Shunryu Suzuki: "Wisdom Seeks For Wisdom" - Talk and Transcript
This audio and transcript is from the Engage Wisdom Suzuki Roshi archive.
Given by Suzuki Roshi at Los Altos on Thursday, July 22, 1965
This tape is the oldest known audio of Suzuki Roshi that we currently have.
Newly imported in 2020 from the original tape reel, this audio recording was previously lost from the archives, with only the 1960’s transcript surviving.
There are eight minutes of audio not on the original transcript, consisting of posture instruction. Transcript of last section by SDH 07/21, with some changes made to original transcript as well.
We are studying now the sutra of the sixth patriarch, in the evening lecture, and Prajna, this is of course Sanskrit word. Now we mean is wisdom, but this wisdom is not intellect, or knowledge. This intellect -- wisdom is so-called it, our inmost nature, which is always in incessant activity. Zazen practice is to -- wisdom seeking for wisdom is zazen practice, if I use a technical term. Wisdom seeks wisdom is zazen practice, and our everyday life is wisdom. Realization of our precepts is our everyday life. When wisdom --when our everyday life is based on wisdom, we call it precepts. When we sit, we do not do anything; we just sit. There’s no activity of our mind. We just sit, and all what we do is taking inhaling and exhaling. Sometime you will hear some birds sing -- singing, but that is not actually -- you are not hearing. Your ears will hear it [laughs]. You are not hearing it. Just, you know, sound come, and you make some respond to it, that’s all. This kind of -- this kind of practice is called “wisdom seek for wisdom.”
We have true nature. Whatever you do, even though you not do anything, your true nature is in incessant work -- activity. Even though you are sleeping, it is quite active. Your thinking or your sensation are superficial activity of yourself, but inmost nature is always working. Even you -- though you die, it is working. I don’t mean some, you know, soul, but something -- not soul, but something is always in incessant work. Whatever you call it, spirit or soul, I don’t mind [laughs]. You can put many names to it, or you will give it various interpretation to it, but that interpretation belongs to -- in your intellectuality. That is intellect. So, whatever you call it -- inmost nature itself, doesn’t mind [laughs, laughter]. Someone may call it soul. Someone may call it spirit. Someone may say, “Oh, no, no, that just material. Some kind of function of material is soul.” Maybe. According to the, you know, people, they will put many names on it -- to it, but our inmost nature is our inmost nature. It is quite little to do with [laughs] our -- our inmost nature.
When we sit, we call it inmost -- let inmost nature in its self, or activity. This is -- we call self-use of inmost nature. Let it work. You don’t do anything but let our true nature work by itself. This is Zen practice. Of course, even though you do not do anything, you will have pain on your legs, or some difficulty to keep your mind calm. And sometime you -- you may think, “Oh, my zazen is not so good.” [Laughs, laughter.] That is also the activity of the inmost nature, you know. Not your activity, but the activity of your true nature. Your true nature says [laughter], “Your [laughs, laughter] zazen is not so good [laughs, laughter].” If he say so, you -- you should accept it. “Oh, not so good [laughs, laughter]. What are you thinking?” Stop thinking for -- okay.” This is Zen, you know.
When you do something, you know, it is a kind of morality it is in it. It is because you do something by your choice, you know. But when you make decision to do something, your inmost nature will tell you, “That will not be [laughs] so good. How -- why don’t you do this way?” That is precepts, you know, when we have some choice in our activity. In zazen we have no choice. We just sit, and whatever inmost nature say, let it do it. “I don’t mind.” That -- this is zazen. But when you have some -- you make some plan, you are responsible for it too.
And at that time you should listen to what your inmost nature will say. That is morality or precepts. Our inmost nature will tell you what to do. So if you understand this way, this is morality, or this is precepts. So, the precepts actually is not only two or two hundred and fifty or five hundred. For female we have five hundred precepts, and for males, two hundred [laughs] and fifty. That is not so fair, but [laughs] anyway, five hundred, or three hundred -- it doesn’t matter. Whatever we do is precepts, because we have some choice. We have to make some decision.
“I am responsible for it -- what I should do?” And when we make some decision, we listen to Buddha Nature. “What should I do?” That’s all. So, here you have, in your everyday life -- you have precepts, and you have freedom too. Whatever you do, that is up to you. As long as you have freedom you -- you yourself make some decision, so you should be responsible for -- for that. You should not say that is -- “Buddha should be responsible for it. I don’t mind [laughs]. I am not responsible for that.” You cannot say so in your everyday life. So, in our everyday life, we should have precepts, we should observe the precepts, instead of leaving responsibility for Buddha. We should be responsible for that, but at the same time you have freedom. You should -- there is no need for you to be bound by precepts. Precepts is formulated by your own choice. As long as you take conscious activity, there is freedom, and at the -- at the same time, you should be responsible for that. This is freedom -- true freedom. To leave all the responsibility to Buddha is not freedom.
“I don’t mind.” Someone may say whatever you do that is Buddha Nature -- so, I -- it doesn’t matter whatever you do. This is misunderstanding. But the morality without Buddha Nature is just moral code, and you will be enslaved by moral code. That is a rigid moral code in which you be enslaved -- by which you will be enslaved. But if you become aware of Buddha Nature, innate nature, that is freedom, that is not rigid precepts. You -- you do it by your own choice, and you do it by your true nature -- according to your true nature. So, that is complete freedom. And that is also morality. So in this sense you have freedom. You are not enslaved by Buddha Nature, by a moral code. And moral code is not always same. It is not permanent. Strictly speaking, whatever -- there is a moral code whatever you do. So we say, Zen and precept is one. In everyday life we call it precepts, and in practice of zazen we call it Zen. So Zen and everyday life should be based on -- should be the self-use of our true nature. So in this sense, precepts and Zen is not different one. This is very important point.
And we bow this morning nine times. Why we bow to Buddha is -- it is actually -- it is actually a kind of practice to get rid of our self-centered idea -- to give ourselves completely to Buddha. Here I mean to give myself, or ourselves, means our physical function and our intellectual function, or life -- physical and intellectual life to Buddha because it is based on Buddha Nature. So even though we forget all about it -- still we have Buddha Nature here, so Buddha bow to Buddha. That is bow. This is one meaning.
Another meaning is: As long as we live, we have body here, and we have -- we have to think something. So Buddha practiced Zen, and we practice Zen. So, everyone when -- when he practice Zen, they are called Buddha. And Buddha Mind, or Bodhisattva Mind is a spirit. To attain oneness in duality is, in short, our spirit. Because we are not so good we, you know, try to improve ourself. That is our true nature. And we are aware of it -- we have some intention to improve ourselves. This intention is limited to human being. Flowers comes up -- a flower may come out in spring without fail, but they do not, you know, make any effort; they automatically come out [laughs] -- that’s all. We try to open, you know, our flower in spring, you know. We try to do right things at right time, but [laughs] we find it very difficult. In this sense we are very stupid [laughs, laughter]. Even though we try to do it, we cannot make it [laughs], but this is our human nature. We always try to do something. We have always some difficulty to do something. But this point is very important for us. That is why we have pleasure of human being, because it is difficult, and we are always making some effort. Some -- that effort result our human pleasure of life -- our pleasure of human life. This pleasure is limited to human being, and this is called our true nature.
But, if you understand this true nature, you will find out the true nature within yourself and in every existence. Flower has this nature. Even though it is cold, they are preparing for spring, even though they do not know they are making good effort to come up in spring. So this -- when we become aware of it, we will know that this nature we have is universal nature to every existence. But this awareness of true nature is limited to human being. So this awareness is very important, and this awareness is, in short, to try to do something good is our spirit. We don’t know why we should try to [laughs] -- try to improve ourselves. No one knows. There is no reason for it, or it is beyond discussion. Even though you cannot discuss why, it is -- the nature is -- our true nature is so big. It is out of comparison, out of our intellect -- intellectual understanding, so it makes any sense even though [laughs] you discuss it. “What are you talking about?” [Laughs.] Those who are aware of it will laugh at you if you discuss about it -- good or bad why -- why it is so is -- so, big problem to discuss. This is why we bow to Buddha.
And, by long experience, [SR stands up presumably] we found that the best posture -- best standing posture is, you know, when you have this space as wide as your fist, and stand like this. And from here to here, should be from here to here. And your left hand like this, right hand -- you cover your fist by your right hand, and put some strength here. And your eyes -- eye focus is -- is about here, about as high as your height [i.e. about six feet in front of you?]. This is your standing. This is also one of our precepts: when you stand up, there is precepts. When you sleep [laughs] it is not matter of to kill -- not to kill or not to steal [laughs]. Of course, you should not kill or should not [laughs] tell a lie, but that is not -- those are not only -- those are not all the precepts. And like this.
And when you sit, it's better to use this cushion, your cushion, to sit on the center of the cushion like this. [SR sits down, presumably] This is -- I'm sitting on the center. If -- when you sit on the center, the cushion will be -- some part of your cushion -- will be like this. Not like this. If you sit like this, you will be like this. So, sit like this, on the center of the cushion.
[SR stands up presumably] And when you bow [sound of robes rustling], it may be difficult for you to bow like this, so you can, make one step forward or backward. [Sound of robes rustling, exhaling - SR bows presumably] And -- oh, I should -- now, you know -- when you stand up, it maybe better do like this [sound of robes rustling] -- or like -- to do like this -- or to do like this or like that. Then it is easier. We do like this, you know, but this is maybe difficult. When you practice it, it’s better to do here -- right here [laughs, laughter]. This is difficult [laughter]. I became old [laughs, laughter]. I could do it, but now it is difficult [laughs, laughter]. Oh, this is [laughs] one inch [laughter] -- one inch thicker. [Laughter] Oh, I -- now I realize [laughs] something [laughs]. That is how you practice standing and sitting, and it makes you healthy -- healthy.
Woman's voice [Marian Derby?]: You're all invited to breakfast.