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Excerpts related to Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Questions: Zazen, Dōgen, and the Spirit of Inquiry
From the chapter
“The Gateway to Repose and Joy”
Zazen and buddha heart are much deeper than our ideas about them. Simply do not run away from yourself. Our society and culture offer us many distractions, many entertaining toys to help us run away from ourselves, to not be present with this body-mind right now. So our practice is fairly radical, an entryway to true joyful ease. Just sit and be present with this body-mind as it is, enjoy your breathing, not trying to avoid thoughts and feelings, just breathe into them. Do not try to do anything with them either. This buddha nature is present whether or not we have some particular flashy experience of seeing into it. Suzuki Roshi, my teacher’s teacher, said once that you might get enlightened and not like it. Believing that having some flashy experience will settle things is a way of running away from our real responsibility. Kenshō is not the end of practice, but just an occasional pleasant jolt on the path.
The more you settle into this practice, the subtler the suffering is. We develop a craft for attending to it. With some sustainable way of regularly practicing, without trying to arrange or fix or manipulate it, we start to become more deeply familiar with our own physical and mental habits. Reality never happens according to our expectations. Reality is not our little meager idea. And yet we can take responsibility for our efforts. When we show up and befriend ourselves, we start to see more subtly the ways we try to grab onto or get rid of things. But we have to forgive ourselves for being human beings. This is a practice for human beings, not for some super-beings.
Most of the trouble of the world comes from people trying to get something they do not have but think will make them happy, or trying to get rid of something they think prevents them from being happy. Can we just be content with this situation? Can we appreciate and respect ourselves and the world enough to be as we are? Then how do we take care of that, and take care of all the suffering beings of the world and in our own hearts and minds?
Suzuki Roshi said that our practice is constantly losing our balance against a background of perfect balance. That is what re-pose is about, to lose our balance constantly, but to return to some upright, dignified posture.
From the chapter
“Practicing the Awesome Presence of Active Buddhas “
Suzuki Roshi talks about non-gaining mind. Hearing that we may misunderstand and think we should not get anything out of the practice. We do not try to get something specific from this practice, because if we have some outcome we want to get, that is just consumer Zen, just trying to acquire more goodies. But our practice is not meaningless or purposeless. We have bodhisattva precepts to guide us in how this transformative function works. It does work. I know this, having seen it in myself and in many other people. But it takes time. This mysterious, organic, alchemical process happens with its own lawfulness, not according to our limited human conceptions.
From the chapter
“Dōgen's Five-part Approach to Zazen”
What Dōgen says he is encouraging with his practical instruction does not concern following rules, but “wishing you to sport and play freely with spiritual penetration.” Spiritual penetration has to do with paying close attention. How do we pay attention as we engage each other in the world? This concerns sangha, the people we formally practice with, but also the people we work with and encounter throughout the week. These instructions also support zazen. We have forms for moving around the meditation hall, for sitting, and for ceremonies. But Dōgen says that the point is to play freely. Zen may look very austere, but the heart is about finding our own freedom and playfulness. For sitting facing the wall, assuming upright posture and mudra, Dōgen's practical instructions are aimed at support of your own playfulness. A teacher of mine once said, “Be wild on your cushion.” This does not mean to move around or start howling, but in your settledness and your intimacy with your mind field, in this uprightness, as Suzuki Roshi suggested, “Give your cow a large, spacious meadow.” Allow your mind field to play freely, in zazen as well as in engagement with your life. How do we play and express ourselves freely, while supporting attention, caring, and spiritual penetration? This practice is not about becoming a Zen zombie, or mimicking wooden statues of Buddha. Becoming steadily intimate with your mind field requires “to disport and play freely with spiritual attention.”
From the chapter
“Readying the Ox”
When I lived in Japan bodhisattva spirit was most apparent in the old women, the grandmothers who would come out in the morning and hose down and sweep the street. Being out early they would say good morning to the kids and encourage them on their way to school. It was very sweet. But grandmothers can be tough too. One of the strictest teachers I ever had was Suzuki Roshi's widow, Suzuki Sensei, when I studied chadō "the Way of tea " with her for a little while. She lived at the Zen Center for many years after Suzuki Roshi died, watching over us. She could be very gentle and considerate, and she would invite people in for tea and conversation, but when she was teaching tea, she could be fierce. A tiny bit of the wrong movement, and she would let you know very definitely. She was tough but a wonderful person, training people the spirit of performing the simple act of making tea properly. But I do not know any stories of her actually hitting anyone. In Japanese training Zen is a performance art. Not just for Zen monks, but also in many of the art forms: tea, martial arts, flower arranging, calligraphy, the point is to perform each action beautifully. The teacher's job is to correct the student, and stop them when they go off a tiny bit.
From the chapter
“Making Yourself into a Light”
Something positive and beautiful is found in death. Mary Oliver says, “I want to step through the door full of curiosity wondering, what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?” The British poet William Blake spoke about death as like a door through which one walks from one room to another. This was how he envisioned it, and he died singing. In some ways our meditation is like a doorway. Suzuki Roshi talked about the swinging door of inhale and exhale. Walking through the door even into a small room and sitting down, perhaps we may enter a cottage of darkness. In each period of zazen there is some possibility, some doorway.
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