Every Moment Is An Emergency

January 02, 2023 [attention] #zen

A few years ago I tried listening to Dainin Katagiri's lectures on Apple Podcasts. Dainin Katagiri was the founding abbot of the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. He died of cancer in 1990, and the talks in the podcast were recorded in the late 80s. I found his accent hard to understand. Outside of that lone memory, I don't remember anything at all about the contents of his talk. My poor recall can be explained by the fact that I am a bad listener; I don't blame Dainin or his accent. I am a slightly better reader, however. I encountered Dainin again after all these years this past weekend in the Cupertino Library. I read the first few pages of the book "Each Moment Is The Universe" and I knew that it was going to come home with me. Dainin is trying to emphasize the urgency of Zen, and this he does with striking metaphors. I am far from done with the book, but the lines below struck a cord and so I must share them here.

So before the earthquake happens, before your mind starts to work and you want run away, accept every moment as an opportunity presented to you to practice facing reality as it really is. When a moment arises, you don't know the reason why it exists, but you have to accept it and face it, whatever happens.

Life is an emergency case! Where is the emergency? Is it a particular situation, one day of your life? No, every moment of every day is an emergency. You have to do your best to face every moment, because this moment will never come again. The moment that you are living right now is a very important opportunity to make your life vividly alive. If you want to live with spiritual security in the midst of constant change, you have to burn the flame of your life force in everything you do.

Like other Zen books, this one is also derived from talks recorded over a long time, twenty years in this case. They are transcribed by devoted students into a collection bearing the speaker's name. There is no background provided on the talk each chapter is derived from. The chapters are organized along the theme of the book, arranged in the structure of the Four Noble Truths. I wonder, am I reading Katagiri or am I reading Katagiri as mediated and understood by the curator? And does it matter?

Back to top