Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Friday, September 8, 1967

...a question. So, this is a very difficult question because this question covers quite a good part of our teaching. So, this evening I want to make it clear as much as possible according to the, our teaching, not only Zen Buddhist teaching, but also Buddhism in general. In, in Prajna Paramita Sutra, there were, there were statement, there's no ignorance. Here it come to birth and death— no ignorance and no birth and death. Means—it means, twelve links of the teaching of inter-dependency. And, this teaching, it may be—if I explaining more clearly, you will have a pretty good understanding of it. And this—that is enough. I must explain it from a—a viewpoint of Zen. But, at first, I will try to explain it as a teaching of Buddhism in general, not only Zen.

The Twelve Links of the teaching start from ignorance. This teaching is the explanation of our life from various angle. And it start from ignorance, and our karmic activity, and our—a result of the karmic activity, and activity itself. When—if we do not understand our life properly, we call it ignorance. So, ignorance will result the karmic life. And karmic life will result some activity. And some activity will accelerate by our six senses. And the six senses will result the material and spiritual world, which is phenomenal world. And that is the cause one[?] future and material or physical world, which is phenomenal world. And phenomenal world will—will be received from our 6 sense organs and mind, 5 sense organs and mind again. And this activity will result us some idea of good or bad, agreeable or disagreeable. That is a six one, sixth one. And—and we will attach to something good and something bad. Or, you will attach to the—the objective world which is good or bad to you. That is attachment. The world of attachment. And that is the seventh one, ah, so many some[?], um. [tapping] That is the eighth one. And you will have the desire for this world, and for the future world. The attachment will result for you—the attachment will result for you desires, we call this thirsty desire. You know, desires as if you want water when you are thirsty. This kind of desire, it's very intense, strong desire, more than attachment. And this attachment will attach to something which you see in this world, and which you will see in next world, or in future. And sometime we attach to one desire because you in vain try to believe something in this world and in future world and result will be in vain, you know, when you strive for to gain something, but that is not possible because it is originally yours. Or, if you think that is not yours, that is the way you try to reach it is wrong, so it is impossible to. Eventually you will find out that is impossible. So, you will pay a lot, trying to reach to what you want in this moment and in future. So, you will attach to another desire [laughs]. It's much better not to want anything. Then, I shall be very happy. This kind of desire— the third[?] desires as a desires we have desire of annihilate our desires. Or desire to stop our desire. Or desire for something which is here or which will be in future. This desire is called ??? or that is the ninth one. And, oh no, that is, [laughs] I mixed up [laughs]….

And the last one is the desire for, to get, to attain freedom from birth and death. Those desires, those are the—how we become—how we suffer in this world. And, how this world become the world of suffering for us. And this twelve links or twelve elements of idea is—are the explanation of how we suffer in this world, starting from ignorance. And the ignorance is—ignorance is the most basic cause of suffering. And then, what is ignorance? Ignorance is the Buddha nature itself. When we misunderstand it, it become ignorance. But, when you have right understanding of our life, that is those twelve links are nothing but the way to attain enlightenment. And this is how we understand our life and why we suffer in this world.

So, once you have some misunderstanding in those, among those twelve, you will get into a misunderstanding of the harms and next of eleven. So, now misunderstanding will create, will result—will result you more suffering. So, you should have a clear understanding of those 12 links of our teaching. This is the teaching of how we suffer. Teaching about how we suffer in this world. This is too, maybe too literal explanation to understand it completely, but I explained it as much as possible.

Then what is ignorance, how ignorance comes to us, will be the—will be your question. When you have Buddha nature, why we have, you know, ignorance? And definition of ignorance is something which appears all of a sudden without any reason, [laughs] doesn't it[?] ???. How fire[?] wisdom in something which is permanent, which exist always, and which is real always. When you receive some misunderstanding which happens to us by some chance, oh that is recognition of the ignorance. So, ignorance has no reason why it appears. It means the question why we have ignorance is—cannot be answered [laughs] in other words. Something which comes us—comes—happens to us without any reason, [laughs]—if there is no reason—how we cannot explain why appears to us. But, anyway, it is the other side of the wisdom. So, if we know this is ignorance, that is wisdom. That is not ignorance anymore. But, when you don't know, this is ignorance. Or, when you accept your life of suffering, when you do not realize, or—or when you enjoy your life of suffering, that is sheer ignorance because you do not know that you're in amidst of suffering. But, when you realize that you are doing something wrong, that is wisdom. That is not ignorance anymore. So, difference is, whether you arise way-seeking mind, finding yourself in ahead[?] of suffering, that is wisdom. But if you do not realize that, you are amidst of suffering, and you enjoy the life of suffering, that is ignorance. So, in true understanding, there is always ignorance and wisdom as the two side of one coin.

Before Buddha—why Buddha talks about the world of suffering, or ignorance is to encourage people to seek for truth. It is impossible to teach them when they have no problem in—no problem in usual[?] suffering, and they enjoying in their life. What’s happen[?] no way! They—even Buddha cannot do anything with those people. They may find out what they have done some day when it is too late [laughs], but until they find out they have been doing something wrong, it is very difficult to teach them. So, that is why Buddha talked about ignorance and gave us so ignorant—ignorance of the truth to the reality, for he pointed out how ignorant we are.

So, ignorance, the teaching of ignorance is the teaching which was provided by Buddha for our sake, for sake for us, who sometime enjoy our suffering, and create many confusions for ???—for ourselves and for others too. So, the question why we, you know, have to do something bad is delta[?] making, when he realized that. What he was doing, that is wisdom. That is Buddha nature itself. As long as he has Buddha nature, he understand our life from first[?] way— ignorance and wisdom. When he say why we suffer, why we are so ignorant, that is wisdom. And, why, when he makes some excuse or seek for something elusive, why that is ignorance. In this way, we should understand our life, and in this way we should understand Buddha's teaching. And how we actually bring[?] power to control both sides of our life is zazen practice.

That is prologue[?] interpretation of ignorance and Buddha nature. I'm sure you have some question. Please ask me.

Student A: How do we unravel a ball of ignorance when we’ve fallen into it?

SR: How ???

Student A: How do we unravel a ball of ignorance when we’ve fallen into it?

SR: How? ???

Student A: How do we unravel a ball of ignorance

SR: Unravel?

Student: when we’ve fallen into it?

SR: What do you?

Richard Baker: String.

SR: Hah?

Richard Baker: Like string, all cut up and, ignorant string.

SR: [Laughs.] Ignorant string—Ignorant string is a very good expression, and we have same, you know, something where is the same expression, that we say ignorance, not ignorance, not exactly ignorance, but something similar to ignorance is delusion, or wrong view.
There is emotional one and intellectual one. This is—this intellectual and emotional one will be solved[?] by the teaching of, or viewpoint of non-existence. That is—that is not real existence. That is just something looks like so, but that is not reality. This—this teaching will solve this, you know, conflict.

Student: Thank you.

SR: And, that is, you know, but even though you solve it, something emotionally and intellectually too, of course intellectually. But, if you do not start to cultivate your mind and strengthen your character, it is not possible to be completely free from, tentatively it may be all right, but we should have more strength. In that case we should practice Zen, and that, if—if it's, if you rely, try to rely on teaching, you should use the teaching, everything is, you know, has two side. Tentatively it may be good, but some other time it may be right, uh wrong. Good and bad is one side of the two coin. It's the deeper teaching than the teaching of one that you said, view—teaching from viewpoint of ??? state. This is futile[?]. This is the teaching of both, so called, a Middle Way. By this teaching of middle way, and when you practice accordingly, you will solve—you will acquire the power to live in this world. And, in other words that is very difference our teaching. So, first of all we have to cut off, we have to—we have to cut off, but we have to train ourselves from emotional side and intellectual side. And we have strength in our character by practice and teaching. And taking our existence and non-existence back and forth, with the training of your emotions—emotional—this is emotional and intellectual practice. And, by continuing not by just practice—learn—by learn piece by piece. But practice is as they learn[?]teaching—learn teaching of middle way, you will have the power. So, when you practice middle way, that—that practice is not anymore practice of existence or practice of non-existence, or practice of suppressing your emotional power, or controlling your intellectual power. Do you understand? So, Zen practice or another way is the way which will be, which you can do it without any idea of suppressing or idea of meriting for positive, or giving or taking. This is Zen practice. This is so called middle way, which can be both. And which is—which has reality in each moment, which is just right, you know, in that moment or on that occasion.

Student C: So, let's say tomorrow afternoon I find myself in the midst of ignorance, and I can't, you know, I don't understand what training is. Or I look around for training and I don't find anything. All I find is ignorance, so tell me, what is training? So, I can find it tomorrow afternoon when it happens.

SR: [Laughs] you see, I, you are trying to, you know, some way, what some way which you are trying to find out, or which you want to understand is, you know, some way, which will be, you know, giving or taking, a negative or a positive. But the true way is not just a negative or a positive, or giving or taking. For if you notice it, how important it is to sit, you know, which is not negative or positive. To find yourself right there in each moment. Then, in that moment, you are not good or bad. What you are doing is not good or bad. Which are not unlike[?], you cannot have the idea of annihilation in your practice. Or you cannot have any desire in teaching[?]. And, you are—you have everything, so you cannot desire anything—anything. That is our practice.

[Laughs.] Too abstract? Already give you some piece[?].

Student: Thank you.

SR: We are sitting very well, you know, just, you know, yesterday especially, you are just—you are sitting just—you are just sitting. That is the way. But if—when you are sitting just as they are quiet[?], for such a long time, you start to wonder, when you are just practicing, is [it] good or bad. That is what you are, you are thinking about right now. But you have to continue just practice.

Student: I understand that sitting is neither good nor bad, but that if you continue it, doesn't it set up a kind of conditioning, and there's not going to be complete freedom, if there's conditioning.

SR: [Laughs] only sit, you will be all right.

Student: You become conditioned to sitting, and the more you become conditioned to sitting, it would seem that, that would be a hindrance to freedom.

SR: No. That is freedom.

Student: To be free of any conditioning.

SR: That is not true though [laughs]. Freedom is in—in some conditions—under some conditions, yes, you have. That is very true [laughs]. You are—we have some conditions come for easy way, a slow easy way. To find out this, you slowed[?], you know, process, not to do think— not to do the—or not to do thinking. But, this is very[?]—for instance, to attain freedom, we should not, you know, you should observe from in present not to date[?] and not to tell a lie. What kind of future provide you, the complete freedom? [Laughs] but, that is not to be. If you understand the teaching, that is, to observe good[?], you attain freedom. Aware[?], you should be comfort[?] in—on this world. To attain freedom, if you do not, if you change your place only, you have no freedom. You have no time to have freedom.

Student: Yes, I understand that, but still it doesn't matter in which place you are, does it? You can be in one place or another …

SR: No, but you are someplace. And they should find out freedom on some place of this earth[?]. So, if you ignore the place you are, there is no real freedom. That is just idea of freedom. But, actually, if you want to have actual freedom, you should have it at certain, under some conditions. What conditions would we improve or if you change occur? It would not be the same, but knowing that the moment, we should know what we are doing. And we should accept the conditions under which we live. That is freedom. There is no other way to attain actual freedom.

Student: Yes, thank you.

SR: Yes.

Student: Is, is trying to make oneself happy, is that an example of ignorance? Is that a form of ignorance?

SR: [Laughs], yes. It is one of the three kinds of, you know, ignorance.

Student: Well, in daily life there are various things that have to be done, things it's normally that you do, various things you decide to do. And it seems to me very hard to tell exactly, you know, what you're doing in the form of whether you're trying to make yourself happy or what. You were talking of contemplating yourself, or of understanding yourself, and it's hard to tell for me where that line is drawn, exactly what your purpose is. Whether it's an ignorant purpose or whether it's real life, and that you live in suffering.

SR: Oh, oh, okay. Anyway, as long as you understand your life that way, you know, whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, that is not any more complete, you know. But we should know, if—when you know that that is not complete, that is not ignorance anymore. Of course, we are trying to achieve something, we cannot indifferent—we cannot be indifferent to what we were achieve. But we should know that, that is not absolutely truth, you know, absolutely right. If you believe[?] because you think that is absolutely true, that is deep, deep mistake [laughs]. So that if you do it with that idea, you are already creating some trouble for you and for others because your effort is already dead, not alive.

[Laughs], don't you think so? When you are always trying to be right, then you will be right. But, when you think, this is right, if I continue our effort in this way, what we achieve is—what we do is right, that is wrong. Moment after moment, we should do our best, you are just, you know, our attempt[?], our effort in your ???. Anyway, we should make resolve it is impossible to do it, something perfectly right because we should try to be perfect. In one respect[?] that only, that is true activity. We are emphasizing this point, but we do not say ??? , we do not seek[?] anything this long. And ordinarily, by good, or good or bad, but put the emphasis on not to be caught by idea good or bad. Not to make some excuse for you, for your activity.


Student: How do we understand our lives wisely?

SR: Hm?

Student: How do we understand our lives wisely?

SR: Wise?

Student: What would be the right understanding of our lives?

SR: Understanding of life?

Student: Yeah, what would be the right understanding of it?

SR: Oh. The right understanding of life is, how do I say, the understanding of life of existence is not right. Non-existence is not right. And, both existence and non-existence is right. Something which is good is something which is bad. [Tapping.] There's nothing which is completely right.

Student: What is the place of self-discipline on one hand, and say like rules that everyone follows on the other?

SR: Well, there are many rules, rules to follow. Mostly, the most important rule is, to do is remember people. When they get up, you get up. When they sleep, they sleep—you sleep. By follow these rules ??? [laughs] in the monastery, and this is the best way to get any job, first take that idea. And so, if you do—if you are doing something special, you should be, you know, very careful [laughs].

Some topics[?], you know, for an instance we have, but this is very, really important. So if you go to ask me, you will see that duty or character Hojo Daishinki1 [writing Japanese?]. It looks—looks like very simple and plain views, but, but it means, it's a ???. Okay, what time is it?


Richard Baker: He added after the chanting that in a monastery, there's no rule you can depend on. Ah, you just have to do your best.


1 The Japanese sounds like any of the following in the order of my feeling:

"Hojo Daishinki" - Hojo, I picked the kanji 法場 out of many meanings for this sound, it is a place to practice Buddhism.
"Dojo Daishinki" - Dojo, I picked the kanji 道場 out of many meanings for this sound, it is a place to practice discipline.
"Kojo Daishinki" - Kojo, I picked the kanji "向上 Improvement " or "恒常 Consistency."
The "Daishinki" part also sounds like "Daishiiki".
I looked it up in Buddhist special words, but could not identify "Daishinki."

Translations thanks to Takayo Harriman.

Transcribed by Peter Ford, January 2020. Re-transcribed June 2023.


File name: 67-09-08-C: Ignorance (titled by pf) (Verbatim) Audio of this lecture came from https://suzukiroshi.engagewisdom.com/talks/19670908-serial00118. Q & A after lecture.

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