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.
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:
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 be resolute,
And tells myself, “Yes, I will.”
Just practice right here now,
And achieve continuity,
This is living in vow.
Herein is one’s peaceful life found.