Book Excerpts

Just Take One Step

Dainin Katagiri came to the United States in 1963, originally to help out at the Zenshuji mission in Los Angeles, before moving up to San Francisco to work with the Sokoji mission there as well as the San Francisco Zen Center. He eventually established his own center for practice in Minnesota. In this extract from his book, ‘You Have to Say Something’, he warns against regarding zazen as a means to an end or as a vehicle to extinguish desire. This is best done, he says, by taking one wholehearted step right at this very moment.

If you carry zazen around as a means to an end, it will just keep getting heavier and heavier. If it’s five pounds at the beginning, you might be able to carry it for a mile without trouble, but if you carry it for two miles, or three miles, or five miles, you will become exhausted. This is because your false shore starts washing away the moment you reach it. This is why you are not satisfied in zazen. You are still looking for the other shore.

This is just how most of us are confused. We don’t appreciate the fact that desires are endless. We have to come to realize that there is nothing to get into our hands, and that zazen is not a vehicle, not a means.

So, how can we practice zazen as an end in itself? All you have to do is take a step. Just one step. Strictly speaking, there is just one thing we have to face, and nothing else. If you believe there is something else besides this one thing, this is not pure practice. Just take one step in this moment with whole-heartedness. Intellectually, we think about the past and the future, but if we take one step, this shore and the other shore are now. Taking one step already includes all other steps. It includes this shore and the other shore. This one step is zazen.

Just make your helter-skelter mind quiet and use mindfulness, thoughts, and views to see both life and death in this moment. Life is endless. But that is not important. What’s important is that beginningless and endless life lies within a peaceful mind. Right now, right here, our life must be peaceful. To enter the gate of peace and harmony is not an idea. Like a falling leaf, it is the total manifestation of enlightenment and the illumination of ultimate reality.

Dainin Katagiri (1928-1990)
From: ‘You Have to Say Something’