Calmness

August 26, 1965
Thursday morning lecture
Los Altos
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, p. 121

In a Zen poem it says, “after the wind has wind stopped, I see a flower falling. Because of a singing bird, I find the mountain calmer.” When something happens in the realm of calmness, we find calmness. Before anything happens to the calmness, we do not feel the calmness. A Japanese saying says, “for the moon there is a cloud. For the flower we have wind.” Usually, it means the evanescence of life which we find it very difficult to live in. But in the evanescence of life, we can find the joy of eternal life. When you see part of the moon covered by a cloud, you will find the roundness of the moon. When you see a clear moon without any clouds or anything, trees or weeds, you do not feel the moon is as round as when you see it through something.

When you sit, you do not feel anything; you just sit. You are in the complete calmness of your mind. But in everyday life, you will be encouraged by the calmness of the sitting. So actually, you will find the value of Zen in everyday life, rather than when you sit. Even though you find the value of Zen in everyday life, we should not neglect our zazen [laughs]. Even if you do not feel anything [laughs] when you sit, if you do not have the experience of Zen, you cannot find anything [laughs]; you just find weeds or trees or clouds [laughs]. A cloud without the moon [laughs]. A weed without the moon means nothing. That’s just a weed. That is why you are always complaining about something.

For Zen students, weeds which most people do not care for so much, are a treasure. In this way, we have the art of life, artistic life. Whatever you do, that is the art of life for Zen students.

So, when you practice zazen, you should not try to attain anything. You should just sit in complete calmness. You should not rely on anything. Your body should be straight. And your spine should be straight without leaning over or leaning against something. You should just keep your body straight. It means you do not rely on anything. You just sit. In this way, physically and mentally, you will obtain complete calmness. When you rely on something, or when you try to do something in zazen, it is dualistic. That is not complete calmness.

This is very valuable experience, and this experience will encourage your effort in your everyday life. In our everyday life we usually try to do something or try to change something into some other thing. Or we try to attain something. But trying to attain something is already the art of life—an expression of our true nature. Trying to change something into some other thing is already the art of life. We should find out the meaning of our effort itself, before we attain something.

So Dogen, Zen master, says, “We should obtain enlightenment before we attain enlightenment.” Before we attain enlightenment, we should obtain it. When you are trying to do something, that is enlightenment. It is an expression of our true nature. It is not after attaining enlightenment that we find the true meaning of enlightenment. When we are in difficulty, there we have enlightenment. When we are in distress, there we have enlightenment. So, he says, “Before we attain enlightenment, we should obtain enlightenment.”  

“When we are in defilement, we should attain composure,” he says—we should have composure. In defilement—composure will be experienced only in our defilement. This point is very, very important. By continuing this kind of effort, you can improve yourself. Even though it is little by little, you can improve yourself. But if you just try to attain something, or to make some contrivance to acquire something, you cannot work on it properly, because you have no art of technique [laughs]. You lose yourself in your effort. That is why you cannot achieve anything, and you just suffer in your difficulties. But if you find out, if you do it in an appropriate way, based on your inmost nature, whatever you do, even if it is not perfect, you can achieve it little by little. You can make some progress.

So, Dogen, Zen master, says, “You should obtain enlightenment before you attain enlightenment.” Which is important: to attain enlightenment, or to obtain enlightenment before you attain enlightenment? Which is important: to make an effort to save a million dollars, or to enjoy your life in your efforts, little by little, even if it is impossible for you to save a million dollars [laughs] but you can enjoy your everyday life? Which is important for us: to be successful, or to find some meaning in our effort to be successful? If you do not realize this point, you cannot even practice zazen. But if you have this point, you will have the true pleasure of life.

Thank you very much.

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Los Altos manuscript box transcript. Exact copy entered into disc by GM and emailed to D. Chadwick 06-06-08. Verbatim version created 1-16-2022 by Peter Ford based on Engage Wisdom audio and transcript by Shundo David Haye. Lightly edited for readability by Peter Ford 1/2022.

Note:  Date of lecture noted as actually August 26 by DC/08.