A minimally edited transcript


Sesshin Lecture, Lecture B
Thursday, July 29, 1965, 1 PM
Sokoji, San Francisco

Are there any1 questions so far?

Student A: Why do we put our hands like this? And then—is that the best—is that—why? [Laughter.]

SR: This is called “cosmic mudra.”

Student A: Called what?

SR: Cosmic mudra. One of the Buddha's mudras. There are many, many mudras. This is a good question, I think. Have you some other question? I will talk about it.

Student B: Once you know buddha-nature—do you always know it, or do you, like, forget you have it and have to remember it—that you have buddha-nature?

SR: You do not understand what I said exactly. Yeah, I will explain it just now—then [?]. Some other question?

Maybe better to explain your question, and then some more people will have some other questions, I think. I think you are trying to figure out what is buddha-nature. Is that so? Because I did not explain what it is. I just pointed it out: “This is buddha-nature.” But I didn't say what it is: that is buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is—it is impossible to understand in a psychological way or philosophical way or scientific way. You cannot understand it in this way.

So that is why we should know what is science, what is philosophy, what is some culture science. We should know all our mental functions or else you will say this is our religious mental function. You will say in this way. You will point out some of the mental functions and say this is Buddha. This is a fundamental function of our mind. This is a mistake. Do you understand?

Soon after philosophers tried to establish the authority of  human beings [laughs], human nature, they tried to figure out what are our mental functions. And all culture should be established by ourselves, by our human nature. So they studied what is human nature and what is the function of our mind. Pursuit for truth, pursuit for morality, pursuit for beauty: those three are our mental functions. There are no other mental functions beside those three. It is true.

Student C: Can you say those again?

SR: Hmm?

Student C: Can you say the mental functions again?

SR: When they tried to establish our own culture, our human culture, humanism—so-called humanism was to establish our authority. Before, our civilization was in a Dark Age, and your civilization was under the influence of Christianity—authority of Christianity. So scientific truth was not absolute truth for you. But after the Dark Age you tried—philosophers at least tried to establish human culture. To establish human culture, they had to figure out what are the functions of human beings' minds. Now you know they counted three, and there are no other functions of our mind.

Pursuit of truth: that is science, pure science. Pursuit of good: that is ethics. Pursuit of beauty: that is aesthetics. Those three—there is no other culture in human beings. But they could not deny their Christian religious tradition. Then what is a religious tradition? What is the religious function of our mind? The combination of the three is supposed to be the religious mind function. When those three functions get together and work on something, that is the religious function of our mind. If one particular function of mind works, that is science or ethics or aesthetics. If the three functions work together that is the holy function of our mind. That is your interpretation of human culture, and there is no other function of our mind.

But for Buddhism that is not [laughs] enough. And Western philosophers too realized that that is not enough. So nowadays you do not apply these three ways of classification of our minds because, actually, to classify our functions of mind makes everything clear, but it doesn't work so well. If you study ethics only, you will not be helped by ethics. That is a kind of study. You can write  [laughs] something interesting, but actually it is just to read, not to help you yourself actually. You will be interested in it, that's all. And after you know that—that's all. You may ask, “And what?” [Laughs.] If a philosopher says something you may say: “And what?” [Laughs.] “And what is it for? I understand what you said, but what is it for? And what?” This kind of civilization is not so good. It will not help you. Sometimes you will be bound by the civilization, and more and more you will be mechanized. And you form some pattern of life, some special pattern of life. That is, I think, Western civilization.

So that is why for Buddhists your study helps a lot. Because how your civilization helps Buddhism is—what we want to say is: “All the so-called mental functions, whatever they are, is not the true religious function. That is a function of small mind. That is not a function of big mind.”

So, if you say, “I attained enlightenment. I know what Buddhism is,” then we will see your culture, we will open your books: “Oh, this is [laughs] your enlightenment.” Psychologists say so-and-so, and, “This is exactly what you meant. Do you agree with it?” [Laughs, laughter.] If you say, “This is it,” then I will say that is not good [laughs]—even though I don't know what is written in the book. I can just ask you, “Is it—is this what you meant?” And if you say, “This is it,” I will say, “No!” [Laughs, laughter.] It is quite simple. This way helps us very much. Then, you know, if I say, “That is not [?],” then I can tell what it is—what we mean by religious function.

I don't say religious function of my mind [laughs]. What is religious function? So religious activity is the right word. Religious function of mind is not the right word. What is religious activity? Religious activity is self-use of big activity. Big activity—self-use of big mind is the religious function. Self-use not in my mind or not even mind. Self-use of big—one activity. Everything works as one—all activity including the sun and the moon and ourselves, mind and body and everything. That is what we mean by the religious function. If so, you cannot figure it out by your small mind.  

So if science and philosophers work together in a big scale, that is true. That is true study. If they work together, with mutual understanding—when they want to work together, there should be some mutual understanding under some system. At least, each scientist and philosopher should know the limits of their work: “This is your study and this is my study.” This kind of preparation is necessary, and Dogen was very, very strict with this idea.

Student D: You once said that to climb the mountain you have to come back down, and if you become enlightened you won't need enlightenment. Would you say more about that?

SR: If you—oh I see. What was your question? No—no, your question [Student A].

Student A: My question was about the—

SR: Oh, cosmic mudra. The cosmic mudra and your question are related. The cosmic mudra is—to sit is to participate. This is not the right word, but to participate—self-use of big existence—one whole existence including everything. So this is one sole existence, the symbol of one big existence including everything. So it is a symbol of our practice.

When we practice our practice beyond our understanding, when we just participate in big activity—this is big activity—we are participating in big activity. And  you come up all the way to the summit by studying many things. Scientific study and various studies you will do. You are not a scientist or philosopher, but all of your life will be classified or will be interpreted in three ways. And you are making an effort to know what is science, not “what is science,” but you are trying to improve yourself in various ways, mostly maybe emotional ways. But anyway you are trying to improve yourself in various ways. And more and more you will be—not “tired out,” but you will know that you cannot—

[Possible break in recording of unknown duration.]

—what you are actually working for. Or what is your basic intention to do, to live, or to do something. Then, sooner or later, you will reach the same point, which is your inmost request or enlightenment or whatever you say is buddha-nature. Then you will find out all you do has been based on your inmost request. Before you didn't know that. You were just wandering about. But after that, you will know the oneness of wandering about and enlightened life. Before you realize your inmost nature, for you, that is wandering about. But for Buddha it is not so. But for you it is wandering about. Once you know what it was for, you will find out the meaning of what you have been doing. This is to go up and to come down. This is a big scale of understanding [laughs]—understanding of big, big scale. It does not mean to be a philosopher or to be a Zen master. It is possible for everyone.

Student E: Is it possible for everyone [2-4 words] previous lecture [4-8 words] too late?

SR: Hmm? Too late?

Student E: Yes, for some people it's too late in this life.

SR: [Laughs.] I mean when you are too old—not too late, but you will regret, “Why didn't I realize this before?” It is not too late, but when you lose your present moment, I should say, “If you don't work hard, it will be too late.” You must not always be too late [laughs, laughter] or too fast. Truth is here,  right here. You should not be too late or too fast. Right here. It is written on your back [laughing, laughter]. All the scriptures are written on your back and front. [Gap in audio.]

If you do not realize it, you should write. Do you know Lafcadio Hearn?2

Student: Mm-hmm.

SR: Lafcadio Hearn—the—I don't know what nationality he—

Several students: Lafcadio Hearn. [A few inaudible comments.]

Student: Was he an American writer?

SR: Hmm? Is he an American?

Student: No, I don't believe so.

Students: [Mostly inaudible comments. Last one repeats the name of Lafcadio Hearn.]

SR: He is very familiar to Japanese people. He lived in my home town—Yaizu3 and Matsue4—he thought Matsue or Yaizu was his native town. He wrote many books about Japan and many interesting books. Dr. Kato [?] was studying about him. And one of the stories he wrote was “Miminashi Hoichi.”5

There was a biwa player,6 something like a guitar. And once he played at Dan no Ura.7 Dan no Ura is where the Heike family8 was killed by the Genji family.9 There was a big fight between [laughs] the Genji family and Heike family. Japan was divided in two. And the Heike family husband supported the emperor. And after the battle, the Heike family lost. All the princes and court ladies and a young prince were drowned to death in Dan no Ura. It is near Shikoku. Do you know the famous Inland Sea in Japan?10 At the end of the Inland Sea there is Dan no Ura. There they fought a big fight. And at the last the Heike family and his men were drowned to death.

And there are big crabs because [laughs] all the Heike family changed into crabs at the bottom of the sea. People say that is why those crabs have a shell like a demon, like a devil. Its shell has a kind of grimace face [laughs, laughter], an angry face.11

The biwa player12 played at the temple near the cemetery of the Heike family. And he was so good that all the spirits of the defeated soldiers and princes and court girls came out from the cemetery [laughs]. They tried to take him to the cemetery or to the cemetery yard or into the ground even. He was so scared every night that he asked for the help of the resident priest. So the priest wrote the Prajnaparamita Sutra on his body. And he said, “This is all right, you will be safe.” [Laughs.] So he was sleeping, and all the demons came. But the demons could not see him, could not find out where he was, even though they came. But someone said, “Here he is!”—drawing his sword, and he cut off his ears [laughs]. The next morning the resident priest found him, his ears cut off from his body. And he asked what happened. “What has happened to you?” And he said, “They cut my ears off.” The resident priest found both his ears. On them there was nothing written. So that is why he was found [laughs, laughter].

You know, the Buddha's actual teaching is nowhere. You cannot find it. Because you cannot find it, it is everywhere. If you say this is Buddha's teaching, that is wrong. It should [laughs]—not be found. That is right. If you think, “This is Buddha's teaching, it's his whole body, a part of his body,” it is wrong understanding. You should write Buddha's teaching on your ears too [laughs]. It should be everywhere. If it is the teaching for some part of your body or life, that is not Buddha's teaching. It covers everything. It should be so. Because it covers everything, you cannot find out what it is, because it is one with everything. If it is one with everything, how can you find it?

So we religious people deny the existence of the teaching. There is no Buddhism actually, I say. And those who believe in Buddhism will say there is no Buddhism. And it is true for us. But, if a scientist says there is no Buddhism, that is a big mistake [laughs, laughter]. We can say there is no Buddhism. If some philosopher says: “Philosophy includes everything. We can establish the authority of human beings by ourselves without any god or religion,” that is a big, big [laughs] mistake. Only those who believe in our teaching can say there is no Buddhism. When there is no Buddhism, you attained enlightenment. But, if someone talking about Buddhism all night, drinking beer [laughs], smoking cigarettes [laughs, laughter], says, “Oh, this is Buddhism. There is actually no such tradition as Buddhism. This is Buddhism.” That's not, Buddhism. Those who practice—those who participate in cosmic self, self-use of cosmic existence, can deny Buddhism. For them—for us—there is no Buddhism, no particular Buddhism. But for them there are Buddhists [laughs] because they have their own field of study, and Buddhism is something different from their understanding of their study or way of study. Did you understand?

That is to go up and to go down. That is a cosmic [laughs] symbol. Here we have a cosmic symbol. There is no Buddhism in this realm. So we say, “Just sit. There is no Buddha, and no good or bad.”

Tonight we will have discussion, and Bishop Sumi13 will come on Saturday morning. He will join us from one o'clock. And he will give us a lecture at one o'clock. So if you have questions, please ask me before he comes.

1The beginning of the lecture was not recorded on tape. The phrase in brackets was inserted by the transcribers.

2(Patrick) Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904): essayist, journalist, and teacher. Son of an Irish father and Greek mother, Hearn settled in Japan in 1890 after living in America for several years. In Japan he taught English and wrote extensively about the country, its myths, and its history. His essays became the West's most popular source of information about the recently “opened” Japan.

3 Yaizu, in Shizuoka Prefecture, is where Suzuki-rōshi's temple Rinso-in is located. Yaizu is a fishing village facing the Pacific Ocean, southwest of Mishima on Honshū, the main island of Japan. From 1897 until his death in 1904, Hearn spent every summer at the seacoast in Yaizu, on the second floor of a fish shop owned by Yamaguchi Otokichi, whom Hearn regarded as "the most amiable Japanese he had ever known." As Suzuki-rōshi was born in 1904, he may have bought fish from the very same Mr. Yamaguchi or passed by his shop. Hearn's 1899 essay "At Yaidzu," from In Ghostly Japan, describes a Bon festival in Yaizu.

4 Matsue, in Shimane Prefecture, is a castle city near the Japan Sea, along the northern coast of Honshū. Hearn lived there briefly while teaching English at a local school. His impressions of Matsue are recorded in his 1894 essay "In a Japanese Garden," from Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

5 Hearn's story "Miminashi Hoichi" ("Earless Hoichi"), from Kwaidan (1904), is an example of a literary work based on The Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari), a famous epic about the rise and fall of the Heike (Taira) clan and the eventual victory of the Minamoto (Genji) clan.

6 A biwa is a Japanese stringed instrument resembling a lute. Suzuki-roshi is probably referring to a biwa-hoshi, one of the blind storytellers who memorized and recited (in a style similar to a Buddhist chant) The Tale of the Heike throughout Japan as they played the biwa in accompaniment.

7 Dan-no-ura (also Dannoura): A beach along the Shimonoseki Straights, in the extreme southwest tip of Honshu, Japan, near which a critical naval battle was fought in 1185 when the Genji decisively defeated the Heike. This battle brought the Gempei war to an end and began the Kamakura Era of shōguns.

8 The Heike (Taira, Reike, or Reiji) clan held great power during the 11th and 12th centuries. They engaged in a protracted struggle with the Genji (Minamoto) clan. The story cited by Suzuki-rōshi refers to the defeat of the warlord Taira Munemori (1147–1185) by Genji forces in 1185.

9 The Minamoto (Genji) clan, from whom descended the three great shogun families: Minamoto, Ashikaga, and Tokugawa.

10 Inland Sea: the sea south of the Honshū mainland, between Honshū and the islands of Shikoku and Kyūshū. Dan-no-ura is at the extreme west end of the Inland Sea.

11 Some Heike crabs (Heike-gani) have a shell that resembles the face of a scowling samurai—the vanquished samurai army of the Heike clan. Such crabs are considered sacred and are returned to the sea if caught by local fishermen. In that sea are also golden fish called Koheike, which are
regarded as the embodiment of Heike women who drowned at Dan-no-ura.

12 Hoichi is the name of the biwa-hoshi in Hearn's story "Miminashi Hoichi"
("Earless Hoichi"). He played the lute and "chanted the chant of the fight on the bitter sea" at Dan-no-ura for the samurai, royal, and other Taira ghosts of the battle.

13 Bishop Sumi Togen: formerly an instructor of monks at Soji-ji. In 1965 he succeeded Yamada Reirin as head of the Soto Zen School in America.

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Diana Bartle and Bill Redican (7/22/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (4/2021).

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