A minimally edited transcript

The more we study our way, the more it is difficult to explain it.

Evening Sesshin Lecture, Lecture B
Monday, December 4, 1967

The more we study our way, the more it is difficult to explain it. But Dogen Zenji thought there must be some way to make his descendants understand the true way. And, he made a great effort to express this kind of subtle truth. In [Fukan] Zazengi, he says, “If there is the slightest gap between perfect enlightenment and practice, the difference will be heaven and earth.”  There should not be any gap between practice and enlightenment, or reality and seeming. We think something we see is reality, but it is not so. And, that what we feel is reality, but it is not so. Reality and something which is observed by our six senses is one. So, just what we see is not true without the background of reality. I will stop [laughs] this kind of interpretation.

Dogen Zenji found a very good Chinese word to express this kind of truth. The Chinese word is inmo1—.  I don't know nowadays how they pronounce it. But inmo has two meanings. One is a positive meaning: “suchness.” The other is an interrogative meaning: “What is it?” [Laughs.] What is inmo? How is inmo? What is it when geese [laughs] came? A horse master asked Hyakujo, “What is it?” That “what,” is inmo. Inmo is interrogative, and it is affirmative too.

This is a very convenient word to express reality. Everything in one sense is suchness. On the other hand, it is not. It is something which we cannot grasp. For instance, here is a beautiful flower. You think here is a beautiful flower, but that beautiful flower is always changing [laughs]. You cannot grasp it, even while you are watching the changes. So, you think you see it, but actually you didn't see the flower itself which is changing.

So, everything on one side is something which cannot be grasped, so “What?” On the other hand, for a while it is there in that way. And so, everything is suchness, and everything is ungraspable—cannot be grasped. So it is “What?” So inmo—the word inmo has two meanings, and Dogen Zenji found this is a very convenient word to express reality.

Hashimoto Roshi,2 the authority on Shobogenzo who passed away two years ago, in his lecture he told us to refer to the menu and dishes. We make a menu of dishes, and we cook salad or eggs or meat—everything separately. That is suchness. Everything is arranged clearly, beautifully. But he says, “When you start to eat [laughs], everything will vanish in a moment.” In ten minutes there is no more dish, no more food on the table, and everything is mixed up [laughs] in your tummy.

So, this is, on the one hand, very beautiful things. But, on the other hand, when the function of the food is fulfilled, there are no more dishes [laughs].  Our practice is the same thing. When you get up, you brush your teeth and wash your face. That is practice. You do it one by one carefully. And when you practice zazen, you practice zazen. One by one.

But no one of them can be perfect practice. Even though to wash your face is a very good habit [laughs]. But, even though it is good, if you are always washing your face [laughs], you cannot attain enlightenment [laughs, laughter]. The same thing can be said with your zazen practice. Zazen is very good practice. But, even if you are always practicing zazen, it doesn't work [laughs].

The purpose of zazen practice is to catch something as it is in a mixed-up state. So, that is why you don't think. When you think it must be each: salad or beans or meat or eggs. You can think about meat or salad, but if it is mixed up, in your tummy [laughs], you cannot think about it. So, if you want to catch reality in its true sense, you cannot think about it. When your life energy is burning in perfect combustion, you cannot catch it. That is zazen. But even zazen cannot always be the same. As something you eat in your tummy does not stay always in the same way, it will change into something else.

So, even if you practice hard, your zazen sometimes will be good, sometimes will not be so good. We cannot practice our way in the same way always. The purpose of zazen is not to think about it. To catch ourselves in its full function is zazen.  If so, there is no need to think about it. If you think about it, you will lose it. When you don't think and are involved in the practice fully, you have zazen.

Even though it is so, we have to prepare everything one by one carefully. That is our everyday life. When you wash your face, you should wash your face carefully. When you walk, you should walk carefully. One by one you take care of your activity. But, when you are taking care of your activity, you are involved in something which cannot be grasped. You are not anymore you.

So, in each activity there are two sides: positive and negative. Something which can be, or suchness, and—what should I say?—a mixed-up state or ungraspable or unintelligible. So, “What is it?” When Baso asks Hyakujo, “What is it?” Baso should understand what he meant. And, “Where have they gone?” He should understand what he meant. He was talking about our practice, the relationship between everyday activity and our practice, and what is our practice, and what is our everyday life. And, everyday life is zazen, and zazen is everyday life. In this way, back and forth, he should assert his practice—he should make his practice sure.

In the sky, sometimes wild geese are flying. And after that some clouds will come. And after that the bright moon will come. But each of the wild geese and clouds and moon are not always the same. The bright moon is bright moon, and wild geese are wild geese, and clouds are clouds. But at the same time, the moon is not moon, clouds are not clouds, and wild geese are not wild geese. They exist in the same place in a mixed-up state. Even though it is mixed-up, our practice should be concentrated on each moment. When we see the moon, we should see the moon. When we see the clouds, we should see the clouds. And we should appreciate everything one by one.

If people mix up everything, if everything is changing and if everything exists in a mixed-up way, there will be no need to work hard. If everything is mixed-up always, what is the point of appreciating everything if everything is just phenomenon? Why do we appreciate such a tentative phenomenal world?

If you understand in that way, that is like serving food in a mixed-up [laughs] way. Salad and rice, [laughs] brown rice and miso soup in one big pail [laughs], mixed-up in a bucket or something. It will be served to you. How would you [laughing] feel to eat from a bucket like a pig [laughter]? It doesn't make any sense, you know. Even though it will be mixed-up in our tummy, we should serve one by one.  Bowing to each other. That is our way. But, we do not keep it separately in our tummy.

Some rigid people want to keep it one by one in their tummy, which is not possible. So that is why they suffer. They don't feel so good. They cannot be satisfied with the way the food is served. Those people cannot be satisfied with human life. Human beings are so [laughs] indifferent. That is not right understanding of life.

Rikyu3—do you know Rikyu? Rikyu is supposed to be the founder of the tea ceremony. He would sweep the garden, and he appreciated the falling leaves on a well-swept garden. If the purpose of sweeping the garden is to get rid of leaves, why did he appreciate the leaves on the well-swept garden? Leaves on the well-cleaned garden and leaves on a mountain are not the same. The feeling is quite different. Some people may say, it is useless to sweep the garden every morning when so many leaves are falling.

If you understand nature in its full sense, we are also a part of nature. We have something to do with nature, and we cannot be satisfied without doing something. We should participate in nature. So, even in a Zen painting or drawing—sansui, we say. Sansui means “mountain and river.” We paint one or two people—fisherman or a woodcutter or farmer.

We are a part of nature.  The most natural way to observe nature for us is to participate in the great activity of nature. That is how we appreciate nature. And that is how we exist in this world. And that is how mountains and rivers exist. There are  some rules in nature, and there are some rules in observing nature for human beings. And rules nature has, and rules in observing things on the human side, are not different. We live in the same time and same place. We live in the same framework. So, originally man and nature are not different. But, when our civilization becomes so materialistic, and after violating nature, or after we get tired of violating nature and material life, we are going to the other extreme, and just appreciate mountains and rivers, ignoring human life. That is one side of it—understanding or appreciation of nature.

We human beings understand things from various angles—mainly from a positive side and a negative side. And when we observe things from both sides, when we are able to appreciate things from both sides, one by one, there we have the true way of life and true practice. We should not be involved in always just a one-sided way of appreciating our life. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative. So, in this sense, we should practice our way in various ways—observing ceremonies and not observing ceremonies—by just sitting. This is how our way should be.


1 See Lecture SR-69-00-B for another discussion of inmo. "Inmo" is also the title of a fascicle in Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō.

2 Hashimoto Eko-rōshi (1890–1965): a scholar of Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō and an authority on the origins of the traditional okesa. He was Dainin Katagiri rōshi's second master at Eihei-ji.

3 Sen Soeki Rikyū (1522-1591) is credited with developing the Way of Tea. He served as tea master to the shōgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), who eventually ordered Rikyū to commit seppuku.

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Adam Tinkham and Bill Redican (3/30/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (10/2020).

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