To You (2)

by Kōdō Sawaki Rōshi

Translated from Japanese by Jesse Haasch and Muhō. The complete book might be available in print at some point in the future.


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.

You want to reach nirvana to be liberated from your present life? It is exactly that attitude which is called “transmigration”.

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.

19. To you who are tumbling down the career ladder

When you’re dead and you look back at your life, you’ll see that none of this mattered in the least.

Suffering is nothing more than the suffering we create for ourselves. Some even take great pains to meticulously piece together their own suffering.

None of this matters at all. Stop blubbering! What a waste of tears.
Grow up a little and open your eyes: You’ll see that you’re making a great fuss over nothing.
All living beings are just like crybabies making a great fuss over nothing.

The whole world makes a big deal over nothing. What’s it all for? Is there really anything in the world that merits making such a weepy face?

Sometimes you hear actors in the theatre saying, “But what should I do? What should I do?” This question has never occurred to me, because I just say to myself, “None of this really matters at all!”

Fortune and misfortune, good and bad – not everything is how it looks to your eyes. It’s not how you think it is either. We’ve got to go beyond fortune and misfortune, good and bad.

You talk about your troubles and worries, but what do your troubles and worries really consist of? Isn’t it like someone who catches his own fart with his hand, smells it and bursts out saying, “Oh no, that really stinks!” The more time you have, the more time you spend with your farts. At some point, you should get to know real suffering. You want to hang or drown yourself in desperation? Come back down to earth and wake up to reality!

You suffer because you don’t want to accept what has to be accepted.

Quietly accepting what has to be is what’s meant by satori. Great satori means seeing necessity as necessity, for necessity is an integral part of the universe.

You’re worried about death? Don’t worry – you’ll die for sure.

20. To you who like to hear ghost stories

People often ask me if ghosts really exist. Somebody who racks their brains over something like that is what I call a ghost.

It’s said that the dead appear as ghosts, but that’s only true as long as you have the living. When the living are dead, they won’t see any more ghosts. In Yogacara philosophy, ghosts are the tools of the living.

One person says he saw a ghost, someone else learned of somebody’s death in a dream. What’s all this besides individual scenes in the theatre of transmigration.

Isn’t everything a hallucination? It’s only because we don’t recognize this hallucination as a hallucination that we wander around in life and death.

Some underpants are hanging to dry on a branch. Somebody sees them and thinks they’ve seen a ghost. Maybe you’re thinking that something like that hardly ever happens in reality, but when we think, “I need money”, “I want to become minister”, “I want to get ahead” – aren’t we all taking a pair of underpants for a ghost?

Everyone is talking about “reality”, but this is only a dream. It’s nothing more than the reality inside a dream. Good! When people are talking about revolution and war, we think that something really special is going on, but what is it besides struggling inside a dream? When you die, you recognize your dream. Someone who doesn’t put an end to dreaming before then is an ordinary person.

21. To you who would like more money, love, status and fame

Heaven and earth give, air gives, water gives, plants give, animals give, humans give. All things give of themselves to each other. It’s only within this reciprocal giving that we can survive – regardless of whether we’re thankful for it or not.

There’s nothing we need to complain about.

Nobody was granted life due to their personal merit. And no one can live just by using their own strength. But nonetheless, we’re all still only concerned with our own pocketbook.

Stupidity means being preoccupied with your own body.
Wisdom says, “I am what I am, no matter how things end up.”
A person outside of the Way is someone who only thinks of gain and loss. A devil is someone who makes a profit off of this.

What a bore: making a long face and complaining about having no money, nothing to eat, and being stuck in debt. It’s only because you believe that you have the right to revel in life and always feel good that you moan and groan about your poverty.

Once during the war, I visited a coal mine. With the same outfit and head-lamp as the miners, I got into the lift and down we went. At one point when we were going down it seemed to me as if suddenly we were going up again. But when I looked with the lamp at the wall of the shaft, I saw that we were still going down. In the beginning when we were accelerating downwards, we could really feel that we were going downwards. Just when the velocity changed it seemed to us as if we were going up again. In exactly the same way, when we think about our lives, we always go wrong when we mistake the fluctuating amounts for the sum.

Losing is satori. Winning is illusion.

Not coveting a single thing is the greatest gift you can give to the universe.

22. To you who wish you could lead a happier life

“Rest awhile and everything will be fine.”
We simply need to take a short break. Being buddha means taking a short break from being a human. Being buddha doesn’t mean working your way up as a human.

What makes Ryōkan so refreshing is that he doesn’t fondle things.

In everything, people follow their feelings of joy, anger, sadness and comfort. But that’s something different from everyday mind. Everyday mind means cease-fire. Without preferences, without animosity, without winner and loser, without good and evil, without joy and pain – that’s everyday mind.

“What sort of person stands on the ground where there’s neither coming nor going?”
Kyūhō answered, “The stone sheep versus the stone tiger: sooner or later they’ll get tired of staring each other in the eyes.” The stone sheep won’t flinch. The stone tiger won’t jump out of hunger. That’s the point – encountering things beyond thinking.

What do we have when we truly have a grip on things as they are? Beyond-thinking [hishiryō]. Beyond-thinking doesn’t allow itself to be thought. No matter if you think so or not: things are simply as they are.

“All things are empty” means there’s nothing we can run into, because nothing is really happening. We only think something’s happening because we are intoxicated by something.

Nothing is ever happening, no matter what seems to be going on – that’s the natural condition. Illusion means losing this natural condition. Normally we don’t recognize this natural condition. Normally we cover it with something else, so it’s not natural anymore.

The buddha-dharma means the normal condition. Yet in the world everything is unnatural. Domineering, succumbing and discussing everything to death are unnatural.

Each place fills heaven and earth, every instant is eternal.

To practice the way of Buddha means to completely live out this present moment – which is our whole life – here and now.

Don’t squeeze the way of Buddha into any frame.

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!

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.

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.

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.

24. To you who say that monks run an easy business

It’d be funny if ghosts did their haunting whenever the monks botched up a funeral. But even when the monks botch a funeral, the ghosts don’t do anything. That’s why the monk’s life floats in limbo.

What are the monks doing anyway when they hold a funeral? It seems to me like someone who shoots blanks, films it and then takes a photo of the film.

Even radio and television don’t transmit images or sound when they aren’t connected properly. How unfair it is that monks, on the other hand, have it so easy. I don’t see anything besides monks whose robes are a mess and don’t even know how to sit zazen or go begging.

Monks desperately try to get by through paying lip service to the Buddha’s teaching. And lay people hope to get something out of it when they have monks pay lip service. How could this have anything to do with the Buddha’s teaching, earning your living with memorized lip service?

Monks like to talk about the old women who they read their sutras for: “The granny over there is seeking refuge in me.” Don’t say it so lightly – idiots should keep their mouths shut!

Today’s monks say zazen isn’t in demand anymore. They say, Sawaki is out of touch with the times.

There is a bad deed, called “doing good”. For some, doing good is just a decoration.

When something concerns the teaching, and at the same time it’s also a matter of expanding the business, somebody or another must have gotten something mixed up.

When a throng of Zen monks in the main temples read half of the Shōdōka quickly and loudly, the pilgrims are overcome with awe. I’ve got no idea what’s so awe-inspiring about that, but somehow everyone is overcome with awe. Monks only gather together because they want to have their license, and the main temples do business by accumulating such monks. The same is true even for the temples in China. That’s how they do business – without recognizing business as business.

The Buddha’s teaching has declined these days because practice has declined. People just can’t get it into their guts that practice itself is awakening.

Why is Japanese Buddhism worthless? Because in Japan you’ll find the largest number of Buddhist treasures, just no practice. And where there’s no practice, there’s no buddha-dharma. Even if the seed of Buddha’s teaching is there, it can’t begin to function as long as it isn’t brought to sprout through practice.

They say that Buddhism in Thailand, Burma, Ceylon and China strictly keeps to the rules and precepts. Still the Buddhist teaching there is exactly as hollow as in Japanese Buddhism. Only the customs are different: Hinayana customs.

25. To you who want to study a little Buddhism to improve yourself

“Empty theories” is what we call it when bystanders play around with terminology. Playing around like that is good for nothing. Dive in with body and soul!

You’ve got to die completely in order to be able to reflect on the buddha-dharma. It isn’t enough to torture yourself and only die halfway.

The buddha-dharma is nothing for spectators. It’s about you.

Religion doesn’t mean changing the world around myself. It means changing my eyes, my ears, my way of seeing and my head.

The buddha-dharma isn’t a subject to be studied. The real question is: “What am I doing with my body?” The human body is set-up very practically. But what do we use this practical body for anyway? Usually, we use it as a slave to our illusions. The buddha-dharma means using the body in a way that doesn’t make it a slave of our illusions. That means putting body and mind in order.

The buddha-dharma isn’t an idea. It’s about the problem, “How do I deal with myself?”

26. To you who like hearing something inspirational about Buddhism

They say, “When I hear Sawaki talk, my faith cools down.” Now I’m going to really put their faith on ice: This sort of faith is nothing but superstition.
They say, “Sawaki’s talks don’t awaken any faith in me.” They don’t awaken any superstition, that’s all.

There’s nothing more funny than old women looking for “inspiration”. Everything for them is “inspirational” even if it’s only worth as much as pigeon shit. Anyway, this idea of inspiration is mistaken: isn’t it just personal inspiration they’re talking about? They’re only taking refuge in Buddha because they hope to get something out of it.

Whatever sutra you read, it’s always about devoting your body and life to the Way. Why is it that the whole world believes religion means praying to Buddha for good health and good business?

However much good they do, everything that humans do is bad. If you give, all day long you think, “I gave!” If you do religious practice, you think “I practiced, I practiced!” If you do something good, you never forget, “I did good, I did good!” Does this mean that we should do something bad instead? No, even when we do good, it’s bad. When we do something bad, it’s even worse.

If you do good, you start to work yourself up about everything bad you suddenly see in others. When you have done something bad, you’re quiet, because your own ass itches. People don’t only calculate when it’s a matter of money. In everything they do they try to bargain up or down. That’s because their body and mind haven’t dropped off. Only when body and mind have dropped off does this business not count any more. Dropping off body and mind means immeasurability, limitlessness.

“Do good, leave the bad.” There’s no doubt about that, but is it so clear what’s good and what’s bad? Good and bad go hand-in-hand.

Zazen is beyond good and evil. It’s not moral education. Zazen takes place where Communism and Capitalism finish.

27. To you who naively starts wondering about your true self

You can’t hold on to your self. The very moment you give your self up, you realize the self which is one with the universe.

Precisely that self which I haven’t thought up is who I really am.

The two passages, “all things are the form of truth” (Lotus Sutra) and “all existence is Buddha nature” (Nirvana Sutra) refer to that which lies beyond the personal.

The entire universe radiates the light of the self.
So I fill the entire universe. I’m not that fool playing with his pocket change.

This body is the whole universe. If you don’t have that kind of faith in yourself, you’ll have a weak point you won’t be able to hide. As soon as you get jealous or moody, you’ll show it.

Just forget everything you’ve picked up since you were born.

When a drop of water enters the sea, and when a speck of dust settles on the ground, then that drop is already the sea, and that speck of dust is already the earth.

All things are contained in my self. That’s why, in my actions, I also have to pay attention to what other’s expect.

It is because we are grateful towards society that whenever we use something, we think of those who will need it after us.

28. To you who thinks Buddhism is the greatest idea in human history

Ideas are based on how things would stand if everything were already settled. The buddha-dharma is about that which hasn!t settled yet. Things are still in motion.

Religion isn’t an idea. It’s practice.

Religious practice can be called a “fact”. That means it’s a matter of fact. It’s not some medicine that promises relief.

What an experiment is for scientists is what real practice is for us. In the same way that science is meaningless without experiments, Buddhism is meaningless without practice.

Don’t get lost in thoughts about the buddha-dharma.

Be careful that you don’t handle the buddha-dharma like some canned good which has nothing to do with reality.

Your explanations and your anecdotes are foolish like everything that comes out of your mouth. The expression on your face has already said how it really is.

You can express reality completely freely with words. Yet these words are not in themselves reality. If reality were in the words themselves, we would burn our tongue whenever we said “fire”. And whenever we talked about wine, we would get drunk. In reality, it isn’t so easy.

What isn’t real is useless, no matter what we call it. And no matter how we use theories, we don’t make any progress through them. Words are nothing more than words.

29. To you who are pleased when someone compliments the depth of your faith

Many confuse faith with a type of intoxication. There’s a type of intoxication similar to awe that’s nothing but delusion. Faith means, however, just the opposite – complete sobriety from any form of intoxication.

When most people in the world talk about the mind of faith, they don’t think it’s anything more than kissing Buddha’s ass.
“Do what you like with the others, but at least give me a first-class ticket to paradise!” Prayers like that have got nothing to do with the mind of faith.
Faith means clarity and purity. Mind means the single mind that encompasses the three worlds. So having faith means clarifying and purifying the one mind of the three worlds. The mind of faith means truly becoming clear about your own mind.

Faith means being clear and pure. It means being at ease. But some people get confused about this as well and think faith is about getting worked up, so they try with all their might to do so. Until they realize that it’s not so easy to get truly worked-up. Then they just act as if they were.

Everyone wants to go to paradise, but have you ever really seen it? If you think you have, you must have been mistaken.

When some new religious group starts picking up huge numbers of followers, suddenly everybody thinks there must be something true about it.

The number of followers doesn’t determine if a religion is good. If it were simply a matter of who had the largest numbers, doesn’t the club of ordinary people have the most members? No, it’s the bacteria. There’s even more of them!

Aren’t a huge pile of crazy ideas dumped on us humans, ideas that go by the names of “faith”, “satori” and so on?

30. To you who say that the Shōbōgenzō is difficult to understand

Because you want to understand Buddhist teaching from the standpoint of human thought, you are going 180° in the wrong direction.

Master Dōgen doesn’t expect anything from us that’s not humanly possible. It’s simply a matter of becoming natural, without empty thoughts or peculiarities. Buddhism in general doesn’t demand anything special from us, only that we become natural.
Some verses in the sutras might seem special to us, for example, “The white hair between his eyebrows illuminates the 3,000 worlds.” But that’s only a literary symbol for the samadhi that is the king of all samadhis.

Master Dōgen’s whole life was one uncompromising, penetrating inquiry into himself.

There’s no buddha outside of practice, and no teaching except for beyond-thinking – those are Master Dōgen’s essential principles.

Something that is fascinating about Dōgen Zenji is how he saw the buddha-dharma as the self, instead of simply putting out fairy tales for ordinary people. For example, he talks about the vehicle of the single Buddha: Amithaba, Shakyamuni and ourselves as one buddha. And for him, the practice of zazen itself is spreading the buddha-dharma – not building temple halls or pagodas. Dōgen Zenji’s zazen is a completely transparent zazen. It’s of no use to ordinary people.
Don’t practice the buddha-dharma for yourself. Don’t practice to make a name for yourself. Don’t practice to profit from it. Don’t practice to have spiritual experiences. Only practice the buddha-dharma for the sake of the buddha-dharma. [Dōgen Zenji: Gakudōyōjinshū]
That’s his buddha-dharma.

Master Dōgen “returned with empty hands” [Eihei Kōroku]. When he came back from Japan, he didn’t show off some satori the way others show off their tattoos. The story of his empty-handed return completely relaxes our hold on any sort of fixed idea like achieving satori through zazen.

A Christian asked me once, “My priest has said that no religion has spread so many lies as Buddhism. Is that really true?” I answered, “Now you’ve hit the nail right on the head, my friend!” The Lotus Sutra as well as The Garland Sutra and the Shōbōgenzō are nothing but lies – when they’re not put into practice. Without zazen, Buddhism is a total lie.

31. To you who say that Buddhism doesn’t have anything to do with you

In prison, the prisoners puff themselves up in front of the guards and say, “Take a good look at yourselves. Without us you wouldn’t have anything to eat!”
That’s exactly how it is with us ordinary people. Because we exist, the buddhas exist. Without us ordinary people, the buddhas would have been out of work long ago.
In this sense ordinary people and buddhas aren’t separate beings, but stand in interrelation to each other.

A bodhisattva is someone who awakens suffering beings. He’s an ordinary person who has the goal “buddha” clearly and decidedly in sight.

When you talk about Buddha, you’re thinking of something far away that’s got nothing to do with you, and that’s why you’re only running around in circles.

Ordinary people and buddhas have the same form. Awakening and illusion have the same form.

When we practice the buddha-dharma, we are buddha. Or better yet, it is precisely because we are buddha already that we can practice the buddha-dharma.

You believe that Buddhism is a little different from everything else. But it’s not like that at all: Buddhism is each and every thing. “Each and every thing is my child.” That’s how the buddha-dharma sees the world.

When adults are only adults, children don’t grow up. When children cry, you’ve got to cry with them. Adults have to be children, children have to be adults. Between buddhas and ordinary people, the buddha-dharma and the social world, satori and illusion, ascending and descending, wisdom and compassion – there’s got to be a lively exchange among all of these.

32. To you who say that your body, just as it is, is already Buddha

Ishigawa Gozaemon said, “Even once I have disappeared and all sand has washed into the sea, the seeds of thievery in the world will never be exhausted.” This is how he sings the praises of that “thief-nature” that penetrates heaven and earth. And yet, as long as we don’t act like Gozaemon we won’t become thieves.
It’s also said that all things have buddha-nature, and that it completely penetrates heaven and earth. But as long as we don’t act like a buddha, we don’t become buddhas.

When you, inseparable from Buddha, put Buddha’s activity into practice – only then are you a buddha. And when you act like a fool, then you’re a fool.

It’s only in your approach to life that Buddha appears.

A person who puts a buddha’s actions into practice is called a buddha.

Any buddha that humans have thought up isn’t a buddha.

When we say Buddha is unlimited it means that he’s beyond any fixed form. It isn’t a measurement of his size.

Buddha is sharp-witted, cheerful and free of attachment. Nevertheless, lots of people these days think that Buddha is dreary and unlucky.

33. To you who are out of your mind trying so hard to attain peace of mind

The buddha-dharma is immeasurable and unlimited. How could it ever have been made to fit into your categories.

No matter what you are grasping for, it’s limited.

In any case, only things for ordinary people can be grasped. Grasping for money, clinging to health, being attached to position and title, grasping for satori – everything you grasp only becomes the property of an ordinary person. Letting go of ordinary people’s property – that’s what it means to be a buddha.

When peace of mind only means your personal satisfaction, then it’s got nothing to do with the buddha-dharma.

The buddha-dharma teaches limitlessness. That which is measureless has to be accepted without complaint.

You lack peace of mind because you’re running after an idea of total peace of mind. That’s backwards. Be attentive to your mind in each moment, no matter how unpeaceful it might seem to be. Great peace of mind is realized only in the practice within this unpeaceful mind. It arises out of the interplay between peaceful and unpeaceful mind.

A peace of mind that is totally at peace would be nothing more than something ready made. Real peace of mind only exists within unpeaceful mind.

When dissatisfaction is finally accepted as dissatisfaction, peace of mind reigns. It’s the mind of a person who had been deaf to criticism when he finally listens to others talking about his mistakes. It’s the mind of a person who, naked and begging for his life, suddenly dies peacefully. It’s the mind of a person who has suddenly lost the beggar who had been pulling at his sleeve, relentlessly following him around everywhere,. It’s the mind after the flood in which the make-up of piety has washed away.

How could a human being ever have peace of mind? The real question is what you’re doing with this human life. What you’re doing with this stinking sack of flesh, that’s the issue.

34. To you who are aiming at the ultimate way of life

It has to be exactly as it is, yet it can be any which way. Nothing has to be done in any particular way, yet it has to be done in the highest and best way.

Sen no Rikyū once hired a carpenter to drive a nail into a pillar. After considering it thoroughly, he decided on the exact point. The carpenter made a little mark and then took a break. When he finally got around to actually hammering the nail in, he couldn’t find his mark anymore. Sen no Rikyū reconsidered the matter and eventually called out, “Here, here’s a good place!” When they looked at it closely, it was clear that it was exactly the same spot where the carpenter had made his mark before.
In the middle of pure formlessness, there is an ultimate direction. In the same way there is an ultimate facial expression among a person’s facial expressions.

What’s called “having magical powers” doesn’t mean anything more than having a facial expression that isn’t muddled.

We think that we’re constantly misled by our deluded feelings and that nothing can be done about it. We think that there’s a push and pull between the Buddha’s teaching and our foolish feelings. But that’s backwards.
The buddha-dharma says that we aren’t at all different from Buddha. All things manifest the truth. What you learn in the buddha-dharma are the basics of practice.

Practice means asking with your whole being the question, “What can I do right now for the Buddha Way?”

Even in the case of putting down a teacup it makes a big difference if you simply let it fall or if you lower it carefully with your hand.

The basis of all actions is to follow through to the end. If your mind is absent even just for a moment, you’re no different from a corpse.

It’s all about finding the correct tension for your muscles and tendons. It’s about becoming a person without gaps, about developing the proper tension and placement of muscles and tendons.

What’s the buddha-dharma about? It’s about having every aspect of your daily life pulled by Buddha.

It isn’t enough to hit the bull’s eye once. Last’s years perfect marks are useless. You’ve got to hit the bull’s eye right now.