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)

Time To Rest

Towards the end of last week I started feeling really run down, to the extent that I went out and bought some Covid tests (while I await my next free set to come in the mail) just to make sure I wasn’t going to infect anyone on Saturday’s roam. I didn’t have any symptoms beyond tiredness, and the test was negative, so I went ahead, and, after a couple of days more rest, I felt fine again. I have heard from several friends who either managed to travel during the rather apocalyptic weather across the US, or who had to postpone their trips, that they were also feeling very low energy if not symptomatic of anything. Since I have a number of days off, I am reminding myself to take it easy, and the wet forecast is obviously helping with that. In any case, here is an old passage from the Ino’s Blog that might help if you are feeling the same way:

I remember at Tassajara, when I was on the  kitchen crew, I found myself really struggling with tiredness, from the combination of the tough schedule and the physical activity. I talked with Reb about it, and he asked what I was doing during break times. When it’s time to rest, he recommended, you should rest. I have tried to abide by this guideline ever since; the ino’s schedule can be pretty strenuous, and if I rest when I can, it makes it easier to have the energy to get through the remainder of it. This is one thing I always notice when I am feeling ill – I appreciate, from the lack of it, how much energy it takes to get through a normal day. I also find something comforting in feeling the effort my body is making to fight off the virus: I enjoy a good sweat, especially when it ends up breaking the fever. So can we appreciate being sick? Can we say, when it’s time to be sick, just be sick? Perhaps, if we can take it as a message from our bodies to slow down and take care of ourselves, pause from our usual activities – if we are able to do so – and also be thankful for people’s offers of medicine and help: I received a thermos full of delicious fresh ginger tea with lemon and honey, which Blanche brews up for people who are suffering, and which, along with the good wishes, was a great tonic.

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)

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)

Robinson Jeffers

Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara 
The vault of rock is painted with hands, 
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men's palms,
 no more, 
No other picture. There's no one to say 
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended 
Religion or magic, or made their tracings 
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful 
Signs-manual :ore now like a sealed message 
Saying: "Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws. 
 All Hail 
You people with the clever hands, our supplanters 
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, 
 and come down 
And be supplanted; for you also are human.

The Practice Of Generosity

Just a couple of months ago, as part of my trip, I sat the morning schedule at Black Mountain Zen Centre. I have been there quite a few times over the years now, and have appreciated the solidity both of the building and of the sangha, steered by my good friend and dharma sister Djinn. It was a big shock, even at this distance, to learn that the building that housed the zendo (and no less importantly, the ante-room where all the tea and discussion took place) had burnt down the other night.

Over the years, we have had quite a few occasions when it seemed that we might lose Tassajara, and I was thinking particularly of the zendo fire in 1978, from which a new zendo was built – supposedly temporary, but still in use more than forty years on. Impermanence strikes; what follows is inevitably different, and still has the spirit of what was there before.

But to make that a reality, the Belfast sangha need funds, and they are fundraising for their future. If you feel moved to help, here is the GoFundMe page.

I took this picture after the morning sit just because, not realising it would soon be a particular memento.

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.