A Talk to Students From Luther College
With Questions and Answers At Hosshinji Zen Monastery

Harada Sekkei Roshi

Thank you for coming today. Hosshinji was built about 740 years ago. But just because something is old doesn't mean it's good. It's said that the pillars and beams and so on of the temple structures are good for about another 500 years. We presently have a plan to rebuild the temple and when that rebuilding takes place, the roof will be taken off and the reusable parts of the temple will be used in the new temple structure. I think you know of the famous temples and monasteries in Kyoto. These temples are said to be built with materials that will last for 200 years. The reason they can last so long id that formerly temples were built in the area of mountains. Timber from those mountains was used to construct the temple buildings and because materials from the local area were used they could last for such a long time.
As you know, Buddhism originated in India. The Buddhist teaching was passed from India to China to Korea to Japan. But when we call the Buddha Dharma is something, which cannot be imported or exported from one country to another. In other words, there is a difference between the Buddhist teaching and the Dharma, which is the essence of that teaching. Zen was brought from India to China by Bodhidharma, the 28th Patriarch in the lineage following Shakyamuni Buddha. He went to great effort and trouble to make the trip to China. Previous to this arrival in China, the Buddhist teaching was already present in the form of sutras and commentaries. The teaching in this form was like a prescription for medicine. But Bodhidharma brought the essence of that teaching to China and that essence was the actual medicine.
The Golden Age of Zen in China was during the T'ang Period. This was when Zen really flowered in China. Before the arrival of Buddhism in China, there were already many kinds of native beliefs and religions like Taoism, for example. Some of them were hostile to Buddhism. But on of the characteristics of Buddhism is that it doesn't say that other religions are bad. It doesn't say you must stop believing in another religion. Rather what happened was that Buddhism was grafted onto the trunk of the tree, the trunk representing the native teachings and beliefs of China. Consequently, Buddhism was able to use the teachings that were there and then it really grew into a big tree. At that time, the people in power became Buddhists and built many big temples, fostered many monks, and had many periodically fell from power, the people who actually practiced Buddhism went to live in the mountains away from the centers of power.

Returning to the subject of India, at the time of Bodhidharma, Buddhism has nearly disappeared from India. The reason for this was that many, many people were in need of food, clothing and shelter. These people sought these basic needs from religion. They sought compassion and love through religion. Bodhidharma realized that people seeking the Dharma - the natural principles of things - were gradually disappearing. Because of his concern about this, he decided it was not good to remain in India and so he decided to go to China. This is also true of religion in present day Japan. Many people think religion is first of all to do good things for other people, especially those people who are needy or in distress. Of course, such activities are important but they are a by-product of religion. Such work isn't the main purpose of religion and I would like you to know that.

Turning to the matter of the Dharma, the people practicing here at Hosshinji are seeking the Dharma. That is the nature of Zen practice. In Japanese Zen, there are three sects: Rinzai, Obaku and Soto. (Hosshinji belongs to the Soto sect). What is the Dharma? It is the natural laws and principles of things. I have been able to travel to teach in Europe, India and the United States, but when I go to such places I don't explain the teaching of Shakyamuni. I don't explain the teaching of Dogen Zenji, the man who brought Soto Zen from China to Japan. Even if I do mention their teachings, it is only as a means to speak of the Dharma, something which exists in any country. The Dharma is the thing which in most close to you: Sugar is sweet, salt is salty, fire is hot, water is cold. These are natural laws an d that is Dharma. It must be the same in your country too. No one says that sugar is salty or that salt is sweet, do they? This is to say that in order for the Dharma to be passed on it must be of that country. I think you can easily understand what I've been saying so far. Sugar is sweet, salt is salty, fire is hot, water is cold. Surely it is this way, but we must go one step further and think about the fact that as far as sugar or salt or fire or water are concerned, there are conventions which people have decided amongst themselves long, long ago, that sugar is sweet, salt is salty and so on.

We must return to a condition, which exists previous to what people have thought. For example, everyone thinks that fire is hot. But if we say the word "fire", it doesn't burn our lips. Have you ever thought about that? We think that water is cold. But if we are thirsty, we won't be ale to quench out thirst simply by saying the word "water". This is to say that whether we are talking about sugar or salt of fire or water there is a great gap between the explanation and the actual reality. It is necessary to eliminate that gap or separation between you and reality. For those who really want to know the Truth, it is necessary for them to become one with the Truth. If that does not happen, you will never know the Truth. This is the practice of Zen: to really become one with reality. This is very important. It is the most basic aspect of Zen and Buddhism in general.

Now think of this in terms of yourself. Each of you has a name. A, B or C. That name is a symbol and as long as you think of yourself as being that symbol then there is a separation between you and reality. Do you understand? If you don't, you can ask about it later. You think of the symbol as being yourself, but that is only an explanation. There is a self, which cannot be explained. This means that even though essentially there is only one self, it seems as if there are two. You live a life where you are split in two and for that reason your thoughts seem to be at odds with themselves. This is what we call delusion. How can we make the true, essential self and the symbolic self one? The way to do this is called the Way of Buddha. If you don't follow that way, you won't be able to find the way to become one with your true self. It is the symbolic self, which is born, and dies, which gets sick and grows old, which becomes enlightened and feels anxious. The true self is neither alive nor dead, it isn't in Nirvana nor is it within confusion. It is only the symbolic self which is born and which dies, which feels suffering and confusion. In fact that symbolic self does not exist, and yet at some time, without being aware of it, we began to think of that self as "me". That non-existent self is the ego. It is only the ego which is born and dies, is enlightened and confused. This isn't difficult, is it? Is it difficult?

Student: It's different, very different.
Roshi: Zen is called "a transmission outside of the teachings." A unique characteristic of Zen is this matter of "not relying on words or texts." Let's go to the questions.
Question: What is the difference between Zen practice and practice in the Pure Land set of Buddhism?
Roshi: Honen founded The Pure Land sect and his disciple, Shinran, succeeded him. Shinran was a person who truly had a lot of desires and delusions, which is to say he was a usual person. In Buddhism, these delusions and desires are often defined as greed, anger and ignorance. He suffered greatly because of these desires and delusions. The final result of his practice at Mt. Hiei was that he completely entrusted himself to Amida Buddha, a Buddha who is eternal. Shinran thought that simply by chanting the name of Amida - Namu Amida Butsu - it would be possible to be saved, but in order for him to come to his understanding he personally went to great, great trouble. After going through that great suffering, the result was that he realized that a person who is deluded of confused or filled with many desires cannot go to paradise simply by chanting Namu Amida Butsu. For that reason, he thought that a person should chat this name wholeheartedly and this is the basic teaching of the Pure Land sect.

In the Zen teaching, no matter how confused, anxious or perplexed we might be, we already are Amida Buddha as we are. This is the teaching of Buddha and the Zen Patriarchs. It is because we have come to think of the symbolic self as "me" that we do not realize that essentially we are Amida Buddha. So, in the Zen sect we teach that when a person chants Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, Nami Amida Butsu…that this is not done toward some Buddha which is separate from you, but rather you yourself are Amida Buddha and then by calling your own name you enter samadhi (a condition of forgetting the ego-self by being completely absorbed in any certain activity). This is the way zen teaches about the Pure Land teaching. So regardless if we are talking about Shakyamuni Buddha or Avalokiteshvara (the bodhisattva of compassion) or Jizo (the bodhisattva of children), in Buddhism the teaching is that there is no Buddha separate from you yourself. People are free to believe as they wish, but as long as the God or Buddha which you believe in is separate from you, that isn't good. We must practice with the intention of eliminating that separation as we make prostrations, do practice and enter samadhi. If you practice in this way, then certainly you will come to realize that you yourself are the Truth, the natural principles of things.

Question: What is the difference between MU (Nothingness) and KU (Emptiness)?
There is no moment now. Even if we use the word "now", please understand that that is only a provisional name we use and that in fact there is no now. Human beings can think of the past and the future, but it isn't possible to think about the moment right now. It isn't possible to see it or think about it. Whatever, you think about is either about what has happened in the past or about what might happen in the future. Surely this is the nature of whatever you think about. But there is nothing we can do about the past. We can neither bring back the past nor can we know what the future will bring. In other words, we think of things about which we can do nothing. The human condition is one in which people are always suffering because of what they think about. And it is the symbolic or imaginary self which is doing this thinking.
The must important think for us to think about is the moment now. "How should I be living now? What should I be doing now? How should things be now?" The moment now is the mist important thing that we should be concerned about, but finally most people don't think about this. No one things that this moment now, which is the important think, doesn't actually exist. That is why provisionally the word "now" is used to describe this condition which doesn't exist. Most people think now exists. One aspect of Zen practice, then, is to have a person consciously be ware of the moment now and then grind up that consciousness so that they can really make the now of now their own. This also applies to believing in something. If you believe in something, that something isn't some other thing. Rather, the thing you believe in is you yourself. So, Zen practice is to really believe in yourself and then using that belief to grind up what you believe in until there is nothing left. A person who has really reached that condition where everything is completely ground up to the extent that even the idea of nothing no longer exists provisionally describes it with concepts like MU (nothingness) and KU (emptiness). That is the only meaning of such worlds like Emptiness and Nothingness. This is to say that Buddhism isn't the teaching of MU (Nothingness) and KU (Emptiness).

You might ask "Is it really possible to grin up Emptiness with Emptiness? Is it possible to grind up something which doesn't exist with something else which doesn't exist?" To actually do that is the practice of zazen. The worst condition in which to do zazen of meditation is to monitor your own condition. When you monitor your own condition, you decide if your sitting condition is good or bad. That is the worst way to do zazen. The best kind of zazen is where there is no intention of dong practice, no intention of entering samadhi and then forgetting what you have forgotten and simply sitting like a fool warming the sitting cushion. That is the best form of zazen. A person who has truly reached this condition has assigned the names of Emptiness and Nothingness to describe it. This isn't to say that originally there was something and then that disappeared.
Question: What is the difference of realizing Nirvana in one's own everyday life and the condition of Nirvana after one dies?
Roshi: Nobody remembers the moment when they left their mother's womb. Not me, nor daigaku, nor any of you here. Nobody remember their own birth. It was after someone told you when and where you were born that you knew about your own birth. When you were born, you didn't know you name. It was when someone began to call you Susan or Michael that you began to thin of having a certain name, For some time you lived not knowing your name or when you were born and then after a certain time self-consciousness was born and you began to discriminate between yourself and other things. This is the function of the ego-self consciousness. You don't remember your own birth and consequently what you have come to thin of "me" is the symbolic self. In the same way, no one can know their own death. If someone is aware of their own death, it means they are still alive. This is to say we neither know their own birth now our own death. So who, then, is seeing, hearing and thinking as we are now? This is all your ego-self. It is only that symbolic, ego-self which suffers and worries, which is concerned and feels fear about life and death. In fat, though, the self is as big as the universe. If you simply do not perceive "this thing" (Roshi points to his body) as yourself, if you simply forget this small self, then each of you can realize that self which as big as the universe. You have forgotten the big, universal self and the teaching of zen and Buddhism is to shale you up and get you to awaken to that big self. Zen practice is to actually awaken to that big self.

These days throughout the world there is much concern about human right, but human rights is only concerned with the small self. But if you let go of discriminating between that small self and other things, each person can realize the big, universal self. Until each person does that, the problem of human rights will not be resolved. Nirvana is the condition where everything is the self. Pillars, tatami and so on, when whatever we can see, hear, taste, smell, feel and think - when all things become the self with other things. That is why we say that a Buddha or Avalokiteshvara (the bodhisattva of compassion) is neither a man nor a woman. When everything becomes one in this way is when try difference first arises. In other words, unity only exists within difference. Only a person who has realized this for himself can speak about the problem of equality and discrimination.

Question: Samsara and satroi are sometimes said to be different and sometimes said to be the same. What does that mean?
Roshi: Samsara and satroi are one thing. What is the source of our confusion? You create your own confusion. You create your own confusion, and you are able the one who can become free of what confusion. This is to say that samsara and satroi arise from the same source. When people feel anxious, they seek peace of mind, but because they seek peace of mind they get confused. They are confused by peace of mind. Try no seeking peace of mind when you feel anxious. If you do, there will only be anxiety and if there is only anxiety, there will be no confusion. In your schooling, you've been taught that it isn't good not to know. For that reason you study in order to understand. But this isn't like that in Buddhism. When you really understand not understanding, we say that is real understanding. If you five that answer to your teacher, he or she should give you fill marks.

Modern education is mistaken. Education should be a matter where the teacher plunges you into the Jungle, a place from which you don't know how to get out. In the past, everyone leavened then how to get out of such a place. But people these days don't know that the jungle. From the beginning they are already out of the jungle and as quickly as possible they find a good job or enter a good school. The function of a teacher should be to put the students into a jungle.

Question: What is the significance of the various representations of Buddhas and Bodhisttvas which we see in the form of statues in Buddhist temples?
Roshi: These representations are all you according to time, standpoint and place. Yakushi Nyorai, Fudo-sama and so on are all representations of you. As I said earlier, all things ar eyou. There is nothing separate from you. This also includes your friends, for example. Your friends are you and you are your friends. The condition where the separation between self and other things has disappeared is such a condition.

Question: How can I explain Buddhism in two or three sentences?
Roshi: Buddhism is about you yourself. If someone asks you "what is yourself?" you can say "The moment now." If they ask "What is the moment now?" you can say "It's a condition where there is nothing." If they're still confused, tell them that Buddhism is the way things should be (aru beki youni). If we use words or things to explain, then the teaching of Buddhism already ceases to exist. This is to say we mist be able to speak without using our tongue.

Question: What can we bring back home from this very short three-week trip?
Roshi: When Dogen Zenji returned to Japan from China, he wrote the following verse.

With empty hands, I return to my native country.
The only think I've realized is
That the eyes are horizontal, the nose is vertical.
There is no Buddha Dharma in the very least.

Earlier I was speaking about KU (Emptiness) and MU (Nothingness). This verse was Dogen's expression of his realization of nothingness and upon that foundation he built the structure by which he taught and guided others. Within all things, there is neither good nor bad, neither likes nor dislikes. To really see things as they are, to hear things as they are, to just see, to just hear, to just feel, this is the way you should explain what you've heard while you were in Japan. As long as you still see things in terms of likes and dislikes, upper and lower, and so on, then the opinions of the ego-self are intervening. When you come to the point where the opinions of the ego-self do not intervene and you really become that, ten for the first time you are truly an individual. I am I, you are truly your self. At that point, for the firs time the self is clearly established. Then, fire is hot, sugar is sweet, salt is salty and you are completely settled and at peace with things just as they are. It is necessary to return to the beginning.

Thank you very much. You listened very carefully to what I had to say even though you didn't understand it. Not understanding is the very best. As I said earlier, the important thing is to truly understand not understanding. Any other questions?

Question: One thing, which is often asked, is if the construction of the self is an illusion and the self constructs the illusion, how did the illusion of the self get constructed in the first place?

Roshi: You first come to know that there is no self because there was someone who realizes that there is no self. Shakyamuni Buddha was the first human being to realize that in fact there is no se