True Happiness and Renewal of Practice at Year's End

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Saturday, December 21, 1968
San Francisco


Everyone seek for our true happiness maybe, but our happiness cannot be true happiness if the happiness is—is not followed by perfect composure. The—usually our happiness is—does not stay long. Happiness is mostly just very short time, and it will be lost in next moment when you have it. So, sometime we will think rather not to have it, you know, because after happiness usually followed by sorrow, and this is, I think, everyone experience it in our everyday life.

Buddha, when he escaped—can you hear me?—when he escaped from his castle, he felt this kind of—he had this kind of happiness. And after repeating this kind of life in his luxurious life in the castle, he at last forsake all of those—this kind of life. So, we say he felt—he started his religious trip because of evanescence, because he felt evanescence of life. That is why he started study of Buddhism. I think we have to think about this point more. I think everyone seek for happiness. That is all right, I think. That is all right, but the point is what kind of—how to seek for happiness is the point. But whether our way, whether the happiness we seek for is something which we can—is it something which is possible to have it?

Here—here it’s—we have to see his teaching more carefully. He taught us Four Noble Truths, and the—first of all he taught us this world is world of suffering. When we seek for, you know, suffering—happiness—to say, you know, this world is world of suffering is very, you know—you may be very much disappointed with his teaching, world of suffering. This world anyway is world of suffering, he says. And he continues. Why we suffer is this world is world of transiency, everything changes. And when everything changes, we seek for some permanent thing; we want everything to be permanent. Especially we—when we have something good or when we see something beautiful, or we want it to be always in that way. But actually, everything changes. So that is why we suffer. So, if we seek for happiness—even though we seek for happiness it is not possible to have it because we are expecting something to be always constant, when everything changes. So are they[?]—so naturally we must have suffer. So, so far, according to his teaching, we are—there is no other way for us to live in the world of suffering—that is the only way, you know, to exist in this world.

Then it is not possible to obtain eternal happiness, or eternal composure of life. There we have some way to—to have eternal composure of life or happiness of life. But first of all, if we want to have composure of life, we have to change our view, our way of observing things. To observe things, you know, as it is, we say, but to observe things as it is for—for usual sense and to observe things as it is in our way is not same. This point is not truly realized by even a Buddhist. Things as it is, you know, way as it is. What is way as it is? Usually things as it is means, you know, to observe things as if something, you know, exist in that way, constantly, forever. You say, “Here it’s a incense bowl,” you know. But this is already mistakable, you know. There is no such thing exist. This is always changing. This is bronze, but even so this is changing, and the incense in it, you know, always changing. In ten minutes there will be no more incense, but if it’s very good incense you will think, you know, as if something exist—not forever—you may not think in that way, but at least you think this is—this incense exist and fire exist in that way, but the fire is not exactly the same fire as you observe this fire. This is actually, you know—instead of combustion, it is not red—red fire in—as you—as you see it. It is constant, you know, repetition of combustion—like this—there is electricity, you know, but that light is always, you know—current of back and forth, this way, you know, and doesn't exist in that way, but we see there is constantly electric light, like that. But that is not true. So, we—Buddhist call this kind of naive way of looking—observing things is aspect of being because we, you know, think everything exist in this way. Aspect of being. And when you understand everything changes and everything is changing, like electric light or fire, we call this kind of view, is view of—view of non-being. No such thing exist, so view of non-being. And for a Buddhist, for you maybe if you think[?] for happiness—if someone who has a view of we seek for happiness, it means that he is seeking for something which is impossible. And if you have the view of non-being, you will not care for anything, you know. If you accept things in that way, you know, you will be very—your way of life is very empty, and did[?] find out any meaning of life at all. And our way of observing things is both, you know, based on view of being and non-being, both. And we know that view of being is too naive, and view of non-being is too—logical—or too critical. Our view of—true view of life should be both. View of being and view of non-being. This is our way.

But view of being and view of non-being is not—is not possible to accept, you know. We can accept one of the two, but we cannot accept two of those viewpoint. And here there is another problem for us. But when you faced—when you face this second problem, you will be said to be a Buddhist. And you will give up to rely on your intellectual understanding of teaching, and you will start our practice to accept this kind of paradox.

Recently I asked you and I want you to reflect on why you seek for, you know—why you study Buddhism. Because I think this point is not—if this point is not fully understood, it may be difficult to put whole spiritual and physical power in our practice. Usually maybe in your practice without thinking about our life more deeply and you try to if you have problem, you will try to solve it by means of practice or teaching, but if you really think about whether your view of life is right or wrong, whether you are trying to attain something which is possible to attain, or you are doing—you are trying to accomplish something which is not possible to accomplish, then you will not be sincere enough to practice our way because you are always fascinated by some teaching or candy, you know. We don't know—what we study in intellectual way is very shallow, but what you actually experience it is very deep.

When—after—when I came to America, you know, I found very, you know—I found—special, some special food for me, you know, and I enjoy it. Since then I’m—I enjoy it very much—that was potato [laughs, laughter]. Your potato was—is delicious to me, [laughter] but I don't know [laughs] if it is so for you or not. I don't know, you know, what kind of nourishment potato has. I haven't studied anything about potato, but I like it very much [laughs]. The reason why I like it—I figure out—I don't know why, you know—when I was in Japan, of course, I liked it, but I didn't think I like it potato so much! [Laughs.]

But after I came to America, having very, you know—various food, and I haven't not much chance to eat potatoes, [laughs] maybe once a month or so. When I was invited for Thanksgiving, you know, I had mashed potato—that was delicious [laughter]. But usually, I haven't the mashed potato, or even baked potato. At Tassajara I told Ed I like [laughter, laughs] potato [laughs]. Sometime, you know, as we have various food, you know—various kinds of food, so Ed cannot give me always potato—give us [laughs] always potato [laughter]. So only once in a while we have—I had a potato.

As soon as I come back to San Francisco, you know, I go into the store—grocery store and buy three or four potatoes [laughs]. And as it takes pretty long time to cook it, I, you know, cut it [laughter] and fried it [laughs, laughter]. My boy doesn't like it, but I like it. My wife doesn't like it so much [laughter, laughs]. So, I cook it just for—for myself [laughter]. Do you know why? The potato was—when I was young I—my hometown produced a lot of potatoes, so I was eating potatoes always when I was a boy. So that is why I like it, you know. When I was eating, I didn't like it so much, you know, because I had it every—almost—not every day, but four times more a week.

This kind of experience, you know, characterized our character. I think you may not like zazen so much, but [laughs] you think this is good, so you may practice it. But you may not realize how much progress you made in your zazen practice. Some may do, but most of you don't, I’m afraid. But that is all right. This kind of experience which is not just reading or listening to lecture and something which you experience, both physically and spiritually, without thinking about it, without trying to find out the meaning of it, beyond our intellectual understanding, to practice our way without any gaining idea. To practice our way is valuable, and you will have real power of digesting things.

In Lotus Sutra, as you know, in Chapter Three, Buddha told Shariputra, you may not know, you know, what you—you have done before. You will not remember what you did in your former life or even in this life. You will—you may not remember all of it, but, he says, you have been practicing our way for so long time. That is why now you have attained enlightenment. I know that, but you may not know it—why you have attained enlightenment.

I ask you, you know, why you came here, you know, so many times [laughs]. I think you don't know why you came here, but there is some reason, you know, why you came here. You didn't come just, you know, by curiosity. Why you came here is, I don't think possible to figure out. But there must be some reason.

This kind of reason—you practice your way is so-called-it—there is no other way to say, so we say, “Your buddha-nature, you know, seek for buddha.” Buddha seek for buddha. But this is very, you know, mystic way of putting it, but [laughs] there is no other way to say it. So, we say, buddha-nature seek—seek for buddha-nature.

We have various Buddhist philosophy, and we have a lot of teaching to study, but Buddhism is not actually philosophy or teaching. Buddhism is always within ourselves and—and always helping—helping us. But we do not—when we are not realize it—when we don't realize it, that is so-called-it suffering. Or when we live in the realm of good or bad, right or wrong, we lose our meaning of life. Only when we do something, we practice with right understanding, whatever you do that is our practice. Because we are so intellectual being, it is necessary, you know, to—to be free from our reasoning or our intellect. That is necessary. And instead of being caught by intellectual mind, we should seek for something more, and we have to rely on way things goes and the way we live without—not without any reason. Here we—we are practicing—the Indian way or Chinese way or Japanese way—maybe you may feel in that way. But actually, there is no special way. Our way is not just for Japanese or Chinese or Indian people. This is for everyone. We sit in cross-legged position, but if you think just cross-legged position is Zen, that is big mistake.

If you want to practice our way, we should free our mind from intellectual, you know, or conscious activity in term of right or wrong, or good or bad. Whatever it is we should try it, and we should have taste of it through direct experience. Not just, you know, feeling or thinking, but direct experience. That is zazen practice.

So many people, you know, here practicing our way, I feel a great responsibility, you know, [laughs] as a teacher, you know. If I am not here maybe you will not come here. Because I am here, you know, you come here and spend all day in our practice. But if you misunderstand—if you have misunderstanding in our practice, it will not work at all. It is quite natural for us to think some result or effect when—as long as you do something, but our practice is something different from that kind of activity. Just—we practice our way just to have [audio ends abruptly here].

[Tape turned over. But nothing follows in transcript. Check SR-68-12-24 to see if it is the tail end of this lecture.-- WKR] Formatted 8/28/00.]
[Notes from a duplicate version labeled 69-12-21-B.]
This transcript was a retyping of the existing City Center transcript. It was not verbatim. No tape was available. The City Center transcript was entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. It was reformatted by Bill Redican (10/25/01). Verbatim version based on Engage Wisdom audio by Peter Ford, July 2023.

File name: 68-12-21: True Happiness and Renewal of Practice at Year's End (Verbatim)

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