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.

Joko Beck

‘More and more when I hear stories about the ancient monasteries, I wonder. They had a thousand monks sometimes, and you hear about the star who “did it” – but they don’t tell you much about the other nine hundred and ninety-nine. I’m sure a lot of them didn’t know what on earth they were doing…

Now, my students pass Mu too, but a lot of them have never even heard the word! And they still pass it. You don’t need to know the word- if practice is sincere and intense, at some point there is just a comprehension of what life is. “Oh,it’s that!” If the mind is empty and quiet – sure, there it is.’ (Meetings With Remarkable Women)

I remember having a similar wonder when I lived at Tassajara, about some of the other members of the great assembly. Of course, I could equally avow that I didn’t know what on earth I was doing. But I think something akin to what she describes in the second paragraph rubbed off on me too.

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.

Cheri Huber

‘In this practice, we are encouraged to bring everything back to ourselves – because there is nothing going on but oneself. Everything we project out onto other people we can follow backto see in ourselves, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I look outside myself, I see somebody doing something, and I put a label on it. If I am aware of projection, I will own that quality myself. Whatever that person is doing, whatever label I have given it, whatever I think it means, I bring all that back inside and admit that I know nothing about that other person, only about myself.’ (Sweet Zen)

I remember a moment at Tassajara when I saw very clearly how someone’s behaviour that I found irritating was just a reflection on parts of myself that I was uncomfortable with. A window opened, and those kinds of openings tend to last.

Suzuki Roshi

‘And when you sit, your practice should be done with the spirit like, if someone, you know, tell you to stand up, you shouldn’t stand up forever. Until someone, you know, say, stand up. This much confidence is necessary.

It means you sit right in the center of the earth, of the world, or universe, whatever it is. And you are right in the point of the eternal time. If you have some idea of space or time, that practice is not true practice. You should be always sitting in cross-point of time and space. That is true practice. And this is very important, because this practice of — this practice, which is beyond the idea of time and space, accord with the true teaching of Buddhism.

To live on this moment, on this point, moment after moment, is how to actualize our teaching. So when you sit in this way, there you have the true teaching of Buddhism. The gist of the teaching. The point of the teaching. Here you have the oneness of teaching and practice; and oneness of enlightenment and practice.

So, this much, at least this much, confidence is necessary. When you fix your mind, and practice our way, there you have renunciation. You have the true feeling of Zen. This practice — when you practice this — in this way, we say you resume your original face, or original nature.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

This is one of the talks I worked on a certain amount, from the first summer at Tassajara in 1967. The original reel was much better quality than previous copies had been, so it was possible to clean up the transcript a little. I listened to it again with my dharma sister Kim last week, and a couple of things struck me: the talk offers one of the most extensive zazen instructions that Suzuki Roshi gave, which is great to listen to in itself, and it is bookended by more philosophical musings which, it occurred to me as I listened, he may have been reading out from prepared remarks. Certainly there were a lot of technical terms, and his cadence is a little different to what it usually seems to be. Kim noted his referencing to time and space, similarly to how Katagiri Roshi expressed it later, and which she hopes to talk about from the dharma seat in a few weeks.

Suzuki Roshi

‘Student: Docho Roshi, let me see who I am. [Pause] To die each moment to be reborn is the great freedom of the dharma. I’m like a small fish, I swim in and out of big death. 

SR: [Softly] Yeah, that’s right.

I am grateful that you are making your best effort in accepting this dharma. Of course it is not easy, but dharma cannot be so easy. Dharma is the thing to which everyone of us have been striving for, and will strive for, to know what it is, to accept as their. So it is not only you, but all the patricarch and sages have been striving for it, and you are one of them. And you should be pitiful for the people who do not strive for it, who haven’t good chance to realize the necessity of striving for it. To realize the necessity of striving for it is the point to which we are making our best effort. There’s no other point to strive for. Since you have realized the necessity of striving for it, you are already one of the patriarachs and you gained that state. Don’t think Buddha and patriarchs were quite free from birth and death. They are still striving for it in the name of various sentient beings. It is most valuable thing that you realized the necessity of striving for it. The suffering you have is the every — should be everybody’s suffering, but perhaps most of them will not realize it, but it should be so. And it was and it will be the true with the future Buddha and past Buddha.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

In what spare time I have – and now I do feel like I have caught up with everything and have some time to spare – I have still been transcribing lectures from the Suzuki Roshi archive. This exchange came from an undated shosan ceremony at the end of a summer sesshin, and the best guess (for various reasons) is that it comes from 1968. I originally offered this tape to someone who volunteered to help, knowing that it was an hour and a half long and would take a while, but six months later, even after following up, I heard nothing back, so, since I have to write an article about it soon for the series, I contacted a couple of regulars in the Suzuki Roshi field and we took roughly thirty minutes each.

This was the last exchange that I transcribed earlier this week, and I was totally struck by the intensity of how he spoke, almost to the extent of having my hair stand on end. It was the most remarkable moment for me since I played the tape that contained the Beginner’s Mind talk, about two and a half years ago. I am inclined to think, especially having read some of the material that David Chadwick has, that it was Trudy Dixon, already sick with cancer, who asked the question. In any case, I thought it worth uploading the audio, if you have time to listen to the exchange:

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘When I would walk about under the influence of the atmosphere of stillness and the teachings, I sensed an ancient time that could have been on any continent on the planet, silently witnessing life through connections with people and the land. There was a memory in my bones of something old. I saw myself sharing those teachings. 

When I first entered the zendo at Tassajara Zen Center in the Los Padres Forest, I said to myself, “I’ve been here before.” It wasn’t the center as much as it was the feeling of being next to the mountains and spending time under the stars at night. Coming to chant and bow, I knew this life, this living close to the earth.’ (The Shamanic Bones of Zen)

I bought a copy of this when I was at Tassajara, since several people had recommended it to me, and although I have not got very far into it yet, I feel that Zenju is writing about something that speaks to me.

Suzuki Roshi

‘When you sit, your practice should be done with the spirit like, if someone, you know, tell you to stand up, you shouldn’t stand up forever. Until someone, you know, say, stand up. This much confidence is necessary.

It means you sit right in the center of the earth, of the world, or universe, whatever it is. And you are right in the point of the eternal time. If you have some idea of space or time, that practice is not true practice. You should be always sitting in cross-point of time and space. That is true practice. And this is very important, because this practice of — this practice, which is beyond the idea of time and space, accord with the true teaching of Buddhism.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

Mountains and Waters Sutras

‘Even if you have an eye to see mountains as grass, trees, earth, rocks, or walls, do not be confused or swayed by it; this is not complete realization. Even if there is a moment when you view mountains as the seven treasures’ splendor, this is not returning to the source. Even if you understand mountains as the realm where all buddhas practice, this understanding is not something to be attached to. Even if you have the highest understanding of mountains as all buddhas’ wondrous characteristics, the truth is not only this. These are conditioned views. This is not the understanding of buddha ancestors, but merely looking through a bamboo pipe at a corner of the sky.’ (Shobogenzo Sansuikyo)

I read this passage to the retreat group as we silently ate lunch at the Horse Pasture on the first full day of the retreat. It was an amazingly beautiful day, the wildflowers were abundant, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. And, when we got to the Narrows, one of the group, who knew Tassajara very well, slipped and broke a wrist crossing the creek. Luckily another member of the group was a nurse, so we got them strapped up and ready to walk back to Tassajara. Then we came across a rattlesnake at the side of the trail. Only the nurse got past it. I backed everyone else quite a few yards along the trail, and told her to alert the stone office about the injury. The Tassajara protocols worked fine, as did, eventually, throwing small stones in the direction of the snake to encourage it to find somewhere quieter to sun itself. The trained responder sorted out the patient, who was then driven off to hospital in Monterey by the shika.

And that was only the smallest portion of my time there. When I arrived, through clouds on the ridge, I felt the deep relief of being back. Then, on the first morning, chilly after the previous day’s rain, I strained something in my back as I bent over to pull on my boots. Some things, especially sitting down, getting up from sitting, zazen, sleeping on a thin shikibuton, twisting slightly to the left, were painful for a few days, and in the case of sitting and zazen, uncomfortable throughout my stay. Other things – hiking, working with rocks, moving dirt, doing the compost in the shed, cleaning the bathhouse, and very gently yoga poses, were fine.

I didn’t, as I wished, get to give a talk in the zendo, or even be morning doshi, even as the intricacies of service reappeared in my mind, and the chants came back to my voice after all these years. I did offer a presentation on the Beginner’s Mind talk which was well received, and boosted by Steve Weintraub offering a moving personal testimonial on Suzuki Roshi’s way.

I did five hikes in a little over a week, the Horse Pasture and the Wind Caves twice each, first to check (both were in much better shape than I anticipated, thanks to the indefatigable trail crew), and the Overlook and creekside hike on the easy day, which still offered moments of beauty and silence.

I ate a lot of delicious food. I lingered in the baths and the creek. I met up with fellow practitioners from fifteen and twenty years ago that I did not expect to see, and others from summers and work periods past that it was lovely to see again. I tried to encourage some of the newly arrived students, and petted the dogs as often as I could.

I drove a stage one day, and declined to do a town trip, but otherwise did what was asked.

I felt totally at home, and yet did not feel that I needed to move back there any time soon. And this is just the merest glimpse of what it was like. I took notes for the first couple of days, but there were too many details and memories to try to capture it all.

I took a lot of photographs with my new camera, and was glad I had decided to buy it.

Lupins on the way in.
Overlooking the Narrows from the cut-off trail.
The Wind Caves.
It was very green and bright.

Suzuki Roshi

Student: Roshi, you said not to stop thinking, but to be free from thinking, and I wonder if you could explain what it means to be free from thinking?

Suzuki Roshi: What I meant was don’t be bound by your thinking. When you reach a conclusion by thinking, you will have some definite idea. Actually, that is why you think: to have a definite answer. But that is not possible.

Student: So what should you do?

Suzuki Roshi: You can think, and thinking will help you, of course. But you should know, at the same time, that that answer will not be definite. So you think, but you are free from thinking. That is what I meant: to have what we call a double edged blade. So double-edge think: don’t think and think. It works two ways. This is the double nature, the double construction of Buddhist philosophy: thinking construction and non thinking construction. (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

I think this exchange illuminates Dogen’s “think of not thinking” from the Fukanzazengi – which he borrowed from Yakusan.