Suzuki Roshi

‘If we don’t, you know, feel some actual feeling of practice, some warm, you know, big satisfaction in your practice, that is not practice. Even though you sit, you know, with right posture, trying to have right posture, following your breathing, you know, and following all the instruction which was given to you, but maybe still, you know, it is, you know, empty [laughs] zazen.

Why it is empty zazen is you are just following instruction, you know, following form of, you know, practice. And you are following what the way you should do, even though you are counting, you know, you are not kind enough with yourself. That was the point of Tatsugami Roshi’s saying this morning. You should be very kind, you know, with yourself. Not just count your breathing to, you know, to avoid your thinking mind, but to take best care of your breathing, you know. There is big difference, you know. Even though you are following breathing, you know, just to follow your breathing doesn’t make sense. If you, you know, if you are very kind with your breathing, then, one after another, you will have, you know, refreshed warm feeling in your zazen.

Perhaps, you know, we are not kind enough with ourselves, with our practice. We understand that our practice is, you know– Still we understand, you know, our practice by following some instruction. Or if you only follow the instruction given by some teacher, then you will have good zazen, but [laughs] it is not so. Why you have instruction is how you are able to be kind with yourself. That is, you know, purpose of instruction.

If you don’t feel Buddha’s mercy in instruction, and if you don’t feel, you know, Buddha’s mercy on your form and breathing, you know, and take care of your practice, then there is no warm feeling in it, and it is not, you know, well-satisfied zazen. You should be fully satisfied with your, you know, practice. Or you should be very kind with yourself. So, you know, when you are very kind with yourself, naturally you will, you know, feel satisfaction, you know.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Here, it– he says– translator’s translation– ”mysterious.” Mysterious does not mean, you know, something [laughing]– something mysterious. Mysterious means, you know, it is mysterious– beyond word, it means, you know. You can– you know it, you know– you can understand it, but you cannot say– you cannot put it in word because word is just– it is not possible to say various understanding– various understanding from all angles. If you say, you know, from one– one side, you cannot say, at the same time, from the other side. So that is why we say “mysterious.” So even enlightened master cannot say anything properly.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Hashimoto Roshi, the authority of Shobogenzo who passed away two years ago, in his lecture he told me– he told us refer to the menu and dishes, you know. We you make, you know, a menu of the dishes, and we cook, you know, salad or eggs or meat– everything separately. That is, you know, suchness. Everything is arranged clearly, beautifully. But he says, “When you start to eat [laughs], everything will vanish in a moment.” In ten minutes there is no more dish, no more food on the table, and everything is mixed up [laughs] in your tummy.

So this is, on one hand, very beautiful things. But on the other hand, if food– function of food is fulfilled when the– function of the food fulfilled, there is no more dishes [laughs]. So everything is– our practice is the same thing. You know, you– when you get up, you know, you brush your teeth and wash your face. That is practice. You do it one by one carefully. And when you practice zazen, you practice zazen. One by one.

But, you know, none of them cannot be perfect practice, even though to wash your face is very good habit [laughs]. But, you know, even though it is good, if you are always washing your face [laughs], you cannot attain enlightenment [laughs, laughter]. Same thing will– can be said with your zazen practice. Zazen is very good practice. But even though you just always practicing zazen, you know, it doesn’t work [laughs].’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

Suzuki Roshi

‘So we have to practice zazen just to practice zazen, as we live in this world without any particular reason why we live in this world. But if we understand that each one of us is a tentative form of the absolute being, and whatever we do is the activity of the absolute being which is not possible to be known by us completely, but something which we cannot doubt its existence. It exist but we do not know what it is completely. And this is the origin of our life or source of life. And it is also the life to which we resume after cessation of our activity. If there is something which we should believe in, this kind of absolute unknown being is the only one. There are many names– we call it by many names, but the “unknown absolute being” is one.

So purpose of our practice is to get accustomed to live without being attached to many things but this unknown being. When we find our meaning in this way– meaning of life in this way, naturally we can help with each other. We will love with each other without forcing anything to others, keeping a harmonious way between us, and between other beings– animate and inanimate beings. We are all friends.

So true love should be based on this understanding, or else your love will become– will be selfish love. True love should not be selfish. Actually there is no selfish love. It looks like selfish, but it is not– there is no such love as selfish love. Even though love is not selfish, but when you have the idea of selfish– self which is not real, the love will become blind love without any understanding. So before we talk about love, or before we love others, we should make this point clear, and we should have the direct experience of zazen which is beyond thinking. When you can sit, when you can just sit, you have [are] in the position to love others in its true sense.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

Suzuki Roshi

‘At Tassajara we have a very difficult time to practice our way. For almost one year we are trying very seriously to practice our way and the more we make our effort to practice our way, we are involved in big problems. You can see what we are doing at Tassajara. There are more than forty people and they each have their own understanding of Zen, more or less. “This is Zen”. “This is Zen”. That is the trouble. Because you practice zazen you cannot practice; you cannot have Tassajara. Even though they are there they cannot do it. Why? Because they practice zazen. So I think the best way is not to practice zazen — (laughter). Just to live in Tassajara, like a bird. Then you can practice zazen. Birds or badgers know what is zazen better than students in Tassajara. This happens, actually, because we understand water is something to drink, the water is not something to live in, this kind of one-sided understanding of our way creates many problems. So, at Tassajara, there is Tassajara’s way; here in Los Altos there is your own way; as a gift. And the only way to practice it is to receive it, just to receive it when it is given to you.

This is very important point. Even though I say so to have — to make our effort to find out what is real practice is not in vain and I am so grateful for students in Tassajara, and the students who practice in Los Altos, in the Bay Area, and recently at Mill Valley, too. They are making a big effort. And we are now in the state to find out the real meaning of our practice. After making a big effort to find out what is zazen we are finding out what is — we almost find out what is true zazen. And why we should practice our way in this cross-legged position like Buddha did, and the understanding of our practice which was given to us by Buddha.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

Suzuki Roshi

‘When you have some pain in your legs, you will wonder what will happen to you if you sit more– ten minutes more, or twenty minutes more. You will wonder what will happen to you. Nothing will happen [laughs]. Because you limit your mind, you know, the pain will do something with your practice. But if you have big, great power in your tummy, nothing can do with it [laughs]. And nothing will happen to you.

Some people who sit for the first time in the calm place, I think you will– he will be afraid of the calmness of the sitting [laughs]. Your mind is so calm and surrounding is so calm. The experience you have is quite unusual experience you have– you have had, so someone will become afraid of it. But nothing will happen.

Originally, even [though] we die in our practice [laughs], we are going [to] our original home [laughs]. After death, where you will go? You will return to your home from where you come out [laughing]. That’s all. Nothing will happen to you. That’s all right. Quite all right.’ from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

This was from an early sesshin at Tassajara, so his expression is a little different to most of his talks in the city.

Suzuki Roshi

‘Whatever you do, that is actually our true practice. But you are pleased with the limited pleasure of the practice, and you do not know the boundless meaning of our everyday life. And we always complain with what you have to do, or with what you have done, or what you should do. So you are always forced [into] something in your every day life. You feel as if you are living in some certain framework. If you come to Tassajara, you should observe our way. But when you are — you do not realize the true meaning of your life, a rule is just a kind of framework in which you are put.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

I am giving the talk at Zen Center this evening – in person! – which I am very excited about, obviously. There will certainly be some Suzuki Roshi quotes in there, though perhaps not this one. If you are anywhere near, it would be lovely to have you there.

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. There [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 that 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.

And each seed or each plant has its own character and has its own color and has its—has its own color. And if it is stone, each stone has its own character. Long one has its—has some solemn, profound feeling; and round stone [laughs] has some perfect idea—symbolize or express the perfection; and square one express some rigidness or austerity—austere feeling. And each stone has its own character. And if it has moss on it, it has some deep, profound, mystical feeling to it. Those are, you know, those are the character of each material you use in your garden.

But people may say—if people say, “Whatever we do, that is Zen,” you know, “I am seeing ‘things as it is’” [laughs]. People may see it, you know, individually—one after—one by one, but that is not enough. You see it, actually, you see—maybe you see “things as it is,” you may say, but it is—you are just seeing the each material and each character of the material.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

I was listening to this transcript from the first summer at Tassajara when I realised I hadn’t added yesterday’s post from Dogen. Turning back to Suzuki Roshi, I thought that this was a perfect commentary on that.

Suzuki Roshi

‘And we are almost reaching to the moon now, but we cannot, you know, create human being in its true sense. We can create robot, but we cannot create human being. Human being is human being. We can enjoy our life only with our limited body and limited life. This limitation is vital element for us. Without limitation nothing exist, so we should enjoy the limitation. Weak body, strong body; man or woman. We should– the only way to enjoy our life is to enjoy the limitation which was given to us.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

This was a talk from the spring of 1969. Later that summer he also spoke about the moon landing, and it is interesting to see how he emphasises that such innovations did nothing to alleviate the inherent basic suffering of the human condition.

Elsie Mitchell

‘The following October the Cambridge Buddhist Association received a visit from the Venerable Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki Roshi was in charge of a Buddhist temple, as well as a Zen center for Westerners, in San Francisco. He had been living in the United States for about six years and had learned English and gathered together a large group of people seriously interested in meditation. I had met him in San Francisco after one of my journeys to Japan and been greatly impressed with his integrity, his goodness, and particularly his willingness to work out ways of traditional Buddhist practice really suitable for contemporary Westerners. He wrote that he would he arriving on a Wednesday night, and we planned to meet him at the airport.

Tuesday afternoon we returned to Cambridge from Cape Cod, and several of us set to work housecleaning. That evening the library cum meditation room was in the process of being scrubbed down when the doorbell rang. My husband climbed down a ladder and opened the front door. Suzuki Roshi was on the doorstep with a smile on his face. He was amused to find us amid preparations for his arrival. In spite of our protests, he immediately tied back his long kimono sleeves and insisted on joining in “all these preparations for the important day of my coming.” The following morning, after breakfast and a meditation session, and after I had left the house for shopping, he found himself a tall ladder, sponges, and pails. He then set to work scrubbing Cambridge grease, grime, and general pollution from the outside of the windows in the meditation room. When I returned with the groceries, I discovered him on the ladder, polishing with such undivided attention that he did not even hear my approach. He had removed his black silk kimono and was dressed only in his Japanese union suit. This is quite acceptable attire in Japan. Nevertheless, I could not help wondering how the sedate Cambridge ladies in the adjoining apartment house would react to the sight of a shaven-headed man in long underwear at work just outside their windows.’ (Sun Buddhas Moon Buddhas: a Zen Quest)

I have heard this story about Suzuki Roshi before, but perhaps you haven’t.