A minimally edited transcript

Sesshin, Shosan Ceremony

September, 1969

[Beginning of ceremony not recorded.]

SR: — it will be the foundation of the everyday activity. That is real [1 word].

Student A: Thank you very much.

Student B: Docho Roshi, if our karmic thoughts interfere with our breath counting, just as do the flies in the zendo, should we not try to rid ourselves of them, even though it is a nice aid our practice?

SR: Excuse me [2-3 words]—

Student B: If our karmic thoughts interfere with our breath-counting—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student B: —just as do the flies in the zendo—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student B: — should we not try to get rid of them, even though it is an aid to our practice?

SR: Mm-hmm. Karma is actually something that really exists, something you created, and something you feel you should do, or something which drives you in some certain direction. That is karma. But that karma is not like flies. It is not a substantial being. It is just our habit. So there is no need to try to get rid of it. To have right understanding of it through right practice is to get rid of it. So, when you practice zazen, you should not have any idea of karma.

Student B: Thank you very much.

Student C [Katharine Thanas]: Docho Roshi, Trudy's1 ashes are on our altar. And she is with us in our memories and in many other ways. How does she exist for us now in form or emptiness or neither—both?

SR: In both. In the sense of form, she exists in each one of you. And in emptiness—she is ready to help every one of us.

Katharine: Domo arigato gozaimasu.2

Student D: Docho Roshi, why is it the harder I practice, the worse I feel?

SR: Because you feel worse, you practice hard. And because you practice hard, you feel hard and worse, that's all. So, even though you feel worse, you shouldn't be discouraged by it. That you can overcome it means you are practicing our true way in its true sense.

Student D: Thank you very much.

Student E: Docho Roshi, I would like to share my mind, but I have a great deal of difficulty in expressing it.

SR: In—?

Student E: Expressing it.

SR: Expressing your mind. You are expressing your mind fully always—even though you don't know it.

Student F: Docho Roshi, what question can you ask a sweet potato?

SR: A sweet potato? Many questions [laughter]. May I eat you? [Laughs, laughter.] When may I eat enough to be [1-2 words]? Many, many questions. [Laughs, laughter.]

Student F: Thank you very much.

Student G: Docho Roshi, in counting our breath practice, you told us to put some effort on the exhalation—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student G: —and let the inhalation come naturally. I find my inhalation is very rugged, and there seems some imbalance by putting all the effort in one direction. I wondered if there's any special reason why you emphasize the exhalation.

SR: Emphasize. I mean to have complete exhale. Maybe your exhaling is not complete. Even though you try to exhale fully, it may not be deep enough or complete enough.

Student G: I feel my inhalation is not complete unless I make an effort. Would it be all right to make an effort, a slight effort, on the inhalation too?

SR: Yes, yes. If so. But we can exhale—exhalation means to empty your chest and to make more space for your lungs, pushing everything down. So, if you know how to make complete exhalation, then naturally I think you can make good inhale.

Student G: Thank you very much.

Student H: Docho Roshi, mada.

SR: Mada means “not yet.”3 Not yet are very important words. Already—because we will never have a chance to say “already.”4 Mada, mada, mada is very good practice.

Student H: Thank you very much.

Student I: Docho Roshi, what is there to say?

SR: Nothing.

Student I: Thank you very much.

Student J: Docho Roshi, anyways, is this it?

SR: Yeah. [Long pause before and after.]

Student J: Ah. Thank you very much.

Student K: Docho Roshi, before a mirror [?] comes it has already arrived. Counting to ten never was one. Walking to you, there is no approaching. Crickets are chirping, and the flies fly. You tell us to extend ourselves in practice. In what direction can I extend?

SR: Direction? There is no direction, but not to lose anything—to be kind to everything, one by one, is the direction of the practice. So, in our practice we have no particular goal or special object. So whatever it is you should work on it, one by one.

Student K: Thank you very much.

Student L: Docho Roshi, even if I go [4-6 words]. Is that— how can I be with you?

SR: [1-2 short sentences unclear.]

Student M: Docho Roshi, there seems to be such a difference between myself when I'm completely involved with counting my breath or in some activity, and when I have my thinking mind. I'm always hunting for some way to put the two together. Somehow it seems very dualistic to always be trying to resist my thinking mind.

SR: Sometimes when you think, you should sit completely with pure thinking and not resist thinking mind. But to rely on thinking mind is not so good. You can practice thinking, but the answer you get by thinking is not the only answer you should know. You will have some direction to work on. If you have some direction to work, then you should be completely involved in the work, directed by thinking mind. That is true practice, and that is pure thinking. To think and to know the direction are two different things.

Student M: But it seems like those two minds are always battling each other beyond my control—

SR: Ah—that is not thinking.

Student M: —and there's nothing I can do about it.

SR: That is not thinking. That is a kind of lack of conviction. You need my stick, maybe [laughs, laughter].

Student M: Something [laughs].

SR: Maybe so. Later I will give you a big stick [laughs, laughter].

Student M: Thank you very much.

Student N: Docho Roshi, if zazen is to make us free of all things, how should we know the choice between one thing and another—how should we make it?

SR: If the time comes, you will completely know what [5-6 words] should be.

Student N: Thank you very much.

Student O: Docho Roshi, what am I asking you?

SR: I know what you want to ask me pretty well. But, as you don't ask me now, I also don't want to answer you [laughter].

Student O: But I'm not sure that I know. That's why I thought maybe you would know [laughs, laughter].

SR: I know [laughs, laughter].

Student O: Will I know some time to ask you?

SR: Yes. But not now [laughter].

Student O: Thank you very much.

Student P: Docho Roshi, I always have some question, but the question is always formless—can't limit it to ask.

SR: Hmm. Yeah. That is the nature of doubt or question. As Susan [Student O?] said, it is difficult to put your question into words—very difficult. That is why you study various teachings of Buddhism. And it will give you some way to formulate your question. That is why you study some teachings.

Student P: Thank you very much.

Student Q [Bill Shurtleff]: Docho Roshi, in walking, the floor seems smooth and cool underfoot. Several winters and several summers. Push brooms, and damp mops, and brush of feet, and foreheads from people who are here, and people who are not here, and people who are living, and people who are not living. Right here, in the midst of the three treasures, with all sentient beings, where is the mind that includes everything?

SR: Ah. Whenever you feel in that way, wherever you go with that feeling, the big mind exists. But the great mind will be [1-2 words] more than that. But you should be very grateful to know even a part of it.

Bill: Thank you very much.

Student R: Docho Roshi, although no one ever touches the bell, yet sound constantly issues forth from it. How is this possible?

SR: That was—that happened [1-2 words] from beginningless beginning, and maybe [1-2 words] beginningless— endless end. That is how things exist. Once you know how things exist, that is the most important point for us to work on rather than what will become of it or how it started.

Student R: What do you mean “how things exist”?

SR: How things exist is how you survive, and how you stop violence, and how to be kind to others, why you don't feel so good or feel good.

Student R: To understand the causes and the— ?

SR: “Causes” means not substantial causes. How it goes is what we mean by “cause.”

Student R: How the process goes?

SR: Yeah. Because no substantial thing exists. The only thing we can know is how one whole big being goes.

Student R: Thank you very much.

Student S: Docho Roshi, on the sixth morning I stopped counting my breath.

SR: Excuse me?

Student S: On the sixth morning I stopped counting my breath. And when I inhaled I meditated on life. And when I exhaled I meditated on death. And sometimes I found that when I was inhaling I was meditating on death, and when I exhaled I was meditating on life. And on my cushion my life and death went tumbling over each other. And something I recognized was watching—something that keeps telling me it's happening the way it should. And when I am ready, I will be taken. But I still cannot accept my doubt and my fears. And when I get off of my zafu, I look for the way out.

SR: When you counted was it your exhaling and inhaling? Or exhaling only?

Student S: When I counted, I was counting exhalations.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student S: When I did this, I was meditating “life, death, life, death.”

SR: Which?

Student S: Both.

SR: Counting or— ?

Student S: No, just the words. Life. Death. And—and—

SR: Is there any difference between “one” and “life and death”?

Student S: They tumbled over each other.

SR: Tumbled over each other?

Student S: Yes. Sometimes—

SR: [Hits with stick twice] Is this “death” or “one”? Or life or death? Which?

Your understanding of practice is not right. Okay? Think about it. What is death, and what is life? What is one, and what is two? And is there some difference between them or not? Your practice should not be tumbling over.

Student S: Thank you very much.

Student T: Docho Roshi, how long have we been sitting together, and how long will we continue to sit together?

SR: No one knows. [Laughter.]

Student T: Thank you very much.

Student U: Docho Roshi, there are many beautiful rocks in your garden. Do they follow the same breathing practice we do?

SR: Yes.

Student U: How do they do it? [Laughter.]

SR: It is no wonder—we can't know.

Student U: Thank you very much.

Student V: Docho Roshi! HO! [Shouted by student.] Not me. Not even a sound. What is it?

SR: Sound.

Student V: Thank you for everything.

Student W: Docho Roshi, wind blows, bell rings, pain in the legs [laughter]. Who enjoys this?

SR: You enjoy it. [Laughter.]

Student W: Who suffers this?

SR: You suffer.

Student W: Then I am ignorance.

SR: [1-2 words.] [Laughter.]

Student X: Docho Roshi, my mind says “yes,” my stomach says “no!” and the result is “maybe.” Yes! No! Maybe. What are these?

SR: That is confusion. [Laughter.]

Student X: How do I clarify the confusion?

SR: When your tummy says “yes”, you should accept it. When your mind says [”no”?], you should accept it. If you cannot accept both, you should accept “maybe.”

Student X: Thank you very much.

Student Y: Docho Roshi, everything is changing as I walk down the aisle. [Laughter.] I don't—I have no idea what to say. I had about a—I've had many questions, and they've all changed, and I—but I— [laughter]. I want to assert myself [laughter], so I feel I should say something. But it doesn't matter at all.

SR: I don't mind at all about you. Is that okay?

Student Y: Sure.

SR: Go to city right now. [Laughter.]

Student Y: As a matter of fact [laughter], can I wait a couple days? [Laughter.] Just for a while, though.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student Y: Thank you very much.

Student Z: Docho Roshi, the rice bowl is mixed with the soup bowl. [Laughter.] Hinyo—hinyan [Hinayana?] are not well-understood and judgment is mechanical and censorial. Breathing practice is interrupted by the croakings of conceptual thought. What is it that will deliver us from our ignorance and bring us to the true light of perfect wisdom?

SR: Hmm. If you seek for perfect wisdom, in that case there is no perfect understanding.

Student Z: What will lead us to the perfect understanding?

SR: When you have brown rice, you should eat brown rice. When you have soup, you should eat soup. Whatever it is, you should be ready to take it and do it. I think you can get by thus [?].

Student Z: Where is our intuition?

SR: Intuition? If you know where it is, that is not intuition.

Student Z: Thank you very much.

Student AA: Docho Roshi, what is that in your hand?5 [Silence.] What can you do with it? Is that all? [Laughter.]

SR: I think you are alert enough to feel before I hit you [hits stick somewhere—sounds like table]. [Laughter.]

Sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears, we can communicate our perfect practice. Now sesshin looks like it’s over, but our actual practice started right now, like you count your breathing from one to two—and one, ten, to one. This practice will continue forever.

Thank you very much.

1 Gertrude Horton (Trudy) Dixon, one of Suzuki-rōshi's students. She died
at the age of 30 on July 9, 1969. (See SR-69-07-11.)

2 Thank you very much.

3 mada (Jap. adjective): "not yet" (with negative).

4 It sounded like Suzuki-rōshi was saying "already" in contrast to "not yet."

5 Possibly a kyosaku.

Source: Original City Center tape transcribed verbatim by Diana Bartle and Bill Redican (3/26/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (1/2021).


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