A minimally edited transcript

Genjo-Koan No. 2 [1?]

Monday, August 21, 1967
Zen Mountain Center, Tassajara

Every day we work to support our activity. There will be a slight difference between your usual activities and activities in our monastery. Of course, we do our best in our work. The work you do should be done with your very best effort and ability. But, you should not be attached too much to the results of your efforts. And, you should not take pride in your abilities. Forgetting all about your abilities and results of efforts, you should still do your best in your work. This is how you work in a monastery as a part of practice.

Everyone has his own responsibility, and within our responsibility we should work. We should not invade any other's responsibilities. This is also the teaching of “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” Although you are working on something right now, we do not know what we will work on tomorrow. But right now, what you are working on is your practice, and when you work, just work in your position and there will be meaning in your work. So each one's responsibility or position is very important for us. If so, we should not invade someone else's work. So each one should work on their position. When you do so, there is our practice. The form is emptiness and emptiness is form. When you work on the form which is your responsibility, which is your work, there is enlightenment. But the form or the position you have right now is not permanent. Right now you are working on it, and right now you should work on it. Through your position, you can attain your own enlightenment. In this way we should work.

When Dogen Zenji arrived in China, he could not land because of an inspection, so he had to stay on his boat. At that time an old priest visited his ship. He was very interested in that old priest, and they talked about Buddhism. He found out that the old priest was taking care of the kitchen of Ekoso [Ayu-wang?] Monastery. He thought there must be many young priests there because it was a famous big monastery. So he said, “Why don't you stay?  If you stay on the ship tonight, someone else will manage the kitchen.”  But the old priest said, “You don't know what is our practice. Others are not you.” Others are not you; others are not me. Others cannot take my position, my practice. It is practice. Each one should work on his practice. There there is enlightenment.

So today we have today's work, tomorrow we have tomorrow's work, and each one of us has his own work, which should be perfect. As Dogen Zenji says, firewood does not become ash. Firewood has its own past and present. Ash has its own past and present. Ash has its own perfect position. And firewood has its own past and future, and its own perfection. So firewood never becomes ash. Ash is ash; firewood is firewood. And firewood includes everything in its past and future, and ash includes its past and future, and everything exists in this moment. So, when you do your own job, it includes everything and its own past and future and perfection.

If you are wandering about, forgetting all about your place, it means you are deluded. You have no idea of practice; you are losing your own practice. That kind of practice is not our practice. We should practice not putting emphasis on our skills or the results of our work, but we should know the meaning of our work more deeply. Then, if so, most of the difficulties in our monastic life will dissolve. There will be no more difficulties.

Usually what we do is not so difficult. Problems follow from our imperfect understanding of work, so we will suffer from useless problems and will lose a whole monastery. There will be no more monastery. If the point of your work is lost, then it will not be a monastery any more. Of course, if you visit a good monastery, everything will be in order, vegetables growing healthy and plants healthy, and everywhere clean. And tools and everything will be well polished and sharp. That kind of monastery would surely be a good monastery.

But polishing your tools or raising vegetables is not the main point of your practice. The main point is whether your effort is real practice or not. Of course, because you have good feelings in your monastery, everything grows. So, where there is good teaching and good practice, there is good feeling, and everything will grow. But the purpose is not just to get larger crops or to do a great amount of work. Even if you have some special ability, you will work on things which you are not familiar with. But as long as you have something to work on, you should do your best in your position.

This is also what prajñāpāramitā is. So although it looks like we are doing the same thing, if you have right understanding of our work, the meaning is quite different.

In the next paragraph of Shōbōgenzō, “We gain enlightenment like the moon reflecting in the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew in the grass.”

“We gain enlightenment like the moon reflecting in the water.”  Here the use of the parable of moon and reflection is different. Before he said, “our way is not like the moon reflecting on the water.” At that time he meant having a dualistic idea of practice and enlightenment. But here he means, even if you attain enlightenment, there is no difference in what you do.

“We gain enlightenment like the moon reflecting in the water. The moon does not get wet...”  Even though the moon is in the water, it does not get wet. “Nor the water gets broken.”  You know, there is no trace in it. So, you may seek for some enlightenment which is always quite a special experience, and where you have no problems, where you will get rid of all vicious habits [laughs]. Once you have attained enlightenment, you will not drink any more sake [laughs, laughter]. That kind of enlightenment may be the enlightenment you seek [laughs]. But actually you'll see, if you like sake, you will have a hard time to get past the store without buying sake again, even though you attained enlightenment [laughs, laughter]. Things will still happen to you even if you attain enlightenment. So he says, the water does not break, nor the moon get wet. Same thing, the same water and the same moon will be there.

“Although its light is wide and great…”  You may say the moonlight is bright and great, but the moon in dew is so small. But the moon in the sky is also in the drop of dew. Even if it is in a drop of dew, it is the moon. Even if your attainment is so small, enlightenment is enlightenment. There is no difference.

“The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew in the grass.”  Enlightenment does not destroy the mind, nor help the mind. He did not say so [laughs], but “Enlightenment does not destroy the mind, just as the moon does not break the water. Mind does not hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of dew does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon.”  Because you compare some things to other things, you have this kind of misunderstanding or confusion. But firewood will be firewood, ash is ash. And ash and firewood are perfect, because they are all independent beings, or independent reality. This kind of understanding is beyond our thinking. You can explain it with logic, but our explanation will not be perfect.

“The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. The period of the reflection, long or short, will prove the vastness of the dewdrop and the vastness of the moonlit sky.”

Now the next paragraph:  “When the truth does not fill our body and mind, we think that we have enough. When the truth fills our body and mind, we know that something is missing” [laughs]. This “something is missing” has a different meaning. “When the truth fills our body and mind, we know that something is missing.” Something—we know that that is not enough; at least we know that we should continue. It is not the end of all. Moment after moment we should work on it. We will feel this way. There is no time for us to lie down and sleep [laughs]. We must go on and on and on.

We have an ideal ahead of us. But usually, without knowing this, when you are caught by your ideas, which are not possible to attain, you will just suffer until you commit suicide. Isn't that so? If enlightenment is just an ideal for you, that idea, even enlightenment, is not always the same. If you make progress—here is some progress, but I cannot explain it right now because you will be mixed up [laughs, laughter]. There may be big enlightenments and small enlightenments, as the biographies of the great masters say, countless small enlightenments and several big enlightenments. This kind of description means that enlightenment is not always the same. So, enlightenment after enlightenment, we should practice our way. So, you feel that something is not enough. Even if you feel good, even if you feel you had enlightenment, that is not enough. When we feel this way, that is true enlightenment. But when you think you have had enough, that is not true enlightenment.

“For example, when we view the world from a boat on the ocean, it looks circular, and nothing else.”  It looks like it's circular. It looks like he found out that our earth is round at that time [laughs]. He said, it looks circular and nothing else. It is just a round globe. He must have seen it when he was crossing the Chinese Sea. “But the ocean is neither round nor square, and its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It seems circular as far as your eyes can reach at the time. All things are so. Though there are many features in the dusty life and the pure life….”

“It is like a palace.” It may be a palace for fish. For fish it is like a palace. “It is like a jewel.”  For a dragon, it may be a jewel. “It seems circular as far as your eyes can reach at the time.”  When you see it, it looks circular, but water is not always a palace for everyone, or a jewel. It seems circular as far as our eyes can reach at the time, but it may not be circular. “All things are so. Though there are many features in the dusty life and the pure life, we only understand what our study can reach.”  Whatever you may say, no matter how beautiful you describe this world, that is not all. That is the description as far as you can describe it.

 “In our study of all things we must appreciate that although they may look round or square, the other features of the ocean or mountains are infinite in variety, and the universe lies in all quarters. It is so not only around ourselves, but also directly here, even in a drop of water.” Just now we are talking about our teaching, but it is not only our Buddhist teaching. Even near at hand, events will tell you this truth. When your understanding reaches as far as this, you may say you are studying Buddhism, and accordingly you work on your everyday life. Whatever you do, that is the practice. Whenever you do not feel good in your work, you must think this truth. You know, at the time, you may not feel so good, but that is not all.

A monastery is not some particular place. Whether you can make Tassajara a monastery or not is up to you. It may be worse than city life even though you are at Tassajara. But when you have the wisdom of the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, even if you are in San Francisco, that will be a perfect monastery. This point should be fully understood.   


Suzuki is commenting on paragraphs 6 and 9–11 of Genjō-kōan.

Transcribed by Brian Fikes. Text reformatted and notes amended by Bill Redican 2/20/02. Re-transcribed 11/2021 by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford from audio file provided by Engage Wisdom. Lightly edited for readability by Peter Ford (11/2021).

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