A minimally edited transcript

Just Enough Problems

Sesshin Lecture, Lecture 7: Page Street Apples
Friday Morning
February 12, 1971
San Francisco

This is the seventh day of the sesshin, and you came already too far. So you cannot give up [laughs, laughter]. So the only way is to stay here. And I feel I have a very good crop [laughs]. You may feel you are not yet ripened. But even though you are still ripening, if you stay in our storehouse anyway, it will be good apples [laughs]—Page Street apples, ready to be served [laughs, laughter]. So I have nothing to worry about, and I don't think you have to worry any more about your practice.

Perhaps some of you started sesshin because you have too many things to solve, or some of you must have thought if you come and sit here, maybe your problem will be solved. But, whatever problem it may be, something which is given to you could be solved anyway because Buddha will not give you any more than you can solve and you need. Whatever it is, whatever problem it may be, the problem you have is just enough of a problem [laughs, laughter] for you.

So I think you should trust him, just enough—not too much. And, if it is not too much, Buddha is ready to give you some more problems [laughs, laughter] just to survive, just to appreciate problems. Buddha is always giving you something because if you have nothing to cope with, it would be a terrible life. Life without problems would be like sitting in this zendo for seven days without doing anything.

But, I think you have had many problems to cope with in this zendo, or maybe more problems than you had in the city. You think it is easier to solve problems in the zendo than in the city, but actually it is not so. You will find more problems which you have had. But why you didn't feel so is you were fooled by something, and because of that you couldn't find the problems you had. And, if you do not know what kind of problem you have, the result will be terrible. Unexpected problems will appear, but it is not something which you didn't have. No problem will happen if you do not originally have problems. Because you had problems—only a result came out when you did not expect it. So it is better to find out problems earlier—as soon as possible.

In our practice, you don't have to worry about what will happen to you because Buddha will give you just enough problems. We Soto students sit facing a wall—in other words, facing to Buddha with our [laughs] back-front face and back-face [laughs]—I don't know how to express it. You sit like this. Buddha is there [behind you],1 and you are trusting him. If you make some mistake, Buddha may say [laughing], “turn over.” It means that you are involved in some dualistic problem. You have some problem in the sense of duality. So Buddha says, “turn over.”

And you should listen to him [laughs]. Usually, if you trust him completely, there is no need to face the Buddha. This is the attitude of complete trust. Your enemies or some problems will come through the back, not from the front. So to expose your back to Buddha means to express complete trust with Buddha.

And even if you have problems which you feel you don't need, or which you feel are too much of a problem, but trusting him, you should sit with the problems. And, at the same time, you should be ready to refuse it if it is too much. But this will not be necessary. There will not be any need to refuse it because more and more the problems you think are problems will change into something you need.

So, you know that, “If I refuse a problem, I may regret it. Anyway I must keep this because I am not so sure if this is a real problem or Buddha's help.” [Laughs.] “Maybe better to keep it.” And you sit in this way. “Okay. [Laughs.] Anyway,  we will understand what Buddha gave us.” And Buddha may say, “If you really don't need it, any time I will accept it. [Laughs.] Give it back to me.” But if Buddha says so, you may think, “Oh, it may be better [laughs, laughter] to keep it. There may be some meaning in this problem. Oh, better to keep it.” And you should sit. If you sit in this way, you will find various problems as kind of valuable treasures which are indispensable for you and especially indispensable for Zen students.

So, before you sit, before you accept yourself as you are, and before you accept the problem you have, your position, you cannot sit in its true sense. But if you fix your mind, trusting him, and sit, then there is no confusion or problems any more.

What you should do is to wait. Be patient enough and wait until the problem will make some sense to you, until you can appreciate your being here and your position, whatever it is. That is how you practice zazen.

So, if you only practice zazen, there is no need to expect Buddha to help you. Buddha is always helping you. But usually what we are doing is refusing Buddha's offer. For instance, if you ask for some special help from a special person, it means that you are refusing Buddha's offering and asking for some other things which are not here yet. So you are refusing him. You are refusing what you have already. And you are refusing to accept the treasures you have.

You are like a pig. When I was young, as my father was very poor, he raised many pigs. And if you give a pig a bucket of food, if you are not there he will eat it. As long as you are there, he will not eat it, expecting you to give him more food [laughs, laughter]. So you must be very careful. And if you move, he will kick out the food from the bucket [laughs]. I think that is what you are doing [laughs, laughter].

Just to cause more problems for you [laughs], you seek something. But there is no need for you to seek anything. You have plenty. And you have just enough problems. This is a mysterious thing, you know—a mystery of life. We have just enough problems: not too much and not too little. So there is no need for anybody to ask for something. There is no need to ask anyone's help if you are patient enough, if you are strong enough to accept it. But when you are not strong enough to accept a problem, or strong enough to sit calmly and peacefully, trusting Buddha— yeah, I said “trusting Buddha” [laughs]. I already gave you the answer. The only way to trust Buddha may be to trust your being—why you are here, how you are here. Because you are helped, and because the way you are helped is perfect, you exist here. If it is too much, you will die. If it is too little, you will die. You are receiving just as much as you need. So the only way is to trust him, or to trust your being here. That is the spirit of Zen.

You may think all the Zen masters are very tough. [Thumps the ground and laughs.] He looks very tough, when you need him to be tough. [Thumps the ground and laughs.] But, you know, he is not so tough. He is just tough enough for you, that's all! [Laughs, laughter.] Actually, you don't need your master, if you really know how to practice zazen.

It is already the last day. Perhaps, if you have this kind of understanding, I think if you have problems still, if you are blue apple yet [laughs]—blue or green apple—not blue [laughing, ongoing laughter] —after being red, you will be blue. That would be too late. Maybe better than staying green. If you feel you are still green, even if you feel you are still green, maybe you want to continue this sesshin more, I think [laughs]. I am not so sure about it.

The last day will be the day to make our practice meaningful. How to make our practice meaningful will be our schedule. So I want you just to sit, and to be ready to go to market [as ripe apples], to be ready to be served for Zen students.

That is all I wanted to say this morning. So let's sit more and have full appreciation of our practice.

1 Words in brackets from original transcript (not on tape).

Source: City Center transcript entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. Transcript checked against tape and made verbatim by Bill Redican (12/13/00). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (3/2021).

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