Katagiri Roshi

‘We live by our effort, but this is a narrow understanding, so we have to live our lives with the understanding that we are allowed to live. This means we should appreciate our life. Then, if we appreciate our life, we can make our life come alive. To do this, we must be not only passive, but also active. Someone may say, “The universe takes care of me, so I don’t have to do anything.” Of course, it is true, but this does not mean we can take a nap in the universe. The universe is always working with us, so if we become lazy, the universe appears as laziness. Then very naturally we are confused. So, constantly we have to take the initiative. When we do gassho, we have to practice gassho with the forgiving universe, with appreciation for our lives, making gassho come alive. This practice is not a matter of discussion.

Buddha’s world is completely pure and serene, quiet and also dynamic; it is dynamism in motion beyond our thoughts and ideas. So very naturally, in order to accept it, we have to put aside our understanding, our thoughts, and put our body and mind right in the middle of that dynamism in motion. This is samadhi or actualizing Buddha’s compassion. When we do zazen it is a very simple opportunity to be present there, to put aside our thoughts and preconceptions.’ (Returning to Silence)

Katagiri Roshi

‘Whatever you do, wherever you may be, you are doing it in the Buddha’s world. Buddha’s world means the universe. The universe is nothing but the total manifestation of the truth by which all sentient beings are supported, upheld, naturally, if we open our hearts. If we don’t open our hearts, it’s a little bit difficult. Difficult means it takes a long time. But, basically, the universe and truth are very compassionate and kind toward all sentient beings. Constantly the compassionate universe is helping, just like the rain. Rain is accepted by many kinds of beings; some of the plants that are rained on grow, but some of them do not. If we don’t open our hearts it’s pretty hard to grow, it really takes time. But still, the rain is just the rain. Rain continues to fall to support all sentient beings.’ (Returning to Silence)

I am giving a talk on the precepts to the Hebden Bridge group today, as they start a year of study on the matter. As I prepared my talk, I dug out notes from a precepts class I took at Zen Center about a year after I arrived – I have kept a fair number of old notes like this – and saw that a section of this book was referenced in the bibliography. I know that I had trouble following Katagiri’s thinking at the time, but it sounds wonderful now.

Wendy Pirsig

‘My first impression of Green Gulch Farm was that it was a mess, not a bad mess, but just sprawling and sloppy in the western way and muddy in the California winter way and unmechanized in the organic hippie way.  The disorder was heightened by the fact that a site had just been cleared for a new tea house about to be built by Japanese carpenters and craftsmen who specialized in that type of building. The tea house would be in the middle of the valley, and so its site, an expanse of mud, dominated everything.

            Clustered in the mid-valley, all the buildings at Green Gulch were made of dark, rough, unpainted wood and sat in the shade of eucalyptus, which fed their odor into the air.  The fields lay down toward the ocean, and above on the hillsides a few horses munched.

            We went inside The Barn, where most residential students slept and where the zendo was.  I instantly liked it.  It felt American, with high-ceilings, bare wood floors, dark bare wood walls.  That Sunday morning it echoed with feet.  The entrance hall’s second story was ringed with students’ doorways along a balcony.  Below, we took off our shoes and quietly stepped into the combination zendo/Buddha hall. There was a large, colorful Buddhist statue but it did not dominate as did the one at City Center; in fact it was nearly lost among the students as they filed in.’ (from Cuke.com) 

Wendy has been one of the people working hard to transcribe Suzuki Roshi lectures over the past few years; I heard from Peter, who manages cuke.com, that he had been working on extracts of the journal Wendy kept when she visited Zen Center in 1979 (you may be more or less familiar with the context of the visit – if you want to know more, click the link above). I read through it last week and have been sharing it with dharma friends. It is a wonderfully observant and trenchant account of life there by an outsider, some of which still resonates today.

Katagiri Roshi

‘For zazen, we arrange the circumstances in the zendo so that it is not too bright or too dark, not too cold or too hot, not dry or wet. We also arrange the external physical conditions, such as our posture and the amount of food we eat. If we eat too much we may fall asleep pretty easily, so we have to fill just sixty or seventy percent of our stomach. Also, we keep our eyes open, because if we close our eyes we might fall asleep, or we are more likely to enjoy ourselves with lots of imaginings and daydreams. Next we arrange our internal physical condition, that is our heart, our intestines, our stomach and our blood. But these things are beyond our control, so how can we take care of them? The only way is to take care of the breath. If we take care of the breath, very naturally, internal physical conditions will work pretty well. This is important. If we arrange the circumstances around our body, our mind, and all internal and external conditions, then, very naturally, the mind is also engaged in our activities. Then we are not bothered by the workings of our mind; the mind does not touch the core of our existence; it is just with us, that is all. When all circumstances are completely peaceful, just the center of ourselves blooms. This is our zazen; this is shikan taza.’ (Returning to Silence)

This is a passage I have used in teaching before.

Katagiri Roshi

‘As a cultural form, Zen is growing pretty fast, which is called Zen “boom”, Zen bubble, and young people, specifically, are liable to be attracted. But I wonder if their understanding of Zen has anything to do with their daily lives, no matter how hard they study. It is because for them Zen is merely booming Zen, nothing more, that they cannot get at the heart of Zen itself. 

Recently I have felt very strongly that students have to understand more clearly how to make Zen concrete in their daily lives. Our practice is not just to sit in meditation in the zendo. The important point is how Zen meditation should be used in daily life, outside of Zen Center. Shakyamuni Buddha’s way is to live our life truthfully, which means to put Zen to practical use vividly and fully according to the time and circumstances.’ (from Wind Bell)

Katagiri Roshi

‘Why sit in meditation? In order to get quietness for yourself alone? If so, the practice of zazen is something like using a drug. Take a drug instead of zazen and you could have more quietness, which is called a big hallucination – fantastic. After the drug has worn off, I think your troubles will come back. Then you take the drug again. Same thing. If people want quietness through the practice of zazen, they have to realize that their daily lives must be arranged for tasting quietness because other people also want the same thing.’ (from Wind Bell)

Both Katagiri and Suzuki Roshi often refered to drugs in their talks, as no doubt they were to the forefront of the students’ minds at the time.

Katagiri Roshi

‘This life is not a matter for discussion from your own viewpoint. You live in the midst of life and death and suffering because they exist, really. That’s why Buddhism says accept your life and understand how the world is with imperturbable composure. To be imperturbable is to walk step by step by step. This is a hard thing, but you can accept it. Even though you suffer from your daily life so much, just accept it, just listen to the silence, the voice of your steps, with imperturbable composure. This is Buddhism.’ (from Wind Bell)

Katagiri Roshi

‘Before your individual thoughts, feelings, or perceptions arise and you reflect on yourself, wondering who or what you are, something is already there. Something is already alive. What is it? We call it big self, real self, or true self, but actually it is just the vastness of existence. In Buddhist philosophy we say emptiness. When you hear the word “emptiness,” it seems to be someting fascinating, kind of a puzzle. But emptiness is not a puzzle; it is something true.’ (The Light That Shines Through Infinity)

Katagiri Roshi

‘Constantly try to realize the depth of human life. Accept the fact that whatever you do, wherever you live, under all circumstances, you have a chance to realize the truth. With sincerity, try to realize the ultimate nature of your actions: bowing, studying, talking, or whatever it is that you do. When you bow in gassho, just do gassho through and through. If you really do this, you can touch the ultimate truth. Then through gassho you learn something. By the thoroughgoing practice of gassho you return to the truth, and simultaneously gassho rebounds in the form of your human life. Maybe you don’t understand this now, but that gassho helps people and deepens and enhances your life.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

This expresses the essence of temple practice for me: you get a chance to live in circumstances where there is the space and the understanding to try this out. As Katagiri mentions elsewhere, sometimes you start by needing to know why; why do we have to bow, what is the purpose, the significance of this action, of this form, of this guideline? But, by gently allowing you to continue doing it when it is the moment to do it, temple life allows the question to melt away and be replaced by attentive action. And this attentive action does help people, and that help also reflects back to you – this is what Dogen called jijuyu zanmai. The opportunity is not limited to temple actions – how can you make this happen in your life actions today? (Reposted from a few years ago, with a new appreciation for the phrase “through and through,” which Suzuki Roshi used a lot)

Suzuki Roshi

‘And when you sit, your practice should be done with the spirit like, if someone, you know, tell you to stand up, you shouldn’t stand up forever. Until someone, you know, say, stand up. This much confidence is necessary.

It means you sit right in the center of the earth, of the world, or universe, whatever it is. And you are right in the point of the eternal time. If you have some idea of space or time, that practice is not true practice. You should be always sitting in cross-point of time and space. That is true practice. And this is very important, because this practice of — this practice, which is beyond the idea of time and space, accord with the true teaching of Buddhism.

To live on this moment, on this point, moment after moment, is how to actualize our teaching. So when you sit in this way, there you have the true teaching of Buddhism. The gist of the teaching. The point of the teaching. Here you have the oneness of teaching and practice; and oneness of enlightenment and practice.

So, this much, at least this much, confidence is necessary. When you fix your mind, and practice our way, there you have renunciation. You have the true feeling of Zen. This practice — when you practice this — in this way, we say you resume your original face, or original nature.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

This is one of the talks I worked on a certain amount, from the first summer at Tassajara in 1967. The original reel was much better quality than previous copies had been, so it was possible to clean up the transcript a little. I listened to it again with my dharma sister Kim last week, and a couple of things struck me: the talk offers one of the most extensive zazen instructions that Suzuki Roshi gave, which is great to listen to in itself, and it is bookended by more philosophical musings which, it occurred to me as I listened, he may have been reading out from prepared remarks. Certainly there were a lot of technical terms, and his cadence is a little different to what it usually seems to be. Kim noted his referencing to time and space, similarly to how Katagiri Roshi expressed it later, and which she hopes to talk about from the dharma seat in a few weeks.