Divers in Emptiness
Dainin Katagiri Roshi
Everything is emptiness. That is a point that Buddhism
always emphasizes. But it's very difficult to understand. Even if you understand
it in an intellectual sense, it's very difficult to understand, with your whole
body and mind, the truth that everything is emptiness. But this is really true.
So today I would like to say something about this.
The other day I watched
a show on television, "The World Champions of Sport." There were many
different sportsmen on this program, and their sports were all a little unusual.
I was very interested in the high dive, which was different from the high dive
you usually see. A man was going to dive into a pool, but there wasn't much water
in the pool-just 12 1/4 inches of water. The diver was not young-he was 75 years
old. And he was on a high ladder, higher than this building. Can you imagine this
situation? It's clear that if he dives in headfirst, his head will be broken,
and if he dives in feet first, his legs will be broken. Then he dived perfectly,
with his chest. I was very surprised. When I was a child I practiced diving. I
would dive into the ocean headfirst, but one time I made a mistake and hit the
water with my chest. I couldn't breath. But this 75-year-old man jumped from higher
than I did and hit the water with no problems.
Before the dive, the announcer
said, "You are a pretty old man, and the water is 12 1/4 inches deep. I am
very scared, so please be careful. It's dangerous." But the diver said, "I
don't understand what you mean by saying it is dangerous. It is not dangerous,
it is very natural behavior." I was very surprised to hear this. Before he
dived, he stood at the top of the ladder and took a little exercise, a kind of
yoga exercise, bending his body at an angle of 90 degrees and continually glancing
at the pool. He glanced at the pool for two or three minutes. Maybe he controlled
his breathing, I don't know, but he continued to keep glancing at the pool and
finally he dived. Well, I had been thinking that this was a sport, but it was
not sports, it was really human life. If you do a sport just as sport, as something
separate from the rest of your life, that sport doesn't teach you anything about
human life. But the sport performed by this diver wasn't only sport, it was human
life. Through this sport we can learn how to live.
Let's think about this.
There are three things here: the pool, the diver and also there is another thing.
Something makes it possible for the pool and diver to exist, and makes a perfect
dive possible. Maybe you can say that this is ultimate truth. Maybe it's an energy.
I don't know what it is, but something helps this old man to exist, the pool to
exist and also creates the circumstances around their situation. So three things
are surrounding this sport.
First, the pool. Let's think about the pool. This
pool has 12 1/4 inches of water. If you understand the pool as an idea, it doesn't
make any sense. How can someone jump into 12 1/4 inches of water? It seems ridiculous.
So, this pool is beyond any idea of pool that you can have. The pool cannot be
seen from the diver's usual thinking-not in his human consciousness, not as an
idea he has. No. The pool must be seen another way. It must be seen as emptiness.
Emptiness means that the pool exists in the universe beyond any idea of pool attached
to it. The 12 1/4 inches of water in the pool also exists beyond human speculation.
You cannot say anything about it. So the water is also empty of concepts. If you
continue to have the idea that the pool is something opposed to the diver, that
means you are thinking of the pool as having a solid existence. If so, can you
say it is possible for the diver to jump into this pool? No. It's impossible because
there's no flexibility there. But actually, beyond human thinking, the pool and
water are just existence, just being, which is constantly flexible according to
conditions. So the pool is emptiness.
Next, the diver. If you think of the
diver according to common sense, it's physically and mentally impossible for him
to dive that way. But he took a little exercise, maybe a kind of yoga exercise,
and his body, his bones, and also his mind, became very flexible. He jumped into
the water on his chest and his bones didn't break, his stomach didn't puff up
and pop-his body and mind were completely flexible. We can try to explain it through
yoga, but it still doesn't make sense. Even if you practice yoga, how flexible
are your skin, muscle and bone, really? They are still pretty stiff, don't you
think so? This diver was flexible beyond our human intellectual understanding.
So the diver is emptiness.
Finally, the ultimate truth. Let's imagine the
ultimate truth that makes it possible for the pool and diver to exist. Do you
think that the ultimate truth can control the pool's life and also the diver's
life? Maybe so, maybe not. But even though you say: Yes, the ultimate truth controls
the pool's existence or the diver's existence, this is just your human speculation
based on concepts. We can discuss their existence according to the concept of
ultimate truth, but where is the ultimate truth, actually? Do you say that ultimate
truth is within the pool? Well, if ultimate truth is within the pool, can it help
the diver who is not yet in the pool? I don't think so. Do you say that ultimate
truth exists within the diver? If that is true, how can it help the pool to receive
the diver? Or do you say that the ultimate truth exists outside the pool and diver?
If that is true, how can it help the pool and diver when it is completely apart
from them? On the other hand, if ultimate truth does exist within the pool or
diver, then it loses its own characteristic of existing forever without changing,
because the pool and diver are part of the phenomenal world that is changing constantly.
So no matter how long we discuss it, finally ultimate truth must be empty.
all three: pool, diver and ultimate truth, are completely empty. There is nothing
to say. Then, from this emptiness, they are brought back into life, which is fully
alive beyond any human conception. The pool is ready to accept the diver, and
the diver's body and mind are completely flexible and perfectly ready to accept
the pool without being confused by any external distractions. Then the diver can
dive perfectly. Actually, the diver, pool and ultimate truth dive together in
the realm of emptiness. This is interdependence. The diver cannot exist without
the pool, the pool cannot exist without the diver, but both are empty, flexible,
without any fixed ideas. Then, at that time, interdependent co-origination comes
into existence. This is the refreshing life that is called flexibility, fluidity
or freedom. Or sometimes it is called samadhi.
Most people misunderstand emptiness,
thinking it means to destroy, or to ignore, our existence. This is a big mistake.
Emptiness is not negative. Emptiness is letting go of fixed ideas you have had
in order to go beyond them. Meister Eckhart calls it the desert. In the desert
of emptiness, everything dies and then comes back to life. This is really true.
Otherwise, you cannot be successful in doing anything at all. When you dance,
when you sing, when you walk, when you do zazen, whatever you do, you must be
empty first. And then, at that time, your life becomes flexible. Your body and
mind must be flexible. Then you can really jump into painting, dancing, eating
breakfast, washing your face, chanting and doing zazen. You can become one with
your activity, whatever it is, and do your best.
But you cannot be blind. That's
why the diver is constantly glancing at the pool, using his consciousness, using
his body, until he becomes one with the pool. Then, when the time and opportunity
were ripe, he jumped. That is oneness. This dive is a wonderful teaching of the
interdependence between the pool, diver and ultimate truth. When he jumps into
the pool, the diver is not merely a diver and the pool is no longer separate from
him. The pool is completely hidden behind his life, and the diver extends into
the whole universe. His body and mind occupy the whole universe. How? By his actual
practice, which is called diving. When everything is seen in the realm of emptiness,
everything becomes lively and interconnected, beyond human speculation. At that
time, you can really do something-something more than what you have thought.
the diver has, even slightly, a common sense idea of the pool, his mind is disturbed
and he is afraid. But when all have become empty, the pool is just like a beautiful
flower blooming. There is no way to discuss that beautiful flower because it is
beyond human speculation, concepts or ideas. All we have to do is pay careful
attention to the reality of that beautiful flower as it really is. That is emptiness.
Emptiness is exactly the same as interdependent co-origination. This interdependence
is not an idea of relationship. It is a chance, a great opportunity, a place where
everything becomes alive in a refreshing way. Within emptiness there is spiritual
security. Spiritual security cannot be given to you by somebody else-you have
to find it yourself, and it can only be found within the emptiness that makes
your life alive.
We can apply this to the zazen meditation we do. Buddhism
is not a philosophical teaching, it's a teaching of human activity. We are always
looking at zazen from our consciousness, with our preconceptions, but true zazen
must be completely empty. If you think: I want to be buddha through the practice
of zazen, then you and zazen are seen from your idea of buddha and zazen doesn't
work. That's why there's the story of Huai-jang, the zen master of Nan-yueh Mountain,
who polished a tile. When Huai-jang asked the monk Ma-tsu what he hoped to attain
by practicing meditation, the monk said he wanted to be a buddha. So Huai-jang
picked up a tile and began polishing it to make a mirror. Ma-tsu asked, "How
can you make a tile into a mirror?" And Huai-jang said, "How can you
become a buddha by practicing zazen?"
If you have, even slightly, the
idea, I want to be a buddha by practicing zazen, you have already created a conceptual
world of three things: buddha, zazen and practicer. You go around in a circle
with these ideas: what is buddha, what is zazen, what is practicer. But all you
have to do is see buddha from emptiness, see zazen from emptiness and see practicer
from emptiness. Just like the diver, you can handle yourself before you are distracted
by thinking. You can see zazen prior to the germination of your intellectual sense.
So handle zazen like this. Handle yourself like this. Then zazen really works,
and practicer really works within zazen because the practicer is blooming in the
universe. That is called shikantaza. There is a philosophical understanding behind
the word shikantaza, but zazen itself is not the object of philosophical discussion.
Zazen is just actual practice, like diving into the pool.
Many things come
up and distract us when we practice zazen: our preconceptions, ideas, karma, heredity,
personality and many other things. So we have to take care of them continually,
not with hatred, but by patting them on the head without being too interested
in them. Just pat them on the head. But if I pat my head and say "good boy,"
that is not the real practice of patting the head that I am talking about. When
I think, "good boy," that idea of good boy is coming from an idea of
"bad boy" I had in the past. If you see things this way, you are creating
ideas, discriminating between the previous moment, present moment and next moment.
We usually think that time moves from the past, through the present, to the future.
But time cannot be seen as just time. Time must be seen as time and also simultaneously
as space. You cannot separate them. In space, time has no before as a previous
moment, or after as a following moment, there is only right now, right here, blooming
and extending into the whole universe. You must be in time; you must be at the
moment where you cannot think about a previous moment or a following moment. That
moment is a great opportunity. That is the moment you are you as you really are,
prior to the germination of thinking.
If you become a dancer, how can you do
this? How can you pat the head of your karma, your heredity, your customs and
habits, or your personality? To pat their head means to just practice continually,
just become empty and flexible, and just dance. Then this emptiness makes your
life alive in the universe. You are ready to dive into the pool. Practice is simultaneously
blooming your flower right now, right here. That's why practice is not merely
practice apart from enlightenment-practice is enlightenment itself.
Katagiri-roshi came from Japan to the United States in 1963. He practiced and
taught at the Zenshuji Soto Zen Mission in Los Angeles, later moving to Sokoji
Soto Zen mission and then to San Francisco Zen Center, where he assisted Suzuki-roshi.
In 1982 he became the first abbot of Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis.
Katagiri-roshi died in 1990. (c) Minnesota Zen Meditation Center.
in Emptiness" by Dainin Katagiri Roshi. Shambhala Sun, January 2003.