20. Thursday, June 28, 1973
Narrow Gate, 20th Century Mind

KOBUN: "Narrow gate"? That's an important question for practice. My feeling is, what is whole view is someone will come out with his sleeping pillow, because his house is burning. At midnight it happen, that kind of... someone maybe carry big box in which big important thing is – treasure box... treasure chest which ordinarily two persons has to carry but at that time she carries alone. That kind of feeling – involved in poetry, philosophy. I think, not only in Zen but most religions have this sense, like narrow gate ... to enter heaven. If you carry something the thing becomes a hindrance to pass through gate. Only when you become naked, completely honest, and you have nothing, at that time you can go through this gate. That kind of feeling, this kind of expression you can find in religious texts. In Shobogenzo when time come you have to, naturally, you have to leave everything behind. No one can go with you. Your wife cannot help, your child cannot help, your wealth cannot help, intellect cannot help, nothing can help you.

The basic point is how religion and cultural phenomena relate. Does religion negate the culture or does the culture appear from the religion? Or does the culture help to form the religion? The relation is like emptiness and form. You can see the great effort of Shakyamuni Buddha, although in his later life after achieving awakening he didn't say "effort.” His 45 years are a good example. And yet he said, “I preached nothing during 15 years.” Like emptiness and form. In the Heart Sutra, “form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form.” And again, “that which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness form.” Form-emptiness, emptiness-form. Very simple word, not like philosopher definition which would be more like you do not mix them up. All cultural activity, in the sense of virtue ... our zazen is something different, but relates with the world of virtue.

And yet there are very interesting phenomena, like the story of the Sixth Patriarch and disciple of Engozengi. The Hekigan – Blue Cliff – was burned by disciples because the master found it a hindrance for people's practice so he took the manuscript and burned it. The Chinese have very many history – they like to burn things! There are many times when the culture ripened too much – a very decadent period. The government was concerned with it and the authorized power made a sweep-up. It's like sweeping of the fallen roots.

STUDENT: When you say that he found these things to be hindering their practice, what were they hindering?

KOBUN: As I said, like coming out with the pillow, the pillow is important, or something else is important. Like filling time with thousand million questions without no solution. Dogen Zenji got very strong teaching from old monk. He didn't mention who it was. He was studying Zen Record, so-called goroku . ( Go is “record.”) So the monk came into his room and, “Oh, you are studying. What are you reading?” “I am looking into kojin , old people's footsteps of practice.” “For what?” “To know how they practiced.” “For what?” “To know how they practiced.” “For what?” “Knowing how they did.” “What for?” “Someday I go back to Japan and teach them. This is preparation.” “For what you teach them?” Very mean question. Sometimes you meet this kind of question.

Quite strong knife. The more you step back, the more it comes close! (If you do not learn this, if you use this argument with husband or wife, it's no good. Too good.) This monk's question is not pushed by philosophical argument. It is to show what life is, to let Dogen know what practice is, so he chased him to the wall. Dogen went back to the wall and finally gave up answering. Before he hit the wall he knew, “Oh, this monk is showing something to me!” The argument stopped. Finally, what came from Dogen was returning home with empty hand, just a naked man, a man who just came out from the house without nothing, having nothing.

He went back to Japan like that. It can be said, like Bodhidharma, he just reached to China, just his body came. Like some kind of occasion happened in Dogen's life. Other monks, priests went to China for some purpose. Some brought monk from China to introduce precepts, rituals, ordination has to be done – this kind of traditional forms. Some brought lots of Buddhist manuscripts, copies of the Buddhist texts. There are various examples in Japan, like oldest record of Sixth Patriarch's Platform Sutra can be found. Shingyo , very old Sanskrit text, which you won't find any place. These cultural events, with very religious spirit you can see history, denying whether religion is beyond culture. There is no communication. Hunted, hounded, from the society.

Or still hermitage is in the society, even body is separated, he is actually among society. There are long periods of discussion, Brunner and Karl Barth ... about religion and culture. It brings up the very important attitude of differences between different theologies. In Buddhism you can see various forms, how basic attitudes formed different kinds of life style and ideas of life.

In the first example it's very funny. In a practical sense, an emotional example in a sense, “The house is burning, what I am doing?” Whatever you do is useless to know such kind of quick feeling. Maybe another example is: Most fantastic gift you make and bring it to him, which is you. What you offer to yourself. When you read Whitman's poem you can really see this is the gift to himself.

STUDENT: If too much cultural, intellectual work can hinder one's practice, how does it do that?

KOBUN: Ok, for example, Dogen's question. If you get the same type of question on your job, “Wait a minute, what's this for?” You don't need to ask the Chinese man who spoke to Dogen. You can ask this question and really find out what is the root of your study; then you understand it, not as a story. Dogen was really involved in intellectual work because of strong way-mind. It's like tremendous longing for ancient Buddhas, so one or two repetitions of “What's this for?” he may have felt, “This is how monks are doing. What's wrong with this?” But the character of the question was not asking for a particular answer in words. Some texts say that study of koan, reading of old sutra, is not to remember. It's testing of the other's sweat, or something, when you really see.

But it doesn't mean that you stop it and give it up. On the other hand, you see each word, each word of the sutra, as word of enlightened one. Without bowing you cannot accept it. The old manuscripts are seen as the eternal virtue. You cannot twist it by your idea. You have to leave it like that and if you have something to speak you make another one. When something is naturally done by experience you see that it is valuable, but unseen source is also very valuable.

In Noh drama there are very good example. Two sisters fell in love with this very handsome man, beautiful man, fantastic man in ancient Japan. He was banished from government and came to this village, spent a few months, and then he had to go back. Then he passed away. The name of one sister was Village Lane; the other was Pine Wind. They got sick with longing and both passed away by too strong longing. One day a monk came to this village. He was walking on the shore and a young woman appeared. He felt this woman had funny vibrations and he heard some very soft talk. This young woman started to open up herself and, wearing the clothes from that old lover, she started to dance. By this dance his spirit was released, and so she went back to the place where she stayed. Very often we do this kind of thing.

It is impossible to communicate, the real man is not there, but when you put on the robe, clothes, you feel him. Like when you read a novel, or letters from your friends and relatives, they have no meaning for another person, but you get some exact thing. A sutra has that kind of strong sense, like it was not for others in the world, only for you. You receive the very thing which had to be expressed in form. So when you read something just to memorize, to interpret, to comment, it is not enough. By reading you really grasp and feel what caused this expression. Okay?

STUDENT: Yeah. Thank you.

KOBUN: Our zazen, too. Whether it is the expression of something or whether it is the source of something....You can also think of it as the seen part of zazen or the unseen part of zazen. Zazen is not a cultural activity. Even when you see zazen you cannot say whether it is religion, or practice, or exercise. You cannot decide. Zazen itself rejects those judgements of what it is. “Reject” is not so good word. Any kind of definition cannot reach to your zazen. Maybe we can say, “It appears, so I do it,” or “I do it, so it appears.” If it is so valuable a thing, you can take a picture of your zazen and sell it. Nobody will buy it! But for each of us, even if it is socially useless, virtueless, a cost cannot be put on it. Itself has no virtue. It is total virtue.

There are many further considerations of the relation between religion, philosophy and science. It is not a simple thing. When you have a scientific eye, you see philosophy and religion in science. And when you have a very philosophical eye, intuition and logic, religion and science cannot be rejected. The same thing happens in religious life – you cannot ignore the present age of the human mind. Otherwise we will drop into very ancient mythology, or ancient faith, which cannot solve any problem of the present time.

STUDENT: Do you think the human mind evolves?

KOBUN: Do you mean does it progress?


KOBUN: Of course it does.

STUDENT: Les Kaye referred last week to some idea which he said was attributed to Buddha, that the human mind was somehow deteriorating, or weakening.

KOBUN: Oh, right. In world religion there is such theory. It's like the “end of the world... judgement of God.” And in Jodo , Pure Land faith, there appears this same idea. There is no practice, no enlightenment, nothing a human can do except recite the Buddha's name, which will cause your salvation. That is one historic, theological theory of religion. But like a child grows up, the mind also grows up. The religious age of human kind is 20 th Century, like the mental age of a person is 50, or 30. The age of the 20 th Century is quite a spiritual one.

STUDENT: The 20 th Century is a spiritual age for mankind?

KOBUN: Don't you think so?

STUDENT: Gosh, I don't feel I know enough to say.

KOBUN: Like I'm now 35. This “35” doesn't always promise that I am 20 th Century. If I really fit to the 20 th Century, as a 35-year-old I am doing fine. But when I am just 35 years, I could be 35 years of the 18 th Century. That kind of phenomenon happens.

STUDENT: I don't know if I'm making any sense, but I feel that some of the ecology movement and the movement of people back to the land has some feeling of primitivism, regression, and a denial of intellect.

KOBUN: I don't feel that way. It is to be seen as a cycle of generations. It is one big self-awakening. When your life is so civilized and so comfortable, in the closed house, we have to ask, “Is this really it? What we sought for 20 centuries? Is this the result of the whole thing? Or are there other possibilities?” This recognition is now in the process of trial. It's like watching ourselves: “I am also one of living being. I thought I was God, but I am not God, in this sense. My foot is on the ground. I am one of the friends of birds, animals, plants.” It is more like a primitive person, returning to nature. Nature is a very interesting world and it also has a strong sense of home, from which you arise and to which you go to rest. This sense of nature is in a bigger sphere than the idea of the culture of civilizations. It is one direction to realize our source, from where we appeared as living beings.

STUDENT: It seems to have some relationship to the narrow gate, to me. When you work very hard physically, and in a primitive life you do, usually, your mind sort of relaxes and you don't waste much time thinking. So seems to be the understanding. Therefore, if I'm living that kind of life, I'm just me. I'm just naked, and I don't add anything extra. But to believe in that, and also to believe in the 20 th Century seems very hard. That seems to be a contradiction.

KOBUN: Um hm... science and religion. When I say “science” you see another great element of human kind, for example, sitting on the earth you can really say that there is Venus somewhere. You know what kind of chemicals make it, what contents it has.

STUDENT: If you're a scientist.

KOBUN: Uh huh, if you're a scientist. Science expresses it to us, so we can know it is a remarkable thing how science, a scientific approach to nature, to the real happening, is discovered. It's like a physician. When zen, when meditation, is done by those scientists it is a very important thing.

STUDENT: More important than ordinary people?

KOBUN: Oh no, you cannot say... there is no difference. Scientist is ordinary person, housewife is same sense of ordinary person. There is no extraordinary. That idea of ordinary and extraordinary is just idea. It's social comparison. You cannot say scientist is not like.... How can I say? By knowing when the sun appear and when the sun will disappear, it doesn't promise how he live on this earth. In this sense scientist is still ordinary. Like psychologist is scientist, physiologist is scientist. In the very big sense I am using this word. Housewife is also scientist – how to produce best food for family. It is trial of how they can serve best food to family.

Nowadays, science and religion is growing. Phenomena is very stressed one. Philosophical work not so remarkable. It is still like midnight state. So that religion and science also gets like midnight. It's kind of unclear. Very energetic but unclear. Where we go, where we go? Great work is now left for philosopher. Really can take place of prophet – not interpreter of reality. Prophet, what direction is? Existentialists like Martin Heidigger – now between science and religion there is various trials to make bridge – which is psychology, therapy, psychosynthesis. The stress of many present problems of humankind... those bridges are built as one of the elements of philosophy. Sooner or later, you cannot say, this kind of word become very old word.

Human will drop it. Religionist, religious person, philosophical person, philosopher, psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist – those are quite old word. They are quite new words but they will be nonsense to youth. Something very newer will be recognized. This is not so far future....

Thank you.

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