A minimally edited transcript

That is the purpose of counting

Monday, July 28, 1969

1 —mind. That is the purpose of counting. Not just count, you know.

Student A: But, like, in daily life, are we to count when we are walking, or would you just walk?

SR: In daily life if you walk as a practice of Zen, you steadily walk step-by-step like you count your breathing. Hai.

Student B: Roshi, I found in the past three months at Tassajara that I've uncovered tremendous anger in myself from time to time—

SR: Uh-huh.

Student B: —with no fixed object, just great force of anger.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student B: Can you tell me what the root of that is and how to deal with it—that anger?

SR: Maybe your confidence is not strong enough. That is why you become angry. I think most people try to solve psychological—special conditions by psychology, by knowing why, and by knowing how to treat it like a mother treats her children. But our way is a little bit different from that. Actually, for instance, I am very impatient. But sometimes I may be a most patient person. Why is it? [Laughs] The same person sometimes becomes very patient, and sometimes very impatient. When I think I should not be angry, I am never angry. [Laughs.]

That is possible, and that will not create any psychological trouble for you, if you have a kind of wisdom. I'm not trying to control my anger. But I know I shouldn't be angry. My wisdom tells me, “You shouldn't be angry for one year or two years [laughs]. And, it may be foolish to be angry.” Then I won't be angry. And when you say it is difficult to control, to me it sounds like you want some help [laughs]—help of psychology or psychiatrist or teacher. But they will not help you. Buddhism will not help you [laughs]. You must help yourself. Hai.

Student C: You spoke a minute ago about direct experience—

SR: Uh-huh.

Student C: —of truth—

SR: Yeah.

Student C: —through practice.

SR: Uh-huh.

Student C: It seems like most of us today don't believe in absolute truth. And you said also that this truth cannot be apprehended through understanding.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student C: It must be direct experience.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student C: I mean, this is a standard thing we hear that now, I think, that there are no absolutes. Everything must be seen in the context of the time—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student C: —and the place and the situation—

SR: Yeah, yeah.

Student C: —and that sort of thing.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student C: And, this makes me wonder whether this may be connected to what you said earlier about our seeking meaning, because if we firmly believe that nothing is absolutely true or right—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student C: —or good—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student C: —then what is the meaning of this? I'm just sort of thinking this out loud.

SR: Yeah. That's a good question. And that is the point. You should make an effort. Usually absolute truth means something you cannot change. That is absolute truth. But we don't think there is such a thing like you say, “absolute truth.” When I say “absolute truth,” the meaning is quite different. Absolute truth is the truth which reveals itself in various forms and colors. That much, I think, everyone will understand.

Student C: I don't understand, because if all I see are the changing forms and colors—

SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Student C: —always changing and all—I can't see the absolute truth that—

SR: Yeah, you cannot see [laughs], so still you are seeking—

Student C: To see, yeah.

SR: —something you can understand.

Student C: Yeah, right, right.

SR: Yeah, that is not the way to understand the absolute we mean. So, maybe the only way is to know nothing is permanent. Nothing is completely right or good [?]. We should know this fact completely. You should not try to seek something absolutely right. And you shouldn't try to depend on something. Then, what you will do is appreciate things you see or you have now, right now. If so, the thing you have has the absolute meaning to you. Whether it is beautiful or ugly doesn't matter. You don't compare one thing to the other. When you compare something to some other thing you have, you must have some standard or measurement. That measurement is not completely right. This is just a tentative measurement to help your ego-centered purpose [laughs].

So, in its true sense, you cannot compare one thing to another. When you ignore the various meanings of something, the things will have comparative value. You can exchange a diamond for some big property [laughs]. But actually, you cannot do that. When you limit the value of a diamond or property to serve your purpose, you can exchange it. But, originally diamond is diamond, and a piece of land is a piece of land.

In this way, you will find out what we mean by absolute. When you give up your thinking, and when without thinking you hear something, you will hear the true voice of a bird or flowing water. That is what I mean.

So, we say everyone is self-supported, or everyone is full-fledged. Everyone is a grown-up person. We don't want anything from others. Each one of us has his own value and meaning, and no one can take your place. That is “absolute.”

Student C: Then you are using absolute or truth in a different way. Wouldn't it be better—

SR: Completely different way!

Student C: —wouldn't it be better not to use that word, then, or—or I guess it—

SR: We have to use it.

Student C: Why?

SR: Why?

Student C: Yeah, why—why can't we use some other?

SR: To destroy, to exchange—to make your relative understanding clear, you know? The absolute you use, to me is relative. And you stick to the relative as absolute, as if we stick to something really absolute [laughs]. So we have to use it. So actually, I am giving you some completely new words. If you want to suffer forever, you don't need it [laughs]. Some other questions?

Student D (Bill Shurtleff): Some ways of practice emphasize the body energies, such as the Buddhism of Tibet and yoga, and they try to awaken these energies in the body and then somehow direct them or control them toward the same end I feel that Zen does. However, Zen seems to neglect this or not to mention this.

SR: Physical what? Neglect what?

Bill: Awakening the energies of the body and deliberately controlling those energies in the body toward understanding our true nature with, as a means—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Bill: —for an understanding of true nature. Why is it that Zen simply doesn't mention these things? For example, Buddhism of Tibet talks about the chakras in the body, and use of breathing, and awakening the energy at the base of the spine and rising it up the spine. It seems to talk a lot about this and practice it a lot. Why is it that Zen makes no mention of this?

SR: It is possible you can use various ways, but in that direction you cannot find complete composure. The direction is wrong. The way may be helpful. But, if you use those practices for another direction or an opposite direction, you will not find complete composure. Do you understand? This is nearly the same question.

As Soto Zen we do not say to practice zazen to attain enlightenment. Even to attain enlightenment is not our way because the direction is opposite. Did you understand? We are aiming at emptiness [laughs]. You are aiming at somethingness, you know. Both are necessary, of course, but when you aim at something, you should know that that is in that direction. It may be helpful, if you know that, but if you attach to it, if you are bound by it, you will have another burden on your shoulder which you didn't have.

Because almost all of us are practicing our way, facing the other direction, we always talk about how to face this way, this way, this way. But both are necessary, of course. One more question, please.

Student E: Roshi?

SR: Hai.

Student E: You said before that we should look at our experience absolutely and not relatively, not compare our experiences or compare ourselves with others. But to me, when I see you, I say, “Oh, Roshi. He's good.” And I say, “Oh, I'm not so good.” And by saying that to myself, it seems to stimulate my effort. It wakens my way-seeking-mind.

SR: Yeah.

Student E: What would you say about that?

SR: Yeah. Right now I explained there are two ways of understanding reality or emptiness or enlightenment. Enlightenment is sometimes a goal of practice, and sometimes enlightenment is not a goal of practice. It is something which we have already. And in this sense, whatever you do, there is some reason. Because there is some reason, we cannot say that is bad. But, if the goal of practice is to attain some attainment where we have complete freedom from things, for human beings there must be some way, but for an animal or a baby there is no need to follow this kind of steps or way. Do you understand? There are two ways, even though we say “enlightenment,” but the meaning sometimes is original enlightenment. And sometimes it is a goal of practice for a usual person who sticks to something.

Student E: Are there different paths for different people?

Roshi: No, no. For original attainment there is no teacher or no disciple.

Student E: There's no goal of enlightenment, then.

Roshi: Goal, you know—sometimes we talk about, like philosophy or like a drama—talk about like in the Lotus Sutra. We talk about enlightenment in various ways. That is the description of original enlightenment which isn't—I cannot say “nothing to do,” but “something to do,” but not much to do with attainment for human beings. Truth is truth whether we reach to the moon or not.2 Truth is truth. But for human beings, there must be some way to go. We enjoy the trip [laughs, laughter]. Whether we enjoy our trip or not, the moon is there. [Laughter.] So there are two ways of talking about the moon. That is what I meant.

Thank you very much.

1 Opening words were not recorded on tape.

2 Apollo 11 landed on the moon just over a week before this lecture, on July 20, 1969.

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Sara Hunsaker. Checked by Bill Redican (2/23/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (12/2020).


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