but naturalness is, I think, some feeling of being independent
from everything, or some activity which is based on nothing-
ness. Something which comes out of nothingness is natural-
ness, like a seed or plant coming out of the ground. The seed
has no idea of being some particular plant, but it has its own
form and is in perfect harmony with the groimd, with its sur-
roundings. As it grows, in the course of time it expresses its
nature. Nothing exists without form and color. Whatever it
is, it has some form and color, and that form and color are in
perfect harmony with other beings. And there is no trouble.
That is what we mean by naturalness.
For a plant or stone to be natural is no problem. But for us
there is some problem, indeed a big problem. To be natural
is something which we must work on. When what you do just
comes out from nothingness, you have quite a new feeling.
For instance, when you are hungry, to take some food is nat-
uralness. You feel natural. But when you are expecting too
much, to have some food is not natural. You have no new
feeling. You have no appreciation for it.
The true practice of zazen is to sit as if drinking water when
you are thirsty. There you have naturalness. It is quite natural
for you to take a nap when you are very sleepy. But to take a
nap just because you are lazy, as if it were the privilege of a
human being to take a nap, is not naturalness. You think,
"My friends, all of them, are napping; why shouldn't I? When
everyone else is not working, why should I work so hard?
When they have a lot of money, why don't I?" This is not
naturalness. Your mind is entangled with some other idea,
someone else's idea, and you are not independent, not your-
self, and not natural. Even if you sit in the cross-legged posi-
tion, if your zazen is not natural, it is not true practice. You
do not have to force yourself to drink water when you are
thirsty; you are glad to drink water. If you have true joy in
your zazen, that is true zazen. But even though you have to
force yourself to practice zazen, if you feel something good
in your practice, that is zazen. Actually it is not a matter of
forcing something on you or not. Even though you have some
difficulty, when you want to have it, that is naturalness.
This naturalness is very difficult to explain. But if you can
just sit and experience the actuality of nothingness in your
practice, there is no need to explain. If it comes out of noth-
ingness, whatever you do is natural, and that is true activity.
You have the true joy of practice, the true joy of life in it.
Everyone comes out from nothingness moment after mo-
ment. Moment after moment we have true joy of life. So we
say shin ku myo u, "from true emptiness, the wondrous being
appears." Shin is "true"; ku is "emptiness"; myo is "won-
drous"; u is "being" : from true emptiness, wondrous being.
Without nothingness, there is no naturalness—no true be-
ing. True being comes out of nothingness, moment after
moment. Nothingness is always there, and from it everything
appears. But usually, forgetting all about nothingness, you
behave as if you have something. What you do is based on
some possessive idea or some concrete idea, and that is not
natural. For instance, when you listen to a lecture, you
should not have any idea of yourself. You should not have
your own idea when you listen to someone. Forget what you
have in your mind and just listen to what he says. To have
nothing in your mind is naturaliess. Then you will under-
stand what he says. But if you have some idea to compare
with what he says, you will not hear everything; your under-
standing will be one-sided; that is not naturalness. When you
do something, you should be completely involved in it. You
should devote yourself to it completely. Then you have
nothing. So if there is no true emptiness in your activity, it
is not natural.
Most people insist on some idea. Recently the younger
generation talks about love. Love! Love! Love! Their minds
are full of love! And when they study Zen, if what I say does
not accord with the idea they have of love, they will not ac-
cept it. They are quite stubborn, you know. You may be
amazed! Of course not all, but some have a very, very hard
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attitude. That is not naturalness at all. Even though they talk
about love, and freedom or naturalness, they do not under-
stand these things. And they cannot understand what Zen is
in that way. If you want to study Zen, you should forget all
your previous ideas and just practice zazen and see what kind
of experience you have in your practice. That is naturalness.
Whatever you do, this attitude is necessary. Sometimes
we say nyu nan shin, "soft or flexible mind." Nyu is "soft
feeling''; nan is something which is not hard"; shin is "mind."
Nyu nan shin means a smooth, natural mind. When you have
that mind, you have the joy of life. When you lose it, you
lose everything. You have nothing. Although you think you
have something, you have nothing; But when all you do
comes out of nothingness, then you have everything. Do you
understand? That is what we mean by naturalness.
MP TIN ESS "When you study Buddhism you
should have a general house cleaning of your
If you want to understand Buddhism it is necessary for you to
forget all about your preconceived ideas. To begin with, you
must give up the Idea of substantiality or existence. The usual
view of life is firmly rooted in the idea of existence. For most
people everything exists; they think whatever they see and
whatever they hear exists. Of course the bird we see and hear
exists. It exists, but what I mean by that may not be exactly
what you mean. The Buddhist understanding of life includes
both existence and non-existence. The bird both exists and
does not exist at the same time. We say that a view of life
based on existence alone is heretical. If you take things too
seriously, as if they existed substantially or permanently, you
are called a heretic. Most people may be heretics.
We say true existence comes from emptiness and goes back
again into emptiness. What appears from emptiness is true
existence. We have to go through the gate of emptiness. This
idea of existence is very difficult to explain. Many people
these days have begun to feel, at least intellectually, the emp-
tiness of the modem world, or the self-contradiction of their
culture. In the past, for instance, the Japanese people had a
firm confidence in the permanent existence of their culture
and their traditional way of life, but since they lost the war,
they have become very skeptical. Some people think this
skeptical attitude is awful, but actually it is better than the
As long as we have some definite idea about or some hope
in the future, we cannot really be serious with the moment
that exists right now. You may say, "I can do it tomorrow, or
next year," believing that something that exists today will
exist tomorrow. Even though you are not trying so hard, you
expect that some promising thing will come, as long as you
follow a certain way. But there is no certain way that exists
permanently. There is no way set up for us. Moment after
moment we have to find our own way. Some idea of perfec-
tion, or some perfect way which is set up by someone else, is
not the true way for us.
Each one of us must make his own true way, and when we
do, that way will express the universal way. This is the mys-
tery. When you understand one thing through and through,
you understand everything. When you try to understand
everything, you will not understand anything. The best way
is to understand yourself, and then you will understand every-
thing. So when you try hard to make your own way, you will
help others, and you will be helped by others. Before you
make your own way you cannot help anyone, and no one can
help you. To be independent in this true sense, we have to
forget everything which we have in our mind and discover
something quite new and different moment after moment.
This is how we live in this world.
So we say true understanding will come out of emptiness.
When you study Buddhism, you should have a general house
cleaning of your mind. You must take everything out of your
room and clean it thoroughly. If it is necessary, you may
bring everything back in again. You may want many things,
so one by one you can bring them back. But if they are not
necessary, there is no need to keep them.
We see the flying bird. Sometimes we see the trace of it.
Actually we cannot see the trace of a flying bird, but some-
times we feel as if we could. This is also good. If it is neces-
sary, you should bring back in the things you took from your
room. But before you put something in your room, it is neces-
sary for you to take out something. If you do not, your room
will become crowded with old, useless junk.
We say, "Step by step I stop the sound of the murmuring
brook." When you walk along the brook you will hear the
water running. The sound is continuous, but you must be
able to stop it if you want to stop it. This is freedom; this
is renunciation. One after another you will have various
thoughts in your mind, but if you want to stop your thinking
you can. So when you are able to stop the sound of the
murmuring brook, you will appreciate the feeling of your
work. But as long as you have some fixed idea or are caught
by some habitual way of doing things, you cannot appreciate
things in their true sense.
If you seek for freedom, you cannot find it. Absolute free-
dom itself is necessary before you can acquire absolute free-
dom . That is our practice. Our way is not always to go in one
direction. Sometimes we go east; sometimes we go west. To
go one mile to the west means to go back one mile to the
east. Usually if you go one mile to the east it is the opposite
of going one mile to the west. But if it is possible to go one
mile to the east, that means it is possible to go one mile to
the west. This is freedom. Without this freedom you cannot
be concentrated on what you do. You may think you are con-
centrated on something, but before you obtain this freedom,
you will have some uneasiness in what you are doing. Because
you are bound by some idea of going east or west, your activ-
ity is in dichotomy or duality. As long as you are caught by
duality you cannot attain absolute freedom, and you cannot
112 RIGHT UNDERSTANDING
Concentration is not to try hard to watch something. In
zazen if you try to look at one spot you will be tired in about
five minutes. This is not concentration. Concentration
means freedom. So your effort should be directed at nothing.
You should be concentrated on nothing. In zazen practice we
say your mind should be concentrated on your breathing, but
the way to keep your mind on your breathing is to forget
all about yourself and just to sit and feel your breathing. If
you are concentrated on your breathing you will forget your-
self, and if you forget yourself you will be concentrated on
your breathing. I do not know which is first. So actually there
is no need to try too hard to be concentrated on your breath-
ing. Just do as much as you can. If you continue this practice,
eventually you will experience the true existence which
comes from emptiness.
EADINESS, MINDFULNESS "It is the
readiness of the mind that is wisdom."
In the Prajna Paramita Sutra the most important point, of
course, is the idea of emptiness. Before we understand the
idea of emptiness, everything seems to exist substantially.
But after we realize the emptiness of things, everything be-
comes real—not substantial. When we realize that every-
thing we see is a part of emptiness, we can have no attach-
ment to any existence; we realize that everything is just a ten-
tative form and color. Thus we realize the true meaning of
each tentative existence. When we first hear that everything
is a tentative existence, most of us are disappointed; but this
disappointment comes from a wrong view of man and nature.
It is because our way of observing things is deeply rooted in
our self-centered ideas that we are disappointed when we find
everything has only a tentative existence. But when we actu-
ally realize this truth, we will have no suffering.
This sutra says, "Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara observes that
READINESS, MINDFULNESS 113
everything is emptiness, thus he forsakes all suffering." It
was not after he realized this truth that he overcame suffering
—to realize this fact is itself to be relieved from suffering.
So realization of the truth is salvation itself. We say, "to
realize," but the realization of the truth is always near at
hand. It is not after we practice zazen that we realize the
truth; even before we practice zazen, realization is there.
It is not after we understand the truth that we attain en-
lightenment. To realize the truth is to live—to exist here
and now. So it is not a matter of understanding or of prac-
tice. It is an ultimate fact. In this sutra Buddha is referring
to the ultimate fact that we always face moment after mo-
ment. This point is very important. This is Bodhidharma's
zazen. Even before we practice it, enlightenment is there.
But usually we understand the practice of zazen and en-
lightenment as two different things: here is practice, like a
pair of glasses, and when we use the practice, like putting
the glasses on, we see enlightenment. This is the wrong
understanding. The glasses themselves are enlightenment,
and to put them on is also enlightenment. So whatever you
do, or even though you do not do anything, enlightenment is
there, always. This is Bodhidharma's understanding of
You cannot practice true zazen, because you practice it;
if you do not, then there is enlightenment, and there is true
practice. When you do it, you create some concrete idea of
"you" or "I," and you create some particular idea of prac-
tice or zazen. So here you are on the right side, and here is
zazen on the left. So zazen and you become two different
things. If the combination of practice and you is zazen, it is
the zazen of a frog. For a frog, his sitting position is zazen.
When a frog is hopping, that is not zazen. This kind of
misunderstanding will vanish if you really understand empti-
ness means everything is always here. One whole being is
not an accumulation of everything. It is impossible to divide
one whole existence into parts. It is always here and always
working. This is enlightenment. So there actually is no par-
114 RIGHT UNDERSTANDING
ticular practice. In the sutra it says, "There are no eyes,
no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body or mind. . . ." This
"no mind" is Zen mind, which includes everything.
The important thing in our understanding is to have a
smooth, free-thinking way of observation. We have to think
and to observe things without stagnation. We should accept
things as they are without difficulty. Our mind should be
soft and open enough to understand things as they are. When
our thinking is soft, it is called imperturbable thinking.
This kind of thinking is always stable. It is called mindful-
ness. Thinking which is divided in many ways is not true
thinking. Concentration should be present in our thinking.
This is mindfulness. Whether you have an object or not,
your mind should be stable and your mind should not be
divided. This is zazen.
It is not necessary to make an effort to think in a particular
way. Your thinking should not be one-sided. We just think
with our whole mind, and see things as they are without any
effort. Just to see, and to be ready to see things with our
whole mind, is zazen practice. If we are prepared for think-
ing, there is no need to make an effort to think. This is
called mindfulness. Mindfulness is, at the same time, wis-
dom. By wisdom we do not mean some particular faculty
or philosophy. It is the readiness of the mind that is wisdom.
So wisdom could be various philosophies and teachings, and
various kinds of research and studies. But we should not
become attached to some particular wisdom, such as that
which was taught by Buddha, Wisdom is not something to
leam. Wisdom is something which will come out of your
mindfulness. So the point is to be ready for observing things,
and to be ready for thinking. This is called emptiness of
your mind. Emptiness is nothing but the practice of zazen.
READINESS, MINDFULNESS 115
ELIE VI NG
NO T H I N G "In
everyday life our thinking is ninety-nine percent
self-centered. 'Why do I have suffering? Why do I have
I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to be-
lieve in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something
which has no form and no color—something which exists
before all forms and colors appear. This is a very important
point. No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if
you become attached to it, your belief will be based more
or less on a self-centered idea. You strive for a perfect faith
in order to save yourself. But it will take time to attain such
a perfect faith. You will be involved in an idealistic practice.
In constantly seeking to actualize your ideal, you will have
no time for composure. But if you are always prepared for
accepting everything we see as something appearing from
nothing, knowing that there is some reason why a phenom-
enal existence of such and such form and color appears, then
at that moment you will have perfect composure.
When you have a headache, there is some reason why you
have a headache. If you know why you have a headache, you
will feel better. But if you do not know why, you may say,
"Oh, I have a terrible headache! Maybe it is because of my
bad practice. If my meditation or Zen practice were better
I wouldn't have this kind of trouble!" If you understand
conditions in this way you will not have perfect faith in
yourself, or in your practice, until you attain perfection.
You will be so busy trying that I am afraid you will have no
time to attain perfect practice, so you may have to keep
your headache all the time! This is a rather silly kind of
practice. This kind of practice will not work. But if you
believe in something which exists before you had the head-
ache, and if you know the reason why you have the headache,
then you will feel better, naturally. To have a headache will
be all right, because you are healthy enough to have a head-
115 RIGHT UNDERSTANDING
ache. If you have a stomachache, your stomach is healthy
enough to have pain. But if your stomach becomes accus-
tomed to its poor condition, you will have no pain. That is
awful! You will be coming to the end of your life from your
So it is absolutely necessary for everyone to believe in
nothing. But I do not mean voidness. There is something,
but that something is something which is always prepared
for taking some particular form, and it has some rules, or
theory, or truth in its activity. This is called Buddha nature,
or Buddha himself. When this existence is personified we call
it Buddha; when we understand it as the ultimate truth we
call it Dharma; and when we accept the truth and act as a
part of the Buddha, or according to the theory, we call our-
selves Sangha. But even though there are three Buddha forms,
it is one existence which has no form or color, and it is
always ready to take form and color. This is not just theory.
This is not just the teaching of Buddhism. This is the abso-
lutely necessary understanding of our life. Without this un-
derstanding our religion will not help us. We will be bound
by our religion, and we will have more trouble because of
it. If you become the victim of Buddhism, I may be very
happy, but you will not be so happy. So this kind of under-
standing is very, very important.
While you are practicing zazen, you may hear the rain
dropping from the roof in the dark. Later, the wonderful
mist will be coming through the big trees, and still later
when people start to work, they will see the beautiful moun-
tains. But some people will be annoyed if they hear the rain
when they are lying in their beds in the morning, because
they do not know that later they will see the beautiful sun
rising from the east. If our mind is concentrated on ourselves
we will have this kind of worry. But if we accept ourselves
as the embodiment of the truth, or Buddha nature, we will
have no worry. We will think, "Now it is raining, but we
don't know what will happen in the next moment. By the
time we go out it may be a beautiful day, or a stormy day.
BELIEVING IN NOTHING 117
Since we don't know, let's appreciate the sound of the rain
now." This kind of attitude is the right attitude. If you
understand yourself as a temporal embodiment of the truth,
you will have no difficulty whatsoever. You will appreciate
your surroundings, and you will appreciate yourself as a
wonderful part of Buddha's great activity, even in the midst
of difficulties. This is our way of life.
Using the Buddhist terminology, we should begin with
enlightenment and proceed to practice, and then to think-
ing. Usually thinking is rather self-centered. In our everyday
life our thinking is ninety-nine percent self-centered: ' 'Why
do I have suffering? Why do I have trouble?" This kind of
thinking is ninety-nine percent of our thinking. For example,
when we start to study science or read a difficult sutra, we
very soon become sleepy or drowsy. But we are always wide
awake and very much interested in our self-centered think-
ing ! But if enlightenment comes first, before thinking, be-
fore practice, your thinking and your practice will not be
self-centered. By enlightenment I mean believing in nothing,
believing in something which has no form or no color,
which is ready to take form or color. This enlightenment is
the immutable truth. It is on this original truth that our
activity, our thinking, and our practice should be based.
"That we are attached to some beauty is also
Dogen-zenji said, "Even though it is midnight, dawn is here;
even though dawn comes, it is nighttime." This kind of
statement conveys the understanding transmitted from Bud-
dha to the Patriarchs, and from the Patriarchs to Dogen,
and to us. Nighttime and daytime are not different. The
same thing is sometimes called nighttime, sometimes called
daytime. They are one thing.
Zazen practice and everyday activity are one thing. We
113 RIGHT UNDERSTANDING
call zazen everyday life, and everyday life zazen. But usually
we think, "Now zazen is over, and we will go about our
everyday activity." But this is not the right understanding.
They are the same thing. We have nowhere to escape. So
in activity there should be calmness, and in calmness there
should be activity. Calmness and activity are not different.
Each existence depends on something else. Strictly speak-
ing, there are no separate individual existences. There are
just many names for one existence. Sometimes people put
stress on oneness, but this is not our understanding. We do
not emphasize any point in particular, even oneness. One-
ness is valuable, but variety is also wonderful. Ignoring
variety, people emphasize the one absolute existence, but
this is a one-sided understanding. In this understanding there
is a gap between variety and oneness. But oneness and variety
are the same thing, so oneness should be appreciated in each
existence. That is why we emphasize everyday life rather
than some particular state of mind. We should find the
reality in each moment, and in each phenomenon. This is a
very important point.
Dogen-zenji said, "Although everything has Buddha na-
ture, we love flowers, and we do not care for weeds."
This is true of human nature. But that we are attached to
some beauty is itself Buddha's activity. That we do not care
for weeds is also Buddha's activity. We should know that.
If you know that, it is all right to attach to something. If it
is Buddha's attachment, that is non-attachment. So in love
there should be hate, or non-attachment. And in hate there
should be love, or acceptance. Love and hate are one thing.
We should not attach to love alone. We should accept hate.
We should accept weeds, despite how we feel about them.
If you do not care for them, do not love them; if you love
them, then love them.
Usually you criticize yourself for being unfair to your
surroundings; you criticize your unaccepting attitude. But
there is a very subtle difference between the usual way of
accepting and our way of accepting things, although they
ATTACHMENT, NO N-ATTAC HMENT 1J9
may seem exactly the same. We have been taught that there
is no gap between nighttime and daytime, no gap between
you and I. This means oneness. But we do not emphasize
even oneness. If it is one, there is no need to emphasize one.
Dogen said, "To learn something is to know yourself; to
study Buddhism is to study yourself," To learn something
is not to acquire something which you did not know before.
You know something before you learn it. There is no gap
between the "I" before you know something and the "I"
after you know something. There is no gap between the
ignorant and the wise. A foolish person is a wise person; a
wise person is a foolish person. But usually we think, "He
is foolish and / am wise," or "I was foolish, but now I am
wise." How can we be wise if we are foolish? But the under-
standing transmitted from Buddha to us is that there is no
difference whatsoever between the foolish man and the wise
man. It is so. But if 1 say this people may think that I am
emphasizing oneness. This is not so. We do not emphasize
anything. All we want to do is to know things just as they
are. If we know things as they are, there is nothing to point
at; there is no way to grasp anything; there is no thing to
grasp. We cannot put emphasis on any point. Nevertheless,
as Dogen said, "A flower falls, even though we love it; and
a weed grows, even though we do not love it." Even though
it is so, this is our life.
In this way our life should be understood. Then there is
no problem. Because we put emphasis on some particular
point, we always have trouble. We should accept things just
as they are. This is how we understand everything, and how
we live in this world. This kind of experience is something
beyond our thinking. In the thinking realm there is a differ-
ence between oneness and variety; but in actual experience,
variety and unity are the same. Because you create some idea
of unity or variety, you are caught by the idea. And you have
to continue the endless thinking, although actually there is
no need to think.
Emotionally we have many problems, but these problems
are not actual problems; they are sorfiething created; they
are problems pointed out by our self-centered ideas or
views. Because we point out something, there are problems.
But actually it is not possible to point out anything in par-
ticular. Happiness is sorrow; sorrow is happiness. There is
happiness in difficulty; difficulty in happiness. Even though
the ways we feel are different, they are not really different,
in essence they are the same. This is the true understanding
transmitted from Buddha to us.
"For Zen students a weed is a
A Zen poem says, "After the wand stops I see a flower falling.
Because of the singing bird I find the motmtain calmness."
Before something happens in the realm of calmness, we do
not feei the calmness; only when something happens within
it do we find the calmness. There is a Japanese saying, "For
the moon; there is the cloud. For the flower there is the
wind." When we see a part of the moon covered by a cloud,
or a tree, or a weed, we feel how round the moon is. But
when we see the clear moon without anything covering it,
we do not feel that roundness the same way we do when we
see it through something else.
When you are doing zazen, you are within the complete
calmness of your mind; you do not feel anything. You just
sit. But the calmness of your sitting will encourage you in
your everyday life. So actually you will find the value of Zen
in your everyday life, rather than while you sit. But this
does not mean you should neglect zazen. Even though you do
not feel anything when you sit, if you do not have this zazen
experience, you cannot find anything; you just find weeds, or
trees, or clouds in your daily life; you do not see the moon.
That is why you are always complaining about something.
But for Zen students a weed, which for most people is worth-
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