The Old Plum Tree Bursts into Bloom

This is the third installment in the “Plum Blossom” series. Katagiri Roshi gave these talks twenty-five years ago and recently David Casucuberta transcribed them and I’ve edited them. Click here for the link for the second one, “Gassho Like Falling Snow,” and that will bring you to the first one too.

Take it away old Roshi:

The old plum tree is the boundless actualization of truth with no end and no beginning, the actualization of the whole universe – pine trees, bird, your hair, boots, nose, sun, moon, stars.

The “old” in old plum tree means “Buddha nature,” “your face before your parents birth,” “prior to the germination of thought.”

Rujing’s poem says, “It suddenly burst into bloom and bore fruit.”

Plum tree becomes exactly plum tree bringing forth winter and spring.

Now I’d like to explain the philosophical background to Dogen’s way of understanding.

When time becomes pure and consummated time, it doesn’t remain in its own form. Time passes to freedom and then becomes space.

For example, Katagiri is here. That means the consummation of a single being right now. At that time there is no comment on Katagiri – just Katagiri. This is the real state of everything which exists in this world – you, cushions, table, microphones. You can see with your naked eye. There is no comment, no criticism, no complaint, just completion.

For instance, when you do something completely with concentration, at that time you completely transform. You cannot see what you are doing. You become the consummation of you, then you don’t see yourself.

Through the naked eye, we can see that mountain is mountain. Mountains exist in time which has a momentum of energy. That is the existence of mountain. Dogen mentions in Sansuikyo (On the Spiritual Discourse of the Mountains and the Water), last paragraph,

The Old Buddha Ummon Bun’en once said, “Mountains are mountains; water is water.” What these words mean goes beyond saying that mountains are mountains: it is saying that mountains are mountains.

This makes the same point as Blue Cliff Record, Case 45. “A monk asked Zhaozhou, ‘The myriad things return to one. Where does the one return to?’

”Zhaozhou said, ‘When I was in Ch’ing Chou I made a cloth shirt. It weighed seven pounds.’”

Oneness and the phenomenal world live together harmoniously, peacefully, with no separation. Mountain’s life is interpenetrated with truth and the whole universe. It is the place in which the truth of the universe is actualized in motion.

That’s why mountain is not mountain. Mountain’s life is exactly water, exactly sky.

The broad phenomenal world is open to you, just like TV. Your head is like a TV set. If you push the button many beings come up but your head is still your head. One is one. Then immediately all things appear in on the screen. At that time if you push a button, the whole world becomes Europe. So you are not you, you are Europe. Next moment you switch the channels and another world comes up. But the myriad things – trees, birds and sand, pebbles – every time when you switch channels each thing will appear occupying the whole world always returning to one.

In our zazen, if you sit down and become one, Katagiri becomes Katagari. At that time you never sit. In that moment myriad things arise because Katagiri is always connected with something. Katagari will never be one. But when you become one, you as you are, simultaneously your brain switches to many things. Then energy comes forward from past times and future lives and sky and many things you haven’t thought.

When you become one, exactly you become you, the consummation of you as you are.

That’s why, “‘Mountains are mountains; water is water.’ What these words mean goes beyond saying that mountains are mountains: it is saying that mountains are mountains.”

Dogen also says, “If you investigate the mountains, this is meditation on the mountains.” Perfect concentration. This is called “kufu” in Japanese, it is not exactly zazen but it is related to zazen.

“Ku” means “level”, as in the carpenter tool. So it means always to keep balance. And “fu” means “person”. So “kufu” means a stable person. A person that keeps balance perfectly.

You should study the “kufu” of mountains: how mountains exist. Mountains themselves always keep balance in their life. It is the completion of the mountain.

Therefore, you need to investigate mountains through your practice. If you thoroughly investigate mountains in your practice, this will be your effort in the mountains. In this way, the mountains and the water will naturally produce the wise as well as the saintly.

Mountains sometimes create sages, and actually sometimes they create craziness. Still, mountains are mountains, one is one.

Then next stage is mountains are not mountains. When the mountain becomes complete, it doesn’t stay as it is, it creates many worlds. When you are one exactly, you create many beings because you are sacred.

Walking itself, motion, energy. That’s Buddha’s world. It is not a concept. Buddha’s world is functioning and walking, momentum of energy. Within in that momentum of energy and motion, there are many beings. Tiny flowers blooming in the mountains.

By walking the mountain life it is supported and actualized. Plum tree is plum tree, but it is also a place in which the cosmos is actualized, constantly.

When you see anything, first you see it very narrowly. But you shouldn’t stay with it, you should open it. You should open it and then see the many things around. But don’t rush into trying to see many things too quickly. Take time. The seed of flowers, problems, plum trees. Constantly face it. Trees are trees. A problem is a problem. Receive and take care of it. But don’t rush.

Then many worlds can bloom in your life. Then after that, many beings can be accepted by you, peacefully, harmoniously, and you can learn a lot. This is Buddhas teaching.

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