31. Thursday, October 11, 1973
Teacher / Student, Ego, Reincarnation

STUDENT: I sometimes hear a statement, “Where there is a student, a teacher appears.”

KOBUN: Actually, unless you have a teacher, you don't know what teacher and student are like. I know it very well. With full effort you resist and protest. The teacher has to do standing bow and let the disciple resist him. Then he bows on the floor to the student. That is the relation of teacher and disciple. No excuse.

It's not teaching and learning, not that simple. Your whole life you owe the teacher and your whole life makes sense by the student. It's not like take a test and say, “You did good job.” No, not like that!

STUDENT: That's a little bit scary!

KOBUN: It's scary, of course. If you hesitate because you are a little frightened that shows you have a slight sense of self. My feeling is, to communicate with teacher by koan is too sweet, like “Here is a candy. Can you catch it? Can you jump to it?” For the student it is more an obstacle, a very difficult barrier that the teacher puts between.

STUDENT: Does a student create a barrier by seeing life as a koan?

KOBUN: Ya. Student's life, itself, is a Great Doubt. In that sense it is a koan. The teacher has to have full responsibility.... To travel and find good, excellent teacher sounds very good but I don't think he finds the teacher. You travel to be found. That's what it is. Like, do you know how Mohammed moved the mountain? This is an interesting story. Mohammed wanted to show his great power, among all his men, his followers. He said, “I will move this mountain.” Everyone gathered, “Our boss is going to move that big mountain.” It took three days. One day he asked the mountain to move. The mountain didn't move. So the mountain said, “Today I don't feel so good.” Next day, same thing happened. Mountain didn't want to move. The third day came. So finally Mohammed said, “If you don't want to move, I will move. I will move.” And he began to walk to the mountain. And he moved mountain. Like when two persons are in a relationship, you see the mountain is now personalized. How you face to the other man? Do you move from the side, do you let the person move to you?

STUDENT: When you said, “If the student has a great doubt, then the teacher takes full responsibility?

KOBUN: Um hmm.

STUDENT: Don't all students have a great doubt?

KOBUN: Yes. Student is great doubt, not has.

STUDENT: Because if a student has a great doubt, then there's that ego that possesses a great doubt that the teacher can't do anything with. But when only the Great Doubt exists, then the teacher can do something.

KOBUN: Mostly, the ego is to think there is some great, precious eternal self within each being, and to cling to it, to the idea, that is the beginning of ego. Someone asked last night about skandha, like when we see a man as five skandhas. When you bring five skandhas and put them together, there is no appearance of a man. And when you analyze a man into five skandhas, the man disappears. But when you put the analyzed elements together, a man appears. This is the difference, analyzing and putting together.

STUDENT: Just the elements, themselves, don't constitute a human being, a person. But, putting the elements together, there's this and this and this, therefore, I must be. Suddenly I've created an idea. It's that idea that's me.

KOBUN: Complete unity, our body is like that, inner elements, outer elements, then all of a sudden you say, “I exist like this.” Ego. I don't know exactly what ego is. I cannot find what man mean by ego. Is there such ego you are carrying always? Like a big bankbook in your pocket!

STUDENT: In the new Garuda there's one article in which Rinpoche says that to think there is some eternal essence inside all of us, a spirit, that's phft! I just wonder what's Big Mind, then, and what puts the elements together.

KOBUN: Yeah, that's the important thing. Recognition of limited being, this is very important point. Why does the limited, conditioned, being at the same time have a sense of eternity... eternal, unchanging? Like a very strong wish to live forever. Like when you see the Egyptian grave where they keep the body, the Book of Death, and all furniture, all treasures, everything this man collected. He thought he brought it with him to the world of death. And he believed after end of this limited life, there is next life, and in next life I am going to use those things.

When you cut onion like this, it is very similar, rings, very beautiful, mandala-like cut face. It is that kind of need to know who we are, how we have been, that is cognition of self. Nowadays this word, “ego,” has a feeling of negative emotion. It is nihilist. In 19 th century and very early 20 th century, “nihilist,” and “egoist,” was a very pure way of life, even if they didn't recognize that they were an “egoist” or "nihilist.” And now, when you say, “I am existentialist,” another says, “Oh, you are quite old and still you are existentialist?” A hippy, already very old. A hippy is very old-fashioned, like a person who missed the plane! He just woke up yesterday!

Someone has asked, “I have big ego, what shall I do?” Maybe the answer is, “You have very strong self-compassion, compassion to only you... very good thing.” Egoist was like that. One thing is, no trustful thing can be found, outside or inside. Everything is all shaky, speedy, very fast change. Everything can be merely tentatively depended on. When people become interested in very hard material, like collection of rock, hard rock, always somewhere else in a very close place, there is war and battles. It's a very strange phenomenon, how people's interests relate with degree of stability. Sometimes it appears as a social thing, usually it appears in a very personal, individual way. Speed is usually very uncertain. But, as you know, speed is a very sure thing too, very certain. Some people feel, only at very fast speed, they feel very calm. So finding calmness in very high speed, and a kind of sense of stability and sureness, is a change from a real foundation of stability.

Ego, when you discover it, is a very good, very clear feeling. It is a very clear perception of the whole aspect, whole view, of your life. Maybe at first you feel something, kind of a question mark. You don't know, “Is this ego? Am I just... ego?”

“Vijnana... prajnana... prajna,” has this ego and pure self. In the Buddhist term, this ego has various faces. First of all, you don't know how big it is, and who you are, and who they are. “What is this?” Somehow you feel, “I am living and everything is okay.” Like when you say, “American Buddhism,” that is big ego, big ego. You don't know how big it is. Maybe it is the same size as the earth. That is American Buddhism! The same size as unsolved, unknown universes. American Buddhism has that kind of hugeness. In ancient times, Indian sages said, “kalpas,” measureless universe, innumerable universes. This galaxy is just part of it. Yet, in this great sense, American Buddhism has to have the character of very big ego. And European Buddhism, too, it has very strong ego. You can smell it, smell the fragrance of ego! And it has some karmic, maybe traditional, historical background of each nation.

Usually ego is ugly, and doesn't want to show among people, but without letting people know, insists. That is ego. Most ego, I should say, is just imagination, just idea, just a memory, unforgettable memory, like the face of the past. “I was very famous when I was 25 years old. Now I am not so good condition, but I was fantastic!” That kind of vanity....

.... Until we find the source of the big job, which has become a little ego, you don't recognize.... Finally you find, “Oh, that is myself, that time,” and you become very embarrassed. Many times the ego is formed by social conditioning, a sense of position, “This is me, this is mine, that belongs to me, that belongs to others, mine is on this side of the line, others here....” Like the Pacific Ocean – there is no line, but it is divided, “... from this place, American nation, from this, Soviet, and Japan like this.”

One thing is, we are a being which has a home. If we do not have any homes, just like air, there will be no need to speak of ego. Basic thing is, ego has to be appreciated, if it appears. It is not a thing to be hated. It tells you where you are. Like when some dangerous thing come close to you, even if you do not have any egoistic idea, you begin to feel how to react to this force. In many ways, in social sense, our self, even it is pure self, takes the form of ego, to be discriminated and to discriminate.

STUDENT: In the relative world....

KOBUN: Um hmm. This is very important point. When you say, the “self”, in the sense of ego, Western people, European people, are really well-trained because they have had so long period of training in independence and freedom. To free yourself from all restraints and let all restraints be free from yourself, this is real good training. In the Orient this is not so well-trained. The Oriental people's feeling is more secureness of sociality. When you fit to some society you feel stable, and free. It's very interesting. Lately we see Japanese lone travelers, but mostly Japanese people move with three or four figures. In Chinatown still you see many Japanese travelers with groups.

When you ask if there was a sense of self in Shakyamuni Buddha, the Enlightened One, what do you think is the mind of Buddha? What is Buddha nature, what makes Buddha a Buddha? Or what is the content of Buddha nature? This is well-known, very familiar thing for you, now you understand what it is when I say so. Wisdom, compassion is the very, very thing Buddha nature is. You can remember that. And what wisdom and compassion is, is self which has no ego at all. “Wisdom, compassion” are very well-known words. We use them often and we have some flash, very deep experience. Sometimes we have a close, very close, friend, partner of life and you know what you feel – what is compassion, what is wisdom. But not all the time we feel that strong feeling of not depending. A deep feeling of owing, or acceptance, to be accepted – this kind of feeling. Not halfway acceptance, but total acceptance. Wisdom and compassion are the very contents of the all-being.... To let it appear, let it appear is to drop the self, drop the ego. It's a very strange relation. This point is a very important point.

If the quality is not the same, relation with teacher and disciple is impossible. Because of quality it is possible to communicate.


KOBUN: ..... To see reality as a flat ring of life around the earth isn't enough, actually. Every moment life is disappearing and appearing. Like electric light is constantly appearing and disappearing, yet we see the maintenance of light. When you see the sunset, you see that burning sun, like a breathing sun. Reincarnation can be seen in every maintenance of the heartbeat and of inhalation, exhalation. When you closely see how your mind, the supreme aim of your life, is working, every moment.... If you completely change your whole plan, whole discipline of life, in the next moment you can be a different way of life. But you still maintain something similar in another, different way of life. Reincarnation is a very wise way to understand history. Like seeing the layers of the culture, like layers of soil, you can read reincarnation. The idea and thoughts of karma relate with reincarnation. Like some deeds of this life take flower, affecting three hundred years from now. Long inhalation, exhalation of three lives later. Not that this body has three lives. Four generations later it appears.

At that time, those people are reincarnated. If some people feel there is an explanation for something in the past, they find out the reason for it, and they start to make that fruit. Again they do some similar job. There are many such expressions of reincarnations. Many people say, “My life is reincarnated one.” The Nichiren school in Japan is very strong in this. The Bodhisattva's Vow also continues reincarnation. STUDENT: Is sitting zazen like that? I mean if someone sat zazen in the past, and then zazen continues, somehow it continues in us. KOBUN: You make sense of the existence of Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, by your zazen. It's your zazen. You are not just imitating past peoples' zazen. You make sense of their life with your zazen. The origin of history is not twenty-four centuries ago. You make the origin of history this morning. Especially in your own zazen you can feel that, and you can really say so. History is not like a little stream to the ocean. Future Buddhas can be seen in your zazen.

Maitreya Buddha is the Buddha who appears after this earth is broken. Someone said it would be one billion years later. The age of a human being keeps around one hundred years. And yet this Maitreya Buddha is future Buddha....

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