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Shobogenzo: Genjokoan – Talk 1, Part 1
June 6, 1987 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi
Transcribed by Kikan Michael Howard
This transcript is still in rough draft form.
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I would like to study egolessness through Genjokoan, which you have had already… this book. (?) The title is, in English, “The Issue At Hand”. So at this time, would like to study egolessness - what is egolessness - through Dogen’s teaching, particularly Genjokoan, “The Issue at Hand”.
There are two crucial points in practicing and studying Buddhism in general. First one is, practice of egolessness. I don’t know, how can I say… you don’t understand the practice of egolessness… Excuse me, probably you have a question how you should practice egolessness. But anyway, temporarily I’ll use the practice of egolessness.
In the very first development of Buddhism, they used the term anatman - means “no self”. So no self, and egolessness, I use - almost same meaning. And in relation with idea of egolessness or no self, there is another teaching called karma. This 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, what would you say, teaching of original Indian thought, based on Upanishad and Bhagavad Gita, et cetera. So Buddha didn’t ignore the original Indian thought; he accepted smoothly, but he digested that anatman in a different way. Well, I don’t want to explain this one now. So, I think you should remember: 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 I want to study egolessness focusing on “The Issue At Hand,” Genjokoan, taught by Dogen, now.
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; to go beyond, or to be free. 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 experience it very clearly, and you can manifest it, without moving or without transform(ing) anything, just like a speck of dust. Or without breaking even a speck of dust. Self is self, but self is acting or manifesting completely in productive state of human actions. That is “cosmic self,” we say. If you go really deeply into the self, finally you can see. Okay? But temporarily we call (it) egolessness. That’s why, ego there, but no self, not ego. “Not” in this case means to be free, to be not restricted by anything. The self is there, but self is not destroyed, or self is not restricted, but productive, very productive, from day to day.
So, a little bit complicated, a little bit contradictory situation, if you try to understand the total picture of egolessness. So that is, intellectually, a little bit contradictory state of function of the ego, function of a self. So even though you study … all Buddhist scriptures, Buddha mentions to deny the ego, but on the other hand, Buddha emphasizes how important the ego is. So that ego is not the small scale of ego, but big scale of ego. So even though you study all the Buddhist scriptures, very contradictory situation of understanding of ego. So, two things. So, not merely deny or destroy ego. That is egolessness. But usually people misunderstand teaching of egolessness, regard it as a way to destroy, or ignore, or keep away from. But it is not.
So I think… first crucial point is to practice egolessness. Second crucial point is to see how you can practice it. So generally speaking, problem most people that have the chance to hear the teaching of Buddhism generally, based on two points, wisdom and compassion. I think all of you know. If you are asked by somebody, “What is Buddhism,” maybe you can say, “Buddhism is wisdom and compassion.” That is the contents, (the) quality of Buddha’s teaching. From generation to generation, for many, many years, Buddhism has been handed down to human beings in whatever ages we are facing. That is wisdom and compassion. But according to me, maybe wisdom and compassion is still theoretical, still pretty theoretical teaching. We can understand it, we seem to understand it, but compassion is not something … you understood exactly. So, I want to use another term. But this term probably make you more confusion. That’s alright. But anyway, let’s see these two crucial points from a different angle.
Wisdom is regarded as enlightenment. Which you really see deeply into original nature of existence, or how world is structured. You try to see it. Then when you touch something deep, then you attain enlightenment, you say, “how wonderful world is.” Visually or emotionally or intellectually, something fills your heart. This is enlightenment. Alright? Enlightenment, and also compassion, is not merely kindness or friendliness; compassion is salvation. Are you familiar with salvation? What do you understand (from) salvation? If I use term salvation, how do you feel?
Person 1: Being saved.
Katagiri: Being saved. What do you mean, being saved?
Person 1: Something will come from outside and save you.
Katagiri: Oh, I see. [Laughter.] Alright, okay… that’s fine. That is one way, fine. Any other.
Person 2: Separated from something undesirable.
Katagiri: Some separated…
Person 3: To be separated from something undesirable.
Katagiri: Oh. Do you understand that one? Or no?
Person 4: Do be saved from what you don’t like.
Katagiri: Oh, you don’t like… I see. That’s what she said. Okay, another one?
Person 5: I see salvation as more positive. Expressing gratitude and joyfulness…
Katagiri: Great. That’s interesting point. Okay. More positive, more positive. Positive life is including undesirable world or desirable world; anyway, including all. Otherwise you cannot express, manifest positive, productive life. So that’s one way. Any other?
Speak up, that’s alright. Anything? How do you understand?
Person 6: Traditionally it means redemption. It means being brought back from slavery. That’s the traditional meaning in the West.
Person 7: Being brought back from the slavery of sin.
Person 6: 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 Christian…
Person 6: Like a pawn shop.
Person 6: No, literally, that’s the image!
Katagiri: Redemption. Is that okay? Do you understand now? Oh, all of you understand already, you know. [Laughter.]
Okay, that’s… Any other person?
Person 3: It could be also positively being included.
Katagiri: Being included …?
Person 3: Something desirable.
Katagiri: Oh, I see.
Person 8: Salvation would imply the meaning of helping all of sentient beings escape suffering, avoid suffering.
Katagiri: Would you say once more? Salvation is what?
Person 8: The saving or the rescuing of sentient beings from suffering.
Katagiri: Oh, I see.
But, at that time, how do you feel, directly? Say 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 the self, 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 idea of salvation. That’s what I want to ask you.
Katagiri: Peace! That’s it. If you use the usual term: peace. Peace is very popular. The more something is popular, the more people misunderstand it. But if something is not popular, then more people be really be careful to understand it. Do you understand? This is the human world. [He chuckles.]
So 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 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.
So, peace - of course, strictly speaking, term peace is different from ‘salvation’, terminologically. But I think spirit of peace, spirit of salvation, spirit of harmony… So I use always two terms, peace and harmony. Peace is where there’s still(ness). Harmony is really including all, and then, a little bit dynamical. That’s my feel. So, salvation… Is that alright? Is there anyone…?
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. Salvation is… Let me say like this. Salvation is your total picture… Excuse me. Wisdom… Salvation means that all the picture of your life must be liberated from anything. This is one point.
Second point, 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, you must be… not must be, you are, liberated. Not in the future, not in the past moment. Right now, you are liberated. 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?
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, gratitude.
Katagiri: Gratitude. That is a part. Part of salvation.
But 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.
Okay. Salvation. So two crucial points I mentioned, alright? Wisdom and compassion; in other words, this is enlightenment and salvation. In terms of my term, that is enlightenment and peace. Enlightenment, salvation. But 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 something you have to manifest from moment to moment. Through the form. Okay? For instance: You sit down there. Where is the salvation? Where is the salvation, when you sit down there?
… First of all, I want to ask, where is the salvation? If you understand salvation, what next, where is the salvation?
Katagiri: Everywhere; yes. Only everywhere is very vague. [Laughter.] Everywhere… how can you see that everywhere. From where? When you say everywhere, who talking about everywhere? You talking about everywhere. [He laughs.] So everywhere come from here. But if you are not there, you cannot say everywhere. Do you understand? When you say ‘everywhere,’ at that time, you are really important pivot, 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 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 cosmic? Where is the universe? The universe is - immediately we can see the universe is a world, out of our life. But it is not. If you see the universe like this, out of you, you never understand the universe, cosmic. Because such a universe and cosmic, is nothing but the theoretical, nothing but the world of conceptualization; that’s it. So in the conceptualization you are always playing game; like chasing after your own tail, like a cat.
That is always. In philosophy, in psychology, in physics, in religion, even in religion, we do it. That’s why finally, it makes you 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 priest; I have been a monk since 18 years old, I am talking about compassion and egolessness - how much I understand the egolessness? You know, my mouth is always moving, just like the croaking frog Dogen Zenji mentions. Croacking frog in the spring field, rice field. Just like the cricket in Hokyoji in Autumn. But, it doesn’t connect with me. Just my mouth moves, that’s it. Lots of noise. But I have never experienced, directly, what the egolessness is. Do you understand? [He laughs.] You don’t understand. [He laughs.] The question I ask you, “Do you understand,” it is always 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?
So I have been talking about Buddha Nature, compassion, wisdom, for many, many years, but I always slip off. Real egolessness, real compassion, always, I haven’t realized it for long, long time. But… talking is better than nothing. Better than nothing. That’s why if I talk about compassion through my head, it penetrates my skin and marrow. So talking and preaching is pretty nice. But if I preached, if I taught 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 know this. Particularly when you become priest: very careful, you must be very, very careful. Because you are a person who conveys teaching of egolessness to others. By which people must be relieved and liberated, and guide them to have productive life. But … we don’t do it.
So, I think that’s why there are two crucial points. Let’s go back to crucial points. egolessness, and also wisdom and compassion. Enlightenment, salvation, alright? Wisdom and salvation… One more point is, wisdom, salvation are not separate. They must work together. Wisdom, salvation, always work together. That is temporarily called egolessness. But, we’re always separate. Enlightenment, salvation.
Last is, we don’t like salvation. Because if you love salvation so much, you feel boring. You feel boring, and also you feel cold from humanity, human nature. Do you understand that one? You feel cold, because always keep away from it. And then you have to get something from heaven… very relieved. Always you have to be mindful of something great beyond human world. Okay? But I don’t think it is salvation. The salvation is something manifested in concrete, in 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. Is that clear?
Dogen Zenji mentions Buddha’s teaching in terms of wisdom; that is Shobogenzo Genjokoan. Salvation is described by regulation of the monastery, so called Eihei Shingi. The last year, 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 hairs, et cetera. And then, according to Dogen’s teaching, and everyone completely said the… kind of … it seems to me everyone could be kind of suffocated, to death. [He laughs.] Because … form, gassho is do this like this, and not like this, not like this, not like this; something like that. All this, 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. So where is the salvation? Right now, right here. That’s it.
So how can you manifest salvation backed by wisdom? So, salvation, enlightenment work together; both work together. But usually, we love so much wisdom, understanding the teaching very deeply; we love it emotionally, but we don’t like it intellectually. Because you don’t feel freedom. Do you understand? Even Christianity; if you become a Christian, there is, 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 tense. Not too much. It is necessary, tense, for us. Without tense, you cannot do anything, based on salvation and wisdom. Just like a sports man, jumping from the top of a cliff to Acapulco ocean. How much they have a tension? Do you understand that one? Without tension you cannot jump into, from the top of a cliff to the bottom of the ocean; how can you jump? But it’s not too much; it’s not slackening, it’s not slackening of tense. ‘Tense’ is nothing but his whole body and mind, working together. So he doesn’t feel tense. But his whole body and mind is manifested; nothing but the manifestation of tense; that’s it. At that time, he or she can accept or receive everywhere; earth, ocean, emotions, feelings. Walk, 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, 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 ocean”? And he creates a form, beautiful form; this is nothing but productive life, of his life. That is art. It’s really 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. Circle. But it’s not circle, it’s straight. But it’s circle. Really. Do you understand that one? If you don’t believe, next Olympic games you should watch that jumping divers; you know, art. It’s beautiful; it’s such a beautiful form there. Human art, painting. A painting drawn by a human body and mind, including all. Then, this is begging(?) It’s beautiful. So, how do you do it?
So say my prayer to the spiritual life. You don’t understand spiritual life, that’s why take divers as example. Much more, you who are seeking for a spiritual life should follow in that way. Otherwise, you cannot understand a spiritual life. Spiritual life is touching the liberation, freedom directly.
So, I think the point that I want to tell is, merging of enlightenment and salvation. Without everyday life, religion is ridiculous. It’s really something. It is exactly same as philosophy, psychology, if you don’t make it alive in everyday life. When you do gassho, there is a spiritual life there - otherwise, how do you express gratitude, appreciation to your life, to everything? So we need both, okay? That’s what I want to tell you, in Buddhist teaching. Two crucial points in Buddhist teaching.
So what is egolessness? Egolessness is being liberated, being liberated from the self. That is 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, quality of Buddha’s experience or Buddha’s teaching is wisdom and compassion. Wisdom, compassion; or, enlightenment, salvation; both should work together from moment to moment. That is called spiritual life. You understand it, and you should live it. Live in it. This is our practice.
But 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 whole universe. But you never believe it! So always, you don’t like it. Because it’s too simple; too simple to know. Something directly you have to touch is too close, too close to know. Very delicate. Do you understand? No. Never mind. Too close.
Too close means, when your stomach is functioning smoothly you don’t pay attention to it. If you don’t pay attention, your stomach is somewhere, out of your body. Or function of your stomach is something different from function of your eyes, ears. Same thing. Your stomach is exactly too close to know for you. That means too close to know, okay? Do you understand?
But when you stomach is a little bit expressing something, called sound. You know stomach in zazen… growling? Making noise, your stomach? “Uh oh, my stomach is something … trouble.” That is at that time, you pay attention to the existence of stomach. At that time, that stomach you pay attention is something different from you. So create … that is called to know, to understand existence of your stomach. But before, to understand or to know stomach, stomach and your whole body working exactly in the same and one ground. At that time, what is that? Is it absent? No. Your five skandhas, very peaceful. Because no trouble. No trouble. That’s why, when something is perfectly peaceful, relieved or save, at that time, you are perfectly peaceful and harmonious. That is not something to know. Okay? 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 manifestation is… manifestation and completion. Literally. Genjo means what has been completed. And, is completing, is being completed, and will be completed - from day to day, 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 is called gen jo.
So genjo, present is…
… 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 been completed, and is being completed, and will be completed, constantly. Means, the present of zazen becomes present of zazen, right now, right here, and settle in the present of zazen. That’s it! Believe this! If I explain it’s complicated, but if you practice it, very simple.
Too simple to know. So that’s why this is called shikantaza. So you have never experienced before; that’s why Buddhas constantly express compassion over everyone, whoever you are, enlightened or non 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 express(es) 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. That is… You can manifest it because everyone feels peaceful. When you feel peaceful, when you feel relief - what is that? Beyond your speculation, that presence, 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… since I came to United States, I have taught Buddhism in English. But in the beginning it was very difficult for me to talk in Buddhist teaching in English. But beyond the difficulty or not difficulty, I myself have felt all I have to do is just, do it. Practically, just do it. So, what makes me possible to make me mature, make my personality mature? It is due to just continuation of just doing with wholeheartedness, beyond difficulty or not difficulty. That’s all I can do. I can do, or I have to do. That’s it. But for you, there are lots of choices in your life, that’s why you never feel that way. But if you are exactly, (?) …. no choice, you have to do it. So simply speaking, that is exactly from moment to moment the continuation of just doing with sincere heart, is my life supported, backed by whole universe. And the total relief from my life. But intellectually, immediately my consciousness never believes it, because consciousness always sleep in, get into that reality, and analyzing, synthesizing, just like computer. Very quick. Then, it makes me confused. And then cry, suffer, anger; expressing anger toward object, toward myself. And finally, fighting. Finally, sometimes killing each other.
That’s why in Buddhism if you forget practice of egolessness, no matter how long you study Buddhism, it doesn’t make sense for me. How important egolessness is. In Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji doesn’t use egolessness, but he tried 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. But a little difficult. But if you read very carefully, step by step: very theoretical, in a sense. Understanding with wisdom, very deeply. Very clear, simple sentence. That’s why we don’t understand it: too simple. But it’s very wonderful chapter.
So I would like to study this one. Tomorrow, I would like to say a little bit, explain why the practice of egolessness is important in terms of Buddhist psychology. I want to tell you. Today, just general point; what is the crucial point in the Buddhism case(?). Okay? 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 …
Katagiri: No. It’s 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 to do for us. That’s why … be kind, be compassionate to everyone, sharing your life with all sentient beings; it is true. But it is not all. Compassion is, 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 and itself. So how can you experience salvation, that is seeing very deeply into the human world with wisdom? How? This is a practice, you know. You know, the meditation, and these six paramitas, like this.
Is that okay? Do you have any other questions? We will have discussion (later?)…
Next Talk Shobogenzo: Genjokoan – Talk 1, Part 2