Although We Have Nothing, We Can Help Others By Offering Things
Shunryu Suzuki Transcript
Thursday, July 7, 1966
“To benefit of -- to benefit others we have four types of wisdom: charity, tenderness, benevolence, and sympathy.”1
Student: Excuse me, what page is this?
Student: What page?
SR: Page 52 - fifty. The last part. “To benefit others we have four types of wisdom: charity, tender—tenderness, benevolence, and sympathy. These represent the desire and effort of bodhisattva. Charity stand opposed to covet—covetousness [SR pronounces this more like “curvaceousness”].” Here he talks about how to help others. This is bodhisattva's way, to help others. And this is one of the six prajna paramita. But here he talks about four types of wisdom, or prajna paramita. Four types. Charity, this is dana prajna paramita. And tender—tenderness, this is loving sympathy. And benevolence and sympathy, hmm, yes, sympathy. It is rather difficult to translate. Maybe sympathy, or to become one with others. “These represent the desire and effort of bodhisattvas.” Bodhisattva who wants to help others. In this way—in those four ways, a bodhisattva help others.
Dana prajna paramita, which is charity, is the practice of Buddhism and Hinduism. This is very old—anyway this is very old Indian. So, to give something to others is the best way to help others. But in Buddhism, we understand this dana prajna paramita to help others. But in Indian thought, it is way to help themselves. How they help themselves by almsgiving is, if they do something good, they will be born in heaven. That is why they practice almsgiving.
In—in—in India they observe precepts, and they observe almsgiving, so that they may go to heaven. That is Indian thought. But in Buddhism, we do not observe those precepts and almsgiving to go to heaven, but to help others. And according to Dogen Zenji, to help others means—almsgiving means—to let everything follow its own nature is almsgiving. If you have something which has its own nature, to let the—something you have go to the—go—let go things by its true nature. That is almsgiving, according to Dogen Zenji. So, this is not even to help others.
Here, this practice closely related to our zazen practice. When we practice zazen, we resume our true nature. And everything should resume to its own nature. When everything resume to its own nature, that is nirvana. But usually our activity is based on—are based on some gaining idea or calculation or evaluation. But those ideas is not—does not work. As you know Buddhism—before you become Buddhism, you should realize this point. As long as you are bound by worldly body, you cannot be a Buddhist.
Our human culture, by nature it has a very big self-contradiction. And our conscious activity is very paradoxical. Our thinking is very, very paradoxical. But we—usually we do not notice it [laughs]. That is so-called-it ignorance, because you don't know what you are doing exactly. So, you try to do something until you will find yourself in very paradoxical or self-contradiction [laughs]. That is quite usual for a human being.
Until some calamity come over [laughs], and you do not notice what you have been doing, but that is too late. So, before we do something, we should notice this point. To be critical to what we are doing means to find out the true meaning of our life. When we are not mature enough to understand things as it is, we will be attached to some appearance of things, or just superficial result of the—your activity.
But when you realize what you are doing, and what will be the ultimate result of your activity, you will find out the self-contradictory nature of our human activity. Then you will start to study Buddhism. And become more appreciative to your own life. That is Buddhism. So, as long as you attach to a worldly value of things, you cannot practice dana prajna paramita or almsgiving.
So, he says “To give almsgiving, or almsgiving prajna paramita is not—is try not to be covetous.” He says, “These presents—these represent the idea and effort of bodhisattvas. Charity stand opposed to covetousness. Not to be covetous is almsgiving. If you have attach to some idea of worldly value of things, you cannot practice this prajna paramita.” He just say not to be greedy, but actually it means the— what he means is very wide. It covers all the human activity. When we become—when we realize, it—excuse me—it may be impossible not to be greedy, for human being. But our religious effort should not be based on this kind of greediness. But we are liable to mix up religious activity and worldly activity [laughs].
And you—your religious activity is just extension of worldly activity. So, even though you give something—you donate some money to church, it doesn't work [laughs]. You are creating some trouble by almsgiving, for yourself.
To give something should be for yourself and for others. If it creates some trouble for yourself, it means it creates some trouble for others. So, religious activity should be quite different from worldly activity in its true sense. But we do not mean to ignore our worldly activity. But we should know what is religious activity and what is worldly activity.
Only when you realize what is religious activity and when you do not believe in—completely in your worldly life, worldly life will work. But when you believe in worldly value completely, it will create a big problem for us, because you make a big mistake, you know. Your activity, or your life cannot remain in middle way. You will go to the extreme because you believe in your worldly activity including righteousness or morality, you know. Morality creates big mistake or big [laughs] confusion.
We talk about, you know, right or duty in moral realm, but those are just, you know, comparative of value. That is not—those idea will not help our social life completely. Eventually it will end in some fight [laughs]. That is very evident. I don't want to, you know— I cannot explain it, completely, my—by my poor English [laughs], but if you think more, you will find out how true it is—how true what Buddha said.
Because of righteousness, you know, we fight. We think this is right, and someone—someone thinks that is wrong [laughs], and what he thinks is right. That is why we fight. But in morality there's no—morality will not—idea of morality—ideal of morality will not help us. Only fewer religious ideal will help us, in its true sense. This point is not understood.
When— so, I don't say you should ignore— you should escape from this worldly life. But you should know where you are and what you are doing. Then, you know, your— you will understand how to help others and how to help yourself. If you don't know, you will go to the extreme, trusting some, you know, concrete idea.
“So before—when you give something—when you want helps others by almsgiving, first of all you should—you should not attach to worldly evaluation of things. Charity stand opposed to covetousness. It is the principle of not preventing—not preventing offering. It is the principle [long pauses and paper rustling] hmm—It is the principle of not preventing offering through—though we ourselves giving nothing.”
“It is the principle” what it means “it is the principle... although everything is not ours, it is possible to give—to practice almsgiving.” “Although everything is not ours,” you know, you say you have something, but actually it is not yours [laughs]. Here we have, you know—when you give something, if you think “I—I have something so I will give you this one,” that is already mistake, thinks Dogen Zenji. He says although it is not yours, but you can give it to other —you can practice almsgiving by what you have tentative—tentatively now. You can do it, although that is not yours. That is what he means.
So, we should not think, “This is mine.” That is mistake already. So here [presumably showing reading glasses] is something which belongs to everyone, and which has its own nature. So, I—I should let this one go to Reverend Suzuki [laughs], because his eyes is not so good [laughs, laughter]. That is almsgiving. This is not yours [laughs] or mine. This is just glasses. So, although this is not yours, you can give it to me. That is what he means. That is almsgiving in its true sense.
If you treat things like this, that is almsgiving. It is dana prajna paramita.
The translation is very complicated [laughs], but “It is the principle of not preventing offering, though we ourselves give nothing.” Not give nothing, but things are not ours. “It is a principle that we do not prevent offering, although things are not ours. We need not mind how small the gift, so long as the result are true.” “We do not mind how small the gift is, so long as the result are true—so long as the practice is true,” not result. “So long as the practice is true,” we should not mind whether it is big or small. What we concerned—the point we concerned is—concerned is—whether the practice is true or not is the point.
And whether it is big or small in worldly sense is not the point. Religious activity is quite different from—religious activity is based on religious idea. It is not based on worldly idea of comparative value of things big or small, I or you.
So, when we mean religious activity, we mean the activity which is beyond worldly activity, quite different from worldly activity. But what we do is same, but idea is quite different. If you do it for a while tentatively, or for a while what we do will not create any bad result, but accumulation of those wrong activity eventually will create big result. We do not—we should not help creating some calamity to our society. But to some extent, you know, by controlling our activity with right understanding, we should do something. That is, if you do in—if you have this kind of life always, what you do will help ourselves and others. That is our way of life, that is how to help others.
That is why we have very deep and complicated philosophy, or view of life. Our view of life—Buddhist view of life is not just aspect of being, or aspect of non-being, the aspect of—superior aspect, that is Buddhist aspect. At first you say [demonstrating] this is my book. And then you say this is not my book. But everyone said—if everyone said this is not my book [laughs], we cannot live in this world. So, there should be more—some deeper understanding of those books. That is superior aspect. The aspect: although this is not book, I can help some people—others, by this book. That is dana prajna paramita. Do you understand?
So that is why he says, “Although we have nothing—although things are not ours, there's—our principle—we can help others by offering things. We need not mind how small the gift, so long as the result are true.” So, we should be—we should not evaluate things by good or bad, or quality or quantity. “We should not mind how small the gift, so long as the practice are true. Offering even a phrase or a verse of teaching becomes the seed of good in this world and the next. When we start this kind of life of helping others, then we can help people in this world, and in future too.”
“Similarly, goodness arise from the gift of one cent, or thin blade of grasses—grass—grass.” “Similarly, good—goodness arise from the gift of one cent or thin blade.” Original text says, “You should make offering of one cent, or one blade of grass. The teaching is treasure, and treasure is the teaching.” We say, “This is material, and this is spiritual.” But spiritual things is the other side of the material. There's no difference between a teaching and material. In worldly sense you say, “This is teaching, this is material,” but in its true sense each material has teaching in it. Teaching without any material power means nothing [laughs]. The teaching and—should follow some material—a materialistic power.
And materialistic without teaching, without religious teaching does not work. You said you understand this point pretty well, but I don't think you understand it [laughs]. Teaching we mean is not, you know—usually, teaching—by teaching we mean some moral code, or some advice. That's—you think that is teaching. But teaching we mean is the wisdom to understand what is teaching in its true sense. That is teaching [laughs]. So, teaching above teaching, or teaching over teaching. Do you understand? Teaching over teaching. Teaching which makes teaching teaching is teaching [laughs, laughter]. Teaching itself does not work [laughs].
You may say Buddhism is very negative [laughs] because we say your teaching is not teaching [laughs]. In this sense, Buddhism is very negative. But we would say your—your teaching may be good, but it is not only wrong—not only wrong, but also, you know, create big problem. Although it is—it looks like good, it looks like complete, it looks like [laughs]—but actually it isn't. Usually, the teaching we understand is not perfect—is not good. At least good enough to help us. But, when you do—do not do anything[?], when you do not observe it, it looks like good. But when you observe it, when you do it, when you follow it, it, you know, turn its back to you. It is not because teaching is wrong, maybe your way of understanding is wrong. So, if you practice something according to teaching, you should have right attitude towards the teaching. You should know how to, you know, manage the teaching [laughs]. That is the point.
So, we are very negative, but by being negative, every teaching will—when the every teaching reduced to nothing—no value, then the teaching will start work. It is necessary to reduce everything to nothing. It means to reduce every worldly aspect to nothing, and by pure mind, we should start religious life. That is so-called-it pure mind.
“So, we say true emptiness—truth comes—true reality comes out from true emptiness. So, it is necessary for you to reduce everything to nothing and start from nothing. That is religious life. To start from nothing means to observe things as it is, without any prejudice. That is our way.”
So, our way is more positive than yours. You are—you do it because you think it will result some good to you [laughs]. If it doesn't, you will not do it. But we do—we do it anyway, whether it will result good to us or not. If it is the nature of things—it is—if it is nature of ourselves, we will do it, and we cannot help doing it because that is our nature, because that is what everything is going. If so, no-one can stop it. So, things will go as it goes, and things will take care of themselves.
So, it is necessary to observe things exactly as it is. That is first. When you want to observe everyth—everything as it is, you have to, you know, see through what your nature is, and what your everyday life is first. And it is necessary to, you know—to change your basic understanding of life.
“In short, we should know that we are not perfect. And we should not expect to do something—to—to achieve some perfection. But we should continue to work for good, for light, for beauty. That is our way.”
So it is, you know—we have to have some eternal ideal, and we should have some tentative goal or aim to work on it. But we should know that what we can achieve is not—is just tentative goal or aim. After you do achieve something, you should have some—another goal to aim. But that is not absolute goal. If everyone has this kind of understanding of life, there's no confusion. There's no need to fight, you know.
You want to achieve something good here, and some other person will achieve something good there, and more and more we can improve our life. There's no need to fight with someone who is working for another [laughs] goal, you know. That is not absolute goal. There is no need for you to achieve some other's—to help some other's work, you know. You should work on your own goal, knowing that that is not perfect. Then there's no problem, and we can understand with each other.
You think what you are doing is perfect [laughs], but not so good [laughs] to me, you may say—he may say. Or you are enjoying doing something good, but not so good to me [laughs]. We will sometime laugh at—with each other [laughs] and we—we can help with each other. We should not be so serious about what we are doing. And we can enjoy our life in this way.
But this is not game, you know [laughs]—not game [laughs]. We are pretty serious [laughs]. But we should be very serious and very sincere with what we do, but there's no reason why we should force our way to others. You can help them, or they can help us, but there's no reason why we should fight with each other [laughs]. It is very silly, you know, to fight with each other, because of the ideal is different. The ideal is just—some possible ideal is just tentative one, not—cannot be perfect, anyway. Don't you think so [laughs]? Anyway, it cannot be perfect. As long as we are human being, it cannot be perfect.
But, they forced some ideal as if it is one—only one absolute ideal which can be achieved [laughs]. This is big superstition [laughs], big, big superstition. Thank you very much.
1 Suzuki Roshi read from the Reiho Masunaga translation of Shushogi.
Transcribed by Shundo David Haye from rediscovered audio 3/2023. Minor updates by Peter Ford, 4/2023.
Although We Have Nothing, We Can Help Others By Offering Things
(titled by sdh)
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