Most of you are beginners

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

One-Day Sesshin Afternoon Lecture
Saturday, December 11, 1965, Lecture A
Sokoji, San Francisco


Most of you are beginners, so it may be rather difficult why we practice zazen in this way. We always say, “just sit.” That’s all what we say. But if you sit, you will find out Zen practice—just to sit is not so easy. Just to sit may be the most difficult thing. To work—to work on something is not difficult; but do not—don’t work on anything is rather difficult. Without—when we have idea of self, we cannot stay still. Because we have some idea of self we find some reason why we work on something. But if you do not have any idea of self, you can remain silent and calm as you do—as you work on something. You will not lose your composure whether you work or not.

So to—to remain silent and calm is a kind of test we received. If you can remain silent and calm, it means you have no idea of self. If you will practice—if your life is based on the idea of self we usually have, what we do will not be successful in its true sense. You will be successful in one way, but on the other you are causing some conflict. So, to work without idea of self is very, very important point. It is much more important [than] to make a good decision. Even though you made—you make a good decision, if that decision is based on a one-sided idea of self, what you do will create some difficulties for yourself and for others.

So, for us to work on something or to help others is to—to do things within ourselves, not without. Our effort is concentrated in our—within ourselves. According to the sixth patriarch it is the activity of our true nature within. In the realm of true nature we do things, not outside of our mind. All what we do is the activity of our mind—true mind, which is not dualistic. The mind—by mind he means the Big-Mind, not self—selfish mind. Of course, we have dualistic activity, but that activity take place within the big mind. So, this dualistic activity within ourselves is different from the dualistic activity which we usually take. This psychology is very—maybe pretty difficult for you to understand, but Buddhist psychology is concentrated on this point. What is our psychological activity within ourselves? And psychological activity which take place outside of ourselves is delusion [laughs] according to Buddhist psychology. It is delusion. It is not true. It is—it does not exist. So, deluded activity will not result anything. But true activity, only true activity result good result.

You practice—when you practice Zen you have of course pain on your legs, and mentally you have some difficulty. You will find out it is rather difficult to be concentrated on your breathing only. And—and one after another you will—various images will come into your mind. Or your mind will go out for—for a walk [laughs] wandering about [laughs]. It is rather difficult for me too, so I think you will find out it’s—it is rather difficult.

But all those difficulties you have in zazen should not be [laughs]—should not take place outside of your mind. It should be—all those effort should be kept in your—within your mind. In other word you have to accept it [laughs]. You—you should not try to, you know, make some particular effort for the—the effort concentrated—based on your small self: “I have—I have to—my practice should be better,” [laughs] “my practice.” Buddha’s practice should be better, but not yours. If your effort is based on big mind—you cannot get out of it. It is so big, so you can—you cannot get out of it. But if your small self start to act without any care of big mind, that is not Zen. What you do should be well taken care of by big mind. So, our practice should be based on the big mind. So, what we do—the pain we have on our legs are same, but how we handle it is quite different.

We have—we observe precepts, and we say, “Zen practice and precepts is one.” To observe precepts are—to observe precepts is to practice Zen. It is same thing. In precepts we say we have many moral—or not moral code, but we have many rules. Some—most of the rules or ten commandments or sixteen commandments are almost [laughs] impossible to observe completely [laughs]. I don’t think that you can observe it. But if you practice zazen, you can [laughs] observe it. The secret of observing precepts is to practice Zen. Because if you practice Zen, dualistic idea of to observe or not to observe take place within your mind. You have no one to blame, and there is no one who is violating precepts. When you observe—you make effort to observe precepts, even though it is not complete that effort is Buddha's—Buddha-Mind's effort. But if you yourself is outside of the precepts or Buddha-Mind, you—there is no time to observe it completely. But if your activity is involved in Buddha's big activity, whatever you do are Buddha's effort. Then even though it is not perfect, you are manifesting Buddha's mercy and activity.

Dogen Zenji actually, I—according to his record, he—he was enlightened when he heard a disciple was hit by his master. “What are you doing? You—you have to make your effort hard. What are you doing here?” His teacher slapped a person who sit next to him, and he was enlightened. That effort is Zen.

That effort is to observe precepts. If we do our best effort on each moment with confidence, that is enlightenment. Don’t ask whether his—way is perfect or not. When he do his best to observe precepts, to practice Zen, then there is enlightenment. There is no other way to attain enlightenment. The enlightenment is not some particular—some certain stage. The enlightenment is everywhere. Wherever—wherever you are, enlightenment is there. Whatever you do, if you do, do it with your best. That is enlightenment. This point is very important for our Zen practice and for our everyday life. So, to practice Zen is a part of everyday life. Everyday life is—in everyday life we should make our effort. Without doing our effort in everyday life, just to come and sit here for forty minutes, that is not Zen at all.

If you want to practice this kind of practice as a good example of everyday life, you want your friend, you want your teacher, you want the precepts we have, even though it is almost impossible to observe it, it is necessary. And some form is necessary, and some way of working or some way of taking breathing is necessary. We cannot do—we can—it is not possible to be concentrated on some uncertain way. There must be some accurate way to observe. There must be strict rule to observe. Because of the rules we have, because of the way of sitting, way of practice, it is possible to be concentrated on something. So, in your everyday life, it is the same thing. Without any purpose or any aim, you cannot organize your life. Without knowing what you are going to be [laughs], you cannot make your effort. Because you want—you have your own aim to accomplish, you can make your effort in your best.

So, my master always said—my, not master, my teacher Kishizawa Roshi always said, “You have to have vow or aim to accomplish.” If you do not have your aim of life, you cannot be a good Buddhist. The aim we have may not be perfect, but that is—even though it is not perfect, it is necessary for us. It is like a precepts. Even though it is almost impossible to observe it, we have to have it. Without that we cannot actualize our way, Buddha’s spirit.

And so, we should be very grateful to the rigid, formal way of practicing Zen. Because of the great mercy of Buddha, he prepared for us many precepts. You may think those precepts are useless. If it is impossible to observe it, that’s useless. But we—we are—our life that we have now is the result of the useless effort. How many—how many useless things we did until you’ll come to this life? For human being I don’t know how long. From, you know, from egg born animal [laughs] and to fish and, you know, some animals and monkeys and—I don’t know, but we wasted so many times [laughs], so—so many effort until we come to this life—human life. And as a big tree in the Muir Wood has annual layer—cycle —if you cut your life in other way we have, you know, annual layer in our life, I think. That is precepts. You say that we don't want it, but you have it [laughs]. You—so as long as you have it, you have to sit, and you have to know how to continue your effort, and you have another annual ring or annual layer on your self. In this way we will develop Buddhism more and more.

Strictly speaking we should have some other precepts—more [laughs] if—but you say, “One hundred and fifty is awful” [laughs] “why don’t you make it simpler?” [Laughs] but I think you have to add some more because our precepts is prepared in Japan. So, in here, you have to another—you have to have another [laughs] precepts. So, I think you will have more difficulty in practicing zazen in America actually. It may be more difficult than we do in Japan. But this difficulty should be continued forever, or else we will not have peace in our world. As long as our effort is based on self-centered idea, there is no congenial life in a human being. Because of those precepts and by reflecting on ourselves and respecting precepts and rules, we have had—we will know the direction to make effort, and we will have right—right orientation of our life. This is how or why we practice Zen and how Buddhism is developed—has been developed.

[Tape stopped?]

Have some question? Please ask.

Student A: ??? you mentioned you think we—we may need some more precepts here in the United States? Can you suggest some?

SR: [Laughs] no, not now [laughs]. I want—I don’t want to disturb your practices [laughter, laughs].

Student B: What is the basic difference between the Rinzai and Soto zazen? Is there much difference?

SR: The difference is—you know, there is some—both has some characteristic—different characteristic. We are concentrated on, you know, fundamental way—fundamental way or tradition—traditional way originated from Buddha. And Rinzai emphasize his—its own characteristic character or “family” way, we say "kafu" fa—family way. You know, we have five families or—five families in China. Zen has five families. Rinzai, Soto, Obaku: those three was introduced to Japan. And Igyo, Ummon. There is some way Ummon—some more. Hogen, Igyo—oh, I said Igyo. Seven, five or seven schools. And if—we do not emphasize our family way so much, but fundamental way. We treat Zen as a—as Buddhism itself. Not Zen, but Buddhism. For us Zen and Buddhism is same. But for Rinzai Buddhism is not good enough; Rinzai is better. [Laughs, laughter] that is Rinzai’s idea [laughs]. We think Buddhism and Zen is the same.

Student C: Why doesn’t the Soto school use the koan?

SR: Koan?

Student C: Mm hmm.

SR: That is some, you know, technique to give instruction. It is not—not technique, you know. I shouldn’t say “technique.” It’s a kind of—a kind of way—their way to give your zazen structure[?].

Student C: Does the Soto school have something?

SR: We use koan too. And actually, Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo—in his Shobogenzo there are many, many koans. And there are many, many interpretation of koans, and many—his own answer to the koan. He may say, “My answer to those koan is like this,” he says. So, [laughs] we use koan too. We do not ignore it—koan. Or we do not ignore anything, precepts and Hinayana way and Mahayana way. But we—it is impossible to study everything, so according to the person and according to his character, you can study whatever you like.

Student D: What does it say over the door of the zendo? What is the saying over the door?

SR: Does it say? You mean—oh, over the door.

Student D: Yeah, over it.

SR: Oh, I see. That was written by Takashina Zenji—Takashina, at present Archbishop. And it says, “To—to take refuge in Buddha.” That’s what it says. Some more question? We have thirty—thirty minutes more, so please [laughs] go to your restroom [laughs].

This transcript is a retyping of the existing City Center transcript, entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. It is not verbatim. No tape is available. It was published in the Wind Bell, 1966, 5(3), which gave the date as Dec. 11, 1965. It was reformatted by Bill Redican (8/10/01). Verbatim version based on Engage Wisdom audio by Peter Ford and Wendy Pirsig and Shundo David Haye, 7-2022.

File name: 65-12-11-A: Most of you are beginners (titled by pf) (Verbatim) Intro from above moved here. Q & A after lecture.

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In Wind Bell, Vol. 5, issue 3, 1966