YOU HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING: Manifesting Zen Insight
by Dainin Katagiri with editing by Steve Hagen Published by Shambala, 1998
Reviewed by Keith Wiger: Reviewed for the Anchorage Zen Community Newsletter
I am a thoroughly biased reviewer of this recently-released collection of Katagiri Roshi lectures. Having identified Roshi as my teacher some twenty-five years ago, I count myself as one his surviving dharma-heirs. To have another collection of his writings is to have access to a part of the treasure that was his embodied teachings. I savor these short pithy pieces, enjoying the places they take me as I digest the various morsels. It's as though I once again am able to be with Roshi, and listen to his unique speech as he expounds on an obscure koan.
A couple of Roshi's students have recently published books that describe their relationships with him. Natalie Goldberg's Long Quiet Highway and Eric Storlie's Nothing on my Mind are personal accounts of Roshi's influence on their lives. I have read these accounts with great interest, curious in their descriptions and experiences if they had met the same man that I did. These accounts are secondary sources of the dharma as taught by Roshi---almost like listening in on the private interviews of a teacher and student. Reading the various lectures contained in this collection is a more direct link to his teaching.
I first met Roshi in 1974, and began attending his Saturday morning lectures at the Minnesota Zen Center soon thereafter. I often remember leaving these lectures with befuddlement. Three possibilites were conjured in these moments to explain my befuddled mind: 1. If only Roshi's Japoenglish were more clear and complete I would understand what he was saying; 2. He was talking nonsense that had little relevance to my life; 3. Something profoundly simple and unique had been uttered and I just didn't get it. Most often I would settle on the latter explanation, as I often felt something important was occurring for/in me in being there, regardless of my understanding.
Frequently when I sit sesshin, I will come upon moments when auditory halluncinations of Roshi's voice arises within. I will vividly hear his gravelly voice intoning one of his simple and oft-repeated phrases like, "Just sit up straight; that's all you have to do." Images appear of him running his hand over his monk-bald head as he searches for a word to explain his meaning. I secretly welcome these visits. I smile in appreciation for his continued presence. Reading this collection of essays is akin to hearing his voice; simple, direct eloquent statements of encouragement to engage with this present moment.
I recall visiting Roshi in 1988 as his first collection of lectures was about to be released. He gave me a copy of Returning to Silence, and with an impish smile, and slyly whispered to me "this is veeerrry gooood." Then he tossed his head back and laughed at his pretense of purported pride and self-congratulatory manner. It was the last time I saw Roshi. He died in 1990.
During his last six years, Roshi came to Anchorage on four occasions. Many of us here were touched by his gentle, compassionate nature. Some were introduced to the forms of zazen by him. Our morning service is much the same as the service Roshi brought to us from Minnesota. In the fifteen years of our small sangha, several of the priests that received transmission from Roshi have served as our teachers : Dokai, Nonin, Shoken, Taijo, Mike Port, Yvonne Rand. We received much from this little Japanese master.
I encourage you to get a copy of You Have to Say Something. They are edited by another priest who received transmission from Katagiri, Steve Hagen. He's removed much of the unique venacular that was Katagiri's speech, so these lectures read as though Roshi had impeccable English. (Something lost....and something gained??) I find these pieces to helpful encouragement in my daily practice.