Katagiri Roshi

‘We can see the original principle of existence in the life of a tree, a pebble, snow, the seasons, and other forms in nature. This principle is what-is-just-is-of-itself, before it runs through our consciousness. This original principle as a manifestation of buddha is not separate from the form of trees, form of pebbles, form of the seasons or the form of everyday routine. It is always manifested and completed. “Completed” means there is no excuse, because it is completed in every single form of existence. It’s there, speaking. Trees are always speaking about the original principle or Buddha. This is called Dharma or teaching. Everything becomes a teaching for us. We realize the Buddha in every single existence. We realize all sentient beings are buddha.’ (Returning to Silence)

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A fine old tree on Ealing Common in London demonstrating the point perfectly.

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)

Teachers are often told to teach on what they are most interested in at a particular time. Having thoroughly got my teeth into the Genjo Koan while I was in England, I picked up Katagiri’s book as I began to commute again. This passage, with its echoes of Dogen’s instructions in the Fukanzazengi, seems a great piece to take to Tassajara with me, where I will be, starting today.

Katagiri Roshi

‘When you see in the proper way, what do you see? You see the true nature of time. In Japanese we say mujo. Mu is “nothing” and jo is “permanence”, so mujo means “no permanence” or “impermanence”. Seeing impermanence is not to face a kind of nihilism that leads to despair; it is to become yourself as you really are, with joyful open eyes. Thinking in the proper way is not to understand life through your intellect; it is to contemplate deeply how to live every day based on wisdom. When you see the true nature of time and understand how impermanence works in your life, you can use time to cultivate your life and keep up with the tempo of life without feeling despair. That is the basis of a complete human life.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

Katagiri Roshi

‘Change is the basis of human life, so don’t attach yourself to birth or death, continuation or discontinuation. Just live right in the middle of the flow of change, where there is nothing to hold on to. How do you do this? Just be present and devote yourself to doing something. This is the simple practice of Zen.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

Of course this is a time to pull out the old saying, simple is not the same as easy…

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?

Katagiri Roshi

‘We have to practice egolessness constantly. We don’t believe this because we are used to living in the stream of time, which is always facilitating the growth of ego. You may practice zazen for ten years, twenty years, and attain enlightenment. Does that guarantee that you are free from ego? Watch out! You don’t know how strong the ego sense is. At any cost, we have to deepen our understanding of time and turn the egoistic sense of time into no-time. If we continue to practice, very naturally we reach the bottom of time. This is the pivot of nothingness, where everything is reflected without any sense of ego.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

Even though I have read this book sometime in the last eighteen months, I was nonetheless compelled to bring it down from the shelf to be my current commute read; I think I wanted to challenge myself again to see how much I understood of Katagiri’s deep and trustworthy explanations of Dogen’s sense of time-being. The answer is still not much, but I hope that it is more than last time, and I am enjoying the challenge.

Katagiri Roshi

‘Spiritual life is not done for a particular purpose – it’s huge. Zen practice is just to open the heart and be intimate with the truth. It’s very vague. You don’t understand it.’

I was leafing through some of my notebooks the other day and came across a quote by Katagiri, and wondered if I had posted it. Turns out I had. I had been thinking that it would do no harm to post it again – as with all things, there is a tendency to forget, and it is nice to be reminded afresh – then when I was checking, I found this one. The last sentence caught my attention. I reckon that most people might read that as a dismissal, ‘you just don’t understand,’ but right now, and perhaps this was also a year ago when I posted it, I took it to mean, ‘don’t try to get your head around it, it is not a question of understanding.’ This is a lesson that I think is always good to be reminded afresh, because our minds are so conditioned to search for understanding; letting go of that seems to me to be a key part of practice.