Shunryu Suzuki: "Calmness" - Talk and Transcripts
This audio and transcript is from the Engage Wisdom Suzuki Roshi archive.
Given by Suzuki Roshi at Los Altos on Thursday, August 26, 1965
This tape consists of the earliest of the three existing audio recordings of a chapter of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, the original draft of which is included here below the audio transcript.
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.
Transcript updated 7/21 by SDH, from audio, to correct errors in original.
In Zen poem it says, ‘after the wind stop, I see the flower falling -- I see a flower falling. After -- because of the singing bird, I find the mountain -- mountain calmer’. When something happens in the realm of calmness, we find the calmness. Before anything happens to the calmness, we do not feel the calmness. In Japanese saying it says, ‘for the moon there is cloud. For the flower we have wind’. Actually -- usually it means the evanescence of life which we find it very difficult to live in it -- evanescence of life. But in evanescence of life we should find -- we can find the joy of eternal life. When you see the moon covered by cloud -- a part of it covered by cloud -- you will find the roundness of the moon. If you -- when you see the moon -- clear moon without any cloud or anything, trees or some weed, you do not feel the moon so round as (when) you see through something.
When you sit you do not feel anything; you just sit. You are in the complete calmness of your mind. But in everyday life, you will find you will be encouraged by the calmness of the zazen -- sitting. So actually the value of -- you will find the value of Zen in everyday life, rather then when you sit. Even though you find the value of Zen in everyday life, we should not neglect our zazen [laughs]. Even though you do not feel anything [laughs] when you sit, if you do not have the experience of Zen you cannot find anything [laughs]; you just find weed or trees or cloud [laughs]. Cloud without moon [laughs]-- cloud -- weed without moon means nothing. That’s just weed. That is why you are always complaining about something.
For Zen students, weed which we do not -- which people do not care for so much, is treasure. In this way, we have art of life, artistic life. Whatever you do, that is art of life - for Zen students.
So when you practice zazen, you should not try to attain something. You should just sit in the complete calmness. You should not rely on something. Your body should be straight. And your spine should be straight without leaning over, or leaning against something -- lying against something. You should just keep your body straight. It means you do not rely on anything. You just sit. In this way, physically and mentally, you will obtain the complete calmness. When you rely on something, or when you try to do something in zazen, it is dualistic. That is not complete calmness.
This is very valuable experience, and this experience will encourage your effort in your everyday life. In our everyday life we usually try to do something, or try to change something into some other things. Or you try to attain something. But try to attain something is already the art of -- expression of -- our true nature. Try to change something into some other thing is already -- is the art of life. We should find out the meaning of our effort itself, before we attain something.
So Dogen, Zen master, says, “We should obtain the enlightenment before we attain enlightenment”. Before we attain enlightenment we should obtain it. When you try to do something, itself it is enlightenment. It is expression of our true nature. It is not after attaining enlightenment that we find the true meaning of enlightenment. When we are in difficulty, there we have enlightenment. When we are in distress, there we have enlightenment. So he says, “Before we attain enlightenment, we should obtain enlightenment”. "When we are in defilement, we should attain the composure," he says -- we should have the composure. In the defilement -- the composure will be experienced only in our defilement. This point is very, very important. By continuing this kind of effort, you can improve yourself, even though it is little by little, you can improve yourself. But if you just try to attain something, or to make some contrivance to acquire something, you cannot work on it properly, because you have no art of -- technique [laughs]. You lose yourself in your effort. That is why you cannot achieve anything, and you just suffer in your difficulties. But if you find out, if you do it in appropriate way, based on your inmost nature, whatever you do, even though it is not perfect, but you can achieve it little by little. You can make some progress.
So he says -- Dogen, Zen master, says, “You should attain enlightenment -- you should obtain enlightenment before you attain enlightenment.” Which is important: to attain enlightenment, or to obtain enlightenment before you attain enlightenment? Which is important: to make your effort to save a million dollars, or to enjoy your life in your effort, little by little, even though you do not -- even though it is impossible for you to save million dollars? [laughs] But you can enjoy your everyday life. Which is important for us: to be successful, or to find some meaning in our effort to be successful? If you lose - - if you do not realize this point, you cannot even practice zazen. But if you have this point, you will have the pleasure -- the true pleasure of life.