Shosan Ceremony

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Feb. 1968


SR: On this occasion, if you have some—a question, comment, present it to me.

Student A [Claude Dalenberg]: Docho Roshi, questions come into my mind; none of them seem to be good questions. My heart comes into my throat, and I do not know what to say, nor what to ask.

SR: Where you have, you know, when you have no question, and when you have nothing to ask about, there you have true way. Thank you very much all of your effort, all through this training period. [The student then gives formal bows and spoken thank-you. Omitting the thank-you unless it seems important to the question-answer—i.e., if it is a part of it.]

Student B [Bill Shurtleff]: Docho Roshi, you have said, “Just listen to the Dharma.” And you have said, “The instant the 'I' appears, it vanishes.” When you speak, to whom am I listening? When I speak, to whom are you listening? When thoughts seem to speak, to whom are we listening? When the stream seems to speak, to what are we listening?

SR: To listen to Dharma; to speak about Dharma--all of those practice should be Buddha's practice, which will continue forever without leaving any trace of them. You should not try to follow the trace of it. Just let them go and let them come.

Student B [Bill Shurtleff]: As it—as a person speaks to us each day?

SR: You should react with single-minded—mindedness. But don't leave any trace of it.

Student C [Alan Rappaport]: Docho Roshi, what are you doing here?

SR: Nothing special [laughter].

Student D: Docho Roshi— [silence].

SR: Yes, I am here.

Student D: Thank you very much.

Student E [Stan White]: Docho Roshi, Zen is impossible! I will continue to practice.

SR: If you know that you are here moment after moment, that is already practice.

Student F [Alan Winter]: Docho Roshi, speak to us of the search for the true path.

SR: True?

Student F [Alan Winter]: True.

SR: True what?

Student F [Alan Winter]: True path.

SR: True path. True paths. Don't think there is some special path which is true or false.

Student F [Alan Winter]: Then of each of our own paths?

SR: Do your best on every moment. Finding your position and reacting properly to everything.

Student F [Alan Winter]: That's all that I can do?

SR: Yes.

Student G [Jack Weller]: Docho Roshi, I wish to ask a question asked of all religions. In—in the sutra1 that we have been reading, and in other Buddhist works, and in your lectures, you speak about the infinite—infinite time, infinite truth. A truth true in the past for an infinite time. It is said that the sutra has been repeated again and again in the past for an infinite amount of time, or, if not infinite, then uncountable numbers of years, of eons. Yet we know that man is not infinite in the sense that—at least today we believe men evolved, physically, evolved from other animals. This happened at a period of time that is not uncountable or infinite. Is then the sutra and your teachings, and other Buddhist teaching, speaking about an infinite dimension of man, a finite being?

SR: Finite being itself already the revealed infinite being. In this sense we should appreciate our life, moment after moment. And we should appreciate things which we observe, day after day. This is actually to appreciate—only way to appreciate the infinite, ultimate, the First Principle.
So, infinite should not be just idea. We should appreciate everything without discrimination, not by small mind but by buddha-mind. Appreciation, true appreciation, is by our limitlessly big, limitlessly great, big mind, buddha-mind. It means that to accept things as it is, after all.

Student H [Danny Chesluk]: Docho Roshi, there's really nothing particular that I can say. I'd really like to thank you for Tassajara and for being here. Thank you.

SR: Thank you.

Student I [E. L.]: Docho Roshi, what is the True Law?

SR: True Law?

Student I [E. L.]: Yes.

SR: True Law. When you ask what is True Law, I'm afraid you will lose the True Law. When you are doing something just for sake of doing, there there is True Law. It is like water flowing constantly. That is True Law.

Student J [Jeff]: Docho Roshi, if the Law is like the water flowing, it seems sometimes there's a lot of dams in—in the mind, in the brain. And they don't let the water well up from the hara like a spring. And it seems that the process of opening this well is a process of—of dying. And all the old habits and conceptions and assumptions and personalities are being washed away. And all the old ways of living are being washed away. And there's a lot of—there seem to be a lot of monsters and kinnaras and [laughter] nagas that are very full of hate and fear and—and pain. And if we truly die in this flow—can we truly die in this flow and just trust it to—to take its natural course and not disturb it? Be still? And be clear?

SR: Whether—whatever you say, things [are] going as it goes. But we analyze things, discriminate things. But those analytic—analytical thinking and discriminative feeling is also a flow of the truth. After all, we have nothing to say. The only way is to appreciate this great activity of the Buddha, moment after moment. We should not forget this activity, even though we analyze things and discriminate things. Don't be completely involved in discrimination or thinking. You should have always freedom from everything, like Buddha. If you want to do so, you should practice zazen. Okay?

Student K [Niels Holm]: Docho Roshi, when the rain falls even [on the] whole world, and the moisture penetrating whole universe, how come I feel like in a drying machine? [Laughter.]

SR: Drying machine! You feel like in the drying machine [laughs, laughter]. Maybe because the moisture is all over, the drying machine is necessary. But still, drying machine is not powerful enough to dry up everything [laughter].

Student L [Dan Welch]: Docho Roshi, you say this is the last day of our training period, but I believe that we will continue the spirit of this practice forever. Thank you very much.

SR: That is the way.

Student M [Katherine Thanas]: Docho Roshi, when does my life express the Dharma, and when does it not?

SR: When does it not? There is no time when it doesn't. It always expresses the Dharma.

Student M [Katherine Thanas]: But sometimes better than other times.

SR: Hmm, don't think in that way. Always expressing—you are always expressing the buddha-nature. In the same way, that is you who thinks you are expressing “better” or “not so good.”

Student N [Mary Quagliata]: Docho Roshi, I think that I will practice zazen for the rest of my life. Thank you.

SR: You mean forever [laughter].

Student O [Liz Wolf]: Docho Roshi, should I follow my self, my body, my being, or should I follow the schedule?

SR: Hmm [laughter]. To follow schedule may be better [laughter].

Student P [Sally Block]: Docho Roshi, thank you for helping us all so much. I hope that someday we may be able to fully express our thanks.

SR: Thank you very much.

Student Q [Pat Herreshoff]: Docho Roshi, if there is nothing but what we have to share, and no help but what we have to give to each other, how can we act unselfishly, if we're not ready to renounce our minds?

SR: To act actually—to act in selfish way is also sharing something and helping with—with each other. We cannot—we cannot be completely selfish, anyway; that is not possible because every one of us are rooted in the same ground.

Student R [Evelyn Pepper]: Docho Roshi, you told us yesterday that we should be one—our bodies should be one with our small mind. Is that right? Last night?

SR: Last night when I said—when you say "mind..."

Student R [Evelyn Pepper]: ... and body are one.

SR: When you say, “mind and body,” that body means your physical body, in its limited sense. It is the way of understanding, or viewpoint, or standpoint. To speak[?] in limited sense, we say “mind and body.” But actually, it is the same. But if we, you know, take physical viewpoint we have--this is body. But if we take spiritual viewpoint, this body is not just body. It is body and mind too. That was what I meant.

Student S [Frances Thompson]: Docho Roshi, this leaf is an exquisite construction. It has ribs to hold it out into the sunlight. It's made of two layers of cells. The upper layer is smooth and even. The under layer has many tiny holes through which carbon dioxide is absorbed. In a chemical reaction in the sunlight, the carbon is removed, and oxygen is released through the tiny holes, into the air which we breathe. If there weren't green plants on earth, there’d be no animal life. We wouldn't be here. There'd be no air to breathe. Is this leaf an illusion?

SR: Yeah, there is the leaf. That is not illusion. But maybe what you said may be illusion [laughs] because [laughter] what you said is not good enough to describe it [laughs]. I am sorry [laughter].

Student S [Frances Thompson]: But even if I could really understand the leaf, there’s the First Principle of the leaf, the other things I said would still be true, wouldn't it?

SR: Yes. Yes.

Student T [Emmy Buckley]: Docho Roshi, why have we been sitting here for seven days?

SR: Why--why we are sitting seven days? Because we count one, two, three [laughter obscures Suzuki's voice here]. That is the reason [laughter].

Student U [Pat Lang]: Docho Roshi, how do I really wait?

SR: Excuse me.

Student U [Pat Lang]: How do I really wait?

SR: Wet?

Student U [Pat Lang]: Wait?

SR: Wait? Wait. Yeah. To wait—if you want to wait, you know really, in its true sense, then you should follow things as they go. That is how you wait. It is like, if you want to, you know, —the best way to go round trip all the world is to stay here. You are always here, right here. It means that you are waiting for everything.

Student U [Pat Lang]: How is that what I want[?]?

SR: If you—if you stay always at home, everyone will have chance to meet you. If you are always making trip, you know, [laughter, laughs] people will find it difficult to see you. So, to be just where you should be is how to wait.

Student U [Pat Lang]: I'll work on it [laughs].

SR: So, it—it may be necessary to be patient. So there—what I mean is there is many ways of waiting [for] things. Don't think this is—should--this should be the way—way to wait. Do whatever you like.

Student U [Pat Lang]: Okay [laughter].

Student V: Docho Roshi, yesterday afternoon you gave a lecture on the Lotus Sutra. I believe that you said the Lotus Sutra describes reality to itself. And I feel that you demonstrate reality to yourself every moment, every day. Being a teacher, I know that you—I mean since you are a teacher, surely you want us to be able to see this reality that you demonstrate. But my eyes are stubbornly closed to it. Could you give a word that would help me open them?

SR: Hmm. Actually, your eyes is not closed. Your eyes is open. Even though you say so, I feel, you know, I see your eyes wide open. When you feel in that way—that you feel in that way is the proof of your wide-open eyes.

Student V: Good news. Thank you for ??? [laughter].

Student W [Paul Discoe]: Docho Roshi, if everything is time, how—how can there be any—any past or any future? And how can you get things done on time, or not have enough time to do something? This whole idea of time is it very confused?

SR: Hmm, ahh. Even so, even you're making your effort to follow the time, time is not different from what you do. What you do is actually time, even though you are—whether you are in a hurry or not. What you do—there is no time. There is nothing which could be called time, but what you do and what you see. So, time is a value[?]—time itself is Buddha, which is always with us. Whatever we do, time is with us. But we human being always try to control ourself. When we try to control ourself—means—it means that we want to feel better. And this desire is just for ourselves. Everything may have desire in its wide sense, but a human desire is very dualistic: “We should be in time.” It is only human being to separate the reality and idea of time. So, it is our destiny to control—our human destiny to control ourselves by the idea of time or by the idea of Buddha. The Buddha is necessary for a human being.

Student W [Paul Discoe]: And time is necessary too—that we must—the idea of time?

SR: Yes, yes.

Student X [DC]: Docho Roshi, life is, well, pretty difficult. That's a pretty small thing to say. I don't know what it is, so how do I accept it?

SR: The only way is to continue our practice. Without our practice there is no way to find out—to reach the realm where we have not much confusion and trouble because our way is based on the reality.

Student Y: Docho Roshi, what is the meaning of the Lotus Sutra?

SR: Lotus Sutra. If you understand what is this flower or where you are or what you are doing, you will understand the meaning of Lotus Sutra. In that way you should study Lotus Sutra. Don't think there is some special truth described in Lotus Sutra. There's no special meaning to anything—to anything.

Student Y: No special meaning in it?

SR: Em hmm.

Student Z [Rick Morton]: Docho Roshi, I don't understand what to do about the bad things I think about myself.

SR: Yeah. Maybe so. If you don't do anything, still, you know, you don't feel good.

Student Z [Rick Morton]: That's correct.

SR: And if you do, you feel, you know, also sometime good, sometime bad. So, this is a very difficult problem. Maybe only way to get out of it is to practice zazen sometime, and to do some special work sometime. And you should make best effort in each moment. That is only way. Don't think too much. Thinking will not help you.

Student AA [Chris]: Docho Roshi, before I came to Zen Center, I used to worry a lot. But things are better now [laughter].

SR: Almost all of you seem to agree with him [laughter].

Student AB: Docho Roshi, you said that there's no special meaning to the Lotus Sutra. And last night you said that Dogen said, well everyone is going to attain enlightenment, everyone will become enlightened. And we're all practicing now, so it seems like it's okay to say that to us. But if I was some businessman in San Francisco that you just happened to meet on the street, and he said: “What's the Lotus Sutra?” What would you say? [Laughter.]

SR: What would I say?

Student AB: Yeah.

SR: I may say, “That is Lotus Sutra,” but I may continue and say, “but you will not think so.” [Laughs, laughter.]

Student AB: Would you tell him that there is some special meaning to the sutra? I mean if there's—if he asks you, “Well, what will I get if I read this sutra?” What will you say?

SR: If they ask me what is Lotus Sutra...

Student AB: Yeah. Why—why read it?

SR: Why you read it? I am—you should say that “I am reading the Lotus Sutra, but Lotus Sutra is not voluminary[?]--voluminous enough. So, I want to read, or I want more voluminous Lotus Sutra than this.” [Laughs, laughter.]

[Tape was interrupted by a segment of Bishop Sumi speaking, then resumes.]

SR: Hai.

Student AC: Thank you

Student AD: Docho Roshi, at times during this training period I have felt very strong. But the feeling of weakness always returns. What can I do about this feeling of being weak?

SR: Hmm, yeah. It is not only you who—of who feels very weak. It’s all right for you—you should be very happy to feel weak with everyone [laughs, laughter].

Student AD: I would be [laughter] —I would be very happier, or much happier [laughter] if—if everyone felt strong.

SR: Oh, oh no [laughter, laughs]. When you feel weak and everyone feels strong?

Student AD: If we all felt strong together [laughter].

SR: That may be very—very dangerous situation [laughter].

Student AD: I am very grateful to you for all the help that you have given me. Thank you very much.

Student AE: Docho Roshi. The year that I have lived here at Tassajara has gone by very quickly. But it’s been a very wonderful time for growing up. But the path ahead seems to be just a dream or shadows.

SR: Yes. That is very true. We always feel that we studied—study something right now. Especially when Christmas or New Year's Day come, we feel as if we start our practice right now, or we must start something—some practice today. We always feel in that way. That is I think very good. And that is so called it beginner’s mind. We should be always beginners. First is maybe dream [laughs, laughter]. Not good enough, you may feel. That is very true.

Student AF: Docho Roshi, feeling my way through the mist, I am very grateful to have so many warm companions traveling along the way. Now the training period is ending, is there some place we can go in the sun and have a picnic? [Laughter.]

SR: Yeah. It may be good idea [laughter] to continue—as a continuation of this practice to have picnic [laughter], with this feeling—warm feeling. You—I thought you have very good taste of tongue. But you have very good feeling on your fingers [laughter].

Student AG: Docho Roshi. Seems like very long time trying to push Flag Rock just one inch up with my nose [laughter]. And it hasn’t budged, and that’s all right [laughter]. The tigers that live on the mountain occasionally growl, but that’s all right too [laughter].

SR: Is it? Is it really all right?

Student AG: [Tapping foot on floor] Heart's are beating like a drum [laughter].

SR: Okay.

Student AG: I have to say all right.

SR: Uhuh. All right!

Student AG: All right [laughter].

SR: Good.

Hmm, I shouldn’t say what you presented are good or bad, but I’m so happy to be here accepting a response to your warm feeling and good, sincere practice. This kind of practice will continue forever because your practice has the quality which will—which should—be continuously. Keep going. Thank you very much.

Source: A contemporaneous typed transcript given to the Archives by Michael Wenger in March 2002. It was not in the SFZC library's collection, and no tape is known to exist. The lecture was entered onto disk by Elizabeth Thorn. It was checked by Bill Redican on March 19, 2002, and minor editorial revisions were made at that time. Verbatim version by Peter Ford 8/2022 based on Engage Wisdom audio and transcript by Shundo David Haye.

1Probably the Lotus Sutra [note added in 2002].


File name: 68-09-00: Shosan Ceremony (Verbatim) Date changed from Fall '68 to Feb. '68, 5-26-2022, sdh. This transcript now includes 68-02-00-G which was previously listed as a separate fragment. Remvoved "(or It?) (or eye?)"; changed "Pat Long" to "Pat Lang"; all of Pat Herreshoff speaking to "Student P" 3-4-2015 by DC.

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