More Vignettes about Shunryu Suzuki
Outtakes from Zen Is Right Now
There are many many stories etc. about Suzuki that aren't in the books.
These are ones that were considered for ZIRN and which hit the cutting
room floor. A team of a half dozen graded 271 vignettes. I counted my
co-conspirator, Michael Katz's grades twice and the others, including me, once.
Then I made a card for each one, wrote the averaged grade on the top right
corner and the category and mood on the left—serious, funny, SR lecture quote,
etc.—rented a space at a nearby community center, spread the cards out over
three tables, and started ordering them. On the fifth day I had it down to the
127 (or so) in an order. Matt, my editor at Shambhala, suggested we cut one and
I said OK. Here are the leftovers. - DC (Links to podcast versions 🔊 will be added below over time.)
I told him I was going to Japan.
He replied, "You must not."
I inquired "Why?"
He then replied, "Because you don't know who you are."
- Sue Satermo
Tim was in the pool in the creek outside the steam room when Suzuki crossed the bridge to go to the baths—that was before we made a special abbot's bath time. Suzuki stopped and stood on the bridge looking at Tim. Tim said he felt self-conscious because he was sitting in the creek naked looking at his teacher. Then Tim heard Suzuki's voice say, "Be yourself." Suzuki turned and continued walking into the baths. "His mouth never moved but I heard it." - Tim Buckley 🔊
Suzuki Roshi was nationally, racially and religiously blind. He once told me, "I'm a very impatient man. I also am impatient to see a lot of people on the path.” His inimitable way was very lovable. He turned me on and made my life enjoyable. For that I really hope that his teaching spreads. - Stan White 🔊
Suzuki Roshi had presence. People yakity yak but people do notice presence. If you're strong where you are, people will respect you and not only respect you but they'll ask you to teach them how to do that and this is definitely what Suzuki Roshi had. When he talks, people listen—like the add says. Presence is really important and that's what Suzuki Roshi had a lot of and because of that he was revered. - Stan White 🔊
Once when there was no one available to drive Suzuki to Tassajara, he said he’d like to take a bus. Stan White and Ed Brown were waiting for Suzuki when he got off the bus in the in Monterey. They were in the Dodge truck. On the way back they got a load of sand for cement. Suzuki picked up some sand, let it run through his fingers, looked over at Ed and said, “Cook this up for breakfast.” That got the three of them laughing. Stan said, “He liked to laugh and his laugh was full.” - Stan White 🔊
Daniel said his spiritual path had led other places but that practicing with Suzuki had awakened his way-seeking-mind, a term Suzuki had often used. Kindness was what I felt when in the presence of Shunryu Suzuki, and it was a kindness I didn't have. Even now when I see him in my mind’s eye I am humbled by his example. - Daniel Eggink 🔊
When we left Tassajara, Suzuki told us, "You may leave the monastery but the monastery won't leave you." - Bob Watkins 🔊
We were working on that wall below the dining room deck and a couple of guys were talking about something walking by on the bridge, and one of them said, 'Don't make any waves, don't make any waves.'
Suzuki Roshi said, “What does that mean?” and I said, “Don't make more of it than it is. Don't excite the situation. Let it be.” And he went, “Oh,” and went ahead working. That evening he used that phrase in lecture. - Bob Watkins 🔊
Sometimes he’d say, “Little by little.” Little by little was a big teaching of his. Big things are accomplished in small increments. - Bob Watkins 🔊
One of Suzuki's one liners that I have applied a lot in my life was 'Just do it.' Just do it was like this little island in my stream. Sandy and I came out of high desert where we'd been isolated for a couple of years, and I saw a kid on the streets with a tee shirt on that said 'Just do it.' It blew my mind. My first thought when you saw that was that Suzuki had become awfully popular. - Bob Watkins 🔊
He had a cup in his hand, and he had been talking about attachment to things in his lecture and I said, “Roshi if you drop the cup and it breaks, to me that's no big deal but if you fall down and are broken then that's something terrible.” He said, "There's no difference between me and the cup.” And then, “You don't understand what I've been trying to teach you. You don't realize the sameness between me and everything else around." I didn't understand that then or ever. - Margaret Kress 🔊
Maggie said she loved Suzuki’s lectures. I asked how she could love them when she’d told me she would fall asleep almost immediately. She said because he said, “Maybe when you're asleep you can understand what I'm saying better than when you're awake.” - Margaret Kress 🔊
The summer was hot and dry. The plants needed more water, even the drought resistant ones on the hillsides. "So I said two days from now at three o'clock in the afternoon it’s going to rain. I meditated on it and meditated on it and meditated on it. Then at about two o'clock in the afternoon of the appointed day a roll of thunder. I thought, this is impossible—it never rains in the summertime. And there was a thunderstorm in the afternoon. I told Roshi that I’d meditated on rain and created a rainstorm to water the vegetables. And he started to hit me and yell at me and he was real angry. He said that what I did was absolutely wrong, that if it rains here, it doesn’t rain somewhere else and how do you know where the rain should be? He said it was very selfish practice. I was tempted to do things after that but I never did. - Reuven Ben Yuhmin 🔊
Suzuki said that Zen practice was to share our feelings—but it’s hard to do if our mind is full of rubbish. He said Buddha got rid of the rubbish in his mind sitting under the Bo tree, and that rather than say he got enlightened, what he did was forget everything, forget all that rubbish. – Lew Lancaster 🔊
John arrived at zazen with a guest who wanted to try it out. It’s rare to hear any voice coming from that room during zazen. John was leaning over and quietly giving some instruction in zazen. Tim Buckley looked over at John sternly. John didn’t notice and continued. After a couple of minutes Tim put his hand on John’s shoulder and gave him a shush sign with index finger on lips. Just then Suzuki leaped up off the altar, walked swiftly to where Tim and John were sitting and hit big Tim on the shoulders hard with his stick multiple times. Tim went back to sitting quietly. Suzuki did too. John wrapped up his zazen instruction soon after that. Again the message was to welcome what disturbs one's meditation and practice. – John Steiner 🔊
There was a party in Oakland for Zen Center folks at a nice home with a pool. Suzuki was standing with his back to the pool talking with some people and Daniel started tripping about how easy it would be to push him in and what a moment it would be for future annals of Zen. “I stood there with these powerful thoughts pounding through me, but made no moves. After a short time, I failed to act on them, losing the utter spontaneity, and finally quelled them completely. At that moment I heard Suzuki remark with amusement, without looking at me, ‘He was going to throw me into the swimming pool!’” – Daniel Eggink 🔊
This happened soon after the Zen Center bought Tassajara and the former owners' staff was still there. Suzuki Roshi came to have a meal with the crew. Jim Cook, the bartender, had prepared for him a so called Zen macrobiotic meal with brown rice and vegetables and placed it before him. Suzuki Roshi gave a disgusted look, pushed the bowl aside, and reached over to a plate of hamburgers. With a greedy look on his face, he latched on to one and took a big bite out of it. I thought Jim would pass out! I saw this as one of Suzuki Roshi’s spontaneous lessons. – Alan Winter 🔊
Although, there is no self-nature, there are some rules. The fundamental rule is causality. If there is cause there is effect. That is the immutable truth. And that is, maybe, the only truth we can figure out. The rest of the truth is that there is no special truth. – Shunryu Suzuki 🔊
Suzuki Roshi’s really big teaching to me was that he treated me as though I were the Buddha. And he actually perceived each of us as the Buddha. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh gosh, if I’m the Buddha, maybe I’d better start acting like the Buddha!” – Meg Gawler 🔊
Liz Wolf went up and was saying how she couldn't do the practice. Suzuki said, "Just pick one thing and that will be enough, that will work." – Liz Wolf 🔊
Suzuki Roshi made comments about me and my many boyfriends. One evening – I was standing on the stairs at Page Street with Harriet Buffington. As Suzuki Roshi was about to pass us, he stopped, looked at us, and said, "You know, it’s alright to have as many boyfriends as you want. You just have to remember every name." – Janet Sturgeon 🔊
I remember a woman coming in right in the middle of a sesshin lecture ringing a bell. She got up on the altar and said, "No longer is it necessary for you to sit—Jesus Christ is Lord and you'll all be saved." And Suzuki said, "Very interesting, but can you survive?" She got quiet and sat down. 🔊
One time he and I were standing on a street corner in Gilroy waiting for someone and I was saying that you can't walk in someone else’s shoes and he said, “You would have to wear those shoes a long time.” –Sterling Bunnell 🔊
Before I came to Zen Center, my boyfriend asked me to describe myself in three words. I said, "Kathy, girl, thinker." At the first Shosan I asked Suzuki Roshi a complicated question in which I expressed my understanding of Buddhism "from the heights to the depths." He said, "Your understanding is correct, but it's not real. Try not to think so much." – Katharine Cook 🔊
He said to me once, "You can't always be a wise man." – Katharine Cook 🔊
We'd be having tea at Tassajara during a break and someone would say something funny, and Suzuki'd break out laughing. There was a student at tea time who said she missed ice cream and wished we’d get a freezer. Suzuki consoled her with, "You'll just have to pretend." – Katharine Cook 🔊
Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "There is double difficulty for new students. So older students should help new students, make practice easier for them. So there is also double difficulty for older students." 🔊
Roshi said, "If you can say 'thank you', that's enough, but that is very difficult to do." I recall Meister Eckart's, "If the only prayer you say is 'Thank you,' that will suffice." 🔊
He said that money was the purest thing in the world. It doesn't care if you're tall or short or good or bad or if you earned it or stole it or if you spend it or save it or burn it. It's just what it is. – Mike Gilmore 🔊
In a lecture he said that emptiness is a garden where you cannot see anything but from which everything comes, that it is the mother of everything. – Mike Gilmore 🔊
I remember kind of coming out of a little reverie during a Suzuki Roshi lecture and hearing him say, "A thousand lectures end in a poop." – Mike Gilmore 🔊
I remember Suzuki saying, "In growing plants you must take care of the soil. Don't worry about the plants, just feed and take care of the soil and the plants will take care of themselves.
If you go to Eiheiji Monastery in Japan, you will be bored because you will repeat the same thing over and over again every day.
Suzuki said that some people can't be helped in this lifetime.
A guest asked Suzuki, "What's Zen?" Suzuki picked up a water glass and put it down.
Suzuki said that at Eiheiji monastery in Japan, when the young monks met it was raucous and when the old ones met there was consensus.
If we are in perfect balance we cannot live as a small being.
A prominent Jodo Shinshu priest from Japan said to Suzuki, "Zazen is so uncomfortable for Westerners, maybe there is some other way." Suzuki said, "That's all I know, that's what my teacher taught me."
Suzuki was talking with a senior student and a guest at Tassajara. The student said something about the inner world and the outer world. Suzuki said, "Actually, there is no inside or outside." The guest asked, "But now when you meditate, you go inside, dont you?" Suzuki said, "Not the inside, not outside. Just open."
I had a very big experience at Canyon de Chelly. Coming out of the canyon late in the day it was as though I flew up the hill—I was in quite an altered, transcendent state. It was a kind of opening to interdependence and I stayed in a transcendent state for quite some time. When I got back to Zen Center in the city I had a book of photos of the Navaho and Hopi lands and Canyon de Shay and that area and I brought the book with me when I went to see Suzuki Roshi and tell him about the trip and what I'd learned and what I'd seen and what it was like. Before I'd said much of anything, he opened the book and he brushed the pages quickly aside till he came to the picture of the trail coming out of White House Ruins and he said, "This is where it is. This is where it happened."
Back in the early sixties, Suzuki gave Grahame Petchey a calligraphy that translates, "Be careful with fire." [Then a page with that calligraphy.]
When Shunryu Suzuki arrived at Tassajara, he'd go straight to the zendo to offer incense and do bows. He'd do the same before leaving. At one such time after having driven him in, I handed him a lit stick of incense at the altar and, still holding it, he turned to me and said, "Many temples in Japan have burned down from just one stick of incense."
Bob said that once at Sokoji, Suzuki wanted to get into the attic to check out the pigeons that cooed up there—especially during mating season. It was a large old building with a huge attic. The entrance to the attic was in the high ceiling above the long kitchen table. Bob thought the way to get there was to put a chair on the table. He turned to get a chair, and when he turned around, Suzuki was already up there sticking his head down. Bob could not see how he got there. Bob said Suzuki told him that instead of manifesting as a big dragon that he had a little dragon in his kimono people couldn't see. "Yeah," Bob said, "He had a secret dragon. He said that in his office not long after he flew up to the ceiling."
Suzuki was impressed that Jane had taken an intensive course in Chinese where she had to learn 60 characters a day. He asked her what else she'd studied. She said astrology and she started talking about what she'd learned from it and how she'd applied it to her life. I expounded on it for ten minutes and he didn't say a word. And finally he looked at me and said, "You look so serious when you talk."
Suzuki Rosh was giving a lecture and a guy asked, "What is the purpose of marriage?" and he said, "Potato."
The han, a thick wooden sounding board struck with a mallet, calls students to zazen. There is a poem written in kanji on the face of the han. It says "Life and death are the great matter, transient and fleeting, everyone should pay attention to this, and don't be dissolute." (the last word is hard to translate). Suzuki was asked what's the meaning of that poem and he just answered, "Dont goof off."
Ken was a pacifist. Speaking hypothetically he asked, "I'm married and have a wife and children and an intruder comes into our home and wants to kill us. What do I do? Do I kill him? Do I let him kill my family?" Suzuki Roshi responded: "Kill your self."
Roovane tried a concoction of herbs and mushrooms to eat that someone else had come up with, got seriously ill, and passed out. When he came to he heard the han for zazen sounding. Roovane was determined to go, was slow, and met Suzuki on the bridge. Suzuki looked at him sternly and told him, "Never do that again!" Roovane wondered how Suzuki knew what had happened, felt like he'd almost died, and took Suzuki's command to heart.
Soon after Kobun Chino's arrival in the city, he sat at the Sokoji kitchen table with Suzuki Roshi and me. I pulled out a pack of Camel non filters and offered one to Kobun who accepted till Suzuki said, "No, Chino Sensei doesn't smoke." - Bob Halpern
Kathy's Mother came to Tassajara. They had tea with Suzuki. Later he told Kathy, "In Japan we say 'fighting the curtain.' You're still fighting the curtain." And then, "When your mother dies, you'll know how lonely you are."
Jacob Needleman quoted Shunryu Suzuki saying, "When we say kill the thinking mind, we mean to be free from its authority."
Loly had practiced tea ceremony for years and had all the accoutrements neatly placed on a tray in her apartment. She didn't bother Suzuki with it. She knew he'd been a tea ceremony guest countless times and had noticed that when she did tea ceremony with his wife, that he'd leave the room. When he departed her apartment in New York City for the last time, he paused at the tea ceremony tray and said, "You're a great tea master."
Suzuki Roshi told me that, as jjisha, I should be the abbots eyes and ears. He said, "When I walk around Tassajara, I don't see anything and I don't hear anything."
Suzuki used to sit up in the balcony and watch the old Japanese films shown there Saturday nights. But after he moved to the city center he didn't see any films. One evening when Okusan was away, a few of us urged Suzuki to go see 2001 with us. He agreed. After the film was over, he asked me, "Is this what LSD is like?"
After four months' training and seven-day sesshin, what am I doing
SR: You are doing nothing.
Student: Why must we seek the absolute?
SR: The absolute reveals itself as form. When we try to seek for the absolute, that absolute is not true absolute because the absolute cannot be the object of practice. If it is object of our training, that is not absolute any more. So the only way, the only approach to the absolute is through form.
Student: As summer follows spring, and fall comes after, we see the wheel of karma turning within us. How can we come to know subjectively the Buddha's way of stopping that wheel?
SR: When you hear the sound of the river and the sound of the falling leaves as Buddha's sound, you have already stopped your karma, subjectively and objectively, because originally karma itself is Buddha's way.
A student asked Suzuki if one could always apply the absolute, rather than the intellectual, to their life.
Suzuki answered with what seemed like a prayer.
"May all of us forget all about good and bad, and acknowledging their own position with each other. And may perfect communication take place between them. Your wish comes from emptiness. My wish comes from each being. But may those two understandings get together to help with each other and attain our Buddha's way. That is my wish."
JB stopped a cat from killing a mouse.It was right between the kitchen and the dining room. Suzuki got furious with him and said, "Don't you know that the mouse is a bodhisattva? Giving its life to the cat. Why should you stop the mouse from being a bodhisattva?"
There were questions in the zendo at night after the lecture. A college professor who was at Tassajara as a guest raised his hand. He talked, it felt like, for ten minutes and then at the very end he made it into a question but mainly it was a ten minute statement about his understanding of the way things actually are. Suzuki Roshi said, "Oh, very good." And then he took the next question.
It was getting late into the zazen period. All of a sudden Suzuki Roshi leaped off the dais and whacked Niels on the shoulder with his stick and said, "You kept looking at the clock!" Niels looked at Roshi and said, "But Roshi, I'm the bell-ringer for when zazen is over."
Roshi leaned over and said, "I made a mistake. I'm sorry."
It was special to see him handle his mistake in such a wholehearted way.
When I had my first interview with Suzuki Roshi, he asked me what I did for work. I said I was a social worker. "Oh, good," he said. "You try to help people. You know, it's not so easy to know when you're helping someone." At the time I was a gung-ho social worker so I didn't understand what he meant. I thought if you tried to help people, you actually helped them. It took me a long time to realize what he was saying. It was particularly poignant when years later I heard about his second wife being killed by a student he was trying to help.
One night in the zendo, the head monk gave a talk scolding every one and telling people to straighten up and so on. When he finished, Suzuki sat quietly for a few moments. Then, in a soft voice, he said, "Don't forget why you came here."
There were flies around the dining room at Tassajara. I looked at Suzuki and said, "Why don't the flies land on you?" And he said, "I tell them to go away."
A Tibetan Lama and Two young monks came to Tassajara at Roshi's invitation. Running and chanting Om mani padme hum while they ran was their practice. A friend and I tried that. I asked Suzuki Roshi about it and he said, "You can do zazen and run and that can be your zazen, but it's harder than sitting meditation. Just like in sitting, you can't have a goal or destination. If you can run with no destination then go do it. You have to run one breath at a time. Put one foot in front of the next and breathe one breath at a time with no destination and then you can do zazen running." I still think about that every day when I go out running.
One time at Tassajara I was sleeping and I heard his voice say, "Don't make dokusan a long one." So I didn't. I had always wanted it to be drawn out, because I wanted to be around Suzuki Roshi. So I made is a short one. Was he sending messages?
There was a wooden statue of Hotei. He has his hands up in the air, like he was laughing. Suzuki Roshi came down the path and did a great imitation of Hotei—holding his hands up. It was fun to see him do the same poses as the statue. He was very playful.
Suzuki would sometimes use the terms master and disciple in his lectures. Reb asked Suzuki if he were considered a disciple. Suzuki answered, "There are those who are practicing for themselves and those who are practicing for others. Those who are practicing for others are my disciples."
I talked to Suzuki about coming back to Tassajara to help with the kitchen construction and he said, "There's a great big stone right where we want to build the kitchen. We need to remove a very great obstruction before we can proceed. So when you get down there I want you to look at that great big stone that's in the way. It's very important to remove a very great obstruction before we can proceed."
So I got down there and looked at that stone and it was more like a mountain and there was no way to remove it. They already had the foundation in and weren't planning to remove it—it could be built over. It took me a couple of days to realize what he meant by the obstruction—my stupidity or ignorance or whatever. It was the lesson he gave me and it stuck with me.
Buddhists understand every noise as a sound which we make. You may say, "The bird is singing over there." But when we hear the bird, we think the bird is me. Actually, I am not listening to the bird. The bird is here in my mind already and I am singing with the bird. "Peep-peep-peep." When you are reading something, you may think, "The blue jay is on my roof but their voice is not so good." When you think in that way, that is noise. When you are not disturbed by the blue jay, the blue jay will come right into your heart, and you will be a blue jay and the blue jay will be reading something. Then the blue jay doesn't disturb your reading.
I am expert in forgetfulness! When I think of you, in my mind there is nothing. When I see you practice, that's it. That's all that is.
Speaking about his life in Japan, Suzuki said, "Our life in monastery, you know, is very simple and monotonous. We are repeating same thing every day, over and over. There is nothing to enjoy. So sometime we do something very foolish, you know, to enjoy how foolish we are!"
Even though you have a small monastery, it will be a big big monastery if you have Buddhist spirit. It is not actually a matter of big or small.
You cannot ignore the truth. But you should not be caught by it.
I haven't a very strong belief in next life. But some people believe in it very firmly. And mostly, those people have good practice. I envy their practice. But at the same time, to believe in that kind of belief extremely strongly, that may not be so good.
Suzuki Rosh was giving a lecture and a guy asked, "What is the purpose of marriage?" and he said,
You should sit zazen with your whole body, with your spine, mouth, toes, mudra.
In a summer of 66 afternoon lecture Suzuki said that we should probably have more precepts than they do in Japan. A student asked if he could suggest some and Suzuki said, "No, not now. I do not want to disturb your practice."
Suzuki Roshi got angry once about our competitiveness with each other and said, "It might be the American way, but there is a better way. The Japanese way." By the Japanese way he meant the co-operative way.
Suzuki was explaining refuge. Namu kie butsu—I take refuge in buddha. Namu kie ho—I take refuge in the dharma. Namu kie so—I take refuge in the sangha.
"Namu means 'to plunge.' We say, 'you cannot skim over the water in a basket.' But if you dip the basket in it, the basket will be full of water. That is the way. As long as you are making a dualistic effort, you cannot do anything because you are a basket. You are full of holes. Holes are us. Our wisdom is hole wisdom. Wisdom with holes. 'No holes wisdom.' For us, no holes wisdom is dipping the basket in the water. Then there is no hole. That is taking refuge, and that is how we practice zazen." I thought, oh, if I plunge into the ocean of buddha, dharma, sangha, I'll have no-holes wisdom.
The light at the center was of course Suzuki but his light was not some isolated beam that was his alone. He said when the students are great the teacher is great. Niels the Dane said Suzuki was like the good king in the European tradition—he wore the crown that shined the light back on his subjects. He didn't keep it for himself or claim it to be his. Just like the Christian saints said, it was not them one should praise but the glory of god.
Some students were bringing drinks in the evening lecture at Tassajara during the guest season when the atmosphere of the place was generally more informal. Suzuki made a comment about that.
"When you listen to a lecture you should not drink tea. I'm sorry, but it is true. When you listen to a lecture, you should just listen to the lecture. That is our way. We cannot do two things at one time, because each activity includes everything."
Suzuki used to say we could talk or we could eat but that we couldn't do both at the same time and indeed I began to notice that conversation covers a meal so that the act of eating becomes automatic and the taste of the food is lost. Formal meals were silent and they were a pleasure, but there were less formal meals on days off or in town. So we'd find ourselves eating with Suzuki outside the zendo and we'd all be sitting up straight in a tense silence. Then he'd tend to make a comment or ask someone a question to loosing things up. He also didn't want us to eat and be uptight at the same time.
I was worried that my parents might not approve of Suzuki Roshi when they came to Tassajara. He told me that I needn't go in and join them in his cabin. I was nervous waiting outside and it went on and on and on. I opened the door and my father and he were rolling on the floor laughing. My parents had completely fallen in love with him and my mother thought he was like her father. He said to my father that they think we're old but they don't realize how young we old people can be. He said the only old one around here is the mountain. For the rest of his life, my father quoted him.
Sometimes I felt like Suzuki Roshi had on a Japanese mask and he did so out of compassion because where he really was, was like a black hole. It would so terrify us if we could really see who he was that he kept the mask on.
About four days into a sesshin I was bowing during service and the bowing got easy, like floating. It was the most effortless thing I'd ever done. When it was my turn for dokusan. I told Suzuki Roshi about this experience. He said, "Yes yes, keep sitting."
I remember Suzuki Roshi in a lecture apologized to us because he wasn't a very good teacher. And then two days later he told he was Buddha. I was amazed he could say both.
At our last meeting at Tassajara in '71, I said, "I'm here because you're there and you're there because I'm here." and he said, "Yes."
Suzuki Roshi was out there working with us, helping us move the rocks. Talking with him removed the barrier I had in taking part in it. For instance, I asked about reincarnation. Do we have to accept that? "Oh no," he said, like that’s history.
I've asked many people what Suzuki-roshi's teaching was and hardly anyone feels comfortable answering that.
At Tassajara we’d go to Suzuki-roshi lectures and our seven year old daughter who was quite hyperactive would fall asleep in my wife's lap and she was amazed. She never did that. It seemed there was something going on there.
Suzuki emphasized practicing together with others. In one lecture he said it’s best not to try to do more than others. “Not too much or too little.”
Right in the middle day of one of the early sesshins at Tassajara, when everyone was experiencing physical and mental pain, Suzuki Roshi said, "It doesn't get better later."
A student started to ask a question with, "I am curious to know..."
Suzuki cut them off. "Don't say 'curious to know.'"
One time when I was talking with Suzuki Roshi in his cabin he said, "Well, Ed, you can get angry if you want." Then, after an impeccably timed pause, he politely added, "But don't."
A student asked Suzuki, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”
Suzuki answered, “Yes.”
I did say to him once when I was kind of upset with Tassajara that I don't really care about this or that or any of these things. I know that it's promised in the Diamond Sutra that everybody is going to be liberated and I keep that in mind. He said you have nothing to worry about if you keep that in mind."
Suzuki was working with Bob Watkins on the wall under the bridge. It was tough work and they’d take short breaks. During one of these breaks Bob asked Suzuki about how to develop patience. Suzuki didn’t say anything. They next day on one of those breaks, Suzuki said to him, "I found a better word for you than patience. It's constancy."
I asked, "Is there any way to avoid making the same mistake over and over again?"
Roshi simply said," No."
Student: You can't be the Roshi without students.
SR: Yeah. Yeah.
Student: Students can't be students without the Roshi.
Student: So they are both independent but both together.
SR: Yeah. Together. Without student, no teacher. Yeah. So that is very true, you know. And students encourage the teacher. It is very much so. I know that if I have no student, I may goof off every day. Because I have so many students watching me, I must be doing something. I must study so that I can give you some lecture. If there is no lecture, I will not study. But at the same time, I shall be very much ashamed of myself if I study just to give lecture.
Student: Are there any differences between the way you practice Zen in the United States and the way you practice in Japan?
SR: Zazen practice is the same. I don't feel much difference. Wherever I go, I feel as if I am in Japan. So it rather difficult to answer your question. You know, “American people, Japanese people,” we say. But if we start to practice zazen, they’re nearly the same. We have the same problem.
Student: Is it possible to love without attachment?
SR: I don't think so. We know that even though we love someone, we cannot love someone forever. If you say, “I will love you forever,” you are telling lie. Still you have to love someone. Then what do you say? Or, what kind of attitude do you take? What will be your love? You should figure out that point. It is not something which I should tell you, but you have to accept the teaching of detachment.
Student: What do you mean by spiritual practice?
SR: Spiritual practice? What I mean is everything has buddha-nature, so we must respect everything. So, food should be treated like we treat our physical body. That kind of attitude is important. This is not just vegetable. It is a part of our body. As Dogen says, you should treat a grain of rice as you treat your eyes. That is what I mean by spiritual practice.
Student: I have a problem. Whenever I make an effort, it seems to come from some sense of I, maybe some pride or some very strong sense of self. Could you tell us about effortless effort?
SR: Effortless effort. Effortless effort means effort knowing that there is no I or no ground. Something which is going with everything is effortless effort. The effort you make is not your effort, because there is no you, you know. What is that effort? That effort comes out from the mother body of whole being.
Student: I've been confused about the idea of enlightenment, of being one with—something.
SR: “One with something” is a very imperfect way of putting it. Before we figure out what it means, we should practice zazen. We should be completely involved in zazen practice or else we will have various misunderstandings.
Student: Is it possible to experience emptiness other than through form?
SR: There is only one way. There is no other way.
Student: What is meant by truth in Zen?
SR: Truth? Truth in its usual sense may be the opposite of false or untruth. But the truth we mean is beyond right or wrong, good or bad.
Student: What about things like LSD?
SR: I have no experience of taking LSD, but it is not an important problem at all. I think it is just like a medicine. So of course if you take too much medicine, it will not be good for you. But there is no objection to taking it, I think. But what I am afraid of is they will mix it up with religion: Zen and LSD. There is very, very little relationship. It is quite another matter. But actually, religious people may use it. But when we want to have a clear idea about LSD, we must make this point clear, or else we will have a useless discussion. One is going this way, and one is going that way. And they will have no chance to meet.
Student: Could you speak to us of taking refuge?
SR: Taking refuge is not a good translation. Taking refuge is to protect yourself in Buddha's home, maybe like that. So, if you know how to protect yourself, that translation may work, but to take refuge in Buddha looks like to escape from this world and to go to Buddha. But it is not actually so. To be one with Buddha is to take refuge in Buddha. Or to be Buddha is to take refuge in Buddha. There is no special home for Buddha, you know, or for us. The home is always within ourselves. So it is not to go to Buddha, but to find out buddha-nature within ourselves is to take refuge in Buddha.
Student: You suggested to us that as students we should try to steal our teacher's way.
Student: Something like that.
SR: Did I? Did I say so? No. I have no idea about you stealing my wife. Okay?
Student: Will you please explain how we commit that crime?
SR: How? [Asked with astonishment.] Do you want to commit that crime?
Student: To steal your way.
Student: Your way.
SR: Oh! I thought you said wife! How should I steal my teacher's wife! Way! I see. I shall be very glad to have my way stolen.
Student: You told us once that we are each our own teachers, and so every question I thought of for you I could answer. But I felt that I should ask them anyway. How can I trust my own answers?
SR: Your own answers? Maybe you cannot completely trust any answer. Whether it is your answer or my answer. But when you ask me a question, it is a kind of communication. To share the problem is the point of asking a question.
Student: But I get very frustrated because you never answer. You just substitute words, and there's never an answer.
SR: Mm-hmm. To understand in that way is better, you know—not to rely on the answer so much. But to present some question, that is enough.
Student: Life is pretty difficult. I don't know what it is, so how do I accept it?
SR: The only way is to continue our practice. Without our practice there is no way to reach the realm where we have not much confusion and trouble because our way is based in reality.
Student: If there is nothing but what we have to share, and no help but what we have to give to each other, how can we act unselfishly if we're not ready to renounce our minds?
SR: Actually, to act in a selfish way is also sharing something and helping with each other. We cannot be completely selfish, anyway. That is not possible because every one of us is rooted to the same ground.
Student: You have taught us that everything changes, and that we can rely on nothing. From one day to the next, then, we cannot be sure of a place to practice or a teacher. If this is so, how can we continue our practice forever?
SR: Wherever you go, you will find your teacher, as long as you have your eyes, as long as you have ears to listen.
Student: Love is love, and hate is hate, and love is empty, and hate is empty.
SR: There you will have a great sorrow or longing—the loneliness of emptiness. Until you get accustomed to this experience, you cannot get out of the trouble, or fear, or whatever it is. When you can remain still with some composure in pitch dark, you will have deep true composure.
Student: You are you, and I am me, and you are not you, and I am not me, and the river keeps moving by. Where is the medicine for this sorrow?
SR: Medicine. The going river and the evanescence of life or ungraspable things is itself medicine. Sometimes it looks like poison, but actually those are the only medicine we should take.
Student: What will lead us to the perfect understanding?
SR: When you have brown rice, you should eat brown rice. When you have soup, you should eat soup. Whatever it is, you should be ready to take it and eat.
Student: Somehow it seems very dualistic to always be trying to resist my thinking mind.
SR: Sometimes you should sit completely with pure thinking and not resisting thinking mind. But to rely on thinking mind is not so good. You can practice thinking, but the answers you get by thinking are not only answers you should know.
Student: What is there to say?
SR: Mada means not yet. Not yet are very important words because we will have--never have a chance to say already. Mada, mada, mada is very good practice.
Student: What question can you ask a sweet potato?
SR: A sweet potato? Many question. May I eat you? When may I eat enough to be satisfied? Many, many question.
Student: Who observes our way?
SR: You observe our way. When you observe our way everything observes our way. So our way is universal way, and at the same time your own way.
Student: Neither mind nor Buddha. What is this?
SR: Neither mind nor Buddha points out the real Buddha because we are caught by the words of Buddha. If we say “Buddha,” we want to find out where is Buddha, when Buddha is right here. So “neither mind nor Buddha,” we say.
Student: If everything changes, why is there always suffering?
SR: Because of change. Change itself is suffering. If change is essential nature for everything, suffering cannot be avoided. If you know there is no way to avoid it, there is your relief.
Student: I try to do it all in the present moment, and to be totally involved in the present moment, and yet it seems so impossible with so much feeling and so many thoughts. It seems so impossible.
SR: Too many thoughts is all right. That is not the point. The point is to be concerned about too many thought or no thought. All the thought you have is one thought or no thought. I am not saying to stop your activity. I am not counting how many thoughts you have. All the thought you have is originally one thought. If it is one thought, that is no thought. So don't be concerned about the thoughts you have. Don't be bothered by it. To think is all right, but to be bothered by it or to discriminate good thought or bad thought is bad.
Student: I'm afraid to ask you a question. Why?
SR: Because you see me as your teacher always. Open your eyes and listen to me more.
There is nothing absolute for us, but when nothing is absolute, that is absolute.
There is nothing is perfect. We think it is possible to attain or to get contact with, to understand or to grasp something perfect. But to attain some stage of perfection according to Buddhism is not possible. When you understand that is not possible, that understanding is a perfect understanding and that is enlightenment.
One of Suzuki's first students recalled how they first entered Sokoji to attend early morning zazen.
"Sometimes there would be just a few of us, and sometimes maybe ten or so. We would knock on the door to Sokoji and Suzuki would come down and let us in. There was one morning when we stood outside, he put his head out of the second story window and called down, "Go away, go away!"
"We went away. But we came back the next day and everything was fine. Never an explanation, never an excuse. He had this wonderful way of teaching which was to pull the rug out from under his students' feet whenever he thought they needed it."
Maggie presented herself. She seemed somewhat shy, and perhaps even lacking in self-esteem, yet she asked the most courageous question, given the context. She said something to the effect of, "Roshi, what if I don't care about getting enlightened, can I still practice?"
Roshi very passionately responded, "Just stay honest and open the way you are right now!" I have forgotten most things over the past 40 years, but that moment of Maggie stays in my heart.
When I was first to starting to cook, I asked Suzuki Roshi if he had any advice for me. He said, "When you wash the rice, wash the rice, when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots, when you stir the soup, stir the soup."
In China the Zen schools were formed by the disciples and descendants of the Sixth Patriarch. These disciples and descendants knew each other and considered themselves dharma brothers and would advise their students to leave and go study with another of the Sixth Patriarch's disciples and descendants. Most of them came back to their teacher, but some did not. It is a good idea to give students freedom to study whatever teaching they want.
Phillip asked Suzuki why Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily. Suzuki said, "It's not that they're too delicate, but that you don't know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa."
A student asked about austerity saying Buddhism is the middle way, so why are we so hard on ourselves? Do we have to be in the zendo so much? Shouldn't we get more sleep?
Suzuki blew up. "Spineless! You are spineless! All of you are spineless! You only want a sweet pill! You never want the bitter pill! You say you want the truth. None of you want the truth! If I told you the truth I'd be left sitting here alone listening to the sounds of your cars driving up the road!" He sat silently for a moment and sighed. "I understand you. You think that pain is bad, that suffering is bad. You think that our way is to go beyond suffering, but there is no end to suffering. When I was young I felt very bad for all the suffering that people have. But now I don't feel so bad. Now I see suffering as inescapable. Now I see that suffering is beautiful. You must suffer more."
In the middle of a week-long sesshin, Suzuki broke the silence of zazen one afternoon speaking slowly with pauses.
"Don't move.…Just die over and over.… Don't anticipate.…Nothing can save you now.…Because this is your last moment.…Not even enlightenment will help you now, because you have no other moments.…With no future.…Be true to yourself.…And don't move."
Straight back still mind—not actually straight of course.
A woman said she had a tendency to keep her head down. For two years he said nothing to her about it but one evening he walked up next to her at the beginning of the walking kinhin period between zazen periods. He put his hand under her chin and walked with her holding it up—but not too far up—for the entire ten minutes.
The first time I met Suzuki roshi in dokusan, I was 21. He asked me "What is your plan?"
I told him that I didn't have a plan. He called me a Buddha. When I told him I was going to go to 5:30 PM zazen, he said "I don’t usually go to 5:30 zazen, but if you are going I will go too. During zazen he spoke. He said, "I don't really know anything about yoga, but I know it is important to rock back and forth before we sit." He had heard that I was going to leave ZC to help my friends take care of Baba Hari Dass who taught Astanga yoga. I interpreted his words to mean that he cared whether I stayed or left.
When I left Tassajara, Meg said, don't forget to send care packages. So I sent cookies. Every time someone would go to Tassajara I'd send more cookies to Meg and then at a certain point I thought how come she doesn't send a letter and say how great I am. And then I thought, how selfish I am. I'm not being generous—there are strings attached. I just want something back.
So I went to see Suzuki Roshi and told him about it and he said, "It's alright for you to take care of her, but first you have to take care of yourself!” He said that in a rising voice, and then he got right in my face and said very loudly, "Do you understand!"
A student asked Suzuki, “Is there any practice which is not Buddhist practice?”
Suzuki replied, “When you involved in dualistic idea in your practice, that is the non-Buddhist practice. When you sit alone on the top of mountain, whatever happens is part of your practice. To sit on the mountain means to be a boss of the mountain. That is our practice. To try to climb up to the top of the mountain is not. So you can say various practice is nothing but the Buddhist practice because we are boss of the mountain.”
At Tassajara there was a rule against music but I would go down creek and play music. Once a friend and I were playing improvisational jazz at a little beach by a tree going down stream and Suzuki Roshi came by with a group on a day off on the way to the narrows. Someone said we shouldn’t be playing music and he said, “No no, I want to hear,” and he sat down and listened to us.
To have a so-called enlightenment experience is of course important; but what is more important is to know how to adjust the flame in zazen and in our everyday life.
Suzuki told me once that I should keep sitting and wait for something wonderful to happen. He went on to say that not only would it happen to me, but that it would happen to everyone. "You should continue sitting," he said. "If you continue sitting, this wonderful experience can continue with you. It can be yours forever. But if you have no practice, it will be passing—like a psychedelic experience."
The bath is a place for zazen, "second only to the zendo," said Suzuki.
Once when I was driving Suzuki Roshi to Zen Center from Tassajara, after we'd stopped at the original Thunderbird Bookstore in Carmel Valley and he'd had three cups of coffee and me two, we got back into the car and I was all jacked up and driving down the road and I said, "Suzuki Roshi, may I ask you a question?" and he said "Yes," and I proceeded to beg him to tell me what it is that I should do to understand reality, to get enlightened. I told him that I was totally dedicated to the Way and that whatever he told me, I would do, no matter what it was. I went on and on making sure that he was thoroughly aware of my sincerity and devotion. I turned to him for an answer. He was sound asleep.
Enlightenment is not any particular stage that you attain.
Once in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, "Our way is to practice one step at a time, one breath at a time, with no gaining idea."
Suzuki told an old Chinese folk tale about the difference between heaven and hell. In hell everyone has very short arms and long chopsticks. They sit around tables full of sumptuous food, trying to eat with very long chopsticks, but they can't get the food in their mouths because the chopsticks are too long and their arms too short. They try in agony to feed themselves, to no avail.
In heaven everyone also has short arms and long chopsticks, but they are feeding each other across the table and having a lovely time.
Katagiri Sensei's son Yasuhiko had just started kindergarten. Suzuki asked him how school was going. "Oh, school is terrible," Yasuhiko answered.
"What's wrong?" Suzuki asked.
"Other children say, 'Your father is bald.'"
Suzuki told him to shut his eyes and said, "Touch my head." Yasuhiko did so and Suzuki said, "See, my head is bald, but you can feel the hair. So tell your friends, 'My father isn't bald. If you touch his head you can feel he has hair.'"
When I first started doing serious casting I went to Suzuki Roshi and said I'd like to make a bronze bell for Tassajara. He looked at me and said, "What does the bell sound like?"
I thought about it for a minute and said, "Gee, I don't really know. What should it sound like?"
"Deep," he said, with a deep voice.
Suzuki and his senior student were on the East Coast sharing the same hotel room. The student gave Suzuki a book to look at. Later he woke up and noticed that Suzuki wasn't in his bed. There was a light on in the bathroom. He found Suzuki in there sitting on the toilet reading. He hadn't wanted to disturb his student's sleep.
Suzuki Roshi and I were walking down a path at Tassajara where there's an old slide of sandstone and granite on the steep hillside.
There's a rock I like," he said. It was not a river rock like the ones he usually went for. "Come on let's go get it."
He ran impetuously up the hill kicking loose rocks down on me. I followed him up a ways until we lost our footing and were dancing downhill in a new slide. He lost his sandals in there. I couldn't understand why he'd do something like that.
During one of Suzuki Roshi's last visits to Tassajara in 1971, he gave a very intense short talk in which he stood up from sitting on his zafu and even paced around a bit on the platform beside the altar. He paused and said with great conviction, "I want disciples who will follow me through life and death!"
The gardener held up a leaf and said this leaf is so and so all from a scientific point of view and it was very interesting, and Suzuki Roshi's answer to her was that she didn't understand that leaf.
One day he said, "You probably had a hard time understanding what I said, but some day you will." I thought, that's good enough. With Zen practice I began to understand the process is enjoyable.
Mickey Stunkard had positions with the medical schools at the University of Pennsylvania and at Stanford. He was also a long time student of Rinzai Zen. He had been D.T. Suzuki's doctor in Japan after the war. This is his account of first meeting Suzuki. "So I got in there and I couldn't think of any question, and he was just sitting there quietly. I just burst into tears with this overwhelming feeling, and I said "You're just like Daisetsu Suzuki."
He smiled and he said, "The big Suzuki and the little Suzuki." It broke me up. I don't know why that was so powerful. I started crying, and I cried the rest of the morning. It was so impressive.
There were the glass Marley mugs all over Tassajara, and I was dishwasher, and I could have spent all my time picking them up. I didn’t know what to do about it so I went to Suzuki Roshi and asked him what should I do, and he said, "First thought, best thought, sometimes you pick one up and sometimes you don’t."
I was new to the practice and I asked to see Suzuki Roshi, but I couldn't get the meeting I wanted, but I ran into him before I left, and I said, "Roshi, I wanted to say goodbye, but you're surrounded by all of your students like those black bumblebees around those white hollyhocks in your garden, and I want to thank you for zazen, but how can I ever thank you?"
And he said, "Do zazen." That was it.
I remember being jisha following him across the bridge on the way to zazen. The han was going and he stopped on the bridge and looked up the creek. And then I had a sense that there wasn't any person there, he was totally merged with the creek.
I said to Roshi that sometimes I feel like I’m sitting on my cushion and sometimes I feel like my cushion is sitting on me. And I asked if we are we practicing Buddhism or is Buddhism practicing us?
He answered, "Sometimes I’m standing here before you as your teacher and sometimes I’m sitting there for you as your student. And, we’ll be true friends and travelers together."
And, it was like I got hit with something. After the ceremony I wandered out into the upper garden. I looked at the sky, and I realized I’d never look at that same sky again.
Student: I don't understand who is talking when you are talking, and I don't really understand who is listening when I'm listening.
SR: Yeah. That is true. You know, it is not you or me who is talking, and actually we are not talking about anything. That is very true. So, we say Buddha didn't say anything for forty-nine years, or we say “tongue-less speech,” you know. But it looks like he is talking about something.
Student: How do think single men and single women live together and stay single? What magic do you have?
SR: Give me one more kalpa. I will tell you my magic. Many people have been doing pretty well. There must be some magic. And magic is nothing but zazen practice. If you sit hard enough, you know, you can be single. I am not single, so I cannot prove it. But many teachers have proved how to remain single, how to be authentic monk—Buddhist monk. When the foundation of life is based on individualism, it is not possible. When we believe in the oneness of man and woman, and non-duality, then that is possible. And how to actualize non-duality in our physical life is zazen practice.
Student: You said today we should practice as though our head was on fire, and I wonder how can we practice zazen and still maintain a calm attitude in our practice?
SR: That is just parable, you know. You don't have to feel in that way. If your head is on fire, it is terrible. But usually we are so lazy that Buddha taught us in that way. That's all. That is just parable. You don't have to take literally. You have to make effort to obtain calmness of your mind. Okay?
A student asked about the idea of trying to become a saint and Suzuki called that a very cheap idea, a kind of escape.
A student asked if we could rely on anything. Suzuki answered why not rely on yourself like Buddha taught, that there was nothing else one could rely on. The student was taken aback somewhat and said, "I can rely on myself?"
Suzuki said that's the only thing one can rely on, but he clarified he meant the big self, that relying on someone else is relying on the small self. And then he added, "You know that you can't depend on authority." I recall the popular bumper sticker which read "Question Authority" and for the first time saw that admonition as coming from my teacher and including my own thoughts and assumptions as part of that authority to be questioned.