A minimally edited transcript

Do you have some questions?

Sesshin Lecture
Thursday, July 30, 1965, 6 PM, Lecture D
Sokoji, San Francisco

SR: Do you have some questions?

Student A: Sensei, D. T. Suzuki wrote that “Zen was religion of the will,” is what he said. What do you think about that?

SR: Religion?

Student A: Of the will, he said.

SR: Oh. I haven't read it. What does he say?

Student A: Oh. He just said—I just remember this sentence. He said Zen is the religion of the will.

SR: Will?

Student A: Will.

SR: I don't understand.

Student: Willpower.

SR: Will?

Several Students: Willpower. Will.

SR: Uh-huh. Yeah, I know [laughs, laughter] what is. Wheel. No?

Student: No.

SR: Will.

Student: Will.

SR: Will.

Student: Yeah.

SR: Uh-huh. [Laughs, laughter.]

Student: “I will do it.”

SR: Yeah.

Student: “I will.” Willpower.

SR: Yeah. He may say [laughs] religion of will. But willpower is not the only power we have. Will, and emotion or feeling, and morality. Willpower may be the driving power, but in contrast with European religions, they say emotion is deepest. They think emotion is deepest, and willpower is not so deep. And intellect is most superficial [laughs].

But Zen is not a religion of just willpower. Soto is more maybe emotional. And religious feeling is something like emotional, but just emotional power— emotion—is blind. Willpower is also sometimes [laughs] blind. That is why we want rational power. Rational power will correct the mistakes of—or help blind willpower and feeling or emotional power. I can't exactly figure out why he said so, but in practice we want big willpower. Zen is a religion of practice, so he must have said Zen is a religion of will. But I don't think Zen is just a religion of will. It is a religion of whole mind. Some more questions?

Student B: Do you have an explanation for the three bodies of Buddha?

SR: Three bodies of Buddha?

Student B: Yeah.

SR: Mm-hmm. Some other question?

Student C: What is the importance of the body?

SR: The body? Uh-huh.

Student C: Yeah.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student C: And then the [1-2 words] of mind.

SR: Oh. Okay. Some other questions?

Student D: Would you please talk a little bit about Dogen's ideas on training? I've heard you talk about Dogen's training before, but I think it's useful to [1-2 words], like Theravadin Buddhism.

SR: Oh. His idea of training.

Student D: Mm-hmm.

SR: That may be the [laughs] conclusion of the previous two questions, maybe. Some other questions?

Student E: My question may be in line with his, though. Since man from the beginning has buddha-nature, then why is he so inclined to be influenced [1 word] by small [1-3 words]?

SR: [Laughs.] The three minds of the Buddha—three bodies of Buddha: Dharmakaya Buddha, Nirmanakaya Buddha, and Sambhogakaya Buddha.1 The Sambhogakaya Buddha, or Hosshin,  Buddha. Let me explain historical Buddha first. Buddha as a human being is Nirmanakaya Buddha. And in another sense he is Sambhogakaya Buddha, rewarded body. By good merit and perfect practice, he attained Sambhogakaya Buddha. Hosshin Butsu—after practicing a long time he attained hosshin—not Hojin—Hojin-buddha. Not long “o.” Hosshin-buddha, “rewarded body.”2

Nirmanakaya Buddha is the buddha who takes various forms to save people. That is actually the historical Buddha. Historical Buddha is the embodiment of Sambhogakaya Buddha. And Dharmakaya Buddha. Dharmakaya Buddha is Buddha as absolute truth. Absolute truth takes two forms: One is, we say, Keshin Butsu.3 Keshin is embodiment body, and hojin is the rewarded body, and hosshin is the dharma body. That is three bodies of Buddha.

So actually by our practice we will have rewarded body, which is full of virtue like Buddha. Buddha is supposed to have practiced his way for many, many—I don't know how long but [laughs] many, many past lives of practice. He attained his rewarded body by long practice, like Amida Buddha. And Nirmanakaya Buddha which is embodiment of the Buddha, the truth, is like Avalokitesvara, Kanzeon Bosatsu. He takes various forms to save people. He does not take any particular form. He changes his form according to the people he wants to save. This is so, but Nirmanakaya Buddha or Sambhogakaya Buddha is not different from Dharmakaya Buddha. It is only one buddha. Only one buddha takes three forms or three meanings. This is three bodies of buddha.

And why body is important is our body is too indispensable to express Dharmakaya Buddha. Dharmakaya Buddha is the absolute body which is before form or color. You cannot see Dharmakaya Buddha. He has no form or color. If you have a body, through a body you can express dharma. And, when you want to save some particular person, he will take some special form to save some special person. When he wants to save a fisherman, he will become a fisherman. When he wants to save a woman, he will be a woman. Or when he wants to save children, he will be a child. That is his way of saving people. So [laughs] when you want to save someone, he wants you to be completely one with the people who you want to save, or else you cannot save them.

I think for a priest one important condition is not to be so fancy and not to be so rich [laughs]. He must be as rich as the people are. Just as rich as people are or as poor as [laughs] usual people are. Or else maybe in an especially poor country like Japan, it is almost impossible to save people when you have too much money [laughs] or when you have too much time or leisure. They may say, “Oh, that's proper—it is no wonder [laughs] that he's so generous. He should help us,” you know. “There is no difficulty for him, who is rich, to be generous.” So this point is very important when you help others. This is the idea of Nirmanakaya Buddha, like Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.

Anyway, expression is important: how to express his spirit. To express our spirit or way, it is necessary to express it through action, through bodies. Our physical action is very important. Actually when you are trained, your demeanor will be different. Your conduct will be refined  [laughs]. Without a well-trained body, it is impossible to express the truth and help others. So just the presence of him among people will be enough to help people. And through physical practice we can train our mind. Or—big mind doesn't want training [laughs]. If you control your body with strong will—will of religion [laughs]—with strong will and well-refined emotional functions and refined aesthetic attitude or expression, we can help others. So anyway, training is necessary when you want to express big mind. By training we will be emancipated from the physical body even. But without a physical body, no emancipation will be achieved. Without material you can’t play any magic. You want something [laughs]? That is why physical training is wanted.

And what was your question?

Student E: In the beginning [15-20 words] for the little mind.

SR: Little mind. Little mind. When you think that is little mind, that is little mind. When you understand your mind is not little mind, that is big mind. So mind is the same, and when you think this is good or bad, it is already the discrimination of small mind. When you say so—be careful. When you say so, your question is based on a small mind.

Student E: What I mean is in the beginning, before man achieved awareness—

SR: Uh-huh. Before—

Student E: Yeah, yeah. Like—

SR: —it is said?

Student E: Yes. In the beginning, like in the Bible, for instance, the Garden of Eden. And why was the temptation—why is it Adam and Eve give into this temptation if they were pure [1 word], you know? If they are completely already pure—

SR: Already pure, you say?

Student E: Yeah, in the beginning we all have buddha-nature so to start off then, why did we go the other path—on the small-mind path?

SR: Yeah, that's what I'm saying, you know? Your question is based on small mind, discussing it like this [laughs, laughter]. So, if I answer with small mind, you will understand it [laughs, laughter]. Like this [?]. In realm of ethics or science or psychology, you will be satisfied with my answer. But my answer should be—I should take a religious standpoint [laughs]. So it is impossible to answer your question from my viewpoint.

Student E: You mean, to satisfy me?

SR: Yeah. No, I cannot satisfy you.

Student E: Can you go on? Actually, I know this question would not be anyway hoping to get any enlightenment where we're standing.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student E: The question is [4-10 words], probably.

SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Student E: And so—

SR: —to some extent—

Student E: —if you don't want to give an answer that I'm not— I mean, it doesn't matter if you want to. [Preceding part of question may not be accurate.]

SR: Yeah, to some extent you will be satisfied with my answer, but you will not be completely satisfied with my answer. You know, so far, why we have small mind is because of our ignorance [laughs]. When we say “ignorance,” it is already a religious viewpoint. For you that is not ignorance, that is scientific truth [laughs]. But for us that is ignorance. Ignorance of our true nature. That is knowledge of science. So from a scientific viewpoint our inmost nature should be measured by some measure of values of morality, or aesthetics, or scientific truth. Something that accords with scientific knowledge is buddha-nature. Some knowledge that accords with moral truth is buddha-nature. Something beautiful is buddha-nature. But this explanation will not satisfy you [laughs].

Student E: That's satisfying.

SR: Are you satisfied [laughs]? So we should be moral, and beautiful, and truthful: those who have buddha-nature. But why we are inclined to be bad is we are so conscious or so concerned about what we do. Our nature is half-and-half, good and bad. Half-and-half is our human nature. If you are 50% bad, you are [laughs] 50% good—because your measure of value is dualistic. So it should be so: 50–50. But it seems that for conscientious people, all people are bad [laughs]. No one is good [laughs]. It looks like it's so, and we feel it's so, because our true nature is so conscientious, so pure, and so good.

Student F: Could you speak on transmission—the master gives the student who is enlightened, and its purpose.

SR: Transmission is the symbol of perfect understanding of the transmitted way from Buddha. As I said, there are three covers of Buddhism.

Student F: Is it necessary, though? If one is enlightened, why does the master have to give him transmission if he's already enlightened? What's the purpose of it? Is it—

SR: That is cover [laughs].

Student F: Symbolic?

SR: If you have no cover, the food will become dusty, more and more. You know, it is 3000 years, almost, since he passed away. And while transmission is handed down through patriarchs, it will become very dusty unless you have a cover on it. That is dharma.

Dharma is not just the written scripture. That is transmission. So transmission will be handed down from warm hand to warm hand, from body to body, from person to person. That is transmission. That is dharma, or cover [laughs]. You neglect cover, you know: “I don't want cover.” [Laughs.] “If I have a pan and food, that's enough.” For a while it is so, but it will get stale. It will go bad quite soon if you have no cover for it.

So when you receive transmission, it is not a just symbol. We have many rituals, and sometimes before we understand what is the full meaning of the cover, we have to receive it. In that case, the master recognizes your possibility of having full understanding of the dharma. Some day when he becomes so sure, he will give you transmission even before you realize the true meaning of the cover. And after studying [laughs] the true meaning of the cover for a long time, you will realize: “Oh that's tremendous—I have to transmit this cover to my disciples.” In this way, our transmission is handed down from Buddha to us.

Most of the time when we receive transmission, we have only the faintest idea of transmission. So even if you receive transmission, that is not like a license, you know [laughing]. If you have a license, you can drive a car. But for us it is not so, even though you have license [laughter]. If you do not understand the full meaning of it, you cannot drive your car, actually. So you find out later, perhaps when your master is no more4 [laughing]. You will understand why he was so difficult with you—why he was so mean to you. That is the way it goes, you know [laughter] in society. It is too late. And when you realize it, you will regret: “Why was I not with him more, why did I leave him so soon, or why did he leave me so soon?” That is how we feel about our master.

When we have a new temple, we offer incense to the state, to the country, to the Buddha, and to our master. And everyone cries [laughs, laughter] when he offers the incense to his master. Usually when he offers incense to the Buddha, he does not cry [laughs, laughter]. When he offers incense to the country, he never cries [laughs, laughter]. But before he offers the incense to his master, he is like this [laughs, laughter]. He is not there. He is already passed away. But that is how we feel. That is transmission. That is the relationship of master and disciple.

In this way, we have cover to our dharma. That is the meaning of the cover. So sometimes when I become lonely, I talk about transmission with Reverend Katagiri. “When will American people understand the meaning of transmission?” [Laughs.] It may be it will take a pretty long time for you to understand the full meaning of transmission.

Student F: Does a formal ritual take place when the transmission is handed down?

SR: Yeah. When I received it, I wasn't—just busy. I was scared [laughs, laughter]. He5 was so strict, and I was scared, that's all [laughs, laughter]. After many years, I started to realize what he taught. That is not because of the identical culture, or—this kind of feeling seldom appears in a relationship between a father and his boy. It appears just between a master and disciple. [Laughs.] His master is more valuable or more important or vital for him than his parents—for a Buddhist. That is why cover is so important. And this kind of feeling still exists, and this cover still exists in Japan.

Student G: Will you tell us what the meaning of the first three words in the Heart Sutra are? The [1-2 words] says that—or in Chinese Guan zi zai or Kan ji zai, means “look, see”—or “look, perceive, present.” Or that is, am I—what it really means is, “Look to see if I am here or not. Am I present at this moment?” Is that—does it have that same meaning in Japanese or is it lost in translation?

SR: Kan?

Student G: Kanjizai.

SR: Kanjizai.6 Jizai is “free”: freedom without any disturbance and without any form or color. Kan is not to observe form or color, but to understand the full meaning of the color—through color and form to understand its true meaning. Kan does not mean scientific knowledge, scientific viewpoint—understanding from our sense organs or by philosophical effort. To penetrate into the true meaning of it, that is kan. Kanjizai—when the kan is fully in function, the function is jizai, free, without any disturbance.

Student G: Would you say that—the last two sentences again [2-3 words]?

SR: If kan is perfect, that function of kan will be jizai. Jizai is free. No disturbance.

Student H: What—what is mind?

SR: Mind? When you say “mind,” of course you have an idea of body, mind and body, or big mind and small mind. So there are various meanings. We mean many things by mind. It was a big problem for us. It has been, and still is a big problem. What is mind and what is our body? Materialistic or dualistic or—mind and body is the same. But in Buddhism, mind and body are two faces of one reality.

Student H: What does it mean to say, “Everything is mind?”

SR: “Everything is mind.” Mind includes everything—we take this viewpoint. Mind—we are concerned about each individual's attainment or nirvana or happiness. So happiness should be for each one of us. We do not talk about just mind in a scientific way. When we say “mind,” that mind is someone's mind: my mind, or your mind, or someone's mind who is concerned about his own life. If so, mind includes various problems he thinks he will see, or feels he is involved in. So for him, mind is his hand, mind is his room, mind is his family, mind is his country. Because his mind is concerned with people, with family, with his body. So in this sense mind and body is one—in a religious sense.

For science mind is some function, some object of study. But for us it is the most concerning [laughs] point, and each one's problem is mind. Do you understand the difference? So we are talking about each one's mind. I am talking about my mind, and you are listening to your mind [laughs] about your mind, not someone's mind. If so, that mind includes all the problems you have. Without mind, there is no [laughs] problem. Without “you,” there is no problem [laughs]. Because there is “you,” you have problems. Because you have mind, small or big, I don't know [laughs]. Anyway, because you have your mind, there are problems. So whatever it is, the problem you have is your mind.

Student I: Isn't it also true from the other side, that if—I don't know [?] how to say it—when you just know mind, it's—

SR: No mind.

Student I: Yeah, yeah—when you become just mind, now there's nothing else. There's really nothing else but mind, and it covers everything. You can't even say it covers everything, there's nothing left to cover. I mean

SR: So, yeah, that's true. When you say “mind,” there is no material. When you say “material,” there is no mind. That is why you watch the water. Before you see the fish, watch the water. When you watch the water, there is fish, not water. For science it's water, but for me it is fish [laughs, laughter]. For the scientific mind it's water. Oxygen plus what? Hydrogen two plus oxygen is water, just water [laughing]. But for me it is not water, it is fish, and I’m involved in it, and I am swimming in the water. In this way we are flying through the sky. All the sky is mind. This understanding is very subtle and wonderful. All the sky is my home. If you say that is too wide—it is too wide, that is your problem. If you say that's wonderful, that is your pleasure of life.

Student J: How long do you have to go fishing before you [2-3 words]—[laughter]?

SR: Before you go fishing?

Student J: How long does it—do you have to go fishing before you can see the fish?

SR: [Laughs.] How long does it take? What did you say?

Student J: Yeah. How long does it take?

SR: Noo, it doesn't take any time [laughing, laughter]. You are there. Fish is there, right there. Buddhism is two-handed. So you ignore the truth. It is two-handed. It is right here. This fish has immense value. You cannot measure its value. You don't know whether it is big or small. How many fishes are there? One, two, three. Each one has his own fish, and each fish is the same. It's wonderful.

And this kind of philosophy—not philosophy, actual fact—is interpreted in a philosophical way [laughs]. That is why it is difficult to understand Buddhist philosophy. The most difficult thing may be to give some interpretation to self-evident fact [laughs, laughter].

Thank you very much.

1 Suzuki defines and discusses these terms in detail in the1968 Lotus Sutra series of lectures.

2 Suzuki-roshi may have reversed the two terms. Traditionally, hojin means the "reward-body" of a buddha—the body of a buddha produced upon realizing buddhahood as a result of the practices of a bodhisattva; it is equivalent to Sambhogakaya. Hosshin is the body of the highest aspect of the threefold body of the buddha; it is the absolute nature of buddha-mind; it is equivalent to Dharmakāya.

3 Keshin-butsu: Traditionally, the Buddha appearing in the same form as those to be saved (e.g., as an animal to preach to animals; as a being in hell to save people in hell).

4 Dead.

5 Gyokujun So-on Suzuki (c. 1877-1934): Shunryu Suzuki-roshi's master. As an orphan, he was legally adopted by the Suzuki family, at which time he was given the family name Suzuki. He received dharma transmission from Suzuki-roshi's father Butsumon Sogaku Suzuki. He served as abbot of Zounin monastery, where Shunryu Suzuki began his training for the priesthood, and later Rinso-in Temple.

6 Kanjizai-bosatsu are the first two words of the Heart Sutra in Romanized Japanese. Literally, kan means "to see" or "to view"; jizai means "free" or "freely"; hence, Avalokiteshvara is the "Freely Seeing Bodhisattva."


Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Diana Bartle and Bill Redican (7/31/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (4/2021).  

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