6. Thursday, February 22,1973
STUDENT: I keep hearing an expression like, “Your body is a vehicle through which you can gain understanding.”
KOBUN: The answer to this question is through practice, don't you think so? It cannot be answered with some set idea.
STUDENT: I was thinking today about my friend who seems to know everything, but he cannot apply it. Or he refuses to apply it. So it occurred to me that maybe, even though you understand everything, all of life, you cannot live that understanding. So it occurred to me that you probably should not seek meaning.
KOBUN: Some Rinzai master say, “Even though you know everything, this arm doesn't bend toward the opposite side, it always bends this way, not that way.”
STUDENT: I don't know. They continually destroy preceding records in the Olympics. Like they are continually jumping higher than man ever jumped, or running faster, or whatever. So many people devote their entire lives to doing this one little thing better than anyone else ever did it. And so some guy will eventually bend his arm the other way.
KOBUN: Fortunately, I have both, two hands, so I can bend this one!
STUDENT: This is related to a central question that keeps coming up for me, “What to do...what to do?” And I never really come up with a satisfying answer. Sometimes with a temporary answer that I hope is permanent, and it usually lasts a number of months or a few years. But it burns itself out and then I look at people who've managed to do it for lifetimes and I don't understand it. The biggest trick is to do something, but I get paralyzed just short of doing something because I'm so afraid that I'll lose myself completely. I'll lose your mind, or something. When I try to do something special it's like I just twist everything around. I say, “OK, I'm going to be a zazen freak.
STUDENT: I also feel that I can do what I want to do because someone else did what they didn't want to do and gave me the reward, the money earned.
STUDENT: I really feel that you pay for it. I've tried to do jobs, to earn money. But there's something about serving someone else for money. I would love, for example, just to work, and the work is a gift, and then the food that comes to me is also a gift.
STUDENT: I feel funny about everything being a gift; you feel funny about earning everything. But it ends up the same.
STUDENT: If it's there, and you take it freely, to have to have pain for it, something's fishy.
STUDENT: He's just stating a kind of fact that when you get a certain freedom, or a certain pleasure, somehow you pay for it. It just happens.
STUDENT: Yeah, but there is a kind of emotional disability. You get to a point where you can't do it any more.
STUDENT: Oh, but that's perhaps too because your system acquired some kind of cleverness how to do it without working. I wonder if you had children and they were all dying of hunger, you wouldn't mind standing in the rain and dig ditches or whatever. Because you need the money. But you have maneuvered yourself in such a way that you're safe. You can't say, “I cannot do it,” you have really to say, “I won't do it.” You know. It's you. You won't do it for whatever reasons. If you say, “can't” then you put the weight on something or somebody else, some situation outside you.
STUDENT: You know, you choose to take responsibility and you're making that a moral requirement of yourself. But maybe, in fact, you aren't responsible at all for what you do.
STUDENT: But I liked the distinction he made, because I've been afraid to say, “I won't.” I can't say, “I won't take a job.”
STUDENT: But if you say, “I won't take a job,” then that's true, and you feel better afterwards. Otherwise you're still hanging in the air.
STUDENT: The other day I applied for a job and I made the usual set of demands on the employer to try to discourage him, and they're really tricky because they're beginning to accept all the demands. So I started writing the application and finally I got up and just handed them the application and said, “I can't do this. This work isn't for me.” So they wrote on the card that's sent back to the employment office, “Reason for not being hired: Doesn't like work.”
STUDENT: What do you do for bread, anyway? That's an amazing choice if people can say, “ I won't work.” I don't recall ever being in that position.
STUDENT: It takes a number of years to figure it out.
STUDENT: I think that's true.
STUDENT: I still haven't worked out how you get by without working.
STUDENT: One thing you do is experiment and see what your needs really are. And your needs really are very low. They're really as simple as shelter and food.
STUDENT: And a car.
STUDENT: A job is essentially a contract and you always appear at a certain hour and perform a designated task.... I guess, with my father and me ... out of love it was given. I can work forever in situations where there's that kind of exchange. So essentially you make your own time. It's based on trust, I guess. A job is not based on trust, but an arrangement is. It's not that you go out and seek it. It comes to you.
STUDENT: How does it come to you, the bread? I can't imagine sitting at home and having it come to me.
STUDENT: I don't just sit home. I do work.
STUDENT: Do you get a job, whenever you need money?
STUDENT: No. I'm always working. I'm working right now.
STUDENT: Who's paying you?
STUDENT: I have the feeling, when I get up in the morning, that I'm beginning to work. I'm brushing my teeth. I'm starting to work. I never stop working. And I don't take vacations either. There isn't such a thing.
KOBUN: Cause it's always vacation. We are conditioned, each of us. I think he is talking about a broader sense of work. Children don't have work, but they are actually working as children. He is talking about how the economy relates with your energy. Sometimes the economy returns in a symbolic way, which is money, and when there is no money material will be returned to you. Money was symbolic at the origin of human society. In the stone age people used stone as the symbol of money. Now the symbol is gold. But it is changing. What can really be depended upon? When people depend upon gold as the resource, their loving of it makes gold less dependable. That's why money cannot be trusted. Mark's idea of a symbol is not money.
Like breakfast this morning was a very good example. It is a family thing. And one thing I would like to say is, doing nothing is also doing. It is still spending of energy. If you just sat without relating with other society, probably three months, society will be with you anyway. My feeling is (to student), your own present stage is like monk's mind, who has no monastery. You have to keep that attitude, because you don't want to go to the monastery either! This is one very, very difficult time for you, but you don't feel so. That is very good.
STUDENT: What is monk's mind?
KOBUN: Monk's mind is very clear what should be, how things should be done. One little problem is, you have many abilities but you don't want to choose one of them. That is your problem. Don't you think so?
And, (to student) you said you didn't have job? I don't believe so. You have big job. Zazen is a very big job. How can I say? Priceless. It's like a great gift which you work on little by little and it takes one year to accomplish it. You don't want to sell it, of course, and you don't want to keep it. You have somebody to give it to, this priceless thing. What kind of mind is it to bring this work to the person and, of course, you have no sense of the idea of money or return for this job. It is a total gift to somebody. Zazen practice cannot be said, “practice.” It is just zazen. Actually, all jobs are the same as zazen. Housewife's job has the same sense as zazen. It is a complete gift to the whole family. To cook and sweep, you don't put a price on your work. But when the economic symbol of money is less you start to feel, “Something is wrong.”
Work ... if you work on your basic concentration 24 hours a day then things go pretty smoothly. A job is also a great opportunity to develop your ability, if it is your favorite kind of job. If not, it can be considered as balance, to help you find out what is your life work, which is your 24 hour concentration. Even when you sleep you don't forget it. Finding your own ability is the way to formalize your energy to penetrate to society.
Very important is to start with doing zazen in the middle of the problem. You cannot avoid the problem and sit peacefully. Zazen is, of course, a very peaceful action physically, and in that state you put the problem of reality and see how things can be done. That means, physically, you sit among people, in society. Even if you don't find out what should be done, [you see] how we can keep the attitude to face to things. That is a more basic problem. Like when you are making a gate for your house, a gate is the solution, but you can make any kind of gate. No gate is one kind of gate. A tree can be a gate. So what is done is the content, it is the spirit with which it is done.
STUDENT: It sounds like this is my function, a lot of people's of course. In a sense not doing anything except to share my understanding that comes to me from zazen or whatever it comes to me from....
KOBUN: You say, “Do nothing...”
STUDENT: I was going to complete that thought. I have to do something for myself. In a sense, what I have to do for myself is work, physical work, not for anybody else, but for me. I almost have to reverse work and play, or work and rest. Rest is my work and work is my rest.
STUDENT: I don't feel like I fit in. I'm a misfit.
KOBUN: It is OK. Rest is work and work is rest, too. I really feel when I do something, a certain thing, it's easier. Energy doesn't go towards ten directions. It's more concentrated and it takes more time and I forget, “Oh, I did it four hours, I felt it was only 40 minutes.” This concentration is work, but it's rest, too. Also, doing nothing is really a big job! Zazen can be said is doing nothing. We just sit there. It's a big job, as we know. Especially when we do sesshin, we really feel that it is a hard job.
STUDENT: Yeah, I don't feel right about myself saying, “I'm doing nothing.” Also I don't want to attract that kind of attention. I want to be able to say something simple. You know, for six days I was able to say, “Well, I drive a Yellow Cab.” (Turning to another student) You were talking about selling your own time. I have a feeling about professional vs. amateur. There's a big emphasis on being professional. “Choose a profession,” and earn your livelihood by it. The spirit in which I feel good is that of an amateur. The source of that word is, “one who loves,” who does it for love.
KOBUN: Satisfaction. The job has to be satisfying. When you do something like work in a bank, some will enjoy it and some cannot be satisfied with this.....