Suzuki Roshi

‘If you cling to an idea you create, like a self, or an objective reality, you will be lost in the objective world that you create with your mind. You are creating things one after another, so there is no end. There may be various worlds that you are creating, and to create and see many things is very interesting, but you should not be lost in your creations.’ (Not Always So)

Unlike Ta Hui, Suzuki Roshi does not talk of cutting off hands, but the notion is the same.

Mitsu Suzuki

Learning to be “nothing special”
day by day –
autumn deepens

Another book that I had a chance to read while I was in England was A White Tea Bowl, which was in the shelves at the venue used by the Hebden Bridge group. I met Okusan only once, at Tassajara about fifteen years ago, but I remember being impressed by her energy as she did her daily exercises, already in her mid-eighties. While I am sure there is more flavour in her haiku in Japanese, the translations are delicate, and here we have another angle on “nothing special”.

Ta Hui

‘In my place there’s no doctrine to be given to people. I just wrap up the case on the basis of the facts. It’s just as if you bring a crystal pitcher which you cherish like anything, and as soon as I see it, I smash it for you. And if you bring a wish-fulfilling gem, I’ll take it away from you. Seeing you come this way, I’ll cut off your two hands for you.’ (Swampland Flowers)

I think the old Chinese teachers had more scope to sound dramatically brutal, but hopefully the training is still the same: let go of whatever you think it important. Keep letting go. Let go of the letting go. What do you have then? Who are you then? Let that go. And so on…

Something Special

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Way-seeking mind talks are a common occurrence at Zen Center these days. I understand that originally only the shuso, or head monk got to give one: it was their first opportunity to sit on the dharma seat, and talking about your own life and how you came to practice makes for a gentle way to begin your zen public speaking career. I have heard many students give way-seeking mind talks over the years at City Center and at Tassajara, and it always offers a chance for connection to see people examining their lives in an open and honest way. My rule of thumb is that I will only ever remember two or three details of a person’s story, but the feeling stays with you.

Many years ago, a young guy came to stay at City Center for a practice period, perhaps two. He was a gentle person, the sort you would instinctively assume to have a good heart. What I remember him saying is that when he was growing up, he had a belief that he would become someone special, like a rock star or someone well-known; now he was an adult, he was still adjusting to the idea that he was not someone special.

I remember listening to him and seeing the disappointment alive in his expression. We all grow up thinking we are special, or that we want to be; perhaps our parents and care-givers made a point of telling us we were, imbuing us with a confidence in the notion, perhaps they completely neglected to do so and we are determined to prove them wrong.

In the typical zen way of looking at the world, we are all completely special, and yet none of us is special. We are all special because each of us is a remarkable unique aggregation of life force, karmic conditions and immanent buddha nature; none of us is special because we all have these characteristics in our lives. If we want special things to happen in our lives, such as becoming ‘successful’ or famous, most likely we are destined to disappointment. Our training would have us question what success looks like anyway. Material gains? Spiritual stability? Freedom from suffering? Which would you sooner feel ‘successful’ at? Just being alive is pretty special to me.

Sekkei Harada

‘One must abandon all learning when practicing Zen. Our practice must be such that each breath is everything; there must be liberation in the inhalation of just one breath. Yet this is not something easily noticed. And because it often remains unnoticed, inevitably we seek something “special.”  (Unfathomable Depths)