Practice Zazen With Your Whole Mind And Body

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Friday, September 8, 1967


[First words missing; according to the tape operator (see end), they are: “There are many ways to study Buddhism”] ... devoted in Japan since Tokugawa—late Tokugawa period or first part of Meiji period in Japan, is the study of—philological study, or historical study, of Buddhism, stimulated by European scholars who had many Buddhist—who had—who found many Buddhist literature in India.

And we Japanese people realized the necessity of, the importance of, the study of old literature because Chinese rendering is from Sanskrit. So, without understand—without understanding of Sanskrit literature, we thought it is difficult to know—to figure out the original Buddhism. But—so, Japanese scholars devoted themselves to the study of Indian literature through Pali or Sanskrit. And we have achieved a great attainment, and we almost completed to—in comparing all those sutras with many commentaries.

Important as those study is, this is not a true study of Buddhism. So, there is no wonder that in America, many psychologists and scholars started to study from various angle—like psychology, or philosophy, or comparative religion. And we also started how to understand from the viewpoint of modern science—scientific viewpoint. But it is pity that we didn't realize, or most of people did not realize, how important it is to practice Buddhism. They just try to apply original teaching of Buddhism to your everyday life through science, like comparative religion, or psychology, or ethics.

But this kind of study, will not help you in its true sense because the Buddhism—the purpose of Buddhism to attain liberation. The liberation in its true sense is not just psychological one, or just physiological one. It should be both psychological and physiological attainment.

So here, there is reason why we must study Zen. But some Zen masters carelessly thought—treated or practice—practiced—Zen just to attain some psychological, temporal, attainment. Psychological attainment. But this is not true understanding, or true Zen.

Why we started Zen—zazen—is because we couldn't [be] satisfied with the philosophical study—study of it. And many schools accomplished to some certain extent to satisfy with their attainment. And each schools of Buddhism has its own canon. Canon is—we call it kyoso-hanjaku. This means why some scriptures, some special scripture, is so important among all of our scriptures. And they organized, systematically, our scriptures from some certain viewpoint.

And after those effort, Zen appeared, and people started to realize how important it is to practice Zen. Because Zen the—true practice of Zen is—contains the true teaching of Zen, and at the same time it is actual application of the teaching. For true Zen, application of the truth and to everyday life and truth itself—teaching itself is one, it is not different. So—if so, it is not even application—our practice is not just application of the original teaching to our everyday life. It is direct experience of the true teaching.

So, our practice is not to attain something, or to some psychological state, or the way how to apply the true teaching to our everyday life. It is, of course, the application of the teaching for our everyday life, but it is not just application, it is the teaching itself, it contains teaching itself. The direct experience is—contains—means the true teaching itself. So, if you want to know the meaning of Zen, it is necessary for you to study Buddhist teaching. But, whether or not you study Buddhist teaching, if you practice our way, there is the direct experience of the teaching. And—and that is at the same time, the application of the teaching through your everyday life. So, in this sense, zazen practice is not just to cross your legs, and sitting in some certain posture. And it is also your everyday life—your activity in your everyday life. Whatever you do, that—that activity should be Zen. But then how to sit—but for—for us, there is some instruction or some approach to true understanding of Zen or true experience of Zen. That is why we sit in cross-legged posture.

But, if you think about—if you understand the true meaning of Zen, you should study our teaching, like a fundamental teaching. Like teaching of Four Noble Truths, or teaching of interdependency, or teaching of everything changes, or teaching of emptiness, or teaching of Middle Way. Those teaching will give you some intellectual understanding of our practice. So, practice is first, and intellectual study is next. But you can do it vice-versa.

But in its true sense, if you understand directly what is Buddhism, it is necessary for you to practice Zen first, and study intellectually some fundamental teaching through various scriptures.

But, in Japan, stimulated from European study of Buddhism, we were so busy in philological study. Some people may say if you—even though you go to Japan, there's not much study, [laughs] there's not many good Zen masters. It may be true [laughs], may be true, but it does not mean there is no good Zen master at all. There are many—pretty many good Zen masters. But if you understand what you have—we have achieved in the field of philological study, you'll—you will understand what we have been doing for one hundred years.

Anyway, this morning, for this reason—for this reason I want to—I give you some instructions or suggestions in how to practice zazen.

If you want to practice zazen, the most important thing is to do things—to practice it with your whole mind and body. You should be involved in the practice completely [laughs]. You practice zazen just to practice zazen, not to attain something. You should be completely involved in the posture you take, the way you take breathing, and with your calm, serene, well-concentrated mind.

The posture we take [puts stick down to demonstrate] there is two kind, or three kinds. One is full lotus, in which we cross our legs perfectly [demonstrating] like this. Right foot on your left thigh, and left foot on your right thigh—like this. This is full, but it may be difficult for most of you to sit in cross-legged position, so maybe better to cross in half lotus position [demonstrating]. Half lotus is to cross—to put your left foot on your right thigh. Or you can sit in this way if it is impossible to cross this way [demonstrating]. This is, you know, my—you sit just like this, you know, or the other way, whichever you like.

At first, for everyone, for even Japanese, most—most of Japanese, it is difficult to sit in half lotus position, even. This is very difficult. And, in this case, your ankle? should—

Student: Knee.

SR: Knee! [Small laughter]. Knee should touch to the floor [laughs]. Okay? This way. If it is difficult, you put something underneath, like this. [mic howls briefly] Can you hear me? And if you do for one or two months every day, for about—more than twenty minutes, eventually your knee get closer to the floor. This is the—how you cross your legs.

The more important thing is to put strength here, to have power here [tapping hara?]. And to—if you want to have power here, you have to bring your hip as far back as you can. Most—most of you, you know, sit on your hip like this [laughs]. Like when you are driving your car [laughter, laughs]. This is a very bad posture for Zen student, because you have no strength here. So even though—when—even when you drive your car, you should take this posture, because your legs are long enough to reach your [laughs] brake. So, please take this posture.

Especially when you read. If you read in this posture, you will be tired—get tired quite soon. If you take this posture, it is much better. Please try which is better, you know. To put some strength here, and to keep your back straight, and pull your hip as far back as you can, like this. Even when you sit in your chair, or even when you eat, you should be careful not to lose your right posture. This is very, very important.

And your mind should be concentrated on your breathing. This is to attain oneness of physical and mental activity. Breathing activity or exercise is both mental and physical. So, if you take hold of this point, you can control both mind and body. And that is why this is best way to attain oneness of physical and mental good state.

Even so—even though you have—your mind is on your breathing, you may hear a sound and you may see something, because we—mostly we sit with our eyes open. And we—we, you know—so you will see something, and you will hear something, and sometime some image will come. But don't be bothered by it, you know. Just let them come in and let them go out [laughter]. If you do not entertain them, it will not stay. But most—in the most case, you, you know, you give them a cup of tea [laughs] or encourage them to stay. That is why they stay and bother you. So, don't be bothered by it. Let them come in and let them go out.

That is a kind of strength which you will gain by your tummy here. When your mind is here or here, you know, it means you are entertaining them. If your mind is here, you are not concern—concerned too much about the image you have in your mind. So, try to keep right posture, with some power in your tummy.

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.

I already started, you know, to explain the direct experience—experience of Zen, in our—in the way of understanding of the original teaching. But purpose of my lecture today is not to talk about our fundamental teachings. But just to explain how to sit.

Now we have crossed our legs and we understood how to keep your spine straight. Now we have to pull our necks—neck, like this, so that your spine could be straight. [Sound of robes rustling.] In this case. And your tongue should be on your upper jaw and you—your upper—your teeth support with each other.

And your hands forms cosmic mudra. It should not be like this or like that. Here you have one line with your, you know, what do you call it? Joint?

Student (Richard Baker): Finger, joint, yeah.

SR: You have joint here, see? And two joints makes straight line. Then you have perfect mudra. And your both thumb support with each other. Not to—don't press like this, or don't be loose like this. It should be just support with each other, as if you have a sheet of paper in-between.

As if you, you know, there's some sparkle [laughs] in between plus electricity and [laughs] ... minus electricity between here. You know, it is not like this. If you—if it is like this, there will be no sparkle.

Student (Richard Baker) whispers: Spark.

SR: Spark! Excuse me. [Laughter] No spark. If it is like this, you will not have no spark either. So, [laughs] it should be like this.

Student (Richard Baker): But they actually touch?

SR: Yeah, touch. Actually, touch with each other. It should be supported with each other.

This is very true in your everyday life, you know, you should be observe in what you do, you know. But you should not be too much attached to it. This is [laughs] –this is the—you know, secret of the way of life. You should not be indifferent, like this. And you should not be [laughs] too much attached to your everyday activity, or whatever you see or you do. Just, you know, to have interdependency with each other. This is perfect relationship, and you have this relationship between your thumb. This is very true to what you hear, or to what you see, in sitting.

And your arm—your arms should not be too tight to your body, or should not be too loose. And your finger touch to your tummy. So naturally, your arm opens this way. Your arm—arms stand outward—little bit. This is just feeling, you know. It should be, you know, exactly right, but as our—this is—maybe this is according to the personality. You know, someone who is too open should be this way, and someone [laughs] too—what do you call it? Inward nature. Yeah, I don't remember that word. Person who is too open, and person—

Student (Richard Baker) whispers: Introvert and extrovert.

SR: Oh yes, extrovert, or introvert. The mind is always working into yourself, you know, who is too much critical with yourself. This kind of nature—character. Maybe opposite. But anyway, if you turn your arm this way, and keep your vertical line—

[Tape changed—see end of transcript]

Just to have focus in some area four or five feet ahead. In this way you practice zazen, and it is necessary for you to practice it with the strong confidence, and it is necessary to continue the practice. To spend forty minutes a day for the practice is not at all waste of time for you.

So, whether you are Buddhist or not, it is better to practice in this way. And if you want to study Buddhism, you know, with this experience, you will understand the meaning of our practice intellectually. And it will help your intellectual understanding of the philosophical study of Buddhism, or understanding from very—various angles. Buddhism is open to science and philosophy, and intellectual study, and emotional activity. So, from various angle you can study Buddhism. This is one of the characteristic of Buddhism. We do not say, “This is not the right practice.” Or, “That is right practice.” You know, we say, “Gateless gate.” [laughs]. Gateless gate is our gate. That we have no gate is true gate. We have no special gate.

So... from various angle you can study Buddhism, but it is necessary to practice Zen, you know. The—the practice is not even the gate. It is center of the teaching, not gate. So, from the center you may go out, you know, from various direction. So, we say, practice is first, and understanding is next. For usual study, there may be some approach, and some people may attach to some special gate for the best gate [laughs]. That is not our way.

So, Zen practice should not be compared with some other approach. If you want to practice Zen, it is necessary for you to do it. Even without teacher, at home you can do it. But if you understand what does it mean by practice, or what you will attain by practice, you must have some—some—you must have teacher. And with teacher, or with friend, you will have deeper and deeper understanding of our practice. And that understanding will encourage your practice. And the practice will promote your intellectual understanding.

Thank you very much.


[After chant, tape operator's comments:]

This is a rather mixed-up lecture, with this lecture, which I've called on the back of the box “Number D”—“Letter D”—starting on tape No. 1, marked tape No. 1, and ending on tape No. 2, starting on the end of Track 2 of tape No. 1 and ending on the end of Track 2 of tape No. 1—of—ending on the track—No. Track 2 of—excuse me—ending on Track 1—ugh, it's very complicated because the plastic reel is numbered 2, and it should be really Track 1. It's actually Track 1. Maybe I'll rewind it and leave it on—and then there'll be 1 on the other side—uhh—let's call it track Side 2, Track—or then that would be same as Track 2. Well anyway, D ends on Track 2 of tape No. 2—begins on Track 2 of tape No. 1 near the middle. The first words of Lecture D were—are missing. Just the sentence, “There are many ways to study Buddhism”—approximately that sentence—which is the beginning sentence of the lecture, which begins on Track 1, Lecture D.

The transition between tape No. 1 and tape No. 2—, several minutes were lost: Four, three-four minutes, two-three minutes—in which he described how, when you turn your hands forward, or turn your hands so that there's a—thumb and forefinger are a parallel line—this turns your arm, and your arms are out from your body. This turns your arms out a little and opens your chest up at the top. And for the beginner—so the upper part of your lungs, right, and your shoulders are used—for the beginner this is important because he finds it difficult both to maintain good posture and to breathe deeply with the diaphragm, pushing everything down to make more room for your lungs. Later, he can both deep-breathe with the diaphragm pushing down to make more room for the lung and maintain good posture, which keeps the upper parts of his lungs functioning, so the hand position isn't very important.

He does say, and I don’t know if this was missed or not, that the little finger should touch the stomach if possible. And then the thumb and forefinger should be in a parallel line—parallel vertical line. However, for more extrovert-type people, and I don't think this was lost—it may be all right to turn it in so both little finger and even thumb more turned up somewhat touch the stomach, or toward the stomach so it's not a vertical parallel but at an angle—of course, still in line but not vertical. And for more introvert people it should be more open out.

Umm. I think that's the gist of what was missed between the two.

Sorry. Thank you. Goodbye.


Source: 67-09-08A digital audio archive from DC. Problem set. Thanks to audio work by Angus Atwell, transcribed March 2012 by Judy Gilbert. Work in progress. Further preparation to post by DC. More editing and transcription by CM beginning of October 2012 using the enhanced audio. Re-transcribed from new Engage Wisdom audio 1/2022 by Shundo David Haye. Verbatim version by Peter Ford 1/27/2022.


File name: 67-09-08-A: Practice Zazen With Your Whole Mind And Body (titled by sdh) (Verbatim)

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