SR: Once more, I hope people will become honest and more direct. That will be the root of the problem.
Student: Can you say that’s—it’s so simple to be honest and direct, why is it so hard?
Student: Why do you think so many years?
SR: Yeah. Why it is so hard is because we are trying to escape from it. We should suffer more, maybe. We will not lose in suffering, but if we try to escape from it, we will be caught by it.
Student: And isn’t that right? And how did it get started that we try to escape suffering so, because...
Student: ...while I have the courage to face it, why it works out fine.
SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Student: Seldom can I do that, you know? How did it get so popular to run away from things?
SR: We have many, many ways of escaping it—very advanced, and [laughs, laughter]. We can now escape from this Earth to the Moon, even! [Laughs.] You know, we have many ways of escaping trouble. And we have not much courage to face or to be satisfied with a cup of water. We are trying to put sugar in it, and to sell something. Putting something—you know. And it is not just exactly what I want. Maybe I want a cup of plain water more. But I have to drink it because we try to escape from something, or we rely on something. We want to make ourselves happy—without making ourselves really happy.
But because we want to be satisfied or—not satisfy—we want to, maybe we want to be fooled by something. To escape actual suffering. If you are honest enough, you may say, “I like plain water.” But, if a beautiful girl [laughs] serves something sweet, like this, you don’t say, “I like water.” Many words are going with things to sell something, to force something on us. So, in our everyday life, we find this kind of dishonesty. So, if we become very frank and honest, if we try to be honest, as much as we can, and if we want to have something for ourselves, then various problems will be solved.
So, it is not possible to change our way of life all at once because this kind of effort has been going on for many hundreds of years. After Counter-Reformation, maybe, or Industrial Reformation. This has been a current of our thought, I think. And we are deeply involved in it, and we like to enjoy it still.
Student: Will you say something about practicing zazen alone, and practicing it at the Zen Center?
SR: Practicing zazen where?
Student: And practicing in a group?
SR: If you really want to practice zazen, naturally you may need some advice. Practice should be for your own—must be your own practice. So, some advice or instruction is necessary. So, after you start, after you know pretty well about your practice, you can do it alone, maybe. If we start to talk about this kind of thing, it is endless [laughs], actually. You can do it alone, but you should have cross-contact with more mature practice. Because there is no definite, concrete way of practice. No more questions? Is that okay? [Laughs.] Dogen Zenji says “Two important things are to practice zazen and to ask advice from your teacher.” These two points are very important for practice.
Student: Yeah, a question that has come up in talking about Western religious quests, versus Eastern religious quests, and one thing that I’ve heard people say is that Zen is more interested in the individual alone, and not so much in the society…
Student: …as a whole.
Student: You know, on the other hand I hear, bodhisattvas say, you know…
Student: …“Not to rest until all sentient beings are saved.”
Student: What—really, what is Zen’s concern with society as a whole?
SR: Society, as a whole?
Student: You know, or all of the people in the country? Or all of the people in the world?
Student: Is it only a thing that’s so difficult that maybe just the people—it’s such an individual thing? Or is there some hope of all of the world, being…
SR: All over the world…
Student: …everyone being—
SR: …including stones, and trees, and everything, that is our way. Not only human beings. So, we are not interested in individual practice, so-called individual practice. We do not acknowledge any self, you know. He may disagree with me [laughs]. Please come here [laughs]. Real self will be found in your surroundings. You will always be completely absorbed in what you see. If you are not fooling yourself, you know. If you exist here that is very true. We know that. So, we have no individual practice, in the usual sense. Our individual practice includes …
Student: No one should practice alone?
SR: Hmm? No. No individual, no practice just for yourself. To take care of zendo is practice. To take care of your own kitchen is practice. We understand practice in that way. How you know how to take care of your kitchen is how you sit. Even though you sit, you have many problems. Drowsiness [laughs], pain in your legs, and posture, and you have to take care of your breathing, and your posture should not be like this, you should always be straight. There are many things to take care of in your practice. We are not just sitting on a cushion, [laughs] sleeping. We are taking care of everything. Just as you take care of your family, your children. That is real practice. So, if you know how to take care of your practice, you will know how to take care of your business, in its true sense. Sometimes a businessman doesn’t take care of his own business [laughs]. He takes care of something quite different! Beautiful girls [laughs], or bank books [laughs, laughter]. That is a problem! You know?
Student: You said that during practice, a student must be careful not to do too little or too much.
Student: As an example of too little, you said he might fall asleep. What do you mean by too much? How is it possible to do too much or try too hard? What would be an example?
SR: To get up too early while other students are in bed. To get up early and to sit—that is not good practice! Our rules are not so loose [laughs]. Our rules are just right [laughs]. If you try to do more, you will be exhausted. You could not keep your practice for seven days—eventually you would give up. That is the result. So, this much care is necessary on the part of the teacher or leader. [Laughs] okay?
The great teachers are doing just enough, and not much [laughs, laughter]. Sometimes they wear a gorgeous okesa and beautiful hat [laughs] and a long staff, beautiful sandals, and a beautiful whisk. You may think, “That is too much!” [laughs]. But actually, maybe too much! [Laughs, laughter.] Maybe too much, but the reason why they do so is people like it [laughter, laughs]. So Huineng[?] said, “Even though I wear a gorgeous robe, this is just right for the people” [laughs]. For contemporary people, he may say.
[Laughs] ah, maybe before I finish my lecture, let me talk more about Kumazawa Zenji. [Laughs] I am rather angry with him [laughs]. Because I was fooled by him for maybe more than thirty years [laughs]. And I found out that I was fooled by him, some thirty years ago. He gave us a Zen story during sesshin time. We were sitting in a cold, cold zendo, for seven days, at Eiheiji, in the snow. And we were very serious in our practice. Of course, we were so young! [Laughs.]
One morning, the late Kumazawa Zenji—at that time he was Kanin, Director of Eiheiji monastery—came to the zendo and gave us a Zen story. He said, “Do you understand this story?” He said, "A sparrow broke a big stone gate—torii.” “Ishi no torii” means a big gate built of stone. As thick as this, maybe—I don’t know how big. But a sparrow broke it. I don’t know how—maybe by stepping on it! [Laughs.]
And he said, “Do you understand?” We thought that was some koan. We must solve it during seven-day sesshin. And he started to talk about it, in a very serious mood. I didn’t like that kind of so-called Zen story. I felt as if, whenever I read or heard a Zen story, I felt as if I was fooled by [laughs] someone, without giving much reason why it is so. They talked about something funny. So, because I didn’t like it, I remembered what he said. I still remember it.
But the other day when I thought about what he said, when I repeated what he said, “Kosuzume ga, ishi no torii wo fumiotta. Kosuzume ga ishi no torii wo fumiotta.” What does it mean? Of course, in Japanese, I’m sorry. It is Japanese. “Ishi no torii wo fumiotta.” “Fumiotta” means to step on it and break it, it’s to “fumioru.” But another meaning may be “fundeita” [laughs]. A sparrow was stepping on the stone—“fundeita”! [Laughs.] Was stepping on the stone, back and forth. “Fumioru”—always one meaning is break, and the other meaning is stepping on it, it’s the other meaning.1
[Laughs] what he said was—he was seriously talking about it as if a sparrow had broken a big stone gate. But before he started to say something, to explain that koan, he repeated, “Did you understand?” [Laughs.] “Did you understand!” No one could understand that it was a joke! [Laughs] because we were too serious! [Laughs.] No one talked about his joke, or his koan after that sesshin time. Because no one could understand what he meant! [Laughs.] Or no one could understand that was just a joke! [Laughs.]
That is another side of serious practice. That is, if someone could know that was just a joke, we would be practicing very good practice—not too much effort [laughs], but not too little [laughs]. Maybe we are wasting our effort, making some excessive effort. Too much effort—so we lost our usual thinking mind. That is how we obtain our true practice. [Laughs.] He was a really great Zen master. That is how you’ll solve the problem.
If every governor of the United State were like him—not much problems [laughs] would arise [laughs]. Even if someone was very mad at him, they would treat him just right. Not too strong or not too soft. That is not something which we can attain by a skill—by repeating things. But if you just know—what is real practice, then you can do things just right.
Thank you very much.
1 This is a pun.
ORU can mean “break” but it is also the auxiliary verb used to form a progressive mode of a tense. It is archaic, or at least regional language.
FUMIOTTA as 踏み折ったmeans “broke by stepping on it.”
FUMIOTTA as 踏みおった means “was stepping on it”
- Frederick and Takayo Harriman
Source: 68-00-00-B (year only known) digital audio archive from DC. Problem set. Thanks to audio work by Angus Atwell, transcribed March 2012 by Judy Gilbert. Work in progress. Further preparation to post by DC. More editing and transcription by CM end of October 2012 using the enhanced audio. Talk is straightforward (couple Japanese phrases) and mostly understandable with hardly any interference. Checked by DC, 12/2014. Verbatim version based on Engage Wisdom audio by Wendy Pirsig, Shundo David Haye and Peter Ford, 8/2022. Lightly edited for readability by Peter Ford, June 2023.