Category Archives: Buddhism

Lectures on Zen


Reference: Buddhism Research

These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.


Definitions:    Zen and Zazen

Lecture 1:      Theory and Practice of Zazen

Lecture 2:      Precautions to Observe in Zazen

Lecture 3:      Illusory Visions and Sensations

Lecture 4:      The Five Varieties of Zen

Lecture 5:      The Three Aims of Zazen

Lecture 6:      Individual Instruction

Lecture 7:      Shikan-taza

Lecture 8:      The Parable of Enyadatta

Lecture 9:      Cause and Effect Are One

Lecture 10:    The Three Essentials of Zen Practice

Lecture 11:    Aspiration


ZEN 11: Aspiration


Reference: Lectures on Zen

These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 11—Aspiration

Even while we all do zazen, our individual aspirations are not identical. These aspirations resolve themselves into four main groups or levels.

The first and shallowest level involves neither faith in Zen Buddhism nor even a cursory understanding of it. One just happens to hear about it and decides he would like to sit with a zazen group or in a sesshin. Nevertheless, that out of millions of deluded people (entirely ignorant of Buddhism) one particular individual should be led to this 2,500-year-old, unbroken line of teaching is, in the Buddhist view, not a fortuitous but a karmic circumstance and hence of vast spiritual significance.

The second level of aspiration is a level which goes no deeper than the desire to do zazen in order to improve physical or mental health or both. This, you will recall, falls into the first of the five classifications of Zen, namely, bompu (ordinary) Zen.

At the third level we find people who, no longer satisfied merely to increase their physical and mental well-being, want to tread the path of the Buddha. They recognize how exalted is the Buddhist cosmology, which views existence as not confined to one life-span but endlessly evolving lifetime after lifetime, with the circle of human destiny completed only upon the attainment of Buddhahood. More, they have established faith in the reality of the enlightenment experience, and though the resolve to attain it has not yet been awakened, the desire to pursue the Buddha’s Way is clear and real.

The fourth level comprises those determined to realize their True-self. They know this experience to be a living reality, for they have encountered people who have had it, and they are convinced they can likewise attain it. When they come before their teacher they come with an open mind and a humble heart, ready to follow whatever course he prescribes, secure in the knowledge that by so doing they can realize their goal in the shortest time.

I will now quickly recapitulate these four classes of aspirants: those who, having no particular faith in Zen, come to it through fortunate karmic circumstances; those who practice zazen through a desire only to add to their physical or mental health or both; those who practice Zen out of belief in the exalted nature of the Buddha’s teaching; and those who have a strong determination to become enlightened.

Hereafter you will come before me one by one and I will ask you what you feel to be the nature of your aspiration, that is, into which of the four classes you fall. Tell me your feelings honestly. Do not add anything through pride, and do not subtract anything out of false modesty. Depending upon what you tell me, I will assign you the zazen most appropriate for you.

There is no definitive practice which applies to everyone. Generally speaking, one who puts himself in the first class is assigned the practice of counting his breaths; one in the second category, the following of his breaths; in the third class, shikan-taza; and in the fourth, a koan, usually Mu.

When students come before me individually for the first time, they make all manner of curious replies. Some say: “I think I belong between the first and second classes.” Others tell me: “I have a chronically bad stomach, so would you assign me a type of zazen that will help this condition?” Or sometimes a person will say: “I am somewhat neurotic; what kind of zazen would be good for that?”

Depending on the type of person and the strength of his determination, I prescribe what I believe to be a suitable practice. With a stolid individual it is usually desirable to spur him on with the kyosaku, whereas a somewhat nervous or sensitive person can do better zazen without it. Only if your appraisal of your feelings is frank can I select for you the most effective practice.


ZEN 10: The Three Essentials of Zen Practice


Reference: Lectures on Zen

These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 10—The Three Essentials of Zen Practice

What I am about to say is especially applicable to daijo Zen, which is specifically directed toward satori, but it also embraces saijojo, though in a lesser degree.

The first of the three essentials of Zen practice is strong faith (dai-shinkon). This is more than mere belief. The ideogram for kon means “root,” and that for shin, “faith.” Hence the phrase implies a faith that is firmly and deeply rooted, immovable, like an immense tree or a huge boulder. It is a faith, moreover, untainted by belief in the supernatural or the superstitious. Buddhism has often been described as both a rational religion and a religion of wisdom. But a religion it is, and what makes it one is this element of faith, without which it is merely philosophy. Buddhism starts with the Buddha’s enlightenment, which he attained after strenuous effort. Our supreme faith, therefore, is in the Buddha’s enlightenment experience, the substance of which he proclaimed to be that human nature, all existence, is intrinsically whole, flawless, omnipotent—in a word, perfect. Without unwavering faith in this, the heart of the Buddha’s teaching, it is impossible to progress far in one’s practice.

The second indispensable quality is a feeling of strong doubt (dai-gidan) 1. Not a simple doubt, mind you, but a “doubt-mass”—and this inevitably stems from strong faith. It is a doubt as to why we and the world should appear so imperfect, so full of anxiety, strife, and suffering, when in fact our deep faith tells us exactly the opposite is true. It is a doubt which leaves us no rest. It is as though we knew perfectly well we were millionaires and yet inexplicably found ourselves in dire need without a penny in our pockets. Strong doubt, therefore, exists in proportion to strong faith.

1 In Zen, “doubt” implies not skepticism but a state of perplexity, of probing inquiry, of intense self-questioning.

I can illustrate this state of mind with a simple example. Take a man who has been sitting smoking and suddenly finds that the pipe which was in his hand a moment before has disappeared. He begins to search for it in the complete certainty of finding it. It was there a moment ago, no one has been near, it cannot have disappeared. The longer he fails to find it, the greater the energy and determination with which he hunts for it.

From this feeling of doubt the third essential, strong determination (dai-funshi), naturally arises. It is an overwhelming determination to dispel this doubt with the whole force of our energy and will. Believing with every pore of our being in the truth of the Buddha’s teaching that we are all endowed with the immaculate Bodhi-mind, we resolve to discover and experience the reality of this Mind for ourselves.

The other day someone who had quite misunderstood the state of mind required by these three essentials asked me: “Is there more to believing we are Buddhas than accepting the fact that the world as it is, is perfect, that the willow is green and the carnation red?” The fallacy of this is self-evident. If we do not question why greed and conflict exist, why the ordinary man acts like anything but a Buddha, no determination arises in us to resolve the obvious contradiction between what we believe as a matter of faith and what appears to us to be just the reverse, and our zazen is thus deprived of its prime source of power.

I shall now relate these three essentials to daijo and saijojo Zen. While all three are present in daijo, this doubt is the main prod to satori because it allows us no rest. Thus we experience satori, and the resolution of this doubt, more quickly with daijo Zen.

In saijojo, on the other hand, the element of faith is strongest. No fundamental doubt of the kind I mentioned assails us and so we are not driven to rid ourselves of it, for we sit in the unswerving faith that we are inherently Buddhas. Unlike daijo Zen, saijojo, which you will recall is the purest type of zazen, does not involve the anxious striving for enlightenment. It is zazen wherein ripening takes place naturally, culminating in enlightenment. At the same time saijojo is the most difficult zazen of all, demanding resolute and dedicated sitting.

However, in both types of zazen all three elements are indispensable, and teachers of old have said that so long as they are simultaneously present it is easier to miss the ground with a stamp of the foot than to miss attaining perfect enlightenment.


ZEN 9: Cause and Effect Are One


Reference: Lectures on Zen

These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 9—Cause and Effect Are One

You cannot hope to comprehend the exalted nature of Zen without understanding this lecture on inga ichinyo, the meaning of which is that cause and effect are one. This expression comes from Hakuin-zenji’s Chant in Praise of Zazen. Bear in mind that this lecture will not be an explanation of cause and effect in the broad sense but only in relation to the practice of zazen.

Strictly speaking, you ought not to think of zazen in terms of time. While it is generally true that if you do zazen for a year, it will have an effect equal to a year’s effort; and that if you practice zazen for ten years, it will produce an effect proportionate to ten years’ effort; yet the results of zazen in terms of enlightenment cannot be measured by the length of your practice. The fact is, some have gained deep enlightenment after only a few years’ practice, while others have practiced as long as ten years without experiencing enlightenment.

From the commencement of practice one proceeds upward in clearly differentiated stages which can be considered a ladder of cause and effect. The word inga, meaning cause and effect, implies both degree and differentiation, while ichinyo signifies equality or sameness or oneness. Thus, while there are many stages corresponding to the length of practice, at every one of these different stages the mind substance is the same as that of a Buddha. Hence we say cause and effect are one. Until satori-awakening, however, you cannot expect to have a deep inner understanding of inga.

Now let us relate this to the parable of Enyadatta, of which I spoke earlier. The time she saw no head reflected in her mirror and rushed about wildly looking for it—this is the first, or bottom, step. When her friends tied her to a pillar and insisted she had a head; when she began to think, “Possibly this is so”; when they whacked her and she yelled “Ouch!” and realized she had a head after all; when she rejoiced at finding it; when finally her joy abated and having a head felt so natural that she no longer thought about it—all these are different steps or degrees of progression—when viewed retrospectively, that is. At every one of these stages she was never without her head, of course, but this she realized only after she had “found” it.

In the same way, after enlightenment we realize that from the very first we were never without the Buddha-nature. And just as it was necessary for Enyadatta to go through all these phases in order to grasp the fact that she had always had a head, so we must pass through successive stages of zazen in order to apprehend directly our True­ nature. These successive steps are causally related, but the fact that we are intrinsically Buddha, which in the parable is Enyadatta’s realization that she had always had a head—this is equality, or undifferentiation.

Thus Dogen-zenji in his Shobogenzo states: “The zazen of even beginners manifests the whole of their Essential-nature.” He is saying here that correct zazen is the actualization of the Bodhi-mind, the Mind with which we are all endowed. This zazen is saijojo, wherein the Way of the Buddha suffuses your entire being and enters into the whole of your life. Although we are unaware of all this at first, as our practice progresses we gradually acquire understanding and insight, and finally, with satori, wake up to the fact that zazen is the actualization of our inherently pure Buddha-nature, whether we are enlightened or not.


ZEN 8: The Parable of Enyadatta


Reference: Lectures on Zen

These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 8— The Parable of Enyadatta

In the last half of this lecture I will take up the tale of Enyadatta, which comes from the Ryogon sutra. This is an exceptionally fine parable. I assure you that if you reflect carefully upon it, it will clarify many abstruse points of Buddhism.

This event is said to have occurred at the time of the Buddha. Whether it is true or legendary I cannot say. In any case, Enyadatta was a beautiful maiden who enjoyed nothing more than gazing at herself in the mirror each morning. One day when she looked into her mirror she found no head reflected there. Why not on this particular morning the sutra does not state. At any rate, the shock was so great that she became frantic, rushing around demanding to know who had taken her head. “Who has my head? Where is my head? I shall die if I don’t find it!” she cried. Though everyone told her, “Don’t be silly, your head is on your shoulders where it has always been,” she refused to believe it. “No, it isn’t! No, it isn’t! Somebody must have taken it!” she shouted, continuing her frenzied search. At length her friends, believing her mad, dragged her home and tied her to a pillar to prevent her harming herself.

The being bound can be compared to undertaking zazen. With the immobilization of the body the mind achieves a measure of tranquility. And while it is still distracted, as Enyadatta’s mind was in the belief that she had no head, yet the body is now prevented from scattering its energies.

Slowly her close friends persuaded her that she had always had her head, and gradually she came to half-believe it. Her subconscious mind began to accept the fact that perhaps she was deluded in thinking she had lost her head.

Enyadatta’s receiving the reassurance of her friends can be equated with hearing the roshi’s commentaries (teisho) . Initially these are difficult to understand, but listening to them attentively, every word sinking into your subconscious, you reach the point where you begin to think: “Is that really true? . . . I wonder . . . . Yes, it must be.”

Suddenly one of her friends gave her a terrific clout on the head, upon which, in pain and shock, she yelled “Ouch!” “That’s your head! There it is!” her friend exclaimed, and immediately Enyadatta saw that she had deluded herself into thinking she had lost her head when in fact she had always had it.

In the same way, clouting in zazen is of the utmost value. At precisely the right time—if it is too early, it is ineffective—to be jolted physically by the kyosaku stick or verbally by a perceptive teacher can bring about Self-realization. Not only is the kyosaku valuable for spurring you on, but when you have reached a decisive stage in your zazen a hard whack can precipitate your mind into an awareness of its true nature-in other words, enlightenment.

When this happened to Enyadatta she was so elated that she rushed around exclaiming: “Oh, I’ve got it! I have my head after all! I’m so happy!”

This is the rapture of kensho. If the experience is genuine, you cannot sleep for two or three nights out of joy. Nevertheless, it is a half mad state. To be overjoyed at finding a head you had from the very first is, to say the least, queer. Nor is it less odd to rejoice at the discovery of your Essential-nature, which you have never been without. The ecstasy is genuine enough, but your state of mind cannot be called natural until you have fully disabused yourself of the notion, “I have become enlightened.” Mark this point well, for it is often misunderstood.

As her joy subsided Enyadatta recovered from her half-mad state.

So it is with satori. When your delirium of delight recedes, taking with it all thoughts of realization, you settle into a truly natural life and there is nothing queer about it. Until you reach this point, however, it is impossible to live in harmony with your environment or to continue on a course of true spiritual practice.

I shall now point out more specifically the significance of the first part of the story. Since most people are indifferent to enlightenment, they are ignorant of the possibility of such an experience. They are like Enyadatta when she was unconscious of her head as such. This “head,” of course, corresponds to the Buddha-nature, to our innate perfection. That they even have a Buddha-nature never occurs to most people until they hear Shujo honrai hotoke nari—”All beings are endowed with Buddha-nature from the very first.” Suddenly they exclaim: “Then I too must have the Buddha-nature! But where is it?” Thus like Enyadatta when she first missed her head and started rushing about looking for it, they commence their search for their True-nature.

They begin by listening to various teisho, which seem contradictory and puzzling. They hear that their Essential-nature is no different from the Buddha’s—more, that the substance of the universe is coextensive with their own Buddha-nature—yet because their minds are clouded with delusion they see themselves confronted by a world of individual entities. Once they establish firm belief in the reality of the Buddha-nature, they are driven to discover it with all the force of their being. Just as Enyadatta was never without her head, so are we never separate from our essential Buddha-nature whether we are enlightened or not. But of this we are unaware. We are like Enyadatta when her friends told her: “Don’t be absurd, you have always had your head. It is an illusion to think otherwise.”

The discovery of our True-nature can be compared to Enyadatta’s discovery of her head. But what have we discovered? Only that we have never been without it! Nonetheless we are ecstatic, as she was at the finding of her head. When the ecstasy recedes, we realize we have acquired nothing extraordinary, and certainly nothing peculiar. Only now everything is utterly natural.