A minimally edited transcript

our practice is expression of our true buddha-mind

Sesshin Lecture, No. 4
Tuesday Evening, August 4, 1970
San Francisco

In everyday life to observe precepts and in our practice to continue our zazen looks different, but actually it is the same. In actual zazen, even though your practice is not perfect, if you practice our way, there is enlightenment because originally our practice is an expression of our true buddha-mind.

Because of your discrimination, you say your practice is not good. But, if we do not discriminate in our practice, that is really the expression of our true nature, which is buddha-nature.

In our everyday life, if we observe precepts even for a moment with our mind which is changing always, then on the momentous changing mind, real moon of the buddha-mind will appear: bodhi-mind will be there. So actually there is no difference.

The point is, moment after moment we satisfy our practice and without criticizing our mind too much, to do something which is good is the only way for us. When you understand way-seeking mind, or buddha-mind, or bodhi-mind in this way, actually everything is encouraging us to have buddha-mind or bodhisattva-mind, which is to help others before we help ourselves. When you try to help others, everything you have will give you a chance to help others. So whatever it is, the things you see, things you hear will give you a chance to help others.

So that mind to help others will give you a big opportunity to treat everything as Buddha's gift. And when you say, “Before we save ourselves, we will be free from selfish ideas,” when you give up selfish ideas, there is a chance to have buddha-mind. If you say, “Before we save ourselves, save others,” it looks dualistic. But our understanding of bodhisattva-mind is not dualistic. It is extended. Understanding of oneness of someone who gives and someone who receives—this is the characteristic of our way. Practice and enlightenment is one. Someone who saves and who is saved is one. So there is no problem in observing our way.

The precepts are also very clear. There are no precepts to observe and no one who is observing precepts—no problem at all. If you say “precepts,” you are precepts itself. And if you say “you,” you are already precepts. There are no precepts and no one who observes precepts. In this way, we have to observe our precepts, and we have to arise bodhisattva-mind, and we have to practice our way.

 Dogen Zenji says it is not because of your power of practicing zazen or power of bodhisattva-mind that you attain enlightenment, that you become buddha. It is not through power of practice and it is not through power of arising bodhisattva-mind that you become buddha. And he says, even if you attain enlightenment, you have to practice zazen. Even if you become buddha, you have to extend bodhisattva-mind. Even if you become buddha, you have to observe precepts.

That is actually why he said before you save yourself, you should save others. So, this idea is beyond the idea of attainment—to be buddha or to observe precepts. Usually, [laughs] you think, why you practice zazen is to attain enlightenment, why you arise bodhisattva-mind is by the power of bodhisattva-mind, you will be a buddha. By observing precepts you can practice zazen and you will become a buddha. You will understand in that way.

But Dogen Zenji says it is not because of arising bodhisattva-mind that you become buddha. And even if [laughs] you arise bodhisattva-mind, you should continue the bodhisattva way. Before you save yourself, you should save others. Even if you attain enlightenment, you should continue it. Do you understand? You should continue it. Even if you have attained enlightenment, you should continue it.

So bodhisattva-mind is not the way to attain buddhahood. Bodhisattva-mind is mind which should be continued forever, whether you attain enlightenment or not. Whether you are a buddha or not; anyway, bodhisattva-mind is the mind which buddha and someone who is not yet buddha should continue.

You may think buddha is highest, and bodhisattva is next. And pratyeka1 and shravaka2, will follow. But [laughs] when we understand bodhisattvas in that way, or when we understand our practice in that way, which is important for us, enlightenment [laughs] or practice—which is important? Which is better? Bodhisattva or buddha [laughs]? Very difficult to say. In one way, maybe, bodhisattva is, if you become buddha, if that is the end of the practice or end of everything [laughs].

So after you become buddha, what will you do [laughs, laughter]? Then that buddha will not exist forever. And if there is somewhere to go, it may be that you have to start again [laughs, laughter]. The bodhisattva way is the way which we should continue anyway. So we say, “Before you save yourself, you should try to save others.” The meaning is very deep. And the meaning will provide a very easy approach. Very easy, but it is a lofty idea. There is no end to the bodhisattva way.

So we transmit bodhisattva precepts to you [laughs]. We do not say, “buddha precepts.” We say “bodhisattva precepts.”  I don't want to discriminate between Theravada way or so-called “Mahayana way,” but the true spirit of Buddha is actually in the Mahayana way. And by Mahayana practice Buddhism could survive for a long time.

So the four vows we recite every day are very important.3 And the precepts transmitted from Buddha to us are very important. And to express the meaning of  Buddha's precepts, we call it “bodhisattva precepts” instead of calling it “buddha precepts.” We can say “buddha precepts,” but to make this point clear—the idea of non-duality and the idea of true duality—we use “bodhisattva precepts.”

Even though we say “bodhisattva way,” we do not discriminate bodhisattva way from Hinayana way. But if we call our precepts “bodhisattva,” then you will have a much clearer understanding of precepts. And you will find it easier to observe. And you will find a deeper meaning of observing precepts.

For us, even though all of us are descendants of Buddha—sons of Buddha—we call all successive patriarchs “bodhisattvas.” Buddha is a bodhisattva. For us we understand in that way. Bodhidharma is a bodhisattva. And Eka4 is a bodhisattva. Dogen is a bodhisattva. And the precepts you will have in lay ordination are called “bodhisattva transmission of precepts.”

For several nights, my talk is concentrated on this point of why you receive bodhisattva precepts when you receive lay ordination. Recently I did not put emphasis on Dogen Zenji's zazen practice, which is shikantaza. We do not even say “shikantaza.” We just say “zazen.”

In comparison to zazen, to attain enlightenment, we call it shikantaza because we have no gaining idea in our practice. And in our practice, practice and enlightenment is one. When you practice our zazen there is enlightenment. We put emphasis on practice rather than enlightenment. The front gate for us is practice. And, all Zen precepts are called “bodhisattva precepts.”

The precepts transmission you will receive in lay ordination is one in which it says there is no difference between Rinzai precepts and Soto precepts. It is bodhisattva precepts. This is a very important point. Not dualistic precepts. And the precepts are always one with you. And always should be kept by you. Even though you do not try to keep it, it is there.

So that is why I said last night5 you should say “yes.” You cannot say “no.” [Laughs.] The point of my lecture was this point: bodhisattva practice—bodhisattva precepts.

So on okechimyaku6 it says, “Busso shoden bosatsu daikai.”7 Bosatsu is “bodhisattva” in Japanese. And after you receive it, the most important thing is to continue it. Moment after moment, you should say, “Yes, I will.” [Laughs.] Moment after moment. And you should continue our practice, even though you experience enlightenment experience. You should continue it. That is the golden rule for all Zen students, whether you are a Rinzai student or Soto student.

I don't want to repeat the same thing over and over. I think you have understood. I think I have some more time, so if you have questions, please ask me. Hai.

Student A: You said if you come to zazen in bodhisattva-mind, it's not the way to enlightenment.

SR: [Laughs.]

Student A: I think I [1 word] that.

SR: Yeah. Many times, yes.

Student A: What is the way?

SR: Maybe so, but as I said right now, if you take literally that Zen is the way to attain enlightenment, you will misunderstand our bodhisattva practice. The bodhisattva way is the way which, regardless of whether you are buddha or not, you should continue forever.

If you say “buddha way,” if you become buddha that will be the end. To make the meaning of our practice clear, we say zazen is not to attain enlightenment. Do you understand? You will be mistaken by saying you practice zazen to attain enlightenment. So, when we practice zazen, we say beginner's mind is everything. When you arise bodhisattva-mind, there is already buddha-mind. And it is everything. So, I don't know which are more appropriate words: bodhisattva way or buddha way. I don't know. Maybe, better to call it “bodhisattva way” rather than “buddha way.” Buddha way is something like “dead way.” [Laughs.] Not active—not alive. And it looks like we are not buddha. When we say “buddha,” we are sentient beings. So there is a big gap between buddha and sentient beings.

But, when we say “bodhisattva,” bodhisattva includes all sentient beings. And the bodhisattva way is especially for sentient beings. Do you understand? [laughs] To make our way clear, I said, “Our way is not to attain enlightenment.” But we do not reject enlightenment experience. We welcome [laughs, laughter] attaining enlightenment. But if we say in that way, “Oh, I had a great experience! So my practice is over. [Laughs, laughter.] I have done it!” [Said in an ironic voice.] If you say so, you will actually lose your enlightenment.

So I think maybe you shouldn't say so. It is better not to say so. And it's better to continue bodhisattva practice. Hai.

Student B: Is there a concrete meaning for “saving all sentient beings,” or is doing zazen saving all sentient beings? Is there some other way to understand what that means?

SR: Sentient? All? Saving sentient beings—You can say “to help.” You can start. To save sentient beings is not just to give something to others, almsgiving or helping people when they are in difficulty, materially or spiritually. But it is also to make a freeway or to work in a factory; that is also actually to help others. It does not mean only to help others just materially or spiritually. The meaning is greater than that. To begin with, we should try to help others in various ways—easy ways. And while you are doing this, that is practice. While you are doing this, you will find out how difficult it is. Then you will improve the way to help others. Naturally, you should practice zazen. Hai.

Student C: Is there a reason—or what is the reason why we should [6-10 words.] Does it have something to do with the consciousness [1-2 words] or something [1-3 words].

SR: Ahh. No. Here we practice in that way. But it does not mean you should continue to eat as you eat here. It is a kind of training, maybe.

Student C: Is it a discipline to try to deprive yourself, say, when an urge to eat certain food [1-2 words]—

SR: No.

Student C: —if you wanted to eat it. Like, you [1-2 words]—can that help your practice or something [1-2 words]?

SR: Yes, yes. Nondiscrimination is very important in our eating practice. [Laughs, laughter.] We Japanese people do not like raw vegetables so much. Especially we don't eat beans without cooking. The smell is so strong [laughs, laughter]! But in San Francisco zendo, as long as I am here [laughs, laughter], I have to eat raw beans [laughs, laughter]— which have strong smell! All salad looks like, to me, green beans. If you cook it, it has not much strong smell. Good flavor [laughs]. If you don't cook, all the salad  looks to me like green beans [laughs, laughter]. But we should not discriminate [laughs, laughter]. Non-discrimination is very important [laughs, laughter]. Hai.

Student D: Roshi, why do we eat the banana and throw away the skin?

SR: [Laughs.] I don't know. [Laughter.] Maybe very difficult to eat. I tried [laughs, laughter], but it was too difficult. And actually, I think if you eat it, your tummy will stop, [laughs, laughter]. You will have a hard time in your restroom next morning [laughs, laughter]. So that is too much. Hai.

Student E: Roshi, last night did I understand you correctly—getting back to the business of  trying to help others—that shouldn't be with the conscious mind? It should just be what it is—just don't bother with it [?]—a sort of natural thing [?]?

SR: Yeah, you know, it is like—when you help them, you don't have much problem because you are a man who is helping someone. But for those who are helped,  there will be some problem there. If you receive something from someone, if you change your position, you will find out why. And if you are conscious about giving something, then it will create some problem unnecessarily. In this point, American people are very good, I think. If you give something to someone, that's all [laughs]. I find many things outside of my room. I don't know who gave it to me. They just give it to me. So, I appreciate their kindness in its true sense. But if I know who gave it to me, I have, of course, no bad feelings, so I don't mind so much whether I know who gave it to me or I don't know. It doesn't matter so much. But I think it is better, if it is possible, if you can do it without a dualistic idea of giving or “I am giving something to others.” Hai. [Sentence finished. Tape turned over. First part of student's question not recorded.]

Student F: —in practice. In this context, I'd like to understand effort, because it's also said that the way is effortless. Right practice.

SR: Ah. Right practice. Yeah.

Student F: That's what I'd like to know. Is right practice effortless?

SR: Effortless?

Student F: Yes. With no effort.

SR: No effort with a gaining idea. Effort maybe to give up gaining ideas. Effort to continue it without dualistic ideas: just to do it. That kind of effort is always important. Hai.

Student G: Roshi, would you say something about shila—the bodhisattva concept of [1 word].

Student H: That was Sanskrit.

SR: Bodhisattva?

Student G: Shila—morality. [6-8 words] bodhisattva way.

SR: In contrast to—in Sanskrit [laughs, laughter]? I don't know Sanskrit. “Bodhisattva” is Sanskrit, I know, but—I am sorry.

Student G: The bodhisattva concept of morality.

SR: Ah, concept of morality.

Student G: Yeah.

SR: Morality is—it is more than morality. If you see our precepts, it is exactly morality, which you should observe as a human being. But the bodhisattva way is more than that. That is why I have to explain it, why I explained so far. If it is morality, if you read the precepts: “Don't kill,” “Don't steal.” Or, “Don't speak ill of others.” If you read in that way, literally, that is morality. And actually, most people are observing morality to some extent. That is morality.

But the bodhisattva way includes morality but more than that. If you observe it in a dualistic sense, it is morality. If you understand the bodhisattva way deeper than that, it is, maybe, religious activity. So moral world, religious world, there are two or more.

Maybe your question arose because I said intuitively, or without any idea of observing it. But it does not mean to ignore the moral codes. Okay? Hai.

Student I: What is suffering? What relieves suffering?

SR: In short, to expect something which you cannot expect is the cause of suffering. We want to live longer, but we cannot live so long. Maybe one hundred years or mostly less than that. But we want to live more than that. There we have suffering. We want to meet someone who we love [laughs], but it is not always possible. Some days you have to be separated from someone who you love. And you will meet some who you do not like so much [laughing]. That is very true. You say you don't like him or like her. But you must ask her, how she feels. Then it is very difficult. Even though you love her, she may say no [laughs, laughter]. That is a cause of suffering. So, in short, [laughs, laughter] the things do not go as you expect. That is suffering.

And so, how to get out of suffering is to have a quiet mind. That you can eat green peas [laughs, laughter] is how to get out of suffering. If your mind is calm and very soft, you can eat it, and actually it is very good [laughs, laughter]. So we say:

Jiki ni oite to naru mono wa,
ho ni oitemo mata to nari.

A man who does not discriminate food will not discriminate in our dharma either.

You will not say, “I cannot observe this precept. But this is a very good precept [laughing, laughter]. Very convenient for me.” To criticize someone—we use precepts to criticize someone: “'Don't speak ill of others.' You see? What did you say now? You shouldn't criticize me [laughs, laughter], because the precept says don't criticize anyone.” That is not how we observe precepts. Hai.

Student J [DC]: Sometimes when I've heard definitions of suffering by Rahula in What the Buddha Taught,9 and that doctor who spoke at Zen Center a couple of years ago— Dr.—

Student K: Conze [?]?

David: No, no. That young guy who went to Ceylon.

SR: Uh-huh.

David: They define suffering in such a big way, you know. It was, like, is your understanding of suffering including everything: good and bad, happy and unhappy—all experiences?

SR: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, teaching of suffering covers almost the whole of Buddhism.

Student K: Burns.

SR: Hmm?

Student L: Burn. [Laughs, laughter.]

SR: Oh. Yeah. Dr. Burns, yeah.

David: Could you repeat what he thought on [2-4 words]?

SR: No, I cannot. My mind is not so explicit—it is a big topic to speak about. I know that much. But, in one word, that is how we suffer. That teaching covers almost the whole teaching.

Duhkha, sukha—our life could be divided into renunciation from suffering and suffering. But it is actually one. Because it is one, the teaching of suffering covers the teaching of enlightenment.

Student M: I thought you said that we should begin by practicing as if we were shopping for things?

SR: Yeah.

Student M: How did that fit in with buying the rotten vegetables? Would the bad vegetables be what you would buy [?]?

SR: [Laughs, laughter.] No, at that time I had no idea of buying something. It is a kind of—my special practice, maybe. That is my habit or feeling. When I see good, fresh vegetables and fresh apples and old, rotten apples, I feel if I don't buy it, if I don't eat it right now, no one will buy it, so he must throw it away. If I buy it, that apple will help us. But if I don't, for that apple there is no chance to serve its purpose [laughs, laughter]. Immediately I feel that way, so I cannot help buying bad ones first and leaving good ones for someone because many people will like them. Maybe if you work in the kitchen you will have that kind of feeling.

Student M: Wouldn't you then always buy bad things [?]?

SR: No, not always.

Student M: Bad [1 word], bad [1 word].

SR: [Laughs, laughter.] No. No, not always. Especially food. If I buy a motorcar, I want to buy a brand new perfect one [laughs, laughter]. But the more you have knowledge of something, you will be like me when I buy some apples or something. Before you have not much knowledge about it, you will buy something good first. If you have good knowledge of cars, even though it doesn't look like so good, but if you know how to mend it, you will buy it because maybe it is cheaper. And you know how to make good use of it. So, if your mind is very kind and very clear, you will observe in that way without having superficial discrimination. Some questions? Hai.

Student N: When you say “attaining enlightenment,” are you saying gradual enlightenment always? And when you talk about enlightenment experiences, do you mean experiences that are an encouragement to our practice?

SR: Why I say so is because you say “enlightenment.” But mostly it is not a great enlightenment. It is many small enlightenments—not a big one which covers every experience. Enlightenment, like Dogen Zenji described, is the enlightenment which covers everything. No one can get out of his enlightenment [laughs]. It is so big.

Student O: Can you explain the difference between koan practice and shikantaza practice?

SR: I don't know koan practice so well. But for us, “koan” originally meant official statements or rules—issued from the government. So something which you observe— absolute rules or statements of enlightenment for Zen. So how you find out the absolute truth in each Zen story is koan practice. But for us, our everyday life is already a big koan [laughs, laughter]. So, we do not stick to some traditional special koans. Some questions? Hai.

Student P: [3-4 words] the difference between the bodhisattva-mind and the buddha-mind? [4-8 words.] Is the buddha-mind something that occurs only after death?

SR: No. In its true sense, there must not be any difference between bodhisattva-mind and buddha-mind. Should be the same. But for a long time Buddhism was mistaken or misunderstood. After a long time they found out the true meaning of precepts—sutras. And they started to use the word “bodhisattva” instead of “buddha.” They put emphasis on the bodhisattva stage rather than the buddha stage, which is perfect. The bodhisattva stage is not perfect, but the idea of buddha is also fully included—maybe more advanced buddha [laughs]. The meaning of words may have been deeper when the old Buddhists called Buddha “Buddha.”

Student P: In what sense, then, does zazen help others?

SR: Help others? Yeah.

Student P: I was assuming that it only helps—

SR: —yourself.

Student P: —yourself.

SR: Yeah. No. No—definitely not. Maybe, as I said right now, because you do not know yourself so much, and you don't know what you are doing to others so much, but what others do to you, you know very much [laughs]. And actually, you are doing the same thing to others [laughs, laughter]. If you realize that, you know, you will think [laughs].

Student Q: Is it necessary to accept freedom as a form of suffering?

SR: Freedom. The idea of freedom or— ?

Student Q: The experience of freedom.

SR: Experience of freedom.

Student Q: Yes. Is that also suffering when you [2-4 words]?

SR: I think so. You may say freedom is also a cause of suffering because you have fear of losing freedom. So you feel that you should protect your freedom [laughs, laughter]. Then, [laughing] freedom will cause some trouble for you. Hai.

Student Q: Isn't that the original discrimination—enlightenment versus non-enlightenment or freedom versus non-freedom? Isn't that the original discrimination?

SR: Yeah, freedom—maybe so. Some idea which is dualistic is, anyway, the cause of the problem because it makes a pair of opposites. There are no words which mean something without any opposite idea. So if you stick to one side, you will cause trouble—sticking to one side. When you are in a position which includes both sides, or an understanding in which you can include both sides, that is how to be free from suffering. Hai.

Student R: The Theravadan scriptures talk about many different levels of meditation. Does zazen include all of these, or is it different?

SR: “Include” is very vague. Our practice is a foundation of those practices. Without our practice, they don’t work. If it is actually stepladder-like practice, it will create problems. It should be one practice, and it should be a different experience of one practice. Then those various steps will work—will help. So if you open your eyes, and if you understand our practice and see those stages of attainment, it makes sense.

Mmm. Just a moment. I think I haven't any more time. Do I have some more time?

Student: 9:10 [?].

SR: Oh. Okay. Thank you.

1 pratyeka-yāna: attaining enlightenment by and for only oneself, the end result of which is becoming a pratyeka-buddha. It is one of the three vehicles (triyāna) that can bring one to nirvāna: shrāvaka-yāna, pratyeka-yāna, and bodhisattva-yāna.

2 shrāvaka-yāna: seeking personal enlightenment by listening to the dharma and gaining insight, the end result of which is becoming an arhat.

3 "Beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Buddha gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.
Buddha's way is unsurpassable; I vow to become it."

4 Dazu Huike (Taiso Eka): 487-593. Second patriarch of Zen in China. Dharma successor of Bodhidharma.

5 SR-70-08-03.

6 okechimyaku: a genealogy of Zen succession. (See also SR-71-06-09, p. 9.)

7 Busso shōden bosatsu daikaiBusso: Buddha and ancestors; shō: "right" or "true" (as in Shōbōgenzō); den: transmitting; bosatsu: bodhisattva; daikai: precepts for monks and nuns. Hence, "great precepts for bodhisattvas correctly transmitted by buddhas and ancestors," or, more traditionally, "bodhisattva precepts of the correct transmission of the Buddha ancestors."

8 Jiki (food); ni oite (about); (absolute or equality); naru (become); mono wa (person), (dharma); ni oitemo (about); mata (also); (absolute or equality); nari (end-of-sentence marker). Suzuki-rōshi is referring to Dōgen-zenji's "Fushukuhanpō" ("The Dharma for Taking Food"), from Eihei (Dai) Shingi, Line 1. See T. D.
Leighton and S. Okumura, Dōgen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community, Albany: SUNY, 1996, p. 83. [See also SR-70-08-15.]

9 Walpola Sri Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (Bedford: Gordon Fraser Gallery, 1959).

Source: Original City Center tape transcribed and checked by Bill Redican (11/29/00). Miyagawa Keishi-san kindly provided assistance with the translation of Japanese terms. Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (3/2021).


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