This is the fifth installment of six in the Plum Blossom series, based on talks Katagiri Roshi gave for Rohatsu, 1988 – his last Rohatsu before cancer and death on March 1, 1990. You can view the other installments here: Plum Blossoms I, Plum Blossoms II, Plum Blossoms III, and Plum Blossoms IV.
Like everything, this is a collaboration by many. Once again, David Casacuberta kindly transcribed the talks and is now really getting Katagiri Roshi’s English. I have again edited the transcription into something that I hope works as a text. This time particularly, I felt that I was pruning the plum tree of Roshi’s original words with the intention of highlighting his meaning. In so doing, I continue to have the inconceivable good fortune to study with the old boy after all these years.
Plum Blossoms Part V
Rujing ascended the teaching seat and said to the assembly:
“When Gautama’s eyeball vanishes,
plum blossoms in snow, just one branch,
become thorn branches, here, everywhere, right now.
Laughing, spring wind blows madly.”
This is the time for all human and heavenly beings to turn toward attaining the way, as the old buddha’s dharma wheel is turned to the extreme limit of the entire world. Even clouds, rain, wind, and water, as well as grass, trees and insects do not fail to receive the benefit of this teaching. Heaven, earth and land are vigorously turned by this dharma wheel. To hear words never heard before is to hear these words. To attain what has never existed is to attain this teaching. This is the dharma wheel that cannot be seen or heard without having some inconceivable good fortune.
Gautama Siddhartha attained enlightenment when he saw the morning star at dawn on December 8th. In order to see the sky as it truly is, he had to take off his eyeballs, his dualistic senses. Free from egoistic sense, education, all the knowledge he had accumulated, then he could see the stars, the whole universe.
That is a kind of enlightenment.
Dogen Zenji quoted the ancestor’s statement in order to talk about life and death. Life is total manifestation of life. Death is the total manifestation of death. The total manifestation of the whole universe is nothing but movement.
Life is the trees in the garden and winter in Minneapolis. Death is exactly the rising of winter in Minnesota. Everything is nothing – but movement in dynamism. You can see this as through the form of trees, snow and the sun, sunrise and sunset.
Rimbaud has a very simple poem. He says:
It has been found again.
What? – Eternity.
It is the sea fled away
With the sun.
[The original French: “Elle est retrouvée. Quoi ? – L’Eternité. C’est la mer allée. Avec le soleil.”]
Sunset – the sun is setting from moment to moment and then the sun disappears very quickly. All over, the sea and the ski is bright gold.
What you can see through this eternity is a kind of samadhi. You cannot use your egoistic sense or common/karmic knowledge; you have to throw it away and see the sun, then you can really sink into the sunset.
Rimbaud completely sank with the reason of the universe. At that time he had no ideas. He just found it.
In Guidelines for Studying the Way, Dogen says,
“When you first begin to follow the path of Buddhism as a Bodhi-seeker and begin to study the Way, simply listen to the teaching of a Zen teacher and train accordingly. At this time you should know the following: that the Dharma can turn the self, and that the self can turn the Dharma. When the Dharma turns the self, the Dharma in you is strong and the self is weak. When the self turns the Dharma, the self in you is strong and the Dharma in you has become weak.”
Just stand up there and you are sucked into the sunset. So dharma turns you. So why are you impressed by the sunset? You don’t know. And then dharma turns you – dharma, the whole universe uses you. At that time you are weak. You don’t know who you are; you don’t know why you do want to do this. You are weak, dharma is strong. At that time, your body must be running with the rhythm of the sunset, the whole universe.
Zen practice is just like that. Gassho is just like the sunset. Zazen is exactly like sunset.
It’s the same in boxing. You must be boxer. Before you punch, your footwork must attune with the rhythm of the sunset. When you see the sunset you have to do it. When you see gassho you have to do it. However, your footwork must be fresh. But you don’t do it. Your footwork is very heavy.
In order to have fresh footwork, you have to practice under the guidance of teachers. Your teachers say, “Just do it.” Then we are afraid because there is no self-reliance. That’s why he says that there is one thing you have to understand – dharma turns you and you turn dharma.
When you turn the dharma, you are strong and dharma is weak. At that time you accept that the sunset is the same as trees and birds, life and death, friends and parents. You become host. You are the master of yourself.
These two aspects are always present in the buddhadharma.
Practice is taking your naked eye out of your heart. That’s why most people give up. In every age, human beings don’t want to practice this. They want excitement, to use their own egos, knowledge, education. They want to show up. Then people pay attention to you and you feel proud of yourself.
But Buddhism goes exactly the opposite way. That is why it is very hard. Not only for Americans – nowadays human beings are the same everywhere. In Japan, it is the same.
In the Book of Equanimity there is a koan:
A monk asked Zhaozhou, “What is the meaning of Boddhidharma’s coming from the West?”
Zhaozhou answered, “The cypress tree in the garden.”
The monk said, “I’m not talking about the circumstances. I’m talking about the essence of Buddha’s teaching.”
Zhauzhou said, “I’m not talking about circumstances.”
The monk said, “What do you want to talk about?”
Zhaozhou said, “Cypress tree in the garden” ”
If you have Buddha’s eye, cypress tree is Buddha. But when you see that tree with your naked eye, it is just a tree, a form that is a dead tree.
When you experience total manifestation as the cypress tree or the sunset, we call that enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something particular; you have to be exactly right there, in the stream of the river, the stream of the universe.
At that time, you can catch this moment, this opportunity, this momentum of energy. Then you can turn the dharma and dharma can turn you.
This is how the spirit can be fresh.
But we are cheated by the words. It’s like sticky stuff – you try to move but your feet are stuck with glue and you can’t move.
That’s why Gautama’s eyeballs vanish, becoming one with momentum of energy.
When I was in my temple, in the foot of the mountains, with just rice fields in front and the mountain behind, all covered in snow. I felt alone. I screamed. At that time, I had a very hard life. Once I went up to the mountain and there were ten or twenty blooming plum trees. I felt relief. Thank you, thank you, plum tree. So beautiful I couldn’t forget them.
Everything is a plum tree blooming in the snow. Sunset is plum blossoms blooming in the snow. Cypress tree is plum blossoms blooming in the snow.
Dogen says, “The entire body is a mouth hanging in emptiness.”
Here, in Plum Blossoms, Dogen Zenji comments:
“This is the time for all human and heavenly beings to turn toward attaining the way, as the old Buddha’s dharma wheel is turned to the extreme limit of the entire world.”
When does the Buddha appear in the world? You have to catch the momentum of energy between you and the sunset, you and the morning sunrise, you and gassho, you and tree, you and the winter in Minnesota. This is the opportunity of Buddha appearing in the word. This is called enlightenment. This is called practice, always showing the Buddha.
“Even clouds, rain, wind, and water, as well as grass, trees and insects do not fail to receive the benefit of this teaching.”
Yes, everything receives these benefits because if you see like a poet, finding eternity as the form of sunset and sea, at that time you are spread to every inch of the universe. Eternity.
Dogen also says that if you practice zazen even for a moment the three categories of actions, body, and life are covered with the Buddha seal and you can give benefit to water, rocks and trees.
“Heaven, earth and land are vigorously turned by this dharma wheel. To hear words never heard before is to hear these words.”
Just like standing and walking and wearing the robes. You never hear anything, but it is heard.
“To attain what has never existed is to attain this teaching. This is the dharma wheel that cannot be seen or heard without having some inconceivable good fortune.”