zazen practice and to listen to right teacher

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Monday, August 3, 1970


In our practice two important practice is zazen practice and to listen to your teacher, or right teaching. This is just like two wheels of a vehicle, you know. Without practice, you cannot understand teaching, you cannot listen to your teacher. And without practice—without listening to your teacher, your practice will be—and cannot be right practice. Right practice, by right practice we mean practice—fundamental practice from which you can start—when which various teaching will come out. So, from right practice, if you have right practice, you have already right teaching there. So, right practice is the foundation of all Buddhist activity. Right practice. It is—it cannot be compared to various practice or training. There are many ways of Zen practice. There are many practice, zazen practice, meditation practice, but our practice is, cannot be compared to other practice. I don't say which is important or which is better, but anyway without foundation, you know, various practice does not work. So, if you practice some particular practice which has no foundation, your practice—you will be eventually, you know, fall into a pit hole [laughs]. You will be caught by it, and you will lose your freedom. But if you have—and if you have the foundation to your various practice, the various practice will work and will help you. The right practice we mean that kind of foundation of practice. It is not—it is more than practice. So, when you have foundation to your practice, even though your practice is not perfect, it will help you. That is right practice. And what is right—if you want to know actually what is right practice, as I told you, it is necessary to—to practice with right teacher, who understand what is right practice.

And right practice is also foundation of our precepts—precepts. When you do not have right practice, you will hesitate to accept precepts, but if you have right practice you can accept precepts. Whatever the precepts may be, you can accept it. So, precepts for the people who have right practice is called “bodhisattva precepts,” in comparison to some other so-called-it “Hinayana practice precepts,” which is quite different. The way of observing is quite different. Last night I talked about—little bit about it. I said if you, you know, do something good, you cannot, you cannot—you have no time to do something bad. That is how you keep precepts.

Why we say “bodhisattva precepts” is—it is based on bodhisattva mind. As you know, bodhisattva is—mind is to save others, sentient—all sentient beings before, you know, you save yourself. That is bodhisattva mind. To—to save others is first, and to save ourselves is next. Or we say, bodhisattva mind. Bodhisattva mind—bodhisattva mind is spirit, to devote ourselves in saving others.

How you then, you know, how you arise bodhisattva mind will be the next point. You will ask me how you arise bodhisattva mind. You—many people ask me, you know, about this point. How they, you know, a question will be something like this, you know:

“I have various problems, and you say, you always say you should not, you know, try to attain enlightenment. You should not involved in selfish, you know, practice. If so, you know, to try to save others is also, you know, gaining idea because you have some purpose or some, you know, idea of doing something. So that will not be actually bodhisattva mind.”

Actually, we will have this kind of question always. To, you know, to practice purely you start to try to do something, to help others. But you may, you know, wonder whether you are doing something to help others or to help yourselves [laughs]. It is very difficult to know which, you know. I think you may suffer on this point a lot, as I did when I was young, you know. Whatever I tried, you know—while I am trying continually doing something, more and more, you know, I feel, you know, I lose my confidence. For an instance, you know, if you clean a restroom, you know, as your task—everyday task—

[added section below - see note at end]
You get up before your friend get up, and you clean your—our restroom. So, that no one—if you—why we get up so early is to, you know, to keep our practice pure, so that we might—may not be involved in selfish practice, you know. So, if, you know, no one can see our practice, then if my—only my mind is pure, you know, the pure practice will go on. But when you see, you know, when someone see you doing something, you know, immediately some conflict arise, especially if he is your teacher [laughs]. You don’t know how to feel. The feeling is very complicated. In one way, you know, you will—will be glad to be found out by your [laughs] teacher, and on the other hand, you may feel very bad when you, you know, feel—when you have a kind of good feeling or joy of being found out by someone, you know. “Now, [laughs] what you are doing?”

This kind of problem is a problem you have always. So, it is not so easy to arise, you know, bodhisattva mind. It is not so easy at all. Why it is difficult is, you know, because you do not have right teacher or because you do not have exactly how you arise bodhisattva mind. Answer is very simple, [laughs] very simple, but I think it is good for you to suffer [laughter, laughs] on this point, or else, you know, your practice will be very, very superficial. Of course, you know, try to save others is a bodhi—you may say bodhisattva practice, but if something impure, you know, element in it, you cannot have confidence in your practice. I know many students, you know, who are—who have this kind of, you know, conflict or problem.

Anyway, my think I have to explain, since I started to talk about this point. Dogen Zenji says, mind—What is mind? There are three kinds of mind. But usually by mind we mean thinking mind: thinking mind is mind. Usually, you know, and with this ??? or thinking mind, we must arise bodhisattva mind. This is very valuable, and this is a great help for us, you know. Usually, you know, you may think after you attain enlightenment, when your mind is very clear, and when you have no more dualistic thinking mind, you will arise bodhisattva mind [laughs]. But Dogen Zenji did not say so. He clearly said there are three kinds of mind. First of all, we have thinking mind, dualistic mind. With this dualistic mind you should arise bodhisattva mind.

With—why you have, you know, why you are confused in doing—in helping others and why you suffer, you know, when you reflect on yourself, on your mind is, you know, because it is almost impossible to be free from dualistic, you know, thinking mind and emotional, you know, and superficial mind. But Dogen Zenji says, you know, with that mind you should arise bodhisattva mind. Yesterday and the day before yesterday night, I told you whatever, you know, your practice may be, that is true practice. Whatever your mind situation, you know, may be with that mind you can arise perfect bodhisattva mind, he said. You know, this is why Dogen is Dogen [laughs]. This is why we must have Dogen as a Zen master. Sometime what he says is quite unusual. And so unusual that you may be confused, you know. What he—is he saying, you know, with dualistic mind you should arise bodhisattva mind.

Then why do we practice zazen? [Laughs.] There will not be no need to practice zazen, if you—it is possible to arise bodhisattva mind with dualistic thinking mind. If it is possible for us, you know, to arise bodhisattva mind and to receive bodhisattva precepts, then, you know, you should receive it, even though you have—your practice is not so good, and you are involved in always dualistic thinking mind by emotional activities.

Actually, you know, our practice is as I always repeat, you know, our practice is not same practice—some practice which you can explain completely, which is—our practice is something beyond our understanding. And he says, bodhisattva mind—how will we arise bodhisattva mind is to know the teaching that everything changes. Everything changes—it’s absolutely true, [laughs] you cannot deny it [laughs, laughter]. So, you should know completely, you know, the—accept completely that teaching: everything changes.

So, you know, originally things are changing. So, you know, no one can say in its dualistic—in its ordinary sense, I can observe this precepts, forever [laughs]. You cannot say so, anyway. Even though you attain enlightenment, that is not possible. No one can be sure about anything, and, you know, what—but how is it then possible to say, “I will observe it,” is, you know, moment after moment. At least on that moment, you should say, “Yes, I will.”

On that moment—that moment include its own past and future. That moment will be extended to four directions and past and future. That is also true. So, as you practice zazen, you know, you should say, “I will do.” Without, you know, being involved in it—the doubt whether you can observe it forever or not. It is—there's no need from the beginning, you know, [laughs] to say, you know, “No, I cannot.” You cannot say so. When you, you know, really seeing things as it is, there is no position for you to say, “No.” The only way is, “Yes, I will.” That's all what you can do.

To understand [hits something] evanescence of life will be at the same time how to arise—how to arise bodhisattva mind. Bodhisattva mind is not, you know, dualistic thinking mind. This point is also Dogen Zenji’s point right now. Dualistic, you know, confused mind is not bodhisattva mind, but our—even our confused mind is good enough to receive—to have inspiration from the truth, from the Buddha, toward you[?]. So, when you, you know, your dualistic mind receive that inspiration, at that time you are Buddha. You cannot say, “No. I will—I will not kill,” you know. And it—that is very true: you cannot kill. But it does not mean, you know, in its ordinary sense whether you will kill or not.

And continuously, you know, you, moment after moment, if you said, “I will not,” then that is how you keep our precepts. So, in short, to—to have always bodhisattva mind is how you keep our precepts. And if you receive our precept in that way, that is bodhisattva precept.

When you work on that—on your garden, there may be various insects, you know, [laughs]. What will you do? [Laughter.] If you understand, you know, what you are doing is bodhisattva activity, you know, then sometime you will kill. By killing insects, you know, you will go to hell [laughs, laughter]. But it doesn't matter [laughter, laughs]. You will go to hell with insects [laughter, laughs]. You will have many friends [laughter, laughs]. You are stealing our vegetables, you know, so I have to kill you. But because I—because of killing you, I may go to hell. Because of stealing our vegetable you may go to hell [laughs, laughter]. Let’s go to hell [laughs, laughter]! That is bodhisattva precepts [laughter, laughs].

Because you want to be perfect Buddha, you know, instead of bodhisattva, you have problem [laughs, laughter]. This is, you know, bodhisattva precepts. So, when you receive precepts, first of all you—what you should know is everything is ending. And next point is—this precept is bodhisattva precept—by observing it, we will help others, first of all.

So, whether you kill fly or insect or not is up to the situation [laughs]. No one wants to kill anything, but to save other, you know, to fulfill your duty sometime you must. When you're at Tassajara, when—when you are taking care of your garden, you know, if you come back, when [laughs] when you see many insects [laughs] to zendo and practice zazen [laughs] we can know, we cannot save anything at Tassajara [laughs].

So, all of us will get into trouble. He may be okay because he didn't kill anything, so he’s perfect [laughs]. But all the people because of that, will get into difficulties. That is not bodhisattva. That is not true spirit of precepts.

Bodhisattva mind—someone may say, you know, “Sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to save them. If it is innumerable [laughs], how is it possible to save them?” But bodhisattva way continues forever. So, bodhisattva will go with bodhisattva mind forever. This kind of mind is not, of course, our thinking mind. It is beyond our thinking mind. But, you know, even in our dualistic thinking mind, bodhisattva mind, you know, like a moon on the water, will reflect on it—on our mind. That is so called it, you know, kanno doko.1 It is, you know, or you may say in future[?] or sometime, you may say inspiration[?]. You're—even in confused mind, Buddha is there. Even in muddy, you know, wavy water, moon will be there.

So, if bodhisattva mind reject muddy, wavy water, that is not, you know, bodhisattva mind which include—which, you know, trying to save everything, whether it is good or bad. Anyway bodhisattva mind will make his effort to save life[?]. And because it is almost impossible that—that bodhisattva mind will continue with our teaching[?] forever, and it will not stop. It will incessantly working on everything. So, that kind of mind of course is not our dualistic small mind. But relationship between our mind and this mind is very, you know, close. You cannot separate.

The moon in the sky, the moon in the water, is the moon[?]. It has same quality. Although it is small, even a Buddha—bodhisattva mind of the moon is there. Dogen Zenji point out this point.

So Bodhidharma, you know, at first did not accept his disciple’s practice. But after, you know, trying very hard, and mind become—or he gave up, you know, practice of—perfection, you know. Then, okay he’s pretty good. His practice is mature enough. So he didn’t say anything.

“Okay, when you understand what I mean, you are my disciple. But does your practice, you know, has time to stop it? Stop or does it continue forever?”

So, disciple said, “Of course, it will continue forever. There is no other way. So, anyway, I have to go this way.”

And bodhisattva [Bodhidharma] said, “Then who are you? You are my disciple? Or you are deluded, you know? You are not my disciple because you cannot observe our way completely. So, you are—you may not be my disciple, but you are always trying to follow my way. So, maybe [laughs] you are, or maybe not [laughs]. You cannot say Yes or No.”

So, he said, you know, “I know myself very well after trying so hard, and there's no other way for me to go. That is me[?]. So, I cannot say who I am, your disciple or not your disciple. I cannot say which.”

And Bodhidharma said, “That is the way all the bodhisattva, all the patriarchs, how they observe our way.” [Laughs.] That is bodhisattva way.

So, we—if it—we call it by name of precepts or, you know, as a way of life that is, you know, bodhisattva precept. And you can say that is way-seeking mind or bodhisattva way.

Bodaishin—bodaishin—mind. Bodai is, you know, tao, way-seeking mind.

He—Dogen Zenji knows still you may not understand. So, he [laughs] start to, you know, started to write many pages after that. [Possible gap in audio.]

How things changes, you know. How, you know, useless to say forever or right now, or today or one month, one week or month, one months. To—for Dogen Zenji doesn't mean anything. One day, one week, one month, one year, 10 year, it doesn't make any difference for him. When things changes so rapidly and constantly, it does not make any sense. I'm, you know, 66 years old [laughs] but I don't feel I’m so old [laughs]. You know, you—so, you know, sixty-six years is, you know, just like this, and for you [snaps fingers] maybe [laughs] twenty years or thirty years maybe like this, same thing.

And in some sutras how—how time goes fast, how fast time go is with—with various parable. You may say a light is—in—in scripture said so light of the sun and moon is going very fast like this [hisses], you know. Obviously, it is we, you know, count. When we count the speed, you know, speed of light is zero—zero or absolute. But in scripture says, there's something which is controlling the light [laughs]. That speed should be faster than the speed of light. And there is some god who is controlling [laughs] over—something which is controlling light [laughs]. That, you know, spirit must be faster than that. And, you know, they, you know, name various god who is controlling over various god, one after another. And it says, actually its things changes, you know, faster than that [laughs]. So, you will give up, you know, all mark [laughs].

And so, we shouldn't say, “I can keep it” or “I cannot.” So, best thing is, “Yes, I will.” That is best answer. You say, you know, you cannot say so. If you say—if you are able to say, you cannot say, why don't you say, “Yes”? That is much easier. And that is much—that word is very truthful to yourself. “Yes, I cannot.” No one can say so [laughter, laughs]. But, “Yes, I will, right now at least,” that is easy, you know. It is very true. But “I cannot,” you know, when you say, “I cannot,” you should take the responsibility.

How you carry on that responsibility of Great Buddha. It is, you know, [laughs] “I cannot say,” you know. So, the only thing will be give you a big slap [slapping sound] [laughs]. Throw him in the ocean [laughter].

[Knocking sound.] “I cannot say,” you know, “I cannot do that.” It's very difficult words. “Yes, I can,” is—if you understand how things is going and what you are doing, it is much truthful to you to say “Yes.” But people thinks if he say, “No,” you know, he thinks he is very truthful to himself [laughs]. Opposite! You may understand how arrogant we are when we say, “I cannot.”

That is, you know, how we accept precepts and how we arise way-seeking mind with this, you know, foolish mind, small mind. This is our only one way for us. After, you know, great efforts of various teachers of various school this is the conclusion.

You may say Zen is quite, you know, special. Zen teaching is special teaching, among all the teaching in Buddhism. So, we have some special way of observing precepts, but there's no other way. Dogen Zenji was great, you know. As a Zen master, after practicing so hard without doing anything, completely devoted his 40—54 years of life and come to this conclusion. And wrote about it so that, you know, Zen students should not have any wrong idea about this point. So, when we come to this point, there's no Soto or no Rinzai or no Shin school or no Zen school.

To say, you know, to explain in this way is not so, maybe, not so difficult. But the more you try hard to—to be truthful to yourself, the more you will find out how true this teaching is. So, you know, I'm not fooling you, so you—you should say—you should just say, “Yes, I will” [laughs]. That is the secret of observing our precepts, and that is, you know, how you follow our rules. Then you will be polished[?] up. Day by day, your practice will be mature.


1 The direct and immediate connection and interaction between teacher and pupil in Zen (

Major section added from Engage Wisdom audio and transcribed by Maciej Plonka, Peter Ford, and Wendy Pirsig, 2/2022.


File name: 70-08-03: zazen practice and to listen to right teacher (titled by pf) (Verbatim) Changed quotation to include 2 sentences instead of 1 “Sentient them?” 7/9/2022 DC.

Audio & Other Files | Lecture Transcript List