We are not perfect

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Saturday, July 23, 1966

Before, we have been discussing about what is bodhisattva-mind, how to help others before we help ourselves. And this practice is four—firstly it is to give something, which is Dana Prajna Paramita. And, two, kind word—to—to be kind, to ourself—to others, and to utter kind words. And to help others in various way. To give some teaching is also to help others. But, when we—here we emphasize to help others by various way, not only several ways we pointed out, but also various way. So, here he says, even to participate industrial work or to build a bridge for others. Various human activity we take is to help others. That is the third one. And, the last one is sympathy, or to become one with others. But a bodhisattva's practice is not just four, and there are many and many other practices.

When we have bodhisattva-mind, whatever we do is to help others. And, actually, we are helping with each other. And, to realize this fact, and to behave like that, is to help others. But, when—there's will be some misunderstanding, when we say, "help others." But actually, the point is to help others, not only to give some aid, material aid or spiritual aid, but also to give some spirit, to help others before we help ourselves.

When we have this spirit, we will be completely helped by others and by themselves. So, the most important way to help others is to give some perfect understanding of how to help others, and how to help themselves. When you help themselves—others, in its true sense it means to help our—ourself. This is the most important point, and this is how to help others.

Actually, material help is not a perfect way to help others. When we realize we are helping always, we will know how to help others. When we do not realize how to help others in its true sense, we occasionally try to help others [laughs]. But this is very silly or foolish idea, without being aware of what we are doing always. To try to help others occasionally [laughs], this is opposite. We should help others all day long. Even though you are sleeping, and you should help others. Because you do not—you do not feel you are helping others always, you try to help others occasionally [laughs]. This is very silly way of helping others.

In this help—by this help you mean some material help, to make someone happy. But happiness, in its true sense, is not temporal—tentative happiness. The true happiness should be with you always. Even though you are in adversity, there is happiness. So, this kind of happiness is true happiness we mean. So, when we realize the oneness of all living beings, oneness of inanimate and animate being, we will know how to help others. And, at the same time you can govern yourself—your—you can control yourself, and you will be a good Buddhist. This is what we mean to arise bodhisattva-mind.

And so, when you try to be some particular person, or particular character, or when you want—try to do some act—some good things especially, you will lose your way. That is why we should have bodhisattva-mind as well as Buddha-mind, perfect mind, or idea of nothingness, idea of nothing. As well as to believe in nothingness or Buddha. We have to believe it. We have to find the Buddha-mind in trivial activity we take always. So, to—to know what is Buddha-mind, is to know the meaning of trivial activity we take. There's no other way for us to know what is Buddha-mind. The absolute, you know, mind should be found out in relative world. But without having absolute—idea of absolute, or idea of God, or Buddha, to try to help with each other is—means nothing. It will be tending various evil. You know, without—without the idea of supreme reality or perfect reality, to help others means nothing because your activity has no root to it. So, as long as you have the idea of a perfect being, you have to be concentrate on your everyday life, on your trivial activity. So, eternal life should be obtained in our short sixty years or eighty years of lifetime. So, when you acquire—when you obtain this understanding of life, it means you obtain eternal life. When you find out eternal life in your, you know, trivial things, you find out the eternal life in its true sense. So, to find out the eternal life is to find out the meaning of your life, the meaning of what you are doing.

So, first of all, when we say to help others, we should find out the meaning of our imperfect life. And we should know that there's no other way to be in contact with the absolute or the Buddha, he said. But sometime when we try to attain some perfection in your work, you will be led in evil. This is very important point. The only religion which emphasize this point is on Buddhism. Within our reach, there's no perfection, even though you devote yourself to the truth forever. Life after life, we cannot attain perfection because perfect one is not attainable. Because it is not attainable, we say it is perfect—it is ???. If he is attainable, he is not perfect. We should know this fact. When we know this fact, this rule, this produce[?]—you will be—become very much sincere with what you are doing right now. And, you will have enough encouragement to continue your imperfect life. So, when—as the bird and trees and plants are awakened when the spring come, we should, you know, renew ourselves. We should improve ourselves, forever.

It looks like we are repeating same thing over and over again, which is not actually so. It should not be so. When you become a perfectionist, you know, you think you are repeating same thing [laughs]. But, if—when you give up to become perfect one, you know, you have—you will—you will become more subtle, and you will find out the meaning—subtle meaning of the changes in universe, changes in universe, so we say.

We, you know, are seeing same calendar, you know over and over [laughs]. When January the first come [laughs] it is always, you know, January the first. But plants and trees are not the same. We think, you know, our calendar is all repeating same thing. But, actually, everything in our nature does not repeat same thing. So, when we realize this fact, you will find out what is true, in its true sense. When you are occupied by—when your mind is occupied by some perfect fact[?], you will try to be a perfect one. Your mind is like a rock, like a concrete which will not decay, and which will not develop. This is a very important point. Why I emphasize this point is, I now pretty sure about why we have war between countries always, and why they fight. Because you think your way is perfect, so you fight, and they fight. That is because you have enemy, you know. For—for a perfect one, there is a enemy. For a not perfect one [laughs], well, there's no enemy [laughs].

We are not perfect. At the same time, they are not perfect [laughs]. So, there is no reason why we should fight [laughs]. But actually, they are fighting because of the idea to perfect peace. There is no perfect peace for human beings. There must be some trouble. Because we have trouble we enjoy our life pretty well [laughter]. Try not to, you know, achieve perfect peace. That is how to bring about peace in this world in its true sense.

This point is very important to achieve the true understanding of our life. So, without having true understanding of life, it is impossible to have true understanding of the absolute good. So, we put this idea in this way: The perfect one always encourage us through various what we see. Sometime a flower opens, and sometime a flower die. But, through dying flower—through coming—flower coming up, we will realize, we will be encouraged. Through when you have some difficulty in your everyday life, you will be encouraged by the difficulties.

So, a perfect one is always helping us, through everything we see, and through everything we do. And so, we should help others through we—through our everyday practice. Not only Zen practice, but also to take tea, or to get up or to eat. This is how to help others. And so, our activity is—will be continued as long as human being exist, and as long as something is going in this world. Even though all human being dies out, there will—something will be going. Where something is going there is Buddhism as long as something is going some way[?]. And always, the true spirit of Buddhism, our—our way is there.

First, so there is no—nothing to worry. When you think there's nothing to worry, there's no destruction, there's no war[?] [laughs]. When you become worried of your own life—your particular way of life or your particular understanding of life[?], democracy or communism [laughs]. Because of that you suffer. Actually, there's no such thing like communism or democracy. When you will realize this truth, there's nothing to worry.

When we are completely released from everything, we will have complete—we will have, we say always complete but this is not [laughs] human world, or complete or absolute [laughs]. I sometimes say complete, but after I say complete or absolute, you know, I ashamed of myself [laughs, laughing]. Nowadays, it's the age of absolute [laughter], and age of complete [laughs], but without knowing what is complete, what is absolute. But when you realize what is absolute, what is complete, you will—you will not say. There is nobody complete, or absolute. We have to—shut up [laughs, laughter]. It's much better to talk about some—something—some problem which we have right now. Because we know what is absolute, but some people just try to escape from difficulties without knowing there's nothing to worry. This is another ???. This is—those people has no true understanding of life.

So, if you understand what I'm saying, I think you will have more deeper understanding about our young generation—generation’s way of life. You call them beatniks [laughs]. There is no such people as beatnik exist. Only when they become resisters[?], they are called—they try to escape from actual civilization you have. But wherever you go, you have—you will have same difficulties. Even though you gather[?]— you discuss our life in the free way without any prejudice, soon you will have same difficulties, which all the human beings have. The difficulty we have is always same.

It is—there’s difference in its way of happening or in its degree of suffering. But nature is always same. When you do not realize the point, within our reach there's no perfection. Within our human reach, there's no perfection. And we will have always some difficulties. That is absolutely true. This point it's emphasized in Buddhism—has been emphasized in Buddhism. So, some people say Buddhism is very negative. It is negative because you have just positive idea. For people, you know, who is just positive without knowing what is actual strength. There's no other way to emphasize negative part of the truth. So, for them it—Buddhism looks like negative, but it is not so.

So, to—to enter our way is to have this kind of understanding of life. This understanding of life is—may be quite opposite to your usual understanding of life. It means we are so far away from perfect[?]. We have come finally to realize we took opposite direction in our effort. So, I think we will realize which way you—we have been taking. But it is time to go back to our home and make another—take another direction for us for—and for human being. Thank you very much.


Transcribed by Peter Ford, January 2020 from audio by EngageWisdom, And revised in July 2023 with many corrections by Shundo David Haye.


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