32. Thursday, November 8, 1973
Saving All Sentient Beings, God, Why Do We Sit?

KOBUN: ... how you do zazen. If you separate it from all sentient beings, that zazen is not true zazen. So if there is such a vow to save all sentient beings by this zazen, that is illusion, because it's not true. Sounds funny though, sitting alone in zazen and say, “... save all sentient beings.” Better to stand up and do something, if you have that vow. And yet this zazen has such sense. It was done, saving all sentient beings; it was done, not from now, but it was done.

STUDENT: They are saved from the beginning?

KOBUN: Um hmm. So that you can sit.

STUDENT: I wish you'd say more about that. Not even saving all sentient beings, but just helping them. Same thing, it seems to me.

KOBUN: It is very clear, to help people is at the same time to be helped by them. When you say, “I hold this paper. I am helped by this.” If I am helping this by holding, I am helped by holding this paper. Like, no helping is also one kind of helping, no concern is one kind of concern.

STUDENT: In what way is that helping me?

KOBUN: Doing it is showing you. If I don't hold it, nothing is happening with this, so doing it is maybe more than helping.

STUDENT: You mean it lets me pick it up, and this enables me to have some kind of an interaction with it and something is happening?

KOBUN: Um hmm. Like when doctor works on patient, examination of the doctor cannot be separated from reality of patient. In a sense, doctor is helping patient, but from patient's side, same helping is...

STUDENT: Since he's there, he's helping the doctor to be a doctor.

KOBUN: Zazen itself is a very peaceful thing, but when people do zazen it gives some feeling of practice, because it's “doing.” We feel it needs some effort. For some people it is great effort to maintain. In a deep place, always a very sincere question is repeated, “Am I really doing okay? Seems okay, but am I really doing okay?” Like a very basic point of every religion is a kind of dilemma, a paradox.... Here is (student)! Good morning.

STUDENT: Good morning.

KOBUN: Topic is “helping people,” and then topic became big, to “save all sentient beings,” what zazen means about this. In the sense of intuitively feeling that karmic cycle, like birth and death, we experience in daily life. Like today some bomb falls and the same evening you have to see someone's disappearance as a living thing. And very intuitively, even if you are just a watcher, not deeply involved with those to which it is happening, we cannot ignore it. In a deep place we know it is not “their” problem, it is my problem, maybe my fate, too. I am saying it's “them,” and surely it comes to me, we know. Seeing the cycle of life, and planets and stars, a very, very cosmic movement of things. And this kind of feeling is very intuitive, more original knowing, very similar to the sense of “original sin” people felt. Eating the apple was not the occasion of original sin. Man and woman cannot be separated, and for God to create them, for them to be born, was already a problem. For God it was a problem, and for the people it was a problem. Even if you didn't eat the apple it was a problem.

Maybe indirectly we come to the heart of the question, how to help people. It is to recognize how naturally we are helped by people. We may do something and feel, “This time I feel I helped people,” but all the time, actually, we are helped, and we don't know how much we were helped. Maybe the recognition of helping people is just one percent, ninety percent is all the time we are helped. This idea of “helper” and “I can help people,” maybe forget this word from our mind as a sound and do whatever you really wish to do. That is probably best way. And to be saved also same.... It makes sense to train people to be helpers for people with quite severe problems, like maybe handicapped from birth. That is very hard. Most of the time when therapist and patient meet it is like two mirrors. The therapist has to be very clear, very clear-minded, and also has to be trained in knowledge of society, what society is, what kind of society all of us are living in. He doesn't need to use that knowledge except to really see what caused the patient's problem.

Zazen mind reaches – “reach” is not so good word, but, in your zazen present problems, not only sickness, may or may not be included. Your zazen doesn't separate from, depart from, reality. You sit in reality. So it looks like, if the surroundings are very confused, your zazen is not separate from the confused reality. It is important whether you see it as confusion or very complicated condition. Zazen is not a personal thing at all, not personal practice at all. It looks like it, because the individual does zazen. But your zazen cannot be yours from head to toe and from beginning to end. And if enlightenment appear it cannot be, of course, personal experience. It is just that enlightenment appeared because it was ready, man was ready to accept it.

STUDENT: It's very hard for me to understand that. I feel it's my zazen when I'm sitting. I have to make an effort to sit there and I want to call it mine. And it's helping me, you know. I don't know how to see that other point of view.

KOBUN: Maybe I should say it is a more serious thing.

STUDENT: ... than me.

KOBUN: Than you are thinking it is. It's like I said, birth and death. By doing zazen both is solved. It means that if you meet with God in zazen, it is not true zazen.

STUDENT: I don't have that problem!

STUDENT: What do you mean by that?

KOBUN: You have to die at that time. And you have to let God die.

STUDENT: Is that to say that God is just a concept that we have?

KOBUN: No, no, no. It's not a concept. It is a matter of the base of your life. As far as you say, “I am living,” the same recognition of God appears. I mean life cannot be known by us. This is really an important point. Death cannot be known by us. But we try to know it. That's a problem, just to live life and die death.

Like when you see the process of Christ's life. Very dramatic and very short. In many ways, a dewdrop, a raindrop reached to the earth and the earth was very hot. In a very, very short moment it touched and evaporated. That kind of life he got, because of the age and people's condition. Of course Christ was the same as every one of us. What happened for Him happened on the world. When you see it from a distance, his death is the same as the other two on the cross. It was just a dramatic and very cosmic way of life. Like a lover that had to die. In a very different sense we have to die.... It is not so that everything ended with that. That everything began with that is also not true.

My feeling of zazen is out of my intellect. Just try to do it, try to do it.

STUDENT: Kobun, in the search for God, this necessity that we have to understand life and death, do we give it up to understand, to work it out?

KOBUN: You cannot ignore it, give up knowing it but really be with it. Wait to judge things until after death. That is important. Maybe after my death I will know whether I did real zazen or not.

STUDENT: You don't mean to give up the search, do you? The search for the answer to life and death, you don't mean to give that up, do you? Just to know that we can't find the answer, but to keep searching?

KOBUN: You don't need to search it. You are in the middle of your “it” so if you begin to search it you have to scratch yourself! I have a body. When it is scratched it causes pain. If you search yourself, you will see yourself everywhere. Like you go to travel, seek of yourself. Whatever you see, whenever you see, they tell you who you are.

STUDENT: To know that you don't know the answer, or you can't know, doesn't mean that there isn't an answer, does it?

KOBUN: Right. It doesn't mean there is no answer. It doesn't mean there is no answer. Very delicate point, whether I can accept myself this way. It relates with the point of this body and mind. Whether you constantly say, “I am not enough. I am bad man. I do always bad thing,” or “It's okay if I do bad. I'll take care of bad thing, and taking care of bad result, I'll take care of myself.” You can take care of yourself. Whether you accept yourself or not, it always comes to this point.

STUDENT: In the Christian church, the original “bad” thing, which you take responsibility for, might be the act of birth. So we have to take care of that. Original sin, in that sense. I suppose you could take care of it by dying.

KOBUN: I am sorry. It cannot be so. Death cannot pay.

STUDENT: But if you take care of your death it's the same as taking care of your life.

KOBUN: Ya. That's big thing.

STUDENT: The question, though, was how to take best care.

STUDENT: Last week I asked you about original sin and you said original sin was the thing that makes people look for enlightenment, somehow. I always thought original sin was foolishness, because the Christian religion has a very narrow, very literalistic, and mechanical notion of what original sin is about. But you showed that it has much more to do with not, not knowing the answer, but with having the need to look for an answer.

KOBUN: Ya. A student asked why you sit, and Les Kaye Wh said, “Why you stand up and why you walk, eat?” When “why” appears with each activity, when you take it very seriously, very intellectually, it makes sense to want to know why you sit, why you live. It doesn't need to be answered by word. When the man who is asking is very far from sitting.... And when I ask myself, “Why do I sit?” it is really a foolish question. It is for itself. Zazen doesn't need to be asked “Why?” If you put down reasons why you live, maybe your life doesn't like to be answered in that way. “I live for you,” or “I live for this,” “I live for that.” Life is the very reason of everything. Life is the reason of itself.

It is kind of a fruitless question to ask why. Maybe the most clear, attractive answer is “because of enlightenment.” Maybe to encourage people to sit, this presentation of zazen is good. Like, “Zazen is the gate for kensho. After kensho you do zazen. Kensho is to realize true self. After kensho your zazen become true zazen.” My opinion of this kind of presentation is very, very negative. It's like hitting someone and, “Do you feel the pain?” The people who sit, really sit, don't even know why it has to be happening. Even they don't know how to meditate.

STUDENT: It would seem to me that must be asked of you very often, in various ways, “Why do you sit?”

KOBUN: No one ask this question. Some similar question, why I came this country? Maybe this question is asked very often. That Palo Alto Times man's first question was, “Why are you here?” I said, “Why you came here?”

STUDENT: One of the things Dick Baker said at the sesshin was that maybe Suzuki Roshi came here because we, America, had done so many bad things, that he decided to come here because we needed him most. It was really a big idea, you might say, that got dropped, casually. When there's no answer, there's that kind of answer that readily appears.

STUDENT: You shouldn't think it appears so readily. Usually an answer is a response to a particular situation and need – the people being spoken to and the people speaking.

KOBUN: You mean Baker Roshi's talk?

STUDENT: Um hmm.

KOBUN: Ya. Who speak about who is very important to know, not a general answer. Baker Roshi's speech cannot be everyone's.... Maybe if Suzuki Roshi were here he would laugh and laugh when Baker Roshi say so.

STUDENT: And what would Baker Roshi do? It makes me very unhappy when you give that kind of answer. I don't like it. You shouldn't say, "That's a foolish question. Don't ask me why I sit.” I get very restless. So I feel like you can't ask any question, if you can't ask that.

KOBUN: Maybe when you are eating, someone say, “Why you eat?” and you become very angry.... But if you sit, hundred thousand question come, “Why you sit?” from various places. Your zazen has to accept those. Your zazen has to be able to accept those, even if you don't get angry. Without reaching to things, to everything, accept them. Without touching them, without changing them, you make them sit with you.

STUDENT: ... without changing them. Leaving things still, leaving things alone. As I look at my reasons, as I let go of my various reasons as they come and go, I always find that funny little element in it, which is not leaving other people alone, things alone. Just as they are, it's all right. That's probably my trouble with the helping professions. I see a desire to control the future or other people, a kind of false belief that “I have some control over something.” It's like the little ego in very subtle ways. I hate to look at it.

STUDENT: The idea of helping others seems a lot like, to me, walking into the forest on a rainy day with a watering can and having the idea that you're taking care of things. When you stop watering and look around you feel that those are trees and I'm wearing clothes and it feels lonely, it doesn't feel so good. But the watering is something you've found to do during the day, for yourself. When you talk about Suzuki Roshi coming to this country, in that situation he would be sort of one of those trees and one of the rain drops watering the forest. There's no idea of any watering can around.

STUDENT: I really think that's true. That remark by Dick Baker was kind of a false note. But in some ways those foolish statements and foolish questions are being human. If you refuse to be foolish you refuse to be human, it seems to me, which is a separation.

STUDENT: Kobun, didn't you say something earlier about helping... “ninety percent”? Didn't you mean that there is helping going on all the time, but we don't necessarily know about it? We are all being helped by everyone else's zazen, or everyone else's being around?

KOBUN: Totally, completely helped, that is the existence of our (points to self), this thing, this being.... Your feeling toward this word, “emptiness,” “nothing,” or “mu”... without the sense of death we cannot speak of, think of emptiness. If you like to know how cold the earth is, one foot below your feet, you have to dip your hand and feel it. This question, “What is life... what is death?” is not philosophical, intellectual or scientific. Maybe all those understandings of what life and death are will help to understand in a structured way, but to live it and to die it is most direct answer.... How life is, how death is, is most interesting topic for us. What is death like?

The answer to why Suzuki Roshi came, if you limit the question to that man, the limit of the answer appears. If you understand a more living answer, there is a surprising question, surprising answer, you will hear. When Roshi appears he bows on the floor, and at the same time he feels like a “little man.” That is what zazen is talking about. Zazen spoke about Roshi, when Jerry gave his talk about Roshi, the “little man.” He's not little at all but zazen speaks that way. Everyone has this, even people who do not know Buddha or Bodidharma, everyone, without exception, even the born handicapped man has this very.... How do you say, deep respect, deep respect on their life. Otherwise I cannot understand why people try to continue to live, without easily giving up. Looks like very strong attachment to live, but to say, “strong attachment to life” is just talk, because life has to be really lived. So people try to do so hard, even we don't recognize we do so hard. Life is very hard, actually.

A completely lost person and a completely awakened person live at the same age, same time, same moment. Virtue of life, lost person's virtue of life, and completely enlightened one's virtue of life, you cannot say which is good, which is precious. Always same. We have to remember, if you really knew the true virtue of everyone's life, as much as you can you help others.

One by one is a very important thing. You don't need to prepare great theory to help people. Most of the time it becomes a very big hindrance. You will be trapped and travel around with the patient when you have a theory, a strong determination of, “I am doing this....”

How to die, that's very big. How to die you can help. You can go to people....

If you trust a particular power, skill of yours, it will never work, never work. If you really listen, when you see the patient, the troubled person, go into his trouble, that is the way to live the trouble with him. That is how to solve the problem. My feeling is like the guide of mountain climbing. The guide doesn't have the sense, “I am expert.” Each time that kind of left-over, extra, sense has to be put away. How many people come with you, how the weather is, and how everything is going, that is all of your concern.

STUDENT: Yeah. When you're a mountain guide, you have some kind of responsibility in that situation. But if you're really able to show people the mountains, take care of them, then mostly you're just climbing the mountain and taking care of the situation. Sounds very Buddhist but I'm just talking about the mountains. It's just participating with them in climbing the mountain. If that's not the case, usually it's not a very good feeling at all. But generally you try very hard so you know what can happen and usually you're not likely to become too frightened in situations that seem unusual. Or even if you are frightened, it's happened so many times that you can still continue. You do feel somewhat apart because you have that responsibility, and it's very easy to be hurt. Many things can happen, but other than that, you have the same feeling that you have with a good friend that you've climbed with many times before. That's just talking about mountains....

KOBUN: Ya. That's fine.

STUDENT: I had the feeling last night that that's kind of what Les was saying about Suzuki Roshi. Les said he thought that he'd been helped by Roshi's even-mindedness, that steadiness and sureness that he knew what he was doing, and not anything special that he was doing.

KOBUN: Every day is different. Every day is very similar, but very different, and it is a very good thing to see the similarity. If it is completely different you will be very busy to know where we are!

“Even-minded....” What makes man's mind even is very interesting. It's not like a jet airplane, or smooth.... Constant self-negation makes very even-minded, not negation of others.


back to preview