A minimally edited transcript

Winter Sesshin Lecture No. 6

Thursday, December 4, 1969

Our sesshin is already nearing the end. As I said before, this sesshin will not come back again. So we must make our best effort in our practice. And when we want to make a best effort in our practice, of course we have to practice zazen seriously.

At the same time, tomorrow we will have a shosan1 ceremony. And the day after tomorrow morning we will have jodo-e.2 Those ceremonies should be observed as if you are practicing zazen. And when you are in the zendo, when you do something, there are rules. Rules we have in the zendo are called “pure rules.” Pure means oneness—oneness of the rules and who observes the rules. And the students and rules should be always one. Where one student is, there should be rules. And rules should be taken care of by all of us as if taking care of our zazen. That is why we call them pure precepts—pure rules. So, rules we have in the zendo are not some rules which are set up by someone for some purpose.

The difference between the usual rules and our rules is that our rules have freedom. The rules which have no freedom are not pure rules. The restricted side and the freedom side in our pure rules is one. And how we take care of rules is how we take care of our zazen practice.

Buddha said those who take care of our mind, which means zazen practice, should be like a man who takes care of a reservoir for irrigation. We should take care of the banks. The banks are rules. As a farmer takes care of a reservoir, we should take care of our everyday life and organize our everyday life so that we can practice zazen. So, where we have good practice, naturally good rules or pure rules are observed, or else we cannot continue our zazen practice. So whatever you do, it should be well taken care of.

Most people maybe think zazen practice is some special practice, and everyday life is something quite different from our practice, and attitudes in everyday life and the way we observe zazen changes. That is not the monastic life. Especially during sesshin, whatever you do, that is extended practice of zazen practice. And I want you to observe the shosan ceremony and jodo-e for Buddha's enlightenment day—observe these like we practice zazen.

I think you made great progress in your practice. I am rather amazed at your progress. So I think we must make the banks of our reservoir higher, higher, and higher so that wisdom water does not leak. We must take care of leakage from the high banks. If the bank is high, small leakage will become big. So it is necessary for us to make our banks higher, and at the same time we must take great care of leakage.

Small leakage cannot be ignored now. Some mistakes for beginners may be all right. The wisdom water is not so deep, so damage will not be [laughs] so big anyway. But, when we have a big amount of wisdom water, I think we will have a very hard time taking care of the reservoir we have, like we have upstream.

Especially, I am very grateful for you old students who are taking care of the leakage of the banks. Our practice, bodhisattva practice—through and through—is not just personal practice. And all the people who flow into the reservoir will be one big wisdom lake, and there we must have good practice.

If you come in the deep water, you will be drowned because it is pretty deep. Something good for a foolish one will give him big damage. For a plant it is necessary to have rain. But for a weak, small shoot or seed of, for instance, daikon3 [laughs]—do you know daikon? It is a very small seed. If it rains hard, the seeds will be lost. Even though rain is good for plants, it is not always good. So each one of us should take care of ourselves so that we won’t be lost in high water.

And we should not dirty the zendo with dirty shoes. The zendo is always cleaned up and taken care of by us. But someone carelessly will dirty the zendo with dirty shoes. That kind of thing always happens. So Dogen Zenji, in his rules of monastery, says if you come to a monastery by mistake you should go out. This is very important. In the zendo we don't sit so much. Although we have various unwritten rules, we do not talk about them so much, and it looks like big freedom in the zendo. So someone may feel very good playing with dirty shoes in a zendo. But, he would be ashamed of it if he found out what kind of place a zendo is.

A poem says, “Don't you see the red flowers? It is autumn,”4 you know. In autumn in Japan, we have hyakujitsuko5. It means a red flower which lasts one hundred days—hyakujitsuko—and its skin is very slippery and smooth. Not much bark on it, and the bark is brown. And small leaves and thick pink color. “Don't you see the flowers of hyakujitsuko or saru-suberi?”6 We say saru-suberi—monkey slips. The bark is so slippery, so even a monkey will slip [laughs]. “Don't you see the flowers of hyakujitsuko?” Those are nothing but the blood of former teachers.

So when we see the hyakujitsuko, we just say, “Oh, beautiful flowers!” [Laughs.] Maybe that's all, if you have no experience of real freedom of life, or what kind of freedom is real freedom? You know, “Oh, beautiful flowers!” Maybe that's all. But that is nothing but the blood of ancient teachers. You say “just Tassajara zendo” [laughs]. You may say, “Oh, wonderful place!” You may say, "It has hot springs and a calm nice place." But it is the result of the effort of ancient teachers.

The ceremony we had today looks simple, but those ceremonies originated, maybe, in China—Hyakujo7—and were observed in China and introduced to Japan by Dogen and many Zen masters, and have been observed for maybe one thousand years. To you it is an unfamiliar ceremony. But those are the blood of our ancient teachers.

It is rather difficult for me to observe those ceremonies with the same spirit I observed them in my old zendo. It is rather difficult. And so I'm sorry, I lose the spirit of observing or taking it. But I hope by your help, by your respect of the ancient teachers, those ceremonies will be observed with some respect and with some spirit. Even one word, when it is said with true spirit, will give you a great, deep feeling.

Perhaps I may be too friendly with you. Maybe I was Americanized quite a lot [laughs, laughter]. I think that is maybe good, and sometimes it is not so good. And, as you want me to be more strict and to be more like a Zen master [laughs, laughter], I'm happy to be strict. But I cannot be strict when you don't understand. It is rather difficult.

I feel as if I am playing a game with you [laughs]. Maybe I am playing a game with you. But it should not be like this. We should not waste this valuable time, especially when with a great effort we have built up some spirit so far.

I am very grateful for your effort. And with mutual trust I think we will have a good concluding ceremony for this training period.

Thank you very much.

1 The head monk (shuso) answers questions in a formal ceremony.

2 jōdō-e: Ceremony performed on the anniversary of Shākyamuni Buddha's enlightenment. In Japan it is observed on December 8.

3 daikon: Large white winter radish.

4 A seven-day period around the autumn equinox (September 23 or 24), when many red flowers are in bloom, is traditionally observed in Japan, The Buddhist term for this period is higan. The poem or line cited by Suzuki-rōshi may be from Manyoushu, an anthology of 4500 poems from 5th-century Japan.

5 hyakujitsuko (Jap.): hundred day crimson or crepe myrtle flower

6 saru-suberi (Jap.): Lagerstroemia indica L., the crêpe (crape) myrtle tree (Eng.) or monkey-slip tree (Jap.); from Jap. saru, "monkey," + suberi, "slip."

7 Baizhang Huaihai (Jap. Hyakujō Ekai): 720–814. Disciple of Baso Dōitsu.

Source: Original City Center tape transcribed by Diana Bartle (10/20/00) and checked by Bill Redican (3/26/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (2/2021).


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