Tatsugami, Sotan

		The Center of Dogen Zenji's Teaching

Excerpts from three lectures by Tatsugami Roshi given during the
1969-1970 winter training period in Tassajara.  Translation by Katagiri

Transcribed in October, 2002 by Jerry Halpern from original
notes circulated to all students at Tassajara in 1970.  This present
paragraph has been added by JH.  Otherwise, this document is an exact
(some obvious typographical errors are corrected here) and complete
transcription of the notes as they were originally circulated.

Focusing on the themes of thinking the unthinkable, oneness of practice
and enlightenment, and comfortable practice, these three lectures refer
to a passage from the Fukanzazengi that is considered to be the center
of Dogen Zenji's teaching:

     "...Think the unthinkable.  How do you think the unthinkable?
     Think beyond thinking and unthinking.  This is the important
     aspect of sitting.  This cross legged sitting is not step by step
     meditation. It is merely comfortable practice."


In Fukanzazengi Dogen Zenji asks: "How do you think the unthinkable?"
Dogen himself answers, saying that you should throw away everything.
This means that you should go directly forward, without looking
backwards or forwards, towards the left or towards the right.  What
will happen if you plunge into doing something, eliminating
everything?  Dogen Zenji states that no matter what you are about to do
throwing away everything should be the basic attitude towards life.

This basic attitude is exemplified by the story of a famous Chinese Zen
master who fulfilled the position of tenzo, or head of kitchen.  One
day the Zen master was preparing rice for the monks' meal.  The rice
was boiling, and steam was rising up.  Suddenly Avalokiteshvara
Bodhisattva appeared in the steam.  When the tenzo saw Avalokiteshvara
Bodhisattva, he gave the Bodhisattva a blow, making him disappear.
The tenzo said:  "You shouldn't be here.  It is not necessary for you
to appear now."

If you devote yourself with complete wholeheartedness to the
preparation of a meal, you know that it is not necessary to play with
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva because preparing the meal is your whole
life.  When you prepare a meal, you yourself are revealed as you are.
That is why Dogen Zenji says:  "How do you think the unthinkable?"  It
is not really a question.  As both Dogen and Buddha say, it means that
you should go directly forward, throwing away everything.

In order to eliminate everything, all you have to do is just sit.
That's all.  In the world of the practice of non-thinking there is no
need for the appearance of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva.  In other
words, when you prepare a meal, or when you walk on the street, you
must be yourself in the practice of samadhi.  Samadhi means to
eliminate everything.  The person who can throw away everything
anywhere and at any time is a very happy human being.  Such a person
attains true freedom.  The person who cannot abandon everything because
he is always grasping for something in the domain of unfree being can
never find the greatest freedom. You must practice zazen.

The Paramita Sutra, or the Heart Sutra, which we chant every morning,
says that there is no obstacle for the mind (shin mu kei ge). From
where do the obstacles come? You yourself create them.  You fall into a
trap set by yourself.  There is no better way to attain freedom from
this trap than for you to free yourself.  That, in fact, is the only
way.  With shin mu kei ge you attain real freedom.  In the Heart Sutra
all the Buddhas of the three worlds expand the principle of "no
obstacle to disturb the mind."  Through zazen, which may be said to
embody shin mu kei ge, they all attained the goal of no obstacle for
the mind.

Dogen Zenji asks: "How do you think the unthinkable?" Answering
himself, Dogen says: "non-thinking".  "non" is not merely a negation.
In this case "non" means beyond, transcendent, or emancipated.
Non-thinking is the state of one's mind beyond the thinkable, yet
including it.  Non-thinking is to transcend "no thinking" and to
become free. The function of thinking exists, of course, but you are
able to transcend it and free yourself.

You cannot attain freedom, however, when you cling to something, when
you cannot abandon everything.  Your view of things becomes very
one-sided then. In Japanese there is a very interesting word:
tam-pan-kan.  This means a person who carries a board on his shoulder.
He can see just one side of the board, not the other.  Therefore,
tam-pan-kan denotes an inflexible and unadaptable person.  You should
not be a tam-pan-kan.

I would like to recommend that you practice zazen.  By doing so you
will get a taste of what non-thinking means.  It is difficult to
understand what non-thinking means by listening to a lecture.  Please
practice zazen.  The experience of non-thinking is not only very
important, but essential in the practice of zazen.  It enables you to
realize how valuable zazen is.


In previous lectures I explained the way of the practice of zazen in
concrete terms, or, in terms of right posture.  I talked about your
back, eyes, mouth, hands, and legs.  After explaining how to have the
right zazen posture, Dogen tried to explain the essence of zazen.  The
image of a Japanese fan may be used to illustrate the meaning of the
essence, or kaname in Japanese.  The lower part of the fan is held
together by one nail, enabling the fan to be opened and closed.  The
point where the fan is held together is called kaname.  If you lose
this nail, the fan cannot be used.

Since Dogen Zenji put particular emphasis on the right way of zazen, we
have to consider whether or not our zazen is going on properly according
to Dogen's advice.  That is why I have asked you many times:  "How is
you zazen going on? are you following Dogen's advice?"

Most people are delighted in creating delusions, hallucinations, and
dreams during sitting meditation.  This kind of meditation is not real
zazen.  You should pay more and more attention to your zazen.  What
about your posture? What about your eyes, head, chin, hands, back? are
your eyes open or not? People are apt to ignore the position of the
eyes.  Dogen Zenji says that your eyes must be open.  Please pay
careful attention to your eyes.  Do not, however, examine your posture
through the stubbornness of ego.

Dogen often called zazen sanzen, or just one word, san, which means "to
practice, to examine carefully".  You should practice directly towards
the truth.  You should practice zazen according to Dogen's advice so
that your small senses do not create any ideas.  And you should never
judge your practice in terms of your small senses.

In Fukanzazengi Dogen Zenji explains how to practice directly towards
the truth.  He says that you should sit or do zazen tranquilly with an
imperturbable state of mind.  This would be like the state of a
mountain. If you stay in a place surrounded by mountains, like
Tassajara, it is often difficult for you to appreciate how wonderful a
mountain is.  But if you are used to living in the city, when you see a
mountain you feel the wonder and beauty of the mountain and are deeply
impressed by its dignity.  In zazen it is enough just to sit like a
mountain with dignity.

Dogen Zenji, however, had the kindness to explain about zazen in
detail.  He said that you should throw away everything.  This is a very
important point.  He also said that you should not think in terms of
good and bad or right and wrong.  In the domain of truth there is no
discrimination between right and wrong, good and bad.  Some of you may
think that it is all right to think about good things or goodness, but
even this is a kind of delusion because it prevents you from throwing
away everything.  Throwing away everything means that you have to
eliminate even the good things, or goodness.

Dogen also says:  "Don't expect to become Buddha."  If you practice for
many years, you may think that your zazen is making good progress.  you
may tell yourself: "I just need to make a little more effort in my
practice and I will come very near to becoming Buddha."  All these are
delusions.  Although true zazen is constantly spinning in the domain of
becoming Buddha, you must not think that by practicing zazen you will
become Buddha.  According to Dogen to just sit is to become Buddha.
All discriminations and distractions have disappeared.  There is no
separation between you and zazen, only oneness.  However when someone
hears the word "just sit", he may think:  "Oh, yes, just sit.  All I
have to do is just sit in order to become Buddha." So, you are
delighted with sitting on a round cushion.  This has nothing to do with
becoming Buddha.

Instead of inattentively swallowing Dogen Zenji's advice, please chew
it carefully.  If there is anyone who thoughtlessly swallows Dogen's
recommendations, it is all right, but I am also sorry for that person.

Dogen Zenji sums up the important aspect of sitting in his statement:
"Think the unthinkable."


Last night I explained the main point of Fukanzazengi.  I think that by
listening to my lecture you may have understood what zazen is and what
the main point of practice is.  I don't know that your motivations for
practicing zazen are or how you have been impressed by the practice
that you have experienced.

For whatever reason you may have if you plunge into the practice of
zazen, at one time or another you will probably think of how far away
the destination of your practice is.  Some of you may give up the
practice of zazen on your way to the destination.  Others of you may
take it into your heads to judge zazen by viewing it through your own
small telescope.  If you understand zazen by looking at it from your
own limited point of view, it is not a true understanding of the
practice of zazen.  Viewing zazen through your own small telescope is
like getting a taste of an unripened apple - which is how most people
understand zazen.  You rarely realize how weak your personality is and
how weak you are.  How weakly your life goes on like something floating
on the surface of the water.

Whatever you do the important point is that you have to devote yourself
to thoroughly accomplish it.  Otherwise, you cannot recognize that it
belongs to your own life.  In other words, you cannot truly understand
something without devoting yourself to it. If you try to do something
with complete wholeheartedness, you will turn out to be yourself.

Even Buddha practiced zazen for six years.  Those six years that
Shakyamuni Buddha spent are very different from the time that all of us
have spent and will spend.  When Shakyamuni Buddha started to practice
zazen, he had already made up his mind to remain sitting until he
attained enlightenment.  Usually some of us sleep in sitting
meditation.  In fact, we sit in meditation in order to sleep and look
at beautiful films reflected on the screen of our minds.  In terms of
Buddha's practice of six years, our practice of zazen is probably not
good enough.  As Dogen Zenji says: "Why is it the human being in our
day doesn't make every effort to practice like Shakyamuni Buddha did?"
Please, make every effort to practice zazen.

In my previous lecture, I mentioned the subject of non-thinking.  The
meaning of non-thinking must be understood through the practice of
zazen.  Otherwise, your zazen is not yours;  otherwise, non-thinking is
not yours.  By practicing zazen with your whole body and mind,
non-thinking becomes completely and absolutely yours.

In view of the practice of zazen that you have experienced, it may be
difficult for you to understand the meaning of non-thinking.  Let me
take painting as an example.  Some of you here are interested in
painting.  I have also done some painting.  Sometimes I painted
indoors; sometimes, out of doors.  Let's imagine that you try to paint
a beautiful scene of nature.  When you start to paint, your mind is
completely filled with painting.  You forget various matters concerning
your family life or your school.  You concentrate only on painting and
on the beautiful scene of nature before you.  But you are not totally
unaware of other things even though you yourself concentrate only on
painting.  Your brain is always working as you think whether purple is
suitable to this place or green suitable to that, what colors should be
used for a tree, house, rock, or water? Nevertheless, your whole
concentration is on just painting.  If you should happen to think of
things other than your painting, you are not satisfied with your
painting.  One day I painted a beautiful winter scene.  A few days
later someone asked me whether I had been painting out of doors on a
certain cold winter day.  I had not noticed his presence at all.  I
asked him:  "Where were you? Were you looking at my painting?"  He
said: "Yes, I was."  "Where were you?"  "I stood directly behind you."

The paint, painting, and I are completely at oneness.  A painting is
not merely a painting;  it is identical with the actual scene of nature
in winter.  The painting and I are simultaneously at oneness and the
beautiful scene of nature in winter and I are at oneness.  When you are
at oneness with your own painting, it is no-thinking.  But, when you
are at oneness with the winter scene, it is non-thinking.  Do you
understand the difference in meaning between no-thinking and

Often while you are doing zazen, you seem to take delight in watching
beautiful films in your head.  It seems to me that when you do this you
are pouring water into a bamboo bucket.  Even though you strive to fill
the bucket with water, it cannot be filled.  (A bamboo bucket has many
holes and it is impossible to fill it with water).  When you find
yourself practicing zazen as though you were pouring water into a
bamboo bucket, you feel that something is wrong.  You become pensive.
You feel that you are wasting time because nothing remains in the
bamboo bucket.


A central point of Dogen Zenji's teaching is to be found in the
following statement taken from the Fukanzazengi:  "This cross-legged
sitting is not step by step meditation."  You do not practice zazen
with the thought of climbing up the ladder step by step, like
graduating from grade school, high school, and college.  Dogen's
practice is not step by step zazen.  Dogen Zenji says that the practice
of zazen is identical with enlightenment.  Let me give you an example.
If you clean your room, you think that your room is beautiful and neat
looking.  It is natural that you should think so.  According to Dogen,
however, who maintains that practice is identical with enlightenment,
the very act of cleaning is identical with cleanliness, purity, and

Another example is hitting the drum.  The moment that you hit the drum,
a sound appears: "Boom!"  Hitting the drum and creating the sound are
identical.  Let us apply this to zazen.  Imagine that in sitting
meditation some sound appears:  "Boom!", which is enlightenment
itself.  But, as with the drum, or bell, sitting and the sound of
enlightenment are completely one.  The same principle is exemplified by
switching on the electricity.  the electricity does not think, nor is
it excessively proud of its great powers.  It never thinks whether it
works slowly or quickly.  As soon as you turn on the switch, the
electricity works immediately.  The same holds true when you hit the
bell.  The bell doesn't think:  "Wait a minute", or, "Oh, yes, you hit
me.  OK Just a moment.  Let me have a little time, please.  Yes, right
now, yes.  Let's start.  Gong!"  The bell never thinks so.  The moment
that you hit the bell, it works immediately.  This is what Dogen means
when he says that practice is identical with enlightenment itself.
This is the proper way of zazen.

You cannot understand the meaning of comfortable practice (anraku no
homon) if you practice zazen as though you were pouring water into a
bamboo bucket.  In comfortable practice you should make an effort to do
something if you want to and if you think it is right, without being too
much concerned about anything.  If you think something is good, you
should try to do it.  Otherwise, you pour water into a bamboo bucket.
But if you do something with your whole body and mind, pouring the
water is identical to filling the bucket with water.


We strive to walk on the supreme path directly and straightly.  You
just hit the drum.  That is all. It is a delusion to think that the
hitting makes the sound.  Hitting and creating the sound are one.
Sometimes you may hit the side of the drum.  The sound you make is very
funny: "K-gk-boom-kchinkg".  Then you complain that the drum doesn't
sound right even though you make every effort to hit it.  You say: It's
the drum's fault.  The drum is wrong."  But it is your fault.  You
somehow don't realize that you are hitting the side of the drum.

The same may be said of the practice of zazen.  Seeing zazen through
your own small telescope, you think:  "Oh, this is zazen."  Then, if
through the practice of zazen you attain some degree of enlightenment,
you think:  "Oh, this is enlightenment.  How wonderful enlightenment
is." That is not real zazen.  When you practice zazen, you must hit the
proper place;  otherwise, you cannot make a good sound.  You should
always consider what part of the drum to hit.  If you consider again
and again, it means that your practice is going on in the same way as
that of the Buddhas and Patriarchs, who took care of each respiration
moment after moment with kind attention.  At that time your zazen is
comfortable practice.  If you have a lot of money the important point
is to know how to spend it.  Similarly, if you have a good and valuable
teaching, the important point is that you understand how to use it;
otherwise, even the valuable teaching will hurt your mind.



Student A:  What does comfortable practice really mean?

Tatsugami Roshi:  I have been thinking of a detailed explanation of
comfortable practice.  In Shobogenzo Dogen Zenji said that zazen in
full lotus position, which transcends all aspects of phenomena without
any hindrances, is to settle oneself gracefully and sublimely in the
depths of the Buddhas and Patriarchs.  Judging from this statement,
there is no obstacle and nothing to disturb in the world of the
practice of zazen.  Zazen in full lotus portion embraces everything and
enables man to settle on himself in the domain of Buddha's house.  The
inside of Buddha's house contains zazen.  In other words, all those who
settle on themselves in the practice of zazen exist completely
surrounded by the greatness of Buddha's world.  This is the meaning of
zazen.  And among the many things of Buddha's world Dogen Zenji says
that zazen in full lotus position is the supreme one.

There is no better way to settle on the self in Buddha's world than to
devote yourself to the practice of zazen.  Such zazen is Buddha's
dharma based on comfortable practice.  Usually you see things from a
small and narrow point of view.  These things are bubbles arising from
your delusions.  When you practice zazen and understand it from your
own small point of view, you do not experience zazen as comfortable
practice.  Let us develop this point further by taking an example.  If
someone were to give you one hundred dollars, you would immediately be
pleased and happy.  You would go to bed feeling comfortable (anraku).
This "comfortable" is the same as the word "comfortable" in
comfortable practice as used by Dogen Zenji.  There is a very big
difference between the two words, however, even though the word
"comfortable" (anraku), which both the Buddha and we use, looks and
sounds the same.  This difference is to be found in the objective at
which we aim and at which the Buddha aims.  In a sense it is all right
to be delighted understanding something from the narrow point of view;
but, you should always keep in mind that to do so is not really
comfortable practice.

You may think that it is comfortable practice to sleep or look at
interesting films running in your head during sitting meditation.  But
it is not, because the purpose of zazen based on comfortable practice
is to awaken people from the falsehood of delusions and conceptual
understanding and to free them from seeing life from a narrow point of

Let us use learning how to ride a bicycle as an analogy.  All of you
probably know how to ride a bicycle.  I also practiced riding a
bicycle.  In my case, it took me one week to learn how to ride it.
However, it will not take just one week, but probably one or two years
or even more to learn how to ride a bicycle without disturbing the
people who are walking on the street and without disturbing myself.
While you are learning how to ride the bicycle, you may, perhaps, injure
your knee or your hand or elbow.  Perhaps your bicycle may crash into
an electric pole standing on the side of the road.  Your tire may
break.  You can't really ride on a broken bicycle.  If you try to ride
such a bicycle you feel very uncomfortable.  It will take you at least
a few years to learn how to ride a bicycle safely, without disturbing
others or yourself.

It will surely take you more than a couple of years to master zazen
based on the principle of comfortable practice.  Zazen enables man to
get rid of delusions and to open his mind to Buddha's world.  It is
like the statement in The Blue Cliff Records made by Bodhisattva when
the emperor asked him: "What is merit?  I have made many contributions
for building temples, taking care of Buddha's priests, and cultivating
their land."  The Bodhisattva answers:  "nothing."


Student B:  Would you explain in greater detail what to think the
unthinkable means?

Tatsugami Roshi:  There is no better way to understand non-thinking or
thinking the unthinkable than through the actual practice of zazen.
When I explain the meaning of non-thinking, it is like scratching your
foot without taking off your shoe.  It's all nonsense.  Similarly, if I
were to explain how wonderful taking a bath is to a person who had
never experienced it, he would not understand how wonderful it was.
Nevertheless, I must try to explain.

In considering what it means to think the unthinkable, there are three
points which we must take into account.  Throw away everything and sever
yourself from the falsehood of delusions.  Don't think in terms of good
and bad.  Don't try to make an effort to become Buddha.

Thinking or perception may be likened to a piece of machinery, more
specifically, a belt in an assembly line that automatically keeps on
running.  Dogen Zenji emphasized, however, that you must get to a dead
end where you can no longer think of anything.  It is essential for
you to reach this dead-end destination, where there is no room to
discriminate between good and bad or right and wrong;  where there is no
room to question yourself whether you want to become Buddha or an
ordinary person.  It is at this point, says Dogen Zenji, when you have
completely reached a dead end where there is nothing to think that you
should think of something.  Then, Dogen Zenji says:  "Think the
unthinkable" in the totality of the dead end where there is absolutely
no discrimination.

Stop making films run in your brain right now.  Making every effort to
keep beautiful films running through your head is complete nonsense and
utterly useless.  Dogen Zenji firmly states that you should stop making
the film run this instant, without wasting any more time.  You should
answer "Yes" to his request immediately, without hesitation.  At the
moment that you answer "yes", the film will stop.  It is at this time
that your mind is in the state of thinking the unthinkable.

Let us take a concrete example to illustrate my words.  you are holding
your hand tightly closed.  Someone asks you:  "What is in your hand?
Let me see it."  You say: "Oh, no.  This is mine and I don't want to
show it."  But the person asks again and again, and the more he asks
the more tightly you keep your hand closed.  At last you cannot help
opening your hand.  "Here it is."  But there is nothing in your hand
even though you always kept it closed.  Your attitude is really the
stubbornness of the ego.  It is all delusion.  Even though there is
nothing to show, all you have to do is just open your hand immediately
when someone asks you to open it.  That is all.  But it is difficult
for your mind to let your hand open.  Even though you may have
practiced zazen for three or five or even more years, it is still
difficult for your mind to let your hand open.

As I said before, to think the unthinkable is to stop your film from
running right now.  Then, when it stops, you will become aware of the
very big world.  But there must be a severance between your film and you
yourself for you to recognize how immense a world there exists in front
of you.  This is the experience of non-thinking, or thinking the

Non-thinking is beyond discrimination, discretion, and perception.  You
are above the table, not beneath it. If you practice zazen that is
completely in accord with the real zazen that Dogen emphasized, you
stand above the table.  Your experience of non-thinking does not

disturb or distract others.  In other words, there is nothing to
distract and nothing by which to be distracted.  This is non-thinking.
Do you understand?

I am afraid that my explanation has led you from one complication to
another, but all you have to do is to get a taste of the meaning of
non-thinking through actual practice.