A minimally edited transcript

I have nothing in my mind

One-Day Sesshin Lecture: 5 PM
Saturday, August 28, 1965, Lecture B
San Francisco

[Tape operator (Richard Baker): This is the end of the one o'clock lecture. There may be another lecture later, which will follow immediately if there is.]

SR: [Laughs.] I have nothing on my mind. [Laughs.] I don't know what I should talk about. So will you give me some topics to talk about? Or questions?

Student A: You say that we shouldn't be critical of our practice. But you say that if all of us [3–4 words] the part of the desires to express our buddha-nature is the part that we should build on.

SR: Um-hmm.

Student A: Well, I don't know how to say it, but [laughs]. When we're learning zazen, we're not supposed to be critical of our own practice, right?

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student A: But, at the same time—

SR: Yeah.

Student A: —it's the part of us that is critical—

SR: Uh-huh.

Student A: —that's what makes us practice.

SR: Uh-huh. Yeah.

Student A: So I don't know what to do.

SR: [Laughs.] Being critical of our practice, that is our inmost request itself. But usually when we become critical of our practice, we have some other purpose in our practice, because we think our practice is not good enough to attain enlightenment [laughs].

When you become critical, at the same time usually because you have some other purpose or aim, you become critical not by inmost request, but by some gaining idea. In this case, to be critical of your practice is not good. But, if you accept your practice even though it is not perfect, to try to be perfect is our inmost request. If so, not to be perfect itself but to be aware of our imperfect practice is itself an expression of our inmost request. If you understand in this way, that is right understanding.

Did you understand [laughs] what I said? I don't know whether I put it the right way or not.

Student B: Our inmost request, then, is a request for perfection.

SR: Mm-hmm. Perfection or—“perfection” [laughs] is not so good a word—but to improve ourselves, knowing that our effort is not strong enough or we are not sincere enough. That is why we want some good examples. A good example will encourage our practice, and it will help whether or not our practice is good or bad.

There is a big difference, you know, from just being critical of ourselves because we have some gaining idea. This gaining idea is based on some invisible merit. But being satisfied with ourselves is quite a different effort from—not being something else, but being ourselves or being things itself.

So a gaining idea is not good, but we say gaining idea [laughs]—it is also gaining idea, maybe, but the gaining idea to be good is not wrong. It is the so-called way-seeking mind. “To practice Buddhism for the sake of Buddhism.” That is true practice. To practice Buddhism for the sake of something else, that is a gaining idea. Without being satisfied with ourselves, trying to be something else. Sometimes we try to escape from our life to go somewhere else or to live somewhere else. That is [laughs] not Buddhism. It is quite different.

Did I explain it pretty well [laughs, laughter]?

Our practice is not like some intoxicating liquor. Many people will mix up this point—will mix up the way-seeking mind with a gaining idea. We do not even rely on teaching. We want to be ourselves. And we want to be satisfied with ourselves. How to be satisfied with ourselves is why we should follow the example, why we should practice.

Someone asked his disciple, “When a cart1 driven by a horse does not go [laughs], which do you whip? The cart or the horse?”2 This is a very tricky question. Of course, you may whip the horse [laughs]. To whip the horse is to whip the cart, because cart and horse is not different. Practice and enlightenment is not different. But sometimes [laughs] you think the practice and the cart—enlightenment—are different things, that the practice is a means to attain enlightenment. If you think in this way, enlightenment is something different from you. And you want to be something else [laughs] because we are so stupid [laughs, laughter] and so imperfect. But a stupid one should be stupid. If stupid one is stupid, he is useful. Even though he is stupid, it is his nature to make an effort to be better. That is his own nature. And actually he is trying to be satisfied with himself. It looks like he wants to be something else, but actually he wants to be satisfied with himself. That is true understanding. But, if you think he wants to be something else, and if you try to help him, if you try to encourage him to be something else [laughing], you will kill him. This kind of understanding is very important. It is rather hard for you to accept this truth, especially when you are young [laughing]—you are quite stupid. So you should be stupid [laughs].

You know, when I was a young disciple, my master3 would call me “Crooked Cucumber.” Crooked Cucumber was my nickname [laughs]. And when I went to enter our university, the president of the university4 told us something like this: You have to be satisfied with yourself [laughs]. Even though you study hard, a foolish one is foolish [laughs]. An intelligent one is intelligent. He always would say that in this way. It was pretty hard to accept because all of us wanted to be great [laughs] teachers. But he said it was impossible.

So the purpose of practice is to accept myself—knowing that all our effort is to accept ourselves. Whether we become a great man or not is not the point. When we can accept ourselves, we are already one with all existence. When spring comes, we can enjoy spring flowers. When the summer comes, we can enjoy the cool moonlight. When autumn comes, we can appreciate the beauty of the foliage. In winter we will appreciate snow. Because when we can accept ourselves, we can accept anything else. There is no self in our mind. What we have is big mind, big self. We can treat our bodies as we treat others'. We will treat our own things as we treat others' property. This is the way of Buddhist life.

Student C: Could it just as well mean accepting our small mind too?

SR: Small mind?

Student C: Mm-hmm.

SR: Yeah—to accept small mind too, knowing that that is small mind: big mind watching small mind [laughs]. Yeah. Then small mind will work. Don't you think so?

Student C: I don't know what you mean, “small mind will work.”

SR: Yeah, work—

Student C: You mean, it will keep on operating?

SR: If you know that is small mind, if you know the nature of your tool, you can use the tool [laughs]. If it is small [laughs], you can use it when you cut small things. When you help a small-minded person, you should use small mind [laughs, laughter], knowing that that is small—very small.

Some other questions?

Student D: A few months ago, you said that we're always having problems to live with. Well, since that time, they have become a great problem to me. And—is this part of the nature or the functioning of our small mind, that it has to always feel in terms of a problem to be solved? It seems for me personally to be almost the crux or the point where I—in my practice, at least, I will fall into a dualistic way of thinking or a gainful way of thinking. I know sometimes when I'm sitting, I fall into problems, thinking if I could solve this problem of my breathing, then I will have attained such-and-such. And unfortunately, it's always there. I'd feel a little bit naked if it wasn't, but it's always a problem to be solved. It seems to be an inescapable part of my life.

SR: Mm-hmm. “Seems to be” is right, you know [laughs, laughter]. “Seems to be.” Not exactly so, but seems to be. That's very good [laughs, laughter]. It seems to be small mind. It seems to be big mind. But actually it is both big mind and small mind. When you think, “This is big mind, and that is small mind,” there is duality—a gap. When you want to decide, “This is good and this is bad. This is small mind, this is big mind,” you have duality already. But actually there is no big mind without small mind. Big mind is the mind which is working on small mind. If there is no small mind, there is no big mind.

Student D: Then problem-solving does not necessarily have to be a dualistic activity. Is that right?

SR: Mm-hmm. When you accept the dualistic activity—to accept is to find the oneness. So when you do not accept it, that is duality. No way to solve it, or it is just a deluded idea which will be the cause of trouble. But when you accept it, there is oneness. And the problem is actually solved when you accept it. When you accept the problem, you accept your true nature, which is working on it. When you accept your true nature, fundamentally there is no problem. But as long as we live, moment after moment we have to work on something. So dualistic problems will give you the meaning of your life. It is an ornament of your life.

Student D: Ornamental?

SR: Mm-hmm. Ornamental. Your life will be more colorful [laughs]. It may be beautiful. That is the difference.

Some other questions?

[Discussion off-mike, probably about the time.]

We have twenty minutes more! [Laughs, laughter.] Please relax.

[Recorder stopped and re-started.]

Tape operator: This lecture is continued on Track 2 from this point.

[Recorder stopped and re-started.]

The question of which do you hit, the cart or the horse, was a question given to Baso5 by Nangaku,6 the direct disciple of the Sixth Patriarch of China.7 His famous words are, “Although you spoke to the point, it will not be right.” That is his famous statement. “Although you say quite well or to the point, it will not be right.” It is also a double-edged sword. Double-edged sword. It means even though you say so, you will not understand it. That is one meaning. Another meaning is whatever you say, that is right. It's a double-edged sword.

The Sixth Patriarch emphasized pairs of opposites. He pointed out thirty-six pairs of opposites: heaven and earth, good and bad, something like these.8 I think Nangaku’s understanding of the teaching is also based on the pair of duality. According to him, something good is at the same time something which is bad. Good and bad is one—two sides of one coin.

When Baso was practicing zazen: Nangaku said, “Why do you practice? What is the purpose of your practice?”

“I want to be a buddha,” he said.

And Nangaku, the teacher, picked up a tile and started to polish [laughs]. Disciple Baso asked the teacher, “Why do you polish a tile? Is it possible to make a tile into a mirror?” he said.

The teacher said, “No, it is impossible.” [Laughs.]

This is a very famous story. To polish a tile. That is our practice. Even though you polish a tile, tile is tile [laughs]. But to polish is our practice. It doesn't matter whether it will make a mirror or not. To polish it is our practice, and that is the goal—that is enlightenment. The effort to polish is based on our true nature. Our true nature makes us polish it. So whether it will make a mirror or not is not the point.

But Baso could not understand it, so the teacher continued, “If a cart driven by a horse does not go, to which do you give your whip?”

That was the question. Because Baso thought a horse—and its cart driven by a horse is something different. Those are two. Because he thought a horse and cart are quite different—in other words, that practice and attaining enlightenment are different. So he said, “To which do you give your whip?”

Do you understand? If you think that if you practice hard you will attain enlightenment sooner [laughs], and if you are lazy in your practice, you will attain enlightenment later, this kind of understanding is the usual understanding of practice. But actual practice is when you practice zazen, the practice itself is enlightenment. Practice is not separated from enlightenment. When you practice it, the practice is the expression of your true nature. Where you practice it, you have your true nature. And so you have to accept that true nature is expressed in that moment. That is Nangaku's suggestion.

When you understand in this way, whatever you do is an expression of true nature. Scientific research, philosophical study, or artistic work—all our culture is an expression of our true nature. But if you understand our practice as a means of attaining enlightenment, you cannot apply our practice before you attain enlightenment [laughs]. But if you have right understanding of practice, whatever you do, that is an expression of buddha-nature. There is a big difference between those two understandings of practice.

Thank you very much.


1 Sometimes Suzuki-roshi pronounced it "car," sometimes "cart." The latter is used throughout this transcript for consistency.

2 Teacher Nangaku Ejo asking his student Baso Doitsu in Ching Te Ch'uan Teng Lu (Record of the Transmission of the Lamp), translated by Thomas and C. C. Cleary in The Blue Cliff Record (Appendix, p. 566).

3 Gyokujun So-on.

4 Probably Kaiten Nukariya, president of Komazawa University, Tokyo, where Suzuki-roshi matriculated.

5 Chiang-hsi Mazu Daoyi (Baso Doitsu): 709-788. Chan master of many other Chan masters; student of Nangaku Ejo.

6 Nanyue Huairang (Nangaku Ejo): 677-744. Chan master; student of the Sixth Patriarch Daikan Eno (Ch. Dajian Huineng); master of Baso Doitsu.

7 Daijan Huineng (Daikan Eno): 638-713. Sixth Chinese Zen Patriarch.

8 From The Sutra of Huineng, Chapter 10, "His Final Instructions": Heaven and earth, sun and moon, light and darkness, positive element and negative element, fire and water, speech and dharma, affirmation and negation, matter and non-matter, form and formless, taints (San. asruvas) and absence of taints, matter and void, motion and quiescence, purity and impurity, ordinary people and sages, the sangha and the laity, the aged and the young, the big and the small, long and short, good and evil, infatuated and enlightened, ignorant and wise, perturbed and calm, merciful and wicked, abstinent (San. shila) and indulgent, straight and crooked, full and empty, steep and level, klesha and bodhi, permanent and transient, compassionate and cruel, happy and angry, generous and mean, forward and backward, existent and nonexistent, Dharmakāya and physical body, and Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Bill Redican (8/8/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (5/2021).

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