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Talk Summaries

1. Diamond Sutra: Introduction

Katagiri Roshi begins a series of talks on the Diamond Sutra by discussing the fundamental point that the Diamond Sutra teaches: “‘A’ is ‘A’, but ‘A’ is not ‘A’, this means ‘A’ is really ‘A’.” He explains the meaning of negation in Buddhism, how it relates to interconnection, and why emptiness means that we have to practice. He also talks about where the sutras originated, and the Indian preference for using huge numbers and concepts to teach about emptiness. In addition, he addresses the question, “If we are sitting in order to help ourselves, should we stop sitting?”

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2. Fukanzazengi: Dogen’s Universal Recommendation for Zazen – Talk 1

Katagiri Roshi begins a series of talks on Fukanzazengi, Zen Master Dogen’s universal recommendations for how to practice zazen (seated meditation), by examining the meaning of the critical line, “For you must know that just there, in zazen, the right dharma is manifesting itself, and that from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside.” He introduces a six-component system for understanding zazen from a physical and psychological standpoint, and discusses how important it is to arrange circumstances and let go. He also talks about life at Eiheiji monastery.

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3. Fukanzazengi – Talk 2

Katagiri Roshi reviews the six-component system for understanding zazen that he introduced in the previous talk. He further discusses the relationship between regulation of body and mind, samadhi (one-pointedness), egolessness, “no design on having a reward”, and shikantaza (just sitting). The distinction between “religious zazen” and philosophical or psychological zazen is explored. There is an extended question and answer period.

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4. Fukanzazengi – Talk 3

Katagiri Roshi examines the meaning of the line “from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside” from another angle. He talks about three different kinds of zazen (sitting meditation), and why shikantaza is not a means to an end. He also explains what it means to accumulate merit and virtue, how to understand and work with past karma, and why we have to aim at the life after next life. There is a story about a commando who visited the Zen Center. Also: what to do when death taps your back.

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5. Fukanzazengi – Talk 4

Katagiri Roshi discusses the meaning of the line, “In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both un-enlightenment and enlightenment, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the strength of zazen,” in relation to Blue Cliff Record Case 46, “Ching Ch’ing’s Sound of Raindrops”. He talks about life and death, and how to “cease fire” in zazen. There is a story about a machine that reads brain waves, and he discusses whether there are any real Zen teachers in the United States.

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6. Fukanzazengi – Talk 5

Katagiri Roshi talks about the difference between zazen itself and seeing zazen “before zazen” or “after zazen”, using the example of Genshi Shibi in “One Bright Pearl”. In an extended question and answer period, he explains the difference between physical and psychological exhaustion, how to work with the ‘vomit’ of the mind, and why we should do zazen for future generations. Does the world disappear during zazen? Are there techniques in Zen? And is Zen the simplest, most ‘pure’ way?

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7. Fukanzazengi – Talk 6

Katagiri Roshi talks about “body and mind dropping off” from a psychological point of view. This talk focuses on samskara, which is usually translated as ‘impulses’, one of the five skandhas or ‘aggregates’. Here he discusses samskara as the “together-maker,” and also as a sort of a bridge or door which enables you to take mind to either the dualistic world or the non-dualistic world, because samskara itself is completely free. In relation to this, he explains a key line from Dogen’s Genjokoan: “Oneness is not like moon reflected in the water; when one is bright, the other one is dark.” He also discusses the lines from Fukanzazengi, “It cannot be fully known by the practicing or realizing of supernatural power either,” and “Is it not the principle that is prior to his knowledge and perceptions?” During a challenging discussion on the ‘forces’ of prāpti and aprāpti, he tells a story about the 1948 Fukui earthquake in Japan.

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8. Fukanzazengi – Talk 7

The conclusion to the series of talks on Fukanzazengi takes place during a dramatic thunderstorm, the sounds of which Katagiri Roshi integrates into the talk. The Buddha does zazen during a thunderstorm, but he is not disturbed by the sound of the thunder. Katagiri Roshi discusses why the purpose of zazen is not to reach a state of no consciousness. Also: How to play guitar with two hands and two feet. A Rinzai Zen Master plays a Bach concerto in the zendo. And what does Manjushri do, anyway?

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9. Diamond Sutra: Provisional Being

Why should we not be disappointed with this world, if there seems to be nothing to help us? To answer this question, Katagiri Roshi examines the aspect of Buddhist teaching that is no perception of self and no perception of object. Going further, he explains why we shouldn’t attach to either a perception of an object or perception of no-object. This leads to an explanation of provisional being, and how we can relate warmly to self and object. Does the morning sun have a mind? The answer may surprise you. Also: What to do if you are the Buddha in a past life and some king insists on chopping you to bits.

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10. Diamond Sutra: Emptiness

What is a Buddha, and what does a Buddha experience? Katagiri Roshi describes three kinds of enlightenment: kaku (awareness), satori, and sho (realization or verification). He explains three aspects of the utmost, right, perfect enlightenment from the Diamond Sutra: the marklessness of all things, the marklessness of their emptiness, and the marklessness of their suchness. Also: Why we exist, how to experience spiritual security, and why we shouldn’t get too caught up in Buddhist Psychology.

Transcript | Podcast | Original

11. Diamond Sutra: Giving and Non-Covetousness

Why is the the perfection of generosity the most important quality in Mahayana Buddhism, and what is true generosity, and true love? Katagiri Roshi explains how generosity relates to emptiness, or vastness, by sharing a poem from the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke. Embracing the words of the poem, he says that human destiny is not something that forces us to be always “face to face,” trying to ‘get’ something from each-other, but that we can also know a different way to live, to sit side by side in peace and harmony. Illustrating the problems we create when we are “face to face”, he tells a story about adult children living with their parents in Japan, and a story about his own experience attending Hiroshima Day in Omaha, Nebraska.

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12. Diamond Sutra: Dharma / Not Dharma / Dharma

If, as the Diamond Sutra says, there is no dharma which the Buddha Shakyamuni has experienced, no dharma which the Buddha Shakyamuni has preached, then how does the Buddha experience and preach the dharma? Katagiri Roshi addresses this question in relation to the practice of giving. He begins by discussing seven ways we can be giving, even if we don’t have the ability to give a material gift or preach the dharma. To explain how the ungraspable can be taught, he talks about the three divisions of the Buddha body: Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya. This helps explain the role of virtue and merit, and also knowledge, in Buddhism. (Those looking for an explanation of Bodhidharma’s famous statement of “no merit” would be wise to refer to this talk, in conjunction with the next two.) There is more about the Rilke poem, and why we have to experience a “big shock” to realize the dharma. Also: is enlightenment forgetfulness?

Transcript | Podcast | Original

13. Blue Cliff Record, Case 1: The Highest Meaning of the Holy Truths – Talk 1

Katagiri Roshi introduces a long-running series of talks on The Blue Cliff Record, a renowned collection of one hundred koans (or “public cases”) in the Zen tradition. The first case is the famous story of Bodhidharma’s encounter with Emperor Wu. In Talk 1 of 2 on this case, Katagiri Roshi focuses on the pointer (or introduction). To explain it, he tells some stories about his training as the Anja or Jisha (attendant) at Eiheiji monastery, where the “everyday food and drink” of a monk is to pay attention to everything and flow with events like a stream of water. This is a way of “cutting off the myriad streams,” so that a harmonious, wonderful life can bloom. If there is anything ‘showy’ about it, if there is something to be gained, it is not the real practice of Zen. But say, at just this moment – whose actions are these?

Transcript | Podcast | Original

14. Blue Cliff Record, Case 1: The Highest Meaning of the Holy Truths – Talk 2

Why is there “no merit”? Katagiri Roshi covers one of the most famous stories in Zen Buddhism: Bodhidharma’s meeting with Emperor Wu. Along the way, he explains ‘tanpankan’ (a “board carrying fellow”), the meaning of the inscription on Ranier Maria Rilke’s grave, and the space between silence and speech. He says that we may find the spirit of Zen, pointing directly beyond words and language, by studying the Blue Cliff Record. He concludes by saying that we have to understand our practice in terms of general Buddhism, beyond Mahayana and Theravada, and beyond the Rinzai and Soto denominations.

Transcript | Original Recording

15. Blue Cliff Record, Case 2: The Ultimate Path Is Without Difficulty – Talk 1

Katagiri Roshi introduces Case 2 of the Blue Cliff Record, “The Ultimate Path Is Without Difficulty,” with an examination of the pointer to the koan. In the pointer, Engo Kokugon (Chinese: Yuanwu Keqin) expresses the Ultimate Path in terms of “the task of the fundamental vehicle of transcendence.” What is the nature of truth, and how do we realize it? To express it, Katagiri Roshi uses an analogy of “grabbing the bar” in gymnastics and “getting 100 points” – not 90, not 99, only 100 or zero. He also uses the example of turning on a TV set instead of intellectually studying the TV set. How do we have faith when there is nothing to depend on? How did Chinese monks keep Buddhism alive when institutional Buddhism was dismantled? What did Gempo Yamamoto Roshi say to a practicioner who wanted to “save all beings”? And also, how to drag yourself in muddy water like a sewer rat chased by a cat.

Transcript | Original Recording

16. Blue Cliff Record, Case 2: The Ultimate Path Is Without Difficulty – Talk 2

Katagiri Roshi reviews Zen Master Jōshū’s dharma encounter with a monk regarding the Ultimate Path. The truth is always with us; yet in order to be one with the truth, we have to manifest ourselves as people who are not tossed away by picking and choosing thoughts and ideas. A problem is, if we try to avoid picking and choosing, we create more picking and choosing. Through study, we have to deeply understand the structure of our understanding, and then we can find the way of avoiding picking and choosing. There are three ways to understand something: perception, consciousness, and wisdom. (Those three could perhaps also be labelled as emotion, intellect, and deep understanding.) The third way is the Ultimate Path; however, this third way integrates the first two ways, it does not dismiss them. Finally, Katagiri Roshi says, what we do is very simple: practice, which is called shikantaza. But this ‘simple’ is not simple as we usually understand it: this simplicity is to do something with no choice, on the verge of life and death.

Transcript | Original Recording

17. Save All Sentient Beings

Katagiri Roshi explains the meaning of Buddhist terms such as “save all sentient beings” and “all dharmas,” clarifying what ‘all’ means. It may not mean what we usually think. (‘Samskaras’ comes up again.) Ultimately, we have to dive into the ocean.

Transcript | Original Recording


Next: “Diamond Sutra: Introduction”