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The Sandokai—a poem by the eighth-century Zen master Sekito Kisen (Ch. Shitou Xiqian)—is the subject of these lectures. Given in 1970 at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, the lectures are an example of a Zen teacher in his prime elucidating a venerated, ancient, and difficult work to his Western students. The poem addresses the question of how the oneness of things and the multiplicity of things coexist (or, as Suzuki Roshi expresses it, "things-as-it-is"). Included with the lectures are his students' questions and his direct answers to them, along with a meditation instruction. Suzuki Roshi's teachings are valuable not only for those with a general interest in Buddhism but also for students of Zen practice wanting an example of how a modern master in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition understands this core text today.
The mind of the great sage of India
is intimately transmitted from west to east.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to talk about the Sandokai, one of our most important teachings. Its mode of expression is so smooth that you may not feel its deep meaning when you read it. The author of this poem, Sekito Kisen (or Sekito Musai Daishin, his posthumous name), is the dharma grandson of the Sixth Chinese Ancestor, Daikan Eno (in Chinese, Dajian Huineng), and the direct descendent of Seigen Gyoshi (Ch. Qingyuan Xingsi), who is considered the Seventh Ancestor. Among the Sixth Ancestor's many disciples, the most prominent were Seigen Gyoshi and Nangaku Ejo. Later, Master Tozan Ryokai continued Seigen's lineage as the Soto school, and Master Rinzai Gigen (Ch. Linji Yixuan) continued Nangaku's lineage as the Rinzai school. Soto and Rinzai eventually became the dominant schools of Zen.
The way of Seigen and Sekito has a more gentle quality than Nangaku's way. In Japan we call this the elder brother's way. Nangaku is more like the second or third son, who is often rather naughty. The elder brother may not be so able or so bright, but he is very gentle. This is our understanding when we talk about Soto and Rinzai. Sometimes Soto Zen is called memmitsu no kafu-"a very careful and considerate style." Seigen's way is to Þnd everything within himself. It is to realize the great mind that includes everything and to practice accordingly.
Our effort in Zen is to observe everything as-it-is. Yet even though we say so, we are not necessarily observing everything as-it-is. We say, "Here is my friend, over there is the mountain, and way up there is the moon." But your friend is not only your friend, the mountain is not only the mountain, and the moon is not only the moon. If we think, "I am here and the mountain is over there," that is a dualistic way of observing things. To go to San Francisco, we have to cross over the Tassajara mountains. That is our usual understanding. But that is not the Buddhist way of observing things. We Þnd the mountain or the moon or our friend or San Francisco within ourselves. Right here. That is big mind within which everything exists.
Now, let's look at the title, Sandokai. San literally means "three," but here it means "things." Do is sameness. To identify one thing with another is do. It also refers to "oneness" or "one's whole being," which here means "great mind" or "big mind." So our understanding is that there is one whole being that includes everything, and that the many things are found in one whole being. Although we say "many beings," they are actually the many parts of one whole being that includes everything. If you say "many" it is many, and if you say "one" it is one. "Many" and "one" are different ways of describing one whole being. To completely understand the relationship between one great whole being and the many facets of that one great whole being is kai. Kai means to shake hands. You have a feeling of friendship. You feel that the two of you are one. In the same way, this one great whole being and the many things are good friends, or more than good friends because they are originally one. Therefore like shaking hands we say kai. "Hi, how are you?" This is the meaning of the poem's title. What is many? What is one? And what is the oneness of one and many?
Originally, Sandokai was the title of a Daoist book. Sekito used the same title for his poem, which describes Buddha's teaching. What is the difference between Daoist teachings and Buddhist teachings? There are many similarities. When a Buddhist reads it, it is a Buddhist text, and when a Daoist reads it, it is a Daoist text. Yet it is actually the same thing. When a Buddhist eats a vegetable it is Buddhist food, and when a vegetarian eats it, it is vegetarian food. Still it is just food.
As Buddhists, we do not eat a particular vegetable just because it has some special nourishing quality, or choose it because it is yin or yang, acid or alkaline. Simply to eat food is our practice. We don't eat just to support ourselves. As we say in our meal chant, "To practice our way, we eat this food." This is how big mind is included in our practice. To think "this is just a vegetable" is not our understanding. We must treat things as part of ourselves, within our practice and within big mind. Small mind is the mind that is under the limitation of desires or some particular emotional covering or the discrimination of good and bad. So, for the most part, even though we think we are observing things-as-it-is, actually we are not. Why? Because of our discrimination, or our desires. The Buddhist way is to try hard to let go of this kind of emotional discrimination of good and bad, to let go of our prejudices, and to see things-as-it-is.
When I say to see things-as-it-is, what I mean is to practice hard with our desires-not to get rid of desires, but to take them into account. If you have a computer, you must enter all the data: this much desire, this much nourishment, this kind of color, this much weight. We must include our desires as one of the many factors in order to see things-as-it-is. We don't always reflect on our desires. Without stopping to reflect on our selÞsh judgment we say "He is good" or "He is bad." But someone who is bad to me is not necessarily always bad. To someone else, he may be a good person. Reflecting in this way we can see things-as-it-is. This is buddha mind.
The poem begins Chikudo daisen no shin, which means "the mind of the great sage of India." That is Buddha's big mind that includes everything. The mind we have when we practice zazen is the great mind: We don't try to see anything; we stop conceptual thinking; we stop emotional activity; we just sit. Whatever happens to us, we are not bothered. We just sit. It is like something happening in the great sky. Whatever kind of bird þies through it, the sky doesn't care. That is the mind transmitted from Buddha to us.
Many things happen as you sit. You may hear the sound of the stream. You may think of something, but your mind doesn't care. Your great mind is just there sitting. Even when you are not aware of seeing, hearing, or thinking, something is going on in big mind. We observe things. Without saying "good" or "bad," we just sit. We enjoy things but have no special attachment to them. We have full appreciation of them at this time, that's all. After zazen we say, "Oh, good morning!" In that way, one after another, things will happen to us and we can fully appreciate them. That is the mind transmitted from Buddha. And that is the way we practice zazen.
If you practice zazen in this way, you are less likely to have trouble when you are enjoying some event. Do you understand? You may have a special experience and think, "This is it. This is how it should be." If someone opposes you, you will be angry. "No, it should be like this, not like that. Zen Center should be like this." Maybe so. But it is not always so. If times change and we lose Tassajara and move to another mountain, the way we have here cannot be the same way we will have there. So, without sticking to some particular way, we open our minds to observe things-as-it-is and to accept things-as-it-is. Without this basis, when you say "this is the mountain," or "this is my friend," or "this is the moon," the mountain will not be the mountain, my friend will not be my friend, and the moon will not be the moon itself. That is the difference between sticking to something and Buddha's way.
Buddha's way is the study and teaching of human nature, including how foolish we are, what kinds of desires we have, our preferences and tendencies. Without sticking to something, I try to remember to use the expression "liable to." We are liable to, or we have a tendency to do something. This is my motto.
When I was preparing this lecture someone asked me, "What is self-respect, and how can we obtain it?" Self-respect is not something that you can feel you have. When you feel "I have self-respect," that is not self-respect anymore. When you are just you, without thinking or trying to say something special, just saying what is on your mind and how you feel, then there is naturally self-respect. When I am closely related to all of you and to everything, then I am a part of one big whole being. When I feel something, I'm almost a part of it, but not quite. When you do something without any feeling of having done something, then that is you, yourself. You're completely with everyone and you don't feel self-conscious. That is self-respect.
When you feel that you are somebody, you have to practice zazen harder. As you know, it is diÐcult to sit without thinking or feeling. When you don't think or feel, you usually fall asleep. But without sleeping and without thinking, just to be yourself is our practice. When you can do that, you will be able to speak without thinking too much, and without having any special purpose. When you speak or act it will be just to express yourself. That is complete self-respect. To practice zazen is to attain this kind of self-respect. You must be strict with yourself and especially with your tendencies. We each have our own unique personal tendencies. But if you try to get rid of them, or if you try not to think or not to hear the sound of the stream during zazen, it is not possible. Let your ears hear without trying to hear. Let the mind think without trying to think and without trying to stop it. That is practice.
More and more, you will have this rhythm or strength as the power of practice. If you practice hard you will be like a child. While we were talking about self-respect a bird was singing outside. Peep-peep-peep. That's self-respect. Peep-peep-peep. It doesn't mean anything. Maybe he was just singing. Maybe without trying to think he was just singing, peep-peep-peep. When we heard it we couldn't stop smiling. We cannot say that it is just a bird. It controls the whole mountain, the whole world. That is self-respect.
In order to have this everyday practice, we study hard. When we reach this place, there is no need to say "one whole being" or "bird" or "many things which include one whole being." It could be just a bird or a mountain or the Sandokai. If you understand this, there will be no need to recite the Sandokai. Although we recite it in this Japanese-Chinese form, it is not a matter of Japanese or Chinese. It is just a poem, or a bird, and this is just my talk. It does not mean much. We say that Zen is not something to talk about. It is what you experience in a true sense. It is difficult. But anyway this is a difficult world, so don't worry. Wherever you go you have problems. You should confront your problems. It may be much better to have these problems of practice rather than some other mixed-up kinds of problems.
Student: The other day when I was beating the mokugyo,* a small spider crawled across the top of it. There was nothing I could do to avoid the spider. I veered a little off to the side to avoid him, but he went right into the striker. It was too powerful for him to escape.
Suzuki Roshi: You didn't kill him.
Student: Something did! [Laughter.]
Suzuki Roshi: By mistake. It happened in that way.
Student: Yeah, but I couldn't stop.
Suzuki Roshi: Yeah. You know, it can't be helped. Buddha killed him! [Laughter.] He may be very happy.
To live in this world is not so easy. When you see children playing by a stream or on a bridge, you may be really worried. "The cars are going zoom, zoom, zoom on the highway nearby. What if there is an accident?" If something happens, that's all. If you stop and think, you will be terriÞed. Did you hear about the 165-year-old man who has more than two hundred children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? If he thought about each one of them, he would be scared of losing one.
Our practice can be a very strict practice. You should be ready to kill something even if you are a Buddhist. Whether it is good or bad, you should do that sometime. It is impossible to survive without killing anything. We cannot live depending just on our feelings. Our practice must be deeper than that. That is the strict side of our practice. On the other hand, if it is absolutely necessary, you should stop hitting the mokugyo even though it throws everything into confusion. Not so easy.
Student: Would you explain more what you mean by "strict practice"?
Suzuki Roshi: Strict practice? Things are already going in a very strict way. There is no exception. Wherever there is something, there is some rule or truth behind it that is always strictly controlling it, without any exception. We think we care for freedom, but the other side of freedom is strict rule. Within the strict rule there is complete freedom. Freedom and strict rule are not two separate things. Originally we are supported by strict rules or truths. That is the other side of absolute freedom.
Student: Could you give us more examples that apply to our individual lives?
Suzuki Roshi: When you get up you should just get up. When everyone sleeps you should sleep. That is my example.
Student: My responsibility is such that it's very easy for me to follow the strict way, because it goes with my position. Other people have somewhat different responsibilities. Sometimes, because my inclination is to follow strictly, we have some differences, and sometimes I think it's okay for them to do things differently than I do. Is that right?
Suzuki Roshi: Yeah. Sometimes you should shut your eyes. [Laughing.] Sometimes it may be unfortunate to see something. If you see it, you have to say something, so it may help you to practice without looking around. That is the best way, actually. If you look around, then, if you see the people on this side of the zendo, the people on the other side will sleep. So it's better not to see anything! [Laughter.] They won't know what you are doing. "He may not be sleeping, so all of us will stay awake." If you see something, that's all. The rest will be ignored. If you don't see anything, you cannot ignore anything. That is the big mind that includes everything. If someone moves, you will notice. Even though you don't try to hear it, if some sound comes you will catch it. If you focus on one person, the rest of the people will be very happy! [Laughter.] If you don't catch anyone, no one can move.
|Sekito Kisen and the Sandokai||11|
|Notes to the Reader||17|
|Chinese Text and Japanese Transliteration||22|
|Talk 2||Warm Hand to Warm Hand||37|
|Talk 3||Buddha Is Always Here||49|
|Talk 4||The Blue Jay Will Come Right into Your Heart||61|
|Talk 5||Today We May Be Very Happy||73|
|Talk 6||The Boat Is Always Moving||83|
|Talk 7||Without Any Idea of Attainment||95|
|Talk 8||Within Light There Is Utter Darkness||109|
|Talk 9||The Willow Tree Cannot Be Broken||121|
|Talk 10||Suffering Is a Valuable Thing||135|
|A Short Talk During Zazen||147|
|Talk 11||We Should Not Stick to Words or Rules||151|
|Talk 12||Do Not Pass Your Days and Nights in Vain||161|
|Talk Given to a Visiting Class|
|We Are Just a Tiny Speak of Big Being||177|
|Compiled Translation by Suzuki Roshi||190|
|Lineage Chart of Teachers Mentioned in the Text||192|
In the summer of 1970 Suzuki Roshi gave these talks on the Sandokai of Sekito Kisen. Suzuki Roshi had come to America in 1959, leaving Rinso-in, his temple in Yaizu, Japan, to serve as priest for the Japanese-American congregation at Sokoji temple at 1881 Bush Street in San Francisco. During those years a large number of people came to practice with him, and San Francisco Zen Center was born. Suzuki Roshi became surrounded by so many enthusiastic American Zen students that in 1969 he and his students moved to a large building at 300 Page Street and established Beginner's Mind Temple. Two years earlier, Zen Center had acquired the Tassajara resort and hot springs, which is at the end of a fourteen-mile dirt road that winds through the rugged mountains of the Los Padres National Forest near the central coast of California. He and his students created the Þrst Zen Buddhist monastery in America, Zenshinji (Zen Mind/Heart Temple). We were starting from scratch under Suzuki Roshi's guidance.
Each year Tassajara Zen Mountain Center has two intensive practice-period retreats: October through December, and January through March. These two practice periods include many hours of zazen (cross-legged seated meditation) each day, lectures, study, and physical work. The students are there for the entire time. In the spring and summer months (May through August), Tassajara provides a guest season for people who are attracted by the hot mineral baths and the quiet atmosphere. In this way the guest season provides support for Tassajara and the students. In the summer period the students sit zazen each morning and evening, and the rest of their time is devoted to work practice.
During the summer of 1970, when these talks were given, the students were attending services and zazen several times a day, preparing meals, and working on the many tasks of building and maintenance. During the day, Suzuki Roshi, small and seemingly frail, was busy putting large stones in place on the side of the creek to prevent erosion. At night he lectured. Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him were always amazed at his energy and ability even when he was old and not well. He worked all day in the hundred-degree-plus heat. His tremendous spirit was communicated through his work. We might spend all day putting a large stone in place, and if it wasn't right he would take it out and start all over the next day.
At that time I was Suzuki Roshi's personal attendant. At the beginning of our formal daily practice of zazen and service, I would follow him into the zendo with an incense offering. In the heat of the day, I would sometimes place a water-soaked washcloth on top of his shaved head to cool him off. His wife, Mitsu-san, came down from San Francisco in that summer of 1970 and was very worried about him. She knew he was very ill and thought he was working too hard. Sometimes when she would pass by he would pretend that he was resting and then go back to moving stones. She once chastised him, using the familiar name for an abbot: "Hojo-san! You are cutting your life short!" He replied, "If I don't cut my life short, my students will not grow."
Although there was much to be done, he was never in a hurry. He was centered both in balance and in time. He always gave me the feeling that he was completely within the activity of the moment. He would take the time to do everything thoroughly. One day he showed me how to wash a kimono, inching around the entire perimeter using the part held in one hand to scrub the part held in the other, until the whole thing was Þnished. One time he said, "You have a saying, 'to kill two birds with one stone,' but our way is to kill just one bird with one stone."
In 1969, the students had built the stone kitchen with great care. Stones and rocks of all shapes and sizes are everywhere at Tassajara. We cut off the roof of an old car and used it as a sled to haul large stones. We became adept at building stone walls and steps. Our carpentry crew was headed by a young carpenter named Paul Discoe, who later studied in Japan and became a master in Japanese carpentry. Edward Espe Brown's Tassajara Bread Book and Tassajara Cooking were generated from that time, as well as Bill Shurtleff's classic books on tofu, miso, and tempeh. There was a wonderful feeling of pioneering. Zen was sitting meditation, but it was also serving and work. The combination gave the practice a feeling of wholesomeness. We were in the mountains building this monastery with our bare hands. We felt gratitude toward this place, toward each other, and toward our teacher, as well as toward all the people who were supporting our effort. We also felt that we were doing something for others, not just for ourselves.
Although Suzuki Roshi had studied the English language for many years in Japan, it took several years before he could communicate þuently here in America. During his twelve years here, his command of the language became better and better. Though he often had to grope for just the right expression, he usually found it. But even when searching for the right expression he was always eloquent. In fact, someone who heard him give a talk in Japanese and a talk in English on the same day found the English talk far more innovative and compelling-perhaps even helped by the fact that English was not his native language.
Suzuki Roshi gave hundreds of talks. Strictly speaking, a talk is more of an informative kind of presentation, while a teisho offers the teacher's own dharma or direct understanding, often using a koan or a text. Suzuki Roshi rarely used a text, although he frequently made reference to one. Often a Soto teacher's talks are mixed, with the teacher both lecturing and expressing his or her own understanding of a particular text, as Suzuki Roshi does here. During the talk, students sit with crossed legs, in zazen posture, not leaning on anything, with straight backs and open minds. It is customary for the teacher to give a talk weekly, and sometimes more often. During long retreats called sesshins, Suzuki Roshi spoke every day and sometimes twice a day.
Suzuki Roshi was in the lineage stream of Zen master Dogen (1200-1253) and was committed to introducing Dogen's way of practice to the West. Although he recommended studying the many written works of Dogen (few of which were translated into English at that time), it was the spirit of Dogen that was most vital for him. Like Dogen, he did not consider Zen a teaching or practice separate from buddha dharma, or that the Soto school of Zen was either superior or inferior to any other school. He characterized our way as Hinayana (Narrow Vehicle) practice with a Mahayana (Wide Vehicle) mind.
In the mid-sixties, we started recording Suzuki Roshi's talks. By that time he was visiting Zen Center's small affliated Zen groups in Mill Valley, Berkeley, and Los Altos. It was decided to turn some of his Los Altos talks into the basis of a book so more people could be exposed to his teaching. This became the raw material for the well-known book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which has been translated into many languages and has gone through almost forty printings to date. In these freely þowing talks he covers much ground. But essentially his message is how to let go of our self-centeredness and settle ourselves on dai-shin (big mind or big self), how to practice zazen in a formal way, and how to extend and Þnd our practice in the informality of our daily lives. "Beginner's mind" in the title refers to the unassuming attitude of just being present in each moment, accepting the non-dual reality of each moment with openness and clarity, being careful not to fall into partiality based on opinions and false views, and being open to all possibilities.
The talks were recorded and transcribed by Marian Derby, who was the head of the Los Altos Zen group and who Þrst conceived of the book. The transcriptions were edited by Trudy Dixon, a close disciple, and Richard Baker, who succeeded Suzuki Roshi as the second abbot of Zen Center. The editors of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind gleaned the most interesting and unique parts of those Los Altos talks and edited them into short chapters. Each chapter is a little gem of wisdom.
The Sandokai talks, on the other hand, present a completely different teaching context and consequently have a different feeling. Here we have Suzuki Roshi lecturing on an ancient Chinese poem, line by line, word by word, over a period of about six weeks (May 27 to July 6, 1970). The Sandokai of Sekito Kisen is chanted in the liturgy at Zen Center as well as Japanese Soto Zen monasteries. Suzuki Roshi wanted to make its meaning clear to us. This was an enjoyable undertaking for him. He set up a blackboard next to his seat and wrote and explained the Chinese characters as he went along. (For the sake of smoother reading, we have deleted most of Suzuki Roshi's detailed explanation of each Chinese character.) These evening talks were given in the zendo. It was still hot enough in the evenings that our cushions were soaked with perspiration when we got up.
Suzuki Roshi gave a total of twelve talks to Tassajara students on the Sandokai. We have included one more that he delivered to Tassajara students and a group of visiting philosophy students, which took the form of a general summary or overview. Also included is a short talk about zazen that he gave during the sitting one morning.
Because these talks were sequential, editing them was more difficult than was the case for Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. The voice in the Sandokai talks doesn't always sound like the voice of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, partly because Suzuki Roshi is speaking about a text here, but also because of the editors' approach in presenting his voice. Originally we wanted to keep the text as close as possible to the original, but as we continued to go over the talks it became clear that a verbatim account sometimes had to give way to consistency. Suzuki Roshi occasionally revisited the same topics during the series of talks, but not always with the same approach. So often the editors would have to choose between different ways the same phrase was stated on different occasions. Sometimes we would have to bridge the gaps in statements that were indistinct or not clearly expressed. And rather often we would have to choose whether or not to leave intact a statement that was characteristic of Suzuki Roshi's way of speaking or to change it for the sake of written clarity and consistency.
Suzuki Roshi also made up phrases of his own in order to express himself in a more non-dualistic way. For instance, he often used the phrase "things-as-it-is" to mean the fundamental nature of reality, something beyond words. But he also used "things-as-they-are" to refer to our usual discriminating, dualistic way of thinking and perceiving (good/bad, right/wrong). He was well aware of the difference. In "things-as-it-is," his use of the singular and plural in the same phrase stretches our ordinary way of thinking.
He also made up the word "independency," which he uses to express the dependent and at the same time independent nature of our lives. When I asked him about this once, I said that English has the words "independent," "dependent," and "interdependent," but I had never heard the word "independency." He laughed and said that he had made it up. He explained that we are completely independent and at the same time completely dependent. If you think you are just independent, that is wrong. If you think you are just dependent, that is not right either. "Interdependent" might seem like the correct word here, but Suzuki Roshi used "independency" to express that ambivalent quality. He said that the secret of Soto Zen is "yes, but."
We have tried to make Suzuki Roshi's language as clear and þuid as possible without losing or compromising his personal mode of expression. In a Zen lecture or a teisho the speaker's presence contributes powerfully to the student's experience. Working with just words, the editors must be careful not to overlook that quality when it comes through, and not eliminate it in favor of a perfectly grammatical presentation. Often his slightly offbeat expressions have more impact than if he were speaking "properly."
We have retained Suzuki Roshi's use of masculine pronouns in several instances in this text. Coming from a culture that traditionally favors men, Suzuki Roshi was unusual in that he made a great effort to respect the practice of men and women equally and without discrimination. He also respected time-honored values of the interdependent relationship between women and men. Although in his talks he would typically refer to a student as "he," this usage was simply the convention of the time. He often said that whether you are a man or a woman, you should be yourself completely-that when you are you, Zen is Zen.
Suzuki Roshi died on December 4, 1971, of cancer, a year and a half after delivering this teaching on the Sandokai. He was sixty-seven. He must have had a premonition of his coming death when he said that Zen teachers in the Soto tradition often lecture on the Sandokai toward the ends of their lives.
Posted December 26, 2014