at the end of the year we clean up our house

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Sunday, December 29, 1968
[Date uncertain]


Next Tuesday we will have no lecture, so this will be--this lecture will be the last one for this--. In Japan at the end of the year we clean up our house and we throw old things which we do not use anymore. And we renew our equipment, even things in the--family shrine we renew it. And after cleaning our room we--we put new--not shrine but, a new sign and--which is distrib--distributed from temple like this. We take off old ones and put new ones, like this. This is--when in end of the year in the temple we have prayer for the--to control fires. You know, this is for the--what do you call it? ??? means, “take good care of fire,” it says in Japanese.

And this is--at temple--end of the year we have ceremony to read Prajnaparamita Sutra--sixty--600 volumes of Prajnaparamita Sutra. But actually we cannot read 600 for the sutra, so the priest conducting the ceremony read one--one of the--one volume of the 600 sutras. There we have one volume, one of the six-- [inaudible]??? sutra. And the other monks just turn it instead of reading [laughs]. And so the most important volume will be recited by the priest who is conducting the ceremony, and we--and you receive this kind of, you know, prayer card from the temple. That is what we do in Japan.

And, end of the year is the most busy days--busy week. We have to clean up our rooms, and if you have some debt you should pay [laughs]. Such is the same. For the--for someone to collect [laughs] his--the money he lent, and for the most people it is a time to pay debt [laughs] the debt. And--and then we--after, you know, cleaning up everything, spiritually and physically, we decorate New Year's decoration. So in the old time those things should--should be done before twelve o'clock. And after twelve o'clock there is no need for you to pay--to pay back [laughs] the money you borrowed. So the man who--who want to collect his money used lantern[?]--even after twelve o'clock, you know, if he has chosen lantern--lantern. It means it is still the same month. It's not the past because he have lantern[?]. But even [laughs] even if it is one o'clock, it is all right because is--he have lantern[?].

So usually it is pretty exciting week. This kind of custom still observed in Japan. And each one of us is--rather, you know, we enjoy this kind of activity. We understand each other--we fool ourselves in some way and enjoy the new--last day of the year. This idea is, you know, based on Buddhist way of understanding of life. Moment after moment we should renew our life, we should not stick to old idea of life, or way of life. We should renew, you know--our life day by day. Especially at the end of the year, we should completely renew our feeling and completely renew our karma. If we stick to old ideas always, or--or if you have no chance to renew it, it is rather difficult to renew your way of life. Some encouragement is necessary, you know, if you always repeating same thing over and over again. Then even though you have no feeling of sticking to old way of life, actually [laughs] you are confined in old way of life. Some excitement or some occasion is necessary. For instance, we use this kind of stick. This is to renew your practice. You know, if you become drowsy, if you don't receive it, you have no chance to get out of it. But, if you receive a stick, you know, you will have chance to [laughs] renew your practice. And in this way, you can live moment after moment. Actually--faithful to--you will be faithful to your own life.

So, “way as it is,” we say, but actually when most people say “way as it is” is not at all way as it is. Without clearing up your mind and body--without clearing your mind and without cleaning up your body physically, you will not have chance to live on each moment. So the--the big enemy for us is, you know, laziness [laughs]. If you are always lazy and drowsy, spiritually and physically lazy, you actually--you have no chance to live truthfully to yourself. That is why we practice various practices. But if you--if we stick to old way--old, old way of practice, it is not so good also. So it is necessary maybe to change our way of practice sometimes. For instance, at some monastery they start to bathe cold water from January--December 1st until December 15th. All the monks getting up about four o'clock and going to the lake and bathe--cold wash. This is not passive--this is [laughs]
just to get out of drowsy mind. And you will not catch cold, you know. Recently flu is all over, but if you make up your mind to bathe every--every morning and evening cold water, your mind is--do not accept any flu -- because you are so physically and mentally very active. So, we--we monk rather shamed of ourselves when we catch cold. Oh, lazy, lazy monk! [laughs] they will say.

Especially--it is rather difficult to take cold-water bath, and--in the morning, and more difficult one in evening [laughs]. After working, you know, so hard, and to take cold bath in the evening very--very difficult. Mentally I don't know why exactly, but anyway when you get up, you need some stimulation, naturally, but in evening usually we are not prepared for that kind of stimulation [laughs]. That is--it is so difficult to take cold bath in the evening. This kind of, you know, practice is not orthodox practice, but according to the situation of the monastery, we apply various way of practice and to give chance to renew our mind and body. I think, especially people who live in San Francisco where climate is always same, it may be necessary to--to have some pool, you know, for Zen monks to take cold baths [laughs, laughter]. Maybe exciting practice for us, and it will give pretty good stimulation for San Francisco people. We--I am busy now to manage our everyday activity, but if you want, I think you can do it, and you are young enough to do it. It doesn't mean to--like to be involved in ascetic practice. It is, you know, the purpose of those practice is to renew-- you know, life physically and spiritually. We say Zen--if we, if we are caught by the--even the idea of Zen we call--stinky zazen [laughs, laughter]. He is not fresh enough--old stinky Zen student! But if we do not have some chance to renew our practice, we will--we will--soon we will be stinky student. As if you wear same underwear one week or two weeks [laughs]. What will happen to us, it's obvious--obvious.

And so my teacher--or my master always told us: “You stinky boys, wash--wash your underwear!” [Laughs, laughter.] What he means is not just underwear, you know. And so my teacher--my master was--his, you know way, of training his students was-- disciples was pretty much--pretty different from usual masters. He did not allow me to stay Eiheiji so long time. “Two years is enough! You will become a stinky Eiheiji student! [Laughter] That's enough, you should go to Sojiji.”

And when I stayed Sojiji more than one year, and one day he appeared Sojiji, and after talking with me ten minutes: “Maybe it's time for you to leave Sojiji [laughter].” And he always put emphasis Dogen Zenji's beginner's mind. You should be always beginner, you know, whole life you should be begin. It means you should not stick to old type of practice, or any kind of practice, and you should be always new student. When you go to Rinzai temple, you know, you should be new Rinzai student. And if you go to Japan, you should be new, you know, new student from America. You should forget all about what you have studied in America. Even though--the fundamental practice is same, but we should practice the essential practice with renewed new feeling. This is important. To practice always with new fresh--freshness of the feeling is rather difficult. So, it is necessary for us to change some part of our practice.

My master didn't give me--give us any idea of what we will do next day or next week. He didn't talk about tomorrow, and it was--he was very unpredictable, you know, type of monk, and monks and priests were very much afraid of him. They couldn't guess what he had in his mind. Maybe he himself didn't have any idea, but he was always concentrated what he was doing. That is, I think, too much, but it is necessary for us to practice our way moment after moment, with our--with our best effort and a fresh mind. As we are pretty many students, so it is rather difficult to practice our way without much rules, but each one of you should make your best effort to study, you know, without--without instruction--instruction in detail, detailed instruction. You should feel as if you are studying with few people, not--you shouldn't think that we have so many students, you know. Personally, you study our way as if you are studying with--with your teacher only. I think that would mean to ignore others’ practice, but we should not be involved in group study only. This is not school--this is not school system. I want you--to understand this point more, wherever you are, you have only one teacher. We have each--each one of you are--are only disciples, disciple for teacher--for a teacher. With this spirit we should practice our way. If this point is missing, you know, we cannot practice Zen in its true sense. Originally Zen master do not have so many students. When Dogen left China, receiving transmission from Nyojo Zenji, Nyojo Zenji said to him: “After you go back to Japan, you should practice your way in remoted country with few students and keep always our practice fresh and new, and take good care of your students.” That was what he said when Dogen was leaving China. He says, "very important"--and he for--and he secluded himself in remoted country, northern part of country and built his small temple in Fukui Prefecture, where there is Eiheiji now.

Tassajara may be--at Tassajara they must have snow, but Eiheiji is lots of--at this time of the year--from this time of the year until April it is--all the building is dark because of the snow. We have to cover all building by fence--to protect building from the heavy snow. In such a remoted country he practiced his way with candlelight when winter come. That was his way.

That kind of practice is very important. Even though we are many people now, but we should not forget this spirit.

Thank you very much.

Formatted 7/10/00. Reformatted by Ray Watkins, (April, 2012) Re-transcribed from new Engage Wisdom audio 1/2022 by Peter Ford, Wendy Pirsig, and Shundo David Haye.

File name: 68-12-29: at the end of the year we clean up our house (titled by pf) (Verbatim) [Verbatim transcript not available. (Sound problem.)] Made verbatim 1/2022.

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