A minimally edited transcript


Wednesday, July 9, 1969                                                                         

In our previous lectures we have studied the relationship between real and seeming, or emptiness and forms. By “real” we mean something beyond our thinking. This is just a suggestion, not real or emptiness itself. It is something beyond our thinking mind, so we call it “emptiness.”

It is not actually something which we can understand in terms of good or bad, real or not real. And whatever it is, everything we say or what we see is forms. We actually live in the world of forms and colors. We don't know, actually, what is emptiness itself. Even though we call it “emptiness,”  there are some rules how emptiness takes various forms. So, according to some rules, emptiness takes its form and color. And, we are explaining about the relationship between emptiness and form which we can see.

Right now we have been mostly discussing in a rather philosophical way, but tonight it may be better to explain it more in a psychological way or physical way. According to Buddhist psychology, of course, we have five senses, and thinking mind, and some faculty to lead our thinking mind, to make our thinking mind make a mistake. That kind of faculty we have. And there is also some faculty to point out the mistake of the seventh mind. Five senses and thinking mind, that is six. The seventh one is to make our mind make a mistake. That is the sixth one. The seventh [corrects self] one. That is the mind which lets our thinking mind stick to something. There is [laughs] no need to stick to something, actually. But the seventh mind makes the sixth mind stick to something.

The idea of truth we have should not always be the same. It should change. But, we are liable to stick to some ideas. Why we do so is because of the sixth mind, we explain. And that sixth mind, of course, makes mistakes. We should not stick to an idea always, because everything is changing. If things in reality are changing, our mind should change also. But, we are liable to think something which we saw always exists and some conclusion we reached is always true. But it is not so. Today's conclusion will not be true anymore tomorrow, maybe. But we are liable to stick to some conclusion or idea. That is the seventh mind.

And the eighth one tells us, that is also a mistake. The eighth sense is at the same time the storehouse of various ideas and knowledge. The motto of the eighth sense is just to keep things as it is, old and new. Everything is mountain and river, whatever it is. What we see is always kept in our mind. That is the eighth one. And, it includes not only knowledge or ideas, but also the so-called outward objects, the objective world, including mountains and stones and rivers and water. Everything which we call the “objective world” is included in our eighth mind. So the eighth mind or sense is both subjective and objective, and material and spiritual.

Most of us are very much involved in thinking mind, and we ignore the more fundamental minds. Because we put more emphasis on thinking mind, we ignore our tummy [hara], which is the center of our more vegetable-like nervous system. I think you call it  the “autonomic1 nervous system.” This is the center of the autonomic system. Our brain is the center of thinking mind. And our nervous system connects both centers, like this [probably gestures].

We know many things about our brain system, but we don't know whether we have mind here [hara] or not. But from ancient times, Oriental people studied a lot about this mind. I don't think you have any idea of having some mind here in your tummy. And, to our great astonishment, maybe 99 percent of our nervous system consists of a more vegetable-like system, not a smart thinking nervous system. Chinese people call mind here [points to brain?] yang; and this mind here [points to hara?] is yin. Some people understand yang is better that yin or more powerful than yin, but that is not right. Both yin and yang are important.

So yin means something which produces many things. That is yin, like earth, you know. Earth is yin, and the sun is yang. And yang helps produce for us many things. Woman is yin, and man is yang [laughs]. We don't know which is more important [laughter, laughs]. Anyway, both are necessary, yin and yang.

Chinese people think this mind or the center of vegetable-like nerves is here [hara?], right here. And, this is actually a branch of this nervous system, according to the Chinese understanding of mind. So, even if you cut off our mind from this mind, cutting off the connection between this mind and this mind, still you can survive. And, still you can have children. Still you can eat. If you cut off this mind from yin mind, this center exists, but this center stops working. So, that is why we put emphasis on practice of here [hara]. If you practice zazen, you will have a more active autonomic nervous system. On the other hand, if you use too much thinking mind, it will affect the activity of your nervous center here and will create some indigestion or will create some trouble to your tummy or lungs which is in your tummy [hara].

By the way [sounds of Suzuki writing on a blackboard], it [niku] means “flesh,” and this [do] means earth, which is in.2 And this character means hara. This is hara.

The flesh—earth—or in nature's flesh, is here [in the hara]. So this is a very important part [laughs]. The tummy is not just a bag to keep your various things in. It is very important. Hara.

So, in our practice we rather stop our thinking and encourage our activity of more vegetable-like nervous system. And this is nearer to the understanding of reality. We analyze things for some purpose. But, a more important thing is to support ourselves in a healthy condition. And you can analyze things, and think about something, and try to make our life easier. But first of all, we have to keep ourselves healthy.

So, I think maybe that is why we are now more interested in medicine or medical science rather than philosophy. And, when we become more interested in medical science, eventually we will become more interested in the study of our own hara. According to Chinese people, we have five organs in our body. And, each one of them has some special—not thinking--but nervous activity. My friend in Japan is now an authority on Chinese medicine, and he was a good student when we were studying together.  He became interested in herbs and Chinese medicine. And, he is still continuing to read many books, and studying the relationship between Zen and Chinese medicine. It is so voluminous that I do not have time to follow his books.

What he describes in those magazines or books is very interesting. And he has big confidence in our future medicine, which has almost vanished from China and from Japan after the Meiji period, when we were more interested in Western medical science. According to our law, we cannot be a doctor unless we study Western medicine. That is the only way to get a license as a doctor. We still have therapy—what do you call it?—to burn our skin3 at some points, or to put a needle,4—by needle here, we help some people. But they are just popular therapists. They have a license, but they have no license to diagnose a patient. If they come, they will see him, and, of course, unless he knows what is wrong with him, he cannot use his therapy. But, by law it is prohibited to make prescriptions or to diagnose a patient. If you study more—nowadays it is very difficult to collect books because we haven't even many books. In China, also, those valuable classics are no more. So, he has a very difficult time to study Chinese medicine.

This is not what I wanted to talk about tonight [laughs]. What I want to say is: In our practice, we would rather stop our thinking mind to make our more fundamental activity active. Sometimes we say “direct experience.” What does it mean physically or psychologically? More to stop our thinking mind and to open our basic mind—our practice, physically speaking or psychologically speaking. For Oriental people, the base of our thinking is oneness. And that one will be divided into yin and yang. There is no yin and yang, or seeming and reality as quite separate elements. Originally it is one element, and yin and yang are two sides of one element.

So we catch our things in the picture of yin and yang, or seeming and reality. That is just a picture of one reality. We don't think, “Here is seeming, and here is reality,” or, “Here is yin, and here is yang,” or, “Yang is better than yin,” or “Yin is more powerful than yang.” We don't think that way.

Our world will be divided into yin and yang. Our world will be divided in two. But, although temporarily we can divide it in two, it does not mean our world consists of yin and yang. Yin plus yang is not our world. We tentatively divide or analyze our world as two: yin and yang. Do you understand? So, difference is the base of the thinking mind. Your thinking mind is based on duality, and our Oriental thinking is based more on oneness.

So, even though we use this kind of formula, this is a picture of reality, you see? Just a picture of reality. We understand reality in this way, that's all. It does not mean there is form and emptiness, something which is called emptiness and something which is called form. Form and emptiness is originally one. But, because of our rigid, limited thinking mind, or to destroy our thinking mind, we use this kind of tool. This is a tool to destroy our thinking mind. By “destroy” I mean to be free from thinking mind.

And tonight I think I have to explain this one: “Form is emptiness.” Oh—excuse me. “Form is form.” When we say “form,” there is nothing but form. World of form only. After we understand or accept the formula of “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” and “emptiness is emptiness,” we will reach an understanding of a world of form only.

I think you will understand the world of form only. Actually, whether you understand Buddhism or not, maybe we are actually living in the world of form only. But, this form includes a thinking mind too—everything: physical and spiritual. Whatever it is, what we think is the world of form only. So, actually, we live in the world of form only, but there is a difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Buddhists also live in the world of form only. But there is a difference. The difference is, Buddhists understand “form is emptiness, and emptiness is form, and emptiness is emptiness, and form is form.” But usual people do not understand “emptiness is form, and form is emptiness, and form is form, emptiness is emptiness.” That is the difference. Usual people in short do not have any experience of zazen practice, any experience of stopping thinking mind to reach the world “emptiness is emptiness.”

So for usual people, to lose something is very discouraging. Like the old Indian woman who happened to see in her mirror no head [laughs].5 One morning she couldn't see her own head in her mirror, so she was very much discouraged. We Buddhists will not be discouraged, even though we die, because we know form is emptiness. Originally we are empty. Originally we are not here, because we are changing moment after moment. I am here, but tomorrow I shall be quite a different person because I am changing always into something else. I cough a lot tonight, but I may not cough tomorrow morning [laughs], so I'm not the same person. So, if I die in two days, a new Suzuki will be born tomorrow morning. That is our understanding of ourselves. That is the difference.

But I am right here, and I am doing something. I am talking to you and you are listening to me, so we are involved in the same activity. We are doing the same thing, but our understanding of life is different. Actually, the difference is whether you understand our life in this way, with five ways or with one way.

Usually we understand things—as I said, “Form is form.” [Laughs.] “I am I.” “Table is table.” “Fire is fire.” That is our usual understanding. And, that understanding is called “dualistic understanding.” So, in one way Western culture is an enemy of [laughs] Oriental culture, or a good husband of Oriental culture, maybe. Enemy and good husband are the same thing [laugh, laughter]—not different at all. Good couples are always fighting, [laughs] getting into quarrels. So we say, “You should not try to get involved in a quarrel between a husband and wife.” He may be a very good friend. He is so good to continue their quarrel. Whatever the relationship may be, it is all right. For Buddhists it is all right. For non-Buddhists it is, maybe, a big problem [laughs]. So, we must be able to have various pictures of the same reality.

[Sound of papers being shuffled. Long pause.]

Do you have some questions? By the way, can you hear me? [Laughs, laughter.]

[Turned tape over here.]

Student A: You mentioned a part of the Shobogenzo that we should read? The “Shakokate”?6 And I didn't hear what it was, and I'm getting very curious.

SR: Shakura practice?

Student A: Yeah. You said that if it didn't sound absolutely right, there was something wrong with our practice. Something that we should read—some part of the Shobogenzo.

SR: Oh. [Laughs.]

Student A: Do you remember?

SR: No, I don't remember [laughter]. Shobogenzo?

Student A: I think so; I'm not sure. Shobogenzo maybe—

SR: When? Recently?

Student A: Oh, maybe a month ago. Is that—

SR: When I was talking about counting-breathing exercises?

Student A: Uh-huh.

SR: Mmm. Chakra.

Student B: To check our practice. He said to check our practice.

SR: Oh, check.

Student A: Yeah, to check our practice—

SR: Oh, check.

Student A: —to see if it's all right, you know.

SR: Oh.

Student A: You said that if we read it and it didn't sound right, if it didn't sound all right, then there was something wrong with our practice? Do you understand?

SR: Mm-hmm. You know, when you think your practice is all right, that is not all right [laughs, laughter]. So you should just sit. Whether it is all right or not all right doesn't matter [laughter]. Do you understand? But difficult, you know. When you say, “This is all right, or this is not all right,” that is here, right here—not here [probably alternately pointing to head and hara]. We should not be bothered by this one [tapping—probably pointing to head].

Student B: Roshi, could this mind be received by this mind [probably also pointing to his head and his hara]?

SR: By this mind? No. No, no. This mind is very limited.

Student B: Can this mind be perceived by this mind?

SR: This mind is supporting. This mind is supporting this one. This is branch office, actually [laughs, laughter]. So he doesn't know, what is going on here [laughs, laughter].

Student B: Can this mind perceive itself?

SR: No [sounding tentative or qualified]. The mind perceives something is here [hara]. You call it “autonomic,” autonomic nervous system. One American doctor put emphasis on mind here. I don't know who he is, but…. Hai.

Student C: Why do we need to study about Zen and listen to lectures about Zen if we're not going to be bothered by [1-2 words unclear]?

SR: [Laughs.] Because we are always involved in thinking mind only, and we have not much ability to free our mind from thinking mind. That is why. So, that formula is to destroy the attachment to thinking mind. This is a kind of thought. Because we are intellectual beings, the thought should also be intellectual, or else it doesn't work. So, we use this kind of logic or thinking formula. This formula itself doesn't mean much. This is just thought to cut off something we should not be involved in too much. That is why we study this kind of thing. And because we are so intellectual, it is necessary to intellectualize our intellectuality [laughs, laughter] to be free from it. That is why we study those things. But actually, if you practice zazen, that is enough. But, what is real practice will be the problem. So, to know what is right practice we also use this kind of suggestion or tool. Hai.

Student D: Once you said in a lecture that if we are thinking while we are eating, we are not doing good practice of eating, but we're doing good practice of thinking. Should we, as beginning Zen students, try to avoid occupations that require using the thinking mind, or is there a way to keep up our practice in jobs that make us think?

SR:  Maybe tentatively you can classify our work in two ways: physical work and mental work. So with physical work, like when you scrub floors, you don't have to think. In that case, a student who is practicing on the mu koan can practice koan study even when he is scrubbing floors because he is not using his head. And the purpose of koan study is mostly to give up thinking mind. Anyway, it is a practice of mind. So you can do that.

But when you are counting something, you cannot study koan practice. So in that case, I think your practice should be to do your job, to think about only your job without thinking about other things. That is, in that case, our practice. We say, “one-thing-only practice.” Why this is practice is that when we are involved in only one thing, it is only one kind of activity. Then your mind will not be disturbed because you are not involved in some other things. So, it means that your thinking activity includes everything, or there is nothing but your thinking world at that time. That is, the world of “form is form” only. There is no other thing. Just existing is your thinking activity at that time. So, if that kind of thinking activity continues, that is the world of form only. That is a kind of practice.

Student E: Is it possible for Zen monks to disagree among themselves? [Laughter.]

SR: Yeah. [Laughter, laughs.] It is possible. But, you know, at the same time, you should understand some others' understanding too. There are so many formulas [laughs]. Although there are so many formulas, actually it is just one formula. One formula will be understood in five ways, that's all. So, not to disagree is, maybe, agreeing with it [laughs]. To agree with it may be not to agree with it, or whether you agree, or not agree or not, not, [laughs] not disagree. We don't stick to it, that's all. You can say no, but that's all.

Student F: Since we are constantly changing, is there anything you know that doesn't change?

SR: No. Nothing. Nothing. [Pause and slight laugh.] If there is something, point out what it is. You cannot. This [thumping desk or floor] doesn't change—you cannot say. That is our understanding. For you, there may be “something changes and something which doesn't change,” but that is not true with Buddhists. Everything changes, including Buddha himself. Hai.

Student G: Well, if we are constantly changing, moment by moment, what gives the continuity of being the same person?

SR: Continue—same person?

Student E: What gives the appearance of being the same person all the time—the quality of that same person?

SR: Continuity. Continuity is like some current. “Continuity,” we say, but that continuity is like some thread. You may think this world consists of long, long thread [laughs] like this. Continuity may be the thread. And that thread, if you roll it like this [gestures], will be a big ball. That is our world, maybe. That is not our understanding.

So we say, as Nishida7 said, “If we understand our world is the unfolding of the truth, we will lose one side of the truth.” The one side of the truth is, “What is the relationship between long thread?” This is just one thread. It means the unfolding of one truth, “just thread.” [Laughs.] What is the, relationship between A and B? This side is missing in this understanding. So, when we say, “Everything changes,” it means that we are related to everything, this way. And we are related to the future being and past being. So it is rather difficult to explain, what this world consists of. And when you ask that question, your understanding is based on, “This world consists of a long, long thread.” But it is not actually so. This kind of lecture is for the training of our thinking mind, to get free from our thinking mind, and to utilize thinking mind fully, we study this kind of thing. Did you understand? [Laughs]

What I want to say is—you are still sticking to [laughs] thinking mind, and there is something which I should explain, you see? Your question is based on understanding the unfolding of the truth about this reality.

The reality is something which is not possible to explain what it is. If we say, “We are part of reality,” that is also a mistake. As you said, if we are a part of it, what is the relationship between “you” in this moment and “you” in the next moment? [Laughs.] We don't know what to think [laughs], what to say, that is right. And, we don't know what to say is the last one here. “Say something!” “No.” [Laughs.] We say, if you say something you will get thirty slaps, and if you don't you will get [laughing] thirty slaps.8 That is true understanding.

Student F: When we listen to your lectures, I find it very hard to listen to the balance to my thinking mind and my hara mind—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student F: — and if I just, maybe, count my breathing during lecture, I don't hear anything [laughter]. If I use my thinking mind, I find in my eyes [?] a lot, I have some question—

SR: Yeah.

Student F: — and then I start following that, I lose your lecture again. So should we listen to your lecture with—

SR: With thinking mind, yeah. This is the training of our thinking mind. And if you give a lecture like this, it will be good training. Following the thinking mind and giving freedom to thinking mind—that is how you make teisho.9 Teisho does not mean to give you some idea, but to give a good suggestion to the reality. Tei is “to take up something.”  “This is it!” is teisho.

Student G: Roshi, if everything is always changing—

SR: Hai.

Student G: —would that not mean, in effect, that nothing ever changed? Then there is no change, if everything is always changing—

SR: Uh-huh.

Student G: —the change would in effect cancel the change, making nothing change, wouldn't it? Everything is always changing—

SR: Yeah.

Student G: —then nothing is changing—

SR: Nothing changes.

Student G: —because everything is changing—

SR: Yeah, nothing changes.

Student G: —nothing changes.

SR: Yeah. That's right understanding. So this is just a game of words. Everything changes. [Laughs.] It means nothing changes [laughs, laughter]. You know, everything changes, so nothing changes. But, because you see just one part of it, it changes. But if everything changes, one before big thing is not changing. Something is always there, but it is changing. [Laughs, laughter.]  As Prajnaparamita Sutra said, “Doesn't increase, doesn't decrease. It isn’t tainted, or it isn’t pure.”  Actually, there are two ways of listening to the lecture. One is to listen to it as an exercise of your thinking mind, and the other is, to know our practice precisely. How much freedom we have from thinking mind.

So, if you are disturbed by my lecture, it means you still stick to some idea, some way of thinking. How I answer a student’s question is to find out what kind of thinking mind he has, and explain his own thinking mind, and let him realize his thinking mind is not always right, so he will give up his way of thinking mind which he always sticks to.


1Suzuki said "autonomous", changed to "autonomic" throughout the lecture.
2 That is, "earth is in our flesh or body." Sources of Japanese characters: Andrew H. Nelson, The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary, 2nd edition, pp. 738 (niku), 264 (do), and 740 (hara). See also character No.3800.0 for hara.

3 Moxibustion.

4 Acupuncture.

5 The tale of Enyadatta. See SR-69-07-03.

6 Phonetic guess only. Possibly "Shukke" or "Shukke-kudoku."

7 Nishida Kitarō (1870-1945): an important 20th-century Japanese philosopher. In Zen no kenkyu (A Study of Good, 1911), he discussed his theory of "pure experience." In Hataraku mono kara miru mono e (From the Acting to the Seeing, 1927), he discussed the meeting of Western and Eastern thought. He also wrote about the Buddhist concept of emptiness from a Western standpoint. Suzuki-rōshi entered Komazawa University, Tōkyō, in 1926, at a time when Nishida Kitarō was probably widely discussed.

8 Quoting Deshan Xuanjian (Te-Shan Hsuan-chien, Tokusan Senkan): 782-865. "Thirty blows if yes, thirty blows if no."

9 A lecture by a Zen master conveying some aspect of the essence of Zen.

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Sara Hunsaker and Bill Redican (4/10/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (12/2020). One previous lecture that Suzuki may have been referring to at the beginning of this lecture is SR-69-07-03. A note included in the original reel backup tape for this lecture stated that SR-69-07-09 was recorded July 5, which would place it closer to the July 3 lecture.


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