12. To you who is wondering if your zazen has been good for something

What’s zazen good for?
Absolutely nothing! This “good for nothing” has got to sink into your flesh and bones until you’re truly practicing what’s good for nothing. Until then, your zazen is really good for nothing.
**
Throwing yourself completely into doing what’s good for absolutely nothing – why not give it a try?
**
So you say you’d like to try doing zazen in order to become a better person. Become a better person by doing zazen? How ridiculous! How could a person ever become something better?
**
You say you want to become a better person by doing zazen.
Zazen isn’t about learning how to be a person. Zazen is to stop being a person.
**
Some say, “Zen means having an empty mind, right?”
You won’t have an empty mind until you’re dead.
**
They think that with zazen everything gets better.
Foolish! Zazen means forgetting “better” and “worse”.
**
You are not going to earn tips doing zazen.
The day is as long as a child’s day.
The mountain is as quiet as the eternal past.

**
Zazen is unsatisfying. Unsatisfying for whom? For the ordinary person. People are never satisfied.
**
In our Sōtō school, zazen isn’t so exciting. Ordinary people are always looking for excitement – sports, gambling on horse races and things like that. What makes them so popular? It’s the excitement of winning and losing.
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Isn’t it self-evident? How could that which is eternal and infinite ever satisfy human desires?
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How could that which fills the whole universe ever fit into an ordinary person’s idea of satisfaction?
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Unsatisfying: simply practicing zazen.
Unsatisfying: realizing zazen with this body.
Unsatisfying: absorbing zazen into your flesh and blood.
**
Being watched by zazen, cursed by zazen, blocked by zazen, dragged around by zazen, every day crying tears of blood – isn’t that the happiest form of life you can imagine?
**
Somebody asks, “I can understand that during zazen we’re buddhas. But does that mean that we are just ordinary people when we are not doing zazen?”
When a thief steals, he’s a thief. If for a moment he isn’t stealing anything, does that mean that he isn’t a thief anymore?
Is eating in order to steal and eating in order to practice zazen the same thing or are they different?
Somebody who steals once isn’t trusted anymore. Somebody who practices zazen once practices eternal zazen.
**
Zazen is really an amazing thing. When you are sitting, it doesn’t seem like zazen is anything particularly good. But when you see it from the outside, there’s nothing that could be so majestic.
With everything else, it’s usually the other way around. Looked at objectively, there’s not much to it. You’re the only one who thinks what you are doing is so terribly important.
**
The reason the buddha-dharma fills the whole universe is because it doesn’t offer anything you can grab onto. Making a constant effort isn’t difficult if you don’t grab onto anything.
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True practice without profit means practicing like the wooden man and the stone woman [Footnote: As in the verse from Hōkyōzanmai, “The wooden man sings, the stone woman stands up to dance.”] **
Zazen is transparent. It has no flavor. When we give zazen a flavor, it becomes something for ordinary people.
**
Zazen isn’t so fashionable. What’s fashionable is what comes natural for an ordinary person, like the fight over winning and losing in sports.
**
Zazen isn’t fashionable because it’s flavorless and ungraspable. It doesn’t interest little children.
**
The immense, transparent sky isn’t the same thing as a bonsai tree or little statues for your little altar – it’s infinitely vast.
Nonetheless, people prefer trimming around on their bonsais or tending to their little statues.
**
You want seasoning for your consciousness. That’s why you’re not impressed by the transparent, tasteless buddha-dharma.
**
Some say that they have too many disturbing thoughts during zazen.
It’s only because the waves calm and the blood congestion sinks that we become conscious of disturbing thoughts at all.
**
You say “When I do zazen, I get disturbing thoughts!”
Foolish! The fact is that it’s only in zazen that you’re aware of your disturbing thoughts at all. When you dance around with your disturbing thoughts, you don’t notice them at all.
When a mosquito bites you during zazen, you notice it right away. But when you’re dancing and a flea bites your balls, you don’t notice it at all.
**
A layman asked: “I’ve been practicing zazen for a long time, but I still have many disturbing thoughts, and I don’t know what to do about it. Only once, during an air raid, when bombs were going off, I did zazen and didn’t have a single disturbing thought. I’d never had such good zazen. Still, afterwards everything was like it was before. Isn’t there any way to practice a zazen like that again?”
Sawaki Rōshi answered: “Yes – kōan Zen. Someone gives you a kōan and yells you into a corner. Then there’s no room for disturbing thoughts. But still afterwards everything will be like it was before. You’ve just pushed your disturbing thoughts aside for a moment.
“On the other hand, in Dōgen Zenji’s shikantaza [just sitting], it’s about completely manifesting your true form. Your ugliness is exposed, and you see yourself for who you really are. And you realize that you’re constantly producing disturbing thoughts, just like a crab blows bubbles.
“In fact, it’s a merit of zazen to be able to see that you’re full of disturbing thoughts. When you’re completely preoccupied with something, nothing else comes to mind. With a drink in your hand and your arm around a geisha, you don’t feel the flea biting you at all. For that instant all your thoughts are pushed aside. During zazen, though, you’re so aware of this flea that you don’t know what to do with yourself. Because in zazen, you aren’t numb. You’ve become transparent and clear.”
**
Isn’t it natural that in the course of our lives we’ll experience all kinds of psychological phenomena?
**
We have all kinds of thoughts during zazen, and we wonder if that’s correct. The fact that we can ask ourselves this proves that the nature of zazen is pure, and that this pure nature is looking us in the eye. When we dance around drunk in our underwear, we don’t question ourselves at all.
**
Zazen is the unity of Buddha and this ordinary person.
At precisely this moment, you can see yourself with the eyes of Buddha, and it’s clear how imperfect you really are –! in light of the fact that you are originally a buddha.
**
It’s only the ordinary person in you who is disturbed by disturbing thoughts.
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Don’t whine. Don’t stare into space. Just sit!
**
“Senshi practiced with Yakuzan for 30 years to clarify this single matter.” [Shōbōgenzō Shinji] What single matter? The fact that zazen alone is enough.

18. To you who are complaining all the time that you haven’t got any time

People only keep themselves busy to avoid boredom.
**
Everybody complains that they’re so busy they haven’t got any time. But why are they so busy? It’s only their illusions that keep them busy.
A person who practices zazen has time.
When you practice zazen, you have more time than anyone else in the world.
**
If you aren’t careful, you’ll start making a big fuss just to feed yourself. You’re constantly in a hurry, but why? Just to feed yourself.
Chickens too are in a hurry when they peck at their food. But why? Only to be eaten by humans.
**
How many illusions does a person create in their lifetime? It’s impossible to calculate. Day in, day out, “I want this, I want that…” A single stroll in the park is accompanied by 50,000, 100,000 illusions. So that’s what it means to be “busy”.
“I want to be with you, I want to come home, I want to see you…”
**
People are constantly out of breath – from running so quickly after their illusions.
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You want to reach nirvana to be liberated from your present life? It is exactly that attitude which is called “transmigration”.
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The development of transportation has made the world smaller. Now we race around in cars, but where to anyway? To the arcade! We step on the gas, just to kill time.
**
Some people spend the night playing Mah Jong only to swallow a handful of vitamins the next morning and hurry to work with swollen eyes.
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The world is in a constant state of agitation.
What can you do when faced with ordinary people besides shrug your shoulders in resignation?
**
In old koans you often hear, “Where do you come from?” Here they’re not asking for a place. Where do we all come from? Some desire sex. They come from sexual desire. Those who are greedy for money come from greed. “Please give me a reference!” A person who says this comes from the desire for career and fame.
**
“I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that, I haven’t got any time!” This is how some people go completely crazy. What should they do? The best thing would be nothing at all. They’ve just got to calm down.
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Not carrying out any human activity – that’s zazen.
**
Big businessmen and politicians complain that they’re so busy. But at the same time they take their chances with two or three lovers. The question is simply, what is important to us?
**
There’s no end to running away. There’s no end to running after. In this moment, we practice zazen without complaints.
Nothing is more precious than a life lived out of the full-lotus posture.
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Drifting in the world is like clouds drifting in non-mind. It isn’t a matter of floating more quickly. Everything moves in non-mind.
**
Everything depends on interdependent origination, there is no substance.
It’s the same with clouds: it’s not that they exist, but they also do not not-exist. And at the same time they do exist and they do not exist.
And now everybody’s cracking their heads over that.
**
When the floating world is seen by zazen, this enriches the buddha-dharma and your life. Your life will never be enriched through struggling to get by in this floating world.

23. To you who say that doctors and monks have it good

Ōtani Kubutsu was known during the Taishō Period because he once gave a geisha a 10,000 yen tip. On top of that, he wrote a haiku too: “How wasteful my life compared to the 90 years the patriarch was clothed in paper” It’s a good haiku, but is it what we expect from someone who gives a 10,000 yen tip to a geisha?
**
Kinkaku-ji as well as the golden hall in Hōryū-ji are not intended for the practice of monks. In places like these, monks can earn their keep by just hanging around.
**
For what were Tōdai-ji and Hōryū-ji and all the other temples built? In the end, only to stable good for nothing monks. It’s no surprise then, when there are monks who set Kinkaku-ji or Enryaku-ji on fire. The same goes for Ginkaku-ji as well.
**
In the first year of the Meiji Era, the five-story pagoda of Hōryū-ji was up for sale for 50 yen, and it still found no potential buyers. They did find somebody to buy the five-story pagoda of Kōfuku-ji for 30 yen, but he only wanted to burn it down to gather up the gold afterwards. When they said to him, “If you do that, the whole town of Nara will go up in flames!” he said, “Alright, to hell with it!” This is the only reason the pagoda has survived to this day.
The market value of things like these changes. There’s nothing great about things whose market value change. We could also do without them. There are more important things. Zazen is what matters.
**
Out-dated views – what adults teach children are often nothing more than out-dated views. The view that good is good and bad is bad has already had its best days. Even a vegetable which was once good is inedible once it’s past its prime.
We’ve got to always be able to see things from a fresh perspective. You say, “That’s important.” But what’s important? There’s nothing that’s so important. When we die we’ve got to leave everything behind anyway. The cultural goods and national treasures in Nara or Kyōto will sooner or later disappear, so we could actually set them on fire right now!
**
Jūji [Footnote: To live and maintain, a term for a Buddhist temple priest] originally meant dwelling in Buddhist teaching and taking responsibility for it. In other words, it meant to engage yourself for Buddhist teaching. Today it seems as if jūji means biting onto a temple and feeding yourself from it, dwelling in the temple and only worrying about your own sustenance.
**
Recently there are temples in Kyōto that run hotels or boarding houses. It’s strange how some people can’t think of anything besides money and food.
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It’s self-evident that monks who pile up money have no virtue.
In the old days Takeda Shingen said, “The people are my castle.” In this way, out of consideration for his people, he declined to build a castle, and in the end wasn’t even attacked by neighboring princedoms. During Katsuyori’s reign, an immense castle was built which was later destroyed by Ieyasu.
If monks need to pile up money, that only shows that they have something to hide.
**
A monk should be proud not to have any money.
When Ryōkan died, a rumor started to circulate that he had savings. Somebody countered, “No no, look at the records he kept up to the hour of his death!” That’s how he defended Ryōkan. So it’s shameful for a monk to have money.
**
Did Ryōkan leave money behind when he died or not? We’re relieved to hear he didn’t.
But in the world, people think differently. Here we can see that the way a monk thinks is completely the opposite of how the world thinks.
**
A monk shouldn’t look bad, no matter who looks at him. How is it that some monks can act so holy and at the same time have housewives living in their temple?
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Today’s monks haven’t left their homes [Footnote: refers to shukke, a term for “monk” which literally means “to leave home”]. They’ve simply moved from their straw-roofed huts into tile-roofed houses. Like a baker’s son who has remodeled and now runs a crematorium.
**
The ceremonial master has to change his robes constantly in the course of an ordination ceremony. That’s why somebody once said, “A monk isn’t so different from a geisha!” Be careful, or you’ll end up like that too.
**
People like to get something for nothing. If it isn’t lying on the street, they’ll steal it, pulling and tearing it. In reality, until we let everything go, we’ll stay stuck in this fog, unable to recognize the clear form of truth.
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A home-leaving monk means someone who completely lets go. It means letting go of group stupidity.
Today’s monks only want to cling to things. That’s why they’re good for nothing.
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When you feed a cat treats, it stops hunting mice. And a spoiled dog keeps no watch. Even humans aren’t any good for work when they’ve got money and can take it easy.
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For three-hundred years, the Tokugawa policy was to control the monks with gluttony and warm robes so that they finally – like wild hogs that degenerate into ordinary pigs – lost their tusks and claws and allowed their marrow to be sucked out.
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Buddhists during the Tokugawa Era were completely happy to be yoked by Tokugawa policy. The fact that they didn’t even consider themselves as religious is the reason for the current downfall of Buddhist teachings.
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Tokugawa Era Buddhism was just a governing machine disguised as religion. That’s why it fell apart all at once when the Meiji Era suppressed Buddhism.
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Today’s monks are ashamed of their monk’s robes because of the distrust that they aroused after the suppression of Buddhism during the Meiji Era – the world laughs at these shady characters.
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Today’s monks are fighting a losing battle, staggering away in retreat holding their spears backwards. “The defeated warrior is even startled by a bird.”
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“A person who returns in victory is a hero. A person who returns in defeat is an idiot.”
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Today’s monks are ashamed of being monks. In order to be recognized as monks as little as possible, they only wear their robes when they go to do business – because only as monks can they earn their living. That’s their dilemma.
Catholic priests always wear their robes. They are proud to wear them. Now is that good or not?
**
It isn’t easy to be a monk without making a business out of it. Yet a monk shouldn’t really have anything to do with business. After all, what could be more stupid than running a monk’s life like a business?
A person has to set off fearlessly towards his own goal. A Buddhist has to have a clear attitude to life.
**
Every single day of your life in society is a test, and your whole life long you mustn’t fail. That goes above all for the mind that saves suffering beings.
Even if you’re only angry once, the suffering beings won’t approach you. Even if you’re only greedy once, the suffering beings will retreat from you. This is where you’ve got to have a good handle on the way society thinks.

Shobogenzo Zuimonki 5-11

One day in a speech Dogen said:
Daido Kokusen said, “Sitting in the wind and sleeping in the sun is better than wearing rich brocades like people today.” Although this is a saying of an ancient master, I have some doubts about it. Does “people today” refer to worldly people who covet profit? If so why did he mention it? It is most stupid to compete with such people. Or does it refer to people who are practicing the Way? If so, why did he say doing what he did was better than wearing brocades? As I examine his frame of mind, it sounds as if he still values brocades. The sages were not like this. They attached themselves neither to gold and jewels, nor to broken tiles and pebbles.

Therefore Shakyamuni-Tathagata accepted milk gruel offered by the cowmaid, as well as grain used to feed horses. He accepted both with equanimity.

In the buddha-dharma, there is nothing valueless nor valuable, yet among people there is shallow and profound. Nowadays, when people are given gold and jewels, they consider them valuable and refuse them. But if they are given wood or stone, they consider such things cheap, so they accept them and hold attachment to them. Gold and jewels have been taken from the earth, wood and stone also come from the earth. Why do people refuse one because it is expensive and covet the other because it is cheap? When I inquire into such a mind, it would seem that if they obtained something expensive they would worry about building attachment to it. However, even if they acquire something cheap and love it, they will be guilty of the same fault. Students should be careful about this.