25. Thursday, August 9, 1973
STUDENT: I have a thought. It's about how much effort I put into being a Buddha, versus believing that I already am a Buddha and I don't have to work at it.
KOBUN: That's a nice point. Dogen had same question. It was his great doubt, and this question dragged him around the whole world. Our practice begins from perfection, that is to think of our Buddha nature within ourselves, very mental understanding. By practice you make sure it is really true. Like, “I am basically very beautiful woman,” and even if you don't comb, or don't polish it, even if you are very beautiful, the beauty is somewhere else. When someone says, “Show me that you are living, that you are really living, not just moving,” then you have to show it. That is our practice. This is how Dogen got answer. Practice and realization is one thing. One thing, not separated.
It's easy to understand, but difficult to feel it. It's like when I move this tape recorder one foot, it looks like I am moving it from here to here, but what it is, is whole world, whole world including you, is making the effort to move it here. And if you say, “It moved one foot,” that is a part of realization. No one can tell what happened. Like when we go to work and eight hours, we work. What is merit of the work? The result of work is always with it. If you say, “I work for salary,” it is like the understanding, “It just moved one foot, that's all.” You cannot actually measure how great merit exists in everyday work, in five hours, eight hours.
STUDENT: What I'm always left with is that I have to have faith. But I still want to understand... besides accepting that my practice is a realization that Buddha nature is in me. There's this itch to be more in control.
KOBUN: Faith cannot be, in any sense, artificial. It is a very natural thing. You cannot add anything to it. It has to be pure. It cannot be misunderstood. If it happens, it happens. There is a very big difference between the behaviors of Rinzai zazen and Soto zazen on this point.
STUDENT: We work more on faith?
KOBUN: Totally, totally. If you desire to be Buddha, or to get more big enlightenment, and sit, it becomes a hindrance. It's big ego. If such desire appear, it will melt in your zazen. Maybe melt and evaporate. That is how your zazen works. That desire cannot touch to it. So with whole body and mind, with whole life, you try it. If it was 40 minutes, it was 40 minutes. That's all. Forty minutes of zazen. Nothing from it, nothing before it. Shikan means nothing from it and nothing to it. It is just itself. Dogen didn't express it in this way, but what he spoke... in Genjokoan there is a story of wind and fan. The master, Hotetsu of Myoku spoke, “This is practice – the air is everywhere, the nature of wind is everywhere, but unless you do this (fanning the air) you don't get the wind.”
Enlightenment, or recognition of Buddhahood, without practice is like eating something, maybe sweet ice cream, in a dream. You are eating, but actually you are sleeping and imagining. We can become great saviours in the dream. I mean we can write and speak great ideas and make people feel they are saved... sweet ice cream in the dream!
I was reading the beginning of one chapter of the Upanishads, about the origin of creation of the earth. It is about Atman and Brahman. It goes like this, “In the beginning It was.” “It” means Atman, Atman existing with human form. “He found there is only himself, nothing else, and he recognized, “I am It.” Sounds like Yahweh's recognition. And he felt fear, strange fear, and asked, ”Why do I feel fear, there is nobody else except me?” When he understood it in this way, the fear disappeared, because fear appears when something else, somebody else, exists besides me. Then he started to feel aloneness, “Something is missing.” This part is Japanese mythology.
A few paragraphs later it reads, “In the beginning, Brahman existed...” and the contrast of Brahman and Atman starts to come together. There are many good works of Upanishad. There are very rich contents, showing how the ground, the soil, was from which Buddhism arose.
STUDENT: What was it that Buddha said when he was born? “I alone.”
KOBUN: Um hum. That is what Buddha is. When you realize Buddhahood, when you really believe in your Buddhahood, those words well up, “I alone exist. Nothing else exists.” It sounds like a little being, like Kobun, or Mary, or Nora. But that is an opportunity to maintain practice. When you can really believe in your Buddha nature, what it is, you really believe in all others' Buddha nature. This is what Buddhist faith is. Very difficult. Very, very difficult. It is faith in something unseen.
STUDENT: You said, in one of your lectures, that zazen was like getting on a plane. We're not directing it, we're just riding in it. When I heard you I thought, “Oh, that might do for other people, but I'm gonna figure things out.” But I feel I've been taken somewhere, zazen has done something to me, and I'm still trying to struggle against that.
KOBUN: Ya. A chip of ego. Once someone ran inside the train car. He wanted to reach the destination before anybody else!
STUDENT : Impatience. We want it right now, like instant breakfast and instant everything.
KOBUN: That feeling is a kind of looking back at yourself, feeling that you are still something that you used to be. Actually, it is not you. Zazen is like finding out we are one grain of rice among thousand million rices. “How beautiful this rice is.” And you set it back on the other grains.
STUDENT: Once, a long time ago, you said that the question of freedom was very important.
KOBUN: Right. It is very important, what real freedom is. It is basic to the spiritual awakening of humankind. With this subject of freedom humans started to count time, and have developed and built up the whole of history, formed the structure of culture. And yet very few people have actually realized it, actualized it.
Freedom. It is the essential attitude, essential subject, of democracy. And it has succeeded in some degree.... We are actually sitting with head in the air, and free, but because of seeing everyone's peace, and seeing lots of problems.... People feel that because there is war, something has been missed. Not only in democracy, but in many religions, there is such dead end. So self-conversion appears. When you meet dead end, you feel pain. You think, “This cannot be like this forever.” You want to find another way, another path. Marxism has this idea, “It has always been like this from the beginning.” In that sense Communism had an idea that there was a problem from the beginning, which is gradually changing... finding what was missed. In the sphere of art this has been happening for a long time. Great suffering existed and there was little hope. There is something... new energy is arising.
Freedom. Modern man has to find what it is. It relates with last week's conversation about departure from Eden. And recently it was very strongly recognized as a statement, and utterance, of the death of God. That means not only death of a god, but death of the old creature, too. It becomes a recognition of the desert-like world of the material. There is no life in it. There is movement and changing winds, some sound, but all are just material. This very strong feeling of modern man is a very remarkable thing. But freedom has to have that face of nothing, face of nothing. Meaninglessness. Yet humans are now recovering from this meaningless feeling. In Europe this was a really big problem, and for many people the fear continues. And I see many, many antique stores in this country. In Japan, there are also many antique stores, but no fine exhibitions. Very little art is seen. An antique is love toward the past. You cannot make it again. Such nice shape, old material, so elegant. And you have to set it softly. You cannot use it so hard.
In Zen, this antique feeling is on the precepts and commandments, rules for practice, rules for daily life. The recognition is that this is a very old antique. I cannot sit on it. There is an exact way to step forward, but there is no law in front of you. This is what freedom is. You have many examples of the opposite of freedom: Enslavement, restraint, ignorance. These are the conditions of no-freedom.
Young people always protest. Good thing, bad thing, always protest! Suffering is deep protest, to oneself, too. That is what a young man is. Everything is in protest. But what are the contents of this protest is the very strong rule, to follow freedom. The phenomenal appearance is protest. Suffering and the pleasure of freedom in one action. Wisdom is always like that, always like the young man. It appears as self-denial, self-struggle. That is how wisdom works.
“Free-dom.” It's a strange word. In English, this word is getting very old. If you say “freedom,” it's too late. But in Oriental terms, this is moksha , salvation. This is what real freedom is in older concept. Like when you save someone from water, it means you drop the restraint of water. It means you separate him from the problem of water. That is what the action of salvation is. And by this saving activity, you, yourself, are saved. That is what freedom is.
I think that the idea of longing, expectation of the Messiah, in the sound of the word you can hear what “Messiah” is. Everyone's mind has a "Messiah.” It means everyone can be a Messiah. The expectation of a Messiah means that when the actual figure appears, they can communicate quickly. In a passive way, the Messiah is in everyone. So when such a figure appears, many people will be saved.
One student said to me, “I am a little bored with Zen. What to do?” This is a kind of misunderstanding, a kind of feeling, “Am I doing okay? I am tired. There is no use to go on.” I said, “That's fantastic!” It's like the fever has dropped... the high state has gone somewhere, disappeared. Or a low state disappears. Neither things are particularly exciting.
STUDENT: It is not so much a desire for excitement as it is a fear of boredom.
KOBUN: Ya. You once spoke about “quietism.” I thought about it a long time. “Quietism” is no good, no good. If quietness follows to some activity, that is fine, but if “quietism” becomes the destination, goal, it is really something bad.... Nirvana. The major character of nirvana is very still, very quiet. Even if you have a big sound, there is the same amount of quiet in it. Like you hear a strong kyosaku, but there is deep quiet in it too. When the master scolds, yells, no one jumps up, but you hear, “Oh, what is he doing?”
Nirvana. One character of Buddhism is this tranquility. It's like the usual temperature of the body – not high fever or low, high blood pressure or low blood pressure. Just right.
Tranquility. Social tranquility makes life very weak. It's like seeking the best conditions. Rigidity always follows to it.
STUDENT: I think what's scary is not boredom, itself. That is, sitting there with nothing to do. What's scary is when your boredom sort of levels out where you can see how useless all your activity is. I get caught in frustration, “I want to do something but there's nothing to do.” You can see that a lot of your activities aren't necessarily done for their own sake, but to escape.
KOBUN: Reality is a great teacher... great, great enemy-like teacher! I'll tell you a very funny feeling I had last week. It had been in my mind a long time, “Why do people have to be in the hospital?” I met occasionally with two patients at Napa, and we could sit on the ground. I didn't have any feeling that they were patients, I just felt that they were friends who were having some trouble. And because of their trouble they cannot be close to me, I have to go to see them. And their trouble is my trouble – I know that very, very clearly. Their weakness is maybe my strong rejection, so they have to be in the hospital. My rejection is all peoples' rejection. It's like a hospital has a clear division of glass and all of us are on this side while they are on the other side. You can go around and stay, and let them be on the other side, seeing through. I got a very strong feeling when a doctor came out and asked me, “Are you the one who is talking, always? This patient says “Roshi” sometimes, and “Sensei” sometimes.
To understand why people have to be in jail while other people are free to be in school, monastery, or in the field. What is the individual freedom of each person? If these two people come out and stay on our side of the world, I am very sure they won't go back again. I have to go sometime, maybe, but they don't go back again. In that sense they are practicing in that spot. But for each of us, there is the vague possibility to go both ways. Very sure steps they are taking, not because of pills, but they are like drops of life. They have desire, very basic desire to live longer. That is keeping their life steadily stronger. The door can be opened from inside any time, but they don't want to open it. That is what the hospital is. Maybe jail is opposite – a person can go in, but from inside it cannot be opened.
A monastery is a very strange place. There is no door. You can go in, you can come out. But if you go in there is a very strong... something. If you come out a very strong thing is waiting for you.
A personalized monastery in city life is temple. So it is more advanced. Every day it dies, every day it has to be alive. That is temple. Monastery is more like never die, never born. A temple arrives by peoples' existence. Even if people gather, if there is no life in it, it cannot be called a temple. It's just a bunch of people. Maybe a party in a saloon, or something. We are very fortunate we have temple. Slowly, one by one, people will recognize it is. Maybe few people are seeing the temple, so it will be unseen. I mean, there is sangha, which has a limitation, and at the same time, no limitation. Sangha exists in this spot. It depends on the decision – if it appears, the temple will appear. It relates with old antique furniture – to make it real, to make it your own, that is how sangha develops. If it is others', or commanded thing, it is not free. It is not real sangha.... We shouldn't get into this subject! This is a big, big subject.
STUDENT: Almost everyone that I know thinks of freedom as freedom from being coerced. For them, being free is not being bothered. But if you've gone through one or two things in a fairly complete way, you see that freedom isn't necessarily doing just what you want, but making yourself bigger, so that things which formerly coerced you become yourself, coercing yourself.
KOBUN: The last stage of the restraint is a universe. So the universe becomes a kind of jail for each of us, the last barrier to hit. To get to know it, what it is, is a big thing. It's like you are expecting everyone to be enlightened.
STUDENT: Maybe so. But anyone who has lived for a while has at least tasted a glimpse of what that's like. So it's not so terribly far away.
STUDENT: Or it's as far away as it always was.
KOBUN: It's not far away, and it's not an old thing, either. It's just the 20 th Century. It has a history of about 20 centuries. Ishvara is a Sanskrit word. Moksha is freedom and ishvara is what the individual feels, “This is it!” Moksha is what it is. How the individual feels is this ishvara. It's like... freely you recognize it, freely it appears. It's like a good carpenter. When he dances, building appear. That kind of freeness. When musician plays, there is no particular effort, just great enjoyment exists. Or great suffering exists, but what we cause is great music.
STUDENT: I have a feeling that I want to be a missionary and hit people over the head and tell them they don't understand what it means to be a good musician. Lots of people think that what you should do is learn how to play an instrument, and then forget everything and just play – everything that comes out will be wonderful because you didn't think about it. But that isn't the way a good musician works. He plays old pieces again and again, and again and again and again until, even though somebody else wrote them, he wrote them. That's the way he feels.
KOBUN: That's a very important point. Freedom and creation. Without mastering tradition there is no creation. Without samsara, there is no Buddha, maybe, no effective Buddha. There will be Buddhas without samsara, but they will not be effective.