“When you really understand your life—when you really understand what makes it possible for all beings to exist—there is nothing to say. You just keep silent. But still you have to do something.”Tweet
– Dainin Katagiri
You Have to Say Something is the title of a collection of teachings by the Japanese Zen master Dainin Katagiri who came to the United States in the 1960s and eventually settled in Minnesota where he taught until his death in 1990. In his book, he emphasizes the importance of living with the completeness and wholeheartedness that is cultivated in Zen meditation. From within that locus of silence, it can often be difficult to find the words or modality to enter back into the world, but it is something we ultimately have to do. In this excerpt, Katagiri refers to the 100-foot pole, an image that is frequently used in Zen to warn off the idea that there is some kind of apex or end to the practice.
Anything you think about Buddha-nature is just some idea in your mind. But Buddha-nature is not something we can grasp. In this sense, there is no Buddha-nature.
We want to know if Buddha-nature exists or not. But no matter how long we discuss it, there is no end to the subject. What is there to say about Buddha-nature? Nothing. The same is true of whatever aspect of human life you pick up: finally there is nothing to say.
A monk once asked his master, “What is the essence of Buddhism?” The master said, “Step forward from the top of a hundred-foot pole.” How can we go forward from the top of the pole? We will die. Can we go backward? No, we cannot. What, then, does it mean to step forward from the top of a hundred-foot pole?
Though we are not always conscious of it, we actually face whis question daily. As we do become aware of it, we finally ask ourselves, What is life? But there is nothing to say. Just silence. This silence is Buddha-nature, or Suchness, or Emptiness.
Though everyone experiences this silence, we usually don’t notice it because our minds are very busy. Sooner or later, though, we all realize its presence. But then we ask, “What is this silence? How can I speak of it? Do I just keep my mouth shut?” No, I don’t think so. Even if you don’t say anything, there is still a problem. Silence-Buddha-nature-is not something apart from your life. It compels you to speak. That is why the Zen master had to speak. He had to say something. He had to speak from that silence-from Buddha-nature.
When you really understand your life—when you really understand what makes it possible for all beings to exist—there is nothing to say. You just keep silent. But still you have to do something. This is why I always tell you to keep your mouth shut and act with true heart. Buddha-nature is the state of your life as you stand atop a hundred-foot pole. You have to do something. Take one step.
Dainin Katagiri (1928-1990)
From: You Have To Say Something