other questions? We will have [more] discussion [later].

57:35 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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