Real Calmness Is In A Noisy Place

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Saturday, March 26, 1966

Sokoji, San Francisco


Our monthly one-day sesshin is not a matter of something unusual for us anymore; we are quite—get accustomed to it. But whenever we have this sesshin, we have some renewed feeling for zazen, and my talk may be different from what I said before. But the main point of my talk is always concentrated on several important point: one is the way-seeking mind, and right practice, and attitude towards practice, or discipline, or study of Buddhism. I am not so interested in what we will acquire by practice or philosophical answer to our—to your question. But I am trying to be more sympathetic and systematic in my answer, because you will not understand what I am trying to say if my answer is not properly systematized. But for me, and for you too, systematic philosophical answer will not be necessary, but the mutual understanding and friendship between us is more important.

What we do looks like very rigid and formal, but if you repeat this kind of practice over and over, you will find out some unique feeling, in our rituals and formalities. As we have not much good thing in Japan, especially, civil war time, when tea ceremony started—not much things to eat, or not much cake to serve, not much good tea to take, but—our life at that time was so hard, that we tried to help with each other by serving a cup of tea, or a piece of cake. And to prepare a piece of cake, and cup of tea is pretty difficult. All of us knew that—how—how it is to help people, to give, to serve a cup of tea—so we took it with great appreciation. If you take a piece of cake, you know, a small piece of cake—as if you eat—as if you eat piece of bread [laughs], it doesn’t make any sense [laughs], so we treat it very carefully, and we took even a cup of tea with great care and appreciation. That is why—that is how tea ceremony started.

So, tea ceremony is, as you know, very, very tedious ceremony. Before you take a cup of tea, the tea will be cool, cool enough for you [laughs], but for Japanese sometime it is too cold. But we of course try not to serve too hot ones or too cold ones, but still, even for Japanese it looks like tedious. But in the serenity—serenity of the tea house, the calm and delicate movement of the master, and graceful manner of taking tea will create deep feeling.

(Traffic noise)

In such a zendo are this—outside of the zendo, the car is running always, and sometime Honda bicycles [laughs]—like a thunderstorm—roars [laughs], "What are you doing there?" they say [laughs, laughter]. But still, we have deep calmness in here. I think this is rather unusual, and the ability to appreciate the calmness of—of our life in noisy city is very precious. By calmness, we do not mean just calm, silent, soundless place. When our mind is calm in its true sense, nothing can disturb us. But nowadays, if you want some calmness in your life, you have to go to mountain or retreat, or you have to build some special home for you, with a double wall [laughs], some—some contrivance is necessary. Even though you live in calm place, if you—if your mind become agitated and restless, there is no calmness.

In—real calmness is in noisy place. Where there is no danger to be disturbed—you are already [laughs, laughter] disturbed enough [laughs], so there is no danger for you, no mental danger [laughs] for you to be disturbed by something else. So, what you should do is just to obtain calmness within--within yourself—you can ignore the danger of being disturbed by someone else. So, there you have restfulness, and absolute reliance on yourself only. You can depend on your own effort.

So actually, the release is in some extremely dangerous situation. The uneasy—uneasiness is somewhere where you don't know what to do. If you are directed to one direction, there is no uneasiness. When you don't know what to do, there is some uneasy feeling. If you have too many things, too many choice, or too many chance, there you have worry. But if only one thing is left for you, there is no problem.

When we think over and over those psychological state of mind, there will be no limit. But, in one word, best way to—to have absolute serenity in our life is to find out the absolute serenity, absolute calmness wherever you go. That calmness is beyond calmness, and it is something more than just a silent place.

The other day—or several months ago I talked about double moon over and over again: double moon, what is double moon?1 For you, actually, there is just one moon. But what is double moon then? Actually, the moon is one, so is the silence; silence is just one. But you think this is calm—this place is—you say this place is calm and silent, and you compare silence with noisy place. This is double moon—double. But if you find out calmness in noisy place, that is to see the double moon—the opposite way of observing things. In perfect silence, if you have the perfect serenity within yourself, you will find out calmness, that calmness, wherever you go. So that is one calmness and many, various kind of calmness.

If you are not—if you are not caught by idea of calmness, you have calmness. If you are not caught by the idea of "the moon is only one," the moon may be double, you will not be surprised to see double moon. So, oneness is—oneness and duality is two side of the one coin. And serenity and noisy place is dualistic, but—but it is not different. If you do not know the absolute serenity, even though you are in calm, silent place, you will hear some noise, and you feel scared by even a small mouse [laughs]—"oh!" But if you have stable, calm mind you will not be scared by—even by thunderbolt. So, calmness is not something which exist outside of yourself. And it is not even a state of mind. It is something more than state of mind. State of mind is temporal state—just temporal, but true calmness of your mind is unperturbable, and it exist forever. This is the difference.

How to achieve, or how to acquire this kind of calmness is—calmness of the mind is to have right way-seeking mind, which is beyond gaining idea. So, when you have right way-seeking mind, you have right practice, and right way-seeking mind, and there you have nirvana. If I speak too much about it, it sound more and more something unusual and difficult to attain, but it is not so. If you always retain the beginner's mind, that is way-seeking mind.

So, for—for your teacher, there is not much things to tell you, actually. As a mother tiger doesn't—doesn’t have—has—doesn't have so many things to teach for her children. To live with their children is how to teach [laughs]. There is—actually, there is not much thing to tell you. So, with beginner's mind, if you walk [laughs] like your teacher walks, that is a way how to study Buddhism. And for a teacher, try to be a good teacher [laughs] is how to teach Buddhism. That's all. It is very difficult soon[?] [laughs] for a teacher to be example of (for) student, and that—this is impossible. At least for me it is absolutely impossible [laughs, laughter]. But if I try very hard to be a good friend of you, within my ability, that is, I think—there is no other way for us to study Buddhism. So, beginner's mind is very important. Just to practice zazen as your teacher, that’s—is the only way.

If you have some doubt on this point, you should read Shobogenzo—ninety-five volumes of Shobogenzo—over and over again [laughs]. Then you will find out how important the beginner's mind is.

I think we are lucky to have so many friends in this zendo, and practice zazen with some unusual comprehension of our practice. Thank you very much.

[After standing up] thank you again. Have a great--which meal at your home [laughter].


1 The more famous Zen story of the "double moon" involves Yunyan and Daowu (Book of Serenity, case 21), but Suzuki Roshi made reference to an exchange between Keizan and Gasan, a couple of generations after Dogen (see 65-08-28-A).

Transcript from Engage Wisdom, created by Shundo David Haye 10/2021. Verbatim version by Peter Ford, 4/2022.


File name: 66-03-26-C: Real Calmness Is In A Noisy Place (titled by sdh) (Verbatim) 2021 newly discovered tape. Old title was "Way-Seeking Mind and Right Practice."

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