Bring Me The Rhinoceros Fan

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

July 28th, 1968


The people say, Zen is, you know, is very difficult to understand. Yes, it is difficult, but difficulty is not a kind of difficulty you have in—to understand such a thing. Intellectually, even though the way of thinking we have is not familiar with you, but it is possible to understand intellectually. But what we should know is — what you have understood intellectually is not, you know, the thing itself. Everyone talk about this point, you know. Our world [word?] is not perfect.

But as I told you last night, why we—why intellectual understanding is not the thing itself is. Whatever you say, that is not perfect. And if you think, you know, if you cling to some idea, that is already imperfect intellectual—intellectual understanding.

And there are many interesting stories for that. I think you must have found about what is true dragon—this one. I right now, I—this evening I visited Chino Sensei's room, and there were, you know, many dragons [laughs, laughter]. This year he—he said, I have many and many dragons. I thought many and many dragons. So, I thought that he—he is born in dragon's year. But, he said he was born in tiger year, and I am dragon, and he— [laughs] he is tiger [laughter]. And, so he is my big enemy [laughs, laughter]. And I saw many—many of my enemies in his—in his room. No, many of my friends in his room so, and I feel very good [laughs]. To visit is good, because he’s surrounded by my friends [laughs] this year, but I don't know what will happen next year [laughter, laughs]. Don’t give it him any tigers [laughter].

Nyoko —or some people may say Seppo Sensei you know, like dragons very much, you know. The old—whatever you say is— that is not true dragons, you know. And people like dragons very much. Recently, you know, people in the whole world like dragons very much, you know. This is Zen—this is Zen—Zen cosmetic, Zen food [laughs, laughter], Zen diet [laughs]. Everything is Zen right now, you know. Those are all, you know, painted dragons, or antique dragon. If you go to antique shop, you will see many and many dragons. Bronze dragons, or [laughs] then China dragons, or flame of dragons, you know. You will see many and many dragons, but this year if you—if real dragon come [laughs], what will you do [laughs]? Like Nyoko.

And in Blue Cliff Record there are interesting stories. Seian Kokushi the National Zen Master of China called his jisha and said, bring me rhinoceros fan. It is very hot today [laughs], bring me rhinoceros fan. And the waiter [attendant] said, it was broken long time ago, he said. Then, he said, you should bring me the bone of [laughs] fan. He—she—he did not notice—what did he mean by rhinoceros fan. The—whatever you do, whatever you observe, whatever the teaching may be, that is, you know, like rhinoceros fan. But, what is, you know, true, or like rhinoceros fan, is very difficult to understand. Whatever the understanding may be, that is not true one. That is just, you know, a picture of—of the rhinoceros fan.

So, on this point there are many, you know, answer by many teachers. The waiter said, that fan has been broken. Enkan—Enkan said, the—if the fan—Enkan is Seian Kokushi, the National Teacher of Tang Dynasty—if the fan has been broken, bring me the rhinoceros and put it in front of me [laughs]. If the fan is broken, you know, bring it me a large rhinoceros in front of me. The jisha made no reply here [laughs]. He couldn’t answer. Sorry, couldn’t answer [laughs, laughter]. Discussing this—at a later time after Enkan's death, Tosu said that the jisha did not refuse to bring the fan, but as the fan had been destroyed—in the—destroyed. At any rate he brought spoiled, but if a spoiled picture of it—of its skin and bones which had—been satisfactory to the old patriarch, the jisha might have fixed it—wash it.

Anyway, you know, anyway, whatever it is, it is not real. It is not reality itself. Whatever it is, it is not reality. Whatever you say, it does not work. So—so whatever it is, you know, it is better to bring it to him.

And this point I already explained. “Whatever you say, it is right,” means whatever you say, it is—it is wrong [laughs]. The same thing. So, Dogen Zenji said, you know, there is Right Buddha and Wrong Buddha [laughs]. There is Yes Buddha and No Buddha. Anyway, yes or—Buddha is Buddha, you know. People may say, there is two kinds of Buddha. No, there is—Yes Buddha is the only Buddha, No Buddha is not true Buddha. But Dogen—according to Dogen Zenji there are Yes Buddha and No Buddha. Whatever you said, he is good.

And this kind of story—it—there are many such, you know. When it is very hot, the teacher meet a monk, and monk asks a teacher: It is very hot, is there any place—where there is no hot or no cold. And the—that master said, when it is cold, it is Cold Buddha. When it is hot, it is Hot Buddha. Anyway, it is Buddha [laughs]. So, there is no need to try to go to some other place. And this is a very important point. And this is the point we should sit.

Sekiso, I talked about Sekiso the other night. Sekiso, Sekiso’s seven through and through.1 You know, seven through and through. After Sekiso passed away. When—immediately after Sekiso passed away, they have to have—pick successor, a new teacher for them. And the monks wanted to appoint their Shuso—Shuso. You know—you know Shuso? Head of the monks. In the training period there is a Shuso. They wanted to appoint Shuso as his successor. But, Kyuho, he’s also a famous Zen master. Kyuho alone did not agree with this—he didn’t agree. So, that Shuso said, if you don’t agree with—with me, I will show you my practice, you know. Burn incense, you know, right now. Bring me incense right now. And he sits in front of the incense, and he almost passed away [laughs] without saying a word. When he started to sit, his breathing stopped, and he almost died. His practice was so powerful, but Kyuho still did not agree with it [laughs, laughter]. You sit, you know. That is why I don’t agree with it [laughs]. You—you are still sticking it to your practice— power of practice. You should forget all about your practice, and you should be like one of the monks, and you should practice with us in the same way. Forget all about your attainment, Kyuho said, and he couldn’t, you know, take over Sekiso’s place—Sekiso’s seat. The—whatever you do, you know, if you think that is true dragon, or true rhinoceros fan, that is wrong.

How you, you know, attain this kind of freedom is the point. It is not actually attainment even. To pass—to take that freedom—in sitting– or to attain that freedom in standing—this kind of practice—powerful as it is, but those are—if you stick to this kind of power that is not, you know, true practice. So Sekiso’s last through and through is to be—to be a pure white cloth.

In those times in China or in Japan, if you go to the tailor—to shop, you know, and there they have pure white, long cloth, about thirty feet long, long enough to make, you know, our kimono. Sometime we—we say very, very long, one thousand long—one thousand li —one thousand miles, you know, long. It means that our human life reach continuously from beginning -- beginningless beginning, and endless end. This is pure cloth. But we shouldn’t even to stick to it [laughs] —how you attain—how you understand this point is the point of study.

Actually, in this monastery everyone has its own position. We should be very faithful to our work which was given to you. But we should not, you know, compare your position to the other position. Or you should not say my position is good or bad. And you should do your best in your work, but at the same time, you should not be attached to your position. If, you know, in next training period we don’t know who will have what kind of positions. But we should, you know, take over willingly someone’s position, and we should do our best, without any, you know, problem in your mind, without feeling—without having any feelings of good and bad [laughs]. This kind of thing is what we are talking about actually. Not how—how—how to, you know. For instance, if I, you know, if I was—was told to work in the kitchen [laughs], I don’t know how I feel, but we should willingly, you know, work, whatever the position may be. If you, you know, if you can do that, then you may say, whatever you do, that is Buddha’s activity.

Even though you give a wonderful lecture from the old ???? book, if you have—if you are involved in the idea of good lecture or bad lecture, you know, then this—the lecture I’m giving you is not a true lecture. So, as long as you have some discrimination about your condition or about what you think, actually you are not observing the things as it is.

So, true understanding is matter of intellectual understanding and matter of practice, you know. So, just by intellectual understanding you cannot figure out what do we mean. Only when you are touched by—you are touched by—with what you have and how you are, the intellectual understand—interpretation of the reality will—will accord with your practice. So, only by your practice, your intellectual understanding will work. As long as you are always involved in some intellectual understanding, that is not possible.

Sekiso, even if he had wanted to save that fan, it was broken and was no longer to be found. How could he—could he take it? You know, even though he wanted, it is not something to give—to hand it or to give. So, even though—and if you want to give it or if you want to take it, that is already broken fan [laughs]. Do you understand? It is already. The real fan is not something which can be given. So, if you want to give it to him that is already true fan—broken one. And the Kyozan — Shifuku, disciple of Kyozan, drew a large circle in the air, you know, and wrote a character, you know, of cow or a bull. [Laughs] and Setcho, who put appreciatory words to Blue Cliff Record said, why didn’t you, you know, bring a bull sooner? [Laughs] It is too late, he said, you know. Before he—he bring it to him, it was perfect, you know. After —because he brought it already here, you know, so, and put it here, you know, like this, it is too late. Why don’t [laughs] you bring it sooner? But it is not possible to bring it sooner. And if he bring it, you know, any time, sooner or later it doesn’t matter. If he bring it to him—if he—if he, you know, make circle and—instead of rhinoceros, you know, a horse or a dog or a cow or bull, it doesn’t matter, you know. Whatever it is, if he brings to him, “But that’s too late,” you know [laughs]. Before he brings it, it was all right. Because he brought it [laughs], it was already wrong. So, [laughs] Setcho who puts comments— not commentary, but appreciatory words to it said, “Why didn’t you bring it sooner?” Bring it sooner [laughs, laughter]. This is very good appreciatory words: Why didn’t you bring it sooner? [Laughs.] Even though he had brought it sooner, he would say, you still don’t say: "It is too late [laughs]. Why [laughs] didn’t you bring it sooner?" [Laughs] What will you do? If you bring it [laughs], you’ll be scolded, "Why didn’t you? You are too late!" [Laughter.] If you, you know, try to bring real [laughs] rhinoceros fan, you know, you will be scolded. If you don’t, you will be scolded. What will you do? That is the point, you should study.

And this is also how we practice zazen. This is the—Keizan Zenji’s instructions. [Aside] Hmm, who knows where it is? [One minute pause] Very interesting. [Laughter, laughs.] Usually, it may be better to put—when you practice zazen, he says to put your mind on your left-hand side, you know. Right hand, left hand, you—you know, you put your hands like this. So, you keep it—put your mind on here, so that your mind does not wandering about. And—but if you sit for a long time your mind will not wander about. And you should sometime—or you should also, beside sitting, study a sutra or stories of various patriarchs and teachers.

And explanations to—to this instruction by Nishiari Zenji, and this is also interesting. What do you—do we mean by to study all the scriptures? What do we mean by stopping your—resting your mind? In what kind of state of mind is the mind which is completely rest? And we say, to stop your mind, and don’t be concerned about it—things we are doing in usual time, but what actually does it mean?

And we say, you should not try to be friendly or try to have approach to influential people, like a king or minister. But what actually does it mean? Even though you do not do visit them, if you want something from them, actually you are trying to be friendly with them [laughter.] If you are afraid of him, you know, afraid of their power, actually you are visiting them [laughs]. If your mind is not in your belly, it means that you are visiting a king or a minister, and you are flattering—approving of. What does it—what does it actually mean when you say, you do not—you should not want to be friendly with them?

And, you know, and Keizan Zenji’s instructions—next instruction is: Don’t read too many books [laughs]. Don’t read too many books. Or do not listen too many lecture [laughs, laughter]. If you listen to too many lectures, a lecture will cause your reckless mind [laughs]. It will make a disturbance of your practice.

And you do not strive to practice big, big ceremonies [laughs]. Or you do not try to build a big temple. Even though it is good thing, it will—if you are involved in it too much it will be the obstacle. [Some words missing?] …be interested in giving lecture. If you always give lectures, your mind will be, you know, will not be calm.

"Do not try to have too many disciples [laughs] or too many monks. If you have too many disciple or monks, your mind will not feel calm." And commentary of Nishiari Zenji to it, he referred to the Buddha say(ing), if many birds come to a tree—too many birds come to a tree, the tree will—will die, Buddha said. So, don’t try to have too many disciples or too many monks.

"And you should not try to study so many things. And you shouldn’t—not learn—you should not try to know too many things. One by one, you should—you should study carefully, spending as—as much time as you can. The place where there is blue mountain is—will be the place you practice kinhin, and by the stream and under tree, you can practice zazen. You should always put the transiency of the world in your mind. And you should encourage true way-seeking mind."

Here, you know, also, we cannot, you know, understand this kind of instruction literally [laughs]. It is also a rhinoceros fan [laughs]. Tentatively, you know, it suggest this kind of thing, but we should know what does he mean actually.

And mostly, you know, people can—has some tendency, you know, and most tendencies we have is not good ones [laughs, laughter]. That is why [laughs] he is, you know, he refers to all those things, but if he—if we follow this kind of teaching there is not much danger in our practice. This is the best way, you know [laughs].

Before someone—someone told me, you know, if you want to—if you want to have a cup of coffee, you know, right now, it is a time to—for you to have it [laughs, laughter]. That sound good [laughs, laughter], not sorry [laughs, laughter], not you. Someone, you know, so I said, better not, you know [laughter]. And someone said, that is very good decision [laughs, laughter]. He was very much interested in what he said, very good decision. No other dialog [laughs, laughter]. Oh, no, not good. He didn't say, a good decision. He said, very easy, this decision. Easy decision. This is very good, I thought, easy decision. It is not so difficult, you know. It is very easy way. But I don’t mean that I cannot have a cup of coffee, if there is, you know, [laughs]. If there is, maybe better than to throw it away, so instead of a clear burden[?] [laughs]. I can take it, you know [laughs, laughter]. But this is very difficult to win. It may be good, but not so easy way. So, to refuse it, very easy way.

And those instructions—is out of his mercy he gave us this kind of instructions. But if we cling to this kind of instructions and say—and criticize someone who built a temple, you know, that is also wrong because it leads to this kind of teaching. To observe teachings like this is, you know, pretty difficult. The—how to observe this kind of teaching is the actual practice, you know. For beginners it may be better to refuse it. No, this is not the time we—we monks should not take a cup of coffee [laughs]. For the beginner it is good, but if we always insist our rules in that way, you know, like a horse, you know, [laughs, laughter] like someone who is carrying a big board on his shoulder, you know, without seeing the other side. This is Hinayana way [laughs, laughter]. You will take a cup of coffee—that is no good! If you don’t, that is Hinayana way [laughter]. Now, what do we do? [Laughter.] There is something [laughter]. So, if you say something, I hit you; if you don’t, I will hit you [laughter, laughs].

This is why people say Zen is, you know, very predictable [laughs] when the ???, predictable. It is hard to understand, but, you know, because you try to understand it, it is hard [laughs]. If you don’t, it is not so—so hard. If you, you know, live in monastery, and if you live with students, and if you are trying to, you know, figure out where should I put my fingers[?], you know. Oh, oh this is not good. This way and that way, soon you can, you know, put it in right place. I think, oh no [laughs]. Not like this. Oh [laughs, laughter]. If you try many times, you will understand how you put it. This is Zen [laughs].

If you try to describe, you know, how you put it on—on your finger, you--you must write a book about it [laughter]. How to put it. You should describe the shape of the [could be a gap in tape here] kotsu2 and [laughs] and, you know, you should weigh it, each part of the staff. And it takes a long, long time to [laughs] find out where you should put your tooth[?]. But without clinging to this kind of, you know, instruction, if you try many and many times, you can do it.

No one, will know it if the--a stone is heavy and would it work—which is very light. So, how do you know it? Do you weigh each stone [laughs] by in scale? You don’t, you know, you—you pick up. When you pick up stone, you, you know, when you are prepare for some certain weight. And when you pick up cotton, you know, you don’t try to use so many power. And you—you can tell how, you know. You don’t know how you know how many pounds it weighs. But you know—you know how much power is necessary for lifting the stone. If you see a stone, you will—you work in appropriate, you know, power—by your appropriate power. So, if you, you know—if someone put, you know, paper basket—paper and diaper… [possible gap in tape here]

…strong power. And if it is basket ??? [laughs, laughter].

This is, you know, is Zen… [possible gap in tape here] …goes on about instructions. So, whether it is good or bad, you know, this is what they left. And your friend or teacher knows, you know, what kind of experience you have in your practice, and listens[?] so we—you will get very adequate and appropriate helpful instructions. So anyway, you should do that, but it does not mean to force your way[?] something—actually this is the best way to study Zen, every day.

Do you have some questions? We have five minutes more. Hai.

Student A: How is it possible to stand on the ground? [Suzuki laughs.] and be unsupported? No support.

Suzuki: No support.

Student A: And still stay on the ground?

Suzuki: Uhm hm, you can’t do that.

[Tape turned over]

SR: How to stand up from ground it isn’t very clear, you know. To bring him—to bring him a rhinoceros fan, you know. It is not possible. But actually, people think it is possible. Here there is big mistake. But every one of us is—should give him something, even though broken one, or not so good, or old or new, or small or big. Anyway, if it is hot [laughs], you may help him—you should help him, give him something. That is actually what we are doing. We should know that, you know. And when you know this point through and through, you have no—actually you are standing on the, not firm but very appropriate, place. You found your place already.

In short, we should know what we are doing, first of all—what everyone of us are doing, and we should make our best effort. That is how you stand on the—when you—how you find the right place for you—right functions for you. Or right—not function, but—and how you should work. That is the most important thing. Okay? Do you understand?

[Laughs] So don’t worry [laughs]. Everyone is doing the same thing [laughter]. So, everyone are—all of them are your friend, your good friends. They doesn’t look like so, but actually it is so.



1 The Seven Perfecta is a verse composed by Shishuang Qingzhu (石霜慶諸; Sekiso Keisho in Japanese; 807–888), and it was said to capture the ideal image of a Zen monk. The verse goes:
Have been totally ceased;
Have been totally extinguished;
Have become a cool land of desolation;
Have had only one awareness for ten thousand years;
Have become cold ashes and a withered tree;
Have become a fragrant censer in an ancient shrine;
Have become a vertical stripe of white silk.
From PDF downloaded from:

2 Kotsu (Jap., ‘bones’). Also known as nyoi, the staff bestowed on a Zen master (roshi) on his attaining that rank. It is used in teaching. From:

Source: Engage Wisdom provided audio, 2021. Verbatim transcript by Peter Ford, Shundo David Haye and Wendy Pirsig (1/2022) revised 4/2022.


File name: 68-07-22: Bring Me The Rhinoceros Fan (titled by sdh) (Verbatim) Changed "separate" to "satisfactory"; "true zazen" to "true dragon"; "He did say" to "He didn't say"; "Is there difficulty?" to "Easy decision."; "difficult word" to "difficult to win"; "appointed" to "who is"; "hit it" to "hit you" 4/4/2022 pf. changed "say there" to "say Zen", "on kitchen" to "with children"; added section after tape turned over. Date is not certain. Changed date given, sdh.

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