Tuesday, August 12,
[I did not]1 prepare anything for tonight’s lecture. So I want you to ask some questions, and I will answer the questions, as I have nothing on my mind right now. Hai.
Student A: Of the two types of meditation, the counting and the shikantaza, do you think the counting has more to do with ego purification?
Roshi: Counting-breathing practice looks different from shikantaza. But actually, if you practice it, there is not much difference. The purpose of counting-breathing practice is not to count. No, it is quite easy to count your breathing, if you try to just count.
Why it is difficult is you have to have right posture, and all parts of your body should participate in the practice of counting breathing. Your mind should follow the counting, and your arms, and mudra, and legs, and spine, and muscles should participate in the counting-breathing practice. And, it is more than to be concentrated on your counting. Concentration usually means mental practice, but counting-breathing practice is not just a mental practice but also physical practice too. Then there is not much difference between shikantaza and counting-breathing practice.
Shikantaza means to practice zazen with your whole body and mind—that is shikantaza. So maybe after you can practice counting-breathing practice pretty well, you can practice following-breathing practice—to just follow your breathing without counting. Your mind is always on breathing, and your physical practice is participating in the breathing. That is to follow the breathing. And shikantaza is more than that. You don't even try to follow your breathing. Maybe you can say, a more advanced practice. Hai.
Student B: What is the function of the ritual and monotonous chanting that preceded your talk?
Roshi: The rituals, before you get accustomed to it, it is not so natural especially for you. You are not familiar with this kind of practice—bowing.
But it is the same thing as with counting-breathing practice. And, our way of breathing may be very unfamiliar to you. So, unless you try pretty hard to have deeper breathing, it may be difficult to have deeper breathing. And, bowing also may be difficult until you get accustomed to it. But, to bow to Buddha means to attain selflessness. When you bow thousands of times [laughs], you will lose your ego. You will not have too much ego. We understand in that way.
I don't know how you feel, but that is the reason why we practice bowing. Even to put your hands together, maybe when you do it for the first time, you feel funny, and [laughs] you may have a blushful feeling. Maybe I cannot explain so well about it. While you are doing it over and over again, you will understand what it is. It is that kind of thing. Through physical practice you will have spiritual freedom too. Okay? It may not be okay [laughs], but I cannot explain so well. Hai.
Student C: Roshi, could you say something about the difference between the mission of Jesus Christ and that of the Buddha?
SR: Between what?
Student C: The missions of Jesus Christ the missions of Jesus Christ and the Buddha? Are they similar?
SR: I couldn't follow you. The last part.
Student C: I was wondering if you could compare the messages of Jesus Christ and those of the Buddha.
SR: I don't know Christianity at all. I studied very much as a Buddhist. I was not Christian, so my understanding will not be appropriate. I don't believe in God. [laughs, laughter] I have no position as a Christian, so I'm afraid to say anything about Christianity because I don't know. As a Buddhist, I want to study our way, and I want to be very critical with Buddhism, not with other religions. As we are Buddhists, if it is difficult for me to believe his teaching, I must have some doubt, and I must have some criticism about Buddha's teaching. I don't feel so bad if I criticize Buddhism, as I should criticize me.
But I don't want to criticize other religions which I don't know so well. When I start to think about Christianity, as a Buddhist I have big doubts about how Christian people believe in God. I don't understand so well. I can imagine, or I can guess how they believe in God. I cannot compare Christianity to Buddhism.
Of course, a Buddhist teacher who was once Christian can compare Buddhism to Christianity. Like Uchiyama Roshi, who lives in Kyoto, once he was a Christian minister, and he converted to Buddhism. So, he knows both Christianity and Buddhism. I am sorry, I cannot [laughs] answer.
Student C: I was thinking more of the figure of Christ than Christianity. I don't think Christianity… [4-8 words unclear].
SR: Excuse me, I don't want to say anything about Christianity. I am completely blind [laughs, laughter].
Student D: Could you say something about the state of samadhi regarding our zazen practice?
SR: Samadhi? Samadhi is mostly understood as deep concentration, especially of mind—that is samadhi. But Zen is not just samadhi. Zen is not a kind of state of mind. It is more than that. If I try to explain about it, I have to tell you the history of Zen, starting from pre-Buddhistic practice, and Hinayana practice, and Mahayana practice, and Zen practice.
The understanding of practice is different, not the same. The other day I explained about sightseeing [laughs] zazen. There are many kinds of samadhi. If you practice zazen to attain various samadhi, that is a kind of sightseeing practice.
The purpose of practice for us is to find the deep meaning in our everyday life, and to have complete—I cannot say “complete”—but because I have no other word for that, I must say complete understanding of things. Not in terms of comparison or a dualistic sense. In other words, to live in each moment accepting things as it is. That is zazen practice. And, to go beyond the comparative value of things.
This point may be a very interesting point for people who cannot accept the old standard of appreciating or evaluating things. You know, wealth or fame is not so important for us, when most people find great value in money or their happiness in its worldly sense.
Those standards of evaluating things belong to comparative evaluation, which we do not think it is—we rather put more emphasis on things itself. And, we do not try to evaluate things in its relative sense. What is your question?
Student E: What is meant by truth in Zen?
SR: Truth? Truth in its usual sense may be the opposite of false or untruth. The truth we mean is beyond right or wrong; it is for us truth or absolute. I don't know, but this is for almost all people—this idea is very difficult to accept: truth which is not good or bad, not right or wrong. The truth is something which is beyond right or wrong.
So, Buddhists do not talk about, “this is right,” or we don't say “this is right” or “that is wrong.”
Student E: Would you consider it wrong to like, to just count to nine in your breathing practice?
Student E: Like if you just counted one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine— one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine— In a bigger sense that wouldn't be wrong, but like in a smaller sense now that's something that would be wrong. Am I correct? [Laughter.]
SR: Yeah. Maybe [laughs] wrong. Maybe right. Someone may say that is right, and someone may say that is not right. Because people have some standpoint, from some standpoint it may be wrong. From another standpoint, it may be right.
So, it means that it is not always right or always wrong. If so, [laughs] without taking any viewpoint, you cannot say right or wrong. Without having some standard, you cannot say that is good or bad. So the standard we take, belongs to us, not to the thing itself. If we forget all about the standard, we cannot say good or bad. Hai.
Student F: Is it important for us as Zen Buddhists not to eat meat or fish? And if so, why?
SR: Ahhh. Zen Buddhists, especially in Asian times, didn't eat fish or meat because it is directly related to the first precept of non-killing. “Don't kill.” Directly related to the precept of don't kill. And it is the most brutal way of killing animals. So we didn't.
But, our feeling or emotional life is more complicated right now. Even though we don't kill animals, to eat rice or vegetables may be the same thing. We understand that, so we don't know if to eat meat or fish is so bad or not, because anyway we have to kill something when we eat something.
So, our understanding of precepts changed little by little. And in China, the Sixth Patriarch, when he received transmission from his master, he lived for a long time in a fishing village. The people would eat fish, but he ate [laughs] the soup of fish. Fisherman must have eaten the meat, and he mixed his soup with rice and ate. That may actually be in violation of the precept.
So precepts, according to the time and place, changed little by little. And, especially in Zen we observe precepts in a more positive sense. Without saying “not to kill,” we say “help living beings in some way.” For instance, to be kind to animals, or to help to raise vegetables. This is a more positive way of observing the precept of not to kill. The best way of observing the precept of “not to kill” is not to kill buddha-nature. That is the highest way of observing the precept.
So to practice, zazen and to have a more meaningful life is the way to observe our precepts. We don't understand precepts in terms of fish or meat. I'm sure meat is not such good food for us. I think so. If so, we should not eat meat so much. Not because it is in violation of the precepts, but because fish or meat as food for us is not appropriate. Hai.
Student G: It says that you need faith, doubt, and determination. What kind of doubt?
SR: Doubt. Doubt means to try to understand completely, to accept teaching in its true sense. When you find something difficult to believe in, then you should try to accept it until you can accept it. That is doubt.
Student G: Well, if you accept it but you have doubt or what's the truth of—as to what you're seeing while you practice it—or what you are going [1-2 words]—
SR: Still that doubt should go on and on until you completely get over the doubt. That is a way of studying our way. To continue doubt, that is very good practice. As a Buddhist it is good. The doubt should be very big and [laughs] and very wrong. Then what you attain is greater.
Student H: Someone began as a student and doubted all rituals.
Student H: How do you speak to him? [SR laughs, laughter.] Would you ask him to do it and put his doubt aside? Or would you ask him to not do it and exercise his doubt?
SR: That is just intellectual doubt. I mean doubt [laughter], physical doubt and everything [laughs, laughter]. “If you have doubt, why don't you try it? If that is true or not?” Okay? [Laughter.]
Student I: Could you explain to us some of the ceremonies that are used in the Buddhist funeral service and what they mean, please?
SR: Uh-huh. In a Buddhist funeral, if he hasn't received precepts, we give precepts first of all. And then as a Buddhist, we say farewell to them in some traditional way. That's all.
Student I: There is something in the service about forgiveness of sin.
Student I: Yes. [4-6 words.]2 In the context of the service, could you explain that part?
SR: Before we accept precepts, we make confession, receive precepts, and become Buddhist. And, as a Buddhist we say last words to them or according to some traditional way, as we say goodbye to our friend, we say goodbye to him. That is our Buddhist funeral service. And, maybe we have to translate all those things into English, but we haven't yet.
Student I: Do you believe that the person for whom the service is given is aware that you are giving it?
SR: That we understand in this way: That we observe service with some certain feeling means that he also has that same feeling. We say, “that I am here means that he is there.” There is closely related—his being to my being. That I am here means that you are there. That is very true, you know [laughs]. That I feel in some way means that you feel in the same way. Not exactly, maybe not exactly the same, but there must be some reason there is some difference between my feeling and your feeling. There is some reason, and it is the law of causality.
That my feeling is different from your feeling does not mean we have quite different feelings completely. It should be so because if I think your feeling and my feeling are exactly the same, that is wrong understanding of the truth. It should be different, and why it is different is because of causality. So, we don't mind, even though my feeling is different from his feeling who is supposed to be no more. We say “no more,” but it cannot be so. In some way he exists, and there is some reason why he is now different from me or from other people who are alive.
So still we believe, even though he is in another world, maybe there must be some relationship between this world and the other world. And that relationship is still in the relationship of causality—cause and effect. So one is all, and all is one, and in this sense we say farewell to everyone.
Student J: Did the Buddha say that ego does not really exist—that it really exists is delusion, then what exactly is it, you know—the experience beyond death? I mean, what does it mean to be dead?
SR: Oh—yeah—we say ego doesn't exist. We say so because you think ego exists, so we put more emphasis on egolessness. But both are true. Ego exists, but not in some substantial way, having some special nature. In this sense, ego doesn't exist. But it exists. Very paradoxical, but it is so. Strictly speaking, in the smallest particle of time you exist there. But, you don't exist always in that way. So we say egolessness. Exist but not always exist in the same way. That is what we mean. Okay? Yeah?
Student K: You mentioned that the chain of cause and effect in, my present life—
Student K: —then when I die this chain does not end, but it goes on and carries me through another world to a—
Student K: —in a similar way [1-2 words].
SR: In time span it goes in that way, but in space span, your existence is closely related to other existence. We understand in that way. So, we say “egolessness,” because we think we exist here—most people understand we exist here in this way. And, in the next life we will be the same person [laughs] with same character will exist, but I don't think so. We will change into something: not into cats or a snake, but some change should take place on each one of us. So there is not much reason why we should stick to our being3 literally in its substantial way.
Student L: In Buddhism, as I understand it, they teach that life and death are not opposites. Death is a part of life.
Student L: And from what I've read, the Buddha had great composure in regard to his—
SR: Great— ?
Student L: Composure.
SR: Composure. In birth and death?
Student L: Yeah.
SR: Yeah. Yes.
Student L: So my question is, why does it seem that most living beings—
Student L: —try hard to extend life and to avoid death if death is—
SR: Another form of living?
Student L: Yes.
SR: Yeah. That is how we exist. That is also a kind of paradox. Buddhist teaching tells us not to be discriminative in birth and death [laughs].
Student L: But still as living beings we should—
Student L: —try avoid death?
SR: Yeah, try to. That is, the “try to avoid” means to continue our life. As long as we live—our life is continuous, you see? Or, our idea of time is continuous. To live long in time span, we try to live long. We try to continue our life. That is our tendency. But, at the same time, we want to enjoy our life moment after moment.
When you go to the moon you may say, “Oh! The moon was a wonderful place.” [Laughs.] You say so. That is the idea of discontinuity. You don't want to be discontinuous, even though the moon is so beautiful a place, you don't want to live on the moon always. So, when you appreciate your life on the moon, you have also a desire to be continuous—to continuously live.4 If so, you will not stay so long at the same place, because you want to continue your life. Even though you want to continue your life, if you realize we are continually going some other place, that is also which you don't like. If it is something good you want to stay there for a long time until you are really tired of it. That is the idea of discontinuity.
But, when we talk about our life, we are deeply involved in, first of all, the idea of continuity. That is why you don't like death. But actually, when you enjoy something very much, you are involved in the idea of discontinuity. That you stay in one place for a long time is not possible, but that you want to live in this world forever means the idea of discontinuity. That you say, this is quarter of nine, that is an idea of discontinuity.
We are very selfish. Our feelings are not so—what do you say? Our emotional activity doesn't work so well, so impartially. If we see one thing, we cannot see the other side. That is good, but at the same time we should know the other side of the truth.
Student L: Then it has something to do with nonattachment somehow. If we live, if I understand it, shikantaza, we would appreciate it very much, but we would not try to hold on to it. Is that so?
SR: When we practice shikantaza we go back to before this kind of feeling arises. Do you understand?
Student L: That would mean inactivity.
SR: In activity, and in our feelings we have no emotional attachment, or we have a feeling of no-thinking. If some thinking activity arises, we will be involved in some confusion.
Student L: So to say appreciation means thinking? Is that what—
SR: Yeah, usually it is so. But when we say appreciation in its true sense, we mean detached from emotional things and thinking faculty. And to have direct experience of it is non-attachment or shikantaza.
Oh. Excuse me. Do you have some more questions? Hai.
Student M: Do you practice for me or Buddhism?
SR: To practice Buddhism for Buddhism is not to practice Buddhism in terms of good or bad, or in terms of “I like Buddhism,” or “I don't like it.” Whatever it is, if it is true, we should study it, and we should practice it. That is our spirit.
[Sentence finished. Tape turned over.]
[Gap in tape for 1-2 minutes] Having complete relativity in terms of reality is the Buddhist way. So even though we understand things from various angles, and even though we have completely different understandings of life, as long as we are here in this world, we should extend or we should follow. But, that relativity is based on non-duality of life. You may say that is detachment. Detachment does not mean to cut off worldly desires.
Having worldly desires, with right understanding of it, and knowing how to treat our desires—to live in this world—is the Buddhist way. But usually we have no idea of non-attachment, and we will be enslaved by our desires and the world of duality. That is why we should fight always. Hai.
Student N: You said that Buddhism is to live with our desires but not be ruled by them, if I understand you. Can you still say the vow, “I vow to put an end to them”?
Student N: Wouldn't it be more accurate, if I'm standing here teaching, wouldn't it be more accurate that we vow—
Student N: “I vow to understand them.” [SR laughs, laughter.]
SR: It means that you continue this practice forever because our desires are inexhaustible. If so we [laughs, laughter] there is no end to our practice.
Student N: Should I even try to put an end to them?
Student N: To our vows [?] I should try to put an end to them. But as I understand you, I should sort of make an effort to limit them, if I understand [3-4 words].
SR: No, we don't mean that. Moment after moment, we should make our best effort to put an end to the desires [laughs]. But because desires are endless, our effort may be endless. That is why Buddhists exist forever. You know, if we put an end to every desire, there will not be any need for Buddhists to [laughs] practice our way.
Student N: Do you dream at night? [Laughter.]
SR: What did you say?
Student N: Do you dream at night?
SR: I? [Laughter.] I don't remember so well, but—yes I do.
Student N: Dreams are a [1-2 words] [laughter]. Our dreams [2-3 words].
SR: Yeah, maybe. [Laughter.] But I don't remember so well—maybe I have this kind of trouble always, so it is not so important to remember things one after another. I may laugh at myself if I dream of something.
Student O: I was trying to ask of myself the question of birth and death. I see when one attains a certain consciousness, that birth and death are a daily process or a “now” process. [2-3 sentences unclear.]
Student O: And I say I've seen a sleepless death of the body, because body is not there anymore. You know, it sleeps.
Student O: Is that an individual thing, and why is this—this [3-4 words]?
Student O: [4-6 words.]
SR: I often wonder why I am not afraid of going to sleep [laughs], if it is a kind of death. I am not afraid of going to sleep. I don't know why, but maybe I'm so sure that tomorrow morning I'll get up.
Student O: So death is only a physical thing—a physical [1 word]. I was wondering if [8-12 words]. I guess—is the body a part of the mind?
Student O: Is the body a manifestation of the mind?
SR: Oh, I—
Student O: Does the body come from the mind? The universal mind? [2-4 words.]
SR: Mmm. [Laughs, laughter.] I couldn't follow you completely. What is the point of your question?
Student O: Oh. It's—I'm still talking about birth and death.
SR: Birth and death?
Student O: Yes. Duration of—
SR: Duration of.
Student O: Does [1-2 words?] clear things up when you talk about death? I think about death a lot. But, you know, like I [4-6 words] the longer I think of [4-6 words]. Birth and death are cycling and always options [?]. I guess I'm not phrasing this in the form of a question, but there is a question that I'm asking.
SR: The most important point of the problem of birth and death is, the idea of self.
Student O: Isn't speaking of death as this gentleman was speaking of it, in the sense saying the body is less than the mind? That it is a separate entity from the mind?
SR: We understand oneness of mind and body.
Student O: They are one?
SR: Yeah. We don't understand, “Here is body, and mind is floating in heaven and comes [laughs] to our body. And after death it will go out from our body and enter again into our body.” Our understanding of mind and body is more than that. We put emphasis on the point that mind and body is one.
Student O: Umm. Question: What do you think of mirrors?
Student O: Do you look in the mirror a lot [laughter]? I was thinking that doesn't man's fear of death come from a fear of physical change? In other words, the body disappearing—
Student O: —that's the only fear—
Student O: [2-4 words] death, that this thing we live in will disappear, and—
SR: Yeah. That kind of thought exists in Buddhist thought too. Buddha applied the teaching which people usually had at that time. To help people, he did not deny their understanding of life. Somehow he managed to make them understand the point of Buddhism even though he applied various folk religions. But he did not lose his point ever.
And, later most Oriental people were involved in their naive folk religion. And, that kind of religious understanding became more and more powerful and common. That is why Buddhists put emphasis on that kind of idea of reincarnation or something like that. But, if you read Shobogenzo, Dogen clarified this point completely. Hai.
Student P: Would it be correct to say that we have a human personality?
Student P: Human personality.
SR: Uh-huh. Personality, we say but personality may be not completely so, but some tendency which is caused by our physical condition or physical nature. This is a kind of materialistic philosophy, but it is true, I think. So even though we receive a kind of education, it is almost impossible to change our character. I think if it were possible to change our physical condition completely, then our character would change too. That is true from a materialistic viewpoint. But from an idealistic viewpoint, our mind will change our physical function of our body. If we have a healthy mind, our body will be healthy too. This is also true. But we cannot completely argue, from a materialistic viewpoint or idealistic viewpoint, because both are true.
Student P: Well, [2-4 words] asked was—you were speaking of idea of self. And yet it seems to me that all of us have a concern for expressing our unique [?] personalities—in place of our human personality. I don't mean my individual personality, but I mean somebody that's a version of the self being expressed in me. This is just—at this moment of time, it's a force.
SR: Mm-hmm. Oh. Not as a self, but as a momentary impulse or something. Yeah, I think that is all right, but usually, without being aware of it, we are usually controlled by our preconceived ideas or by our past experiences. And, so we should know this point also. Even though this is just an expression of my being5 right now, but it is not always so. If we understand this point, we should train ourselves more so that we can express ourselves fully, completely, without being enslaved by something or bound by something. Only we are alert enough to see ourselves, to check ourselves. We cannot accept ourselves so easily. That is why we are so strict with ourselves. Hai.
Student Q: It seems that in order to [8-10 words] always scheming.
SR: Always what?
Student Q: Always scheming—trying to find ways to snatch [8-10 words] or [6-8 words].
SR: No, I'm sorry. I couldn't follow you.
Student Q: If you couldn't hear, I—
SR: Will you put your question in some short way? Condense your question?
Student Q: Can zazen practice stop—
SR: Excuse me?
Student Q: Can zazen practice—
SR: Uh-huh. Zazen practice.
Student Q: —get you to stop your grasping for attention?
SR: Zazen practice stop—I'm sorry. What—
Student R: Grasping.
Student R: She's saying, “Can zazen practice initially stop grasping?”
A brief clamor of several students all talking at once: [Unclear.]
Student S: Desire for attention.
Student R: Will zazen stop this? [Said slowly and gravely.] [Laughter.]
SR: Attention. Stop? [Laughs.]
Student Q: It could be I just need to find more control, or can zazen practice eventually stop the greedy grasping [1-2 words] completely?
SR: Yeah, when you start our practice, your effort should be concentrated on some particular thing—like counting breathing. But eventually, that effort will be extended in many directions, and you will have deep, wide, strong mind. Then you will have some power or the ability—without trying you can do many things. But, at first it is necessary for us to make some effort in the right direction. As long as you know the direction of practice, that is all right. And, step by step you make your effort, with the right direction. Without going this way, you know, you can go this way.
We say detachment, but it is not so easy [laughs] to attain. We can talk about it, but not so easy. So, the only way is to try to practice our way, starting from very a simple way like counting breathing or following-breathing practice. Then, even though you have various problems, amidst the difficulty if you can count your breathing perfectly, you already have power of controlling yourself or the power of being free from the objective world.
It is more than habit because you have some belief or power in it. Habit is just a succession of our intentional activity. But, zazen power with always steady steps is going with some direction or intention. Eventually that intentional part will vanish, and the power will go by itself. That is complete detachment. We are very selfish, and we are always, feeling some tendency. Without some effort we cannot get out of it. Okay.
Student S: In yoga meditation, we're taught to relax the muscles and clear the breathing passages to help the meditation, which zazen seems to ignore completely [?].
SR: No, we don't. We don't. Yoga maybe puts more emphasis on physical practice than our practice. I think yoga practice will help a lot, but if it is too much like zazen, it will create some problems for you. So maybe we should be careful, anyway. Hai.
Student T: Could you explain that problem?
Student T: Yeah, the problem—could you share what could be the problem?
SR: For some persons it is very difficult to sit in cross-legged position. If he forces too much, then it will create some physical problem, maybe.
Student T: Yoga, then, can create a great deal of intake of energy—your forced-breathing exercises rather than just watching them. Can those energies taken in cause anything difficult for zazen?
SR: No, I don't think so. I don't think so.
Student T: Also, another question on sleep. Can one practice zazen in sleep?
SR: In sleep? We don't say that is zazen practice [laughs, laughter]. But we say if you are really a Zen student, the way you sleep must be different from an ordinary person [laughs].
Student T: Often I have seen an icon of the Buddha sleeping on his—not sleeping, or—laying on his right side.
Student T: This is often described as a parinirvana. I don't know what this is. Did he attain some kind of enlightenment lying on his side?
SR: That is how most Indian people say they sleep. This side down. Of course, if you think why, it is quite obvious why they do this. Most people are right-handed.
Student T: Also it relieves the stress on the heart. This is not from—this is not from Buddhism, but a woman who—part of her way is pure sleeping heart. And—
Student T: — she says that lying on the right side—the heart—there's no stress on the heart, or less stress on the heart, so that it can beat fully and regain strength during the night.
SR: Hmm. [Laughter.] I don't know. I am not concerned so much about those things. But, if you sleep left-side-down, you don't feel so good [laughter]. It's obvious. It may be better to sleep this way [laughs, laughter]—south and north, you know, rather than east and west. We are very magnetic beings also. Everything may be so.
So if you start to study this kind of thing, we will have many things to study. We will have some specialists who may suggest many things. As much as we can, we should follow their suggestions, I think.
Thank you very much.
1 Text in brackets was not on tape. It was added by transcriber.
2 Possibly referring to “All your ancient twisted karma—is now released.”
3 "Being" used as a noun.
4 Used as the verb "live," not the adjective.
5 "Being" used as a noun.
Source: Original City Center tape transcribed verbatim by Adam Tinkham and Bill Redican (3/9/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (1/2021).