A minimally edited transcript

To Polish A Tile Is Our Practice Actually

This morning we understood how important it is to practice Zen, to understand our teaching, and to actualize our teaching in our everyday activity; and to attain harmony of intellectual and emotional faculties. This kind of oneness is only attained by practice—there is no other way. By practice, you not only digest the teaching, but you attain the oneness of the various factors of your faculties. So whatever you do, the work you do will become your own. So this kind of practice is something more than training. Training is some means to attain something, but practice is the fundamental way of acquiring various acquisitions. That is why we put emphasis on practice.

Here, by practice we mean something as important as enlightenment itself, or another interpretation of enlightenment because without this kind of practice, you cannot obtain enlightenment—enlightenment will not be yours. Because of this kind of practice, enlightenment is yours, whether you are aware of it or not. Here, the meaning of practice is very deep, so our zazen is not just some way to attain enlightenment. This kind of practice is the practice which is transmitted from Buddha to us.

Do you know the famous story of Nangaku polishing a tile? [Laughs.] I think you know this story. Once, Baso, the Horse Master [laughs], whose tongue was so long [laughs, laughter] like a horse [laughter]—when he spoke, his tongue reached his nose [laughter]. And he had a great physique. The Horse Master was sitting, practicing zazen [laughs, laughter]. Nangaku passed by, and seeing the Horse Master—at that time he was like a Horse Disciple [laughter, a few words unclear] --sitting zazen, the master said, "What are you doing?" "Oh, because I want to attain enlightenment, so I am sitting here." All of a sudden, Nangaku picked up a tile and started to polish it. Seeing this, the Horse Disciple asked the master, "What are you trying to do?" The master said, "I am making a jewel [laughs, laughter] from the tile, so I am polishing it." "How is it possible to make a jewel from a tile?" The master said, "How is it possible [laughs, laughter] to attain enlightenment by sitting?" [laughter] You know this story; this is a very famous story.

To polish a tile [laughs] is our practice actually. You cannot say it is impossible [laughs] to attain enlightenment by sitting zazen. It is possible, but if enlightenment is something quite different from ordinary things, it may be impossible. But when a tile is a tile through and through, the tile, for its being a tile, covers the whole world. When a tile is just a tile, through and through, it is a jewel. You cannot say tile anymore--it is not just a tile. If you do not see the tile through and through, it is only a tile. But actually, when it is really a tile, through and through, it is a jewel.

Dogen Zenji said, when Baso, the Horse Master, became a Horse Master through and through, that is Zen becomes Zen through and through. Everything becomes a jewel. This is our practice. Here you have understanding of form and emptiness, and emptiness is form. When form is form through and through, it is emptiness. When a tile is a tile, through and through, it is a jewel, you see? By jewel we mean emptiness, by tile we mean form.

But this kind of practice is our practice. So in this sense, from practice everything comes out. Where there is practice, there is everything in its true sense. Where there is no practice, it is delusion, which is impossible to acquire. So if you try to acquire something without practice it means you are seeking delusion [laughs]. You have no chance to get it. And you have no chance to know who you are in its true sense.

This kind of practice is our practice. So, when you practice our way, there is teaching--teaching comes out of practice. And that teaching will accord with the teaching which was told by Buddha. That is how we get our transmission. Transmission is not something which is handed down from Buddha like some treasure. It is something which you will have or which you will actualize--which you will realize. And which will be proved by Buddha. That is transmission. So in one way, it is something which was transmitted from Buddha. On the other hand, it is something which is acquired by yourself, in its true sense. This is our teaching, and this is how we get transmission, and how you transmit our way.

Human beings are human beings because we know how to communicate and how to hand down our culture or civilization by calculating, by indicating in various ways. So, cultural heritage can be transmitted from ancestors to each descendant. But that is not perfect. The true way to receive the heritage of our ancestors is just only by this kind of practice. Only through this kind of practice, without any restrictions, will you live in our tradition.

Nowadays the younger generation does not live in the framework of old traditions. This is because the way of handing down our true culture is not right. In our practice, in our way of receiving transmission, there are no restrictions because it will be something which our patriarchs and Buddhas experienced already, and taught in various ways already. Actually, whatever you experience, whatever experience you have, almost all the experiences you have, will have been told about already by some of our patriarchs. They are waiting for you to [laughs] experience something always [laughter].

But we don't [laughter] know about it, so we strive fast—strive hard for it. And we extend our way as we like, but in its true way. So for us there are no restrictions. But our Buddhas and patriarchs will be very glad that we reached here—came here. If you extend our tradition more, the gratitude of the patriarchs will be more. This is how we extend the cultural heritage of Buddhism.

So we say zazen is the most easy way. This easy way does not mean easy or difficult. It means a most natural and unrestricted way, where we find freedom, where we can stretch our hands and take [laughs, laughter] as much as we can, even though we sit in a cross-legged position [laughter]. This is the feeling of zazen in our sitting.

So, our Buddhist culture comes from within always, not without. We say, something which comes from outside is not our treasure. Something which comes from outside is someone else's treasure [laughs] , not ours. So true treasure should come out from inside—from ourselves, through practice.

Just to sit in a cross-legged position is not always zazen. Maybe sometimes it is. But it is not always right. True understanding should follow. That is why we study the Prajna Paramita Sutra during sesshin, through our practice. You can actualize the Prajna Paramita Sutra by your practice. So you can say, when you practice Prajna Paramita Sutra, Prajna Paramita Sutra becomes Prajna Paramita Sutra. And Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva becomes Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Buddha becomes Buddha. So all the patriarchs and Bodhisattvas appear all at once with your practice.

This kind of practice is true practice. Or else there would not be any need to practice for seven days in Tassajara. It might be much better to take LSD [laughter]. That is much easier [laughs], and maybe less expensive [long laughter]. It is true. Here Maezumi Sensei, Chino Sensei, and many students are spending seven days in hot weather. This is ridiculous [long laughter]. You are laughing but I am [laughter drowns out a few words]. It is so, you see.

I am not comparing Zen to LSD [laughs], but Zen is something different from just training to acquire some state of mind. Our state of mind may be important, but if you do not swear to it, if you cannot live in it, it means nothing. So, what we should strive for, or if you want to know what you should do without any teaching, is just sit. And when you act, you should see your surroundings, and what will be the best way to please them[?]. That is how you should find your way. Especially, you have the responsibility to leave our teachings for your descendants, and to leave our cultural heritage for your descendants. How to hand down—how to leave our cultural heritage to our descendants is why you practice zazen.

Through zazen, without saying anything, you can hand down your cultural heritage. What you have strived for, what you have attained, will be your descendants. But without this kind of effort, in other words, when you have no cultural heritage in its true sense, you have nothing to transmit actually [laughs]. You see, when you have it, actually, then, without saying anything, someone will receive it, someone will understand it. Even if no one understands it directly, someday someone will understand it. That is what was written in Shobogenzo. He says, "What I have studied, what I have acquired, may be difficult to be understood by the people in our days"—in his days—"but if I write it down in this way, someone someday will understand me."

So when a cultural heritage, is someone's own, in its true sense, that cultural heritage will be known by someone someday. This kind of confidence comes from our practice. Even though Shakyamuni Buddha left many, many teachings, and many books and sutras, if the teaching he left was not his own, in its true sense, no one would be interested in it. Because what he said came from his character, in its true sense, he has so many descendants. Why this kind of thing happens here is because we know how to transmit, and how to study; how to live in it.

As I said this morning, in reference to Maezumi Sensei's talk last night, it is important for you to have a teacher because our teaching is not something which will be told perfectly. The way is to believe in it. How to believe in this is through a true relationship between the teaching and you. To have a direct, thorough, or complete relationship between the teaching and you is to have a close relationship with your teacher who perfectly believes in the teaching. This is much easier to understand by listening to your teacher than by reading books because as long as he is telling you something, he believes in it. So that communication through belief will result in tremendous impact here.

This is not just intellectual study; this is also emotional study, and studying with your mind and body. That is why it is better to study with your teacher. This is the difference between just reading and practicing something here. If practice is so important, there must be a teacher. And, if there is a teacher, you should not be concerned about just intellectual understanding or criticism or discrimination. You should give up all those imperfect ways of communication. Teachers should not have any discrimination, and students also should not have any discrimination. Just to respect Prajna Paramita is the way.

When you are listening to a teacher with your whole body and mind, you have Prajna Paramita. When you have Prajna Paramita, you have whole teaching. This is how the Prajna Paramita works. In this way, we have been studying the Prajna Paramita Sutra. Although there were many inconveniences in our practice here at Tassajara, I think we did it pretty well. But, the meaning of our practice is much more than we understand.

We have one more day [two people whisper: two more] two more days [laughter]. Oh I see [laughter]. Two more days? Not just one more [laughter]. I missed very much [laughter]. I am so glad to hear that—two more days [laughter]. I was counting how many students may come to me for dokusan, but if I have two more days, I am very much relieved.

Anyway, we have been doing pretty well. It may be pretty difficult, I know, but if you switch your mind a little bit, you will be quite a different person. And this is also true. So I want you to make a last effort in these two days. Thank you very much.



Transcript from Engage Wisdom, created by Shundo David Haye in 2021. Verbatim version by Peter Ford and Wendy Pirsig, 11/2021. This version lightly edited for readability by Peter Ford 11/2021.

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