A minimally edited transcript


Sunday, January 18, 1970
San Francisco

In Japan now it is a season of typhoons. And recently, on the 16th, a typhoon arrived at San Francisco from Japan1 [laughs, laughter]. And now a typhoon has left San Francisco to Tassajara [laughs, laughter]. Now it is the time when we have clear, blue sky again. The typhoon was so strong that I stayed in bed for two, three days [laughs, laughter]. I think you also stayed in bed [laughs, laughter].

At first, I came to America alone. And two years later my wife came, and I had to share some difficulties I had when I arrived in San Francisco where I experienced culture shock [laughs]. I had to share the same experience with my wife again, two years after. Whenever someone comes from Japan, I have to share the excitement and difficulties they have. That is not so easy [laughs]--always to have the same experience and renew the difficulties and excitement again.

Dogen Zenji went to China as a Japanese priest--when you read Hokyo-ki,2 I think you will have some different understanding which I have now. When he went to the Tendo monastery, which was a famous big monastery, he was given a seat in the monastery. Maybe, as he was a Japanese, his seat was the last seat of the zendo. And he immediately expressed the complaint [laughs] to the monastery: “I am a quite old Zen Buddhist.” And in Japan and in China and everywhere, the rule is to decide the seat by age as a Buddhist joined our order. “So I cannot be the last one. I am a quite old Buddhist. I was ordained when I was thirteen years old. So I cannot be the last one.”

And he also wrote a letter to the emperor [laughs, laughter]: “I understand Tendo monastery is one of the largest monasteries in your country. So I understand the rules in that monastery should be universal or should be international. And I understand one of our rules is to decide our seat in the zendo by seniority as a Buddhist, not by age or difference of the countries. But in the Tendo monastery, when I arrived at this monastery, I was put in the last seat. I cannot understand why. [Laughs.] If you have some suggestion about it, please give me some suggestion or give the monastery,” [laughs, laughter]. He was quite stubborn, I think. So they changed his seat to the proper one.

I am now studying a little bit about the rules of monasteries, which I previously was not interested in so much. There must be some rules if we want to study our way, or so that we can eliminate egoistic practice. Without rules, our practice tends to be egoistic. By “rules” I don't mean some rules to give any advantage to the people who are in positions to manage the zendo, but to give advantage to the students who practice in that zendo. And actually, even if you want to find some rules of monasteries in the written-up rules of Eiheiji or Sojiji or many Japanese and Chinese temples, it is difficult to find out particular rules. But, we can find the activity they do--the way they decorate or set up altars or seats. There are underlying, unstated rules, which are not written up. That kind of rules is something which we must understand or else it is difficult to understand why we observe our rituals, why we set up our altar in some certain way. It is very difficult. There must be some underlying rules.

I want to explain little by little the kind of idea or feeling Buddhists have in our practice: like what we mean by right legs or left legs, left hand/right hand, or left side and right side. Usually, the left hand or left side is more important than the right side. That is obviously the Chinese and Japanese way of thinking or understanding.

For instance, here is Shakyamuni Buddha. And on the left side there is Monjushiri.3 And on the right side there is Fugen-bosatsu.4 And Monju-bosatsu symbolizes wisdom, and Fugen-bosatsu symbolizes action. So wisdom is more important. Maybe wisdom is eyes to see things. Without eyes, we cannot do anything; even Fugen-bosatsu cannot do anything without the eyes of Monjushiri. So the rule is the way they decorate. We just know Monju-bosatsu should be on the left-hand side of Buddha. So Monjushiri should be this side. Fugen-bosatsu should be on this side.

When you cross your legs, it is the same. The left side is supposed to be wisdom, and the right side is supposed to be practice and activity. So when we cross our legs, as I always say, we don't know which is which because the left one is already on the right side, and [laughs] the right side is already on the left side. So you don't know. “Oh. Which is left and which is right?” That is our zazen practice. When we practice zazen we should not have any particular idea of wisdom or practice because our practice is beyond our wisdom or need of practice. Because when you practice zazen, there is wisdom and practice. In this way, our zazen posture is a kind of symbolism, like Tantric Buddhism puts emphasis on it.

And in the zendo, the left-hand side of Monjushiri is jokan--we say jokan is the upper side,5 and the right-hand side is a lower seat. So if there is an altar, on the right-hand side of the Buddha is where someone who has deep responsibility will sit. And on the left-hand side of the Buddha, a trainee who is practicing zazen will sit. Mostly students and trainees or the head of training who is shuso will sit or will stand on the right-hand side of Monjushiri in the zendo.

So this side is for the shuso and students, and the other side is the seat for someone who has responsibility. Someone who is taking care of finance or kitchen or building or farming will sit on the left-hand side of Buddha.

So, for instance, we put a candle on the left-hand side of the Buddha, and flowers on the right-hand side of Buddha when we have just flowers and a candle. The candle is a more important offering to the Buddha than flowers. So the candle should be on the left-hand side of the Buddha. Not left-hand side of you [laughs], but left-hand side of Buddha. This is rather confusing, but when I said “left-hand side,” it means left-hand side of Buddha. Don't mix up.

That is how we offer the candle and flowers in China and in Japan. I don't know the Indian way, but so far as Chinese and Japanese rules go, it is always so.

And this is, I think, very important for the practice of selflessness. You may think you are quite free from an idea of self. But, if there is no rule, for instance, the way you hit mokugyo will be different according [laughs] to the person. It goes in that way. Some will hit very slowly. Some will hit very fast. Those who hit mokugyo fast, always hit fast. Someone who hits slowly always hits slowly. It goes in that way, and it means that without knowing or being aware of it, their practice is involved in some idea of self already. And that feeling will have a big influence on the students who recite. This is an actual [laughs] fact.

If there are some rules, and if every one of us practices very well-set-up rules, very considerate setting of the rules, then we have no chance to be involved in selfish practice. All of us can practice our way being quite free from the idea of self.

I think that Dogen expressed his complaint not just for himself. If there are some rules which should be observed by Japanese and Chinese, some universal rules, there is no confusion. Everyone will be treated the same way. And when you practice our way, you will have good feelings. But if our monastery is involved in some selfish practice, then you will not feel so good.

I don't want to put emphasis on our rules, but our rules should be rules which will help unselfish practice. Because of the rules, we should get rid of our selfish ideas. The fundamental idea of practice is to do things with people. When they get up, we should get up. Or when they go to sleep, we should go to sleep. That is our fundamental idea of rules. In that way, we will be free from selfish practice. If you want to actualize the idea of non-self, the way to be free from it is to do things with people. [Sentence finished. Tape turned over.]

There must be many questions about this point, so I want to discuss this point with you some other time, not right now. Why I talked about this point this morning is because the Japanese typhoon came [laughs], and I felt something.

If we have some rules in this zendo about how to treat people regardless of whether they are Japanese or American, it might be a great help. I was quite busy. In my room I had Japanese guests [laughing]. And here we have zendo students. I didn't know what to do [laughs]. It is very silly to be involved in this kind of confusion. Mmm--no--so I thought it is necessary anyway to have some rules for how we treat people.

Of course, where there are rules there must be some exceptions, but we must work hard on this point so that we will have more international practice here in this zendo.

Thank you very much.

1 The typhoon refers to Sotan Tatsugami Roshi who led three practice periods at Tassajara starting in 1970.

2 The journal kept by Eihei Dōgen during his stay in Sung China. A collection of instructions by his Chan master Tiantong Rujing (T'ien-t'ung Ju-ching, Tendō Nyojō, 1163-1228). It was recopied by Dōgen's student Ejō in 1253.

3 Japanese for the bodhisattva Mañjushrī.

4 Japanese for Samantabhadra, a Mahāyāna bodhisattva

5 Of a meditation hall.

Source: City Center tape transcribed by Sara Hunsaker (2/07/00). Transcript checked against tape by Bill Redican (2/12/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (2/2021).  


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