Mill Valley Zendo
Wednesday Morning, December 23, 1970
Zazen practice, for us, more and more becomes important. Nowadays, as you may feel as human beings, we come to the point where—maybe it is too late but, even so, we must start some new movement. In America it is not so bad, but in Japan it is very bad because the land is so narrow. And what people did to their own land is awful. Soon they will not have anything to eat. And we think, when we die we will come to the earth. And everything which appears should come back to the earth or in its wide sense it must come back to emptiness. But some things we human beings did to our earth or land are pretty difficult to put back, for it to resume its old home of emptiness.
We human beings appeared on this earth and did many things to the earth. And as long as we could—everything resumed to emptiness—it was okay. But now what we did is pretty difficult to resume to emptiness. If you raise vegetables, the vegetables contain something harmful to you. If you eat something, if you breathe air, everything already has some poison for us. And the poison we made remains on the earth for what almost looks like forever. It cannot be forever, but for human beings it is almost forever.
People talk about this kind of thing, but they do not feel so deeply or bad about this. If I could feel that after death comes emptiness, I would feel very good. But what we did, as Buddha says, is to create karma—awful karma.
How we create karma is because of ego. So we should try to get rid of ego as much as possible. As Buddha says, egolessness is the most important point for our practice—for our life. When we have not much ego, we feel eternal life for us. Even though we create ego, that ego is strong enough to support yourself—not more than it creates unnecessary problems. Then, in other words, if we go back to emptiness, it is okay. Even though we create something bad, that karma should be reduced to emptiness as soon as possible, soon enough for human beings to live on this earth.
This kind of life should be based on zazen practice. If we do not practice zazen, we accumulate ego-centered activities, one after another. And we have no time to realize what we are doing. Only when you start your activity or your life from zazen, then you won’t create so much bad karma. And, even though you create some karma, you know what you are doing, and you can control yourself. You are sensitive enough to feel what you are doing. When you see something growing naturally and beautifully you will appreciate it. But, when your life is involved in awful karma, without seeing anything, without appreciating anything, without feeling anything good, then your life is nothing but a karmic life. I don’t say I’m not creating any karma, but I can see actually what we are doing here.
I came back from Japan and realized the difference between life in Japan and in America. There is a big difference. Japan is a Buddhist country, but Japan is already covered by big karma. But, here in America, we have a chance to start something new. Maybe Japan is a kind of factory where people create very bad karma, but in America I don’t think so. I think the people who live in America have some responsibility to save all human beings. And people who live in such countries like Japan should have bodhisattva’s mind to sacrifice themselves for human life, human activity, or human beings. Even if they themselves cannot have a real Buddhist way of life, they should accept their own karma, and they should help people in their own activities. For instance, if Japan is a big factory, they should make something good and help people. But here in America, I think you must have a more human life, and you must have real practice here. You must set up some new way of life without creating much karma, without spoiling the beautiful land you have.
How you can do this is to practice zazen—not all day long, but at least one hour or two hours a day. And, you should start your life, you should renew your life, you should go back to emptiness and start your life again and again. Then you will have a real Buddhist way of life.
At my temple in Japan [Rinsoin], we drink water from big and small springs. But the water they drink now in that temple, I don’t think it is good enough; it is not pure enough, I know. And people may know what kind of water they’re drinking, but they give up talking about it. If they talk about it, they will have a bad feeling. And there is no way to purify the water. There is no way.
The earth itself is already not good for human beings. It’s terrible. I don’t think the vegetables they raise are good enough. And I wondered, what will be the way to eat good vegetables, drink good water? But there was no way to get pure water. No more places to raise good vegetables for us.
I didn’t talk about this when I was in Japan. It is so cruel to talk about this kind of thing.
People make trips by fast trains. When I was young we were very happy to see Mount Fuji. But people now, instead of seeing Mount Fuji, they see on the other side of the train where there are many factories and pollution, polluted water. And, they talk about how bad it is—without seeing Mount Fuji [laughs]. It’s an awful condition. Last time I visited Japan, four years ago, it was not so bad, but in four years it changed a lot. I think we forget, we human beings, and we do not realize what we are doing and what is our karma.
So we should encourage people to sit and go back to emptiness. When you sit, instead of having some gaining idea of attaining something, you should go back to emptiness on your black cushion, to start something new. Where your practice is involved in some gaining idea of attaining something, it means that you are encouraging ego. As long as you have too much ego, your life will be karmic life. This point should be remembered. And you should know what is pure zazen, what is true zazen transmitted from Buddha to us, which includes the foundation of various teachings of Buddha, which is a way to observe our precepts. Only when you practice true zazen is it possible to observe Buddha’s precepts.
This morning you repeated the Prajnaparamita Sutra1 three times. That is very encouraging. We should repeat it. For ourselves we should, I think, practice zazen with silence, with calmness of our mind, with empty mind. But maybe for others, let them know what is the Prajnaparamita Sutra—what does it mean to us, over and over again, until they understand what is the Prajnaparamita Sutra—and how important it is to practice zazen for us, for human beings. It is our practice now. It cannot be just for Zen Buddhists. It should be for all human beings. And this is not religion anymore; this is something we should do. Even though it may be too late, we should try our best. If we are really awakened, it cannot be too late. I think we must have a more positive practice for people too. Let us sit with people, and let us recite the Prajnaparamita Sutra with all human beings.
I couldn’t express how I feel, but I think you must have understood what I mean. I’m so glad to see so many people in this zendo, including young, small students. We must try very hard.
Thank you very much. Okay.
Source: Original tape provided by Sonoma Zen Center, marked “Mill Valley Zendo,
Roshi, Shingyo, Teisho, 12/23/70.” Transcribed by Jeffrey Schneider
(July 1999) and checked against tape by Bill Redican (30 August 1999). Lightly
edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (3/2021). Mill Valley
Zendo was under the direction of Jakusho Kwong.