Discussions of Zen Buddhism in all shapes and sizes.
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From the Introduction to
The Life and Zen Teachings of
By David Chadwick
One night in February of 1968, I sat among fifty black-robed fellow students, mostly young Americans, at Zen Mountain Center, Tassajara Springs, ten miles inland from Big Sur, California, deep in the mountain wilderness. The kerosene lamplight illuminated our breath in the winter air of the unheated room.
Before us the founder of the first Zen Buddhist monastery in the Western Hemisphere, Shunryu Suzuki, had concluded a lecture from his seat on the altar platform. “Thank you very much,” he said softly, with a genuine feeling of gratitude. He took a sip of water, cleared his throat, and looked at his students. “Is there some question?” he asked, just loud enough to be heard above the sound of the creek gushing in the darkness outside.
I bowed, hands together, and caught his eye.
“Hai?” he said, meaning yes.
“Suzuki –Roshi, I’ve been listening to your lectures for years,” I said, “and I really love them, and they’re very inspiring, and I know that what you’re talking about is actually very clear and simple. But I must admit I just don’t understand. I love it, but I feel like I could listen to you for a thousand years and still not get it. Could you just please put it in a nutshell? Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?”
Everyone laughed. He laughed. What a ludicrous question. I don’t think any of us expected him to answer it. He was not a man you could pin down, and he didn’t like to give his students something definite to cling to. He had often said not to have “some idea” of what Buddhism was.
But Suzuki did answer. He looked at me and said,
Then he asked for another question.
The Life and Zen Teachings of
In the spring of 1968, the manuscript for Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
was turned over to Trudy Dixon, who had been an editor for Wind Bell,
the modest periodical which featured Suzuki’s lectures.
From the book:
Trudy took to the task even though she had two small children, had undergone surgery for breast cancer, and was in poor health. She threw herself completely into it, listening to the original tapes, painstakingly working on the material word by word, thought by thought, organizing it and conferring often with Richard (Baker) and occasionally with Suzuki directly.
Trudy Dixon had been doing graduate studies in philosophy at U. C. Berkeley, specializing in Heidegger and Wittgenstein, when her husband Mike first took her to hear Suzuki lecture in 1962. They arrived late and stood in the back of the zendo. Suzuki embarked upon an unusual line of thought that evening. He compared the practice of Zen with the study of philosophy – expressing one’s truth with one’s whole body and mind instead of thinking and being curious about the meaning of life. He said he had a good friend in Japan who was a philosopher. Ultimately his intellectual pursuits didn’t satisfy him, and he killed himself. At exactly that point in the lecture, Suzuki looked intently at Trudy. She backed up a few steps. Trudy could not get that experience out of her mind. She and Mike continued coming to lectures and soon decided to start practicing with Suzuki. They became close disciples.
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Trudy put her whole being into expressing the essence of Suzuki’s teaching. After she passed the manuscript on to Richard, she concentrated on taking care of herself at home and dealing with her approaching death. She remained cheerful on the outside, but her mind was possessed by fear, which she revealed to her analyst. After an operation her lungs filled with liquid, and she couldn’t breathe. She struggled for breath with all the energy she could find until she went beyond thoughts, words, and fear into what she called breath-struggle samadhi. After she had undergone five difficult days of recovery, Mike brought Suzuki and his wife Okusan to visit her. She said the sight of them was like seeing the sun rise for the first time.
She went to the Tassajara mountain monastery and fasted. There she had a powerful, joyous experience that included life and death, health and illness, fear and courage. She said she finally stopped fighting and was “accommodating the enemy”, as Suzuki had described it. On the verge of death Trudy had been reborn. Her analyst said that at her next visit she seemed like a new person, a fearless and radiant woman. To her husband, caretakers, and friends she became an inspiration. “My self, my body,” she wrote, “is dissolved in phenomena like a sky’s rainbow caught in a child’s soap bubble.”
One day after zazen, Betty Warren visited Trudy. She arrived wishing there was something she could do. Trudy burned away Betty’s pity with one phrase, referring to her illness as “this blessed cancer.”
On Mondays Suzuki visited Trudy at her home after speaking at the Marin Zen group. One day after such a visit he returned to the car with Bob Halpern. Suzuki’s eyes were wet. “Now there’s a real Zen Master,” he said of Trudy, as he sank into his seat.
On July 1 Trudy’s brother drove her to Tassajara. They shared a cup of clear creekwater with Suzuki, slept outside in the moonlight, and returned the next day to the hospital. A couple of days later she returned to Tassajara and practiced prone zazen lying on her back in the zendo with Suzuki and the students. On the eighth she and her teacher returned to San Francisco.
On July 9, 1969, Mike called Suzuki and told him that Trudy had just died in the hospital – too quickly for Suzuki to have gotten there. Suzuki fell apart crying on the phone, which disturbed Mike – he thought of Suzuki as imperturbable. Suzuki came to the hospital and was composed by then.
At Trudy’s funeral two days later Suzuki was uncharacteristically emotional. He cried and said, “I never thought I’d have a disciple this great. Maybe I never will again.” Then he delivered a eulogy:
Go, my disciple. You have completed your practice for this life and acquired a genuine warm heart, a pure and undefiled Buddha mind, and joined our sangha. All that you have done in this life and in your past lives became meaningful in the light of the Buddha mind, which was found so clearly within yourself, as your own. Because of your complete practice, your mind has transcended far beyond your physical sickness, and it has taken full care of your sickness like a nurse.
A person of joyful mind is contented with his lot. Even in adversity he will see bright light. He finds the Buddha’s place in different circumstances, easy and difficult. He feels pleasure even in painful conditions, and rejoices. For us, for all who have this joy of Buddha mind, the world of birth and death is nirvana.
The compassionate mind is the affectionate mind of parents. Parents always think of the growth and welfare of their children, to the neglect of their own circumstances. Our scriptures say, “Buddha mind is the mind of great compassion.”
The magnanimous mind is as big as a mountain and as wide as an ocean. A person of magnanimous mind is impartial. He walks the middle way. He is never attached to any side of the extreme aspect of things. The magnanimous mind works justly and impartially.
Now you have acquired the Buddha mind and become a real disciple of Buddha. At this point, however, I express my true power . . . . .
Then Suzuki let out a long, mighty roar of grief that echoed throughout the cavernous auditorium.
Shunryu Suzuki - quotes from "Crooked Cucumber"
"Our mind should be free from traces of the past, just like the flowers of spring."
"When my master and I were walking in the rain, he would say, 'Do not walk so fast, the rain is everywhere'."
"Our practice should be based on the idea of selflessness. Selflessness is very difficult to understand. If you try to be selfless, that is already a selfish idea. Selflessness will be there when you do not try anything. When you are practicing with a good teacher, you will naturally be not so selfish."
"Moment after moment,
completely devote yourself
to listening to your inner voice."
"When a tree stands up by itself, we call that tree a buddha."
"We should practice with a beginner's real innocence, devoid of ideas of good or bad, gain or loss."
"As long as you seek for something, you will get the shadow of reality and not reality itself."
"Just to be there in the corner of the garden is enough."
Bodhidharma said, 'I don't know.' 'I don't know' is the first principle. Do you understand? The first principle cannot be known in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, because it is both right and wrong."
"We get no letters from the world of emptiness, but when you see the plant flower, when you hear the sound of bamboo hit by the small stone, that is a letter from the world of emptiness."
"Buddhism is transmitted from warm hand to warm hand."
"There is no special path which is true."
"The ancient bodhisattvas were not afraid of, but found joy in failure, poverty and death -- and in doing small things."
"Nirvana is seeing one thing through to the end."
During the question and answer period after a lecture, someone said to
Suzuki-roshi, "Here I sit near the end of this session energized and
thinking, there is a lot of power in this practice." Suzuki
replied, "Don't use it."
Jack Van Allen
Once Suzuki Roshi was asked by someone, "How much ego do you need?" and
Suzuki said, "Just enough so that you don't step in front of a bus."
Beings need guidance, as long as they believe themselves to be beings, no?
I'm sorry, Brother, but I don't understand the intent of your comment above. It may be enough for you, but there also may be others hearing this for the first time, and it may serve them just as well as some of the noodling coming our way from Western Mass.. (no disrespect intended)
It has been my experience that whenever I have felt compelled to respond to others' posts in a similar fashion as Genkaku has to your Suzuki Roshi quotes, it's been about me hoping and wanting to be viewed by others as clever, witty, and sharply insighted (moreso than others), and moreso especially than the one I'm responding to. Sometimes it seemed that the more I thought I understood about the 'loftier' teachings, the less patience I had with others whom I felt didn't have as great an insight into them. Instead of raising my awareness and deepening my compassion, it opened me up to becoming more critical, and much more arrogantly disposed in my communications. This is how it has been experienced by myself during various phases of my life. It has also been my experience that whenever I've felt the need to write, 'No disrespect intended,' I was always fully aware that it was going to be a manner of disrespect communicated purposely to the other person, and to what they were writing or saying. Of course, I cannot know the mind of Genkaku, or his motives, but I do know my own mind and motives of behavior. More often than not, whenever I wrote responses of witty, clever things to others' posts, it was actually me saying, 'Look at me! Everyone look at me and see how cool and smart and knowing I am!' I've been known to be a real wise-guy in my life.
I love especially that phrase, "the rain is everywhere."...
As far as I can tell, the aim of the teaching I received from Suzuki Roshi is to point back to ourselves, right where we are in our practice, otherwise it truly is all just nice words. There's a certain kind of condescension that's subtle, but not unusual for practitioners who've been around for a while, when it comes to hearing some of the written legacy repeatedly, but this attitude is not Beginner's Mind, where things can be heard freshly. I have discovered in my own practice how easy it is to have it go in one ear and out the other, with it never really being allowed to open and reveal the fruit within. It's important for practitioners at every stage to keep vigilance for the arrogance of being a knower.
The luminous life and teachings of Suzuki Roshi never cease to amaze me. It's like rain. No matter how many years I live, whenever the rain falls I feel refreshed and alive. Ah, Yes, stop whatever and listen to the rain for awhile.
Practitioners who cultivate the personal realization of buddha knowledge dwell in the bliss of whatever is present and do not abandon their practice.
I have never encountered a teaching on zazen that surpasses this,
which I was fortunate to receive early on in my practice, and has
stuck with me shining like a trusty beacon ever since:
Suzuki Roshi is my favorite Roshi. I keep the book his student's wrote, "To Shine One Corner of The World" next to me. It is snippets of their experiences with him that point to a clear and luminous mind. He really does shine one corner of the world.
hrtbeat7, that is also my favorite passage from the book. I take the "swinging door" analogy with me whenever I begin a sit...sometimes, I even get to the point of dropping that burdensome extra "I".
Here is a snippet from the above book that points to the arrogance we can all experience and also points to the importance of Beginner's Mind:
The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words. They’re not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are illusions. Freeing oneself from words is liberation.
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