Series of talks based on Suzuki Roshi’s book “Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind” In this series, only small portions of the book are addressed and not a total overview of the writings.
Zen Mind Beginner's Mind (4 of 4)
Series of talks based on Suzuki Roshi's "Zen Mind Beginner's Mind"
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | January 30, 2008
Abridged and edited by Ryūsen Barbara Byrum
Our subject tonight is Zen Mind Beginner's Mind, part III. I have chosen three short passages and a few things to say about each one. This quote appears on page 113 at the top of the page. I thought it was an interesting passage about the technique of doing zazen.
Concentration is not to try hard to watch something. In zazen, if you try to look at one spot, you will be tired in about five minutes. This is not concentration. Concentration means freedom. So, your effort should be directed at nothing. [You should be concentrated on nothing.] In zazen practice we say that your mind should be concentrated on your breathing. But the way to keep your mind concentrated on your breathing is to forget all about yourself. Just sit and feel your breathing.
I think the idea here is that if you are concentrating on feeling your breathing, you are not forgetting about yourself. You are only making this belabored effort to concentrate on your breathing. Therefore, you can't concentrate on your breathing, because the effort is getting in your way. So to concentrate is to forget yourself and just sit and feel your breathing.
If you are concentrated on your breathing, you will forget yourself. And if you forget yourself, you will be concentrated on your breathing. I do not know which is first. So actually there is no need to try too hard to be concentrated on your breathing. Just do as much as you can. If you continue this practice, eventually you will experience the true existence which comes from emptiness.
I think that the secret of what he is saying here is forgetting yourself. As soon as you set up a person who is going to accomplish a task, "I am going to concentrate," and you set up a person who is going to do this task well, concentration can't possibly take place. Behind what he's saying, I think, is the constant assumption that Suzuki Roshi has – sometimes he speaks about it directly and sometimes he implies it – of a kind of faith in our practice. A faith that is more than the faith we have in ourselves and our own ability. Having a faith just in the process that – even though we may not feel skillful or good – will always see us through.
Faith is not only in our practice, but also in our true Buddha nature – our essential, boundless goodness – which is there, despite our many flaws and missteps. As we continue to practice, time after time, and over the years, we do come to have a confidence in this. "Oh yeah, I feel that confidence in my life, in my practice. I am very well aware of all my limitations, but it's okay. It doesn't matter so much, because I feel a powerful sense of confidence in the practice."
In zazen we don't exactly concentrate or meditate on the breath. We just sit with composure, breathing peacefully, and trying to be present with our condition as it is. I think that is what he means by "forget about yourself." It's not a matter of making this big effort to forget yourself. It's a matter of just breathing, just being present. And when you're simply present, in a relaxed and easy way, then you are forgetting about yourself. If you can forget about yourself, there is going to be some measure of wisdom and happiness there. And, of course, he is alluding to the famous passage in Dogen, that we all know: "To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be confirmed by all dharmas. Body and mind drop away, and this traceless enlightenment goes on and on without end."
And then let me repeat to you the last line of this passage, which I think is so wonderful:
If you continue this practice, eventually you will experience the true existence which comes from emptiness.
The next passage is on page 119, about the middle of the page:
Dogen Zenji said, "Although everything has Buddha-nature, we love flowers, and we do not care for weeds." [So even though we have this lofty nature above everything, we still have preferences.] This is true of human nature. But that we are attached to some beauty is itself Buddha's activity. [So that very preference itself is Buddha's activity. Even though the Buddha's activity seems to be beyond all that, the very preference is also Buddha's activity.] That we do not care for weeds is also Buddha's activity. We should know that. If you know that, it is alright to attach to something.
People often ask about detachment and attachments and relationships. He is saying it's okay to attach to something – if we know that our attachments and our aversions are expressions of our deep nature.
If it is Buddha's attachment, that is non-attachment. So in love there should be hate, or non-attachment. And in hate there should be love, or acceptance. Love and hate are one thing. We should not attach to love alone. We should accept hate. We should accept weeds, despite how we feel about them. If you do not care for them, do not love them. If you love them, then love them.
In the midst of the spirituality that is trying to transcend and go beyond, we find that simple human life and simple human preferences are the Buddha's activity. This means that our practice is not to be perfect – not to be absolutely good and transcendent and unattached. Our practice is just to be who we are, which means that we like what we like and dislike what we dislike. And that's okay. But the question is, "How do we do those things? How do we like and dislike?" Do we do it when we feel that we are absolutely right about what we like and what we don't like, and everyone else who doesn't see it that way is absolutely wrong? That we must absolutely have it our way, or we are going to be miserable and kick and scream? Do we like and dislike in that way? Or, do we understand instead, "Oh, I like this. That's interesting. I don't like that. I noticed that. So that's how I am. That's my conditioning."
I think that when we observe long enough, we see that when we like something, there is always a little bit of trouble in there. Something is going to happen. One knows this. And also, if you don't like something, there's some trouble there. Something is going to happen. There's a little sting in that. So we're a little bit wary about going overboard. And also my experience is, and maybe yours too, that the more that you look at liking and disliking and desire, the more you see that what Suzuki Roshi is saying is literally true. If you look closely enough at what you like, you find there is a bit of dislike there in the middle of liking something – which is why love so easily turns to hate. And also in what you dislike is a bit of love. Sometimes, after many years, you find that all the time that you thought you disliked, you actually loved.
The more you study liking and disliking and ordinary human preference, and the more you understand it in the way that Suzuki Roshi is describing, the more broad-minded and calm you become. "Oh I liked this, and I wanted this to be the case. Oh it's not the case? Oh, okay. Then I guess it's something else. I didn't like that, and I didn't want that around, and here it is right here in my lap. Oh, well, I guess that's the way it is." So with that kind of spirit, we become a lot more easygoing and a lot more accepting of what happens, whether we like it or not.
The next passage is on page 127. It's in the middle of the page, right after the headline:
We should establish our practice where there is no practice or enlightenment. [In other words, "practice" or "enlightenment" are expressions that mean you practice to become enlightened. There is a job and progress and a result.] As long as we practice zazen in the area where there is practice and enlightenment, there is no chance to make perfect peace for ourselves. In other words, we must firmly believe in our true nature. Our true nature is beyond our conscious experience. [A fundamental point for Suzuki Roshi and for Dogen. We don't experience our true nature. It is beyond cognition.] It is only in our conscious experience that we find practice and enlightenment or good and bad. [In other words, all our experience. All our experience is about good and bad and practice and enlightenment, but our true nature is beyond this.] But whether or not we have experience of our true nature, what exists there, beyond consciousness, actually exists, and it is there that we have to establish the foundation of our practice.
That's a difficult point, because we want to have our cake and eat it too. We really want to have the satisfaction of cognizing an object. We want to have something – some understanding, some experience. So it's hard to have faith in what you don't understand or cognize. And I certainly feel this way. But how could whatever you cognize be enough? Whatever it is, however magnificent it is, it is very limited. And our mind is exactly unlimited. So you have a philosophical attitude about all the things that arise and that you experience, while still knowing that beyond that is where we situate our lives.
Everything that we can cognize, everything that we can experience and have, in the end, will disappoint us. Absolutely. It will have to disappoint us, because it is limited, and we always yearn for what is unlimited. So when you hear all this, you might wonder, "What am I going to do about this?" But I think – and I have different ways of thinking about it or using different words – that it sort of seeps in. It bleeds into your life by osmosis. Little by little, you feel the afterglow of the unlimited, and even though you can't ever experience it, you certainly have confidence in it. And that's what inspires your life and inspires your practice.
And I'll quote again the sentence on page 113:
If you continue this practice, eventually you will experience the true existence which comes from emptiness.
You will have some felt sense of it. Some confidence in it that is not a leap of faith, or because somebody said so. It's a knowing which is not the knowing of an object.
Okay, one more short one – two pages later on page 129.
Dogen Zenji said, "You should establish your practice in your delusion." [Seems surprising.] Even though you think you are in delusion, your pure mind is there. [If you look closely enough at your delusion, your pure mind is there. So you can always have confidence in yourself, even when you know you are completely cock-eyed. Somewhere in the middle of that, pure mind is expressing itself.] To realize pure mind in your delusion is practice. If you have pure mind, essential mind in your delusion, the delusion will vanish. [This is astonishing, don't you think?] It cannot stay when you say, "This is delusion." [When look at yourself and say, "It's cock-eyed," there can't be delusion anymore.] It will be very much ashamed. It will run away. So you should establish your practice in your delusion. To have delusion is practice. This is to attain enlightenment before you realize it. Even though you do not realize it, you have it. So when you say, "This is delusion," that is actually enlightenment itself.
Dogen says that to be deluded throughout delusion is enlightenment. When you really understand delusion as delusion, you're not stuck on it. You're not disappointed that you are deluded. You're not wishing that you were not deluded. You know, "This is delusion. Wow! There it is. That's impressive." That's enlightenment, he says.
If you try to expel the delusion, it only exists the more, and your mind will become busier and busier trying to cope with it. That is not so good. Just say, "Oh, this is delusion," and do not be bothered by it. When you observe the delusion, you have your true mind – your calm, peaceful mind. When you start to cope with it, you will be involved in delusion.
So you'll notice that when you say, "This is delusion," and you name it as delusion, that in addition to knowing it's delusion, there's some self-critique. There's some desire that it not be there. There's a sense of hating it, finding it uncomfortable, and trying to make it go away. But if all that could be just set aside, and you could just face the delusion with a little bit of humor, and with a good spirit and confidence, then you're saved in that moment from your delusion – even though it's still there. Actually, according to Suzuki Roshi, it's not there. Gone, as long as you can do that. Not to know that it's there at all, or to know it's there but hate it and want it to be gone, is to be stuck in it like a tar baby. The more you grab it, the more stuck you are. The more you try to escape, the more stuck you get. So, it's good to remember that. Our job is not to eliminate our delusion, but just to appreciate it, and in doing so, we overcome it right away.