To Polish A Tile Is Our Practice Actually

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Thursday, August 24, 1967

This morning we understood how important it is to practice Zen; to understand our teaching; and to actualize our teaching in our everyday activity; and to attain harmony of intellectual faculty and emotional faculty. To attain this kind of oneness is only by the practice—there is no other way. By practice, you not only digest the teaching, but you attain the oneness of the various factors of your faculty. So whatever you do, it will—the work you do will become of your own. So this kind of practice is something more than training. The training is some means to attain something, but practice is the fundamental way of acquiring various acquisitions. That is why we put emphasis on practice.

Here, by practice we mean something as important as enlightenment itself, or another interpretation of enlightenment, because without this kind of practice, you cannot obtain enlightenment—the enlightenment will not be yours. Because of this kind of practice, enlightenment is yours, whether you are aware of it or not. Here, the meaning of practice is very deep, so our zazen is not just some way to attain enlightenment. This kind of practice is the practice which is transmitted from Buddha to us.

Do you know the famous story of Nangaku polishing up a tile? [laughs] I think you know this story. Once, Baso, Horse Master [laughs] Horse Vendor (?), whose tongue was so long [laughs, laughter] like a horse [laughter] --when he speaks—when he spoke, his tongue reached to his nose [laughter]. And he had a great physique (?). A Horse Master was sitting, practicing zazen [laughs, laughter]. Nangaku passed by, and seeing the Horse Master—at that time he was like a Horse Disciple [laughter, a few words unclear] --sitting zazen, the master said, "What are you doing?" "Oh, because I want to attain enlightenment, so I am sitting here." All of a sudden, Nangaku picked up a tile and started to polish it. Seeing this, the disciple—Horse Disciple asked the master, "What—what are you trying to do it?" he said. The master said, "I am making—making a jewel [laughs, laughter] from the tile, so I am polishing it." "How is it possible to make a jewel from a tile—from a tile?" The master said, "How is it possible [laughs, laughter] to attain enlightenment by sitting?" [laughter] You know this story; this is very famous story.

To polish a tile [laughs] is our practice actually. You cannot say it is impossible [laughs] to attain enlightenment by sitting zazen. It is possible, but if the enlightenment is something quite different from usual things - usual activity or usual acquirement—acquisition–it is—if it is something quite different from ordinary things, it may be impossible. But when tile is tile, through and through, the tile, for its being tile, covers whole world. When tile is just tile, through and through, it is jewel. You cannot say tile anymore--it is not just tile. If you do not know—if you do not see the tile through and through, it is only a tile. But actually, when it is really tile, through and through, it is jewel.

When Baso, Dogen Zenji said, Baso, the Horse Master, became—become Horse Master through and through, that is, you know, Zen becomes Zen, through and through. Everything becomes jewel. This is our practice. Here you will—you have understanding of form and emptiness, and emptiness is form. Form—when form is form through and through, it is emptiness. When a tile is tile, through and through, it is jewel, you see? By jewel we mean emptiness, by tile we mean form.

But this kind of practice is our practice. So in this sense, from practice everything comes out. Where there is practice, there is everything in its true sense. Where there is no practice, it is delusion, which is impossible to acquire. So if you try to acquire—acquire something without practice it is—it means you are seeking for delusion [laughs]. You have no chance to get it. And you have no chance to know who is you yourself in its true sense.

This kind of practice is our practice. So, when you practice our way, there is teaching--teaching comes out from practice. And that teaching will accord with the teaching which was told by Buddha. That is how we get our transmission. Transmission is not something which is handed down from Buddha like some treasure. It is something which you will—which you have or which you will actualize, which you will realize. And which will be proved by Buddha. That is transmission. So in one way, it is something which was transmitted from Buddha. On the other hand, it is something which is acquired by yourself, in its true sense. This is our teaching, and this is how we get transmission, and how you transmit our way.

Human being is human being because we know how to communicate and how to hand down our culture or civilization by calculating, by indicating in various way. So, cultural heritage can be transmitted from ancestor to each ??? descendant. But that is not perfect. The true way of—to receive the heritage of our ancestor is just only by the—this kind of practice. Only through this kind of practice, without any restriction, you will live in your trans—tradition.

Nowadays young generation does not live in the framework of old tradition. This is because the way of handing down our true culture is not right. In our practice, in our way of receiving transmission, it is no restriction, because it is something—it will be something down—something which is-- which our patriarchs and Buddhas experienced already, and taught in various way already. Actually, whatever you experience, whatever experience you have, almost all the experience you have, will be already told by the—some of our patriarchs. They are waiting for you to [laughs] experience something always [laughter].
But we don't [laughter] —we don't know about it, so we strive fast—strive hard for it. And we extend our way as we like, which is—but in its true way. So for us there is no restriction. But our Buddhas and patriarchs will be very glad that you came—that we reached here—reached there–came there—came here. If you extend our tradition more, the gratitude of the patriarchs will be more. This is how we extend culture—cultural heritage of Buddhism.

So we say zazen is most easy way –yeah, easy way. This easy way means—does not mean easy or difficult. It means, you know, most natural and unrestricted way, where we find freedom, you know, where we can stretch our hand and take [laughs, laughter] as much as you can even though you sit in a cross-legged position [laughter]. This is, you know, feeling of zazen in your sitting.
So, our Buddhist culture comes from within always, not without. Something which comes from outside is not our treasure, we say. Something which comes outside is some—someone—someone's treasure [laughs] , not ours. So true treasure should come out from inside—from ourselves, through practice.
So, just to sit in cross-legged position is not always zazen. Maybe more sometimes it is in ???, I am sure. But that is not always right. True understanding should follow. That is why we study Prajna Paramita Sutra during sesshin, through our practice. You can actualize the Prajna Paramita Sutra by your practice. So you may—you can say, when you practice Prajna Paramita Sutra, Prajna Paramita Sutra become Prajna Paramita Sutra. And Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva become Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Buddha become Buddha. So all the patriarchs and Bodhisattvas appear all at once with your practice.

This kind of practice is true practice. Or else there will not be no need to practice seven days in Tassajara. It may be much better to take LSD [laughter]. That is much easier [laughs], and maybe less expensive [long laughter]. It is true. Here we—Maezumi Sensei, Chino Sensei, and, you know, many students spending seven days in hot weather. This is ridiculous [long laughter]. You are laughing but I am [laughter drowns a few words]. It is so, you see.

So I am not comparing Zen to LSD [laughs], but Zen is something different from—what I mean is from just training to acquire some state of mind. State of mind is maybe important, but if you do not swear on it, you know, if you cannot live in it, it means nothing. So, what we should strive for, or if you want to know what you should do without any teaching, is, you know, just sit. And when you act, you know, you should see your surroundings, and what kind of—what will be the best way to please them[?]. That is how you should find your way. Especially you sh—you—you have responsibility to leave our teaching for your descendant, or to leave your cultural heritage for your descendant. How to, you know, hand down—how to leave your cultural heritage to your descendants is why you practice zazen.

Through zazen, without saying anything, you can hand down your cultural heritage. What you have strived for, what you have attained, will be your descendant. But without this effort—this kind of effort, in other words, when you have no cultural heritage in its true sense, you have nothing to transmit actually [laughs]. You see, when you have it, actually, then, without saying anything, some—someone will receive it, someone will understand it. If no one—even though no one understands it directly, someday someone will understand it. That is what was written in Shobogenzo. He—he says, "What I have studied, what I have acquired, may be difficult to be understood by the people in our days"—in his days—"but if I write—write down in this way, someone someday will understand me."

So when something—some cultural heritage, is someone's—someone's own, in its true sense, that cultural heritage will be known by someone someday. This kind of confidence comes from our practice. Even though Shakyamuni Buddha left many and many teachings, and many books and sutra, if the teaching is—he left is not his own, in its true sense, no-one will be interested in it. Because what he said comes from—from his character, in its true sense, so he has so many descendants. Why this kind of thing happens here is because we know how to transmit, and how to study; how to live in it.

As I said this morning, in reference to Maezumi Sensei's talk last night, it is important to have teacher for you, because our teaching is not something which will be told perfectly. The way is to believe in it. How to believe in this is, you know, through true relationship between the teaching and you. To have direct, thorough, or complete relationship between teaching and you is to know—to have close relationship with your teacher who believes—perfectly believes in the teaching. If this is much easier to understand—listen to your teacher than to read some books, because as long as he is telling you something, he is believing in it. So that belief—communication through belief will result tremendous impact here.

So this is not just intellectual study, and this is also emotional study, and the study with your mind and body. That is why it's—it is better to study with your teacher. This is the difference between just reading and practicing something here. If practice is so important, there must be teacher—a teacher. And if there is a teacher, you should not be concerned about just intellectual understanding or discriminate—discrim—criticism or discrimination. You should give up all those imperfect way of communication. Teachers should not have any discrimination, and students also should not have any discrimination. Just to respect Prajna Paramita is the way.

When you—you are listening to a teacher with your whole body and mind, you have Prajna Paramita. When you have Prajna Paramita, you have whole teaching. This is how the Prajna Paramita works. In this way, we have been studying Prajna Paramita Sutra. Although there were many inconvenience in our practice here in Tassajara, but I think we did it pretty well. But, the meaning of our practice is much more than we understand.

We have one more day [two people whisper: two more] two more days [laughter]. Oh I see [laughter]. Two more days? Not just one more [laughter]. I missed very much [laughter]. I am so glad to hear that —two more days [laughter]. So, I was counting, you know, students who may come to me for dokusan, but if I have two more days, I was very much relieved.

Anyway, we have been doing pretty well. It may be pretty difficult, I know, but if you switch your mind a little bit you will be quite different person. And this is also true. So I want you to make a last effort in those two days. Thank you very much.

Transcript from Engage Wisdom, created by Shundo David Haye in 2021. Verbatim version by Peter Ford and Wendy Pirsig, 11/2021.


File name: 67-08-24-D: To Polish A Tile Is Our Practice Actually (titled by SDH) (Verbatim) 2021 newly discovered tape.

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