A minimally edited transcript

new students questions

Tuesday, October 14, 1969
San Francisco

SR: Since I resigned from Sokoji Temple, my mind has become more busy than before. It is ridiculous, but actually it is so.

Physically I am feeling much better. But mentally [laughs]—I'm not confused, but I'm reflecting on what I have been doing for ten years. And, as I have not stayed with you so long when our members are increasing a lot, I feel a great distance, between you and me. That is another problem for me. Anyway, I think we must find our way. I think it is a time for us to find some way to develop our buddha's way.

As I have nothing to talk about tonight, I want you to give me some questions. And, I want especially new students to give me some questions. Whatever it is, that is all right. So please give me some questions. Hai.

Student A: I just finished reading something that referred to everything in life as necessary: the actions, the things that happen, are all necessary. In other words, the war, peace, love, hate, they're all necessary in life. Is that right?

SR: Necessary. You mean is there some reason for everything to happen?

Student A: I guess you could call it that, or that no matter what happens, it's the individual that counts. It doesn't matter what's happening in the whole. It's just the individual that will eventually count in the end. That's what I'm referring to—that you can't do anything about the whole, but you can do something about yourself.

SR: That's a pretty big question. I think you are asking me about the Buddhist view of human life. Is that it?

Student A: I guess I'm asking a question about the way I've felt in the past months—the way I look at things. And it seems as though when I look at things in this way, everything seems to have fallen in place. Everything seems to have meaning. It doesn't seem to trouble you at all.

SR: Meaning. That question may be the question of why we practice zazen, or why is it necessary to set up some rules, or why is it necessary for human beings to have some certain culture. When we say “meaning,” it is already a question of some certain view of life. When you understand your life from a certain viewpoint, you say, “It is meaningful,” not “It does not mean anything.” But when you say, “Everything is meaningful,” maybe it means we should have a wider viewpoint without sticking to some certain viewpoint. Then everything will have meaning. Everything which happens in our human life or in nature has meaning.

From a Buddhist viewpoint, as you know, everything happens by some karma, bad karma or good karma. When we say “good and bad” it already has the problem of morality. Karma is actually causality. When something happens it has some reason why it happens. Nothing happens without any reason. That is karma in its wide sense.

But, it doesn't mean in its wide sense we do not have any idea of some particular being. Things which we see in some form or color is a tentative form and color. But by itself there is no self-nature. What exists is just karma. And karma appears in various ways. That is, maybe, the idea of karma in its wide sense.

But, this kind of karmic life for us, each individual, may be good and bad karma: something which we want to accept, which could be easily accepted, or something which is not so easy to accept. In this sense, we have good and bad karma. And this karma, in its more narrow sense, will explain why we have problems in our human life.

So, in its narrow sense, if you do something bad, you will have bad results. And that is karma. Everyone wants to be free from karma. Naturally we have that kind of desire to be free from karma or how to improve our karma. When we come to this problem, that is the problem of practice, or the problem of good understanding of our teaching. Teaching is provided to solve this kind of problem.

Especially in Mahayana Buddhism, instead of the idea of karma, we have the bodhisattva vow. It is not possible for us to be free from the law of cause and effect. But it is possible for us to have good use of it. To help others, we suffer. And, to help others we are involved in karma. Because there is the law of karma we can improve our life, and  even though we suffer, by suffering or being involved in karma, we can help others. The idea of the bodhisattva's way to help others, even before helping ourselves, is closely related to the idea of karma.

The point is not to understand everything, to say, “Everything is meaningful” because everything has some reason why it appears in that way. Everything has some reason why it appears. I think that does not mean so much. It is the same as if I drink a cup of water, I will not be thirsty any more [laughs]. It doesn't mean so much. That may not be all the meaning of karma. But it is one of the many understandings or interpretations of karma in Buddhism.

There is some danger, when you say, “Whatever it is, there is some reason for it to appear. So it is meaningful.” It means we must find out some reason. For even a stone in the roadside we must find out some reason, we must not ignore things, we must find the value of it. Someone may understand in this way, but someone may say, “Whatever we do, that is all right, because there is some reason why I do this kind of thing.” [laughs] If you understand that way, that is not our understanding.

We say there is no natural buddha. Even a buddha if he didn't practice, if he didn't follow bodhisattva's way, he couldn't be a buddha. So we say there is no natural buddha. Buddhahood is called kai.1 Kai? Ka is fruit. It is “result”— no, “point,” some point which he attained by some practice. That is kai, “result.” In the morning service2 we say: kakai muryo no kensho, instead of saying all the sages in the religious world. Kakai is the sea of the fruit world. Fruit has some cause or some flower, result. “Sea of fruit,” we say.  Kakai muryo no kensho means “innumerable sages in the fruitful world.” The sage is supposed to be someone who practiced hard to attain that kind of stage.

Okay? Some questions? Hai.

Student B: Roshi, two weeks ago, you said that you weren't altogether satisfied with our practice here.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student B: I didn't know exactly what you meant.

SR: Altogether satisfied? [Laughs, laughter.] I forget why I said so. Maybe at that time, not altogether. At least we are making genuine effort, I think. Maybe that is why I said so. Some more questions?

Student C: Roshi? Could you say something about food practice?

SR: Food practice, oh [laughs, laughter]. Our practice is more—special practice than just a physical one. Maybe to provide some strong, good food will be important, but the more important point will be the attitude to eat, to take food.

Maybe Buddhist food practice is one extreme, but very spiritual. We emphasize the spiritual side. When I came to America—I think some of you already know what I am going to talk about—there was Toyo market. Before my wife came, that store was opened, and the store owner had not many customers. So naturally, she didn't have fresh vegetables or fruits because she didn't have many customers. And she had to throw away a lot of fruit and vegetables. I didn't ask her to give me the vegetables she put in the garbage can. But I couldn't help taking old apples or the most old green onions because it is a kind of habit to use something old first, leaving something fresh for the next meal. Some people told me that is a very foolish way. If you take the best one you will have best one always. So to use worst one is the most foolish way.

I thought I agreed with them. But actually [laughs], I would use something old first. My master3 told me, “Your father,” you know—my master was my father's disciple and I went to my master when I was thirteen years old. And he told me, “Your father always picked up some vegetables in the stream.” Maybe some farmer up the river would throw away some old vegetables. And he said, “Your father would pick up old vegetables. That is our way,” he said.

I don't think this is the best way, but rather we emphasize the spiritual practice rather than a physical practice of which food has more power, or which food is more rich or stronger. I think this side should not be forgotten. How to make the best use of food will be the point, without throwing away—with some respect for our food as the most important point. Hai.

Student C: What do you mean by spiritual practice?

SR: Spiritual practice? Everything has buddha-nature, so we must respect them—everything has that is closely related to our practice especially. So, to treat food should be like to treat our physical body. That kind of attitude is important. This is not just a vegetable. It is a part of our body. As Dogen says,4  you should treat a grain of rice as you treat your eyes. That is what I mean by spiritual practice. Without discrimination, we should accept—we should take food, whatever it is. Whatever it is, if it is something offered with respect, then we should not refuse it. This kind of practice, I mean.

Student D: Can you speak about how we can help the zazen grow stronger in everyday life, in everyday practice?

SR: I think if you continue your zazen even for one month, and then if you don't practice, you will see the difference between the day you practiced and the day you didn't.   

Student D: Sometimes—

SR: [laughs]Sometimes, yeah, that is maybe everyone's problem. Sometimes you don't want to get up so early, or you are tired of it. That is quite natural. But to be natural [laughing] is not always right. “I should be natural, so when I am  sleepy, I should sleep.”  I don't think that is the best way.

Student D: Sometimes our practice of sitting is very regular. It seems to be getting stronger. And our everyday life is going in another direction. So I'm confused.

SR: Reaction. [Laughs.] Confused. We have some tendencies. And, if we follow our tendencies always, we will be lost. The tendencies may be based on various desires. So, I think it is necessary for us to have some harmony, or someone said "reason" in our life. To keep some tone or reason or harmony, it is necessary to put some control over various desires, I think. We have various tendencies. But, I think if you try always not to follow your tendencies, then you will have some harmony in your life. Control—that is a kind of negative expression, but that is a very adequate expression, although it is not a complete suggestion.

You may not agree with me [laughs], but it is true. Our tendency is to eat something good always. But if you always eat something good, your tummy will be sick [laughs]. But our tendency is to try to always eat something good. Hai.

Student E: Roshi, while you were gone, back here there was an earthquake.

SR: Earthquake, yeah. Mm-hmm. That morning I came back.

Student E:  What would be the meaning about our everyday practice if this whole community had been destroyed that night?

SR: Everything swept [laughs] up?

Student E: Yeah.

SR: What will be our practice [laughter]—

Student E: No—

SR: —in that situation?

Student E: No. I guess I was reflecting. What is the meaning of our practice if at any moment we can die, as a community or as a person. It occurred to me that there was nothing protecting us from death—ever.

SR: Ah. [Laughs, laughter.] I think that is why I don't firmly believe in our next life. I'm sorry I have to say so. I have to confess [laughs], I haven't a very strong belief in a next life. But, some people believe in it very firmly. And mostly, those people have a good practice. I envy their practice. But, at the same time, to believe in that kind of belief extremely strongly, that will not be so good a belief.

You know, we live in the actual world. And, at the same time we believe in a world which should be—which we want to be like that. The world which should be like that, or which we want to be like that. And, our next life will be the life—our next world or life is the life which we want to be like that. Actually we live in this world. Without this kind of world we cannot survive. I think everyone has this kind of strong desire—not conviction, but more original and more fundamental desire which is more than usual desire: desire to eat or desire to survive.
[Sentence finished. Tape turned over.]

— which we are aiming at. Do you understand [laughs]? To go beyond  the idea of our future life. To go beyond everything, that is so-called “nothingness.” Hai.

Student F: Anyway I think that respect for your actions now and present actions—what you're doing now—determines your existence at this very moment. That is a moment away. If that happened right now, whatever cause that made you what you are, what you are made up of, will determine your next existence. So the most important thing to remember is to carry out this philosophy all the time. Cultivate this and you don't care when you go [laughs]. You know that your next existence will be at a higher consciousness.

SR: Hai.

Student G: Roshi, can you speak to us about the value of silence?

SR: Value of silence? If your mind is not calm enough, you cannot think properly. And you cannot get over the thinking mind especially when you should go beyond thinking mind. You should have complete calmness in your mind. That is calmness of your mind. Not just calmness, but what expresses the direction of your practice—bottomless calmness. That is actually what we mean by calmness. When you sit—calmness with some effort, with some power—that is calmness, actual calmness. Unperturbability is not something like this [probably gestures], but continuous, actual state of being which is calm and stable. It follows some effort. Not just like a stone [laughs], but there must be some strength in it. That is calmness. Hai.

Student H: Is it possible to love without attachment?

SR:  I don't think so. We know that even though we love someone, we cannot love someone forever. That is what we know. Actually, we know that. If you say, “I will love you forever,” you are telling a lie [laughs]. Still you have to love someone. Then what do you say? Or, what kind of attitude do you take? If I say, when you love someone—excuse me, it may be something which I should not answer [laughs], you see? You know that without attachment you cannot love anyone. But still you have to love someone. Then what will be your love? And you should figure out that point. It is not something which I should tell you, but you have to accept the teaching of detachment as not something Buddha told you, but as an actual fact.

So what you should strive for is how to love someone in the true sense without fooling someone. Then the way you love someone will be nearly the same as buddha loves someone. That is actual detachment, not teaching of detachment. Hai.

Student I: Is it possible to get a good understanding of Zen and develop it well without emphasizing or practicing Buddhism? I'm kind of distinguishing between Zen and Buddhism.  But is it possible to study Zen quite apart from Buddhism?

SR: Apart from Buddhism? Maybe there's no Buddhism without zazen practice. All Buddhism has zazen practice, but Zen Buddhism puts emphasis on zazen practice especially, because that is our fundamental practice and because it is for every one of us. Actually, there is not much difference between various schools of Buddhism. The approaches are different. But without zazen practice, Buddhism cannot be Buddhism. Hai.

Student J: Roshi, you were once, I think, talking about war, and you said about war that in our feelings about it that we should first accept that there will always be war.

SR: Some war, a kind of war, some kind of war, you mean?

Student J: Yeah.

SR: Yeah, maybe.

Student J:  And then after we accept that there will always be some kind of war, then we can go on and try to make our best effort to stop war.

SR: Uh-huh. For some it may be a war, or most people making an effort to fight [laughs], to me it looks like so. They may not actually be using a gun, but by words and by everyday activity, everyone is creating a kind of war. And a result in our everyday life, I think, is war in its big scale. That is a kind of karma, human karma. So, how to get out of karma, or how to get out of war may be the most important point. To accept things as it is means to have right understanding of our everyday life. Those who do not have right understanding of our life are creating war.

So we must have right understanding of our life, and we must strive for right. Maybe as a Buddhist, we must follow the Eightfold Holy Path and Four Noble Truths. That is our life—a Buddhist life where there is no war in its true sense. When you accept things as it is, we will naturally follow the Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths. When our understanding of life is not right, we create war. This is a big problem for us. So our traditional understanding of war is like this, but we should make this point more clear, and we should help stop war with a great effort, I think. Maybe this kind of teaching is right but not strong enough or adequate enough in our world situation. Hai.

Student J: Do you mean that the teaching of following the Eightfold Path or the Four Noble Truths is perhaps not strong enough?

SR: [Laughs.] It should be strong enough, but our understanding may not be strong enough or something like that. We just literally understand it, but we haven't enough strength to take it into our actual life. Hai.

Student K: Could you say something about Zen and marriage?

SR: Marriage? Oh. [Laughs, laughter.] That was a problem I suffered [laughter], but for me, at that time when I got married, I was thirty—thirty-one.5 At that time that was not the problem of marriage. That was a problem of whether I should be a priest or a layman [laughs]. I thought, if I get married, I will not be a priest anymore, or monk anymore. So I had to think a lot. But, my problem was not the problem you may have, perhaps.

Student K: I think that when a man falls in, he just goes toward it all the time and it takes a hold of him and just goes wherever it leads him—

SR: Yeah. I think, if you get married, your life anyway will be more difficult. If you don't marry, your life will not be so difficult. That is also true with a priest or monk. Having a family we will have great difficulties. So, I don't think that is just a problem of monks or you, but a problem of everyone. If you get married, your life will be more difficult in one sense. But on the other hand [laughs, laughter], you will have some advantages. That is how our human life goes. Not always sweet [laughs, laughter].

When Buddha said, “Our life is a life of suffering,” that is very true, I think. Anyway, we have suffering. As long as we seek for something good, we have suffering.

Do you have some more questions? Hai.

Student L: I'm getting attached to the idea of  transmission of mind from you, because you came and sat down beside me, like, and I knew it before you were going to do it, and I'm attaching to it. And I find that I am one of the [1-2 words]. What should I do?

SR: Yeah. Just try hard [laughs]. That is very true. Sometimes the more effort you make, the more you will be far away from the goal. But even so, we must make our effort. It is almost a kind of fight [laughs] between teacher and disciple. [Taps stick on table three times, laughs.] We don't fight physically, but we shouldn't give up. And, I had the experience my teacher had and maybe Buddha had. You will reach this kind of conclusion. Buddha suffered in this way, and my teacher had the same experience as me. Then you have transmission already. Actually, there is nothing to transmit to you [laughs]. Something you have will be found by your effort.

You may run away from Zen Center, but then I may say, “Wait! Wait! [Laughs.] Stay here!” But I have nothing to give you. [Laughs.] That is why we have to suffer as a teacher. Nothing to give you. But I have to say, “Don't go away! Stay here!” But I have nothing to give you. Some people may say, “If you don't have anything, I will go away. Then, that’s all. No transmission.” [Laughs, laughter.] Some questions?

Student M: Could you speak about when you sit zazen away from Zen Center, and you sit alone? Could you speak about that?

SR: Oh, sit alone. By yourself? True zazen cannot be sitting by yourself. That you sit there means that every one of us is sitting with you. That kind of zazen is true zazen. Even though you are sitting in Japan or Tibet, you are sitting with all the people in the world. That kind of feeling you must have in your zazen. Your practice includes everything. That is our practice. When you are you on your cushion, everyone is sitting on their own cushion. That is our zazen.

When you think of someone in zazen, “Oh, there she is sitting. There he is sitting. Anyway, I am sitting with all of us.” That is our feeling of sitting. One more question? Hai.

Student N: Do you think it would help our practice if there were more opportunities to have private interviews? Dokusan?

SR: Yeah, I think so. At least I am trying my best to have more time. But, as we have maybe too many students, that is pretty difficult. So, maybe in this way, in this kind of occasion, when I give lectures, sometimes this way to ask questions will be helpful, I think.

Thank you very much.

1 kai: the stage of fruition or effect; the stage of fulfillment of bodhisattva practices; the stage of buddhahood.

2 Line 3 of the Second Morning Ekō (dedication of merit): jippo jōjū no sambō, kakai muryō no kenshō ("the all-pervading, ever-present Triple Treasure, the innumerable sages in the ocean of enlightenment").

3 Gyokujun So-on, at Zoun-in temple, in 1916. In SR-69-09-16, Suzuki rōshi gives the same age: "I went to my master's temple when I was thirteen years old." Thirteen reflects the Japanese way of counting age (one at birth, two on the next New Year's Day). By Western counting, he was 11 or almost 12 years of age (1916 - 1904 = 12) [see also Crooked Cucumber, p. 14, which gives 11, almost 12 years].

4 In "Tenzo-kyōkun," a section of Eihei-genzenji-shingi.

5 In February of 1935 Shunryū Suzuki married Chie Muramatsu.

Source: Original City Center tape transcribed by Diana Bartle (10/10/00) and checked by Bill Redican (3/26/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (1/2021).


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