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.

Opening the Hand of Thought

A few times this year I have been asked how to bring practice into the realm of politics, especially the kind of fractious debate that seems prevalent these days. If we are supposed to be at one with everything, how can we have preferences for candidates or issues?
Katagiri Roshi’s phrase can be a useful starting point. There is no liberation in holding tightly to opinions. Any time we can open the hand of thought, there is the possibility of liberation. This does not mean that we have to relinquish opinions entirely, but that we hold them loosely, prepared to adapt to new realities, and, in the face of them, investigate further, study more deeply, as Dogen never tired of advocating to his monks.
Living in a residential community also offered constant and close reminders that things don’t always go the way you want them to, and that other people invariably have different opinions about how things should best be done – even when there is a common purpose, and there are clear sets of guidelines about many things – and that you have to abide by what is decided, or choose your battles wisely.

Personally I didn’t think that the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union was a good idea, though I would readily concede that there are many imperfections in the structure of the EU, and I understand there has been a significant shift in how people relate to it in the years since I lived in London (I have often characterised this as the equivalent of how many Republicans view the federal government in the US). Now, we have to accept that the new reality is that the vote to leave prevailed, and we have to figure out what that means going forward. It seems clear, at time of writing, that most people, including those in charge of the campaign to leave, don’t know what this is going to entail. Having fixed ideas about what the best way to vote was is of no use now; what is going to help is being flexible around what might be the best scenarios depending on how things unfold in the next weeks, months, and years. I have felt in the last ten days that it might take a decade before we can see clearly what the upshot of this is. It might not be pretty, but who really knows?

Similarly, I have opinions about the presidential candidates. When discussing this at the workshop in Santa Cruz on the brahmaviharas a couple of months ago, I took as a starting point the line we had just read from the Lovingkindness Meditation: ‘Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would reprove.’
Wisdom seems in short supply in the political realm these days, but if we can step back, opening up around our own certainties, the wiser course can be more visible. Along with that admonition, I highlighted the three Pure Precepts (another translation is here). When we can look at our own ideas, opinions and actions through that lens, and – to the best of our ability – the ideas, opinions and actions of others as well, then we can have some clarity as to which ideas and actions are going to lead to more wholesome results, and which are going to lead to more harmful results. I proposed at the time that it is okay to call people out if they are promoting harmful or toxic ideas, and indeed our bodhisattva vow of saving all beings asks this of us. There is no pre-requisite of being dispassionate in our practice, and there are many examples of how to engage passionately through practice (the BPF came to mind most immediately, and current posts drawn from Radical Dharma of course; I also read this stirring article the other day). May we all live and be lived for the benefit of all beings.

Katagiri Roshi

‘Zen Buddhism focuses on day-to-day life because no matter how long you try to understand life and death intellectually, you will never understand by using only your intellect – you cannot feel how deep your life is. Life is really vast, and you can never get a definite solution. I don’t mean you should ignore intellectual understanding. You can take care of your intellect by patting it on the head, calming your body and mind, and letting yourself go deeply into the human world that is beyond the intellectual world. This is our practice. Whatever your intellectual understanding brings you, open your heart enough to digest it again and again, deepen it again and again.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)