“Peaceful Life”

March 1 is an significant date for me. It is the day in 1980 that I received lay ordination from Katagiri Roshi. It is also the day in 1990 that he died. Today, in memory of Katagiri’s passing, I give you his poem “Peaceful Life.” He wrote this wonderful poem while teaching at Hokyoji in southeast Minnesota, just a few months before cancer forced him to retire.

Recently I was reading Shohaku Okumura’s excellent book “Living by Vow” (Wisdom, 2012) and was happily surprised to find his insightful commentary on “Peaceful Life” as an explanation of the Four Noble Truths. Another significant commentary was made by Zoketsu Norman Fischer, who spoke about the poem and Katagiri in a 2006 dharma talk. You can find that audio file posted here on the website of Norm’s Everyday Zen Foundation.
Peace, Andrea

Peaceful Life
by Dainin Katagiri

Being told that it is impossible,
One believes, in despair, “Is that so?”
Being told that it is possible,
One believes, in excitement, “That’s right.”
But, whichever is chosen,
It does not fit one’s heart neatly.
Being asked, “What is unfitting?”
I don’t know what it is.
But my heart knows somehow.
I feel an irresistible desire to know.
What a mystery “human” is!
As to this mystery:
Clarifying,
Knowing how to live,
Knowing how to walk with people,
Demonstrating and teaching,
This is the Buddha.
From my human eyes,
I feel it’s really impossible to become a Buddha.
But this “I”, regarding what the Buddha does,
Vows to practice,
To aspire,
To be resolute,
And tells myself, “Yes, I will.”
Just practice right here now,
And achieve continuity,
Endlessly,
Forever.
This is living in vow.
Herein is one’s peaceful life found.

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Dokai’s Dharma Words to His Teacher

Dokai Georgesen, Hokyoji’s head teacher and a dharma heir of Katagiri Roshi, offered these heartfelt dharma words to his teacher during the recent 25-year memorial ceremony:

Dear Hojo san,

It is clear to me that I do not know who I am, where I am, what I am doing or how I am doing. It is also with astounding clarity that I see this all has something to do with our encounter with each other. For this I will be eternally grateful, as I am every morning when I offer you a little water to drink and a bow.

I know you felt the same. It all had to do with some people who you encountered as well who I never met. It is clear that there is transmission between human beings—something is intimately communicated. There is nothing in the entire world with all of our exact science and sophisticated knowledge that is more real than this. What it is, however, defies description—once there are words, generally speaking, confusion arises so easily. Even Gautama was very careful about this.

All I can say is it is about you and me and at the same time it is not. The same can be said even about Gautama, himself, and all those before and after him. So I take care of this moment the best that I can—the same as you did—acknowledging that we are not so strong as we would like to be and knowing that at times there is some aimless wandering with disregard for careful attention.

We have chosen to live a way in this world in which all we experience is just the continuous suffering of all creatures, large and small, human and non-human. Our hearts are always breaking with desire for it to cease. You were taught and taught to me; do not stay here for long; take a step forward, hold and embrace this breaking with subtle delicacy. Not knowing what to do and just letting the pain in as far as it can go, trust. In some way or another, our hearts mend and open again. Joy and contentment touch us and everything is perfectly fine, just the way it always has been.

Dokai

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Katagiri Roshi Memorial Day Eko

Katagiri Roshi passed away 25 years ago on March 1. Today, this inspiring eko was chanted at a special service held at Hokyoji, the rural practice center in rural Eitzen, Minnesota, that he founded:

The body of the pure dharma world
Neither appears nor disappears.
The strength of the vow of great compassion
Manifests in life and death

Revering the Buddhas,
We aspire to have their illuminating wisdom shine upon us.

Prostrating ourselves before the Buddhas,
We aspire to have their true compassion embrace us.

Today we gather to offer incense, flowers, candlelight, sweet water and tea.
We respectfully chant the Song of Jewel Mirror Samadhi and the Dai Hi Shin Darani.

The merit of this recitation is dedicated to the great teacher in America and this temple’s founder.
Jikai Danin Daiosho.
Humbly we offer our deepest graditude.

We yearn for the teaching of his dharma.

As the sun and moon break the darkness, so the eye of the
dharma will illuminate our path.

May his magnanimous teaching embrace the earth
And continue as a stone of iron.

Living in vow he transmitted the ancient way.
The path glitters in the moonlight, sometimes it takes lightning and thunder to awaken us.

With his whole body he penetrated the ancestors’ marrow,
Cultivating the clouds and planting the pines.

Thereupon, all creation rejoices and reflects its beauty in this sangha.
Luxuriant leaves and blossoms are flourishing in this temple
and great trees are attended to and are growing strong.
The gates are open inside and out.

Respectfully, we offer our true heart.
May it limitlessly fill the Tathagata’s bowl.

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25 Year Memorial

Greetings to everyone who is thinking fondly of our great teacher, and his passing twenty-five years ago today. Our hearts are together.

Jikai Dainin Daiosho, Katagiri Roshi’s dharma name plus honorific title, is the last in the long list of the “Names of Buddhas and Ancestors” that is chanted at Zen centers within his lineage. After reciting those names, we dedicate our effort, saying:

We express our heartfelt gratitude
And acknowledge our debt
To all successive Buddhas and Ancestors
who have transmitted the right dharma
through India, China, and Japan

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A Katagiri Memorial in Italy

Teijo Munnich, abbess of Great Tree Zen Temple in Asheville, North Carolina, recently performed a memorial service for Katagiri Roshi and placed an ihai memorial tablet (there’s a photo of it at the end of this post) on the altar at Fudenji in Salsomaggiore, Italy. Right before that, she performed a ceremony to “open the eyes” of the tablet, when it’s customary to speak directly to the item. Here are the moving words that Teijo spoke—

Jikai Dainin Daiosho (Compassionate Ocean, Great Patience, Great Priest)
Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of your passing from the human realm.
This ihai is a reminder of your life, of your great patience and steadfast perseverance.

We met in California almost 40 years ago; both of us were visitors from Minneapolis. Now I wear your okesa even with its wax stain on the front, I wear your kimono with mold stains which will not come out, and your teachings are still warm in my heart.

You shared teachings in Japan and America and inspired many. And Taiten Roshi has shared some of your spirit in Fudenji in Italy, a place where you wanted to visit—but you died too soon. You told us, “Please don’t call me ‘Zen Master.’ No one can master Zen.” And you also said, “Do not make me into a god after I die.”

Your humanness was your greatest teaching. Your mistakes were an encouragement to your students. Your continuous effort was your greatest gift. Compassionate Ocean Great Patience, we bow to you in gratitude for your example. And we vow to make our best effort to continue the pure Dharma you embodied.

So, how did this come about? In November 1988, Katagiri Roshi was head teacher of the Tokubetsu sesshin, a month-long retreat that brought together Western and Eastern Zen teachers. One of those Westerners was Taiten Guareschi, abbot of Fudenji, who found practicing with Katagiri to be a transformative experience. In remembrance of their connection, he wanted to honor the 25th anniversary of Katagiri’s passing. Yes, in America we honored the 24th anniversary on March 1, but in the Japanese way of counting, the first anniversary of an event is when it happens. For this memorial, a traditional ihai would be ceremonially placed on his temple’s altar.

Taiten felt this was best done by one of Katagiri’s dharma heirs, so he talked about it with his friend Shuichi Tom Kurai, an American monk and taiko drummer who had also attended that Tokubetsu sesshin. Tom suggested his friend Teijo. Teijo called on Shohaku Okumura for help with the Japanese characters, and with Tom’s help she arranged for the making of the ihai. She reported that it was an object of great curiosity in the four airport security scanners it had to pass through on their trip to Italy.

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Memorial from Hokyoji

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Lovely photo of Katagiri Roshi’s gravesite posted on Hokyoji’s Facebook page today with this dedication :
“Today marks the 24th anniversary of the passing of Hokyoji founder Dainin Katagiri into Nirvana. May we acknowledge his great benevolence and show respect for him so that it may enhance the practice of the Buddha Way.”

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Tomoe Katagiri retires

Tomoe Katagiri, our much-loved master of nyoho-e (Buddha’s teaching represented in clothing), recently retired from active teaching. Tomoe-san has taught generations of students to sew rakusu, okesa, robes, and more, sharing not only skills and wisdom but also her great warm heart. As Katagiri Roshi’s wife, Tomoe was a tireless leader of many aspects of sangha life, and since his death she has continued to support his lineage in many ways.

Tomoe named three successors. Kaaren Wiken is a metal sculpture artist and Zen sewing teacher who lives in Wisconsin and travels to Zen centers to lead sewing retreats. Tracey Walen is a priest at Clouds in Water Zen Center in Saint Paul. Rosemary Taylor is a priest at MZMC. Tomoe’s legacy includes her book, Study of the Okesa, which has guided countless dharma students through their sewing projects. Fortunately, Tomoe’s health is good and she will continue to be a welcome presence in the Zen community.
In gassho, Andrea

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Katagiri arrived in America 50 years ago today

Lately I’ve been thinking that Katagiri happened to arrive at an extraordinary moment in our country’s history. He landed in Los Angeles just six weeks after Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream speech” at the civil rights march on Washington, and six weeks before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. It was a tumultuous time. Our local Minneapolis paper recently ran a series of articles looking at all the ways that 1963 marked the start of a new era of history and culture, including Beatle mania, the rise of feminism, and a profound reassessment of traditional respect for power and authority. You can read the series at www.startribune.com/1963.

1963 was also the year that Soto Zen Bishop Reirin Yamada launched the Zen Buddhist Study Institute in Los Angeles and brought 35-year-old Katagiri from Japan to be part of his program. Tomoe has said that after a couple of years in LA and San Francisco, Katagiri began to doubt that he belonged in America and considered returning to Japan. Fortunately she was confident that they should stay. So he continued his effort to look beyond any particular human culture to find and teach the best way of human life.

Peace, Andrea

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A Cantaloupe Story

Many thanks to Marc Fisher for sending this touching Katagiri Roshi story:

“In the spring of 1969, in Berkeley, California, my very first morning zazen was with Katagiri, who was affiliated with San Francisco Zen Center. As part of our breakfast that followed our sitting, we ate in sitting position but slightly relaxed. The first part of our meal was cantaloupe, say about a sixteenth of a whole. I was seated directly in front of Katagiri. There was a great contrast between my messy scoop work, causing dripping galore, and Katagiri’s pristine scoop work, most surgical and jewel-like in nature. That contrast was revelation enough to inspire me to take up an ardent sitting practice.”

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Katagiri lineage continues to grow

Congratulations to Eko Jeff Kelley on his dharma transmission from Byakuren Judith Ragir, guiding teacher at Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul. The ceremony took place this summer at Hokyoji Zen Practice Center. Eko lives in Seattle, where he is a teacher and leader at the Seattle Soto Zen Center.

Eko Kelley and Byaruken Ragir

Eko Kelley and Byakuren Ragir

This spring, Shinkai Bonnie VersbonCoeur received dharma transmission from Zentetsu Tim Burkett at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis. Shinkai teaches and practices in Minneapolis and her home base of Belfast, Maine. Congratulations Shinkai!

The Dainin Katagiri lineage chart is maintained on this website under the Biography tab as part of “Ceaseless Effort.” You can find it within that document as an appendix. Currently it appears on pages 26-27. Reports of updates to this lineage record are most welcome.

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