A minimally edited transcript

why we should practice zazen

Tuesday, July 27, 1965
Sokoji, San Francisco

The conclusion of my talk is always why we should practice zazen. My talk is not just casual talk. And basically, my talk is based on Shobogenzo. Fortunately we have a complete system how to understand true religion.

The true religion cannot be understood by philosophical way or scientific way. The only way to understand or to realize our true nature is just through practice. Without true practice it is impossible to realize our true nature. Of course, whether we are aware of it or not, what we do in our everyday life is based on our true nature. True nature drive us to do something, but if you do not understand, or if you do not realize what is true nature, and if you have no system to know the actual meaning of your true nature, you will get into confusion.

There are many and many scientists who become interested in religion, it is true. Some of them are perhaps interested in true religion, but some of them will not have the true understanding of religion. As long as their understanding is just limited in scientific realm, it is impossible to know what is true religion because religion should be understood by religious way. Religion is not understood by philosophy or science.

And some philosophers, of course, may be interested in true religion, but it is impossible to reach the complete understanding of religion through philosophical study, because in philosophical study the conclusion of philosophy will be different. The authority of Greek philosophy is still powerful in this age. So it is very difficult to reach the true understanding of religion which everyone will agree with it.

But Soto school has pretty deep philosophy, but as I said last night, the Shobogenzo, or the philosophy of Zen, is just a lid, just a cover of a pan, because people may interested in Zen, but it may be rather difficult for them to know what is true Zen. Without some intellectual understanding, it is difficult to figure out what is Zen. So that is why we have philosophy of Zen. But by philosophy you cannot have true understanding of Zen. Zen should be understood by Zen, by practice of Zen, not by philosophy -- even by Shobogenzo, even by reading Shobogenzo, you cannot [laughs] realize what is Zen.

So only way is just practice Zen with right understanding. If you do not have right understanding, your practice will be mixed up with some other practice. And that is why, I think, in America there are so many misunderstanding of Zen.

So by Shobogenzo we have to polish our practice, and we have to keep our practice of Zen from various misunderstanding. That is why we have Shobogenzo. That is why in sesshin I should talk. The purpose of my talk is not to give you some knowledge, but by my talk I want to encourage your practice without being interested in philosophical depth of our system. In this point, if you make misunderstanding, result will be pretty serious.

And fortunately our system of encouraging people is the same philosophy of other schools. So if you understand Shobogenzo, you will understand some other schools and why there are so many schools in Buddhism. If we do not have this system of various schools in Buddhism is quite different from other schools, and there will not be any connection with each other. With this system, each schools, we will find out the meaning of existence -- why Soto Zen exist, why Rinzai Zen exist, why Pure Land school exist, why Tendai school exist, why all those schools are important. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to translate Shobogenzo in English, but we are making effort to do it. And many scholars has given some interpretation -- some modern, or some up-to-date interpretation to it. So if we only have time, it is not impossible to give you complete system of our understanding of Buddhism.

We say we have two kinds of knowledge: intuitive knowledge and thinking, discriminating knowledge. The scientific knowledge and the philosophical knowledge is the dualistic thinking knowledge. As long as we use word and we think by words, it is impossible to reach the absolute conclusion. When we just resume to our own nature, which is universal to everyone, we can realize our true nature, which is universal to human being and even for animals, and plants, and everything -- existence. And that is why in Zen practice we stop our mind. We do not put any consideration to our sensitivity or thinking. Whatever image come, you just accept it and let them go out. [Laughs.] And whatever sound you hear, you let them come in and let them go out. When you do not pay any attention to outward object, you will find out your true nature.

This true nature, when you are healthy and practice zazen in this way, is just calm and some inexplicable thing itself. But when you have some actual problem -- when you have pain on your legs, you will have direct experience of [laughs] your true nature. But, you know, don't make mistake that is true nature. That is true nature plus something -- plus your painful legs. Something is added on true nature, and true nature takes the form of pain. This relationship is very important, and if you understand this relationship -- your true nature and your pain -- there is a key to solve all the problem of life. Through problem we will realize our true nature. When I am hungry, what I feel is what you will feel when you are hungry [laughs]. There might be some difference, but not much difference.

And how you feel when you sit is how everyone feels when you sit. Strictly speaking, that is enough, even though you do not attain enlightenment [laughs]. If everyone sit and find out how you feel when you sit, that's good enough. In this point we will reach some agreement. But if you are caught by some fancy idea of religion -- there may be various religion -- and you don't know what religion is yours [laughs] -- Buddhism, Christianity, or Indian religion, or some folk native religion -- you don't know what to choose. Sometimes every religion looks like same. Sometime it doesn't look like same. But when religion is studied in the most simplest way, the most universal way, for an instance, want of sleep, or hunger, or pain, we will reach the universal religion -- universal religion even to animals. Here we have common playground. Everyone will play in this common playground.

So, according to Buddha, or our patriarchs, or founder of various religion, you should not have too fancy idea of religion. Religion should be understood by the most foolish [laughs] man, not learned wise man. Wise man's religion is very complicated and very fancy. If he is too great, you will be attached to his religion. That is good. If you really want to do it, that's good [laughs] -- but just because of the name or, you know, some gaining idea.

We should not attach to some particular religion. That is why we say don't study religion with gaining idea. Gaining idea is not based on your true nature. That's a very superficial desire -- not so deep as your hunger. When we give up various gaining idea, we will find out our true nature. And this true nature is very primitive, of course. And at the same time it could be very refined and deep, lofty idea -- desire. In this primitive, fundamental desire there are true strengths and various possibility. But if you start from fancy idea of religion, you will be more confused. So to realize why we study religion is to find out the meaning of our fundamental desire -- how important it is, and how miraculous it is, and how much possibility it has.

When all of us is concentrated on this point, there will not be any religious sectarianism. Because we start from some particular philosophy of religion, we have various sectarianism. When we have just one lid, just one cover which covers various pan and bowls [laughs], there will be no problem. Our cover, our philosophy, is not the same philosophy as usual philosophers will provide for us.

Today, I just gave you some general idea of our system. But, as a Soto student, this point should not be neglected. When we study Buddhism intellectually, we should be concentrated on this point as well as your practice. Just practice is not so good, because you may practice zazen for sake of something. You will abuse your Zen practice until you mix pure practice with various fancy or wrong practice.

In short, Soto way is to use everything in right purpose and to put everything [in] its own place. What should be put on high place should be put on high place, and what should be put on floor should be on floor. In America, you know, you put scriptures [laughs] on the floor where you walk. We don't, you know. But I don't know how to treat those scriptures in your way of life. So until I find out [laughs] some way, I don't say, "Don't put scriptures on the floor." But this is not supposed to be treated as rubbish. This is not rubbish. Scripture should be put on table, or altar, or in your hand. Those small things is very important.

And with this idea, we study science: What is science? What is religion? What is philosophy? There is the way to study philosophy. There is particular way to study science. There is particular way to study religion. Religion should be studied by religious way, not by science. Scientist cannot criticize [laughs] what religion unless he become religious. And religion gives way to science and philosophy. To find the meaning of science is religion. To find the meaning of philosophy is religion. But in science or in philosophy, there is no religion. This relationship is very important. Dogen Zenji says, "In our ordinal worldly life there is no Buddha's way." People understand that or not, I don't know [laughs] -- may not understand it, but he says: "They may understand it is impossible to know what is religion in worldly way. But from viewpoint of religion, there is no worldly life. Everything what we do is religion.

This kind of system is very important for us. I shall be very glad if you find out why this kind of understanding is so necessary for us. It is very important because it is the only way to find out the harmony in various religion we have. When various religious people understand this secret -- this system, the religion will be one: not Buddhism, not Christianity, not one school of Christianity or Buddhism. The one whole big family of religious people will be established. There is this possibility in Dogen's understanding.


65-07-26-A - Sesshin Lecture 1 -- 1PM. Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Judith Randall and Bill Redican (5/17/01). Reformatted by Ray Watkins, (April, 2012). Light Edit by Clare Hollander (October 10, 2012).


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