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Shunryu Suzuki Lectures

Beginner's Mind


Chapter 4 - Constancy

 See CONSTANCY, p. 83 of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
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Constancy

The message for us on the calendar is "Cultivate your own spirit." This is very important point, and this is how we practice Zen. For us, to give lecture or to recite sutra, or to sit, of course is Zen. Each of these activities should be Zen, but if your effort or practice does not have the right orientation it will not work at all. Not only will it not work but it may spoil your pure nature. The more you know something about it the more you will get spoiled. You will just have stains on your mind, and your mind will be filled with rubbish. It is quite usual for us to gather various pieces of information from various sources and you think you know many things, but you don't know anything at all. This is quite usual. But our understanding of Buddhism should not be just gathering of many pieces of information and knowledge. Instead of gathering knowledge you should accept knowledge as if you were hearing something which you already knew. This is called emptiness. Or you may say omnipotent self -- knowing everything. You are like a dark sky. Sometimes a flashing comes through the dark sky and then you forget all about it. After the flashing passes there is nothing, but the sky will not be surprised even if a thunderbolt breaks through all of a sudden. This will not cause any surprise for the sky. But when the lightning hits through we will see the wonderful sight. We are always prepared for watching the flashing.

People may be interested in various sights, and they may go for a sightseeing trip. In China, Rosan is a famous place for its misty scenery. I haven't been to China yet, but there must be beautiful mountains there, and white clouds or mist may come and go through the mountains. It must be a very wonderful sight. Although it is wonderful, a Chinese poem says, "Rosan is famous for its hazy sight on a rainy day. Seko (the great river) is famous for its tide, coming and going. That's all." That's all, but splendid. This is how we appreciate things.

On the other hand we should not accept various pieces of information just as the echo of ourselves. But we should not be surprised at seeing something and hearing something. If you accept things as an echo of yourself it does not make any sense. So, "Rosan is famous for its misty sight," does not mean to appreciate the mountain recollecting some scenery you have seen before. "It is not so wonderful. I have seen that sight before. Or I have painted much more beautiful paintings. Rosan is nothing." This is not our way. We appreciate with quite a new feeling. We do not accept it as an echo of ourselves. Even though you have various pieces of knowledge, if you accept the knowledge as if you were collecting something familiar to you only, then as a collection it will be very good, but that is not our way. And we should not try to surprise people by some wonderful treasures. That is not our way at all. We should not be interested in something special. If you want to appreciate something fully you should forget yourself, even, and you should accept it as utter darkness of the sky -- accept lightning.

Sometimes we think it is impossible for us to understand something -- something unfamiliar to us. Some people may say, "It is almost impossible to understand Buddhism as our cultural background is quite different from Oriental cultural background. How is it possible to understand Oriental thought?" Of course Buddhism cannot be separated from the cultural background. It is true. But if a Buddhist comes to the United States he is no longer a Japanese. I am living in your cultural background. I am taking nearly the same food as you take, and I am communicating with you. Narrow-minded people may say that it is impossible, but it is possible. Even though you do not understand me so well, I want to understand what you are talking about. I can understand -- maybe more than anyone who can speak and understand English. That is true. If I can understand several words in a long sentence it is all the better, but even though I cannot understand English at all I think I can communicate with people. So, in this way there is possibility as long as we exist in the utter darkness of the sky -- world -- as long as we live in emptiness.

I have always said that we must be very patient if we want to understand Buddhism, but I was seeking for a better word for patience. I think it is better to translate it as "constancy." Constancy is better than patience. Patience means to be forced for some time -- that is patience. But constancy means constant faculty or ability, or possibility to accept things. There is no particular effort involved, but only the constant ability or faculty which we have to accept. For people who have no idea of emptiness this ability may be patience, but for the people who know, even just intuitively what is emptiness, they will be able, in everything they do (even though it is very difficult) to dissolve their problems by constant ability or faculty. So that is what we mean by "Ning" in Chinese or Japanese language. So I think it is better to interpret "Ning" as constancy. This is our way of practice and our way of continuous practice. If so, even after you attain enlightenment, it will be necessary for us to have another enlightenment, and one after another we have to have enlightenment, if possible, moment after moment. That is enlightenment before you attain enlightenment and after you attain enlightenment.-Shunryu Suzuki Roshi


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