Shunryu Suzuki Transcript
September 10, 1968
SR: We have been practicing sesshin for seven days. Although we have—in this area, we have nothing to say, but nothing to say does not mean no words. If you could say something, in the area of "nothing to say," please come up and say something.
Student 1: Docho Roshi, I have too many things to say. The great dragon fills the universe with its many coils. It holds the full moon in its teeth. It fills my heart with confusion. How may I vanquish this dragon and stand in the light of the glorious full moon?
SR: When great—the great dragon appear there's no moon for him. The moon appears, there's no dragon. Dragon and the moon are so intimate friend. If you have self to observe it, there is the moon and the great dragon. When you just sit, there's no great dragon or the moon, and yet you fully appreciate the brightness of the moon, and with the great dragon.
Student 1: I am very deeply grateful.
Student 2: Docho Roshi, why do we cling to ignorance when the true dharma is all about us? Why do we create great barriers in our path?
SR: Ignorant—ignorance is also important. And when you become fully, fully, completely ignorant, that is dharma itself, Buddha himself.
Student 2: Thank you very much.
Student 3: Docho Roshi, inexorable is the wind, the han, breathing, the beating of the heart. What then is it that keeps a pile of skandhas from making a better effort?
SR: That is—that which making effort is not you. Actually, that is Buddha. And when Buddha appeared, there is but one thing which we see at that moment.
Student 3: Thank you very much.
Student 4: Docho Roshi, I feel like that two-headed snake, the head where the tail ought to be, all wrapped around itself. One head stands for confusion, one head stands for anxiety. Rolling about in agony, in a sea of needles [panting - some laughter]. Off the reflection of a needle—off—off a needle, I catch a glimmer, a reflection of you and Tassajara and your teaching and everyone here and I bow in gratitude.
SR: I think you got it. You are not amidst of it, but you are one with it.
Student 5: Docho Roshi, after this sesshin, I still do not know who I am. Why am I ignorant of my true nature? How can I find out who I really am?
SR: Don't try to find out. You are the one.
Student 5: Thank you very much.
Student 6: Docho Roshi, when the skandhas are empty, in what matter is confession practiced?
SR: Because skandha is empty, you can—when skandhas found to be empty, then true massive[?] will appear.
Student 6: Thank you very much.
Student 7: Docho Roshi, if everything is in the state of becoming, what makes—what aware is the self that I cling to as being permanent.
SR: Self-clinging is self[?], but we don't know that self-clinging itself is also an attachment. When we really cling to something, without any idea of good or bad, self-clinging will disappear, because there is nothing but the self-clinging. Because you become one with the self-clinging, and you cannot see the self-clinging like you cannot see your nose or eyes.
Student 8: Docho Roshi, any question I have sees itself and finds an answer, so no question can remain a question. Will you explain this to me?
SR: No question—
Student 8:—can remain a question.
SR: Main question?
Student 8: To remain a question. As every question sees itself—
Student 8:—and finds an answer.
Student 8: Could you explain this to me?
SR: Question—when question—you have question, and you hear it, if the question is really your own problem, at that time the realization of question appears—takes place. At that time there's nothing but the realization of the question. Everything disguises themselves into—in one question. That is the ultimate reality, where there is no question.
Student 8: Thank you very much.
Student 9 (Ed Brown): Docho Roshi, last winter you told me the most important thing is to find out what is the most important thing. I can't keep up with it, it's too fast. How shall I continue from here?
SR: The most important thing, to find out most important thing, or way to find out most important thing is to accept things as it is, without comparing one to the other. That is the most important thing. It means that when you are in kitchen, you should devote yourself completely to the kitchen work, without comparing to some other work. That is the most important thing. So, to find out something important for you is not to find out something—some more important thing than to kitchen work, but to be completely involved in your position is the most important thing. Do you understand?
Student 9: Sometimes I don't know what my position is, and I lose my position.
SR: Even though you know your position, but sometime people will not find out where you are, but that is their problem, not yours. Everyone knows where he is. So let them see where you are.
Student 9: Thank you very much.
Student 10 (Vanja Palmers?) : Docho Ro—Roshi, how may one become free from inner aggressions against others and have love them?
SR: Aggression? Will you please repeat your question?
Student 10: How may one become free from inner aggressions—
Student 10:—that spontaneously arise, and have more love for others?
SR: Actually, always what you have—what you have acquired is fully expressed by you, even though you may not know it. So, there is no need for you to think how and just do things as you want to do, as you are always doing. That is best way, and don't expect anything more.
Student 10: Thank you very much.
Student 11 (Trudy Dixon?): Docho Roshi, let me see who I am. [Pause] To die each moment and to be reborn is the great freedom of the dharma. I'm like a small fish, I swim in and out of the big death.
SR: [Softly] Yeah, that's right.
I am grateful that you are making your best effort in accepting this dharma. Of course, it is not easy, but dharma cannot be so easy. Dharma is the thing to which enable[?] everyone of us have been striving for, and will strive for, to know what it is, to accept as their [or there]. So, it is not only you, but all the patriarch and sages have been striving for it, and you are one of them. And you should be pitiful for the people who do not strive for it, who haven't good chance to realize the necessity of striving for it. To realize the necessity of striving for it is the point to which we are making our best effort. There's no other point to strive for. Since you have realized the necessity of striving for it, you are already one of the patriarchs and you gained that state. Don't think Buddha and patriarchs were quite free from birth and death. They are still striving for it in the name of various sentient beings. It is most valuable thing that you realized the necessity of striving for it. The suffering you have is the every—should be everybody's suffering, but perhaps most of them will not realize it, but it should be so. And it was and it will be the true with the future Buddha and past Buddha.
Student 11: Thank you very much.
Student 12: Docho Roshi, what is now?
SR: Now we are making question and answer. And tomorrow grows from now. And past time is also right now. Now include everything. This now includes you and I and everything. This now includes your entire intelligence.
Student 12: Thank you very much.
Student 13: Docho Roshi, at the time of birth is someone unsure of being born?
SR: Time of this birth—birth? And--
Student 13: Is someone unsure of being born?
SR: Someone—if—if—if someone. Excuse me.
Student 13: Is someone unsure of being born?
SR: Even though you are not sure that you are—you are born, you know, you are right here, and it is not a matter of sure or not so sure. And to be sure or not to be sure is not a problem, you know. Even though you are not sure, you are here. So, don’t think, you know, whether you are quite sure or not.
Student 13: Thank you very much.
Student 14: Docho Roshi, after some effort we can be freer of feelings, and after some more effort we can be maybe free from thoughts for a while. If there’s still some streamly[?] viewpoint which is like a window through which we can see the world, how can we break through our viewpoint which seems to separate us from one another?
SR: Separate from one to the other—at that time separation itself—separation—even though you think separation is there, but actually interprets[?] another understanding of one being here. So actually, there is no separation because when you think one is separated from the other, that understanding itself is a perfect understanding of unity. Like this, you know, pride, this is proud, this is usual[?]. And it looks—it looks like two different things, but actually one. So, separation, when you think about it, there is separation, but that is—that separation exist only in your mind. Actually, everything is one. And when you feel some separation, that—that feeling makes your idea or feeling of unity stronger. When you live with your friend, you will not feel the unity so strong. But when you —you think you are separated that feeling of unity will be stronger. Anyway, there is no separation.
Student 14: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Student 15 (Yvonne Rand?): Docho Roshi, when you say that form is form and emptiness is emptiness and form is emptiness and emptiness is form, I don’t understand. Would you please tell us, is my hand form like emptiness? Is the space between us form and emptiness? Is form emptiness because it changes? And how can emptiness be form?
SR: Form—form and emptiness is, you know — emptiness is something you cannot see; form is something you can see.
Student 15: That’s all? [Laughter.]
SR: But—but something you can see and something you cannot see is one thing. Here’s one thing, here’s something, you know, which you don’t know. Which you don’t know, but if there is nothing—nothing comes out, you know, from vacuity. Because there is something, something appears. As flower appears from the earth. Because there’s earth, the flower appears. Because there is some great being, everything appears from it. But that something is so big that we don’t know what it is, that—that’s all, even though we don’t know what it is, something exist as the root of something. That is emptiness. And what you see is something—form. And why we—why we say form is emptiness and emptiness is form, form is form, emptiness is emptiness is, you know, because of the—our—because we want to help you by this—help your understanding in four ways. But actually, it is one truth. It is maybe pretty difficult to explain it in one word. [bangs stick on platform] Maybe this is [laughs] our formula [bangs stick on platform - laughs].
Student 16: Thank you very much.
Student 17: Docho Roshi, if I should learn to accept things as they are, how can I get rid of my greed and—and my laziness and my self-clinging?
SR: Hmm. Self to—get out of self-clinging is to accept self-clinging, you know. You should—if you know that it is hard to get out of self-clinging, that is how you get out of. That is actually—when you accept your self-clinging that is not self-clinging in its usual sense anymore. So, to know yourself is how you get out of self-clinging. So you practice very hard for seven days, and you realized—you have realized who you are, you know, and you understood you. How it is difficult—how it is difficult to sit for you. Or how you—how is it difficult for you to get out of self-clinging. That is actually how you get out of self-clinging.
Student 18: I’m very grateful for your deep compassion and your encouragement. Thank you very much.
Student 19: Docho Roshi, I’m finally learning that there are two sides of everything - good and bad, and black and white. And I find that many of us think that the study of Zen Buddhism is good. And I wanted to ask you if you thought—since I’m trying to see the two sides or many sides to everything, is there a bad side too?
SR: Yeah. You should see bad sides [laughs].
Student 19: I wanted to ask you what it is [laughter obscures talking].
SR: Bad side? [Laughter.] Bad side. Sometime—most of time, you will see bad side only [laughter, laughs]. But, you know, when you see bad sides, you know, you have good sides or else you cannot see bad side. So, to—to know bad side is also good, you know. But if you think, if you—if you do not like, you know, if you do not care for bad side, or if you hate bad side, that is not so good. To know, you know, good and bad is good, but to discriminate—discrimination—discrimination is not so good [laughs].
Student 19: I don’t—I don’t understand.
SR: Yeah, maybe. Maybe because—because you think everything should be good, you know, so you do not want to see bad side. Everything should be good, but when you see everything, with a small mind or ego-centered mind, then there's—you want everything should be beautiful and good. That is a kind of innocent idea. You should realize this point. So, to care for only good things is not so good, you know, because that is some ego-centered idea—a kind of ego-centered idea. When, you know, there is two version of one reality, good and bad, bright and dark. So, whatever you say—the people say or you say, the thing itself is the same, you know. Even though you do not like snake, you know, snake doesn’t change. Snake is snake. Even though you like flower, flower is flower, doesn’t change. So, the only way is to make some other—other version of it. That is, you know, only way. Thing itself is not good or bad. This is absolutely realization of Buddha himself. But you say good or bad, that’s—that’s all.
Student 19: Thank you very much.
Student 20: Docho Roshi, I recently came upon this quotation from Dag Hammarskjöld. It is, “Maturity is among other things to no longer hide one’s strength out of fear and consequently to live below one’s best.” If I could live alone in the woods with only the trees and the sky and the birds and the animals, there would be no need to hide. What is this fear, and how can I learn to go beyond it?
SR: The only way maybe, is to know yourself, so that you can know others too. And everyone is the same; there’s no difference between sages and common people. They are the same. You think after you train seven days, you—you may be some different person [laughs]. Really, it is not so. You will know yourself, and when you have some confidence in you, you will see others, you know, without any fear of seeing someone’s fault or someone’s viewpoint. Because you have no confidence in you, you will be afraid of seeing someone’s fault or someone’s mistake or viewpoint.
Student 20: Why am I afraid of people seeing me?
SR: Seeing you?
Student 20: Seeing my—
Student 20: —for judging me?
SR: Because they do not know themselves. So, that is not your fault—their fault. So you shouldn't be so much concerned about what they may say.
Student 20: Thank you very much.
Student 21: Docho Roshi, your voice is the voice of han, crown[?] and bell.
SR: My voice?
Student 21: Your voice.
SR: Ah, hah [laughs]. Maybe so [laughter]. Not much, it depends [laughter, laughs].
Student 21: Thank you very much.
Student 22: Docho Roshi, my mind and body are suffering because of conflicts of striving. You speak of striving, of our best effort—making our best effort, but it is also said that only when we cease striving will we change. Please explain.
SR: When you think you are striving for something that is one understanding. And when you think Buddha is striving in term of you and others or conflict, then it is two version of one activity of striving. One is a true conflict; the other is more organized—more real understanding in which our idea of self is less involved. As long as it is our understanding—some idea of self already involved, but comparatively speaking, the second understanding is better, but not perfect enough. When you are completely involved in this kind of conflict as your own or as—as a Buddha’s conflict—I mean as your own—when I say as your own, I mean not anyone’s conflict, your own conflict—your own conflict or Buddha’s conflict. When you understand, he’s a friend. And when you completely involved in this kind of effort, that is not a conflict in its usual sense which will—in which you lose yourself. So, conflict itself is—when you understand conflict itself is necessary, then that is not anymore conflict.
Student 22: When you say conflict, you mean conflict with striving to succeed?
SR: Yeah, to succeed or to—to have better understanding of it. To succeed we say that is very, you know, [laughs] uncertain word. Better understanding, you know. Since this always going on, so with better understanding, you follow the reality—then that is—that will be there. Success is life, but succ—succeed is serving. I don’t want to use that kind of, you know, words because it is very self-centered way of expression.
Student 22: Thank you very much.
Student 23: Docho Roshi, when the son of the king, Siddhartha Gautama, had lived for six years without a home, as an ascetic, in pain and hunger and cold, he took his final seat beneath the bodhi tree and vowed that until his eyes had been opened to the true dharma he would not stand up. At that moment, what was his understanding of non-attainment?
SR: Non-attainment. As he said it is wonderful for everything to have buddha nature. You know, that is non-attainment. Everything has buddha nature as he has. And buddha nature isn't —was no special — realization of—of buddha nature is not any special event for him. But for Buddha, or for Siddartha who has been striving for, getting out of it would be the wonderful experience. But act—originally there is nothing to attain. And this no attainment was realized by Buddha.
Student 23: Thank you very much.
Student 24: Docho Roshi, for seven days I have been just sitting, without trying to either do anything or not do anything. And for all that time my mind has rattled on [laughter], just as it is now, with only a few moments occasionally of peace. And this has been going on for many years in innumerable sesshin. Why should I continue?
SR: Hmm. Maybe first[?], when you do not sit, you think you are doing everything pretty well. But actually, it is not so. It was not so. And you found out, you know, yourself in sitting that is the real you. If so, what you will do —what you should do —is your question. But another thing you should know is even though you are not sitting, you are, in that way, you are just, you know, fooling yourself always [laughs], I am sorry, and fooling others too. So, it is very valuable thing that you found out yourself, if you find out yourself, if you realized yourself and if—if you extend that realization to your everyday life, that is how you—that is the way you should be.
Student 24: Can you tell me how to grasp this extension? Can you tell me how to—
SR: How to—
Student 24: —how to extend my understanding of myself to my everyday behavior?
SR: Everyday behavior—maybe for a while, to stop everything.
Student 24: To stop everything?
SR: Uh-huh. And wait until you have—you know, you really feel that you want to do something. Wait. Maybe—in other words, maybe better to continue your—this kind of practice more. That is, I think your way. You are not too late [laughs].
Student 24: The answer to the many years of sitting is that they’re simply not enough and what is needed is more?
SR: Mmmm. Not enough.
Student 24: Is that correct?
SR: Yeah. Not enough. Why I say not enough is you have some more flowers[?] you know, flowers, or some, some other things you have in your mind—you did not leave your practice. So, I think for you—best thing for you is just to sit.
Student 24: Does that mean without effort, Roshi?
Student 24: Just sitting without ef— without trying to stop the—the— the—
SR: Oh no.
Student 24: —fantasy.
SR: Oh no. Without stopping—leaving our practice. Whatever happened in your mind, that’s all right [laughs]. Just sit.
Student 24: Will it ever stop?
SR: It will not stop, but you’ll accept it. [Laughter]
Student 24: Thank you very much.
Student 25: Docho Roshi, you and I have answered all my questions except this one. Why do we kill vegetables but not animals? [Laughs, laughter.]
SR: You are killing your beard too. Why do you shave? [Laughter, laughs.]
Student 25: Thank you very much. [Laughter]
Student 26: Docho Roshi, how can I learn to stop making the same mistakes over and over, and falling into the same traps over and over, even though I see them coming?
SR: Perhaps you cannot stop it. [Laughs] You shouldn’t—you shouldn’t think that is possible. That is not possible. Then if that is not possible, what will be your way? —you know, will be the next question.
Student 26: Thank you very much.
Student 27: Docho Roshi, why is there so much suffering?
SR: Hmmm. There is no, no reason why.
Student 27 [weeping]: Thank you very much.
Student 28: Docho Roshi, I think—things keep moving, and we move on with you, and we find ourselves, we keep finding ourselves there. But I also have a feeling always, always, that there’s one—there’s one more thing that I’m always on—on the other side of something. Can you explain it to me? What is, what is—if we move along with things—but I also have the individual responsibility. What is my final responsibility?—What is my greatest responsibility?
SR: Final responsibility?
Student 28: My ultimate responsibility.
SR: [Long pause.] Hmm. If you lose your one eye, you know, what will you do? If you lose two eyes, what will you do? If you lose your ears, what will you do? Still, you have responsibility. Even though you have no legs to walk, you have your responsibility for your body. No one can help you, you know —in its true sense. Even though people help you, you know, you have to accept, you have to manage, your suffering in your body.
Student 28: Will that always be there, that I cannot quit the — this — always one thing I can’t do? There’s one—one thing that’s always beyond me— one step that’s beyond me.
SR: So, what I’m saying is, instead of saying, “What is my responsibility?”—you know, responsibility—your responsibility changes, you know, whether you are healthy or not. And where you are, and relationship to others, your responsibility changes. So, to do what you should do on that—in that moment, is the way to fulfill your responsibility.
Student 28: Roshi, will I always have a responsibility that’s beyond myself here[?]?
SR: Yes, or else we don’t exist. Responsibility, we say, but that is actually the relationship—actual relationship we have to others. So, it is not, you know —it — I don’t mean you should do something, or you should perform[?] such and such thing. But you—you should keep good relationships to others. That is our responsibility.
Student 28: Thank you.
Student 29: Docho Roshi, what is my ego?
SR: Ego. There’s actually no ego. But when you want to survive, the feeling you have—the feeling—you feel as if you have some ego, that’s all. Another interpretation of your feelings. So, if you feel, that is big ego, then that is not anymore small ego or self. That is one of the many way of feelings of one desire to survive.
Student 29: Can you say it once more please?
SR: You know, when you want to eat, you know, it means that you—you— it looks like you have ego. But that is actually–you want to support yourself. So, this kind of—eating, you know, just eat, will be understood various way. That is greed think[?]— someone may say that is greed. But, it may be greed for you, but greedy desire for you, but it is—but it is not only so. To eat something is to support yourself. And to support yourself is to have energy to do something for others. So, in this way, you know, one desire will be extended to some other desire, to work. So, it is not just greedy — greed. But if you understand, that is greed, that is belief, but one of the many understanding of one buddha nature. So, there is actually no self, or no evil desires.
Student 29: My question is, what is my ego? My ego is a desire to survive?
SR: No. Who survive? Buddha survive. Not ego.
Student 29: How does—how does this ego relate to—to fear of no nose, no ears, no eyes, no world of eyes?
SR: Ego. No eyes means this is buddha’s eyes, buddha’s ears, not yours. Because no such thing as you. It is tentative form of emptiness. So no ears.
Student 29: Thank you very much.
Student 30: [LOUD SCREAMING and crashing]. ?? green [?]. [Laughter and applause.]
SR: What did you say? [Laughter, laughs] I couldn’t understand you. But I understood you—I felt your feeling. [Laughs, laughter.]
Student 31: Docho Roshi.
Student 31: When the mountains is colored—orange golden at the setting sun and pale blue, how—where go the mid way?
SR: Middle way?
Student 31: Yeah.
SR: Middle way. That, you know,—when you appreciate how mountain changes, you know, that is middle way. Without saying this is gold— this side is gold, or the other side is purple. But just appreciate the sight of the mountain is middle way.
Student 31: Thank you very much.
Student 32: Docho Roshi, crickets.
SR: And GAAAAH! [Laughs]
Student 32: Thank you very much. (See note above).
Student 33: Docho Roshi, last year’s seed, this year’s flower. [Laughter]
SR: Hmm? Excuse me. I’m sorry.
Student 33: Last year’s seed, this year’s flower.
Student 33: Been going along this way for a long time now. [Laughter] And I can’t think of any other place to be, but here. What next? [Laughs, laughter.]
SR: What next? What next—next will be seed, again. [Laughter]
Student 33: Thank you very much.
SR: Hmmm. We say when drum is striken [struck] in Korea, the sounds will be going in China. All of you expressed your true nature wholly. Although I said "In this area nothing to say," and although we have been practicing our way in silence, from this silence all those flowers comes out—came out. This is how our way will flourish. In this sesshin anyway we tried just to sit, whether or not we know what it is, and what will result. But actually, many words and truths came out from our practice.
When Nangaku said to the patriarch, the sixth—the sixth patriarch, “I understand your question given by you six years ago—eight years ago: ‘Who are you?’ And whatever you s—I say, that will not be right. That was my answer to the old question you gave me eight years ago.” The sixth patriarch said, “If so, is there any need to practice, or is there any need to attain enlightenment when whatever you say it is not right? Or it is right?” At that time the Nangaku continued, “But although there is enlightenment and practice you should not cling to one of the two, enlightenment or practice.”
Actually, when you practice our way there is already flowers and fruits, as you saw and as you did. So, in its true practice there is enlightenment. So, you— we should not say, "this is practice," or "this is the enlightenment." Enlightenment and practice, and practice and enlightenment, seed and flower, flower and seed. Seed already has flower. Flower already has seed. So, to know what kind of difficulties we have in zazen, to know what kind of difficulty in our life is to have realization, to understand our perfect original nature. I am so grateful that you could practice for seven days without any idea of attainment. But you will be amazed that you have seen in our questioning and answer right now. Thank you.
Transcript from Engage Wisdom by Shundo David Haye, Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford, 5-2022.
Dated as the last day of the Sept. '68 sesshin at Tassajara. From newly discovered tape by Engage Wisdom in 2021.
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