A minimally edited transcript

some more questions

Sesshin, Lecture C
Thursday, July 29, 1965, 6:30 PM
Sokoji, San Francisco

SR: Do you have some more questions?

Student A: Rev. Suzuki, would you please talk about what Buddhists think about killing or about—maybe there's a precept or a doctrine—

SR: About killing?

Student A: About killing.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student A: Because it's hard to understand, with all the killing that is happening in the world, why [2-3 words] stops.

SR: About killing. What do you think it is, “not to kill”?

Student A: It's not to kill.

SR: Mm-hmm. Not to kill. What do you mean, you think?

Student A: What—what do you mean?

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student A: Well, I've always thought that's just what it meant, not to kill, not to—trampling [?] down on, or maybe not even to think about it. I don't know.

SR: This is maybe a pretty difficult question to answer, not to kill.  “Not to kill” fundamentally means not to be dualistic [laughs]. If I say so, it may not be the right answer to your question. When we become dualistic—we have precepts, you know, not to kill. Not to kill means don't kill. But actually there is nothing to kill [laughs]. If everyone has buddha-nature that buddha-nature is something like what I talked about last time. It is impossible to kill. You can kill someone's body, but his true nature cannot be killed. So not to kill is not a matter of kill or not to kill. Even if you try to kill someone, it is impossible. If you know that it is impossible, no one will try to kill some other person. Because you think it is possible, you kill someone.

Student B: Roshi, even though—even if we—even if to kill somebody else's body, does—don't they have to lend themselves to the act? I mean, act—don't we actually assist them in their own desire for death, rather than taking them out of our world, someone out of theirs?

SR: I couldn't follow you. Excuse me. Will you say it again?

Student B: Well the person that is killed, the one who decides, who has it in to kill [?]—the killer just lends himself to the mistake.

SR: To—to?

Student B: Yeah, the killer just lends himself—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student B: —to the mistake.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student B: The person who is killed—

SR: Uh-huh.

Student B: —is the one who decides to die.

SR: Yeah.

Student B: He is the one who makes the mistake.

SR: Yeah, who—the one who wanted to kill?

Student B: How could he want who is killed, also?

SR: Who is killed?

Student B: Yes. He chooses, you know, like the man who throws himself on the sword. I mean, you know, he gives himself to the sword.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student C: Yeah, we give ourselves to the atomic bomb.

Student B: Yeah.

Student C: —when it's dropped wherever.

SR: Yeah, that is a kind of suicide.

Student B: Yeah, yeah it is. I think every person that dies commits a kind of suicide. Otherwise it's performance.

SR: When we try to kill, there is a mistake in understanding of our life. Because we do not know it is impossible to kill, we try to kill. And—but your question or answer, I don't know what—

Student B: When we die, there is the same mistake because we do not know it's impossible to die.

SR: Mm-hmm. When you think you are dying, that is the same mistake.

Student B: Same mistake.

SR: Yeah. It is impossible for us to die. We do not die actually.

Student B: Right. Right. Right.

SR: Yeah, that is just maybe the same mistake. So if everyone understands this point, no one will try to kill anybody. So, not to kill is to realize our true nature. That is the interpretation of the precept not to kill.

Student D: We should include violent acts to those too.

SR: Increase? Include?

Student D: Include violence.

SR: Violence?

Student D: Violence.

SR: Yeah, violence, yes. All the precepts include this idea of our true nature. To realize our true nature includes all the precepts, not only not to kill or not to steal. Not to steal is—there is nothing to steal [laughs]—because you have it. Don't tell a lie. We cannot tell any lies [laughs]. Because you think it is possible, you try to tell a lie, but it is impossible. Even if you try to tell a lie—you know you are telling a lie, and if you know that, everyone will know it. So it is impossible.

Student E: How can we avoid being angry—

SR: Angry?

Student E: —or resentful or jealous or suspicious of other people?

SR: Uh-huh.

Student E: How can we guard ourselves from dipping [?] into that kind of precept?

SR: Anger is one of the strongest evil desires: greediness and anger and ignorance. But all those things come from ignorance. When we are ignorant of our true nature, we become angry. It is want of subtle understanding. That is anger.

Student E: What I meant was how can we avoid when it's—when we can— when we know it's [1 word], when it starts to come out, or when—sometimes I feel angry toward a person, but I hold it back and just—

SR: Yeah.

Student E: —I know there's anger going on, but that—but it still comes back. And I don't know—or sometimes I feel that I feel like criticizing someone else, and then I shut up. But I still feel the—

SR: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that's too late, you know [laughs, laughter]. So you must be angry. That's all you should do [laughs]. When you become angry, you should be angry. That's all [laughs, laughter]. Don't criticize yourself. And you cannot be always angry. Anger lasts one or two or three minutes. That's all. When you notice it, that's too late. So it may be better to be angry. And after you realize that that was a mistake [laughs], you have to try not to be angry again. This is the point. If you think you should not be angry, it means you are caught by precepts. “You should not be angry,” that is not a precept, actually. When you keep it, that is the precept, but when you violate it that is not a precept anymore. That is just a mistake. So we do not talk about anger which came up already. That anger is psychological anger, not religious anger. Before we become angry, that is religious anger. So if you are really religious, you have no anger and you keep precepts.

Student F: [4-6 words] this topic. The only question maybe would be [4-6 words].

SR: [Aside.] Would you shut the door?

Student F: I was wondering about the killing of animals—the technical or superficial [1-2 words]. According to what little I know about monasteries, vegetarianism isn't opposed if you're on a diet because of the elimination of the killing of animals. And I thought—I imagined if there weren't any killing of animals, it would be quite a few animals living it up [laughs, laughter].

SR: Animals—not only animals, but [laughter] vegetables you eat are also living beings. But this kind of discussion is not purely religious discussion. It is religious because if we do something wrong, that action will create another bad action or habit. This is a very important point. If you do something wrong, that experience will create some other bad conduct. That is why some people emphasize that experience is the origin of the conscience.

Student F: In other words, this concept of “sinner” would be—sin—would be any activity that causes one to fall short of enlightenment?

SR: Sin. Sin and enlightenment are two sides of one coin. When you said you are sinful, you have enlightenment. Enlightened mind says you are sinful.

Student F: Not “civil?”

SR: Huh? Sinful.

Student F: Sinful. Oh, sinful.

SR: Your enlightened mind says you are sinful. This is two sides of one coin. The Pure Land sect emphasizes this side. And they try to turn this side into the other side. That is possible because it is two sides of one coin. It is the same thing—actually the same thing. Don't you think so? Quite different things?

Student F: But in a sinner, one generally isn't willing to admit that he is a sinner.

SR: Yeah. Is a sinner. When you think he is a sinner, he is enlightened in another word. The same thing. He is sinful—he is enlightened in his true nature. He cannot be just enlightened. If both sides are enlightened [laughs], it doesn't mean anything. He even does not exist. There is no such thing, no such person. Someone may say, “I am enlightened. I don’t mind whatever I do.” That is [laughs] crazy. He is crazy. He lost his personality. Don't you think so? If he admits himself just sinful, and no hope to be enlightened, or no hope to be saved by Buddha or Christ, he is crazy too. For a man it is impossible to think that way. There must be some hope to live, some hope to be saved. Even if he admits himself to be sinful, he has still hope to be saved, or else he cannot exist. At the same time, if he says, “For me, there is no sinful life. I am quite safe. Whatever I do, it's all right,” he is also crazy. If you think that after you're enlightened you can do whatever you like, that is a big mistake [laughs, laughter].

Student G: Since they—in the sutra they say our discriminations are carried forward by habit energy, how can we understand them in relation to the practice?

SR: You—your present bad action, you mean, is?—

Student G: Well, I was thinking in terms of dualities.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student G: Is it carried on by what they call “habit energy”?

SR: Habit—habitual energy? Habits—that is the result of previous wrong conduct.

Student G: How can we understand them better in relation to our present conduct?

SR: In relation to practice? What is the relationship between that statement and our practice, you mean?

Student G: How can we avoid creating more habits?

SR:  Our purpose of practice is to cut completely [laughs] down the habitual power. To be completely free from our habitual energy or whatever it is— habits—habitual power, which is so-called karma. At least we should know that we are intrinsically free from karma. Karma is something which we create—we create karma, and we suffer from it. So pure religion is in the realm of—there is no creation or no—no—I forgot—what is the opposite of “create”?

Student: Annihilate?

SR: Hmm?

Students: Annihilate? Destruction? Destroy?

SR: Not “destroy,” but—

Student: Eradicate?

SR: To become—in Buddhism, “to create” means to accumulate some elements and create something. And when those factors become separated, there is nothing left. Composed— “all composed beings,” we say. You know, this is composed of what?

So our purpose of zazen is to get out of the usual understanding of create or destroy or this kind of scientific philosophical thinking. When we are free from this thinking, there is no creation and no destruction. We are always free from those defilements. And we know this is our true nature. When we know that there is no more continuity of the karma, we can stop the karma. Even for a moment you can do it.

Student H: Isn't sitting there part of your karma?

SR: Yeah.

Student H: Just—we stop the old stuff.

SR: Yeah. Stop everything [laughs] completely. Because we can stop it, because we do not even stop it just to practice—we don't try to stop anything. We do not even try to stop it even. As long as you try to stop, it will not work.

Student I: I think that's a pretty interesting point that this comes up—an idea that requires effort in order to transform habits is not necessary to create striving toward elimination of the particular conditioned habit. But, like you pointed out, just to focus your attention on the habit at a particular moment is not a very good [2-3 words]—that it's true it's not necessary to use effort. And yet there is effort to bring about—to bring about the change. Effortless effort, maybe. So it shouldn't be difficult.

SR: No, it is not difficult. But there should not be any misunderstanding in what you said. If something is added to it [laughs], that will create some problem. It should be purely so. When you say something, or when you try to figure out what is our teaching or what is our way, already your own idea is in it. In that case, it will not work [laughs].

Student I: The thing affects me too— that it's—

SR: This is very important.

Student I: Finding a solution to an answer—to a question is like it's verbal.

SR: Yeah. It isn't verbal.

Student I: It doesn't—it doesn't [1 word] into the room [?].

SR: It is just conclusion, and there should not be any thesis for getting some other conclusion. You may say it is so because we can do such-and-such things [laughs]. That is abusing the teaching. Teaching is the teaching, period. Your conduct should not be based on just verbal teaching. Your inmost nature will tell you. That is true teaching. What I say is not true teaching. I just give you a hint, you know.

Student J: Seems to me this has got [?] a unique great mistake or a sacrilege to [2-4 words]—

SR: Oh. Yes.

Student J: —to cop to some solution or delusion.

SR: It will easily become delusion—misunderstanding—if you attach to a statement. If you realize something in your heart, in your sight, “This is it,” that is the teaching. What I say is not [laughs]. It's just a suggestion. “Have you something like this?” I say to you. And if you say, “Oh, yes, I have the same thing here,” that is true teaching. That is so-called enlightenment.

Student K: Is there any real difference between our waking state and our dream state?

SR: Not much difference, maybe. Dream—if you say dream, all that we are doing is a dream [laughs, laughter].

Student K: Are we dreaming?

SR: Huh?

Student K: Are we dreaming?

SR: Maybe so [laughing, laughter]. Maybe so [?]. Ninety-nine percent we are dreaming.

Student L: Is there any conflict between pursuing the true and beautiful and seeking buddha-nature? Or can we seek the buddha-nature through the truth and the beautiful?

SR: Uh—[laughs].

Student L: Should I repeat it?

SR: Yeah, please.

Student L: Is there a conflict between seeking the good, true, and beautiful through science, art, and so forth—

SR: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Student L: —and seeking your buddha-nature? Or can you seek buddha-nature through the true and beautiful?

SR: The way is different. To pursue beauty or truth or good is different from the pursuit of holy nature within ourselves. The way is different. But, there is no conflict because the pursuit of truth or good or beauty is based on our inmost nature. There should not be a conflict. But when your conclusion invades religious feelings, there you have conflict. As long as your pursuit is limited to your own way, there is no conflict. If science just becomes science, and if philosophers just become philosophers, and religious people accept the conclusions of scientists and philosophers, there is no conflict. And it should be so. Sometimes we invade. From the religious point of view scientific research means nothing if I say so. This is to invade another pursuit. Pursuit of knowledge and pursuit of the holy mind—not “mind,” but holiness—are quite different things.

Student M: You spoke yesterday on the fact that this innermost part, this passion that wants to save all of man—even though it might not be possible in this life, but nevertheless we should try. And I wonder what can be done for the person who has cunningly deceived himself into being satisfied intellectually that he is there or he is a buddha, or—You know—what indication—how could it be pointed out to that person, even though it may hurt, to show him that he is upside-down?

SR: I think I understood you, what you said just now. Scientific research or intellectual understanding of religion is not always wrong. And why we have intellect is to correct our emotional faculty. Our emotional faculty is sometimes not so clear and is not so correct. Some correction is wanted for the emotional function of our mind, or else we don't know whether what we feel is right or wrong. That is a characteristic of the emotional function of our mind. It is necessary to correct it so that we can rely on our emotional faculties. So it is necessary. But even though intellectual understanding can correct our emotional faculty, that correction will not help you so much unless you realize the original—the true nature of yourself. It is just our life in the emotional and intellectual realm.

We don't know the deeper strength of emotion and intellect. So it will not help you so much. It will not encourage you, just a correction. Morality will not encourage you so much unless you have a good example who is wise and moral. If someone is great, if you have some good example, it will give you some encouragement. But just an intellectual correction will not help you so much. So we say that is not enough. The religious experience is something more than that and something different, completely different from our intellect or emotional feeling. So, we should not ignore our intellect, but we should not be limited. Our faculties should not be limited to the emotional or intellectual realms. Do you understand? So we should be reasonable, and we should be emotional too.

Student N: What happens if a person dies without realizing his buddha-nature? What happens to his buddha-nature?

SR: What happens to buddha-nature? Nothing happens to it. It is always the same and constant. Buddha-nature is always taking activity. It is in incessant activity. There is not two buddha-natures. There is only one buddha-nature for everyone, for everything. And it is always in incessant activity. Even though we are sleeping, it is in activity.

Student O: I thought you always said that buddha-nature was calm, that we had no idea how quiet and calm—

SR: Calm activity [laughs, laughter].

Student M: The previous question [3-4 words] it was not sure [2-4 words] those are things that cleared up. You know, there is this information [2-4 words] that once you held [2-4 words], by its very nature, what could be—maybe it's too personal—but what could be done to help that person to see himself that his previous knowledge—his so-called self-knowledge [1-2 words] is not real [1-2 words] of intellectual [1-2 words] which is not, of course [1 word]—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student M: —but [6-8 words] so it's contented to continue on and accumulate it and more information in such a way that it is not bringing about any change at all, but it appears to be changing. Um—

SR: Oh, I see. Uh-huh. This is very difficult. This is a bodhisattva's way. You should be a bodhisattva in such a case. It is very hard to make them realize what they are doing because he does not know anything but what he is doing. And he thinks what he does is right and perfect—not “perfect,” but he has no time to think about something else. His life is completely occupied by some particular research. But if he is a human being, he will have times when he finds himself uneasy.

Student M: [1-3 words] a great deal of patience, maybe.

SR: When he talks with you [laughs], he will not say so, but he must at times feel lonely, if he is just occupied by some particular research without having any understanding of religion or other sciences.

Student O: I remember reading one time, someone that—I mean—that man, Jesus Christ, said they are forgiven for they do not know. I think in time they will be all forgiven. I wonder if we need permission to be a Zen master when the time is right, that we feel to be right, so right that—like [2-3 words] here, for example, to sit and kick someone in the shin, or hit him in the face to have him see?

SR: I couldn't follow you.

Student O: I wonder if we need permission. I mean—

SR: Permission?

Student O: —well, I wondered if we feel like we're qualified to, you know, laugh [?], you know, and—and if there's something very familiar, I suppose it's all right to do so.

SR: We don't know if it is all right or not [laughs], before he does it. It is impossible to know, and there is no qualification in religious life. Everyone is the same, actually.

Student P: But isn't the one qualification that—is that the student comes to the teacher?

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student P: The teacher does not go to the student and wish to change him or wish to show him—

SR: Show students, you mean?

Student P: The teacher doesn't go to the student and say, “See what you're doing wrong?” The student comes to the teacher and asks for instruction or asks for a kick in the shin or whatever the expression happens to be.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student P: It does seems to me, in my own personal feelings, to be wrong to try to show someone else my beliefs. If they are serious or interested, I will direct them here or direct them to acquaint them with a book that I know, or tell them of my own personal experience. But it seems as though they have to make a serious inquiry first rather than for me to try to convert them.

SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Student Q: Supposing that person is really suffering—

SR: Yeah.

Student P: You haven't the right to judge—

Student Q: No, it's not judgment.

Student P: I don't know.

Student Q: And it's not belief either.

Student R:1 Sensei, isn't part of the problem that we don't want to part with the person's friendship? In other words, if we are willing to give them up, then we can tell them fairly easily that he's mistaken. It's when we don't want to have him angry with us or don't want him to turn on us that we find it difficult to tell him that he's wrong, or that we think he's wrong. You know, we can't tell him we think he's wrong. But the real problem is that we don't want to give him up. Because we complain, he complains.

SR: I'm mixed up [laughs, laughter] which is he and—[laughter].

Student R: Well, okay, just imagine this question, because he says, what do you, tell this person?

SR: Huh?

Student R: He just hates that. Just in answering his question [preceding sentences unclear]. The problem is that we opened up—we are clinging to that person too. And we couldn't do it. That is, if we would just simply turn around and walk away, you know, if we would let him go, then he would have lost something, and he would realize that his actions led to some loss.

SR: Uh-huh. Yeah.

Student R: That's why we can't tell him—because we want--we want to save him.

Student S: That's—that's a—[Student begins to comment and is interrupted by SR.]

SR: Excuse me. Don't—

Student S: —that's a detachment or objective attitude. I think this kind of—

SR: What did you mean? [Speaking to Student P.] If you have some pure experience within yourself, in that case to present that experience to a teacher? When you present that experience to the teacher, the teacher may say that is good or bad, or perfect or imperfect. In this case, what do you think? Or, do you think it's much better not to submit your experience to the teacher—not to is much better? Do you think that way, or—

Student P: Do I think it's better not to submit it?

SR: Mm-hmm. Or—

Student P: I have to admit I think first that the student should go to the teacher. But I don't think the teacher should go to the student.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student P: I don't believe in talking [?] about it—the missionary spirit [laughter].

SR: Mmm. Oh, I see. That's very good [laughs]. Oh, that's what I think. We say it is the same thing with Christianity. If you don't—what do we say? “If you do not ask, he will not answer.”

Student T: “Seek and ye shall find.”

SR: Mm-hmm. That is true. The missionary spirit is not just to spread some teaching of Buddha or to force something on people or to do something in the name of the missionary work. That is not fair, I think. When they want something, he should be prepared to give something. And, if they are lazy, he should strike them [laughs]. That is all right. If he's sleeping: “Don't sleep. Get up!” [Laughs.] And think more. This is good, I think.

Student U: [2-4 words.] I quite agree with what has been said, and I think something's been added to the conversation which seems to me, not to get too complicated, but it sort of connotes a Christian attitude—a missionary spirit. It's like, of course, nothing to do with Buddhism, like a—that kind of [1-2 words] missionary spirit [?]. But I [4-6 words] between a student and teacher, and to feel this compassion or this need to not change a person but perhaps to have him see something that he has not seen that he might see in order to—to be—I guess depending on the circumstances, you should [1-2 words].

SR: We cannot change his character or what he did or what he will do. It is very difficult. But there is no need to change him. If he has right understanding of his character, that's good enough. So as a conclusion: to put in a high place things we should put in a high place. Something which should be put in a low place should be put at a low place, that is our religion.2 There is no secret.

Student V: When someone needs help, when someone is ready to be helped, he will seek help. But if you go out and try to help them, isn't that sort of like trying—isn't that sort of self-love, the way you try to transform another person into the image of yourself?

SR: Oh, image of self.

Student V: In other words—

SR: Here is—

Student V: —if you go around trying to help people, you know, make them see your way, what you think is right, that is really self-love because you're trying to change the people into your own image.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student V: You're trying to make people be like yourself. That's really self-love.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student V: That's selfish. You need them more than they need you.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student V: So if you're really sincere, you'd let them come to you, instead of going to them.

SR: Yeah, I think so. That's—

Student V: [3-5 words.] Prophets. The old prophets. Just—just spoke.

SR: Image of—

[Break in tape of unknown duration. Resumes with SR in mid-sentence.]

—occasion—what will be the image of human beings, right human beings, good human beings. But there should not be some proper image, some particular image, I think. Everyone should be in their own mold. That is why we have—we won't cover [laughs]. To keep everyone active and happy there should be something—that is—if there is teaching, that is the teaching. This teaching does not force anything on any particular person. Everyone is the same under heaven. Everyone is the same in the common bathtub in Japan [laughing]. Do you know the Japanese common bath? There may always be five or six people in a big bathtub. They're enjoying it, washing and talking. It's wonderful [laughter]. That is our ideal. And even so, when we do not use the bathtub, we want a cover on it. When people get into it, we should take off the cover and enjoy the bath with people in the same way—not “in the same way,” but they are friends, just friends. There is no rich person [laughing] or poor person in the common bath when they are naked. And they can talk about anything in the common bathtub. Even so, when we do not use it, there should be a cover on it.

That cover is wanted, if you want to enjoy the bath. That is our teaching. Our teaching is not, “You should do like this,” or, “Society should be like this,” or, “Human beings should be like this.” We do not have this kind of thinking or idea. When we take off the cover, when we forget all about our teaching, that is heaven [laughs] for us. But it does not mean we do not want a cover. We want it. But when we enjoy Buddhism, there must not be any teaching. We are all the same. So if a teacher whacks you, you can whack too [laughs]. You can fight with a teacher if you like, if you can enjoy that [laughs, laughter]. But, for a teacher like me it will not be enjoyable [laughs]. But if I am big, like Philip [Wilson]—

Philip Wilson: Hit you [?].

SR: —it may be pretty interesting [laughter]. Here we have no teaching. That is our ideal world. That is our heaven, nirvana, where there is no teaching.

Student W: If there's no such thing as killing and death, why do we say, you know, “Don't eat meat because you have to kill animals?”

SR: Why? Because you kill [laughs, laughter]. You [1 word] kill.

Student W: But there's no such thing as killing, though.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student W: So if we—

SR: If everyone understood it, we would not say so. But just because you say you kill, you know, you try to kill people.

Student W: But if you don't think that way, you can eat meat with a peaceful mind. If you eat meat, if you kill an animal, but if you don't think about killing, then you can eat meat peaceful [1-2 words].

SR: Everyone is not like that. So our ideal is to enjoy our life in the common bath. But if someone fights [laughs] in the bath, we should say, “Don't do that. Don't disturb me.” That is impossible. That is, you know, quite natural.

Student O: Is it—is it so, Sensei, that you—there is such a thing as a certifying or a certificate, because I think some people are interested in hearing about [3-6 words]. [Laughter.]

SR: If you are too much interested in such things, that is not Buddhism. If you are forced to be a teacher, you should be [laughs], but it is much better to be no one.

Student O: [2-3 sentences unclear: The student seems to be continuing his question about certification of a Zen master.]

SR: Go to Japan and find out [laughs, laughter].

Student X: Well, in judo if you're good you get a black belt, so—[laughter].

SR: No—Zen is not physical training. Zen is not sport [laughs, laughter].

Oh, thank you very much.


1 Student R's questions are delivered very rapidly and with agitation.

2 Alluding to Dogen-zenji's Instructions for the Tenzo (Tenzokyokun): "For all the various things, put away in high places things that belong in high places, and put away in low places the things that belong in low places" (from Dogen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community, translated by Taigen Daniel Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, SUNY Press, 1996, pp. 35-36).

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Diana Bartle and Bill Redican (7/30/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (4/2021).

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