Afternoon Sesshin Tea Lecture
Sunday, February 1, 1970
Sesshin has almost completed. In this sesshin, we have learned many things. I want to say something about what I noticed.
Here we are—each one of us is a cook. By turns we work in the kitchen, and we take care of this zendo by ourselves mostly. Right now, we are carrying our stick1 in turns, and I explained how to eat brown rice. The more you chew it, you will have the taste of the brown rice. And in the zendo, you are food [laughs]. You are rice and vegetables from various states, and we must cook ourselves [laughs], some way. That is what actually we are doing.
I haven't realized how important it is to carry the stick. I think that is actually not only carrying the stick, but carrying the stick is how to cook ourselves. It is actually to chew ourselves. But the effect is stronger than just to chew. And at the moment you get a slap, you die in past life and appear in a new world.
We say, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” And Yoshimura Sensei,2 the other day, explained about soku ze—form—soku ze ku.3 He explained, soku ze means, “conversion”—the conversion, without changing anything, to convert one thing to another.
Another thing is soku ze: when you get a slap, at that moment a big conversion takes place in your practice. Your practice will change at that moment. Anyway, you have that kind of feeling, when before you get the stick you are sleepy, [laughs] —you wake up. That is—conversion.
By repeating this kind of conversion many, many times, we can practice our way. That is to realize our teaching of “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” Form is emptiness is when you get a slap and awaken in nothingness, where there is no you and no zendo and no black cushion. Rhha! [Laughs.] That is emptiness.
And from that emptiness, you will start a new practice. Your practice will be renewed by that. Our life should be like this. Whatever happens to us, on that occasion you must turn a new leaf for the quite refreshed life.
Even though the cook is good, firewood cannot be a good dish [laughs]. If you stick too much to an idea of yourself, that is firewood—a log or pencil or stone in miso soup [laughs, laughter]. So when you forget about yourself or when you are ready to be cooked, then real practice will take place.
So, the moment you enter the zendo, you should forget everything you have, and be ready to start new life. That is how various teachers in China and in Japan explained “emptiness is form and form is emptiness.” You are you, even though you [laughs] wake up. Without changing yourself, to have a new meaning of life and to be involved in a new life completely is how form becomes emptiness.
And when we become very grateful for the emptiness, we don’t know what it is. Emptiness is something which happens to us [laughs], not because of someone who carries a stick, not because of your sincerity. We don’t know why. But anyway, something that is that kind of great experience happens to us.
If you say this is because of this or that, that understanding is already a dead understanding of vivid real understanding of emptiness. In this way, the old teachers explained emptiness. From that emptiness, like a flash everything quite new will appear. The flash of emptiness is you or I, or grain, or vegetables from [laughs] various states. That is just a flash of emptiness.
This kind of clear vivid understanding will happen, and as a slap. Shht! [Laughs.] It is something which happens to you. Even though you don’t expect it, it happens. When you put your hands together, you [laughs] you are like this! [Gestures; laughs, laughter.] And when you get it right, all of a sudden you become refreshed and you become a new person [laughs]. Maybe in that way, I think, it will be a very good idea if we carry the stick in turns, and give ourselves a chance to make conversions. By conversion I don’t mean from Christian to Buddhist [laughs, laughter]—from Buddhism to Christianity.
And especially this period when I listened to the slap, I saw you quite refreshed. “Oh, this is ‘form is emptiness,’” and at the same time, “emptiness is form.” And new form appears as a slap. So we are doing a very good job. Kitchen is extended to zendo [laughs], and we eat brown rice by our own kitchen. And zendo practice is extended to kitchen, and I think our practice is almost complete. I am so happy to find this point in our practice. I hope you will continue our practice without being caught by some elusive idea of practice.
Thank you very much.
1 Kyōsaku stick used to wake up drowsy students during zazen. The "slap" is given after the sleepy meditator bows with "hands together."
2 Ryōgen Yoshimura-sensei was a Sōtō priest who came from Japan to San Francisco in 1969 (see Wind Bell, 1970, Vol. IX, No. 1, p. 30). He died at a young age after returning to Japan.
3 Shiki suku ze ku. Ku soku ze shiki. "Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form"—from the Heart Sūtra. shiki (form, matter); soku (immediately); ze (is); ku (emptiness)
Source: City Center tape transcribed by Dana Velden (3/10/00) and checked by Bill Redican (9/28/00). Miyagawa Keishi-san kindly provided assistance with the translation of Japanese terms. Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (2/2021).