Suzuki Roshi

‘When you do something with a purpose based on some evaluation of what is useful or useless, good or bad, more or less valuable, your understanding is not perfect. If you do things that need to be done regardless of whether the results are good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, that is real practice.’ (Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Without students, no teacher. And the students encourage the teacher. It is very much so. If I have no students I may goof off every day. Because I have so many students watching me, I must do something; I must study so that I can give a lecture. If there is no lecture, I will not study. But at the same time I shall be very much ashamed of myself if I study just to give a lecture. So usually, when I study for a lecture I go off in another direction, following something interesting, and most of the time I don’t study for the lecture. But still, if I don’t study, I don’t feel so good. Because I feel it is necessary to prepare for the lecture, I start to study. But as soon as I start, I go off on my own and study for the sake of studying, not just for giving the lecture. Things are going on in this way endlessly. And it is good, you know.
Someday what I study will help students. I don’t know when. Just to feel good we study, and just to feel better we practice zazen. No one knows what will happen to us after sitting one, two, or ten years. No one knows, and it is right that no one knows. Just to feel good we sit zazen, actually. Eventually that kind of purposeless practice will help you.’ (Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness)


‘As soon as there’s something considered important, it becomes a nest.’

This line might not strike so deeply, but it reminded me of an exchange at Tassajara, during one of the practice periods I was there with Reb, Tenshin Roshi. As usual, after he gave a talk, people were allowed to ask questions, and one of his ordained students started to say something – I don’t remember the content. I do remember Tenshin Roshi’s response, which I would characterise as insistent: ‘You’re nesting.’
I more or less grasped what he meant by that – that the priest was holding firm to a view when it would be wiser to hold it loosely or let it go. Since then I have heard other stories about Suzuki Roshi responding very differently to similar situations depending on whether he thought the student was being inquisitive or merely stubborn.
Maybe Tenshin Roshi repeated the phrase a few times; it had the effect of stopping the priest in their tracks. A few people raised their voices to express the opinion that Tenshin Roshi had been cruel to the priest, but I didn’t see it that way. It felt clear to me that he knew the priest well enough to use that tactic, and that he wouldn’t have been as firm with me, or one of the other junior students. I also seem to remember that the priest later acknowledged the wisdom of Tenshin Roshi’s response. Sometimes giving, sometimes taking life…

Suzuki Roshi

‘In Zen sometimes we say that each one of us is steep like a cliff. No one can scale us. We are completely independent. But when you hear me say so, you should understand the other side too – that we are endlessly interrelated. If you only understand one side of the truth, you can’t hear what I am saying. If you don’t understand Zen words, you don’t understand Zen, you are not yet a Zen student. Zen words are different from usual words. Like a double-edged sword, they cut both ways. You may thin I am only cutting forward, but no, actually I am also cutting backward. Watch out for my stick. Do you understand? Sometimes I scold a disciple – “No!” The other students may thing, “Oh, he has been scolded,” but it is not actually so. Because I cannot scold the one over there, I have to scold the one who is near me. But most people think “Oh, that poor guy is being scolded.” If you think like that you are not a Zen student. If someone is scolded you should listen; you should be alert enough to know who is being scolded. That is how we train.’ (Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness)

This passage was invoked quite often when I trained at Zen Center, even if I didn’t see it played out that many times by teachers (unless I was just being too dumb to notice). The lesson is a valid one; since Suzuki Roshi is discussing the Harmony of Difference and Equality in his talk, lines from later in the poem serve as a reminder: ‘Hearing the words, understand the meaning,’ or as Dogen says so often, ‘investigate further.’