‘I don’t want to go down the neurophysiology rabbit hole—there’s a huge body of literature by people far more qualified than I am—but the fact is that we construct our world out of all these electrical impulses and chemical reactions and cellular processes and imperceptible (to us) movements constrained by perceptual limitations (infrared, ultraviolet, infrasound, ultrasound, and so on), not to mention the basic mental categories we fit everything into—object/action, time/space, life/death, and so on. And guess what? The Buddha and his henchmen/women were quite aware of all this, even though they didn’t have the cognitive categories of electrical impulses and chemical reactions and cellular processes. Whatever philosophical framework they used, they still knew that however we thought things were, they weren’t. They knew that we are always making everything up.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘When we face the mirror of zazen, our minds tend to face ourselves as objects first – our skin color, age, gender, sexual orientation – all the ways we are embodied and move in the world. We begin to unfold stories about “I.” If we are willing to look long enough in the mirror of zazen, past seeing ourselves as objects, we have the possibility to see that we are nature itself – we are born and will die, just as the trees, flowers, and animals in the wild do. And sometimes, in zazen, we can see that the mirror is clear. There are no clouds, no dust. The human condition is set aside. I am not old, middle-aged, or young. I am fulfilled in my own spirit. And in this recognition I feel the connection to my ancestors, to those who came before me, or to a life larger than my own. I am returned to an open field in which there are many possibilities.’ (The Hidden Lamp)
‘This is always the measure of mindful practice—whether we can create the conditions for love and peace in circumstances that are difficult, whether we can stop resisting and surrender, working with what we have, where we are.’
‘Equanimity is awareness so spacious that whatever arises in our mind and heart, whether agreeable or disagreeable, is small and incidental compared to awareness itself. In other words, when we are equanimous, nothing is left out of heart’s view’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘Spiritual discipline is best conceived not as the repression of the energy of desire, but rather as its reorientation. The point of ascetic discipline that works against certain desires is gradually to learn the freedom of mastery, the freedom to choose among desires and to shape them, thus avoiding both harmful desires and detrimental relations to desires such as enslavement or addiction. Discipline regulates desire, channels and cultivates it, so that what we choose – life in pursuit of excellence – is actualized over against what would have occurred had we followed the desires that originally motivated our activity.
Those skilled in practices of mindfulness and in the discipline of character know how to assess desires. They consciously evaluate and rank desires, and when some of them are out of accord with chosen purposes – a “thought of enlightenment” – they also know how to extinguish them.’ (The Six Perfections)
Well, that’s the plan anyway.
‘Once you’ve been taught a good posture, you feel gratitude and spontaneously do gassho. You feel good and want to sit in zazen, but if your posture is bad, your mood is as well.’ (Commentary on The Song Of Awakening)
I might add, and vice versa. Many times, when my mood was bad, my posture in zazen was not upright…
‘So even [if] you practice hard, your zazen sometime will be good, sometime will not be so good. It is– actually it is not always in the same– we cannot practice our way in the same way always. The purpose of zazen is not to think about it. To catch ourselves in its full function is zazen. If so, there is no need to think about it. If you think about it, you cannot– you will lose it. When you don’t think and [are] involved in the practice fully, you have zazen.
Even it is so, we have to prepare everything one by one carefully. That is our everyday life. When you wash your face you should wash your face carefully. When you walk you should walk carefully. One by one you take care of your activity. But when you are taking care of your activity, you are involved in something which is– which cannot be grasped. You are not anymore you.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)
Another talk from an early sesshin at Tassajara, with Suzuki Roshi encouraging his students to go deeper than they probably ever had before.
‘No matter what path you follow to reach the place of truth, the place you arrive is the same. When people are totally committed to their religious practice, they no longer need to be chauvinistic about it. All that is necessary is to dig into that basic question, to reach that deepest essence, and humbly accept Grace…
For those who have realized this place, there is nothing more to search for externally, or to find in another religion. All people in society need to realize this true human nature – not Buddha, or God, or that self that yearns for sex, fame, and money, but that which would naturally be respected by anyone who came in contact with it. Directly feeling the great depth and clarity of this human nature, we bow not only to God and Buddha but to that holy human quality that does not come from a life spent napping and yawning. To say “that person can do it but I cannot” is indulgent and comes from not looking at things in the right way and living in accord with that way.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)
‘My first Buddhist meditation teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, spoke of non-effort as a worthy partner to effort: “Effort, non-effort and effort, non-effort—it’s beautiful.”
Yes, it is important to apply ourselves, to engage fully in mindful living. But it is equally important to release all trying and confidently trust our innate mindfulness to shine through. All the Buddhist traditions of natural wakefulness, original goodness, or buddhanature are based on this sense of inborn wisdom not produced by meditating or walking the path. This is the practice of basic sanity through what is called “just sitting” or “non-meditation” or “primordial great perfection.” As the pioneering Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi phrased it: “The point we emphasize is strong confidence in our original nature.”
In this view, mindfulness is not a special attainment or an extraordinary event in our life journey. Mindfulness is an innate capacity, present in all sentient beings. Walking the path, we are gently cultivating our own nature, allowing seeds of potential to blossom. From this perspective, awakening is as natural as the dawning of the sun. We are invited to begin each session by feeling this naturally awake quality—and to return to this original openness again and again during practice and everyday life.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
We looked at this article in my student group this week, and this passage drew the most attention.
‘It wasn’t until I officiated my first Jukai ceremony—lay initiation for students—that living a life of vows came into full view. It wasn’t about me, name or no name. Through tears, I saw my black students move with so much courage, hand in hand, heart to heart, enacting and embodying liberation through vows. Not liberation from something, but liberation into being the body of nature, being the earth, that they are.
It was difficult to stop crying during the ceremony as I said these words: “Abiding according to the ten grave precepts, even after realizing buddhahood, will you continuously observe them?” To which the initiates replied: “Yes, I will.” Hearing their devotion to awakening, I was deeply moved to stand at the gate and usher in those who want to live free, filled with love, and be protected from harm in doing so. The gateway need not be Zen or Buddhist; it can be any gateway of freedom that emerges in one’s life. Whatever you are devoted to is what you are living as your vow. Devotion means “of vow.”’ (from Lion’s Roar)
Having attended that ceremony, I can attest that it was a moving occasion.