A minimally edited transcript

forgotten the value of religion

Tuesday, July 27, 1965
Sokoji, San Francisco


In Soto School, most of Zen masters do not use koans, because we stress the self-use of one sole existence. Our practice covers everything. When you do something, that practice covers everything. So in our religious experience there is no duality. Our religious experience is not in thinking realm, or even in contemplating. That is why we do not use koan. But koan is useful of course. But that is not goal of religious experience; that will not help to have to have religious—ultimate experience.

Yesterday I explained something about our inmost nature. This nature is not possible to study by science or philosophy. This nature is beyond—not beyond—this nature is not possible—cannot be object of study. We can point at it, but we cannot study what it is. For instance, when you choose one of the two ways, that 'you' is not possible to know what it is. You choose one of the two ways. "What shall I do?" you may say. That "I" is not possible to figure out what it is. But when you say, "What shall I do?" there's "you" anyway. (Laughs) You can point out, there's "you" here, but no-one knows what it is. (Laughs) This kind of "I" is what we mean by "I": the inmost request. The inmost request wants to choose one of the two ways. But something exists which is choosing one of the two ways, which is thinking, "Which is better?' He thinks, “Which is better?", but he cannot think—he himself—what it is.

This kind of "I" is called inmost "I", or ultimate "I." This "I" is universal to everyone. You choose, you have that kind of "I." Everyone has this kind of "I." So this "I" cannot be a subject of study or philosophy or science or psychology.

We practice our way—when we practice something it is of course dualistic. Our practice may be dualistic. But when you practice it with this idea, being aware of this "I." inmost "I," your practice is not any more dualistic. Your practice looks like dualistic, but your practice is done by the inmost request of your nature. That is not dualistic.

If you ignore true "I," which is choosing “Which should we do?” then you will be lost in duality. "What shall I do? This way or that way?" Just duality—you will suffer in duality. When you have strong inmost request, strong desire to do right thing, there's no alternative. The conclusion will be indubitably found out.

This kind of practice is our practice. When your meal is ready, someone who is responsible for the kitchen will bow to the zendo. This bow is for you who practice zazen here, including Buddha. And you do not answer the bow, but usually he bows in the kitchen so we don't know, so we cannot answer the bow, so we don't. But actually, the head of the kitchen will bow to you when the meal is ready. This bow is for us who practice this practice. The practice done by your inmost—done by your Buddha nature, or ultimate request. And this kind of bow is bow which we do to the Buddha. Buddha is someone who is practicing this way. Not only Buddha, but also every existence is doing this kind of practice.

When I say inmost request, it looks like something emotional or activity, but it is not so. Religious culture in our sense is not just building or painting or rituals in the monastery. Our religious culture includes every culture: science and philosophy and including everything, we call it religious culture - from our viewpoint. So what you do—what you cook in the kitchen is religious activity. When you work in the zendo, it is religious activity. Not just bow to Buddha, is not just our religious activity.

This kind of understanding of religion is quite different from your understanding of religion. When we say understanding of religion, it means philosophy of religion. In your philosophy of religion, if you compare Shobogenzo and your philosophy of religion, you will find out the difference between your understanding of religion and our understanding—his understanding of religion. He does not allow his Shobogenzo to be a philosophy. Shobogenzo is not philosophy. Shobogenzo is religious literature, or religious philosophy – not [laughs] philosophy of religion. Direct interpretation—interpretation of direct experience of—direct religious experience is Shobogenzo.

By religion, before Buddhism is known to the West, you meant Christianity. So there's no wonder that their idea of religion is quite different from our idea of religion. Our idea of religion covers everything, every human culture. So it is impossible to study by scientific way, because science takes some viewpoint. When you take some viewpoint it may be science, or natural science, or cultural science, or ethics, or philosophy, or logic, so that kind of study who fixes the standpoint of study cannot study what is religion, because it covers everything. (Laughs.) So after Windelband1 or Northrop,2 Heidegger or phenomenology take their place, and nowadays what is it [laughs]? Existentialism? [laughs] When we were students we studied, Northrop or Windelband or Heidegger; we didn't know much about existentialism. But if I am right, existentialism or phenomenology do not divide our mental function in three. They do not apply the three classifications of our mental activity. Because they think it is more appropriate to study our mental function as one function, not emotion, or not logic, or not thinking, or not arts and ethics, good or bad.

But before Northrop, they classified our mental function in three ways: pursue for truth, pursue for the good, pursue for the beauty were the three functions. But actually those functions are not independent. When we do something, it is willpower, and it involves emotions. And it involves also good and bad ethics. So if one of them is lack, you cannot do anything. So it is better to study it as mental activity itself, without classifying in three ways. This is nearer to Buddhism—this way is nearer to Buddhism—phenomenology or existentialism is close to Buddhism. But [laughs] not exactly so.

So if you can compare—I don't know, I myself I don't know existentialism so I cannot compare, but there must be some difference. We have no existentialism, but in our Buddhist philosophy we have this kind of interpretation of our mental functioning. We Buddhists suffered a lot [laughs] about our mind [laughs], so Buddhism is study of our mind [laughs]. Our mind is very troublesome existence, [laughs] we don't know what to do with it [laughs]. So at last we find out that it is impossible to study our mind [laughs]. Something impossible to study is our mind, but you cannot deny the existence of mind.

Now, what I want to say is, what is our practice? What is our practice? What is our pure practice? As I said just now, all our practice will be dualistic. When it is dualistic it looks like some formality, or rule, or rules, or rigid rules, but it is not so for a man who realizes true self. Because it is impossible to figure out what it is, we ignore true self. It is not interesting—or you cannot have any interest in studying true self because it is empty. It is empty but it is there [laughs]! So no one will be interest in it. But if you ignore this boss, you will suffer a lot.

So some Zen master always call up the boss, and he used to say, "Ohayo Gozaimasu, boss" [laughs] "good morning, boss," "good evening, boss," "how are you, boss?" [laughs]. The neighbors wondered, "he may be crazy [laughs] - he's always around, but he calls up someone and says 'good morning' and 'good night' - he has no boss, he must be crazy." But he was always calling up the big boss who's always doing something. Even though he is sleeping, he is doing something [laughs]. That boss is very important for him. But, at the same time, he is so tired, he do not speak anything. So he may forget all about the existence of the boss [laughs], so he calls up the boss: [laughs] "How are you today, my boss?" [laughs] "I'm going to take a dinner. How are you today?" It may be alright, if you forget all about the boss, you will eat too much [laughs]. When you know you are under the control of the big boss, you will not eat too much. You will not do something wrong. Whatever you do is right.

But the difference between ordinary boss and this boss is, he does not say anything. He just watches what you are doing. He is always encouraging you, that's all. He will not give you any suggestions, but because he is your boss, and you are his small boss, that you know intuitively what you should do. This is our practice. Ordinary boss is very mean in spirit, and he will give you many rigid instruction or rules. But he never gives you any instruction.

This kind of self is what we mean by self, and this kind of life is called religious life in our sense. So, the best way to repay the mercy of the great boss is to do something. There is no other way. And to be grateful to him is the only way. But this gratitude is not just emotional feeling. We say, just sit on your cushion. It may be pretty difficult to find out the meaning of "just to sit on your cushion"—maybe pretty difficult if you do not know how important it is. But the more you study your life, the more have problem in your everyday life, you will find out how important it is to practice Zen.

Zazen practice is not the kind of practice you can compare with your everyday activity. This is quite different practice from your everyday activity. We say, “No value in our practice.” No material value or physical value or mental value. It is beyond our worldly value. And it is the source of all our activities, the source of all our culture.

[End of the added section]

For a long time after Renaissance, you have forgotten the value of religion. You try to exchange religion for science and philosophy. You are Christian [laughs], but actually what you have been doing is to replace [laughs] science to religion—to exchange science. And you wanted to establish human culture, which is quite free from [laughs] authority of religion. You have quite good reason [laughs] in your effort to try to exchange—or try to reform your culture before it is too dark [laughs]. Now it is too bright [laughs]. You went to the too extreme, I think [laughs].

But recently, even though you have excellent—very advanced culture, but there is something which you don't know what to do, and that is your mind [laughs]. You don't know what to do with this mind. You have various tools, but you have no mind to use it [laughs]. That is your problem, I think. And we Japanese people studied what is our mind [laughs], but we have enough tools [laughs], so we become attached to your civilization too much and almost forgetting what we have studied [laughs]. That is our problem just now. So combination of the two will create something wonderful, I think.

If I say, “Treat everything in right way,” it looks like very rigid and formal, but it is not so. This secret of Dogen Zenji will work.

Someone said Western people failed in creating their culture by ignoring religion. And Oriental people made a great mistake in abusing religion. The Buddhism was too handy, so we abused religion too much. So now we don't know what is true religion. Oriental religion is mixed up [laughs], you know. In India, in China, or in Korea, even in Japan, Buddhism is so handy that they use religion instead of medicine. They use religion instead of education, science, and our culture is based on Buddhism. That is too much for us [laughs]. And you abused [laughs] Buddhism—Oriental people abused Buddhism too much. When you abuse something, the true original advantage will be lost. If you cut paper by razor, razor will be blunt? What do you say?

Student: Dull.

Dull—will not be sharp enough. So you should not use razor when you cut paper. That is why Dogen Zenji emphasized the purity of the Buddhism—the religion. Religion should be pure and sharp always, so that it can serve its original purpose, its own purpose. Leave every activity for some other people. We religious people should devote ourselves to the pure genuine religion. And we should keep religion always sharp enough to cut various entanglement completely.

This is why Dogen worked so hard. And this is why I came here and why you are studying Buddhism in San Francisco, I think.


1 Wilhelm Windelband (1848–1915) was a German neo-Kantian philosopher. He is considered the founding father of the Baden (or Southwest) school of Neo-Kantianism. Windelband’s main philosophical contribution consists in reformulating Kant’s transcendental approach in terms of a “philosophy of values” that focuses philosophical analysis on questions of normativity.

2 F. S. C. Northrop (1893–1992): Professor of philosophy and jurisprudence at Yale University for 39 years. Suzuki might have been referring to his The Meeting of East and West (1946). Northrop urged humanity to be “continuously aware of the freshness and the ineffable beauty and richness of the immediately apprehended” (The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities).

65-07-27-A. Sesshin Lecture -- 6PM. Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Judith Randall. Checked against tape by Bill Redican (1/18/01). Reformatted by Ray Watkins, (April, 2012). Light Edit by Clare Hollander (10/10/12). Additional section transcribed and footnotes by Shundo David Haye, 10/22/2021. Verbatim version 1/2022 by Peter Ford. New light edit by Wendy Prisig, 12/2023 incorporating added section on top.


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