A minimally edited transcript

some questions

Tuesday, November 11, 1969
San Francisco

SR: If you have some questions, I am happy to answer. And in that way, if necessary, I will refer to the Lotus Sutra. Hai.

Student A: What does “no outflows” mean in the Lotus Sutra?
SR: “No outflows” means that if your practice is not sincere or not complete, there are many leaks [laughs] in your life and practice.  “No outflows” is the opposite of having leakage. It means mostly desires: letting your desire go this way, that way. That is leakage. And to control our desires is like to build a big leather ball [?] without any leakage. That is “no outflow.” It is  more an arhat kind of practice: very, maybe, negative practice. Some other questions? Hai.

Student B: In the Lotus Sutra they say the Buddha-seed arises from conditions. Do you know what that means?

SR: If you sow a seed, because of the seed, of course, a plant comes up. And it will have flowers or fruit or branches. But without the aid of rain or manure it will not grow. It means things result by seed and by aid of something. I think your culture puts more emphasis on aid. If aid is good,  the result will be that you have good fruit. And how to improve the social conditions is the most important point in your culture. But, some other cultures put more emphasis on seeds, maybe like Communism.

Student B: Could you explain that?

SR: Hmm? Explain it more?

Student B: I don't understand how Communism puts emphasis on the seed.

SR: You know, I'm not a Communist, so [laughs, laughter]—but in the Soviet Union, if you put emphasis on—whatever the study may be, sociology or anthropology or whatever it may be, if you put emphasis on aid, the government will not accept your theory. But, both are too one-sided, I think. Seed is important, and aid is also important.

In Communism, the social structure is nearly the same for everyone. It is supposed to be, but actually I don't think so. Someone who has great power—great enough or strong enough to control people—they have more chance, although the social structure looks like same. So the aid is equal to everyone, but there should be some difference between people. Someone may be a secretary, someone may be just working as normal. This kind of difference is original. If someone has good seed, he has that much chance. But in our society, we put more emphasis on how if we improve politics or if we give people a chance to develop, people may be happy. And, we don't put much emphasis on who is more capable or who is not. We treat people in the same way.

So we sort of ignore each one's original or each one's own ability. That is what I meant. Hai.

Student C: I don't understand the difference between the egg [sic: aid] and the seed—how you're using it.

SR: Basically the difference is cause and effect. The relationship of cause and effect is more seed. If you sow a seed, you will have some certain kind of plants. That is seed. And seed and relationship—seed and fruit. The rain or wind or sunshine is not seed. The aid for seeds are some factors, conditions which will help the relationship between cause and effect. That is what I meant. In Buddhism we say innen:1 in is seed, en is aid. And both seed and aid are necessary for something to go or something to result.

Student C: Is the egg like the condition? The egg is something that has met certain conditions— has grown somewhat?

SR: Aid is something to help, you know—to result in something from a seed [laughs].

Student D to Student C: Aid. “A-I-D.”

Student C: Oh, I thought he said “E-G-G”—egg. [Laughs, laughter.]

SR: Excuse me [laughs]. You know, egg—for egg [laughs], the temperature of mother hen is aid [laughs, laughter]. Some other questions?

Student E: In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha seems to make a distinction between nirvana, or the stopping of pain, and complete perfect enlightenment—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student E: —which is also tathagata [1 word].

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student E: Could you talk some about the difference between these two things?

SR: Nirvana is the same kind of word as “no leakage.” Extinction of all desire is nirvana. No leakage, no outflow is nirvana. And enlightenment or anuttara-samyak-sambodhi2 is the enlightened stage more in a positive expression of the same stage. But one is more Mahayana way, and the other is more Hinayana way. For instance, an arhat keeping various precepts and following Buddha's teaching may attain arhatship. The practice of an arhat is more passive and more negative. And, the other is more active, more positive—to have Buddha wisdom. And here there are many words for that. For instance, we have a technical term like issai-shu-chi.3 Issai-shu-chi is “various wisdom.” The difference between our knowledge and Buddha's knowledge is our knowledge is an accumulation of various knowledge. Not much relationship between one knowledge and another knowledge. Not much system between various knowledge we have.

But Buddha's knowledge is one where each type of knowledge includes the other knowledge—that is issai-shu-chi. So, if you understand one Buddha's knowledge—for instance, about human nature, then the other knowledge will be included. That kind of knowledge is buddha-knowledge. And that kind of way of observing things, or that kind of practice, is enlightenment. It looks like a completely different approach, but it is just two ways of expression of one knowledge. Hai.

Student F [Bill Shurtleff]: In the Lotus Sutra, the chapter “Duration of the Life of the Tathagata,”  is preceded by a building-up in which we learn that we're about to hear some very, very important truth.

And after this chapter, it's emphasized again and again and again how important this truth is to keep in mind: the “Duration of the Life of the Tathagata.”

And in that chapter, the Tathagata reveals that he actually attained enlightenment innumerable kalpas before, and that he is only making an appearance of extinction, but in fact he was not enlightened as Shakyamuni and will not obtain extinction as Shakyamuni. Is this the same thing? Is this another way of saying what Dogen says when he talks about all beings already being in enlightenment and manifesting their enlightenment from day to day?

SR: Yeah.

Student F: Or is this something else that is being said?

SR: It is the same thing. If we say originally we are all enlightened people, to attain enlightenment is just to know what we have in our sleeve [does something with his sleeve] here. But although you have it, if you don't know that you have, that is the same as you don't have it. So this kind of idea is that all of us have buddha-nature.  The Lotus Sutra has two sides, but puts more emphasis on everyone having buddha-nature.

So if you practice hard enough or long enough you will attain enlightenment. But that attainment is not to acquire something from others—from another source. Just to find out what we have is to attain enlightenment. And when Dogen put emphasis on this point, he also put emphasis on real self, or essence of mind, or buddha-nature. He mostly used the words anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, which is something we have and something we attain by effort. It is both attainment and also something we have originally. When we translate it “supreme incomparable bodhi,” it sounds like something which we attain by our effort, but it is actually something which we have. So when he explains it, he says, “Wisdom seeks for wisdom,” and anuttara-samyak-sambodhi is actually “Wisdom seeks for wisdom.”

So the wisdom we have seeks for wisdom. That is actually what we are doing. Only when you discriminate about your practice, it looks like there is good practice or bad practice. Only by good practice will you attain enlightenment—that is the more usual understanding. But according to Dogen, whatever we do, that is actually “wisdom seeking for wisdom.”

Because you discriminate, because you are involved in some ego—Peter said ego [laughs] outside of itself. That is a very good, a short and strong way of expressing ego. True ego is buddha-mind. And ego outside of itself is projected ego, of which you will discriminate good or bad. “Good practice” or “bad practice,” you say. But good practice or bad practice or ego is not true ego. Ego [laughs] outside of itself, is projected ego. And you discriminate about projected ego as if there is good ego or bad ego. That is actually what we are doing. But who projects our ego objectively? Somebody is doing that. Someone is true ego, which is always on your side, and you cannot tell who he is or what he is.

If you realize this point clearly, we have originally buddha-nature, which is universal to everyone. Ego on your side is the same. But only when it is projected there is a difference between Ego 1 and Ego 2. Do you understand this point?

Student F: Could you give an example of Ego 1 and Ego 2?

SR: [Laughs.] Your ego and my ego [laughs, laughter].  I have small ego, and you have big ego [laughter]. We say so, you know, because I project my ego as if my ego is very small, and you are bold enough to say “my ego is big” because you are a student. Because I am a teacher I must say my “ego is very small” [laughs, laughter]. But small ego or big ego is ego outside of itself. Ego here—on my side it's not there. I said your eyes never can see themselves. It is not possible. That ego is true ego and big ego, maybe. Hai.

Student G: You said before that outflows are in some sense related to desires.

And it is said in Zen, a lot of times, that when doing something, to do it fully—that that is, sort of, one of the goals—something that we should want to do, and that we should do. Sometimes in our use of the word “passion,” we sometimes refer to the kind of action that is done fully, and rapidly, and without hesitation. I wonder if you could, from a Zen point of view, explain the relationship between desire and passion?

SR: Passion and desire and full?

Student G: Maybe I could just ask the question what is passion?

SR: Yeah. Passion is when you are involved in or when you are caught by things which look like they exist outside, and to which your mind or strength or energy is directed. That is most likely passion or attachment. Actually, that kind of thing does not exist, but you think as if something exists in that way, and if possible, hopefully forever [laughs].

And that hope already will create something, some passion or some desire. So, what we should do, or how we should act, or how we should do with things which look like they exist objectively, is without being involved too much in the idea of being or substantial being. You should do it naturally, and that activity should be activity which you do in that moment. In that way, we continue our life that is perfect life. The next question may be whether to act in that way is possible or not.

To answer this question, it is necessary for me to explain more on the other point, which is we say things do not exist forever. Things existing just right in this moment does not mean to acknowledge things or to do things just for this moment, because when you say “this moment,” this moment has its own past and future.

So when you do it, at that time if you do not try to make some excuse, or if you do not have a preconceived idea, naturally you will have a feeling of past and future. And you will see some difficulty in the future of that moment. And you will see the past of that moment that is always included in each moment. Actually you cannot do things just for that moment, forgetting all about its past and future. Do you understand? You cannot do so, because when you do something, without thinking or intuitively, you have to acknowledge its own past and future. And the past of this moment and the past of yesterday may be the same.  I understand it may be the same, and it is the same maybe, but when we say “it is same” that is too far. There is some logical jump in it, because the quality of each moment no one can say it is always the same. Maybe different. We should accept this point too.

And strictly speaking it is not the same. Because it is not the same we have some chance to make some effort more or to improve our karma. If it is exactly the same, there is no chance for us to improve our life. So it is the same, but it is not the same. There are two sides of the truth. So if we think my past is always the same, even though we don't know our future—my future, but the past was always the same. That is not perfect understanding. The future cannot be the same, and the past also cannot be the same.

Student H: Isn't it confusing if you use the words “past and future”? To me it's confusing, because to me the way you're using them it all sounds like the present.

SR: All sound like the present. That's right. You should understand in that way. Always present, you know. The different present. Maybe same. There is some relationship—must be some relationship. But strictly speaking, it is accumulation of smallest particle of time—smallest particle of present.

Student H: What do you mean when you said before, when you act in the present moment you consider the past and the future of that present moment?

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student H: Do you mean there is some kind of thing or idea or concept or something that you consider? Or  do you just consider the present moment? I mean, it sounds like [4-6 words]—

SR: Time doesn't exist. Actually time doesn't exist, but things exist. And things have some continuity. So we say time exists. Instead of things we say time. Time includes many things. It is a kind of idea, not an actual thing. Instead of saying “many things,” we say “time.” Time includes everything. When we say this moment, it includes many things. And the center of it is me, right here.

Student H: I remember Dogen talking somewhere about how the wood burning becomes a log and becomes ashes. But when it's ashes are we supposed to remember that it was a log or do we just consider it ashes? Or when it's a log we don't say, well [2-3 words]—

SR: Log has its future and past.

Student H: Do we consider them?

SR: Yeah. Its own past and future. But we cannot say log becomes ash [laughs]. It is so. Because, here is wood, and here is ash. Usually you say “wood becomes ash,” but ash has its own past and future, and this is independent. And ash has its own past and future. Two different things.

Student H: In a practical way—I'm trying to be practical about it.

SR: In practical way it is so [laughs].

Student H: If I look at you and I'm listening to your lecture trying to learn something, and if I say to myself, well in the past Roshi has been a very good teacher and I've learned a lot—

SR: Past Roshi is not present Roshi.

Student H: —and now I'm looking at you, and if I remember that as the past, there's something wrong in that. I won't say wrong but there's a hang-up. I'm attached or caught to some other idea. But if I look at you, and I'm listening to you, and we're talking, and I just accept the now, and I don't know you as a teacher, I don’t know that you're a Roshi, I don't know anything, then you're just talking to me, I'm talking to you. That includes everything without having to know anything else.

SR: Yeah, that is so. [Sentence finished. Tape turned over.] —understand something like me. This maybe looks like logic. But it is not just logic. Because we are liable to fall into a one-sided view, the idea of continuity or idea of discontinuity. And actual being and continuous and discontinuous—that is true. Like time is continuous and discontinuous. I always say it is nine o'clock. When we say it is nine o'clock, the idea of time is discontinuity: “nine o'clock.” It is not going. But when we say time, it is something that continues from this moment to another.

If you are too much involved in this kind of thinking, you will lose everything. When I talk in this way, more logically, you will not think in this way actually, but you are making this kind of mistake always when you think about something objectively. So the important thing is to sit and to go beyond this kind of thinking mind. And when you act, when you do something without being involved too much in the objective world or scientific world or logical world, you should do this more intuitively, more freely, without being involved too much in this kind of argument or idea of attachment. Okay?

That is what I mean. “Just to sit” means don't be involved in the idea of good practice or bad practice, how long it will take before we attain enlightenment, or what is enlightenment. This kind of idea is the result of thinking which is the shadow of your own mind. Your mind is always on your side, watching everything, understanding everything, knowing everything, and able to know everything. You should trust that kind of you. And you should trust your practice too. And trust your intuition too. Then you will not make much of a mistake.

Why you make a mistake is because you always make some excuse: “Because I am Buddhist, we shouldn't have any idea of good or bad,” [laughs]. “Because I am Buddhist, Dogen Zenji said live in this moment. So whatever I do it doesn't matter.” This is just an excuse and just logic or argument. But, actually because you don't feel good when you do something wrong, when you do something which is not real, which you don't accept completely, you make some excuse. That is why, maybe, many people study religion [laughs]—to make some excuse.

In Japan in our family system, if someone's son gets married to some lady, she is their family, and the old couple may go to temple once a week or so. And what the old couple will learn from temple is “You should do this kind of thing. You shouldn't do that kind of thing.” And after they come back, they apply the teaching [laughs], to the wife of the son. “Today I went to temple, and the priest told me so-and-so. I think that is right [laughs]. He means that you are wrong [laughs]. What the priest said was right, and what you do is always wrong.” That doesn't make any sense [laughs]. To authorize their egoistic idea, people may study something. That is not how to study Buddhism.

We should trust our own feelings and our own intuition. Maybe more physical one rather than some idea or some thought or some moral code or precepts. Hai.

Student I: Sometimes I have been very aware of the moral faculty in me or the moral part of me. I'll be doing something and—

SR: Yeah.

Student I: —Doug once expressed this to me as kind of a very gray feeling, and a little voice in the back of your head saying, “Why you stupid” or “What are you doing? This is terrible. You're being very bad now.”

SR: Mm-hmm

Student I: It's sort of a—

SR: Voice.

Student I: Yeah, a voice that when you're walking into the kitchen toward the bread box [laughter] begins as very small. Sometimes it's very small [laughter]. Sometimes it gets so big that it's actually screaming at you, “Stop!” [Laughter.] But there you go doing it anyway. It's very difficult to sit through experiences like this with any composure [laughs, laughter].

SR: No composure [laughs].

Student I: I mean, the moral part of human beings, because people have that thing in them that says, “This is right and this is wrong”—or I do. Most people do.

SR: Yeah. Most people— I don't know what to say, and I don't know why we have that kind of feeling. But we know, pretty well. We can trust ourselves pretty well without any teacher [laughs] maybe. But if you have a teacher, you will not be fooled by anything, and you can put more faith in yourself—in your feelings. This way of thinking or way of study is very different from other religions maybe, which put more emphasis on some moral code, or something you should do, or you shouldn't, or precepts. Hai.

Student J: Could you say something about mindfulness on breathing?
SR: You cannot have good breathing unless you have good posture. And good breathing means, in zazen practice, to take inhaling and exhaling with your whole body and mind. Do you understand?

Student J: Yes.

SR: That is good breathing, so if you practice in this way, naturally your breathing will be deeper and deeper actually. That is good breathing. Mindfulness means to obtain the oneness of mind and body. If you have oneness of mind and body, or if your mind pervades all parts of your body, that minds pervades—that mind is at the same time buddha-mind which includes everything.

Student K: Roshi?

SR: Hai.

Student K: If we find something that we feel helps us sit in that way, maybe with some it's he breathes through the pores and in the skin. Someone else practices not moving any muscles—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student K:  I experience something as being oneness of my mind and my body. Should we sort of use what seems to us by our experimentation? I mean, can we trust ourselves? I say to myself—just afterwards I say, “Oh, that was my whole mind and body. So that's something very good to do, and I should practice that.”

SR: Yeah, if you have that feeling that is it. And, if you think your practice is not good, and if you don't know why it is not good, you should think whether your mind is fully pervading every part of your body or not. That is so-called shikantaza. The background of shikantaza is the mind, which always includes everything, which is with all things which exist.

When I say, “with all things,” I mean all things we see, strictly speaking. There must be many things which we don't see—which we cannot see. But we feel as if we are seeing everything. When we see the stars, we feel as if we are seeing all the stars which exist. Maybe actually we are seeing them. But in that case, I am not talking about the stars which we don't see or which human beings never reach. What I mean is, things Buddhists talk about is mind and materialistic and spiritualistic being. We don't talk about just material or just spiritual.

This is one important point when you think, or when you discuss something about Buddhism. But in your everyday life it doesn't make any sense. Why I have to argue this kind of thing is that sometimes our mind unnecessarily goes too far. So, if we go too far this way, we should go pretty far that way too. That is why I have to say more—I have to argue. Because you go this way too far, because you make too big a mistake, so it is difficult to say, “That is a mistake. Why it is a mistake is such-and-such.” So it is necessary to make everything clear. But actually there is no need if you don't go too far. If you are able to just sit without making much mistake, it is all right actually.

You may think what I'm saying doesn't help you so much. Without realizing you already went too far away from reality. To pull you back to the present, I have to say many things, that's all.

Ah! So what I just did, we must—Buddhists never talk about something being just material or just spiritual.

Student L: How about in the sense of practicing on our bodies or rather practicing in a just-material way?  Is that something we shouldn't do?

SR: No. We don't do that. “Just material” is already wrong. The other side is missing.

Student L: If I try and sit very still, without moving at all—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student L: —and counting my breath—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student L: —and disregarding whether or not my mind is moving—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student L: —just concentrating on my body not moving—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student L: —what mistake am I making?

SR: Oh, what mistake are you making at that time?

Student L: Am I neglecting something by concentrating just on the body—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student L: —if I forget?

SR: That mistake will be if you think, “This  is zazen. Zazen should be like this.” If you understand in that way, that is a mistake. But if you just do that, without authorizing your practice too much, just sit, then there's no mistake there. But if you think, “What I can do is just to sit. I don't understand his lecture [laughs]. This is doing all I can. So I may sit in this way.” If you think in that way, that is also a mistake.

So what you should do with some understanding of Buddhist teaching and what is reality and what is real practice, you should sit. Then you have actually not many things to think. Just to sit is enough. Mistakes will happen if you go too far, forgetting what you are doing right now. When you eat you should eat. When you sleep you should sleep. When you sit you should sit. But the true understanding of it is—you should understand it from various viewpoints.

Student M [Peter Schneider]: Roshi, you keep saying just to sit as if it were something that everyone does, you know.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Peter: They could say “just to sit”— that's going much too far.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Peter: That's some sort of extreme, that's some sort of abnormal behavior.

SR: Just to sit?

Peter: Yeah, “that's not natural,” they would say.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Peter: Like suppose—I mean, like, if you're from America, and you're from somewhere very far away from California—

SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Peter: If they see a Zen Center student sitting, they think that's incredibly unnatural.

SR: Uh-huh.

Peter: They would say that that balance is off, you know.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Peter: Like, “just to sit”—that's on the other side of one dualism, of being very active.

SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Peter: So to keep saying “just to sit,” that's  for them like saying “be very passive.”

SR: Uh-huh.

Peter: They say that's not the American way [laughs, laughter].

SR: American way, you know [laughs].

Peter: No, what I'm trying to say is that—

SR: What is Zen, what is American way? That's just argument, you know. Doesn't much make sense. To me it is very natural, and to them it is not natural [laughs]. What is natural? So that is something which we cannot decide: which is natural or which is not natural. Just that there is some mistake. Why I must give this kind of long talk is because we are liable to stick to one side. For a Buddhist, the two major heresies are understanding of continuity and understanding of discontinuity. These are two major faults we make in intellectual understanding. So intellectual understanding cannot include this kind of opposite idea in one statement or in one practice.

So, that is why I have to explain what it means by “just to sit.” When we say “just to sit,” it includes more actually. But why I don't say you can move, [laughs] is that you may think “just to sit” means whatever you do, that is “just to sit,” and you will have a completely different understanding of it. When I say “just to sit,” you should accept sitting posture as long as you practice zazen. When you eat you should eat. We cannot do two things together. So we should do things most naturally as we can. If we practice our way in a group, we cannot do different things. So when you sit, you should sit. And you should be able to accept that. That is what I mean by “just to sit.”

Most natural things have very strict rules in them, or else you cannot be natural. Even though you think this is natural, it may be a most unnatural thing—because you cannot survive so long in that way. There is something wrong with the idea of naturalness. The other side of naturalness  has a very strict sense of controlling things. Like you manage a ship or a car.

Student N: The word “natural” comes from nature, and nature is completely strict in that it does the same thing all of the time.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student N: The leaves fall off the tree, and the time the sun rises and sets.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student N: So to be natural is really, then, to be completely in form. “Form is form,” and completely in nature—

SR: Aha, yeah.

Student N: That's what “naturally” means.

SR: I see. Yeah. So naturalness has two sides: Looks like [sounds like he makes a gesture, laughs]. And when you do something like this, there's some reason. And that reason has some rules behind it. But unnecessarily because of our thinking, we push ourselves in an unnatural way. That is actually what human beings do, which plants and animals don't.

Almost time. One more question, maybe? No questions?

Student O: Roshi, I'm firewatch tonight, and I was thinking about what Craig [Student I] was talking about—the bread box [laughter]. Craig was talking about this thing—going into the kitchen to the bread box. Well, that's what I always do when I'm firewatch [laughter].

SR: I don't understand what you said.

Student O: The bread box is in the kitchen where they put the leftover slices of bread from lunch.
And I wanted some advice from you about how to handle that sort of situation [laughs, laughter]. I guess we're not supposed to eat between meals [laughter], but I have my heart set—all week I've been thinking [laughter] that I'm going to be the only one awake, and I can go in there and have my slice [?] [laughter].

Student P: Maybe not the only one! [Loud laughter.]?

Student O: How—if you were firewatch [laughter], how would you handle yourself [laughter]?

SR: You know, you should feel, as if you are a great Zen master [laughing, laughter]. “Oh, this is bread box” [laughs, laughter].

Actually, when you are a student you eat. When you become a teacher you don't. Or when you become jisha4 you don't.

Student O: Don't what?

SR: Don't eat [laughter].

When you're just a beginner or just a student, I think you will do it. That is naturalness [laughs, laughter]. When I was a little disciple of my master's temple, I ate many things, and I stole many things from my master. But, when I became a temple priest, naturally I didn't [laughs].

Student P: Look how much you brought for all of us to [1 word] [laughter]—

SR: How did you feel?

Student O: I felt like a great Zen master [laughs, loud laughter].

SR: Yeah. Say it to yourself, “I am the best student at Tassajara, and my future will be a great Zen master.” [Laughs, laughter.]

Thank you very much.

1 innen (Jap.): "In is the inner and direct cause by which the result occurs, while en means the external and indirect one. According to the Buddhist doctrine, every action occurs in the harmony of both in and en" (Daitō Shuppansha, Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary, 1965, pp. 129-130).

2 anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (San.): the Buddha's or the highest enlightenment or wisdom.

3 issai-shu-chi (Jap.): one of the three types of wisdom; the wisdom of the Buddha.

4 jisha (Jap.): attendant to a priest.

Source: City Center original tape transcribed by Adam Tinkham and Bill Redican (3/19/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (2/2021).


Audio & Other Files | Verbatim Transcript | Back to top of page