December 29, 1968
Next Tuesday we will have no lecture, so this lecture will be the last one for this year. In Japan at the end of the year we clean up our house, and we throw [away] old things which we do not use anymore. And we renew our equipment, even things in the family shrine we renew them. And after cleaning our room we put new—not shrine but, a new sign which is distributed from temple like this. We take off old ones and put up new ones, like this. At the end of the year in the temple we have a prayer to control fires. This is for the—what do you call it? ???. It means, “take good care of fire,” it says in Japanese.
At temples at the end of the year we have a ceremony to read the Prajnaparamita Sutra, 600 volumes of Prajnaparamita Sutra. But actually, we cannot read 600 for the sutra, so the priest conducting the ceremony reads one volume of the 600 sutras. There we have one volume, one of the thick square sutra. And the other monks just turn it instead of reading [laughs]. And so, the most important volume will be recited by the priest who is conducting the ceremony, and we receive this kind of prayer card from the temple. That is what we do in Japan.
And the end of the year is the most busy week. We have to clean up our rooms, and if you have some debts, you should pay [them] [laughs]. Such is the same. For someone to collect [laughs] the money he lent, and for most people it is a time to pay [laughs] their debts. And after cleaning up everything, spiritually and physically, we decorate New Year's decorations. In the old times those things should be done before twelve o'clock. And after twelve o'clock there is no need for you to pay back [laughs] the money you borrowed. So, the man who wants to collect his money used lantern[?]—even after twelve o'clock, if he has chosen lantern[?]. It means it is still the same month. It's not the past [month] because he has a lantern[?]. But even [laughs] if it is one o'clock, it is all right because he has a lantern[?].
So usually, it is a pretty exciting week. These kinds of customs are still observed in Japan. And each one of us rather enjoys this kind of activity. We understand each other—we fool ourselves in some ways and enjoy the last day of the year. This idea is based on a Buddhist way of understanding life. Moment after moment we should renew our life, we should not stick to old ideas, or old way of life. We should renew our life day by day. Especially at the end of the year, we should completely renew our feelings and completely renew our karma. If we always stick to old ideas, or if you have no chance to renew, it is rather difficult to renew your way of life. Some encouragement is necessary if you are always repeating the same thing over and over again. Then even if you have no feeling of sticking to an old way of life, actually [laughs] you are confined in the old way of life. Some excitement or some occasion is necessary. For instance, we use this kind of stick. This is to renew your practice. If you become drowsy, if you don't receive it, you have no chance to get out of it. But, if you receive the stick, you will have a chance to [laughs] renew your practice. And in this way, you can live moment after moment. Actually, you will be faithful to your own life.
So, when most people say “way as it is,” it is not at all the way as it is. Without clearing your mind and body—without clearing your mind and without cleaning up your body physically, you will not have a chance to live in each moment. So, the big enemy for us is laziness [laughs]. If you are always lazy and drowsy, spiritually and physically lazy, you actually will have no chance to live truthfully to yourself. That is why we practice various practices. But if we stick to old ways of practice, it is not so good also. So, it is necessary maybe to change our way of practice sometimes. For instance, at some monasteries they start to bathe in cold water from December 1st until December 15th. All the monks get up about four o'clock and go to a lake and bathe in cold water. This is not passive—this is [laughs] just to get out of drowsy mind. And you will not catch cold. Recently flu is all over, but if you make up your mind to bathe every morning and evening with cold water, your mind would not accept any flu because you are so physically and mentally very active. So, we monks are rather ashamed of ourselves when we catch a cold. Oh, lazy, lazy monk! [laughs] they will say.
It is rather difficult to take a cold-water bath in the morning, and more difficult in the evening [laughs]. After working so hard, to take a cold bath in the evening is very difficult. Mentally I don't know why exactly, but anyway when you get up, you need some stimulation, naturally, but in the evening usually we are not prepared for that kind of stimulation [laughs]. It is so difficult to a take cold bath in the evening. This kind of practice is not orthodox practice, but according to the situation of the monastery, we apply various ways of practice to give a chance to renew our mind and body. I think, especially for people who live in San Francisco where the climate is always the same, it may be necessary to have some pool for Zen monks to take cold baths [laughs, laughter]. Maybe an exciting practice for us, and it will give pretty good stimulation for San Francisco people. I am busy now managing our everyday activity, but if you want, I think you can do it, and you are young enough to do it. It doesn't mean to be involved in an ascetic practice. The purpose of those practices is to renew life physically and spiritually. If we are caught by even the idea of Zen, we call it stinky zazen [laughs, laughter]. He is not fresh enough—old stinky Zen student! But if we do not have some chance to renew our practice, soon we will be stinky students. As if you wear the same underwear one week or two weeks [laughs]. What will happen to us? It's obvious.
And so my teacher—or my master always told us: “You stinky boys, wash your underwear!” [Laughs, laughter.] What he meant was not just underwear. And so, my master’s way of training his disciples was pretty different from the usual masters. He did not allow me to stay at Eiheiji for a long time. “Two years is enough! You will become a stinky Eiheiji student! [Laughter] That's enough, you should go to Sojiji.”
And when I stayed at Sojiji for more than one year, one day he appeared at Sojiji, and after talking with me for ten minutes: “Maybe it's time for you to leave Sojiji” [laughter]. And he always put emphasis on Dogen Zenji's beginner's mind. You should be always a beginner. For your whole life you should be begin. It means you should not stick to an old type of practice, or any kind of practice, and you should be always a new student. When you go to a Rinzai temple, you should be a new Rinzai student. And if you go to Japan, you should be a new student from America. You should forget all about what you have studied in America. Even though the fundamental practice is the same, we should practice the essential practice with a renewed new feeling. This is important. To practice always with new freshness of the feelings is rather difficult. So, it is necessary for us to change some parts of our practice.
My master didn't give us any idea of what we will do on the next day or next week. He didn't talk about tomorrow, and he was a very unpredictable type of monk. And monks and priests were very much afraid of him. They couldn't guess what he had in his mind. Maybe he himself didn't have any idea, but he was always concentrated on what he was doing. That is, I think, too much, but it is necessary for us to practice our way moment after moment, with our best effort and a fresh mind. As we are pretty many students, it is rather difficult to practice our way without many rules, but each one of you should make your best effort to study without detailed instructions. You should feel as if you are studying with few people; you shouldn't think that we have so many students. Personally, you should study our way as if you are studying with your teacher only. I think that would mean to ignore others’ practice. We should not be involved in group study only. This is not a school system. I want you to understand this point more, wherever you are, you have only one teacher. Each one of you are only a disciple for a teacher. With this spirit we should practice our way. If this point is missing, we cannot practice Zen in its true sense.
Originally Zen masters did not have so many students. When Dogen left China, receiving transmission from Nyojo Zenji, Nyojo Zenji said to him, “After you go back to Japan, you should practice your way in remote country with few students and keep always our practice fresh and new, and take good care of your students.” That was what he said when Dogen was leaving China. He said, “very important,” and he secluded himself in a remote northern part of the country and built his small temple in Fukui Prefecture, where Eiheiji is now.
At Tassajara they must have snow, but Eiheiji from this time of year until April, all the buildings are dark because of the snow. We have to cover [surround] all the buildings with fences to protect them from the heavy snow. In such a remote country he practiced his way with candlelight when winter came. That was his way.
That kind of practice is very important. Even though we are many people now, we should not forget this spirit.
Thank you very much.
Formatted 7/10/00. Reformatted by Ray Watkins, (April, 2012) Re-transcribed by Peter Ford, Wendy Pirsig, and Shundo David Haye, 2021-22 from new Engage Wisdom audio. Lightly edited for readability by Peter Ford 1/2022.