Katagiri Roshi gave this two-week seminar on karma in the summer of 1980. Also included at the end of this list is the 1987 talk “Karma in Buddhism.”

It may be surprising to learn that, far from being a side topic, the concept of karma is referred to in almost all of Katagiri Roshi’s dharma talks. The word karma is not always used, but terms like causation, cause and effect, action, karmic consciousness, ālaya-vijñāna, the conditioned, conditioned elements, samskaras, personality, whole personality, culture, and “lifetime after lifetime” are all related to karma.

The concept of karma is inextricably entwined with Buddhism itself. However, we should be careful to understand what Katagiri Roshi means by karma. Karma is not simply action, or simple cause and effect; nor is it some kind of force that locks us into a certain destiny. According to Katagiri Roshi, karma is great energy that allows us to live, to relate to people and the world, and to move freely into the future.


Karma: Two Aspects
June 30, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Katagiri Roshi introduces a series of talks on karma. What is karma? Why is it important to study karma? Is karma only for Buddhist people? Is Buddhism itself only an aspect of Eastern culture? Can thinking about karma drive you crazy? Also: How to reconcile aiming for the long range with no goal in zazen.


July 1, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Katagiri Roshi completely explains the The Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation… presumably, but the audio is lost. However, there is substantial review of the topic in the talks following this one.


Where Karma Originates
July 2, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Katagiri Roshi explains how karma is the source of our lives. He reviews the Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation, noting that karma is samskara (link two) and bhava (link ten). So karma originates from the first link: avidyā (ignorance). This means that avidyā is really vitality – it is how we get into the human world of the present moment. Our karma cannot be understood intellectually; the way to understand karma is to return to the source, which is to do zazen (sitting meditation). That is how we can look at who we are and where we are, and experience real joy. Katagiri Roshi describes four stages of zazen and five related consciousnesses; in particular, the descriptions of prīti and sukha may be helpful in understanding what is meant when we see the words joy and happiness in English translations of Buddhist texts. In the fourth stage of zazen, we are exactly one in the realm of source, which is karma. Then we can see what karma is.


Unmanifested Karma
July 3, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Katagiri Roshi explains unmanifested karma and why we need to understand it. Unmanifested karma is the reason why we have to take responsibility for our individual behavior, because it is like an impression left behind by our actions, as opposed to manifested karma, which appears in one moment and disappears in the next. In terms of the Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation, unmanifested karma is samskaras. (It is also related to alayavijnana, storehouse consciousness.) Despite its role in morality, unmanifested karma itself is completely neutral in nature. If you get a taste of this karma, then you can turn over a new leaf, because karma is nothing but energy: it is the wellspring of creative vitality.


Taking Care of Karma
July 4, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Katagiri Roshi further outlines dhyāna (meditation) as the way to study karma, which is the same as studying ourselves. He describes zazen in the triple world of desire, form, and formlessness, and further explains some key concepts in Buddhist psychology. Even if you reach the state of formless samadhi, still perception remains, because body and mind still exist. This body and mind are given to us as karma; we need to take care of them with compassion. And through karma, we can share our lives with others. The Suzuki Method for music education is given as an example of how to share our lives with others, particularly with regard to vedanā (feeling).


Karmic Retribution in Present Life
July 10, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Katagiri Roshi discusses karma in terms of Dogen’s teaching, including three main points: continuation of karma, karma as energy or emptiness, and Buddha’s karma. He explains why Dogen Zenji focuses on practice over study or even realization. Karma does not mean simple cause and effect or action, as one popular understanding goes, but includes unmanifested karma, the impression left behind by our actions. Karmic retribution is illustrated by a story about a talking bear and a shockingly antisocial woodcutter. There is also a surprising explanation of the line “learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self” from Fukanzazengi. All of this relates to eko – giving away the merit from our actions – which is viewed as the fundamental attitude toward studying the Buddha Way. Also: Be the turtle.


Karma as Energy/Emptiness
July 11, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Karma is not a psychological entity: karma is consciousness, but also karma is really the human body, closely related. So if we want to know karma, we have to know the human body; and if we want to know the human body, we have to know consciousness. According to Twelvefold Causation, the base of our existence as karma is ignorance; but this ignorance is really vitality, allowing us to enter the gate of the human world. We should appreciate this. But we can’t just appreciate it without making any effort, because we carry many kinds of karma, stored at the bottom of human body and mind. This karma comes up only when time is right and conditions are arranged, so it is important that we arrange good conditions. We can do so because karma is a great source of energy, which we call emptiness. That means we can think in terms of possibility, and “dream the impossible dream” of helping all beings. Also: how to work with emotions in zazen.


Karma: Conclusion
July 12, 1980 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

Katagiri Roshi further addresses the seeming contradiction that karma is both our property or inheritance and also is emptiness, freedom. This returns us to the reality of Buddha’s karma. We can reflect on ourselves and our actions without being stuck in the “ghost” of karma. Time and occasion and conditions are completely free, so day by day we can move toward the future, in order deepen our lives and help all beings. That is Right Effort. Also: Grace is not something that comes from heaven.


Karma in Buddhism
June 6, 1987 Dharma Talk by Dainin Katagiri Roshi

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 make our life productive. We have to develop our individual character, and simultaneously the global character of human beings, in order to build up a peaceful world.