questions

Sesshin Lecture, Lecture D
Wednesday, July 28, 1965, 6 PM
Sokoji, San Francisco

SR: I cannot think of anything to talk about for this evening. So if you have some questions, please ask me, and I will talk about your questions, and then we will have discussion. Will you give me some subject to talk about?

Student A: You spoke on a large patience and a small patience [laughs] and elaborated on the large patience but not on the small patience. Could you make that all clear?

SR: Oooh. Reverend Katagiri's name [Dainin] is big patience. [Laughing, laughter ongoing.] So maybe better for him to explain what it is. And small patience. Okay.

Student A: I didn't know about that. I thought that big patience was something to do with what the Buddha was [6-8 words] patience. [Laughs.] But I think there's probably a small amount of patience that is in the way of the other ideas that the passions are bogus [?]. And it occurs to me that if you're too patient, then you—it [2-3 words unclear], you know?

SR: It makes sense. [1 word.] I think so. Did you say big patience? Small patience is like if you have physical suffering or—

Student A: I felt that was the large patience.

SR: —and mental suffering, to be patient is small patience. And big patience is something different from being patient with your physical or mental distress or suffering. I think this makes sense. That is small patience, but big patience is to be patient with not knowing anything, or with not achieving anything. This is big patience. We want to achieve something in some visible way. And we want some results, and we want to utilize our religious way to help, when even small patience does not help you. Do you understand what I want to say?

You know, just to sit is big patience with [laughs] not achieving anything. Just sit. And to repeat the same thing over and over again, day after day, just to repeat things over and over. We say even though Buddhism is impossible to attain, we should attain it. This is big patience, knowing that it is impossible. But we cannot help doing so with big patience. That is not patience even. That is to do something because you cannot help doing so.

Even though sentient beings are innumerable, we should save them all [laughs]. This is impossible because if the sentient beings are innumerable, it is impossible to save them all. Isn't that so? Even though we know that, that it is impossible, we cannot help trying to save them all. That is the absolute of what I called inmost request, absolute request. Something—I don't know— someone or who it is, but someone tells us to do so. And we hear that voice always, so I cannot help doing so because someone is telling me to do so, or someone is telling me, “Please help me.” So we cannot help doing so, not because of “this is Buddhism” or not because of “this is big patience,” not because of what Buddha said. It is an unconditional request for us. We have this kind of nature. If it is supreme teaching, absolute teaching, it is impossible to achieve. It is impossible to understand it. This is big patience, and this is not even a matter of big or small. It may be very small—sometimes may be the smallest patience.

Student B: How do we listen, and how do we hear the inner request?

SR: Well, we always hear our inmost request incessantly. As long as we live, we always listen to our voice of conscience.

Student C: How do you answer people who argue that big patience requires that they ignore their inmost request, and instead simply conform to the world they find themselves in. Say, you know, like a man with a job where he admits his neediness or, you know, who kind of—puts out some kind of customary task and he admits it—how can he—he says that this is big patience this is darkness—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student C: How do you answer it?

SR: That is why we have teaching [Laughs].

Student C: Yeah.

SR: You know, they ignore it usually. Almost all people ignore our true existence, and some superficial understanding of self is—what do they mean by “self”? They ignore true self. “I'm not doing Zen,” they say. “I'm not doing something wrong. I am always doing something right.” [Laughs.] That is what they will say. But if you listen to your inmost voice or voice of conscience, it is not so simple.

Student D: Is it something like reciting sutras? Often we ourselves are making so much noise, so many sounds—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student D : —going out that we can't hear this voice within. We have to stop making noise and start making noises on one level to be able to listen on the deeper level.

SR: Yeah. Yeah. That is why we say you should not recite sutras. Your true nature should recite sutras. Big mind recites, small self should not recite sutras. The self which is universal to everyone should recite sutras with people.

Here when we say, “I say it like this,” here is already some duality. Small self or big self. But actually the small self does not exist. That which exists is big self only. We just create small self, and we say this is right [laughs]. But it is not right. So first of all we should be free from, or we should be emancipated from the idea of small self. That is why Buddha says, “Every constituent existence is doomed to suffer.”

Every constituent object, everything which we see, which we feel, which we can understand,  because it is not true, it should be full of suffering, suffering itself because it is dualistic. When there is duality, there is suffering. In this sense, everything appears in the form of suffering, and when you understand that is not true existence, there is no more suffering. If you find out that is just a dream [laughs], there is no suffering. The dream you created or you have dreamed of, then there is no more suffering.

So first of all we should understand the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths explains why we suffer, and this world is full of suffering. And this intelligent world is full of suffering. The world we seek is full of suffering. And nirvana—when you find out that world full of suffering is not real, then you have nirvana. And how to attain nirvana, there is a way to attain nirvana. So those are four noble truths.

Why Buddha told us the Four Noble Truths is to destroy our easy way of understanding life: scientific understanding or philosophical understanding. That understanding is the easy way. Without any effort you can read books [laughs]. Even if you are lying down, you can study [laughs, laughter]. Very easy. It is very easy, but it actually will not help you.

If you realize it will help you if you do it [laughs], then that is right understanding. But when you read some interesting philosophy, when you are interested in something unusual, you feel as if you are doing the right thing [laughs], but you are not doing the right thing. A book is a book, and your life is your life [laughs]. And if you don't know what to do, you may take a risk. That's very easy [laughs, laughter]. And that is the usual way, our usual way. And we think this is the most scientific and intellectual way. “If I have LSD, there will be no need to practice zazen” [laughs, laughter]. Oh my! [Laughs, laughter.] It is very difficult to make them realize what they are doing. When they think they are right, it is very difficult to let them know why that is wrong. They may find out what they are doing some day, but when it is too late [laughs].

Student E: What did you say about suffering? You said that individual beings are suffering, and do you mean that it is the only form in which they're able to recognize their original nature? Or what kind of a form is suffering? How can we know it? And how can we see through it?

SR: Why we suffer is because everything which will give you suffering is something created by your mind. Everything you see is something created by your mind. When we say “suffering,” that is your suffering. Your suffering comes from something which is created by your mind. You are participating in creating some suffering. May not be just you, but you are acting the main part of the play. And you create suffering. And you suffer from it.

Originally, there is no suffering. Everything is going in its own way, and there should not be any suffering. But you create some suffering. Everything is changing, and everything is growing, but sometimes you want to stop it, and you want to own that flower, like an artificial flower. That is the cause of suffering, and you create that suffering. If you let the flower as it is, you have no suffering. When you say “suffering,” it is already a flower which is created by you. It is pretty hard to accept the flower which is growing or which is falling. When you see the flower, you feel as if it will exist forever [laughs]. But actually it doesn't.

Student F: How can you meditate when your legs are aching? [Laughter.]

SR: Hmm?

Student F: Is that all in the mind?

SR: Just be patient [laughs, laughter].

Student G: Master? What are the differences between prolonged sitting and sitting a short time each day? Are the results different in character and form?

SR: Prolonged?

Student G: Zazen over a long period of time—as compared to a short period each day.

SR: Uh-huh. Which is better, you mean?

Student G: Which is different? What are the differences in character and quality of the result?

SR: Result?

Student G: Is one better than the other? [General laughter.] I take that word back. What is the difference?

SR: A long period of zazen is very difficult. A short period of zazen is very difficult too. It is rather troublesome to do every morning [laughs, laughter]. So the result will be different, but difficulty is the same [laughs, laughter]. You know, a long period of zazen is easier, I think, easier if you have time. This is much easier, and you will have a deeper understanding. You have the possibility to clear up all of your misunderstandings. You will stop creating suffering [laughs, laughter]. But, if you only know that you are creating suffering for yourself, this is good enough, and it will work pretty well. “Oh, I am creating suffering. I have created a difficult problem.” When you say so, you are already out of the suffering. You are not completely involved in the suffering you have.

So even if your one hand is out of suffering that's enough, even though you are not completely free from suffering. Your one eye will be enough to see what you are doing. You can see by one eye [laughs, laughter]. You will say, “Oh!” [Laughs, laughter.] “Oh my. I am creating suffering. There is no need to open two eyes.”

Before you open one eye, it may take time. But for someone who suffers a lot, it is not so difficult. That is why we do not help people so easily. We wait for when they are doing best to completely confront the problem.

Student H: In trying to follow your inmost request in behaving, you know, in expressing yourself, it would be very easy to confuse your strongest emotional feeling—wouldn't it?—with your inmost request—

SR: Yeah.

Student H: —or to confuse your most logical pattern of thinking with it. And I'm afraid of kidding myself, of thinking that just because I feel strongly about something that this is really what I should do. And so is your inmost request something quite beyond emotion and logic, either one?

SR: Yes, it is. But you will find actual inmost request in emotional feeling. Logical feeling is secondary.

Student H: Because I've been brought up being told that I shouldn't follow my emotions, and I should follow your logical thinking. I never know which.

SR: Yeah. But, the emotional—whether it is good or bad, you have it, and that is strongest. It is easier to find out what is your inmost request through the strongest function of your mind. It is easier. And if you find your true nature, in your strongest emotional feelings, you will be very much encouraged by it. But, if you find what you mean by inmost request by logical thinking, you think, “I understand that is inmost request.” That's all. When you understand it, it will be forgotten, and you will think: “In this book, someone says inmost request is something such-and-such. So when it is necessary, if I read that part I can understand it.” This kind of understanding will not help you at all. And in cases of necessity, you will forget all about it [laughs].

But, if you find your inmost request by struggling or with tears, or with difficulty, you will never forget about it. And the inmost request is in emotional feeling rather than logical reason. The logical understanding of inmost request is philosophy—philosophy of the true nature. And the understanding of inmost request by your tears, is actual feeling—actual—it makes sense to you. And you can apply it. You will never forget about it. So we should know that there is truth in our utmost distress or suffering.

We should not forget that there is truth in suffering. And we should not try to escape from it. We should fight it out [laughs]. It is possible. When you hesitate, you will be lost. When you face it, you will win. That is true [laughs].

Student I: Roshi, could you say that again? I couldn't quite catch it. The last two sentences.

SR: If you hesitate to accept it, you will be lost. There is a limit, or there is time for the suffering to stop. But true nature will never cease to act. The terminology [laughs] of delusion is something which is not real. The idea that we can put an end to suffering is delusion. And true nature is something which is eternal. True nature will not be lost. And through suffering you can have direct experience of your true nature, how strong it is. Your true nature is much, much stronger than the suffering you created—“small you” created. True nature is incomparably greater than small mind.

Student H: About the pain that you feel, the physical pain, do you mean that you create that because you think that you're alone in it? I mean, it is real, isn't it? [Laughter.]

SR: Yeah, it is real [laughs, laughter]. If you accept it, it is real. If you don't accept it, it is not real. “My legs are painful.” That's all. If you put a period, “I am painful.” That's real. But if you say, “I am painful, so what shall I do?” Or, [laughs] “Whether I should escape from it.” Or, “Is there any way to escape from it?” Then the pain you mean will become bigger and bigger [laughs]. That is “big patience.” To accept the pain as it is, is big patience.

Moreover, your body is not yours at all [laughs], in its true sense. “True you” has no form or—it has no form or no body to have pain. “True you” has no pain at all.  Sometimes your true nature will tell your physical body to kill itself [laughs], if it is necessary. That is true self. If you have fully enlightened in your true self, whether your body is painful or not is not the problem. Religious mind is so strong. If it is necessary, they will burn their physical body.1 It's all right [laughs]. When your true nature tells you to burn up your body, that's all right. It is so strong. It is much stronger than emotion. By emotion you cannot do that. Just your true nature can do it.

But when I speak in this way, you will have some misunderstanding. That is why we have “cover” for us. That is why we have the Shobogenzo. What is true religion? Just to burn yourself, just to jump into a fire is not religion. Sometimes a crazy person will do that [laughs]. So right understanding of our inmost nature is very important. That is why we have a teacher. That is why we have the Shobogenzo. All right?

Student J: What if a person doesn't believe there is a true nature and is immersed in suffering: physical, mental, and emotional suffering? [6-8 words unclear. Maybe: “The passions do not leave her.]

SR: Yeah.

Student J: Then what?

SR: Worse, yeah—if the people say, “I am right,” that is the worst [laughs]. “I am not doing anything wrong.” Those are the worst people. Those people will create various problems in this world. They are creating problems without knowing they are creating them. So there is no way to persuade them.

Student J: But suppose you have to work with them.

SR: Yeah.

Student J: Then what?

SR: Yeah. That is why—

Student J: [2-3 words] so doubtful.

SR: That is why we have to have a clear understanding of our life. When we work with people like that, we have to have a clear understanding of what is suffering and what is our true nature. If one person understands it clearly, many people will be enlightened. But without enlightenment, to help people means nothing. Don't you think so? We say, “a blind [laughs] man leading blind men.” [Laughing, laughter.] Even if they have a lantern, it doesn't work, because the leader is blind and the people are blind. So a lantern does not work. They say, “Ah, we don't want anything. We can walk by ourselves,” and build a bridge into a river or a ditch.

Student K: But everyone helps me every day, and not everyone is enlightened.

SR: Uh-huh. Yeah. It is so. If you are enlightened, everyone will help you. If you are not enlightened [laughs, laughter], even though everyone helps, you will not be helped. This  point is very important. If you are enlightened, actually everyone, whether or not they are enlightened, will help you.

Student L: You mentioned crazy people a minute ago. What happens to the true nature of somebody who goes crazy? Where is it?

SR: Where is it? [Laughs, laughter.] [4 words unclear.] They have it, but if I ask them, “Where is it?”—they will find out. “Oh!” [Laughs, laughter.] It is obvious that they have a true nature. There is no wonder, no doubt in it.

Student L: Could somebody who had had mental suffering like that practice zazen? Could they improve that way or happen to be brought to know that they possess a true nature?

SR: Practice, just to sit is maybe enough. When they can sit they are pretty good already. When they think, “I am right there is no need for me to practice a religious way”—if they say so, that's the worst. When you think it is necessary for you to practice zazen, that is a big improvement. Just to try to sit is good enough.

But most people are attached to some result of the practice. That is why they do not attain enlightenment. Enlightenment is right here in your practice. They think by practice something will result. But actually enlightenment is right here. That is already a great improvement, and you have at least one eye to see yourself. And one eye will tell you, you are not so good [laughs, laughter]. That is a big enlightenment. When you think that you are not so good, your true nature starts to work.

Student M: How do you distinguish between feelings of “I'm not so good”—that I mean [laughs]— it's not necessarily a good thing to think that because it can be also—generally it's a fantasy too. You know, “I'm no good.”

SR: Oh. Fantasy—I don't mean fantasy. It should follow the practice. “I'm not so good, so I should improve myself.” That is not fantasy.

Student M: But I mean—

SR: You know, fantasy: “I'm not so good. Ohh.” This is fantasy. “I'm not so good.” This is our practice [laughs].2

In Japan we had a clinic for the insane, and in that clinic the patient worked all day long. Even if they have nothing to do, they should pick up dust, or [laughs, laughter] clean floors, or repair shoji. They must find something to do as long as they stay in the clinic. That way helps patients very much. When you are lying in bed in this way, “What is it?” or “What should I do?” “Why am I so bleak?” In this way, there is no time. There is no hope to recover. You should set your true nature in activity—set your machine in motion. That is the only way.

There was a famous novelist, Toson Shimazaki.3 He is quite famous. And he said—on the opening page he said, “If you want to raise your mind, you should raise your body.” I was very much interested, very much encouraged by his words when I was quite young. At that time, I couldn't go to college because I had to help my master. I couldn't go to college, and I didn't know what to do. I wanted to go, but [laughs] I had to help him. So sometimes I, did not know what to do. And I read those two lines, “If you want to raise your mind, you should raise your body.” That is why he went abroad. But I thought that is very good, so I must do something. If I think, “What shall I do?”—I would suffer more. So I must work hard: cooking, or cleaning, or sweeping the garden. I stopped thinking about myself, and I worked, and worked, and worked. And that helped me very much.

This is a very important point: to fight it out with our body [laughs], not by mind, not by thinking, not by wandering about. To find something which we should do at that moment is the best way to raise our mind. To raise our mind means to realize big mind, not small mind. Small mind is wandering about. But for big mind there is no place or no time to wander about. It is too big [laughs] to wander about [laughs]. Too big. If you want to realize that unperturbability of your spirit, you have to raise your body. There is enlightenment.
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1 In June of 1963, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc immolated himself as Buddhist opposition to the Ngo Dinh Diem government gained momentum. His death was discussed widely in the United States.

2 In the first quote, Suzuki uses a despairing tone of voice. In the second, he speaks affirmatively.

3 Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943): born in the countryside, he spent his formative years in Tokyo from the age of eight. In his semi-autobiographical first-person novels, he evoked lost links to his early childhood. The novel Suzuki-roshi referred to may be Before the Dawn, The Broken Commandment, The Family, or Shinsei.

Source: Original City Center tape. Transcribed by Diana Bartle and Bill Redican (5/24/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (4/2021).