Using Various Stones

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Friday, September 8, 1967


Tonight I want to give you some correct idea of Buddhism or Zen. In a word, Zen is the teaching or practice to see “things as it is” or to accept “things as it is” and to raise things as it goes. This is the fundamental purpose of our practice and meaning of Zen. But it is, actually, rather difficult to see “things as it is.” You may say you are seeing “things as it is,” but actually, we do not see “things as it is.” I don't mean that you are—you are a distortion of sight. You know, if it is something this shape looks short, but something this shape looks normal. I don’t mean that, but when you see something, you already start to intellectualize the things you see. As soon as you intellectualize something, it is not already just what you saw.

When I was young, I wanted to practice true practice, so—and I wanted to know what is the way-seeking mind in its true sense. The way-seeking mind is—anyway to do something good is maybe the way-seeking mind. The mind to do something good may be the way-seeking mind. So, I get up very early, and washed toilet and sink before the other student get up. I thought that is very good thing to do [laughs]. But while, you know, many idea or ??? occurred to me. When I was doing something, I was afraid something would see me [laughs]. I wanted to do it just by myself without being noticed by anyone else. If someone see me, you know, that would be—not be the pure practice, I thought. But before—before they see me, I already in my mind going wrong. I asked myself whether I like to do it without being noticed by anyone, or—or I wanted—I wanted to be seen by—to be known by someone else. Why do I do something like this? So, in this way, I couldn't assert my way-seeking mind. I couldn’t assure—I was not so sure my purity of my way-seeking mind.

So, sometime I saw [laughs] the one room—where I saw one room lit up by a lamp [laughs], of course, I hide myself. I thought someone may come down because someone get up already, so he may come down. So, I hide myself. It seems to, at least, I’m doing something good and with pure mind, but my mind was not so pure. My mind is wandering about. I couldn't [laughs] make my mind sure, and I was at a loss—at a loss what to do. And I suffered, you know, a little bit. And I thought, and thought, and thought what I should do.

One day, when I was listening to the lecture of psychology, the teacher said, “It is impossible to catch our mind exactly. Especially, it is impossible to know what we have done. The mind what we—the mind which acted some time ago, the mind which belongs to past, is not possible to catch. And even the mind which is acting right now is not possible to catch it, actually,” he said. So, I thought [laughs], there is no wonder why it is so difficult for me to understand my mind. So, I gave up [laughs] to make sure my waking—way-seeking mind. And since then I did it, just, you know, without thinking, just because it is good, I did it. And, at the same time, whether people see me or not, anymore my problem [laughs].

So, when you want to see—when you want to make sure your mind, you cannot catch it. But just when you do something, and just when your mind is acting as it goes, that is how to catch your mind in its true sense. Anyway, it is rather difficult to see “things as it is,” because to see things is not—how to “see things as it is” is not just the activity of our sight or eyes. This is why we put emphasis on practice. To do something without thinking is the most important point to understand ourselves. Anyway, what I want to say is what—it is difficult to see “things as it is,” and that is why we should practice our way.

People may say, if the purpose of Zen is to see “things as it is,” then there will be no need to practice. That [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 rock 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.

But for a gardener it is necessary to make a garden beautiful. If possible, the gardener should express some meaning, or some particular—particular beauty, according to the—according to order. If someone wants him to build some calm garden, he must make the garden accordingly. If he want to some solemn feeling or austere feeling, he make the garden something austere. Then he has to choose the material, and he has to make it more austere by contrast or by association or by harmony.

There—there is some—there should be some rules. Where there is harmony—how to make harmony is a rule. There—we have many colors, but color—the color maybe sometime—two color maybe sometime color clash, or may be in harmony, or may be in contrast. If you use red to green, that is the contrast. If you use red and orange, that is the harmony, or that is maybe not harmony, maybe the order—color order. Blue, starting from red, orange and yellow and blue, green and blue and violet. Those six color—if you arrange it in this order, that is color order. But if you arrange red and yellow, that is harmony. And if you use red and green, that is a contrast. So, by using those rules, you—you will accomplish your purpose, and you will have the beautiful garden.

So just to live whatever you like [laughs], that is not the way to live. If you want to live, you should follow some rules. If it is stone—if there is, you know, a sharp, straight, narrow stone, it express some mystical feeling. And if the stone is this way [presumably making a shape with his hands], you know, like this, it express calmness or peacefulness. And this and this is contrast—in contrast. But the round one will be harmonious to every stone—round stone. It goes perfectly with any kind of—any kinds of forms. And stone which has a wide base like this express some stable feeling. And it is—this stone is in contrast with some, you know, massive stone like this. And long standing stone and this kind of the massive stone is in order. So, just to arrange stone in order will not be—you cannot make a beautiful garden, if you arrange the stone just in order. So, in contrast to enhancement that—for the enhancement you should use some stone which is in contrast with the stone you're using. In this way, there must be some rules.

So, if you want to live, in its true sense in relationship with others, and in relationship with the “you” which is—which live—which has been living in past, and which will live tomorrow, there must be some rules. And the rules—although it looks—it looks like no rules, but actually there is some rules—some strict rules in it. So, to live day by day, in its true sense, means to live in some perfect rules. This point—in Zen, this point is also emphasized. Zen is not just personal practice, and our enlightenment is not just personal attainment. When we attain enlightenment, everything should be enlightened. That is the rules—that is the rule of enlightenment. When we find our position in this moment, we say we attained enlightenment. When we live with others, and when we live with other beings, we say we attain enlightenment.

So, if you think the enlightenment is something—some personal—just personal experience, this idea of enlightenment is to—to collect just square stone or [laughs] just round stone [laughs], you know. If you someone like beautiful, you know stones, in which you see something blue and something white, that is—if that is enlightenment, he will have [laughs], he will collect the same stone [laughs]. But with the same stone, you cannot build any interesting garden. You should use various stone. Enlightenment is the same thing, you know. If you attach to some particular enlightenment, that is not true enlightenment. You should have various enlightenment. And you should experience various experience, and you should put emphasis more in relationship between person and person. And in this way, we should practice back and forth, according to the position you have—you find yourself in.

This is the outline of our practice, and how you attain it. If the enlightenment is just to collect, or just to be proud of such a kind of experience, that will not—that kind of experience will not help you at all. And if that is enlightenment, there would be no need for Buddha to strive hard to save people after he attained enlightenment [laughs]. What is the purpose of wandering about the darky road—dusty road of illusion? If—if to attain enlightenment is the purpose of zazen, why Bodhidharma came to, you know, China from India and sit for nine years in Shaolin Mountain? The point is to find our position moment after moment, and to live with people moment after moment according to the place is the purpose of our practice.

I wonder if I could express myself [laughs], if you—if you understood what I said. But I think we have some more time. Do we have some more time? [Presumably answered, yes.] And will you ask me a question? Hai.

Student A: Can you put too many stones in the garden?

SR: Hmm?

Student A: Can you put too many stones in your garden?

SR: [Laughs] we should forget one after another, at the same time [laughs], maybe better to give them [laughs] after we enjoyed it. Some more question? Hai.

Q: Could you please try to summarize, again, the idea of the true teaching that you wanted us to know[?]?

SR: Samurai?

Q: Is that possible?

Student: Summarize. [Laughter.]

SR: Samurai, Japanese samurai? [Laughter]

Q: No, summarize.

Students: [Slowly pronouncing] summarize. To make a short statement. Summarize.

SR: Zen?

Q: No, just the point you were making tonight.

SR: Tonight? [Laughter]

Student: About the true teaching.

SR: About way of…

Students: About the true teaching. Say again what you said about the true teaching.

SR: True teaching is to accept “things as it is” and to—to raise—or to let it grow, as it goes—as things goes. I understand it in this way—the purpose of our practice. And how we do it is to live on each moment and in the right position. It means, you know, to give some nourishment when—day after—day by day, when they want it. That is the purpose of, and to understand what they wanted, you know, so you should be able to talk with them even. You know, that is Zen. Did you understand?

Q: Thank you.

SR: I should not talk too much [laughs]. I should summarize. [Laughter, laughs.] All right?

Q: Thank you.

SR: And then at the same time, I wanted to correct the misunderstanding of Zen. Just to do something [laughs], you know, whatever you like [laughs] is not Zen, and is not Buddhism. We call it “jinen ken gedo.” “Jinen ken gedo” means view of life of naturalism, like Rousseau [laughter, laughs]. Hai.

Q: When you said after you plant the seed, then you have to wait for the seed to come up. Does the gardener do anything while the seed is coming up but before it sprouts?

SR: Yeah, gardener gets some water and will go and watch it every day. [Laughs, laughter.] He or she very busy [laughter], day by day.

Q: Should the gardener build one’s garden the way one wants it, or the way other people would like it to be built?

SR: Yeah, some gardener should build, you know, according to the order, you know. But he may build a garden just for himself.

Q: Why did you choose a garden as an example?

SR: Hmm?

Q: Why did you choose a garden as an example?

SR: Because I like it [laughs, laughter]; I understand it [laughter]. Now, another question? Hai.

Q: What happens if you don't follow the rules of order?

SR: Actually, it is not possible not to follow order or rules, you know. But if you do not follow—how to follow the order, you cannot—you will not be successful in your work, you know. You cannot—you cannot do anything, actually. You will waste—it will be waste of labor and time. And so, the more you work on it, the more you will—you will need—you will have intuition to help you follow the rules. Actually, it is not possible for us not to follow any rules. Even though you looks like [you're not] following any rules, actually, you are following rules.

Q: If you’re always following rules; can you pick which ones?

SR: Hmm?

Q: I mean, you said that even though it doesn't look like it, we're always following rules whether we know it or not. Will—do you, you know, through practice, do we get to a point where we can pick which rules we are following more than we can now?

SR: Yeah [laughs, laughter]. Yes, that is practice, you know. So that is why we should practice our way back and forth, you know. Not—our practice should—my practice should not be just to give—give you lecture, you know. I should sometimes to you listen. So, we have to change our position in our practice. That is very important.

Q: When does—if—if a lot of insects come in and start eating up the garden, or if there's a—if there’s a hailstorm or a frost, what—what—what do you do then? [Laughter.]

SR: There it is necessary for you to follow some rules, you know. And you should have some purpose. We say “gan” [pranidhana, vows to some particular end]. Gan means to purpose—to have some purpose. For—for Buddhists, to save all sentient being, even though it is not possible. To save them all, is our final desire. Our effort should be directed to that direction. So, if the purpose of [laughs] making garden is to help hungry people [laughs], you see, you—you should protect the plant from hail and insects.

So, there should be some purpose, or else we cannot live. To live means to have some purpose. And that purpose sometime, you know, not complete, or not wide enough. Everyone works for someone else at the same time. Even a thief will be kind to his wife or [laughs] at least to himself. But he is not kind enough to—to be kind to his neighbors [laughs]. That is why he steals something from neighbor. So, we should have some ultimate desire for which we strive.

We say, “Even though the truth is incomprehensible, we have to study completely.” That is not possible, you know [laughs]. One after another, we'll find some new theories, or new truths, even in scientific or physics—science or physics. So, it is not possible to reach the final, ultimate truth. Even so, we continue our effort. Even though to be friendly with each other will not be possible, but we should strive for to be friendly with each other. Even though our evil desire is limitless, you know, one after another we have some evil desires, but we should strive for the realization from—those are a Buddhist four[?] desires—noble final desires. [Four Boddhisatva vows]

The before you do not, you know, practice our way, knowing this truth, knowing the reality, whatever you see looks like absurd. But once you start something with those four noble desire, you will understand everything is practicing our way. Even insects, or animals, or [laughs] gophers [laughs, laughter] to the ground, are striving for our way—to attain our way. Hai.

[text below added from a transcription by Brian F. and Katherine T. rediscovered 1-5-2016]
Q: What is the relationship of what you are saying tonight to the phrase in the chant, "the natural order of mind"?

SR: Oh, "natural order of mind," [laughs] very difficult for us. If you understand that, you are big Zen master [laughs, laughter]. "Natural order of mind" [laughs]. But even though you don't understand it, as long as you are striving for it, to keep the natural order of your mind, that’s good enough. Hai.

Q: What do you say to the person who says, who says that I'm happy in the world, and I don't want to do—do zazen because it's painful, and I would rather stay speedless[?] on this big now, than wake up, because it's so painful, and I'm happy, and why should I become unhappy?

SR: Yeah, hmm, yeah, that is, you know—. When they find themselves quite happy, enough to survive, they will not have chance to study Buddhism. When they have some problem, they will start our way, and when they have true understanding of life, which is—which is full of suffering, and full of problems, they will start studying our way. So, the best way may be to suggest something or to make them understand what they are doing actually [laughs, laughter]. You know, that is the best way, I think. Some more question?

Q: A guest asked me tonight what the meaning behind the tradition of shaving heads was, and I didn't know, so….

R: Hmm [laughs] yeah, that’s—to explain it. If you—If I explain it—I don't want to explain it [laughter, laughs]. You will have another—some more question about it, and question after question, you will not understand what really it means. Anyway, it means, you know, this—I say always, this is the fundamental, highest in hairstyle [laughter]. When you [laughter] maybe stronger, you can do it, and if you—maybe, you know, ??? next, you can do it. Next of the—the bath[?], you can do it [laughter]. If you want to come, you can do it. This is the fundamental hairstyle, and he does not proud of it [laughter, laughs]. Some other question? Now [laughs]. Next time I'll explain it [laughter].

Q: You seem to be making a distinction between arbitrary orders or rational orders on the one hand, as opposed to organic order. Could you elaborate on it?

SR: Arbitrary order and natural order?

Q: Yeah; it's not a mathematical order or rules, or a logical order or rules that you’re expressing. It seems to me it's an organic order you’re expressing why and an organic growth of things according to their nature of [science?]. It's a different kind of order. So, the rules become natural to life, rather than on…

R: Yeah, yes.

Q: can impose ??? right?

R: Yes, rational. We are both emotional and rational being, you see. So, if you want to follow rational order, you know, we will, we cannot survive. And we should be emotional too. And emotional and rational order sometime does not go together. But purpose of the order is the same, you know: to survive, because emotional order based on to protect our, you know, activity which we have in this moment. We don't want to change our situation. While the rational order to encourage us to takes new step. In this—in this case, rational order say, may tell you, "this—if you do this, the result will be this," you know. This is rational reasoning. So, rational order will suggest next step for you by reasoning. So, it’s—it encourage you to—to go one step ahead. But emotional, you know, tendency does not like to—to change our situation. And if we change our situation one after—always, we cannot survive. Even though rationally it is possible, but actually, we cannot change our position so quickly. So, in this case, emotional order may say, "Don't do that," you know. So emotional one is more, nature is more positive or conservative, like religion. It is almost impossible to change Buddhism into Christianity [laughs], you know[?].

Q: Why?

R: Why, it is—religion is very emotional activity. But when you find, really, emotionally, when emotionally, when your wish is impossible to support your emotional life any more, then big change, you know, will occur, will happen to you. Emotionally now, you know, you don't want to change your husband [laughs]. But if you—it is impossible for you to maintain the relationship between you and your husband emotionally, you know, all of a sudden big change will happen to you, and you will be divorced, or you will divorce your husband, you see? This kind of entanglement is there, but purpose is to sustain, or—no, to support our life activity. So, women are more emotional than men. We men, the purpose, or most of—of a man is to work. And your responsibility to raise your descendant, or your children. So, you should be more emotional and more conservative. So, that is why you don't want to change your home so often, while men mostly like to change our home. This kind of—there is this kind of difference, but purpose is one, to support our life act—to support our life is the purpose.

Thank you very much.
This lecture was originally transcribed by Brian Fikes and Katherine Thanas. It was edited by Brian Fikes. This transcript is a retyping of the existing City Center transcript. It was not verbatim. No tape is available. The City Center transcript was entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. It was reformatted and annotated 7/31/01—WKR. Verbatim version 8/2022 by Peter Ford, Wendy Pirsig and Shundo David Haye based on audio from Engage Wisdom.


File name: 67-09-08-B: Using Various Stones (Verbatim) crickets. Q & A after lecture. Edited by Brian Fikes. Additional text added 1-5-2016 from transcript labeled A11T, pf.

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In Wind Bell, Vol. 29, issue 1, 1995