Our Everyday Life Is Like A Movie

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Sunday, March 15, 1970
San Francisco


I think most of you are rather curious about what is Zen. But Zen is actually our way of life, and zazen practice is actually as-- like as you set your watch-- alarm, maybe. Unless you set your alarm, alarm clock will not serve the purpose.

So it is necessary for us to start our activity from some standpoint-- to some ground or we must have-- every day we must have starting point. Where to start is most important thing. The sun arise at certain time and setting at certain time. And the sun, you know, always repeats same thing. And we do too [laughs, laughter]. But we do not feel in that way, you know. We-- our life is not so organized, and we don't know even how important it is to-- where to know where to start our life. Zen student start our life from zazen practice. We come back to zero and start from zero. We have various activity, and how our activity arise from zero is most important thing to know, to feel, or to realize.

Usually, I think, most people practice zazen to attain something, to achieve something. But more important thing is to start, you know, to start our everyday activity-- to know where to start to everyday activity and to know how to practice zazen. When we-- before actually you practice zazen, you know, or at the moment you decided to sit, it means that you, you know, already started to set your alarm. And when you have that kind of confidence or you have made that kind of decision and start to zazen, that is zero.

And during zazen, sometime, you will hear the bird singing. That is something arise in your practice. In the same way, in our everyday life, many things will arise. But if you know where, you know-- if you know where things-- from where those things happens, you will not be disturbed by it. Because [laughs] you don't know, you know, how it happen, you lose your confidence in your life. You know, if you-- if you know how things happens to you-- ”Oh!”-- you know. And the moment something happens you will be ready for that: “Oh, something arising”-- [laughs]-- and as if your-- like you watch-- watch the sunrise: “Oh, the sun is just coming up.”

You know, anger, for instance-- sometime you will be angry. But anger actually doesn't come all of a sudden. It comes, you know, very slowly [laughs] actually, but when you feel it comes all of sudden. That is real anger. But when you know [laughing] how it comes-- ”Oh! Anger is coming-- anger is arising in my mind”-- that is not anger. May be anger. People may say he is angry, but actually he is not angry. If you know, you know, you are almost started to crying-- ”Oh, I am crying next minute, two minutes, three minutes” [laughs]-- ”Oh, I started crying”-- that is not crying.

If you know what is zazen, you know, what is the practice, you will accept things as you accept various images in your sitting zazen. So in our zazen the most important thing is to have big mind and to accept things in your practice. And even try not to, you know, observe things how it happens to your mind.

If you practice zazen to attain some stage or enlightenment, that zazen-- like-- the man who practice that kind of zazen is-- will be the same as a man who is, you know, using alarm without setting it. It will go anyway [laughs], you know, go and go and go, until you-- until it comes to-- to some, you know, its end. It will go anyway [laughs], but, you know, it doesn't make much sense.

When you sit every morning it makes sense. You know what time it is. To know what time it is is the most important thing for us in our everyday life. To know what you are doing is the most important thing. What kind of effort you are doing and what kind of situation you are now-- that is the most important thing.

Our everyday life is like a movie, you know, which is going on wide screen, you know [laughs]. But most people may be interested in screen-- picture on the screen without realizing there is a screen [laughs, laughter]. So, you know, when, you know, you don't see anymore, you don't-- when the movie stops, you will be, you know-- when the movie stops, before it come to end maybe [you may say], “I must come again tomorrow evening” [laughs]. “I will come and see it.” And in that way, what you see is, you know, just, you know-- what you are interested in is the movie on the screen. And because you think it, it stops. You have, you know, some-- sometime you expect something for tomorrow or if-- or you will be discouraged because you don't know the screen. But if you realize-- if there is a screen, because there is screen in the movie theater-- anyway-- someone come and show you some more picture. So, you know, the most-- most important thing is to have screen in your mind [taps on something repeatedly], and that screen should be white.

The scr- -- if the screen is colorful [laughs], you know, colorful enough to attract people [laughs, laughter], screen will not, you know, serve for the purpose. But most important thing is to have screen and to have-- not colorful-- to have plain screen, white-- pure white screen. That is the most important thing. But most people are not interested in pure white screen [laughs, laughter]. It is, I think, good thing to be excited by seeing movie. It is good, you know. But why you can enjoy the movie is, you know, to some extent you know that is movie. That is not actual, you know-- actually that kind of thing is not going.

So you have, you know-- even though you have no idea of screen, but you have-- your interest is based on, you know, some understanding of screen or machine. And you know that is something artificial. So you can enjoy it. You can enjoy something which you should enjoy, not more than that. That is how we enjoy our life. If you have no idea of screen or machine, you know, perhaps you cannot see the movie. You will do-- always do like this [laughs, laughter] [gestures: probably hiding face]. “Oh no, no, no!”

So zazen practice is, you know, necessary to know what is-- what kind of screen you have and to-- to enjoy our life as if you enjoy the movie in theater. How can you do it [is] because you have screen here [taps three times]. And you are not afraid of screen [laughs], or you don't, you know, or you do not have any particular feeling for the screen-- just-- that is just a white, you know, screen, that's all. So you are not afraid of your life at all, but, you know, you enjoy something to be afraid of [laughs]. You enjoy something, you know, which makes you angry, which-- or which makes you cry. And you enjoy cry and anger too.

But if you have no idea of screen, you know, even you will be afraid of even enlightenment. “What is it? Oh, my!” [Laughs, laughter.] If someone attained enlightenment, you know, you may ask him what kind of experience you had when you had enlightenment. “Enlightenment is this kind of experience.” “Oh, no! [Laughs.] That is not for me,” you may say.

But that is just movie, you know, something which you should enjoy. But if you want to enjoy the movie, you should know that is the combination of, you know, film and light and white screen. And most important thing is to have plain white screen. That is actually not something which you should attain, but which you have always. But why you don't have it-- you don't feel you don't have it is your mind is too busy, too busy to see, to realize it.

So once in a while, you know, you should stop all of your activity and you should make your white screen-- you make yourself sure that you have white screen. That is, you know, zazen. So that is not something to attain, but something [laughs] you must find out by practice. That is, you know, foundation of all our everyday life and foundation of all our meditation practice. Without this kind of foundation, you know, your practice will not work. All the instructions you will-- you have in our practice is to have a clean white screen as much as you can. Always, you know, it is not pure white because of various attachment to it, because of some stain previous made-- previously made for it.

We say to practice zazen is just to-- just-- when we practice zazen we are like a baby in her mother's bosom [laughs]. That is, you know, our zazen. You have no idea of anything. You are quite relaxed, but, you know, is difficult to have complete relaxation in your usual posture. That is why we take some certain posture.

This kind of instruction is necessary, and this kind of instruction is the result of various experiences of many and many people in past. And they, you know, found out this is much better than the other posture, than standing up or lying down. So according to some-- under some instruction with this kind of understanding, if you practice zazen, it will work. Whatever practice it may be, it will work. But if you do not have, or if you do not trust your own pure white paper, you cannot, you know, practice. Your practice will not work.

Thank you very much.
Source: City Center transcript. Entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. Transcript checked against tape and made verbatim by Bill Redican (12/29/99).


File name: 70-03-15: Our Everyday Life Is Like A Movie Not Always So, p. 49, (Verbatim)

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In Wind Bell, Vol. 32, issue 1, 1998