nature of our practice

Tuesday, December 5, 1967, Lecture B
Evening Sesshin Lecture

The nature of our practice, as I have told you over and over, and the point where our effort should be directed, for the beginner looks very discouraging and frustrating. Someone said  [laughs] Zen is like standing on your head [laughs]. It is simple [laughing], but to keep standing is very difficult. In dokusan someone said this. I think it is very true; to stand on your head should not be difficult. But to keep standing is too difficult.

If you don't know what true practice is, and where you should put your effort—the nature of our practice being based on human nature or the nature of human culture—you cannot make appropriate effective effort in helping yourself and others. The kind of instruction given by Dogen Zenji is like a lighthouse on a stormy ocean. When the sea is very calm, you like to have a storm [laughs]. And  most young people have this kind of feeling—this kind of resistance.

When we have this kind of resistance, to observe something quite common is difficult because it is not so encouraging. But, if you are in a very critical situation, you will find out your true nature.

I talked about being “insane” last lecture, this afternoon.1 Most people who are insane, I think, at first their symptom is to express the feeling of resistance in various ways. And, they cannot help resisting what people say, what people may like them to do. If you say “stay at home,” they will run away. If you don't say so, they might stay home, but the moment you say “please stay—you should stay at home more,” they will go away. That is the expression of resistance.

By nature our effort is directed outward, not inward. So, for them because they are not mentally strong, it is difficult to work in the opposite way, or you may say to control their way. It is quite different from controlling power. Our way is not to be prohibitive or controlling. Just to put our effort in the other direction is our way, and we will have more difficulty in shifting our direction of effort. So, for the  mentally weak person, it is difficult to keep themselves from feeling resistance. At first they resist everything, but sometimes they may feel great regret, or they may feel great sad feelings because they cannot observe things as they should. And, the revival of well-developed human nature all of sudden happens to their mind. Once this kind of revival of highly developed human activity takes place, they feel very sad that they cannot observe things as they should according to highly developed human nature. Originally it is our joy to develop our nature, but that development of  human nature is contaminated in our social framework. We become sick of it. We become tired of it. And, we feel a big resistance against it. But, when we are in a position from where we have to reach for the well-developed human life, we seek it, and we adore it, and we miss it. That is actually how we feel resistance and how we become very obedient.

Usually resistance and obedience are two quite different tendencies or functions of mind. But originally they are not different. There we have the reason why we practice something informally, and why we practice our way in the opposite way. Because you feel some resistance to your old culture, you should practice zazen. And you feel better practicing our way, because our practice is the expression of our resistance to the old way of life.

In our practice, we should forget all about the idea of good or bad, right or wrong.  When old culture becomes rigid and concrete, the old culture will force something always anew. But in our practice, even if we do not ignore the idea of good or bad, we are not caught by the idea of good or bad any more. Instead of expressing resistance outward, we resume our original nature or universal nature or state of our mind before it is crystallized in some particular way.

I think if you know the true way of zazen, because you are young, because you have some feeling of resistance, you will practice more our way, and feeling resistance to the old way of life will encourage your practice. Moreover, your mind will be big enough to accept the old way of life we had. When our practice comes to this point, we say don't think “good and bad,” or “right or wrong.” When we do not think “right or wrong, good or bad,” our mind is big enough accept things whether they are old or whether they are new. Who told us the teaching, or who forced some way of life on us doesn't matter. We will not lose our way, and we will develop our way with our own ideas and in our own way. There is freedom of creativity.

It is silly for us just to be caught by the feeling of resistance. The resistance, because of discrimination, is a kind of imitation. But usually in imitation we imitate something in the same way. But, when we have resistance, we imitate in the opposite way [laughs]. You imitate in the same way or the other way is the difference, but your way is caused by some outward object. In other words, your mind is enslaved by some outward object. At this point, resistance and imitation are the same. You have no freedom. It means your mind is enslaved by something. So, if you want to obtain perfect freedom from everything, your effort should be directed inward. As long as you have this kind of practice, you have no danger of being enslaved by anything. You have always perfect freedom.

The more you understand human nature, the more you will be interested in our way. Another part of human nature is that maybe we like something wrong rather than right—rather than true [laughs]. This is maybe the same tendency we have when we feel some resistance. Something which is true is maybe always very common and not so interesting, not so colorful. It is just plain and common. So, you have no interest in it. Something which is wrong [laughs] is very interesting to you to see.

As Dogen Zenji said in his instruction of zazen, “Don't be afraid of a true dragon.”2 In China there was a man who liked dragons very much. Even though he hadn’t seen a dragon, even though he didn't know actually what it was [laughs], he was very much interested in dragons, and he liked to talk about dragons. This kind of feeling we have always. Even though we don't know what zazen is, people like to talk about zazen all day and night, all night and day [laughs, laughter]. But Dogen Zenji said, “Don't be surprised by the true dragon.” [Laughs.] You know, those people will be silent, when they see a true dragon because it is not so interesting [laughs, laughter]. So, Dogen Zenji said, “Don't be surprised by the true dragon.” [Laughs.]

If you know how common it is, and if the true dragon will appease your ambitious thought or your unsatisfied feeling in your everyday life, you will be interested in our practice in its true sense. This kind of interest is not the usual interest of being proud of your power or your understanding, but something which will appease all the ambitious thoughts and all the resistance. That is why many artists and poets and samurai or influential persons who found a dead end in their way practiced zazen.

There is a limit in our effort, and there is a limit in our power to attain something. The difference of whether you become famous or not may be by a sheet of paper. If you are stronger than the other a little bit, you will become famous. That's all. If you can do it a little bit ahead of people, you will be successful. To be involved in that kind of competition is to sacrifice yourself. And, it is silly to be involved in that kind of life.

Our way of life should be more stable, and more wide, and more open to everyone. Keeping something just within yourself is a violation of one of our precepts.  Whether it be material or spiritual, not to open up for others is a violation of the precepts. Our mind should be open to everyone. If you want to open up your mind, you should resume your true mind or some essence of mind, according to the Sixth Patriarch.

I am sorry I didn't bring my glasses, so [laughs] will you read it from here to here? About one page. I have read it up to here.3 You are jisha,4 so [laughs, laughter]—I’ll ask you to read from here—

Jisha: To here, or—

SR: Mm-hmm. “Think unthinkable,” and there is some paragraph here. No paragraph?

Jisha: No.

SR: Okay. Just start by the new sentence.

Jisha: To here. Okay. [2-3 words.] Okay. I'm a little hoarse, so I hope you can understand it.

SR: Okay.

Jisha: When you stand from zazen, shake your body and arise calmly. Do not be rough. That which transcends the ordinary person and the sage—dying while sitting and standing is obtained through the help of this power. This I have seen. Also the supreme function5 (lifting the finger,6 using the needle,7 hitting the wooden gong) and enlightenment signs (such as raising the hossu,8 striking with the fist, hitting with the staff, and shouting) are not understood by discrimination nor differentiation. You cannot understand training and enlightenment well by using supernatural power. It is the practice (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things. Isn't this a true rule beyond discriminatory views? So don't argue about the wise and foolish. If you can only train hard, this is true enlightenment. Training and enlightenment are by nature undefiled. Living by Zen is not separated from daily life.9

SR: What he says is very common, and Zen is for everyone. But, everywhere you will find some unusual statements. All the unusual activity of a Zen master is based on this deep understanding of our practice, or else he does not deserve the name of true Zen master. His whole life effort is directed to this point. And, I have been talking about maybe the same thing over and over again, so many times. And I will continue [laughs, laughter]. I am sorry—the same thing over and over again [laughs]. But I feel very good [laughter], because I find something new in my feeling whenever I continue [2-3 words].

This is the joy of our practice. And, it may be a good idea for us to read this Fukanzazengi little by little after zazen. We will discuss how we should do this with Chino Sensei10 later.

Thank you very much.

1 SR-67-12-05-A.

2 Probably referring to the story of Sho-kung or Yeh Kung-tzu (Jap. Seiko or Shoko) in the Hsin-hsű or Shen-tzu lüeh (Shinshi Ryaku) and the Latter Han History. Sho-kung loved painted and carved dragons but was terrified when visited one day by the real thing. "Do not become so accustomed to images that you are dismayed by the real dragon" (Dōgen-zenji, Fukan Zazen-gi, in Nishijima and Cross, ed., Shōbōgenzō, 1994, Vol. 1, p. 282). See also SR-69-09-00-A and SR71-06-05.

3 In SR-67-12-01-A. The student appears to be reading from Reiho Masunaga's translation of Fukan Zazen-gi (The Sōtō Approach to Zen, 1958, pp. 101-102), but several phrases are translated differently. Therefore, the translation of this passage may have been modified by Suzuki-rōshi. There is a gap of one-half paragraph between the passage Suzuki-rōshi read in SR-67-12-01-A and the passage read here. Not all lectures in the sesshin were recorded and/or survived on tape, so the missing half-paragraph was probably read between Dec. 2 and Dec. 4, 1967.

4 jisha: attendant to a priest.

5 Means employed by Zen masters for leading their students toward
enlightenment. (See N. Wadell and Abe Masao, "Dōgen's Fukanzazengi and Shōbōgenzō zazengi, in The Eastern Buddhist, 1973, 6 (2).)

6 Gutei raising one finger (Case 3 of Mumonkon, Gateless Gate). Most translations include "banner" here, a reference to Ananda becoming enlightened upon taking down a banner over a gate (Keitoku Dentōroku, 1).

7 Kanadeva dropping a needle into a bowl brimming with water (Keitoku Dentōroku, 2).

8 hossu (Jap.) (San. vyajana): a whisk made with long animal hair.

9 Two more paragraphs of Fukan Zazen-gi remain to be read.

10 Kobun Chino Otogawa-rōshi came from Eihei-ji in June of 1967 to Tassajara, where he served as head of training for monks (see Wind Bell, Fall 1967, Vol. VI, No. 2-4, p. 17). In 1983 he founded Jiko-ji temple in Los Gatos, in the Santa Cruz mountains of northern California.

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Adam Tinkham and Bill Redican (4/4/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (10/2020).