14. Thursday, May 10, 1973
No sign, No trace, Monk and Layman, Accepting and Being Accepted

Do you have anything to say to us?

KOBUN: That's a difficult question....

STUDENT: Kobun, I have another question. Katagiri Roshi talked a lot about “practicing zazen that has no effect upon you.”

KOBUN: I have a kind of tricky question too: Do you really think your lifestyle was changed by zazen or did things naturally happen in that way? Dogenzenji used to say, “Even you don't recognize when you maintain right zazen, this man naturally becomes good.” It's like a train, even if you don't recognize the train is moving... naturally zazen carries people to the right place. Do you remember the word, “no effect”?

STUDENT: He originally said, “no sign of effect,” which I thought was a little different. There could be an effect but no sign of effect.

STUDENT: That sounds right. When he first started talking about it he did say that, but then he started saying, “no effect upon you.”

I wonder if that's like, “no trace”

KOBUN: Um hmm. Same thing.

STUDENT: When changes are coming does that mean that you're just riding along on a train and maybe the scenery changes, though the train may not?

KOBUN: That's tricky. I asked a tricky question, so let's stop that talk. The correct word is, “no sign... no sign of effect.” If there is something left over or missing, you see a sign. No sign of effect means it is complete.

STUDENT: Would you become aware of the complete thing?

KOBUN: No, no, no... no trace of practice appear. You don't feel like you are practicing here. What makes an appearance of change? Probably it is when you need to see a change. You want to see the change, don't you? Time is always like that; when you want to know it, it appears.... Usually we are in infinite time, always. It means we are in no time. But, depending on your relation with people, you say “life style,” various different kinds of time appear. In practice, when you speak of “no trace” of realization, and no sign of effect of zazen, it's a little different from the ordinary meaning. It's not talking about human word, human experience, of one hour appearing as sixty minutes. No sign of effect means "no less, no more - perfect." Because of that state you don't see any sign.

STUDENT: Is it in your attitude...?

KOBUN: Um hmm. It can be said so. For example, when you see the change of your life through practice it shows that you are seeing yourself as a process. That is not the right attitude toward your practice. It's like watching yourself through another's eye. “How is he doing, is he much better? Am I better than two days before?”

STUDENT: Then you have the problem, what keeps you going? I look for some kind of a deeper feeling. Well, I know what I am looking for. I don't look for it so consciously, but I know. And I guess most people are looking in a way, otherwise, why would you sit? Because you've done it before with good results.

KOBUN: Why do you have love for people? Because you like it so you do it. Don't you think so?

STUDENT: Yeah, eventually you get to know what's not so good. I mean you get hit in the nose and... you find your way. It's the same process. But I would say, “no sign” is an idea, not an existing situation.

KOBUN: Um hmm. You understand that way? Hmmm.

STUDENT: It's a spectrum. On one side, you sit and you have sore knees. Something is happening!

KOBUN: Something is happening.

STUDENT: The trouble with signs, though, especially positive signs – whatever one conceives as a positive sign, that has to be maintained. It's like there's a trap in something good that has to be maintained. And if it doesn't continue that way, you suffer. You think, “Oh, my practice must be bad, because it's not as good as it was.”

STUDENT: Ya, sure. Maybe there's some kind of disease, yet those patriarchs would sit day and night, and they are not crazy.

KOBUN: Not day and night, not day and night!

STUDENT: Kobun, I have a sort of rudimentary understanding that we're sitting to end suffering. It's very unsophisticated, but ... that seems to be what you read about Buddhism. If you pick up a book that just has maybe a few pages on Buddhism it seems like that's one of the most basic things they say – that this is supposed to end our suffering. But it seems to me that what you are saying is that not only does it not end our suffering, but that we shouldn't even be trying to end our suffering.

KOBUN: That's ok.... what sense you mean, “suffering”?

STUDENT: I feel a lot of frustration...

My personal experience .... I don't have so many really bad moods any more or really elated moods. I could look back and say, “Well, zazen is good therapy.... But I'm feeling, more and more, coming in contact with people, the suffering of others. I was in a courtroom yesterday, and then hitchhiking back to Los Altos and not feeling so much my suffering, although it's still there to some degree, and yet feeling so heavily, more and more, things around me that I can't explain, that manifest themselves in a kind of suffering. It seems almost impossible, whatever my suffering is that drops away, there's still an infinitely more suffering from everything else.

KOBUN: Ya. If zazen is done for ending of suffering it will be called sravaka ( “A person who exerts himself to attain the stage of arhat , recognizing the four truths.” Japanese Buddhist Dictionary) zazen. Very Hinayanistic way of meditation. You enclose yourself, build up a wall between yourself and society, others. No person can come in .... but personal problem cannot be just personal problem. Like in the summer, one particle of snow come. Like when you say darkness exist in daytime. Darkness exist in daytime too, in the sense that suffering exists in nirvana too. It relates with Bodhisattva's Vow, when you say, “With all sentient beings....” It means, by your realization of Buddhahood, without exception, all beings attain, realize Buddhahood. You don't stick out and leave things behind. So naturally our everyday zazen has also this character, too. Looks like very personal, individual practice but actually something is happening on each of you at this time, at this place, and whole world, whole universe is trying to do something through your body. Some stay and sleep in bed, some drive very hurry, and sit. Both may be fine. Some sleep peacefully, dreaming... sitting, dreaming....

When sounds become too big, we don't hear it, we cannot hear it. When the merit of it is too big, you cannot measure it. “No trace” is the expression of that hugeness. By personal sense you cannot catch it. “No sign” has also that kind of meaning, too.

“No path” too has that kind of meaning?

KOBUN: Um hmm. And many times you may feel “no path” means no other path, only this path, nothing exist, only this path. It doesn't mean only this one is left and others are no good. It doesn't mean everything is included. It doesn't make any high or low discrimination.


STUDENT: I had an eighty-nine year old lady who stopped by – Jehovah's Witness. This lady is 89, which is practicing very hard – was my feeling. She was telling me about the coming destruction and I was thinking, “Oh, the end of the kalpa.” I could feel her desire to save me but I could also feel her enjoyment of her practice.

KOBUN: Strange, in some sense I had the same image today, in very early morning. Jehovah's Witness, I was thinking, “What is that? Are they doing something? Do you go to another door and say, “You have to do zazen!”.... But what they are speaking we understand. When religion penetrates to action in society, that kind of phenomena appear. Many, many signs of the ending of the earth, human kind. They start to hit bell, “It's time, you have to be aware of it!”

STUDENT: I have another question. Katagiri Roshi used the term, miso and pea soup, miso being monks, pea soup being laymen.

KOBUN: Pea soup is fresh. Miso soup is old soup ...

STUDENT: In my universe miso and pea soup would have absolutely equal value. But they are, of course, different. But my understanding may not be correct.

KOBUN: Fortunately, we are in the 20 th Century. The sense of monk and layman is 19 th Century sense.

Sonja: The person who was telling me was strongly for miso

KOBUN: That is 19 th Century, too. Maybe the newness of bean or pea soup is part of it's creative character, so the meaning is freedom. Miso soup you can keep two years, three, four years. It's like old path, very old path, more traditional sense. You can stop it. If it is possible to drop off, it should be dropped off. If you try and it doesn't drop off, it should be remained. That kind of sense miso soup has.

STUDENT: If you could drop it off it wouldn't make any difference....

KOBUN: When you say, “tradition,” tradition is not like the karmic force. My feeling is, tradition is – rose makes rose flower, and rose flower makes rose seed – that is the sense of tradition. So we cannot change it by ourselves. Human tradition is essential, it remains always. This term, “tradition,” especially in religion, is misused. Many funny ideas are combined, contained in this word, like rituals and rules, certain habitual customs.

STUDENT: Non-karmic tradition, then is the tradition we are grateful to? And bow to?

KOBUN: Katagiri Roshi spoke this way?

STUDENT: It was in a conversation we were having at Tassajara. Just the phrase.

KOBUN: It is the word for “old path.” “Walking old path he will becomes new person.”

STUDENT: I'd like to get back to this question about the effect of practice. I notice, when I go to Tassajara, the people that have been there over a period of two or three years are very changed. They look happier, like they've got themselves together. When I question them, quite often they say, “I don't feel any different.” I suppose that's a little bit what you were talking about ...

KOBUN: Monastic life is like you replace the little young plant in real good soil and good conditions... three years miso is best miso. Best miso has no smell and no smell of miso. Three years of practice appears every day. How can I say, probably when you see the people in limited aspect ... if you understand what they spoke, “I am no different," and you listening and seeing difference of him from before, you feel something effected this. If you really understand this, you are same as him....

I am talking very important point, whether everyone must go to monastery or not. It means he communicates with you as before, that monastic life and city life, ordinary life, always communicate. We have to know it is not separated world. Monastic life cannot be separated from society. Looks like tablet of the gate is facing to outside, but you cannot say which is which. When the end of the forest comes and only that gate of Zen Center is left you may think, “What is this? There is no inside or outside.” Your sense is, he stayed three years in monastery and came back. Maybe he felt, “I was three years at home, the rest of my life I am traveling.”

When you make a big hospital, soon many people will come to rest in it. When you make a little hospital, few people can be in it. That doesn't make any difference between good world or bad world. It's opportunity and how we respond to it.... Monastic life is much easier life. Even when zazen becomes perfect in the monastery a person says, “This is it. I don't need to be here, I must do something, I must be somewhere.” A simplified life, well-arranged meals, well-arranged sleep, and lots of opportunity to look into one's practice. If nothing happens, it's something. If something good doesn't happen, it's something.

In the city, sleep is irregular, meals are irregular, meeting with people is very confused. If nothing changes, if nothing strange happens, it is also a miracle.

STUDENT: It's wonderful to have a rest period set aside, when you can't do any work. Here, there's no rest period, unless you make one for yourself. I never thought of it before. It's wonderful.

Pain you feel in the monastery, the pain you feel in the city. Suffering is a good word. Actually, the quality is the same. It appears more concentrated, personal, in the monastery.

STUDENT: But, in a sense, it seems to me like we all are sitting for some kind of good to happen, whatever it is.

Simultaneously, really. Not something good is coming to happen, but something good happens.


STUDENT: Kobun, is there anything that's understandable? Is it a mystery, really?

KOBUN: It is mysterious. Like when someone appear and really understand you, actually, you don't like it. There is some mystery you want to exist. It's not easy to understand. Reality is always like that. It's not easy.

STUDENT: I'm even wondering if it's possible.

KOBUN: It is possible.

STUDENT: Yeah? I had a discussion with a friend this last week. I made the comment I wanted to understand how things worked. He made the comment that there were four things, Buddha said, that if we tried to figure them out it would unhinge our mind. One of them was karma. My whole impetus... my whole thing seems to be to figure out what's going on. It just doesn't make sense to me.... Maybe life, reality, isn't understandable. Maybe it's a mystery and I should accept that. It doesn't seem, anymore, that I know why I'm doing anything, and rather than feel good about that I find it very frustrating. If I knew that it's all mysterious anyway, maybe it'd be easier for me to accept.

KOBUN: That acceptance comes first when you want to understand it. Otherwise you understand this much (indicates a small amount).

Linda: Oh, yeah. You appreciate it.

Fortunately, zazen doesn't become a habit, so we have to try to do it, every time. Make best effort.... sitting may become a habit, like when you sit like this... next time you may sit same way, but meditation cannot be the habit. You cannot promise that you can do meditation all the time. When your attitude is right, you will be accepted by meditation. When your attitude is not right, when you step outside and do something, everything turns out not so well. In the same way, when you keep this attitude toward everything, you will be accepted. And to be accepted is to live others' life too. This is important point, how your being effects people. When you cause many pleasant feelings to others, each person who accepted you is affected by your pleasant being. When you have fifty friends and relatives, all of them give different impressions and you feel how is their world, you actually know, but it is very difficult to express why they keep different impressions. It's not like fifty acorns, same size, color and shape. Our impression is very intuitive; our true nature immediately accepts others' true nature.

STUDENT: Is that what we call “saving all sentient beings”?

KOBUN: Um hmm.

STUDENT: Is that what you said we would dislike? If somebody understands us fully, or knows our full, true nature?

KOBUN: Ya. To become knower is desirable, but to become known is a little unpleasant.

STUDENT: And that's what you mean by being accepted, to be accepted is to be known, and that's an unpleasant thing?

KOBUN: But when you come to this point you seek the person who really knows you. We call him Buddha. Not just the person who gaze at you, but you become one with it, knower and known. But usually when we reach to this, when we come to this true knowing, what comes from this mouth, this human mouth is, “I am sorry, I have misunderstood everything for forty years.” For forty years you have been saying, “I am knower, I know everything,” but at this point you say, “Forty years of straying, from now on I walk straight.”

Meeting of people is like this. To meet with others should be done always like this, complete knowing. No need to speak of it. That is called acceptance. For that purpose every being is appearing.

STUDENT: So that one can be known. That's why other people appear? Other people appear so that I can be known?

KOBUN: Uh huh. Once a life. One or two in life you meet. That's very seldom thing. One or two figures you have in a life, among thousand million figures you meet... so first is to meet with yourself. Then you will become real knower. This is basic thing. It's not like watching the mirror from morning to night. You don't contemplate on yourself, day after day. By respect you meet with yourself. This body is the only opportunity to depend on... (tape ends)

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