New Katagiri Archive: One Who Sees the Dharma Sees Me

There’s a new Katagiri Roshi archive up here: click

Andrea Martin has done a great job gathering together a whole trunk full of Katagiri material – audio, video, photos, calligraphy. I’ve gotten lost in it a few times, strolling down memory lane.

And I learned some things.

For example, somehow I’d missed the detail that Katagiri Roshi’s teacher, Hayashi Roshi, had directed him to go to Hoshinji to study with Harada Daiun and the young Katagiri – in a non-stereotypical Japanese Zen manner – refused and instead followed his own inspiration and went to Eiheiji.

There is some irony here in that my own zig-zag path has led me to work with several teachers from the Harada Daiun line. And, yes, I confess that I get a little self-justification charge in that I’m criticized by “some people” for doing this work and yet our dharma grandfather wanted that for Katagiri.

Also, I sometimes refused to follow Katagiri’s “requests” and some of my peers were surprised by Katagiri Roshi’s magnanimity in the face of my refusals. This detail helps me appreciate him in a new way – and explain how he was with me and others too who didn’t just do what he said.

Now even though this is a great resource, I’m of two minds about pointing it out. The first mind is presented above – wonderful! Katagiri Roshi was a fine teacher and a great guy. I loved him.

The second is this – be careful! I think it was Hakuin who said that we should regard the old teachers as our worst enemies. I hear Hakuin saying, “Don’t get stuck in admiration!”

The archive has some comments that could be seen as such. “Although he died in 1990, his teaching lives on in audio recordings of his talks, and books that have been developed from them.”

“His teaching” does not live on in such a way.

Here’s how I put it in Keep Me In Your Heart A While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri:

ONE OF THE THINGS I REMEMBER from sometime in the late 1970s is an observation Roshi made after he returned from his once-a year visit to San Francisco Zen Center. He said that the images of Suzuki Roshi got bigger and bigger each year. “Soon,” Katagiri Roshi joked with his arms open, head tilted back and eyes looking at the heavens, “Suzuki Roshi will be huge like God.”

I also remember hearing Katagiri Roshi give a Dharma talk in the early 1980s about one of the Buddha’s disciples, Vakkali. When Vakkali was deathly ill, the Buddha came to visit him. Vakkali confessed to the Buddha that he had long yearned to see the “Blessed One.” Buddha shut him up. “Enough, Vakkali! One who sees the Dharma sees me; one who sees me, sees the Dharma.”

The Buddha handled misplaced adoration with this rough Dharma. Dharma, of course, is a Sanskrit word that refers, varyingly and all at once, to the big Truth, the teachings about the big Truth, phenomena themselves, and the way to get things done congruently with the first three meanings.

Like any good teacher, the Buddha yearned for his student Vakkali not to mistake the object of teaching (the Buddha’s human form, in this case) with the referent—mistaking the pointing finger for the moon. To really see the Buddha, to really see any teacher, is to see and actualize for oneself what the teacher teaches. Therefore, keeping my teacher in my heart a while is not really about him or me. And yet it depends on us both—and you too.

My task as Katagiri Roshi’s disciple has been to study his Zen and become one with it, and to let him and his teachings haunt me—but not necessarily to agree blindly with him, or to parrot his Dharma back to others. To do so would betray both of us. It is my hope that all of us together might do something small to keep the Buddhadharma alive in our hearts.

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