2. Thursday, November 30, 1972
Practice, Meditation, Concentration, Monastery, Death, Reincarnation, Karma

STUDENT: How important is it to practice at home? I'm beginning to have a funny feeling about that. I had a cold and couldn't come for a few days so I tried sitting at home. Whether it was the cold or being unused to sitting at home I found it very difficult. And I would like to have both things - practice at home and practice here. What would you say? Is it best to practice here or at home?

KOBUN: What do you do at home?

STUDENT: What I do at home is really just zazen. I don't do bowing practice. I don't have a very special place, just a corner of the dining room. That's part of the problem, and it just seems so much easier to come here. I suppose that's what is bothering me. I see my practice is very attached to the zendo. And of course I'd much rather practice when Sensei's here, even with his footsteps coming up the walk I sit stronger.

KOBUN: That's weak practice! .... What do you consider practice? If you mean zazen only, better to say zazen. Meditation and concentration are two kind of samadhi.

STUDENT: Like if you work and concentrate and are what you're doing, you're not someone doing something but just something doing itself.

KOBUN: Physically it will be seen that it's stillness and various movements. In concentration there will be stillness. Washing face, we don't need to say it's practice. If you don't have much time, just splash and wet it with water. Or you can be more kind, take time to enjoy ... cook, clean house. Stillness inside of work.

STUDENT: Back of the toilet!

KOBUN: Great merit of cleaning! One monk spoke of enlightenment by cleaning, only cleaning. He didn't want to sit, didn't want to do anything, just sweep, every day .... It's a good feeling, washing face ... water cleans mind, too. Shower, very similar thing ... feel same way.


STUDENT: I have a question about monastic life and Buddhism....

KOBUN: The organization of conditions doesn't matter. It's a commitment of yourself. When people decide to do it, a monastery appears.

STUDENT: In Catholicism, if you were really religiously inclined you chose the monastic life, so there was always that feeling of second class citizens as laymen in a religious community.

KOBUN: You may feel a little strange when I say I don't want to go back to the monastery. I cannot separate myself from monastic life. My feeling is that I have antenna, like snail. At first I thought the monastery was right lifetime practice ... if people want to live whole practice.

STUDENT: I'm beginning to think, “Do I really want it: To try to build up an institution and a practice?” As much as possible, practice has to stand without any support. Part of the story of Zen Center is that people built up an institution around Suzuki Roshi .... At first people created it to try to make the teaching more widespread, but as it becomes more widespread it's diluted and it's taken away from the source. Actually the best conditions are pretty much what we already have, with the possibility of a monastery, with the accessibility of Kobun but fundamentally having decided that you want to practice. Bricks won't make you stronger. That's why I came here instead of to a big brick place. That's the strength, that we can't distinguish ourselves from the person next to us, who's not sitting zazen.

STUDENT: It seems almost, if you could manage for yourself a strong practice, no one would even know you were a Zen Buddhist, it would be best.

STUDENT: It would be best.

STUDENT: Yeah, well it just never seems quite perfect. Always trying to get it perfect, you know? I recall a comment by someone at Tassajara. He said that when Suzuki Roshi was there he always put his sandals just like this; he always knew exactly where they were, and now that Suzuki Roshi was no longer there his sandals were sloppy, whenever he took them off. It really reflects an attitude of his and many people there that the practice is perfect, and I as a student at Tassajara am so imperfect that I will never be able to do the Tassajara practice. And here our practice is not perfect, and we are not perfect either. To me, that's a more true way to see it. We keep thinking we ought to have a perfect suburban practice, so we can try to live up to some standard.

KOBUN: At times I wonder, do I stay because of my desire? Am I staying because I have nowhere to go?

STUDENT: Do you feel lonely here?

KOBUN: No. Not at all.

STUDENT: That sounded a little bit lonely right then, wondering why you stay here.

KOBUN: No need to go. My desire was so strong to go to monastery. My master said, “Eiheji is nothing. You don't need to go. If you really want to go, go.” When I came back from Eiheji after two year's practice there, I really sensed it, what my master meant. When one has to know monastic life, that is the time in his life when he should go to monastery, to experience monastic life. I went to monastery at age 22. One monk, who had the longest record at the monastery, died 96 years old. Various wars and changes forced people... some came for hours and some came for five years. Actually, very innermost wish of us reflected by actual society. Monastic life makes a kind of strange dogmatic idea, like there is big gap between, big wall. In Buddhist teaching there is such dogmatic expression, too: First priest, Second priest, this kind of discrimination.

In psychological sense monastic life very religious form of life. It become problem of government how to tax, produce something for the social economy. When society get nicer, numbers in monastery decrease. In China many monks and nuns quit to join lay life. In Japan there was no such problem. It was quite small and national policy and religion always went together.

There was no strong religion in Japan besides Buddhism, so we can see the very terrible history of Christianity .... It penetrated underground. You can see the compound of Virgin Mary and Avalokiteshvara in Maria Cannon. In a southern island of Japan many country people put their faith in Maria Cannon, a beautiful figure of Virgin Mary which looks like Avalokiteshvara. A form of Buddhism came behind a very strong Christian belief. Many governors come to the country people to place picture of Christ on cross on floor, and people have to step on it. That is a very mean, terrible thing. But external power cannot destroy faith of people – wind cannot change the water. It's not form that's essential. There were many enlightened people, ordinary. A thousand million monks doesn't mean they are all enlightened.


STUDENT: Things in our daily lives like television, too much reading, talking too much, can this hurt our practice?

KOBUN: Watching television, very hard! I would be first one to go to the mental hospital. My mind is so faithful, I remember all! It would be an appetizer, one more cocktail! I would be thirsty to it. Once in a while I see it, a kind of flash. Once a week I read newspaper.

STUDENT: Since I love to read so much I read sutras.

KOBUN: Too much reading Buddhist sutra, effect same as TV. But if you need it, you can read thousands, millions books. You feel like you're floating under the type, this ocean has no end. Only for that reason to read Buddhist texts I went ten years. It's crazy! Sri Aurobindo had a comment that I thought was interesting. He was talking about small minds. He says they always seek to grind. If you have a problem and solve it then it seeks for something else. Half of my reading I could see was just an effort to feed that .... Attitude toward text changes. But you don't stop reading; the thirsty feeling disappears. You find your practice among people, living people or dead people.

STUDENT: Oh, I love the dead people. If you read them it's like having them still.

KOBUN: Classics, music, pictures, written material, have to face to criticism of living people. Classics are living when people face to them. When a very advanced modern artist sees an ancient Chinese painting they will say, “That's fine.” A not advanced artist will say, “That's nothing, take it.” It depends on your own perseverance of seeing.... Virtue appears in different ways. That's why people choose different ways: “My faith is in God.... My faith is not in God... in nothing.... My faith is in Buddha.” If you think there is a monastery somewhere, then you have to visit it to see if this is the monastery you meant. Sometimes it isn't the monastery you meant. So what monastery actually means is deep place which your spirit has already met. You carry it always.

Mostly you don't recognize it. You choose the direction of your foot by it, very intuitively, emotionally, spontaneously you carry yourself. That is the monastic spirit. You have to take time to reach the place. Monastic life is when everything is prepared.... What is sangha? It's an invisible thing. It's like identical dharma, and Buddha too. Practice period is appearance of sangha. Monastic life need ango period too, because monastic life is not different from social life. It cannot be separated, even when monastery is in mountain, it is same as next to market. Just a boat at the dock and a boat a little farther out in the bay. That is the mountain. In ango period, sangha appears. It means the real Buddha appears.

STUDENT: In the back of my mind I associate going to the monastery with dying. It's a place where I unconsciously feel I am going. We are going toward death and it's no good to pretend we're not. So part of my practice is preparation for death, which I feel that I don't know anything about. The closest thing that I can see as a transition between me now and death is monastery. Therefore I'd better get to know that monastery and live in it.

KOBUN: That idea is very interesting. We are all dying... that is a very good aspect. It can be said in the opposite way, we never die we just reincarnate. We all have to go through it. We judge when the time comes. In Buddhism there is the same kind of idea. There are many roads from the entrance of hell. When a dead person reaches the place, they have to walk in front of something which is a super clear mirror. All your activity from birthday to deathbed reflected: How many times you sat, what books you published, and finally you are judged. “You did a bad job, you chose that way,” and many workers come and catch him and put him on a road. This is very symbolic, our future life doesn't go like that. Many, many good monks have to go through this stage. When one Bodhisattva comes, he can have free passport, wherever he wants. He can pick people up from another road, from another stage.

STUDENT: What is his name?


STUDENT: I feel like I've got to understand death. I really can't go on without understanding it. It seems like a real obstacle.

KOBUN: It is hard thing to get. To get rid of it, not so difficult. Boshiki, conception of death, karmic consciousness. Because we think that we are born and living, so we think that there is death, a strange word. We are watching the mirror. “Probably I am doing a good job,” a judgement... “There is no such hell, I can go back to heaven.” Karma is very busy. Life and death and many, many things we are continuously experiencing. This moment I am watching and experiencing it also. It is the job of karmic consciousness.

STUDENT: Does our zazen just stop at karma consciousness?

KOBUN: It doesn't stop at all. You can consider karma consciousness is like this line and zazen is this line. Karmic consciousness disappears and everything appears.... STUDENT: And death is like that, is it? I mean you go along and then... KOBUN: Death is to see life like that. In life there is no such time to see it. So there is no more karma consciousness. In other words. karma consciousness is left behind. We don't do anything with it. '

STUDENT: I think maybe we should stop.

KOBUN: Yeah. We should stop. Good morning.

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