Suzuki Roshi

‘To attain oneness in duality is our spirit because we are not so good we, you know, try to improve ourselves. That is our true nature. And we are aware of it — we have some intention to improve ourselves. This intention is limited to human being. Flowers come up — a flower may come out in spring without fail, but they do not make any effort; they automatically come out — that’s all. We try to open our flower in spring. We try to do the right thing at the right time. We find it very difficult. In this sense we are very stupid. Even though we try to do it, we cannot make it, but this is our human nature. We always try to do something. We have always some difficulty to do something.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

This was from one of the early talks in Los Altos that became Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (though this particular talk did not feature), and I have been paying particular attention to some of these. I hope to be able to say why soon.

Margo Locke

‘When I started to sit regularly, once a week, I experienced deep emotions each time. Sometimes I wept, while sitting, tears rolling down my cheeks and dropping off my chin. At times I would have an emotional insight while sitting. Later, [Suzuki] Roshi would talk about a subject directly related to my insights and feelings, seeming to read my mind. I felt as if he were lecturing just to me. In dokusan, and individual interview, I asked him about this. Roshi answered, “Nothing special. Nothing special. That’s the way it seems when you begin to get the idea of Zen practice.”‘ (from the Jikoji archives)

I have heard many practitioners over the years echoing some or all of these sentiments.

Suzuki Roshi

‘When we practice in this hall, there is no teacher and no student. We are all sages. Even though your practice is not good enough, we cannot say your practice is not good enough. It is good anyway. You have your own past and future. You have a bright future – to be a sage. Don’t worry.’ (Genjo Koan – Three Commentaries)

I picked up this book again recently, as I have been listening to some of Suzuki Roshi’s lectures on the Genjo Koan. While there are many lovely passages like this, I found myself a little frustrated that all the dozen or so talks he gave on the piece, at different stages of his time at Zen Center and Tassajara, were blended together. Perhaps I will just have to read all the transcripts in order to see how he expanded the teaching as his students got more of a hang of what he, and Dogen, were talking about.

June French

‘A couple of decades of reading about Zen didn’t prepare me for the actual experience of practicing Zen. It was a wonderful feeling, and not a little frightening at first. I was rather awestruck at practicing with a real Roshi. I soon realized that we all have problems with aching legs and busy minds.’ (from the Jikoji archives)

This comes from a series of very sweet and personal reminiscences of Suzuki Roshi by people who practised at the Haiku Zendo in Los Altos – named because they were able to fit seventeen cushions into the converted garage – at which the recordings that became Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind were made. Look out for a couple more extracts coming up.

Suzuki Roshi

‘The first paragraph is the framework of whole Buddhism.  First paragraph:

All—when all things are in Buddhist way or Buddhist phenomena, we are enlightenment and ignorance, something to study, life and death, buddha, and people.  When all things are without self, we have no ignorance, no enlightenment, no doubt, no buddha, no people, and no life and no death.  The Buddhist way is beyond being and non-being.  Therefore we have life and death, ignorance and enlightenment, people and buddha.  However, flowers fall with our attachment, and weeds grow with our detachment.

This is, you know, the most basic understanding of—of Buddhism or Sōtō Zen, which include all the teaching of Buddhism.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

I was struck by Suzuki Roshi dealing with the Genjo Koan here, from a 1966 talk, not because he was talking about it – he did that quite a few times in those early years, when he wasn’t paraphrasing in more broadly – but the translation he used. I am curious if it is a version he did himself. In any case, as I have said many times, seeing a fresh translation of a well-known passage is a great way to see it anew and to think about it in a different way.

For reference, here is the Zen Center version which I know and love:

‘As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings. As the myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death. The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. Yet, in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.’

Suzuki Roshi

‘What I want to talk about now is how to orient your mind in practice. For the beginner it is inevitable that there will be hard discipline, the observation of some rules. The observation of rigid rules is not our point. But if you want to acquire vital freedom, it is necessary to have some strength, or to have some discipline, in order to be free from one-sided dualistic ideas. So our training begins in the realm of duality or rules: what we should or should not do. These kinds of rules are necessary because before you start practice or realize the necessity of religious life, before you adore something holy; you are bound in the realm of necessity, you are controlled completely by your surroundings. When you see something beautiful you will stay there as much as possible. When you are tired of it you will go to another place. You may think that is freedom, but it is not freedom. You are enslaved by your surroundings, that is all! Not at all free. That kind of life is just material and superficial.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

This post feels like an echo of the last Suzuki Roshi quote I posted, or perhaps an elucidation of what he was saying. This is actually from an earlier sesshin, at Sokoji in 1965, eighteen months before practice began at Tassajara.

Robin Wall Kimmerer

‘”It’s our way,” (Lena) says, ” to take only what we need. I’ve always been told that you never take more than half.” Sometimes she doesn’t take any (sweetgrass) at all, but just comes here to check on the meadow, to see how the plants are doing. “Our teachings,” she says, “are very strong. They wouldn’t get handed on if they weren’t useful. The most important thing to remember is what my grandmother always said: ‘If we use a plant respectfully it will stay with us and flourish. If we ignore it, it will go away. If you don’t give it respect, it will leave us.'” The plants themselves have shown us this.’ (Braiding Sweetgrass)

‘If you go to Japan and visit Eiheiji monastery — before you enter the monastery you will see the small bridge called Hanshaku-kyo. “Hanshaku-kyo” means “Half-dipper Bridge.” Whenever Dogen Zenji used (dipped) water from the river, after he used half of it he returned the water to the river again without throwing it away. That is why we call that bridge Hanshaku-kyo — Half-dipper Bridge. In Eiheiji monastery when we wash our face we do not fill the basin. We just use 70% of the basin and after we wash it we do not throw the water away from the body. We empty the basin this way — toward the body. It means to respect the water. This kind of practice is not based on just economy. It may be pretty hard to understand why Dogen Zenji returned the water after he used half of it. This kind of practice is beyond our thinking. When we feel the beauty of the river, or water, we intuitively we do it in this way. That is our nature. But when our nature is covered by some economic idea you may think it doesn’t make any sense to return the water back to the river.’ (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

Suzuki Roshi

‘People may think Zen is a wonderful teaching, you know. “If you study Zen, you will acquire complete freedom (laughs). Whatever you do, if you are in the Zen Buddhist robe, it is alright (laughs). If you wear a black robe like this, whatever you do will be alright. We have that much freedom in our teaching.” This kind of understanding looks like observing the teaching that form is emptiness, but what I mean by “form is emptiness” is quite different. Back and forth we practice, we train our mind and our emotions and our body. And after those processes, you will acquire the perfect freedom. And perfect freedom should be only — will be acquired only under some limitation.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

I’ve been reading more of the talks from the first sesshin at Tassajara in the summer of 1967, to see what Suzuki Roshi wanted to transmit to those students who were inspired to jump into monastic training. There is a lot of subtle stuff about the different permutations of form and emptiness, and also some insights into the Genjo Koan. Look out for more posts soon.

Suzuki Roshi

‘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.

Zenkei Blanche Hartman

‘In every photo I have of Suzuki Roshi – and I have a lot of them – he’s laughing or smiling. My teachers and my practice have never taught me not to enjoy life. The deeply seasoned teachers I’ve had the opportunity to meet have all been supportive to people who are suffering, but they have also been very playful and lighthearted.’ (The Hidden Lamp)

This is a delicate balancing act to pull off, but I trust that Suzuki Roshi – as well as Katagiri Roshi and Sojun Mel Weitsman, who Blanche also namechecks – was able to do this thanks to his long and deep practice.

Suzuki Roshi (r) with Kobun Chino at Tassajara, from David Chadwick’s site