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.

Kay Ryan

We are always
really carrying
a ladder, but it’s
invisible. We
only know
the matter:
something precious
crashes; easy doors
prove impassable.
Or, in the body,
there’s too much
swing or off-
center gravity.
And, in the mind,
a drunken capacity,
access to out-of-range
apples. As though
one had a way to climb
out of the damage
and apology.

(Abbot Ed pointed me to this poem as we were talking about yesterday’s class, in which talk Suzuki Roshi used the image of the tamban-kan, the person carrying a board on one shoulder who can only ever see one side of a situation).

Suzuki Roshi

‘The buddha, in its true sense, is not just different, special one from ordinary man. So ordinary man, in its true sense, is not someone who is not holy or who is not buddha. This is complete understanding of ourselves. With this understanding, if we practice zazen [laughs], if we practice zazen, that is true zazen. You will not be bothered by anything. Whatever you hear, whatever you see, that is okay. Actually, but before you have this kind of actual feeling, of course it is necessary to be accustomed to our practice. Although intellectually we understand ourselves, but if we haven’t actual feeling with it, then it is not so, you know, powerful. And so that is why you must keep on our practice. If you keep practicing our way, naturally, you know, you will have this understanding and this feeling– actual feeling, too.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive).

This is the talk we will be looking at in tomorrow’s class. It is a very sweet talk.

Twenty-Five Hundred Strong

WordPress helpfully keeps a tally of how many posts you have published, and today marks 2500, which is a lot – and an even greater number of words. Not bad for a blog that has as its subject a teaching “outside the scriptures/No dependency on words and letters.”

It is a good moment to look back and reflect. First of all thanks to everyone who reads these posts, for without your attention, there would be no reason for me to do this. While initially conceived as a way to establish an online presence as I transitioned out of Zen Center, it soon felt like a way that I could help people in their practice, no matter how small the scale. I know that reading the dharma every day helps my practice, and I hope it does yours as well.

In some ways I still feel that I am transitioning out of Zen Center, though currently I am as involved as I have been since 2015, with the current Suzuki Roshi class I am co-leading with Abbot Ed, and an upcoming talk in September and class on the Tenzo Kyokun to come in October. Moreover I have also started to sit afternoon zazen again, now that the zendo has reopened and now that I live again at a convenient distance. This brings back home to me the communal aspect of sitting – not just sitting for ourselves but as a constituent part of the sangha, as I recently also got to experience in Belfast and Hebden Bridge, creating the space for everyone to enjoy their sitting and to feel encouraged in doing so.

A few times over the years I have questioned whether I want to continue to do this; I find myself spending less time reading dharma books these days (partly as a result of not commuting by BART since the pandemic), and I don’t always have the time to sit and transcribe sections (though the new phone ability to scan text has already made an impact in this regard!). Over the past year or two there have been plenty of reposts from years gone by, not least because I am often quite surprised by what I find when I go through the archive. Nevertheless, it feels right to carry on posting, both here and on Instagram, despite how depressing the algorithms have become.

And, despite the words attibuted to Bodhidharma that I quoted above, thinking about the Tenzo Kyokun also reminds me of the passage I have both quoted and commented on over the years: “What I previously saw of words and phrases is one, two, three, four, five. Today what I see of phrases is also six, seven, eight, nine, ten. My junior fellow-practitioners, completely see this in that, completely see that in this. Making such an effort you can totally grasp one-flavor Zen through words and phrases.”

May we all continue to grasp one-flavor Zen through words and phrases.