Genjo-Koan No. 2 [1?]

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Monday, August 21, 1967
Zen Mountain Center, Tassajara

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Every day we work to support our activity. There will be a slight difference between your usual activity and activities in our monastery. Of course, we do our best in our work. The work you should—you do should be done by your very best effort and ability. But, the result of your efforts should not be attached too much. Or the ability you have should not be proud of. You should not take pride in your ability. Forgetting all about your ability and result of effort, you should still make your best in your work. This is how you work in a monastery as a part of practice.

And everyone has his own responsibility. And within our responsibility—our responsibility—we should work. We should not invade ??? some other responsibilities. This is also the teaching of “form and—form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” The work you do is not—although you are working on something right now, but we do not know on what we will work on tomorrow. But right now, what you are working on is your practice, and when you work, just work on your position—in your position, on your position and on your work there is the meaning. So each one's responsibility or position is very important for us. If so, we should not invade some other work. So each one should work on each position. When you do so, there is our practice. The form is emptiness and emptiness is form. When you work on a form which is your responsibility, which is your work, there is enlightenment. But that is the form or the position you have right now is not permanent one. Right now you are working on it, and right now you should work on it. Through your position, you can attain your own enlightenment. In this way we should work.

When Dogen Zenji arrived at China, he could not land because of the inspection, so he had to stay in his boat. At that time, someone—some old priest visited his ship. And he was very much interested in that old priest, and he talked about Buddhism. Because he was—and he found out that the old priest was taking care of kitchen of Ekoso [Ayu-wang?], a monastery. So he thought there must be many young priests because it is a noted big monastery. So he said, “Why don't you stay? Even though you stay tonight—for the night in this ship, someone will work for the kitchen.” But he said—the old priest said, “You don't know what is practice—what is our practice.” And, “Other—others are not you,” she said. Others are not you; others are not me. Others cannot take my position, my practice. It is practice. Each one should work on his practice. There there is enlightenment.

So today we have today's work, tomorrow we have tomorrow's work, and each one of us has his own work, which should be perfect. As Dogen Zenji says, firewood does not become ash. It is—firewood has its own past and present. Ash has its own past and present. Ash is—has its own perfect position. And firewood has its own past and future, and its own perfection. So firewood never comes to ash. Ash is ash; firewood is firewood. And firewood includes everything past and future, and firewood also—ash includes past and future, and everything it's exists in this moment. So, when you do your own job, your own job it's ???—it includes everything and its own past and future and perfect.

If you wandering about, forgetting all about your place, it means you are deluded. You have no idea of practice; you are losing your own practice. That kind of practice is not our practice. In this way we should practice, so we should not put emphasis on our skill or the result of the work, but you should know the meaning of the work more deeply. Then, if so, most of the difficulties in our monastic life will be dissolved. There's no more difficulties.
Usually what we do is not so difficult, but the problems which follows by your imperfect understanding of work is greater, and you will suffer from the useless problems, and you will lose whole monastery. There is no more monastery. If your—the point your work is lost then that is not monastery any more. Of course, if you visit good monastery, everything is in order, and everything is—vegetables is growing healthy and plants are—are healthy, and everywhere is clean. And tools and everything is well polished and sharp. That kind of monastery sure to be a good monastery.
But to polish your tools or to raise your vegetables—vegetables is not the main purpose—point of your practice. The main point is whether your effort is—practice—real practice or not, is the main point. Of course, because you have good feeling in your monastery, you can—everything grows. So, where there is good teaching, good practice, there is good feeling, and everything will grow. But purpose is not just to get larger crops or to have done everything—a great amount of work. So even though you have some ability on something—special ability, you will work on which you are not familiar with it. But as long as you have something to work on, you should do your best on your position.

This is also the Prajnapara—what is Prajnaparamita. So although we are—look – no—although it looks like we are doing same thing, but if you have right understanding of our work, the meaning is quite different.

We gain—in Shobogenzo next paragraph, “We gain enlightenment like the moon reflecting in the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew in the grasses—in the grass.”

“We gain enlightenment like the moon reflecting in the water.” Here the parable—the use of parable of moon and reflecting, reflection is different. But before he said, "our way is not like the moon reflecting in the water—on the water." At that time he meant the difference—to have dualistic idea of our practice and enlightenment. But here he means even though you attain enlightenment, there is no difference in you—in what you do.

“We gain enlightenment like the moon reflecting in the water.” “The moon does not get wet—.” Even though the moon is in the water, it does not get wet. “Or—nor the water get broken.” You know, there is no trace in it. So, you may say—you may think—you may seek for something, some enlightenment which is quite a special experience always, and where you have no problems, where you will get rid of all vicious habits. [Laughs] There to work on.[?] [Laughs] Taking away [laughs] Once you attained enlightenment, you will not drink any more sake [laughs, laughter]. That kind of enlightenment may be the enlightenment you seek for [laughs]. But actually you'll see, if you like sake [laughs], even though you are saying enlightenment, you will have hard time to get [laughs, laughter] to get past the—the store [laughter] without sake buy again—sake again, although I attained enlightenment [laughs, laughter]. Next thing will happen to you—even though you attain enlightenment. So he says, the water does not broken, or the moon does not get wet. Same thing, same water and same—the same moon will be there.

“Although its light is wide and great—. ” You may say, you know, the moonlight is bright and great, but the moon in the dew is so small. But the moon in the sky is also in the drop of dew. Even though it is in the drop of dew—in dew, it is the moon. Even though you were—your attainment—you attain—your attainment is so small, but enlightenment is enlightenment. There is no difference.

“The moon wide and great—the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew in the grass.” Enlightenment does not destroy the mind, nor help the mind. He did not say so [laughs], but “Enlightenment does not destroy the mind, just as the moon does not break the water. Mind does not hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of dew does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon.” Because you compare something to some other things, this kind of misunderstanding or confusion you have. But fire[wood] will be firewood, ash is ash. And ash and fire—firewood are perfect, because they are all independent being, or independent reality. This kind of understanding is beyond our thinking. You can explain it in our logic, but you cannot—as our explanation will not be perfect.

“The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. The period of the reflection, long or short, will prove the vastness of the dewdrop and the vastness of the moonlight sky—moonlit sky.”

Now next paragraph: “When the truth does not fill our body and mind, we think that we have enough. When the truth fills our body and mind, we know that something is missing” [laughs]. This “something is missing” is [laughs] different meaning. “When the truth fills our body and mind, we know that something is missing.” Something—we know that that is not enough; at least we know that we should continue it. It is not end of the all—end of all. Moment after moment we should work on it. We will feel in this way. There is no time for us to lie down and sleep [laughs]. We must go on and on and on.

And we have our ideal ahead of us. But usually, without knowing this part, when you are caught by your ideas, which is not possible to attain, you will just suffer until you commit suicide. Isn't that so? If the enlightenment is just an ideal for you, that idea, even the enlightenment, is not the same always. If you make progress in—here is some progress, but I cannot explain it right now because you will be mixed up [laughs, laughter]. Even—even enlightenment—enlightenment there may be big enlightenments and small enlightenments, as the biography of the great master said, countless small enlightenments and several big enlightenments. This kind of description means that enlightenment is not always same. So, enlightenment after enlightenment we should practice our way. So, you feel that something is not enough. You—even though you feel good, even though you feel you had enlightenment, but that is not enough. In this way—we will feel in this way that is true enlightenment. But when you think you had enough, that is not true enlightenment.

“For example, when we view the world from the—a boat on the ocean, it looks circular, and nothing else.” It looks like circular. He looks like found out that our earth is round [laughs] at that time. He said, it looks like circular and nothing else. It is just round globe. He must have seen it when he was crossing—crossing Chinese Sea. “But the—but the ocean is neither round nor square, and its feature are infinite in variety. It is like a place—palace. It is like a jewel. It seems circular as far as your eyes can reach at the time. All things are so. Though there are many feature in the dusty life and the pure life.—”

“It is like a palace.” It may be a palace for the fish. For the fish it is like a palace. “It is like a jewel.” For the dragon—dragon, it may be a jewel. “It seems circular as far as your eyes can reach at the time.” When you see it—it—it is—it looks like circular, but water is not always a palace for everyone, or a jewel. It seems circular as far as our eyes can reach at the time, but it is not—may not be circular. “All things are so. Though there are many feature in the dusty life and the pure life, we only understand what our study can reach.” Whatever you may say, nor how beautiful you describe our—this world, that is not all. That is the description as far as you can describe it.

And, “In our study of all things we must appreciate that although they make—they may look round or square, the other feature of the ocean or mountains are infinite in variety, and universe lies in all quarters. It is so not only around ourselves, but all—also directly here, even in a drop of water.” Just now we are talking about our teaching, but it is not only our Buddhist teaching. Even near at hand, events will tell you this truth. When your understanding reaches as far as this, you may say you are studying Buddhism, and accordingly you work on your everyday life. Whatever you do, that is the practice. Whenever you do not feel good in your work, you must think this truth. You know, at—at the time—at the time, you may feel not so good, but that is not all.

A monastery is not some particular place. Whether you can make Tassajara a monastery or not is up to you. It may be worse than city life even though you are in Tassajara. But when you have wisdom of Prajnaparamita Sutra, even though you are in San Francisco, that is a perfect monastery. This point should be, you know, fully understood.
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Transcribed by Brian Fikes. Text reformatted and notes amended by Bill Redican 2/20/02. Re-transcribed by Peter Ford and Wendy Pirsig 11/2021 from audio file provided by Engage Wisdom.
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File name: 67-08-21: Genjo-Koan No. 2 [1?] (Verbatim) Suzuki is commenting on paragraphs 6 and 9–11 of Genjō-kōan.

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