A minimally edited transcript

when someone receives transmission

Tuesday, August 25, 1970
[One of two lectures for this date.]
San Francisco

As some of you may know, tomorrow I am leaving San Francisco for a while and coming back December first or second. I'm not so clear yet, but for three months I shall be in Japan.1

I feel very sorry for you--not to be with you, but there is something I must do for Zen Center. First of all, Dick Baker will receive transmission.2 And I am hoping that we can--Dick and me--do something, even a little bit of important teaching. If we can translate it into English, it may be one step for Zen Center practice.

Those teachings are not something which we talk about to people in general. Only someone who is ready to receive transmission can study it because it is pretty difficult to study. But I think it is important for you to know what kind of ideas we have about our practice, or about our everyday life, or about our zazen. Without this kind of fundamental understanding, it is pretty difficult to make the purpose of our practice clear.

Usually when someone receives transmission, we have a lecture for some selected people--ten or more people. For that kind of lecture, only yellow-robed persons could attend. It is called Zenka-e,3 you know, or Shitsunai sammotsu-hiben koa.4 I have attended several times. Still [laughs] it was pretty difficult to figure out clearly my understanding. It was pretty difficult, especially when it is written in Chinese. It is very difficult. We can read it, but it is difficult even to make questions about it. Maybe this kind of study will be our whole life's study. And, it is worth it to study over and over again. But it may be necessary to explain it--to translate it,  as much as possible.

This kind of thing I have in my mind, but I myself will be very busy in Japan, and Dick will also be busy. And he has to go to Eiheiji. So I cannot promise you whether we can do it or not. One by one, whenever we have a yellow-robed monk or student, little by little, if we can contribute something, eventually the result for us will be great, I think.

This not something which we can do without many people's help--many teachers' help. More and more we will be concentrated in this direction to make our practice stronger and clearer. Fortunately, Dogen Zenji's way of study is not just the study of Zen. His study covers all Buddhism. So it may take a pretty long time to understand him, but if we make effort little by little, then I think we will have very good understanding of our way: not only Zen but also all Buddhism.

So for us it is necessary to study--intellectual study is also important. But one person cannot do everything. So according to your background, you can share our study. So you have various chances, various possibilities in our study. Those who are interested in some other teaching, they can study some other teaching. Those who are interested in practice of Zen, they can study practice of Zen. Those who have good understanding of some other philosophy or some other cultural study--you can contribute to our study.

So, you don't have to be afraid of anything. It is almost impossible for you to get out of our study. Whatever you study, it will [laughs] contribute to our study. We do not discriminate between Zen and other teachings. At the same time, for us it is not so easy to organize our study. First of all, we should be very friendly with each other, without insisting on someone's own way. We must have a very wide generous mind, and we should understand each other. That is actually why we practice together.

Although our study is very wide, fortunately we have a center of our study. That center will be realized by your practice of Zen and by your teacher. So, a teacher's responsibility is to give you the center of the study and to give you the center of your life. And for you, it is important or it is indispensable to have the center of your study. When you have the center of study, you aren’t afraid of anything, because you always have some conviction in your study. The intellectual study is very superficial, and sometimes it is very stimulating. And sometimes it is very strong.

So, if you don't have a center, you will always be shaky, like this [probably gestures]. But when you have a center, even if you go this way [probably gestures], back and forth, you don't lose yourself. That is flexibility. Without a center of study, you will easily get into some sectarian or fanatic religion. When you have a center, you don't have to be rigid, and you don't have to even be strong. You will stay quite flexible.

Someone said, “Dogen Zenji went to China just to get a flexible mind. That is what he studied in China.” But it was because of his strong conviction--because he had a center in his study, according to him that is transmitted way or spirit, he had a flexible mind. And he wasn’t afraid of anything. He didn't cling to anything, and he said when he came back to Japan, “I came back with nothing.” [Laughs.] “And I found out our eyes are horizontal and our nose is vertical. That is what I have learned .”5--what he found out in China.

You will have that kind of conviction if you really understand what is the center of practice. We call ourselves “Zen Center,” but “Center” is important. Zen Center, Cultural Center--you can call us in various ways. But “Center” is very important anyway.

As you must have noticed already, we have started some formal and rigid practice. Maybe it looks like so, maybe. Why we do this is just to find the center of our practice.

Why we started Zen Center is because more and more our Zen practice was losing its center. And so, naturally, we Zen students will be involved in ideas of Soto or Rinzai, without knowing what is Rinzai or what is Soto. And I am sorry to say so, but especially in Japan, Zen is not so healthy. And, they are involved in various unnecessarily old traditional ways. Although we are very rigidly practicing something, our way is older than the way of practice in Japan that has become popular. We are going back--we want to study the original old, old pure way of Dogen.

So the way we are studying is Dogen's way, which was not so popular when he started. He confronted various ways of practice which were popular in his time. So to get rid of that kind of  popular way of study, he rigidly practiced something sincerely with a few students. And that kind of way developed more and more. But at the same time, when the Soto school became popular, our way became more and more impure. So, we want to go back to the original way which was practiced just by Dogen and his students.

And through this kind of pure practice, we want to understand or realize his pure way. As we have started this kind of group here, we think we should not introduce something which is not so important. We want to introduce you to something which is pure and which is easier to understand, which is even beyond cultural background.

I think if we introduce the way which was established by him, when he did not like the practice which was going on in his time--so in this sense, to introduce his pure way here means to introduce something which is more appropriate for the new American generation. That is why we started Zen Center.

And another point is that in Japan, only priests are practicing Zen. If you go to Eiheiji, no layman can practice Zen with monks. This is wrong. Here in Zen Center, monks and city people or whatever they are can practice our way in the same place. Even if you listen to the teaching of Dogen, if you don't practice, it is impossible to find out why he practiced his way in such a way.

So for us the most important thing is practice. And to practice with people is the motto of Zen Center--not just priests. With everyone, to practice zazen is the most important point of our practice here, especially in the city. And that is also the bodhisattva way. And that is the only way for our religion to survive.

If Buddhism is understood just by priests, it doesn't help people. It doesn't survive that way. In its true sense it doesn't survive. Rejecting various purposes of propagating our way, without anything--to be with people and to help to practice with them, what will result is real help for the people. When we practice our way with this spirit, I think a true buddha's spirit will be actually here.

I have no special purpose of my trip to Japan this time, but I want to be with Dick and with my close friends as much as possible. And, I don't want to try to explain what we are doing here. But for some people it will be good stimulation. For the sincere person what we are doing will be good news. And more teachers like Yoshida Roshi6 or Tatsugami Roshi7 will come and help us, I hope.

Actually, they will also be helped by you, as I am very much encouraged by your sincere pure practice. And we feel a kind of responsibility. You didn't come to Zen Center to be a priest or to have some special status. You just came and studied something which we have here. And you are sticking to our way for many years now. And you don't leave Zen Center [laughs]. It is an awful thing to see [laughs, laughter]. You know, it is a terrible thing. And I myself don't know what to do [laughs, laughter]. But anyway here we are doing something.

Sometimes I feel very bad because I am losing my physical strength more every day--each year. When you are growing fast, maybe as long as you keep this kind of sincerity in your study of yourself, then I think you will naturally have good teachers from everywhere. This is, I think, something amazing. And, at the same time, we should be very grateful to come across this kind of situation.

I don't think human beings will have this kind of chance so many times--maybe once in many hundreds of years. I think we are now in a very important time. Without this kind of understanding, what we are doing doesn't make any sense.

We do not contribute to our society so much. But because our human world situation is like this, we have to do this. And because you feel you have to do something with this kind of situation, you are here studying. Not only ourselves: I think many, many people in America have the same feeling, and even in Japan the younger generation has the same feeling. Maybe crazy people, you may say, but in a usual time--if it was fifty years or thirty years ago, we would be crazy people [laughs]--we would be crazy. But now, we are not crazy at all.

So, I think we must be very grateful to be here and to study something here, even though we don't know what is it [loud laughter]. I think if you believe in your buddha-nature within yourself, something must come out from us. Something must result from our activity or from our effort.

As long as you have this kind of pure effort, no one can fool you. When you have some idea of study, you will be easily fooled by it, or someone. But when you don't care for anything, there is no way to fool you [laughs, laughter]. Even if someone shows you a beautiful car, “Oh, I don't care for that.” Even if someone gives you a lot of money, you may say, “No, I don't care for money.” There is no way to fool you.

But there is some danger. The danger I feel is when you start to be involved in the practice of a gaining idea. That is one danger. So like Dogen, we should not practice our way for something else--not even for ourselves. We should study our way just for the way, not for anything else. Then no one can fool you. So eventually-- [Sentence not finished. Tape turned over.]

--some idea which is called truth. You will be easily fooled by the word “truth.” So even the name of Buddhism will be very dangerous for us. That is our way, actually.

So we must not give any chance for anyone to fool you. You shouldn't be fooled by something.  Dogen Zenji said, “I found my eyes are level and my nose is vertical, and I am not fooled by anything, by anyone.” [Laughs.] That is, I think, a very strong conviction in his practice, in himself. Even though I don't understand anything, it is okay. Even though I am nobody, it is okay. Then no one can fool you. That is important.

So on this point you should be very strict with yourself. Don't be fooled by anything. Or don't try to be fooled by something [laughs]. Sometimes I see many people who are studying Zen, just being fooled by [laughs, laughter] someone. But if so, they are going the opposite way.

When you have this kind of spirit, naturally you will be friendly, and you will help each other. And we can extend our way. Maybe three months will not be such a long time. The end of December I will see you again [laughs], if I am not fooled by [laughs, laughter] something.

Thank you very much.

1 This trip is discussed by Okusan-sensei [in her interview with Kazuaki Tanahashi reproduced at www.cuke.com] and in Crooked Cucumber, p. 358 et seq.

2 Completed on December 8, 1970.

3 Zenka: ________. -e: possibly realization.

4 Shitsunai sammotsu-hiben: a work on the "secret transmission of the law," written by the Sōtō monk Man-jin, concerning three dharma-transmission ceremonies (shisho, daiji, and kechimyaku). kōa (possibly also ): lecture.

5 Dōgen-zenji, commenting on his journey to China: "I didn't go to many monasteries, but I happened to see my teacher and directly found that my eyes are horizontal and my nose is vertical. Then I was not to be fooled by anyone. So I came back with open hands" (Eihei Kōroku, Chapter 1, translated by Thomas Cleary, Rational Zen, p. 45).

6 Yoshida Eshun-rōshi: Teacher of okesa sewing in the lineage of Hashimoto Ekorōshi.

7 Sōtan Ryosen Tatsugami-rōshi: Ino-rōshi from Eihei-ji who served as head of training at Tassajara for the Spring and Fall 1970 practice periods

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Bill Redican (12/26/00). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (3/2021).


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