Suzuki Roshi

‘People may say, if the purpose of Zen is to see “things as it is,” then there will be no need to practice. That [laughs] is—there is the great problem. I think the most—in your everyday life, the good practice may be to make your flower garden, or raise flower, or to make a garden. That is, I think, the best practice. You know, when you sow some seed, you have to wait the seed coming up. And if it comes out, you have to take care of it. That is our practice. Just to sow a seed is not enough. To take care of it day after day is the—very important for the good gardener. Or while some other work like building a house, you know, if you—once you build a house, his work is finished. If someone write a book—if—if someone has written a book, that is enough. But for a gardener, it is necessary to take care of it every day. Even though you make rock garden, it is necessary to take care of it. So, I think our way is to make garden—nearly the same as to make your own garden, or to raise some vegetables or flower.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

Suzuki Roshi

‘You may say Buddhism is very negative [laughs] because we say your teaching is not teaching [laughs]. In this sense, Buddhism is very negative. But we would say your — your teaching may be good, but it is not only wrong — not only wrong, but also, you know, create big problem. Although it is — it looks like good, it looks like complete, it looks like [laughs] — but actually it isn’t. Usually the teaching we understand is not perfect — is not good. At least good enough to help us. But, when you do — do not do anything, when you do not observe it, it looks like good. But when you observe it, when you do it, when you follow it, it, you know, turn its back to you. It is not because teaching is wrong, maybe your way of understanding is wrong. So if you practice something according to teaching, you should have right attitude towards the teaching. You should know how to, you know, manage the teaching [laughs]. That is the point.

So we are very negative, but by being negative, every teaching will — when the every teaching reduced to nothing — no value, then the teaching will start work. It is necessary to reduce everything to nothing. It means to reduce every worldly aspect to nothing, and by pure mind, we should start religious life. That is so-called-it pure mind.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

This is a talk that we digitised a couple of years ago, from 1966, when Suzuki Roshi gave a few talks on the Shushogi. In the archive listings, it was not labeled as a talk by Suzuki Roshi, and when I listened to the beginning of it, I did not think it was, as he was reading from a translation of the text, which he did in a way that is different to his usual teaching voice. Going through all the photographs of the reels the other day, I thought to listen to it again, and discovered a tremendously rich hour-long talk.

Suzuki Roshi

‘If you go to Japan by boat, it may take ten days. But you will– and by airplane, maybe ten hours. But if the point is to enjoy your trip, you know, it doesn’t, you know, make much difference. Time is not the point because you don’t– even though you make a trip by airplane, you cannot live a thousand years [laughs]– same thing. You only live, you know, maybe one hundred years at most. So it– it– it is the different way of enjoying your life. It is. And you cannot repeat your life, you know. So you cannot compare your life to someone– some other’s life. You have your own life.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

I was prompted to go back to this talk after some musings on life and progress that I was writing for my Patreon page.

Suzuki Roshi

‘Zazen, this posture, is not only — not originally maybe a kind of training or something, but it is not just training, it is more the actual way of transmitting Buddha’s way to us. Through practice we can actually transmit Buddha’s teaching, because words is not good enough to actualize its teaching. So, naturally how we transmit it [is] through activity or through contact, through human relationships.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archive)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Bodhisattva mind — someone may say, you know, “Sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to save them.” If it is innumerable [laughs], how is it possible to save them? But bodhisattva way continues forever. So, bodhisattva will go with bodhisattva mind forever. This kind of mind is not, of course, our thinking mind. It is beyond our thinking mind.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

Suzuki Roshi

‘If you practice zazen, you will feel very warm. Even though it is cold, but you should feel some warm feeling in your practice. That is, you know– The warm feeling we have in our practice is, in other word, you know, enlightenment or Buddha’s mercy, Buddha mind. It is not matter of just counting your breathing or, you know, following your breathing

You may think, you know, Tassajara became more and more rigid and, you know, strict. And what be– what will happen to us after all [laughs, laughter]? Nothing happens [laughs]. You are you– still you. You have big freedom, you know, but your practice will be improved a lot. And when your practice improve, you have good control over your everyday life. When you have good control of your desires and everyday life, then you will have, you know, big freedom from everything.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Some people say, “If we have a perfect social construction, we will not have these difficulties.” But as long as there is human nature, nothing will help us. On the contrary, the more human culture advances, the more difficulties we will have in our life. The advancement of civilization will accelerate this contradiction in our nature. When we realize the absolute presence of our contradictory nature, the way-seeking mind arises, and we begin to work on ourselves instead of the material world. Most people who are interested in Buddhism are more or less critical of our social condition, expecting a better social framework. Some people have become disgusted with our human life. We cannot approve of these criticisms fully, however, because they do not rest on the full understanding of our human nature.

Human nature is always the same. Some people may say our spiritual culture will progress when our material civilization progresses. Strictly speaking, however, as long as we have human nature, it is impossible to obtain a perfect idealistic spiritual culture in our human world. We should fully realize this point. Because of our uneasiness, we are too anxious to achieve something perfect in our spiritual life. Here we have some danger. Our spiritual life cannot be regarded as we have come to regard our material life. You cannot work on your spiritual life as you do your materialistic life. Even though you talk about our spiritual life thousands of times, it will not help you. It is necessary to know actually what is our human world, or what is our human nature. This is a very important point. If you fail to observe our human nature fully, even though you study Buddhism, what you acquire is not what Buddha meant.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

Wendy Pirsig

‘My first impression of Green Gulch Farm was that it was a mess, not a bad mess, but just sprawling and sloppy in the western way and muddy in the California winter way and unmechanized in the organic hippie way.  The disorder was heightened by the fact that a site had just been cleared for a new tea house about to be built by Japanese carpenters and craftsmen who specialized in that type of building. The tea house would be in the middle of the valley, and so its site, an expanse of mud, dominated everything.

            Clustered in the mid-valley, all the buildings at Green Gulch were made of dark, rough, unpainted wood and sat in the shade of eucalyptus, which fed their odor into the air.  The fields lay down toward the ocean, and above on the hillsides a few horses munched.

            We went inside The Barn, where most residential students slept and where the zendo was.  I instantly liked it.  It felt American, with high-ceilings, bare wood floors, dark bare wood walls.  That Sunday morning it echoed with feet.  The entrance hall’s second story was ringed with students’ doorways along a balcony.  Below, we took off our shoes and quietly stepped into the combination zendo/Buddha hall. There was a large, colorful Buddhist statue but it did not dominate as did the one at City Center; in fact it was nearly lost among the students as they filed in.’ (from 

Wendy has been one of the people working hard to transcribe Suzuki Roshi lectures over the past few years; I heard from Peter, who manages, that he had been working on extracts of the journal Wendy kept when she visited Zen Center in 1979 (you may be more or less familiar with the context of the visit – if you want to know more, click the link above). I read through it last week and have been sharing it with dharma friends. It is a wonderfully observant and trenchant account of life there by an outsider, some of which still resonates today.

Suzuki Roshi

‘Suzuki Roshi: If you seek for perfect wisdom, in that case there is no perfect understanding.

Student: What will lead us to the perfect understanding?

SR: When you have brown rice, you should eat brown rice. When you have soup, you should eat soup. Whatever it is, you should be ready to take it and eat it.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)