A minimally edited transcript


Friday, September 8, 1967

...a question. So, this is a very difficult question because this question covers quite a good part of our teaching. So, this evening I want to make it clear as much as possible according to our teaching, not only Zen Buddhist teaching, but also Buddhism in general. In the Prajna Paramita Sutra, there was the statement—there's no ignorance. Here it comes to birth and death— that no ignorance and no birth and death. It means twelve links of the teaching of inter-dependency. And it may be if I explain this teaching more clearly, you will have a pretty good understanding of it. And that is enough. I must explain it from a viewpoint of Zen. But at first, I will try to explain it as a teaching of Buddhism in general, not only Zen.

The Twelve Links of the teaching start from ignorance. This teaching is the explanation of our life from various angles. And it starts from ignorance, and our karmic activity, and the results of the karmic activity, and activity itself. If we do not understand our life properly, we call it ignorance. So, ignorance will result in karmic life. And karmic life will result in some activity. And some activity will be accelerated by our six senses. And the six senses will result in the material and the spiritual world, which is the phenomenal world. And that is the cause one[?] future and material or physical world, which is the phenomenal world. And the phenomenal world will be received from five sense organs and mind again. And this activity will result in us some idea of good or bad, agreeable or disagreeable. That is the sixth one. And we will attach to something good and something bad. Or, you will attach to the objective world which is good or bad to you. That is attachment. The world of attachment. And that is the seventh one, ah, so many—umm [tapping]. That is the eighth one. And you will have desire for this world, and for the future world. Attachments will result in desires for you; we call this thirsty desire. You know, desire as if you want water when you are thirsty. This kind of desire, it's a very intense, strong desire, more than attachment. And this attachment will attach to something which you see in this world, and which you will see in the next world, or in the future. And sometimes you attach to one desire because in vain you try to believe something in this world and in a future world, and the result will be in vain, when you strive to gain something. But that is not possible because it is originally yours. Or if you think that is not yours, then the way you try to reach it is wrong, so it is impossible to. Eventually you will find out that is impossible. So, you will pay a lot, trying to reach what you want in this moment and in the future. So, you will attach to another desire [laughs]. It's much better not to want anything. Then, I shall be very happy. This kind of desire—the third[?] desire, we have a desire to annihilate our desires, or desire to stop our desire. Or desire for something which is here or which will be in the future. This desire is called ??? or that is the ninth one. And, oh no, that is, [laughs] I mixed up [laughs]….

And the last one is the desire to attain freedom from birth and death. Those desires are how we suffer in this world. And how this world becomes a world of suffering for us. And these twelve links are the explanation of how we suffer in this world, starting from ignorance. And ignorance is the most basic cause of suffering. And then, what is ignorance? Ignorance is Buddha nature itself. When we misunderstand it, it becomes ignorance. But when you have right understanding of our life, those twelve links are nothing but the way to attain enlightenment. And this is how we understand our life and why we suffer in this world.

So, once you have some misunderstanding of those twelve, you will get into a misunderstanding of the harms and next eleven. So, now misunderstanding will result in you more suffering. So, you should have a clear understanding of those twelve links of our teaching. This is the teaching about how we suffer in this world. This is maybe too literal an explanation to understand it completely, but I explained it as much as possible.

Then what is ignorance, how ignorance comes to us, will be your question. When you have Buddha nature, why do we have ignorance? And the definition of ignorance is something which appears all of a sudden without any reason, [laughs] ???. How fire[?] wisdom in something which is permanent, which exists always, and which is real always. When you receive some misunderstanding which happens to us by some chance, oh that is a recognition of ignorance. So, ignorance has no reason why it appears. It means the question why we have ignorance cannot be answered [laughs] in other words. Something which happens to us without any reason [laughs], if there is no reason, we cannot explain why it appears to us. But anyway, it is the other side of wisdom. So, if we know this is ignorance, that is wisdom. That is not ignorance anymore. But when you don't know, this is ignorance. Or, when you accept your life of suffering, when you do not realize, or when you enjoy your life of suffering, that is sheer ignorance because you do not know that you're amidst of suffering. But when you realize that you are doing something wrong, that is wisdom. That is not ignorance anymore. So, the difference is, whether you arise way-seeking mind, finding yourself ahead[?] of suffering, that is wisdom. But if you do not realize that you are amidst suffering, and you enjoy the life of suffering, that is ignorance. So, in true understanding, there is always ignorance and wisdom as the two sides of one coin.

Why Buddha talks about the world of suffering, or ignorance is to encourage people to seek for truth. It is impossible to teach them when they have no problem in suffering, and they enjoy their lives. ??? ???. Even Buddha cannot do anything with those people. They may find out what they have done some day when it is too late [laughs], but until they find out they have been doing something wrong, it is very difficult to teach them. So, that is why Buddha talked about ignorance and gave us so ignorant of the truth to reality, for he pointed out how ignorant we are.

So, the teaching of ignorance was provided by Buddha for our sake, for us, who sometimes enjoy our suffering, and create many confusions for ourselves and for others too. So, the question why we have to do something bad is delta[?] making, when he realized that. What he was doing, that is wisdom. That is Buddha nature itself. As long as he has Buddha nature, he understands our life from the first[?] way—ignorance and wisdom. When he says why we suffer, why we are so ignorant, that is wisdom. And when he makes some excuse or seeks for something elusive, why that is ignorance. In this way, we should understand our life, and in this way, we should understand Buddha's teaching. And how we actually bring[?] power to control both sides of our life is zazen practice.

That is prologue[?] interpretation of ignorance and Buddha nature. I'm sure you have some questions. Please ask me.               

Student A: How do we unravel a ball of ignorance when we’ve fallen into it?

SR: How ???

Student: How do we unravel a ball of ignorance when we’ve fallen into it?

SR: What do you?

Richard Baker: Like string, all cut up. And ignorant string.

SR: [Laughs.] Ignorant string is a very good expression, and we have something which is the same expression, that we say ignorance, not exactly ignorance, but something similar to ignorance is delusion, or wrong view.
There is an emotional one and an intellectual one. This intellectual and emotional one will be solved[?] by the teaching of, or viewpoint of non-existence. That is not real existence. That is just something that looks like so, but that is not reality. This teaching will solve this conflict.

Student: Thank you.

SR: And even though you solve it, something emotionally and intellectually too, of course intellectually. But if you do not start to cultivate your mind and strengthen your character, it is not possible to be completely free from it. Tentatively it may be all right, but we should have more strength. In that case we should practice Zen. And if you try to rely on teaching, you should use the teaching that everything has two sides. Tentatively it may be good, but some other time it may be wrong. Good and bad are two sides of a coin. It's a deeper teaching than the teaching that you said—teaching from the viewpoint of ??? state. This is futile[?]. This is the teaching of both, so called, Middle Way. By this teaching of middle way, and when you practice accordingly, you will acquire the power to live in this world. And in other words, that is very different from our teaching. So, first of all we have to cut off, but we have to train ourselves from the emotional side and intellectual side. And we have strength in our character by practice and teaching. And taking our existence and non-existence back and forth, with the training of your emotions. This is emotional and intellectual practice. And by continuing not by just practice— by learning piece by piece. But practice is as you learn teaching of the middle way, you will have power. So, when you practice middle way, that practice is not anymore practice of existence or of non-existence, or practice of suppressing your emotional power, or controlling your intellectual power. Do you understand? So, Zen practice or another way is the way which you can do without any idea of suppressing or idea of meriting for positive, or giving or taking. This is Zen practice. This is so called middle way, which can be both. And which has reality in each moment, which is just right in that moment or on that occasion.

Student C: So, let's say tomorrow afternoon I find myself in the midst of ignorance, and I can't, you know, I don't understand what training is. Or I look around for training and I don't find anything. All I find is ignorance, so tell me, what is training? So, I can find it tomorrow afternoon when it happens.

SR: [Laughs] you see, you are trying to find some way, or you want to understand some way, which will be giving or taking, a negative or a positive. But the true way is not just a negative or a positive, or giving or taking. For if you notice how important it is to sit, which is not negative or positive. To find yourself right there in each moment. Then, in that moment, you are not good or bad. What you are doing is not good or bad. Which are not unlike[?], you cannot have the idea of annihilation in your practice. Or you cannot have any desire in teaching[?]. And you have everything, so you cannot desire anything. That is our practice.

[Laughs.] Too abstract? Already give you some piece[?].

Student: Thank you.

SR: We are sitting very well, you know. Just yesterday especially, you are just sitting. That is the way. But when you are sitting just as they are quiet[?] for such a long time, you start to wonder—when you are just practicing, is [it] good or bad? That is what you are thinking about right now. But you have to continue just practice.

Student: I understand that sitting is neither good nor bad, but that if you continue it, doesn't it set up a kind of conditioning, and there's not going to be complete freedom, if there's conditioning.

SR: [Laughs] only sit, you will be all right.

Student: You become conditioned to sitting, and the more you become conditioned to sitting, it would seem that, that would be a hindrance to freedom.

SR: No. That is freedom.

Student: To be free of any conditioning.

SR: That is not true though [laughs]. Freedom is under some conditions, yes, you have. That is very true [laughs]. We have some conditions come for easy way, a slow easy way. To find out this, you slow the process, not to do thinking. But this is—for instance, to attain freedom, we should observe from in the present and not to tell a lie. What kind of future provides you with complete freedom? [Laughs] But that is not to be. If you understand the teaching, that is to observe good[?], you attain freedom. Aware[?], you should be comfortable in this world. To attain freedom, if you do not, if you change your place only, you have no freedom. You have no time to have freedom.

Student: Yes, I understand that, but still it doesn't matter in which place you are, does it? You can be in one place or another …

SR: No, but you are someplace. And you should find freedom on some place of this earth[?]. So, if you ignore the place where you are, there is no real freedom. That is just an idea of freedom. But actually, if you want to have actual freedom, you should have it under some conditions. What conditions would we improve or if you change occur? It would not be the same, but knowing the moment, we should know what we are doing. And we should accept the conditions under which we live. That is freedom. There is no other way to attain actual freedom.

Student: Yes, thank you.

SR: Yes.

Student: Is, is trying to make oneself happy, is that an example of ignorance? Is that a form of ignorance?

SR: [Laughs], yes. It is one of the three kinds of ignorance.

Student: Well, in daily life there are various things that have to be done, things it's normally that you do, various things you decide to do. And it seems to me very hard to tell exactly, you know, what you're doing in the form of whether you're trying to make yourself happy or what. You were talking of contemplating yourself, or of understanding yourself, and it's hard to tell for me where that line is drawn, exactly what your purpose is. Whether it's an ignorant purpose or whether it's real life, and that you live in suffering.

SR: Oh, oh, okay. Anyway, as long as you understand your life that way—whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, that is not complete. But when you know that that is not complete, that is not ignorance anymore. Of course, we are trying to achieve something, we cannot be indifferent to what we are achieving. But we should know that is not absolutely the truth, absolutely right. If you believe[?] because you think that is absolutely true, that is a deep, deep mistake [laughs]. So that if you do it with that idea, you are already creating some trouble for you and for others because your effort is already dead, not alive.

[Laughs], don't you think so? When you are always trying to be right, then you will be right. But when you think, this is right, if we continue our effort in this way, what we do is right, that is wrong. Moment after moment, we should do our best, you are just, you know, our attempt[?], our effort in your ???. Anyway, we should be resolved it is impossible to do something perfectly right because we should try to be perfect. In one respect[?] that only, that is true activity. We are emphasizing this point, but we do not say ???, we do not seek[?] anything this long. And ordinarily, by good or bad, but put the emphasis on not to be caught by idea good or bad. Not to make some excuse for your activity.


Student: How do we understand our lives wisely?

SR: Hm?

Student: How do we understand our lives wisely?

SR: Wise?

Student: What would be the right understanding of our lives?

SR: Understanding of life?

Student: Yeah, what would be the right understanding of it?

SR: Oh. The right understanding of life is, how do I say, the understanding of life of existence is not right. Non-existence is not right. And both existence and non-existence is right. Something which is good is something which is bad. [Tapping.] There's nothing which is completely right.

Student: What is the place of self-discipline on one hand and say like rules that everyone follows on the other?

SR: Well, there are many rules, rules to follow. Mostly, the most important rule is, to do is remember people. When they get up, you get up. When they sleep, you sleep. By follow these rules ??? [laughs] in the monastery, and this is the best way to get any job, first take that idea. And so, if you are doing something special, you should be very careful [laughs].

Some topics[?], for instance we have, but this is really important. So if you go to ask me, you will see that duty or character ???? [writing Japanese?]1. It looks very simple and plain views, but it means, it's a ???. Okay, what time is it?


Richard Baker: He added after the chanting that in a monastery, there's no rule you can depend on. Ah, you just have to do your best.


1 The Japanese sounds like any of the following in the order of my feeling:
"Hojo Daishinki" - Hojo, I picked the kanji 法場 out of many meaning for this sound, is a place to practice Buddhism.
"Dojo Daishinki" - Dojo, I picked the kanji 道場 out of many meaning for this sound, is a place to practice discipline.
"Kojo Daishinki" - Kojo, I picked the kanji "向上 Improvement " or "恒常 Consistency".
"Daishinki" part also sounds like "Daishiiki".
I looked up Buddhism special words but could not identify Daishinki.

Translations thanks to Takayo Harriman


Transcribed by Peter Ford, January 2020. Re-transcribed as verbatim by Peter Ford 6/2023 from audio file provided by Engage Wisdom. Lightly edited for readability by Peter Ford (6/2023).


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