Suzuki Roshi

‘The secret of Soto Zen is just two words: “Not always so.” Oops – three words in English. In Japanese, two words. “Not always so.” This is the secret of the teaching. It may be so, but it is not always so. Without being caught by words or rules, without too many preconceived ideas, we actually do something, and doing something, we apply our teaching.
To stick to something rigidly is laziness. Before you do something difficult, you want to understand it, so you are caught by words. When you are brave enough to accept your surroundings without saying what is right and what is wrong, then the teaching that was told to you will help. If you are caught by the teaching, you will have a double problem – whether you should follow the teaching or go your own way. This problem is created by grasping the teaching. So practice first, and then apply the teaching.
We practice zazen like someone close to dying. There is nothing to rely on, nothing to depend on. Because you are dying, you don’t want anything, so you cannot be fooled by anything.’ (Not Always So)

The fact that this collection of Suzuki Roshi’s talk was given the title it was shows how that phrase often cropped up in discussions, usually accompanied by a little chuckle at the ‘just two words’ introduction. Reading on through the talk, though, gives us a deeper look at how to practise, to the powerful idea this quote ends with. As elsewhere, I hear echoes of Dogen in the way Suzuki Roshi presented the teachings, especially in this phrase, ‘doing something, we apply our teaching’. There is no point just reading about it; we have to live it – pretty much always.


Katagiri Roshi

‘Try to realize that you have already set yourself out in the vastness of the Buddha’s world because you exist as a human being, So all you can do now is make every possible effort to live in Buddha’s world with a way-seeking mind. Usually we don’t want to do this. If we step outside the familiar patterns of our lives we are scared. But we have to do it sometimes, so we should do it positively. This is very important for us. If we do it positively, we realize how great our capability is. That doesn’t mean to become strong by expressing our ego. Expressing the ego seems to make us strong, but it is the complete opposite. In Zen monasteries the ego is always being hit on the head, like pouring water over a burning fire. Immediately pffft! Nothing is left. It’s pretty hard, but this is the way to become strong.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

I had this paragraph written out in my notes, and wondered if I had already posted it, but a search for ‘pffft!’ brought up nothing. I seem to recall using it in a dharma talk, and reading it again now, it seems to point to the same process that Pema Chödrön is talking about.

Now Hear The Shuso

The first of the season’s shuso ceremonies took place at City Center last Saturday afternoon. Allison was up on the seat, answering questions, being honestly herself, and being asked by the former shusos, in their congratulatory statements, to take in how much she was loved by everybody. As always, it was nice to put on my robes and take my seat in the assembly to watch this unfold, to chant the Heart Sutra slowly with everybody, and to have a good natter over dinner later. Those who has just ended their week of sesshin were happy to be talking, sharing stories and observations. We all got to appreciate the unveiling of a new teacher, someone who has worked and practised hard to transform her suffering into compassion and loving-kindness.

Allison wanted to have a picture on the front steps, as has been done occasionally before, but it was dark by the time we finished, so I had to try to herd everyone into place in the Buddha Hall…

Allison and Abbot Ed

Allison gets to be the centre of attention at the dinner afterwards as well.

Too good not to photograph – I suspect this will show up on the Zen Center website soon enough.

Shodo Harada

‘Zen is not a scholarly study or some kind of special knowledge. It is only facing directly that source from which our life energy arises, clarifying completely that root of our very being alive. Only this one moment. To do this requires straightforward bravery – and only that. There is only one way in which it can be done. You must cut it all and throw it away, continually, doing that and only that. That is what it is about. If not that, what will you do when you die? Complaining will not work then. You have to make that determined effort now. You have to die whether you want to or not.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)


‘Why is it that phenomenal existence is empty? If there is nothing within mind, then how does one explain how the myriad things arise? Isn’t it as if shadowy forms differentiate emptiness? This question is like someone grasping sound and placing it in a box, or blowing into a net to fill it with air. Therefore some old worthy said, “It’s not mind. It’s not Buddha. It’s not a thing.” Thus we just teach you brethren to go on a journey…
Although a single phrase of scripture is recited for endless eons, its meaning is never exhausted. Its teaching transports countless billions of beings to the attainment of the unborn and enduring Dharma. And that which is called knowledge or ignorance, even in the very smallest amount, is completely contrary to the Way. So difficult! So difficult!’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

‘Some old worthy’ is of course Master Ma, Nansen’s teacher, always ready to turn things around to liberate those stuck to his previous formulation ‘this very mind is Buddha’. But if Nansen thinks it is difficult, perhaps he should take a lesson from Lingzhao.

Pema Chödrön

‘As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity. To the degree that we’ve been avoiding uncertainty, we’re naturally going to have withdrawal symptoms—withdrawal from always thinking that there’s a problem and that someone, somewhere, needs to fix it.
The middle way is wide open, but it’s tough going, because it goes against the grain of an ancient neurotic pattern that we all share. When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, including you and me.’ (from Lion’s Roar)