Tuesday, December 5, 1967
Afternoon Sesshin Lecture, Lecture A
In the previous lecture, I compared zazen practice and usual everyday activity. In usual activity, as you know, our effort is directed to the outside, and our activity is concentrated on some particular things. This activity of particularizing something creates many things. But this kind of creativity at the same time creates some fear. This creativity will result in some feelings— whether it is good or bad. We will have a good or bad feeling.
Before concentration happens to you, your mind is just big and something which you don't know. You do not have any feeling about yourself. But, once you have become involved in something or you are concentrated on something, there your mind will crystallize, and you will have some clear idea of yourself—subjectively and objectively. That subjective crystallized self projects itself onto the objective world, and you have some clear objects within your mind. There you have various feelings about the object. But, as that object is the projected mind of yourself, if that feeling is good or the object is good, you will naturally cling to it. When you cling to some object, it means you are clinging to yourself at the same time because that object is the projected self. And that attachment will result in some fear. If it is good, because you attach to it, you will try not to lose it. But nothing is permanent. Everything is changing. So, even though you cling to it, that object will change, even though you know that, you have fear of losing it.
In this way, the more your mind is particularized or crystallized, you will have at the same time uneasiness. That is what will be the result of your effort in its ordinary sense, while zazen practice will not result in this kind of fear or attachment. Our effort will be directed in the opposite direction. So, the more you practice our way, the more your mind resumes your fundamental state—big, where there is no feeling and where you do not think anything; no discrimination, no attachment and no fear. This is the difference between the effort in your zazen practice and the effort in your ordinary activity.
I remember I said something very extraordinary [laughs]: Even though you die, nothing will happen [laughs]. I said, even if the earth is broken piece by piece, nothing will happen. If you practice zazen, your mind will resume where nothing happens. In our mind, there is no star, no earth, no sun—nothing whatsoever. But, everything will come out from that nothingness, where there is nothing. Even though we die, if we know that all of us arise from this nothingness, to die is to come back [laughs] to the source of life. So, for everything to appear means the possibility of resuming the original state from where we appear.
We live in the realm of time and space. Even if the earth disappears, space exists, time exists. As long as space exists, time exists, something will happen in time and space. So, as long as time and space are there, there is nothing to be afraid of, even if no form appears in this time and space. No one [laughs] can doubt that there is time and space. But according to Dogen Zenji, this kind of understanding is not deep enough, but tentatively we can acknowledge—we can't deny that time and space are here.
So, why do we have fear of losing ourselves? Even though our form will disappear, as long as time and space exist, it is all right. Nothing will happen. One after another something will appear. Actually, that which does not disappear does not exist [laughs]. Because we disappear, we are quite sure about our existence. If we do not disappear, we don't know what we are [laughs]. Maybe more than a ghost [laughs]. If we exist forever, we should be afraid of ourselves [laughs]. You don't know where to go. But fortunately we disappear, we die. As long as we die, it is obvious that we exist in the realm of time and space. So, we are completely safe.
Even if you cannot deal with your fear, nothing happens to you. Even if you go insane, that is all right [laughs, laughter]. Because we are normal, we have that kind of fear. That we have the possibility of going insane is [laughs] lucky—we should feel lucky to have the possibility of going insane. But usually, we are trying not to be insane [laughs]. That is opposite to our zazen effort. We rather [laughs] practice zazen to go insane or enjoy [laughs] the possibility of going insane [laughs, laughter]. It means, we are alive—we are human beings [laughs]. There is no possibility for dogs and cats to be insane [laughs]. Because we are human beings, we should dress up in some way. If we go insane, we will walk around without any clothes. If we do so, you think it may be terrible [laughs]. We don't want to do so [laughs]. That is, you know, being human. But for cats and dogs there is no such fear.
Whatever happens to us after all, if we know what our life is completely, and where we go completely, there is no fear whatsoever. However, you will be very sorry for someone who lost the ordinary activity of their mind, because partly they are insane and partly they are not. They are still a human being. And, so he will make a best effort to be human, but he cannot do that. Even though he wants to be human, for him it is not possible because he lost his control. But, even if you are in the same condition, for you there is nothing to be afraid of. As an old Zen master said, “If fire comes, you should be burned. If water comes, you should be drowned.” That is our way.
So, whatever happens to you, as long as you know the bottom of suffering, the bottom of fear, you feel quite safe. When you do not know the bottom of it, there you have real fear. You don't know what to do with yourself. Even before you die, you don't know how to live in this moment, when you think of it. But, as long as you know what will happen to you after your death, there is nothing to be afraid of. Our practice is to resume our original state of being which is universal: all the beings in the world or in the cosmic scale in time and space.
Dogen Zenji said, “Think unthinkable.” We think, but the direction of our thinking is opposite. Instead of trying to attain something, we try to forget. Instead of to keep thinking, we try to stop thinking. What you will acquire through this practice will be tremendous, and every activity should be based on this kind of readiness of your mind.
All the practice—Rinzai or Soto, or five schools of Zen, or seven schools of Zen, and many other practices—should be based on this power. In ancient times, people practiced or applied various ways in our practice. Sometimes they meditated on a white skeleton; sometimes they meditated on water; or sometimes they practiced zazen to obtain detachment—thinking of a filthy bag containing [laughs], lungs and stomach and many nasty things within it.1 Even a beautiful [laughs] person contains many things [laughs] in her.
So, we are all a bag of filthy [laughing] things [laughter]. To forget—someone who cannot get married—they sit thinking about [laughter] things like— .2 Actually they did. There are many kinds of practice for us. You are just laughing at them, but if you are in the same situation, you would do it. But in America, this kind of thing will never happen [laughter]. All those practices, when based on this true way of zazen, they work. But, as long as a practice is directed to one way only, it doesn't work.
Seeking attainment by this way of practice, something is missing, and that is only delusion for us. It is not real. So, true understanding of zazen is necessary; whatever practice you apply, if you do not understand our way of life as it is.
Evolution of living beings is going on in the course of specializing our original nature. Something like our human life started from a kind of amoeba in a muddy pond [laughs] in which something lived, and they divided their body in two and four and eight. In that way our life started. The more our life became specialized as a human being or animal or plant, the more complicated our life activity became. So a human being has a more complicated life. Human beings have the more complicated life. To be divided or to be specialized means to evolve ourselves—evolution of life going in this way.
Nowadays we have very complicated lives. But in this direction, as long as we are making efforts to reach the moon or Venus, if that is the only way we know, there is no hope for us to attain liberation. The year before last, I went to Yosemite and saw a waterfall.3 I was watching it. It was one sheet of white pearls hanging on a rock. But a part of it separated from the rock. Part of the water separated from the rock and was falling down. When I saw it, I felt very sorry for the [laughs] separated water. It was almost going to be mist, but still water. If it became completely mist, there would be no problem [laughs] for it. But it was not mist yet, but water. It had to travel one thousand feet, all the way down to the bottom. If I didn't see that separated water, I wouldn’t have had that kind of feeling for the water. But separation from the original source creates some feelings for us.
The evolution of life creates many problems for us. I am not regretful about enjoying this civilization. I enjoy it very much. But, at the same time, we should know that there is no complete freedom or complete renunciation in this kind of civilization. Only when we know that even though evolution of life brought our individual life to this point where we have many fears, we know how to resume our original source of life. Then we can enjoy this civilization at the top of evolution of life activity. Without this kind of understanding, we cannot enjoy anything. When you are involved in it you may be all right, but what will happen the next time? You will be very regretful.
In zazen, our mind should not be in a state of contamination or in a state of sleepiness. If we are sleeping, we cannot practice zazen. But, on the other hand, if our mind is in a state of agitation or a state of extreme joy, we cannot practice our way. And describing this extreme joy, Chinese people used two characters. One is culmination of joy. And one character is regretfulness [laughs]. This describes how if the culmination of joy happens to us, the next moment will be regretful [laughs].
So, if we do not know how to resume the source of life, what we will have is culminating joy and regretfulness. We cannot enjoy our life in its true sense without this practice. That is why Dogen Zenji put emphasis on this practice. It does not mean to slight other practices, but if we forget this point, whatever practice it may be, it doesn't work. It doesn't help us in its true sense. On the other hand, if we understand this point, whatever way of practice you apply, it will work.
In this way, to open up your mind for everything and to be ready for accepting various difficulties is the purpose of zazen.
1 Suzuki-rōshi may be referring to a traditional meditative practice of concentrating on the body (including a beautiful one) as an object subject to decay in order to diminish greed or craving.
2 Possibly: "For someone who is celibate, to forget about their attraction to others they follow this practice."
3 See also "Nirvana, the Waterfall," in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, p. 93
Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Adam Tinkham and Bill Redican (4/2/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (10/2020).