21. Thursday, July 12, 1973
What Can We Know? Right Way, Wrong Way; Thrown Baby

STUDENT: I thought I would ask you if you had a question. Sometimes I think there isn't enough space given for you to ask us things. But then again, maybe there is.

KOBUN: There are many, many questions. Can you help me?

STUDENT: When I think of how I would feel, if I were in your place. Going to another country and trying to... just exist.

KOBUN: For me it is very natural thing. I am not directing myself in a funny place. It is very natural thing. Air is very same. Food are not so different – pretty different – but condition where it go is pretty familiar!

My question... it doesn't take so particular form, but there is unknown sphere I want to keep as unknown. That kind of question I have, whether you know it or not. Like, for man, the woman is unknown world, and for woman, man is unknown world. When you start to understand, you begin to have problem. Like in religious matters, to want to know the Absolute Being is kind of taboo. You cannot do it. The more you go forward, the more you are apart from it because the action of knowing looks like it is bringing you close to it, but it is opposite direction.

STUDENT: Why is that?

KOBUN: Because it is wrong way. Like saying, “I want to go to mountain,” but you go to ocean. Because you carry your own idea to where your idea isn't needed. This relates with our practice of zazen and our practice of Zen life. Whether you think of your practice and eternally keep going, or there is some finer place to stop, a goal. This relates with very big difference between Buddhism and Hinduism, and also “Godism.” The form of faith is different. Life becomes different. Whether there is an argument between two types of faith or not is future problem. Argument is useless. If discussion appears, it will be showing each other. Someone last night talked about how to take care of little children. In the same sense, how to take care of older people, who become very similar to little children, in society. And other people who cannot join in the tense energy which is called “society.” And isolated societies, like school and home and the business world, monastery, nunnery, hospitals.

A day is limited, like the size of our body. So how to solve many difficult problems of society. This is now my biggest topic, whether some impersonal technique can really bring solutions. Whether the basic thing is more personal relations of every individual.

STUDENT: Do you see a problem, or do you see many different problems?

KOBUN: There is both. First thing is looking inwardly. I have to really figure out, is this just my view? Is everything actually going well or not? I cannot say there is a problem. If there is no problem, to say, “There is problem,” is too much. The extra thing to do. And there are the very clear problems which every day the sun shines on. They constantly arise and make people suffer and too tired to maintain a peaceful life. There is that constant, so-called “evil” kind of energy. It is a blind kind of energy which looks like it's okay but it is pushed by ignorance.

STUDENT: The process of growth from a child's state of maybe non-ego, what is that process by which we somehow become aware of ourselves and what we have to do in life, and assume responsibility.

KOBUN: This modern 20 th Century people have built up a way to live longer, not to quit living. All sorts of ideas, ideologies, humans are trying to develop in most suitable way.

STUDENT: So in this culture in which the old ways have been overthrown or questioned we don't have a way that's given to define ourselves. There is that uncertainty, that wants to draw back almost to that childlike state.

KOBUN: Probably by saying “child” you are saying, “more natural” or “more primitive.”

STUDENT: Uh huh. Chaotic.

KOBUN: Maybe so – chaotic. More like origin, in the sense of pure and very healthy. And you mentioned it is more demonish (very old word), too. The other side is also very strongly concerned. Like you spoke about baby. It is fantastic, at the same time totally helpless. If someone doesn't take care of this life.... That kind of state has been maintained, even when we become grown person. In the individual sense and in the historical sense the present condition is exactly the same as the baby. All cultural effort, including civilized elements of human effort is to make it secure, to make human life very stable and secure. But a very chaotic, wild kind of state still remain.

It is same as little child, kid's, wildness. Deep problem nowaday is that parents and grandparents, or society, cannot set the ethical discipline of each individual. This now most biggest problem, unless by self-recognition, people cannot find their secure step, very certain step. The problem is appearing in many spheres, very decadant, in a sense very ripened, too ripened sense of freedom. It makes many problems we can see. The very deep gap of the generations means many very deep gaps of individuals, and loneliness. Loneliness, it's very good but if it becomes worse, not just empty gaps but filled gaps, filled with hatred, fear, or hunger...

STUDENT: Excuse me, did you say, if it's just loneliness, it's okay?

KOBUN: Empty. If it's empty gap it means you are ready to communicate with other. The problem is now positively recognized. And our practice is on that way. I am talking about why we are practicing. Nowaday you see very strong concern about self, not others, but own self. In many, many spheres you see this need to know, look into, watch, take care, of yourself. To work with those problems it is a very historical occasion. Like when the weather become warm, ice has to become water. There is this kind of natural happening, natural process, of humankind, too. Since end of Second World War this individuality was increasingly developed.

This is the positive sense. At the same time the other side of this individuality is very clear. If it is individuality among all, having a sense of the whole, that's perfect. But if it is just done as the freedom from old faith or ethics, and old tradition, naturally what comes is like “thrown baby,” individual become like thrown away baby. That is how philosophers express it, at the end of the 19 th Century it becomes more and more clear. The basic idea of existentialists is this very strong feeling, “thrown away.”

STUDENT: I didn't understand exactly what you meant by the “gap.”

KOBUN: As in daily conversation this is found: “I don't care,” or “That his problem, not my problem.” This is how this gap was really built up, or digged up. This is my kind of understanding, there is very deep gap. Wanting to hold others, cannot reach. People cannot reach to each other.

STUDENT: You mean an empty gap is one in which there is nothing, so you can reach?

KOBUN: Empty means, how can I say.... Do you understand empty space? Empty space means touching already. If there is something empty, there is touching. It happen in a very spiritual sense. Empty space means there is no gap. And physical sense there is clear individuality. Individuals know each other.


STUDENT: Sensei?


STUDENT: Right way and wrong way: We have the right way.

KOBUN: Who are “we”?

STUDENT: This kind of statement is made by our teachers. So I took it to my friend, with whom I like to argue about religion. And he is a very left-handed man of the way.

KOBUN: Wrong, that is wrong way?

STUDENT: When we talk about the Triple Treasure he says to me, “Please don't talk to me about Buddhism.” Monday night you said, “Nagarjuna's way is very difficult to understand and very easy to practice. And Vasubandhu’s way is very difficult to practice, and very easy to understand.” So I took this statement to my friend...

KOBUN: ... and what he said?

STUDENT: He said, “This way is the wrong way; the true way is the way that we can't depart from.” ....When you said “...wrong way...“ it made me think about this sound, “the way.” As if each of the ten thousand things were going along, some on a very good way which manage to go on forever, and others stopping in a kind of decrepitude. My friend said that when our teachers tell us the “right way” they are being very “small-minded.” He says that wanting to do the right thing, wanting not to have evil or demonic energy is “small-minded.”

KOBUN: What is “right” and what is “wrong,” this is very important point. Maybe your friend has no way. Does he? Maybe this friend, I know him very well, it's in me. Um, “left-handed.” I don't think he is left-handed.... (I don't need to say about him.) Important thing is whether you let this child die, or whether you go to it, and even you doubt you can help take care of it, somehow your body goes close to it. This is what I am talking, right or wrong. “That's his problem,” or “That's not my business,” whether you forsake it or not, this is very important point. Whether our knowledge of everything is just knowledge, or can work as wisdom, this relate with whether you ignore it, or you keep concern with it. As you said, right way cannot be separated from you, or you cannot be separated from right way. You are always with it.

And at that time thousand things cannot be separated from you. Actually Nagarjuna's way and Vasubandhu’s way cannot be separated. Maybe you can forget what was Nagarjuna's and Vasubandhu’s way. There is no dead end human history, human culture, so we have to always keep open space to work on. History of human way, realized both demonish way and very natural way, very healthy way, both. From the very beginning it has been like that.

STUDENT: And within each person it's both.

KOBUN: Um hmm, both. Who reject Triple Treasure is the one who knows Triple Treasure. Otherwise Triple Treasure is just a drawn picture of a bug or something!

Each of us are like that thrown-away baby. It's a metaphor of ourselves. There is a mountain in Japan (nowaday people don't do that), a kind of village custom, in a closed society. When old woman, old man become a certain age, they are carried into very deep mountain and thrown. Until, I think, middle of Edo period. The Birthday Mountain is very famous. (Once I went to this mountain. Very country zigzag train is now going to this mountain. ) And one day this man followed that custom, carrying his own mother on his back he went to the mountain. Very close to the place where he was going to leave his mother he looked back at the path he had taken and saw many broken little branches, and leaves here and there. He misunderstood.

He thought, “My mother, how greedy she is. She wants to go back to the village again, making those marks by tree leaves.” He didn't say anything but he thought it. He left her in the place and put a few days food there. He thought, “When the food is gone, she become food for wild crows.” It's a kind of grave. And right before he is going to leave this mother of himself, he said, “I made a returning path for you. Don't stray around in the mountain.” This is what the path is. The path is always left for us. This young son was very ashamed of his former thinking, “It was my mistake, misunderstanding of my mother.”

In the same way, “Why child come, why baby is born?” It looks like they are behind us and in a karmic sense it is a new hindrance from which both sides appear: Pleasure and suffering. Very interesting is how we do not know how they came, as we, ourselves, don't know how we came to this birth. Even if it is your own child, you cannot say how it came to this place and this time. So without respect, you cannot face to it. You say, “This is my kid.” It's like keeping a pig or something. You may control how it is, or how it has to grow. So that the thrown-away state is a very positive recognition how to do from now. This is how existentialist philosophy is still working at present time.

STUDENT: I have trouble with that “how to do,” having recognized that thrown state, it seems to remove all “how to do,” since any “how to do” is simply control. It seems like it's a circle and at some point I get stuck.

KOBUN: Maybe I can express...like I spoke of very clear feeling, thrown-away feeling, but one thing is there is very big feeling of no bottom, no top. This is another feeling of the thrown state. Whatever you touch it become you, but both you and it. Even in unity there is a vague insecureness. This is how existential recognition of present life arose, in nihilism. As a philosophy it is said, “Without nihilism there is no existentialism.” In science, in mathematics this was a very natural thing. It's already in the theory. Zero is very important. Without thinking of zero and infinity, the whole process, how do you say, “laws...?”

STUDENT: Axioms.

KOBUN: Axioms. Since Descartes appeared, since modern philosophy was supported by very scientific way of thinking, this was a natural analysis to come to the existentialistic view, because it is process. The possibilities and future of humans is now completely open. That is another feeling of thrown-away state. So it is very important time for us. Many people say that our world is becoming one, and I can see what it means in economic sense, in linguistic sense, in political sense. In religious sense too, it can be said it is becoming one. When you follow this sense of growth, it is becoming one, but when you know it, it is not becoming one, it is becoming many. It means you get rid of all sorts of ideology and become one person, who can relate to other people. In that sense it is said the world is becoming one. And it was always like that, actually.

STUDENT: Does Soto Zen have a viewpoint of the direction of history or progress, other than some steady state, maybe more complicated, or less complicated, or more clear, or less clear?

KOBUN: Soto... as far as I know there is no progress. If you see history it is history of time. It always disappears... in that sense there is history, and there is advance, not progress.

STUDENT: Then there is no sense of advance or progress? Outside of hard effort... no sense of advance in terms of schools of Buddhism developing or decaying? It is not to be thought of as some development, some success or some failure, but just an effort and beyond that there is no overall view of progress or the world becoming more unified or less unified? Even that effort, is that also a sort of tentative way to express ourselves in history?

KOBUN: Ya, that is the big question. Basically it is a question of religion and culture, how they relate. And philosophically it is the relation of one and many. And practice, our practice is - now I mustn't say with plural, it should be singular - your practice every day is nothing but the answer of it. It doesn't matter what people call it. Some may say, “That's like primitive person, or like Buddhist, Puritan....” Whatever they call it.

The word, “Buddhism” is a kind of symbol. There has been something which is called “Buddhism” but you cannot say, “I am Buddhist.” It means you are one of those Buddhas. This is a very important thing. It relates with the faith of the individual and the social happening of the church. It's a very strong thing, how faith can take form by your effort. How your faith can take form. In another word, how God appear – that is another expression. In another word, how you enlighten and how you are enlightened – it happens at the same time. This is why you maintain practice every day or always.

The future is very bright, and I always say that we are always facing to the future, and the direction light comes from is the future.

Lets finish talking.

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