October 5, 1988 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: Good morning. The topic I am speaking of today is “Review and Renew: Buddhism for the Twenty-First Century.” This is a really big subject. For me, it is too big a title, but as best as I can I will try to talk about it.

I don’t want to get deeply into Buddhist history in order to review Buddhism. And also, as to renewing Buddhism, I think there is nothing to renew [in] Buddhism itself, but [we should] renew ourselves, human beings, for the 21st century. Because Buddhism is mainly very conservative, in order to maintain the essence of Buddha’s teaching century after century. If you forget the essence of the Buddha’s teaching, I think Buddhism doesn’t work. For a long time, in every country where Buddhism went, Buddhas and ancestors tried to transmit that essence of Buddha’s teaching; that’s why Buddhism flourished in every country it went to. To China, to Tibet, to Japan; Buddhism grows and helps the individual culture and individual people’s lives. So from this point, I think there is nothing to renew in Buddhism itself, but [we should] renew the human beings who take care of Buddhism. That is the most important point for us.

And also, in the 21st century, I think all the sciences, philosophies, psychology, religion, physics and biology, advance very much in order to create a better life, a better world, by researching the depths of human life, the human world. So very naturally, I think science – for instance, physics – is no longer a science separate from Buddhism. Buddhism has a very close relation with physics, or biology, and many sciences.

For instance, I think in ancient times Dogen Zenji talked about the moment: 6,400,098,088 instants in a day. Or, a moment consists of 70 instants. Like this. And then Dogen Zenji said, “If you don’t believe [in] this moment, you cannot arouse bodhi mind” – in other words, without believing in the moment, you cannot seek for the truth, you cannot take care of human life with deep understanding and share you compassion with all sentient beings; that is bodhi mind. But lately, I think physics already finds the shortest period of a moment, much more than the understanding of the moment in Buddhism. [And by the] virtue of discovering the shortest period of a moment, we can go to the Moon, and we can research the [subatomic] world, and understand it. So from this point, I think physics is no longer separate from Buddhism, because physicists already know the shortest period of time and how to use the shortest period of time. By using the shortest period of time, we can almost control the human world, including other planets. So very naturally, [people] strongly believe that physics is the best thing to control human life, to create a better world, a better life. Not only physics, but also biology, and psychology, et cetera. In other words, the sciences are invading Buddhist territory or religious territory. Do you understand what I mean? So very naturally you cannot deal with religion or Buddhism separately from the sciences. In ancient times, religion was separated, but from now on, you cannot separate them.

So from this point, I think Buddhism is still Buddhism, and Buddhism tries to maintain the essence of Buddhism… [but] how to apply [Buddhism] to modern society, modern life? This is most important. I think human beings in the 21st century could be very confused: what is the best thing which can give compassion and kindness and peace, and brighten and fill human life? [Sort of like] lubrication for the car. Religion is kind of a lubrication for the machine, for human life. This is very important for us.

So I think in developing the sciences toward the 21st century, I think human beings could be very confused. So I think from now on we have to begin to study Buddhism very deeply, and understand [the nature of] human being, the human world, instead of dealing with mystical religious “stuff”. By researching very deeply human life, human being, then Buddhism becomes the great thing which we can display in the universal market. Not the small religious market, the universal market. Then, we should let the people make a choice of Buddhism by the individual human being. That is very important.


First, I would like to take a little look at the beginning of Mahayana Buddhism in the first century. I think it is pointed out that the Mahayana began to grow before and after the first century, probably before the first century. The first century is the age that many scriptures were produced, and translated into Chinese. For instance one of the great translators named Lokaraksha came to China in 147, and translated many Mahayana Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. So from this point, before 147 there were already many Buddhist scriptures. In those day, the movement of translating Buddhist scriptures was very popular in China; that was the beginning of translation of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. And also the first century was an age that they were deeply researching and practicing and summarizing. That’s why most of Mahayana Buddhism was well established in the first century or so.

And Mahayana Buddhism tried to center on the [idea] of the bodhisattva. Before the first century, bodhisattva was [a word] just for Shakyamuni Buddha’s previous lives. In the past lives before Gotama Sidhartha became a Buddha, he was called [the] bodhisattva. But in Mahayana Buddhism in the first century, I think bodhisattva [became] very popular, and [it] applied to everyone who can [practice Buddhism].

Bodhi means enlightenment, and sattva means being. Traditionally, bodhisattva was assumed to be the person who seeks for the truth or enlightenment. But strictly speaking, I think particularly according to Buddha’s teaching, bodhi is not separate from sattva; bodhi is sattva. Because the Buddha says that we are buddha. Buddha is not separate from us. So bodhisattva is [that] we are already bodhisattva: the enlightened being called Buddha. That is the meaning of bodhisattva in the Mahayana.

What I am interested in is that the Mahayana movement germinated from the lay Buddhists of those days. So if you read the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (the Lotus Sutra), behind it I think you can see a kind of movement of bodhisattva life. [Traditionally], monks should be taking trips all over India; they couldn’t have any particular place to live. But in the first century, I think some of the monks tried to be the head of the pagoda, stuppa. If you read the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, that kind of thing occurred. And also, there was no discrimination of the practice between men and women, monks and laity in those days; the laity and monks, and men and women, gathered and practiced together. This is a brief outlook of the beginning of the Mahayana in the first century.

When you look at the Mahayana in the first century I think you can find the similarity of Mahayana Buddhism with American Buddhism. Since I came to the United States, I have been practicing with Americans, [and] we have practiced together, men and women, and also no discrimination between the monks and priests and the lay Buddhists; they have practiced together. Some confusion is there, but this is reality, so we try to practice in such circumstances.

And then later in the first century, the Mahayana set up a monks’ life separate from the laity. I think the same applies to American Buddhism now. We don’t know which way to go; we don’t know what real Buddhism is, because Buddhist scriptures came into America translated into English at random, not systematically, so Americans try to read the Buddhist scriptures like a person who is drowning, grasping straws. That’s why Americans know pretty well about Buddhism, but actually, deep inside, I think still they’re very confused, because there are too many kinds of Buddhism, too many kinds of religious stuff. So in a sense I can give great sympathy to American Buddhism, but I can’t help it. In such circumstances, we try to walk step by step.

In order to walk step by step in the confused circumstances of American Buddhism, the most important thing we have to practice is the spirit and heart of the bodhisattva’s life. That is most important for us. Of course, a bodhisattva’s life is based on wisdom and compassion.

Wisdom is, simply speaking, bodhisattvas are wise enough to see into Life with a capital L: that we are caused to be alive by all other beings. Do you understand? We are caused to be alive… not we are alive by our effort. Of course, we [are alive by our effort], but on the other hand, in order to know the large scale of human life, I think we should realize the other aspect, that we are caused to be alive by all other beings. This is wisdom.

And compassion is that a bodhisattva puts the comfort of others before their own convenience – which means they don’t manifest themselves only in the selfish view, or in a selfish manner, or rough behavior. Always they are thinking of others, and are concerned about how to help them, before being concerned about their own life. This is compassion.

In other words, no one will dispute the fact that kindness is a fine virtue. Particularly the teacher or friend who lives most vividly in our memory is a person who was very kind and gentle, considerate and charitable. One of my friends, Yokoi Roshi (横井覚道 Yokoi Kakudō), was using language very roughly and carelessly, criticizing me and putting me down, but whatever he did, I think I found that there was a very deep kindness there. So that was a great teacher for me. Your teacher or your friends who really live most vividly in your memory are the people who are very kind, gentle, considerate, and charitable. Even in everyday human life, this kind of kindness is important; much more, compassion is very important for us.


On the other hand, if you look at individual life in reality, we can very often find human life is based on something opposite to the bodhisattva’s life. That life is kind of egoistic, not compassionate; very individualistic, always thinking of our own life, and we confine ourselves into our own small shell.

In Buddhism, even though we think in terms of Buddha’s teaching, I think the our life is kind of selfish, but this selfishness is one of the unconsciousnesses. Not only one or two people; everyone has this selfishness. It is the source of egoism, the source of selfishness. And also, it always vibrates minutely. It is tremendously obstinate, the self, because on the unconscious level it’s working constantly, regardless of whether you are conscious of it or not. I think this kind of selfishness is not the kind of beings as object for your perception or knowledge, it is a kind of an energy. This [energy] is called manas.

And also the human body, we use very often karma. In Buddhism we call it karma-vipaka in Sanskrit. Karma means action; well you know karma pretty well. Vipaka means life as a result of what you did in the past. You did good or bad in the past, but as a result life is completely neutral; that is called vipaka. So your life is kind of beyond your evaluation or judgement, good or bad, right or wrong, because your life is completely neutral. So that is karma-vipaka.

In the first moment when you are in the mother’s womb, that moment is called kalalam in Sanskrit. Kalalam means the one point or one moment when dwelling in the mother’s womb. Buddhism mentions at that moment you have already three things: one is lifespan, the second is warmth, and the third consciousness.

Lifespan means kind of longevity, which has been continuous from the past to the future. So longevity or lifespan is something continuous. You already have this in the first moment when your are dwelling in the mother’s womb.

And next, warmth is kind of heartiness, or the quality of being intimate and attached. Or, I think warmth is kind of the idea by which the lifespan, something continuous from the past to the present to the future, comes together with the conscious world. So warmth is a kind of power, which exists around lifespan and the conscious world.

If you read [about] the creation in Rig Veda, I think it talks about this warmth. The idea of that warmth is a kind of energy which exists around the origin of the material and the origin of the spirit, that lets both come together, and work together, and create something. That is warmth in Rig Veda. So I think the same applies to this idea of warmth.

And consciousness is our mind, our conscious world. The conscious world is regarded as human consciousness and also universal consciousness. In Buddhism, consciousness is explained in many ways.

So those three are there already in this moment, and the embryo that exists in that moment is called the personal body. So your personal body is already connected with consciousness, and also lifespan, which means something continuous from the past, to the present, to the future. And also [there is] great energy there: warmth, heartiness. You can share, and you can help others. That is the personal body. So in Buddhism, the personal body is not the body you believe in as the stinky body. This body is very important; this body is Buddha.

In other words, the human personal body is your personal body, but simultaneously it’s connected with the functioning of the universe; eternity. That is the personal body. So very naturally, what we have to do is, the universal energy or universal aspect of human life should be manifested with this human body. According to Buddhist terms, I think Dharmakaya Buddha is manifested with Nirmanakaya Buddha. Nirmanakaya Buddha means the physical Gotama Siddartha. Then with Gotama Siddartha, Dharmakaya – truth – can be manifested. At that time, our body can be free from karmic life and free from individual hindrances, and we become opening self. We trust in the opening self, we realize the life of opening self. That is most important. That’s why I said the universal life must be manifested with our body.


So in order to manifest the universal life with our body in everyday life, I think there are a few practices we should take into account.

One is throwing away arrogance. Arrogance is always to believe strongly that my life is mine. […] You believe your life is yours, and others also believe that others’ life is others’. The same applies to scientists: scientists believe strongly that their life is theirs. Very naturally, religion, physics, biology, psychology – all exist by believing strongly their own life, controlled by their own power or energy, human knowledge. This is very dangerous for us. So very naturally, we have to realize this arrogance and be humble. That is really the practice called development of wisdom. By wisdom you can practice this [humility], and by this practice you can develop wisdom.

And second, I think I mentioned that we should put others’ life in our place. In other words, this is when you think of others before your own convenience. This is bodhisattva practice. It is not only bodhisattva practice, because it is pointed out that one hundred thousand years ago, homo sapiens as ancestors of human beings started to perform funeral services for their dead. [That is] thinking of others’ life. So I think if you think of others, performing the funeral service, that is simultaneously to recognize self existence, [to have] self consciousness. Do you understand this? If you are considerate of others, that is simultaneously considerate of you. In other words, you admit the presence of your existence, so that’s why you can see this in others’ life. This is not a new way of human life; already a hundred thousand years ago, homo sapiens began this way of life. But now, in the modern age, I think people kill others very easily, for example the arguing about an accident on the freeway, and somebody shoots someone and kills him. That very often happens in the modern age. So I think if we continue to do this, I think we completely lose the bodhisattva’s life. So in order to think of others very deeply and considerately and charitably, I think we have to we have to practice it; this is not a matter of discussion but of practice.

In Zen Buddhism, we have to be considerate not only of human beings, but also we have to be considerate of the tables, cushions, toilet paper – all of the many things. So we do practice with a gassho when you go to sleep, and chant the verse of sleep; and when you have a meal we chant the meal sutra; this kind of actual practice is a great way of manifesting universal life with our body. This is a very simple practice.

And then, I said in the …

[Tape change.]

“… one flower opens with five petals, forming a fruit which ripens of its own accord. As the flower blooms, its five petals open. We cannot tell which comes first, which comes later. This one flower is the Buddha’s world, and the five petals are grasses, trees, birds, fish – each single event in our daily lives. When grasses and trees are received as that which is alive and is caused to be alive in the universe prior to our analytic understanding of them, then we can be impressed by their lives. This is called Buddha’s life. The same applies to each single event in our everyday lives. Each event could be taken care of as Buddha’s life and not dealt with from a selfish viewpoint or with careless behavior. We should learn a pious way of life, in which each worldly thing is held kindly as Buddha’s life. And our arrogance, which is based on limited human knowledge, and carried with us, is thrown away. When we handle each single aspect of daily living with a warm spirit and heart, the Buddha’s life is manifested with our body. Within this practice there is a vivid path, which helps one’s total personality grow and mature. An ancient teacher said that this practice is a way of handling one’s life in which one continues to walk quietly in the mist and finds that, without being aware of it, one’s dress has become completely wet. In moving toward the 21st century, science, culture, and many things in one’s daily life will endlessly advance for the sake of creating a better life, better world. However, I wonder if peace and bliss can be found in the process of their advancement. All people in the universe should seriously consider how one can peacefully walk hand-in-hand with all beings.”

That is my statement. In the beginning I mentioned that what we should renew is not to renew Buddhism but to renew human life. But in order to renew human life, I don’t think there is a particular special practice, but this is everyday life. In everyday life we can find a practice by which the universe and truth can be manifested with this body. At that time you can really feel appreciation and many thanks to all sentient beings.

And sometimes we have to practice in the monasteries, sometimes we have to go to the church or temple and participate in Sunday service, et cetera. These are particular practices, basic practices for us. For instance, if you want to practice archery, I think your target [must be] stable in front of you, and shoot it. Or even if you shoot a gun, I think in order to master basic practice, you practice is always stable in front of you, and shoot it. Without having this basic practice, if you immediately use a gun toward a moving target, it’s very dangerous for us. Confusion comes up, sometimes hurting people. So in everyday life, we can practice: being kind to the cushions, and tables, and toilet paper – we can do it! But still, sometimes there is confusion there. So how can practice apply to everyday life? In order to do this, I think we need to have the basic practice of going to the temple or church on Sunday, and chanting, participating in the Sunday service, and listening to Buddha’s teaching. This is the basic practice. And sometimes we stay at the monastery and practice.

That’s it.

Do you have some questions?


Question: Hojo-san? Were you making a point that 21st century human beings maybe are becoming more obstinate or stubborn because technology spoils [us], because technology promises that it can control the universe?

Katagiri: Yes, they may become more stubborn, more arrogant. That’s why we have to offer certain circumstances where they can manifest or they can realize the bigger scale of the world through their own research. Because even though they become more and more stubborn by the strong belief of their accomplishments, but reality […] would rather be [the] reverse sometimes: by stubbornness they can realize the bigger scale of the world. So as best as we can, we try to give compassion to them, and offer certain circumstances where they can feel the bigger scale of the world. That is living together in peace and harmony.


Question: Could you tell a little bit more what you mean by being caused to be alive by all other beings?

Another person: [Did you say] that was wisdom?

Katagiri: You can see it with wisdom. I think your breath is a good analogy. You always breath every day. Even though you sleep, even though you don’t pay attention to it, always breathing is going and your heart is working. Who takes care of this? Is it your effort? Well yes, your effort, because you try to keep your body in good shape, exercising, et cetera – that is your effort. But on the other hand, there is something more than your effort, [by which] your heart is moving. That is, I say, the heart is caused to be alive. Is that clear?

So as a whole, not only human beings, but trees, birds, all sentient beings, are caused to be alive. That is called Buddha’s life.

Question: Is that understanding interdependence?

Katagiri: Yes, according to the teaching, dependent co-origination. But that is a teaching. Practically, we should do it. That is everyday life, we have to do it. That is appreciation: this table is a being as well as our life.

Question: You mean acknowledge it?

Katagiri: Yes, acknowledge it. So deal with this table with kindness, and being considerate and charitable to it. That is handling this table carefully. Carefully [doesn’t] mean slowly, or what would you say, meticulously.

Question: What does carefully mean?

Katagiri: With concentration. Careful attention means with full concentration. You try to deal with it with wholeheartedness.

Question: It’s seems that concentration is involved in thought process, it seems that what you’re talking about is more an awareness than …

Katagiri: Awareness, and simultaneously it becomes practice. Of course with concentration, consciousness is involved. When you want to deal with this table, consciousness is already involved, because consciousness sees this table. But consciousness is very complicated, not simple work, because it’s connected with your heredity and education, and emotions, and judgement, evaluation… connected with many things. That’s why when you see it, immediately you judge it, and then next emotional judgement [or] feeling is coming up. So finally we don’t use this table with wholeheartedness. Do you understand what I mean? So consciousness is already involved. Without consciousness, you cannot live in this world.

Question: It seems to me like if you concentrate too much, if you think too much about being careful, then more judgements come up.

Katagiri: That is you playing with your consciousness. So you have to let it go. You have to use consciousness as simply as you can: you should do it and then let it go. That’s practice.

But usually we do it with wholeheartedness and then we judge the result. And then, what should we do, we should work harder, and then we do that, and then we judge it. That kind of thing always happens. So [with] that, finally we are very confused, nervous, you know? Exhausted. So all you can do is, with wholeheartedness, deal with this now, and then let it go. You should open; and then next moment, you just do it, with a [new, fresh] feeling.

So always there are two practices: holding, and letting it go. Holding means see this table. And then do it. And then let it go.

Question: So when you talk about concentration, you’re just talking about a momentary kind of thing?

Katagiri: Momentary? Yes. Momentary concentration must be alive. So momentary concentration is always new.


Question: When you’re talking about renewing… A general Buddhist person, would you say their life is a little more involved around ceremonies, and not so much … [unintelligible]

Katagiri: Well, that is a little bit complicated, and I cannot know, exactly. But it is important that life be simple. If a human being is renewed, then we can handle Buddhism as simply as we can. So I think first the important thing is that we should be renewed. Don’t you think so?

Same person: So not really criticizing Buddhist ceremony or something […] but …

Katagiri: No. In Japan, funeral services and memorial services are criticized by many people, because the memorial service becomes more and more “the business,” so they don’t like it. So recently, they have funeral services without a priest, and using a hotel instead of a temple. More than [in Christianity]; they don’t use anything, just putting flowers around, decorating, and having pictures there, that’s it. That kind of thing happens in Japan. But a funeral service is a funeral service; I think the point is how to use this funeral service. Because one hundred thousand years ago, already our ancestors started to do burial services. I don’t think it’s necessary to maintain [the funeral service], but I want to maintain that spirit of being considerate of others. That is most important. Because it’s very difficult to manifest this consideration or charitable [feeling]. That’s why [we have] the service and rituals, [so through them] we can manifest [it].


Question: What do you mean when you talk about longevity?

Katagiri: Longevity is continuation.

Question: Forever?

Katagiri: Forever. That is longevity. [He laughs.]

That is called jumyō in Japanese: lifespan. If you use the word lifespan, it’s a little bit limited, but jumyō is not [really] lifespan, [it is] endless life. Ju is longevity, myō is life. So, something continuous from past to the present to the future. This is longevity; eternity. Eternal continuation.

1:05:02 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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