Ordinary Mind, Buddha Mind

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Sunday, March 30, 1969


[The point of] -- my talk is just to give you some help in your practice. So it is just help, you know. So there's, as I always say, there is no need for you to remember what I said as something definite, you know. I'm just trying to help you, so it is just support of your [laughs] practice. So if you stick to it, it means that you stick to the support-- not, you know, tree itself. You know, a tree, when it is strong enough, it may want some support. But the most important one is the tree itself, not support.

I have, you know, I am one tree, and each one of you are a tree of itself. And by itself, you should, you know, stand up. And when one tree stand up by itself, we call that tree a buddha. In other word, when you, you know, practice zazen in its true sense, you are really buddha. So buddha and tree is one, in that sense. It may be sometime we call it a tree; sometime we call it a buddha. “Buddha” or “tree” or “you” is many names of one buddha.

When you sit, you know, you are independent from various being, and you are related to various being. And when you have perfect composure in your practice, it means that you include everything. You are not just you. You are whole world or whole cosmos, and you are a buddha. So when you sit, you are ordinary man, and you are buddha. So in this sense, you are both ordinary man, ordinary man, and buddha. So you are not just ordinary man-- ordinary man. Before you sit, you know, stick to the idea of “you” or idea of self. That is sheer [fear?] old [?] ordinary man. But when you sit, you are both, you know, ordinary man and buddha. So you are not the same being. When you sit you are not same being before you sit. Do [laughs] you understand? Because, when you sit, you are ordinary man and buddha.

You may say it is not possible to be ordinary and holy [laughs]. You may think so. When you think so, your understanding is, we say, heretic understanding or one-sided understanding. We should understand everything, not just from one standpoint. We call someone who understand things from just one side, we call him “tamban-kan.” Tamban-kan in Chinese or Japanese means “a man who carry a board on his shoulder.” Because he carry a big, you know, board on his shoulder this way, he cannot [laughs] see the other side [laughs]. He is always, you know, carrying big board on his shoulder. Almost all the people are carrying big board [laughter, laughs], so he cannot see the other side. He thinks he is just ordinary man, but, you know, if he take off the board, he will understand, “Oh, I am buddha, too [laughs]. How come to be a buddha and ordinary man? It is amazing,” he may say. That is enlightenment.

So when you experience enlightenment, or when you are enlightened, you will understand things more freely. You don't mind whatever people call you. “Ordinary man.” “Okay, I am ordinary man [laughs].” “You are buddha?” “Yes, I am buddha,” you know. How come to be a buddha and ordinary man?” “Oh, I don't know why, but actually I am buddha and ordinary man.” [Laughs.] Doesn't matter. Whatever they say [laughs], that is all right.

The buddha, in its true sense, is not just different, special one from ordinary man. So ordinary man, in its true sense, is not someone who is not holy or who is not buddha. This is complete understanding of ourselves. With this understanding, if we practice zazen [laughs], if we practice zazen, that is true zazen. You will not be bothered by anything. Whatever you hear, whatever you see, that is okay. Actually, but before you have this kind of actual feeling, of course it is necessary to be accustomed to our practice. Although intellectually we understand ourselves, but if we haven't actual feeling with it, then it is not so, you know, powerful. And so that is why you must keep on our practice. If you keep practicing our way, naturally, you know, you will have this understanding and this feeling-- actual feeling, too.

Even though we use-- we can explain what is Buddhism, if you do not have the actual feeling with it, we, you know, cannot call him real Buddhist. Only when you, you know, your personality is characterized [by this] kind of feeling we call him a Buddhist. How we, you know, characterize ourselves by this kind of understanding or practice is always, you know-- it is necessary, you know, for us to be always concentrated on this point.

It is rather difficult to explain how to be concentrated on this point. There are many koans and saying on this point. And those saying looks like very different, but [laughs] actually they are all the same. Ordinary mind is tao, you know. Ordinary mind is tao, you know. Even though we are doing quite usual things, whenever we do something, that is actually Buddha's activity-- Buddha's activity, but our activity [laughs], you know. Ordinary mind is tao. Buddha's mind, Buddha's activity, and our activity are not different.

Someone may say our activity is originated or based on Buddha's mind. And Buddha's mind is “such and such” is Buddha's mind, and the “so and so” is ordinary mind. You may, you know, say various explanation [laughs], but there is no need, you know, to explain in that way. Whatever we do, you know, if we, you know, do something we cannot say, “I am doing something,” you know, because there is no one independent from, separated from, the others. When we do [thumps stick on table] something, you know, it makes sound [laughs]. What is the sound? [Taps stick once per word.] When I say something, you are hearing it. So I cannot do, you know, anything by myself, just for myself. That is actually what we are doing, so I cannot say I am doing something. Everyone-- if someone do something, everyone is cooperated. And everyone will do something. So there is no explanation [laughs], actually, you know. So just [thumps stick] minute-- moment after moment [thumps stick], we should continue this kind of activity, which is Buddha's activity.

But you cannot say this is just Buddha's activity, because you are [thumps stick] doing actually [laughs]. You may say then, I don't know what I-- who is doing what. But why you say, “Who is doing what?” you know. You wanted to limit your activity, you want to intellectualize your activity, that's all, you know. So before you say something, the actual [thumps stick] activity is here. That is, you know, actually who we are. We are Buddha, and we are each one of us [laughs].

Our activity is cosmic activity and personal activity. So there is no need to explain what we are doing. When you want to explain it, that is all right, but we should not think if we cannot understand it, you know, because of we-- because it is impossible to understand it you should not feel uneasy. You know, actual you are here, right here. So before you don't [thumps stick] understand yourself, you are you, you know. After you understand it, you are not you anymore [laughs].

But usually you stick to who is not you, which is not you, and you ignore, you know [laughs], the reality. And you feel uneasy with the reality, and you feel something, some satisfaction, you know, which is not real. As Dogen Zenji said, you know, we human being attach to something which is not real and forget all about which is real [laughs]. That is actually what we are doing. If you realize this point, you will have perfect composure in yourself, and you can trust, you know, yourself. Whatever happen to you, it doesn't matter. You can trust yourself.

That belief or that trust is not usual trust or usual belief in [that] which is not true, [that] which is not real. So when, you know, you are able to sit without, you know, being attached to any image or any sound, with open mind, that is true practice. And that you can do that means you are [have] already absolute freedom from everything.

Right now I am put emphasis on, you know, one side of the truth. But it is all right with you to have, you know, to enjoy your life moment after moment because you are not enjoy your life as something which is concrete and eternal. Our life is momentary, and, at the same time, each moment, you know, include its own past and future. Next moment will include its own past and future. In this way, our momentary and eternal life will continue. This is, you know, how we lead our everyday life, how we enjoy our everyday life, and how we get freedom from various difficulties. How we not suffer from difficulties and how we enjoy our life, moment after moment, is our practice, based on true understanding.

I was in bed for a long time, and I was thinking about those things, you know. I am just practicing zazen in bed [laughs, laughter]. I should enjoy my bed [laughs]. Sometime it was difficult, but [laughs, laughter] if it is difficult, I laughed at myself. “Why is it so difficult?” [Laughs, laughter.] “Why don't you enjoy,” you know, “your difficulty?” [Laughs.] That is, I think, our practice.

Thank you very much.
Source: City Center transcript. Entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. Verbatim transcript (checked against tape) by Bill Redican 7/14/00.

File name: 69-03-30: Ordinary Mind, Buddha Mind Not Always So, p. 58, (Verbatim)

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In Wind Bell, Vol. 30, issue 1, 1996