A minimally edited transcript

Shosan Ceremony at Tassajara

Thursday, December 7, 1967

Buddha started teaching at Varanasi,1 but actually when he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, he started his teaching for the people.  Now, after sitting for seven days, I want to see and I want to hear your true teaching. Now come and show me your teaching.

Student A: My heart is full of joy. This zendo at Tassajara is like my own home. Sitting in zazen, eating with my fellow monks, trying to follow the way of my Roshi. Word by word, moment by moment, feeling by feeling, my delusion and my feeling is expressed in this moment.

SR: Yes. “In this moment” is right. Don't live in the future or past.

Student A: Thank you very much.

Student B (Dan Welch): Docho Roshi, as the sun enlightens our daily life, as the stars never cease to shine, how is it possible to forget?

SR: To—excuse me?

Student B: Forget.

SR: To forget it. Originally you do not forget it.

Student B: Thank you very much.

Student C: Docho Roshi, outside I see the trees, and the things that grow, and the rocks seeming to do perfect zazen. And I see my own potentiality for this, yet still I feel great fear. Please tell me what is the true nature of fear?

SR: Fear has no reason why it arises. So, when the rocks and running water become a part of you, when you become truly their friend, there will be no fear.

Student C: Thank you very much.

Student D: Docho Roshi, the fish is in the water. The water is in the fish. It is soundless, and you cannot hear it. It is clear, and you cannot see it. It has no smell. How can there possibly be a mistake?

SR: There is no mistake whatsoever.

Student D: Thank you very much.

Student E: Docho Roshi, I have two questions. Where is home? What is true strength?

SR: When you start wandering about there is no home, there is no strength. But if you find your home in this moment at this place, you have enough strength to practice our way. And home is right here.

Student E: Thank you very much.

Student F: Docho Roshi, in our practice should we try to overcome our weakness or should we try to work through it?

SR: Why should you overcome? You should try to overcome when there is no big mind or no small mind.

Student F: Thank you very much.

Student G: Docho Roshi, what place is this?

SR: What place is this?

Student G: Yes.

SR: This is Tassajara zendo.

Student G: Thank you very much.

Student H: Docho Roshi, after four months' training and seven-days' sesshin, what am I doing here?

SR: You are doing nothing.

Student H: Thank you very much.

Student I: Docho Roshi, I'm afraid to ask you a question. Why?

SR: Because you see me as your teacher always.

Student I: Thank you very much.

SR: Open your eyes and listen to me more.

Student J: Docho Roshi, how is it possible to lose the fear of no nose, no mouth, no eyes, no world of eyes?

SR: Fear comes from your ego. So the way is to open up your mind so that there is no more ego.

Student J: Thank you very much.

Student K: Docho Roshi, is there only one act of devotion?

SR: Excuse me? There is only—I couldn't follow you.

Student K: Is there only one act of devotion?

SR: After devotion, devotion itself, only one. And devotional life will be continued one after another incessantly.

Student K: Thank you very much.

Student L: Docho Roshi, when we are silent, what is the question?

SR: There is no question when you are silent, but when you are in activity, you will have innumerable questions.  Questions should be answered in each moment.

Student L: Thank you very much.

Student M: Docho Roshi, how can I stop to ask a question?

SR: Originally there is no need to ask a question. Your active mind brings about many questions. So the point is to practice our pure way. Then at least at that time you have no questions.

Student M: Thank you very much.

Student N: Docho Roshi, why did you and why did all the buddhas and patriarchs join to teach and save others?

SR: Join to teach what?

Student N: Why did they teach and try to save others?

SR: Save others. Because all of them are part of them.

Student N: Thank you very much.

Student O: Docho Roshi, as I accept you as my teacher more and more, I find more and more a growing dependency on you in that role, and I'm afraid of this. What can I do about it?

SR: There is no need to be afraid of being a part of me. Don't be afraid of me, and try to study hard.

Student O: But what happens if something happens to you, and you can't be our teacher anymore?

SR: That cannot happen. I am always with you forever.

Student O: Thank you very much.

Student P: Docho Roshi, how or why has this come about that we can feel that we have lost our home and make the journey—what we think is a journey to return to it? Why is this?

SR:  Your feeling is opposite. You think you started your journey from home, but the real home is here. Don't go wandering about to various countries.

Student P: I understand that, but I wonder why it is that we do that?

SR: Because you feel you started your journey from your home. It was not your true home.

Student P: Thank you very much.

SR: You must feel as if you came back to your home right now.

Student Q: Docho Roshi, what is the fundamental cause of the universe?

SR: Universe. Ah, we do not discuss it because there is no beginning or no end for the universe.

Student Q: Thank you very much.

Student R: No beginning, no end. No teacher, no student. No and yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, no, yes, yes, no, no, yes, yes, yes, no.

SR: That's right.

Student R: Thank you very much.

SR: Don't forget you said “yes.” Do not forget that you said “yes” with “no.”

Student R: Thank you very much.

Student S: Docho Roshi, what is it that the great sages have said speaks when you are silent, yet is silent when you speak?

SR: Great sages always, incessantly giving teaching, not only through their mouth, but also by their blinks of eyes, walking, sitting, lying down. Always they are showing the truth.

Student S: Thank you very much.

Student T: Docho Roshi: Roshi, when a person has saved himself or herself, has that person also saved the world?

SR: Yes. The whole universe will be saved. If it is not so, he did not save himself or save others.

Student T: Thank you very much.

Student U: Docho Roshi, we can succeed in directing our effort inside. How can there be anything outside our effort?

SR: There is no inside or outside. We say our effort should be directed towards inside, but why we say it is to suggest to you the direction. One arrow will get through the past, present, and future: the three worlds. And, the arrow will continuously go forward. Don't think the arrow is always going outward. To go outward one thousand miles means going back one thousand miles. So don't think there is outside or inside in our practice.

Student U: Thank you very much.

Student V: Docho Roshi, should we think or ponder about [1-2 words] our problems or anything?

SR: Yes, you should. But if you want to think in its true sense, you should resume in the area where you do not think. That is pure practice.

Student V: Thank you very much.

SR: Your thinking should not be based on an unreal foundation.

Student W: Docho Roshi, is it necessary—words, questions, or even thinking?

SR: For you it may not be necessary. Continue your practice.

Student W: Thank you very much.

[Long pause.]

SR: I know what you mean. Go and rest. Go and rest.

Student X (Ed Brown): Docho Roshi, I have many questions. But they seem to come and go, and they don't seem very important. And, everyone seems to have worked very hard during sesshin.

SR: The question should not be about whether it is right or wrong. Right now, the most important thing is to find what is the most important thing. Still, your question is directed to the wrong direction. You are asking yourself for others, which is not important. The most important thing is to be involved in what you are doing now, without thinking “good” or “bad.” Stop asking—stop thinking, and devote yourself to your kitchen work. Whatever people say, or whatever you yourself say, you should not be concerned about it.

Student X: Thank you very much.

Student Y: Docho Roshi, you have told me at first I must serve in calmness.

SR: Serve?

Student Y: Serve in calmness others.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student Y: Is the boss that is illumined by the mind's calmness only a small boss?

SR: There is actually no small or big boss. When you call any boss, that is your boss. Because you think this is a big boss or great boss, your practice is not any more true practice. Don't be involved in good or bad, high or low. Just do what you should do at that moment.

Student Y: Thank you very much.

Student Z: Docho Roshi, automobile go to San Francisco, jet plane to New York, rockets to the moon. Where does instant mind go when it's not here?

SR: Instant?

Student Z: Instant mind.

SR: Inst- — ?

Student Z: Where does the mind go—

SR: When?

Student Z: — when it's not here?

SR: Mind does not go or come back. Mind is always here.

Student Z: Thank you very much.

SR: The mind which goes wandering about is not true mind.

Student AA: Docho Roshi, there is no question that is not answered before it is asked. Have I spoken truly?

SR: Excuse me, I couldn't follow you.

Student AA: There is no question that is not answered—

SR: That is not answered.

Student AA: —before it is asked.

SR: Mm-hmm. Every question is already answered when you ask.

Student AA: Thank you very much.

Student BB: Docho Roshi, to do it all in the present moment, and to be totally involved in the present moment, seems so impossible with so much feeling and so many thoughts. It seems so impossible.

SR: Too many thoughts is all right. That is not the point. The point is to be concerned about too many thoughts or no thought. All the thought you have is one thought or no thought. I am not saying to stop your activity. I am not counting how many thoughts you have. All the thought you have is originally one thought. If it is one thought, that is no thought.

Student BB: Thank you very much.

SR: So don't be concerned about the thoughts you have. Don't be bothered by it. You should think. To think is all right, but to be bothered by it or to discriminate good thought or bad thought is bad.

Student BB: Thank you very much.

Student CC: Docho Roshi, snow is piled deep in the mountain pass making it nearly impenetrable. How do we pass from here?

SR: If you want to pass, you can. There is no difficulty in passing through. Is there any difficulty? I don't think so.

Student CC: Thank you very much.

Student DD: Docho Roshi, thank you for coming to the United States. Thank you for bringing us your teaching. And thank you for showing me this new life and our way. Thank you very much.

SR: Thank you.

Student EE: Docho Roshi, what now?

SR: Now. Don't ask me. Now is now. You have now. I have my own now. That is why now is so important. It is beyond question and answer.

Student EE: Thank you very much.

Student FF: Docho Roshi, who are the sangha?

SR: We are. Those who are in Tassajara are sangha—in a limited sense. But all of us—all sentient beings—are sangha.

Student FF: Thank you very much.

Student GG: Docho Roshi, if everything changes, why is there always suffering?

SR: Because of change. Change itself is suffering. If change is the essential nature of everything, suffering cannot be avoided. Because there is no way to avoid it. If you know there is no way to avoid it, there is our relief.

Student HH: Docho Roshi, neither mind nor Buddha, what is this?

SR: Excuse me?

Student HH: Neither mind nor Buddha. What is this?

SR: Neither mind nor Buddha, did you say?

Student HH: Right.

SR: Neither mind nor Buddha points out the real Buddha. We are caught by the word Buddha. If we say “Buddha,” we want to find out where is Buddha? When Buddha is right here. So we say, “neither mind nor Buddha.”

Student HH: Thank you very much.

Student II: Docho Roshi, who observes our way?

SR: You observe our way. When you observe our way everything observes our way. So our way is the universal way, and at the same time your own way.

Student II: Thank you very much.

SR: Yakusan Zenji2 did not give lectures for a long time. The monks asked him to give them a lecture. Yakusan Zenji mounted the altar, and seeing every monk one by one, came down from the altar, and went back to his own room again. A monk who was responsible for the zendo asked him why didn't he give any lecture. Yakusan said, there is a scripture master or Buddhist philosophy master, and I am a master of Zen. Don't wonder who I am, he said.

Zen monks are Zen monks because they are speaking fluently without saying anything—just by everyday activity. That is how a Zen student should be. That is why I said Buddha started giving teaching when he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in the country of Magadha.3 We should not forget this point.

And we should take care of our practice, not only zazen practice but whatever we do in Tassajara. I am very grateful to you for observing our way in various ways without asking why we do that or why we should do this. Whatever you do, that is our practice. There you will find yourself. Our practice is valuable because we can find ourselves in what we do in that moment.

Thank you very much.

1 From a meal chant: "Buddha was born at Kapilavastu, enlightened at Magadha, taught at Paranasi, entered nirvāna at Kusinārā."

2 Yaoshan Weiyan (Jap. Yakusan Igen): 751-834. Disciple of Sekitō Kisen. Master of Ungan, Sensu, and Dōgo. This story is Case 7 of the Ts'ung-junglu (Jap. Shoyoroku, Book of Serenity) collection of kōans. See also SR-68-10-12-A, SR-69-06-00, and SR-71-08-08.

3 One of the newly formed and powerful monarchies on the Ganges Plain at the time of Shākyamuni Buddha.

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Adam Tinkham and Bill Redican (4/5/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (10/2020).

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