A minimally edited transcript

science or philosophy is like a dissection

Sesshin Lecture, Lecture B
Friday, July 30, 1965, 9 AM
Sokoji, San Francisco

[Tape operator: The sentence about "your mind"1 was in the
meditation before breakfast, and beginning here is the instruction at nine o'clock Friday morning.]

SR: I have to give the conclusion to my talk for this sesshin. Science or philosophy is like a dissection. It is possible to analyze what we did after we did something. It is possible. But it is already a dead corpse [laughs] dead corpse of our practice. So even if you analyze what you have done, it will not work. It will not help you so much. It is nearly the same as to count your lost child's age [laughs]. We cannot help counting our lost boy's age. It is our nature, but actually it will not help us so much.

The most important thing is to understand our true mind or inmost nature in our practice. How we understand our actual mind should be the most important point. That is why Zen emphasizes living in each moment.

Bodhidharma, the first Chinese patriarch—he was the 28th patriarch from Buddha, and in China he was the first patriarch. He said, “If you want to see a fish, before you see a fish, you have to watch water.” Do you understand? If you want to see a fish, you have to watch water before you see any fish. If you want to see buddha-nature, you have to see your small mind before you see buddha-nature. Actually, when you see water, there is true fish. Don’t you think so? Here, by “fish” he meant “true nature.” If you want to see true nature, when you see the water, there is true nature. The true nature is watching water. You are watching water. At the same time, true nature is watching water.

As Descartes says, “I think, therefore I am.” What does it mean? Here, “therefore I am”—that “I” is not just small mind. He could not deny that “I” which thinks, which watches water. That someone who is watching—you, who are watching water—is true nature itself. You think fish is true nature [laughing], but it is not true nature. You are watching water. And that “you” cannot be denied. That is ultimate existence. And at the same time, that is universal existence. That is your “I,” and at the same time it includes everything.

Anyway, when you watch water, actual fish is in the water. Before you see the fish, there is fish. Before you see buddha-nature, you see your mind. You watch your mind. When you watch your mind, when you say, “My zazen is very poor zazen” [laughs], here you have true nature. But you do not realize that is true nature. You ignore it on purpose. This is a silly mistake. There is immense importance in the “I” when you watch your mind. That “I” is not dead “I.” That “I” is always incessant activity. That “I” is always acting. That “I” is always swimming. That “I” is always flying through vast air with wings. Here I mean by “wings,” thinking and various activity. That “I” is flying through the vast sky.

In this case, the vast sky is my home. There is no bird and no air. Air and bird are one. So Dogen Zenji says, “Bird flies like a bird; fish swims like a fish. Water is its home. And when it swims in the water, it is water and a fish—there is nothing but fish. All the water belongs to him. And when he can swim everywhere, it means he can think. That thinking is right thinking. Logical thinking, after you did something, or analytical thinking, is not true thinking.

So, in your practice, whether that practice is good or bad, perfect or imperfect, when this kind of mind is at work, your practice is the practice of enlightenment. Your practice includes everything, within and without. The whole world is your home, and everything belongs to you.

So that you can understand this short statement: “Fish swims like a fish, bird flies like a bird,” I explained what is logic, what is philosophy, what is science. Because you firmly believe in scientific truth, and you are caught by the scientific way of life, you have no idea of what is true mind. You are always chasing after a shadow of the mind. A philosophical interpretation or psychological interpretation of your mind is just a shadow of the mind, and you firmly believe in it. So you mistake enlightenment for drugs, LSD [laughs]. If the Sixth Patriarch were here, what would he say [laughing]? “With such people I cannot talk,” he might say [laughs].

We have shadows. It is inevitable for us to have shadows. But to try to step on your shadow [laughs] is impossible. How can you catch your shadow? If you try to step on your shadow, the shadow will be ahead of you [laughs]. If you go one step behind [laughs], the shadow will be one step behind you. It is impossible. It is foolish to think “future” or “past.” Why don't you catch yourself in this moment? When you are doing something, you are there. You are too much attached to visible things.

So when the Second Chinese Patriarch2 saw Bodhidharma, and confessed his shameful mind, he  [Bodhidharma] said, “Bring me a shameful mind [laughs]. Catch the shameful mind.” He [Eka] said, “I cannot catch it.” Of course [laughs], no one can catch it. If you try to catch it, that is a shadow. How can you catch the shadow of your hand [laughs]? So he said, “I cannot catch it.” And Bodhidharma said, “The confession is over.”3 [Laughs, laughter.]

What they point out is so accurate, you cannot move back and forth. There is no need even to read one page of a book. There is no need even to listen to it. It is here [thumps] [laughs]. Before fish comes, there is fish [laughs]. In Sandokai it says, “Before the night has gone, the dawn is here.” When you are waiting for dawn, dawn is here; you are there, right there. Your true mind is right there. When you are wandering, the true mind is right there. When you are suffering, the true mind is right there, with suffering.

Science cannot solve this problem. Even vivisectors. The true activity will stop—true activity of your life is no more. So, if you do not catch it when you are active, how can you catch it? And there is a way to catch it. That is our practice. That is sesshin. Sesshin is mind. To catch our true mind is sesshin. This mind cannot be caught by thinking, or feeling. It is too late. So moment after moment, to watch your breathing, to watch your posture is to dwell on your true nature. There is no secret beside this point.

1 "Don't be bothered by your mind." [SR-65-07-30-A]

2 Dazu Huike (Taiso Eka): 487–593.

3 This exchange probably took place shortly after Bodhidharma accepted Huike as his disciple (see, e.g., Andy Ferguson, Zen's Chinese Heritage, Boston: Wisdom, 2000, p. 20).

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Judith Randall and Bill Redican (6/15/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (4/2021).

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