In this collection of transcribed talks, Dainin Katagiri, one of the founding teachers of North America Zen, manifests how the universe is suffused with a dynamic energy that fills and sustains our lives. I use the word ‘manifest’ here because, in my experience, this book is an actual manifestation of its title, shining a new light on my experience of the world.
Katagiri’s ability to weave dharma concepts, illuminating nature analogies, and quotations from dharma literature into a fabric of simple declarative sentences often caused me to stop reading and go outside for a walk to try to absorb all that he was saying. On one such walk, I noticed the translucence of the tree leaves as the late afternoon sun shone through them. Standing among them, I was awestruck by the fantastically intricate stem, vein and cell structure that light, acting through photosynthesis, had created. I had felt the energy of Katagiri’s words physically move me out the door and into a perception of all the phenomenon of the natural world, which then helped me recognize my immediate experience of the dharma in the world.
Katagiri quotes from Dogen’s Shobogenzo Baika: “When the old plum tree suddenly opens, the world of blossoming flowers arises. At the moment when the world of blossoming flowers arises, spring arrives…At the moment of a single blossom, there are three, four, and five blossoms, hundreds, thousands, myriads, billions of blossoms—countless blossoms.” To which Katagiri responds: “Dogen represents oneness as something alive. Immediately it is right in front of you. You are very surprised, amazed, startled.”
Throughout this book Katagiri traces the flow of energy through the world and illuminates our awareness of the dharma, and his words bring this to life. Examples abound from the chapter called “Time and Space”—
When you see the vegetable as an expression of the universal energy inhering in everything, there is a kind of inspiration that goes in and out between you and the universe…Then, when you look at a vegetable, you see many beings in the realm of the vegetable’s life. That is the real life of the vegetable—Buddha’s life, we say.
Just sit right in the middle of zazen that is expressing aliveness in you, raindrops, trees, birds, and all beings.
And then this, from the chapter called “The Energy of Life”—
If you depend on dharma, pure energy will arise and appear in your everyday life…That energy gives forth its own light, shining from your whole body…So relax your frontal lobe, calm your mind, and practice dwelling peacefully in the dharma that is working deep in your own life.
In the section, “History of Buddhist Psychology,” Katagiri describes the dynamic of energy of human consciousness, the role of all phenomenal existence as contributing to the potential energy of consciousness, and the creative force of karmic energy with which we live. As complex as these issues may be, Katagiri talks about them in terms that are clear and direct, and always with the intent to end human suffering—your suffering, and my suffering. There is a warmth and generosity in the accessible way he manages to connect these abstract concepts with everyday human pain.
In the chapter, “Wisdom and Compassion,” Katagiri explores the link between compassion and sadness. Here he delves into how the Buddha’s Precepts are a manifestation of the whole universe. By way of encouragement, he speaks on the wisdom of emptiness and its connection to energy. He says: “Every day, all you have to do is stand up in emptiness, open your heart, and accept the lively energy of your life. You don’t understand what emptiness is exactly, but your life is already there, so stand up straight and start to walk. Even if you are scared, just go ahead.”
The final section, “Peace and Harmony,” presents a vision that is simple, profound, and joyous. The individual talks in this part, “Where Do You Come From?” “Where Are You Going?” and “Walking Alone with an Open Heart” offer inspiring, down-to-earth guidance on tranquility, benevolence, and unobstructed freedom. He writes: “Act wholeheartedly, constantly trying to be with that great stream of energy. That is the Zen way. This is a wonderful practice for us.”
The Light That Shines Through Infinity shines brightly through this book.
Richard Supperti, MRO, is a Student in the Mountains and Rivers Order living in Brooklyn, NY.