A minimally edited transcript

“an unsurpassed, penetrating Buddha”

Sunday, February 8, 1970

Each time we start a lecture, we recite “an unsurpassed, penetrating Buddha,”1 and so on. This is pointing at an essential teaching of Buddha. And it is not just the opening of the [laughs] lecture. This gata2 itself is perfect dharma.

When someone starts a lecture, and when you listen to it, and when we speak and a listener starts to study Buddhism, we must have this perfect understanding. Only when we give up the idea of “we,” and when we have converted “we” to its true sense, this dharma, whatever it is, something which takes place in this classroom, will be understood as a perfect dharma.

Usually most people, although you may understand the teaching of selflessness [laughs],  actually all we do is deeply or firmly based on the idea of self. You may think, “I am listening to—I have to study. I have to understand what he says” [laughs]. That is already a strong idea of self and strong activity based on an idea of self.

When we give up this kind of self and go beyond the idea of “you” or “speaker,” we understand you and speaker are only tentative beings related with each other. That is a real classroom for us. The relationship between you and me is not a permanent one. It is just a tentative one. Tomorrow, I don't know [laughs]. Maybe if one of you speaks, I must be a listener or a student. So it is just a tentative relationship. And, we are also tentative beings. So we cannot meet again in this classroom with this relationship even in one hundred thousand kalpas of time. Never can we meet again in this relationship together. So we should not miss this moment. That is actually what this sutra means. And this is a very important point.

When you discuss something, your discussion is always involved with a strong idea of self. Your discussion to me is a kind of conflict of the idea of self [laughs]. That kind of thing happens because your understanding of discussion or of group is not perfect. That is why discussion is not so successful.

On the blackboard I see many circles. When we realize each one of us or an observer of the circles is empty—we are actually empty. Actually, I don't exist. You may say, “When you see—I am here.” That is some idea of you. But it is not actually you. The actual you is you which says, “I—this is me.” That is the real you [laughs, laughter]. And “me” is an object of “I.” So “I” is not something like that—something you understand as “I.” Something you understand as “I” is already someone else [laughs, laughter]! So you don't exist [laughs, laughter]. This is not tricky words—true words. No one can deny this fact.

So there are many circles. And when I don't exist, I understand the circles. I or “true I,” will understand the relationships between those many circles. If we discuss something in that way, there is no problem.

That relationship between those circles is the same for everyone. You see the relationships between the circles, and the relationships between circles for us is safe. Why it is so is because big self is observing it. Mostly when we start [discussing] something about this organization or future plans for Tassajara, immediately you have a big idea of self. And you insist on your own idea without seeing the actual problem we have right now as we see those circles. In Buddhism, this is so-called selflessness.

So when we practice something here, first of all what we should forget is any idea of self. To forget the idea of self is, as Dogen Zenji says, to be proved by everything. Here “everything” means Buddha. Everything. Buddha, which includes everything, which unifies everything as one. That is Buddha. And that is the one who sees the relationships between those circles correctly. That is someone who unifies everyone's understanding of everyone. And everyone's understanding of the circles.

So an individual reason doesn't work before you understand “you” in its true sense: who is—what is an individual. And how we understand an individual is understanding ourselves as one of those circles [laughs]. It is true. When we say “I,” it is already an object of observation. Observation of some unified one. So we should be one of those circles. And in this way if we observe ourselves and relationships between each one of us to this zendo, then we will have [laughs] perfect discussion. When you discuss something you are some special person [laughs], without knowing that you are one of the circles. That is the teaching of interdependency.

Interdependency does not mean—to observe things with our naked eyes and see the relationships between things. Because you see your own naked eyes, you are excluded. And you are already mistaken as a big unified self. You are committing a big mistake. Or you are violating the fundamental teaching of Buddha, which is selflessness. But we can understand ourselves. There is no need to ignore ourselves. We can acknowledge ourselves on the blackboard. And each one of us should be discussing at the same time, what kind of difficulty each one is causing for this group or this community. If we discuss with this kind of humble attitude, then there is no problem. And then actual “I” is discussing the problem. Do you understand?

So first of all, [laughs] before lectures we should recite. And we should be unified by the absolute unified one. And put our hands together, and we should be really unified by the absolute one. Then we have no self, and we can discuss something without any idea of self. And we will understand the true meaning of the teaching of Buddha.

As a Buddhist, the most important thing is to realize the evanescence of life. And that things changes, always, incessantly. And we must realize that nothing is permanent. Nothing exists in the form we see or color we see. To understand things like this is called “emptiness.” So with emptiness of mind, we should start to realize the tentative form and color of things, and how things are going. Then we will have actual reality.

So first of all, we should destroy our idea of substantiality of us or you, subject or object. And then we should put our hands together for the unified one which is Buddha. And then we should open our eyes, and see things as you see circles on the blackboard. And if it is necessary we have to discuss it.

With this understanding, if we discuss things, you may not attach to anyone's particular idea. And all of you easily agree with some conclusion. But one discussion, one conclusion is not enough. So, if possible, day after day [laughs] we must have discussions, actually. But if you feel that is not necessary, once a week or once a month we should discuss things. If we discuss things in this way, I think that is real individualism because we will find ourselves in  our own positions. So there is order in understanding or Buddhist life.

First of all, we should give up a small idea of self, and we should be humble enough to put our hands together and bow to the absolute one. And then we should depend on the true teaching of interdependency, and we should understand ourselves related with each other. That is interdependency.

Sometimes, you know, you mix up this order, and if you just talk about the teaching of interdependence without knowing that the teaching of interdependency is based on the teaching that everything changes and the teaching of emptiness [laughs], and discuss things, then it means that you have already started to repeat [laughs] the same trouble over and over again. So even if you make a great effort, it doesn't result in anything. The more you discuss things, the more you get into confusion, and you have to fight with each other—with self-centered ideas.

Naturally, you would have to reject many people from Zen Center [laughs]. That terrible thing will happen. Interdependency means we should not ignore anything. And we should understand the relationships between each one of us, including you yourself.

So with the most humble attitude we should discuss things. You should not [thumps mike three times] do so. Terrible thing. Big, big self. [Laughs.] You should listen to everyone's way of observing things. “Okay.” [Laughs, laughter.] Maybe if you don't do this, maybe sometimes you cannot express yourself, if you are like this. [Laughs.] “That is okay.” If you want to say something like this, that is okay. And if you want to say like this “I think this is right” [mockingly using tense, constricted voice], but this should be also another form of practice of putting hands together [laughs]. If it is so, it is okay whatever you do.

To talk in this way is very easy [laughs, laughter]. Actually, it is not so easy. I think we are doing pretty well. I think that is because you practice zazen. When you practice zazen, even though you don’t know what you are doing [laughs, laughter], actually you are practicing this practice.

Even a flash of an idea should be excluded in your practice. But if it comes, already [laughs] it is too late to exclude it. So, let it stay, and wait until it goes [laughs], and resume your true practice. In this way, because you practice zazen, even though you seem to be fighting, actually you are not. And we should trust people first of all. Emptiness does not mean to ignore everything. It doesn't mean vacuity.

So in this way, if you understand our life in this way you will find out how important it is to practice zazen—how important it is to be humble in the real sense.

1 From www.sfzc.org/offerings/entering-practice/temple-sounds
An unsurpassed, penetrating and perfect dharma
Is rarely met with even in a hundred thousand million kalpas. Having it to see and listen to, to remember and accept,
I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata’s words.

2 Possibly Japanese for gāthā (Sanskrit): four-line verse.

[This lecture would be more understandable if we could see what was written on the blackboard. - DC]

Source: City Center tape transcribed by Dana Velden (03/13/00). Transcript checked against tape by Bill Redican (3/22/00). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (2/2021).


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