zen is right now: “… Zen is not some fancy, special art of living. Our teaching is just to live, always in reality, in its exact sense. To make our effort, moment after moment, is our way. In an exact sense, the only thing we actually can study in our life is that on which we are working in each moment. …” ~ Suzuki Roshi
Indeed, Suzuki Roshi’s words not only sum up Zen but also offer an exquisite clue to the essence of perennial wisdom … AND make a compelling case that Zen IS Right Now!
It is no wonder that in the short span of 12 years in the West (arrived in San Francisco, California in 1959 and died 1971), Suzuki Roshi created an everlasting “Zen imprint” in the western world … from practicing of Zen in the West through the Soto tradition (and all its multifaceted ramifications) … to the profound clarification of “sitting as a Buddha” … to the founding of preeminent Zen centers … and seeding an abiding “Zen conversation” that continues to nourish – and guide – both Zen teachers and students to this day …
Suzuki Roshi’s impact on teachers can be best exemplified through what Zenju Earthlyn Manuel said of his classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: “Many folks say Suzuki Roshi’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, led them to Zen. For me, I didn’t understand a word of it at first. It wasn’t until the third day of a sesshin years later, when, too exhausted to think, I sensed the nothingness in his words. I laughed out loud in my room. What a master to have led us to nowhere. There was nothing to grasp—not him, not his teachings, not Zen. He said, “If you want to understand it, you cannot understand it.” Like a birdsong—listen.” ~ from Lions Roar: The Enduring Teachings of Suzuki Roshi
To fully appreciate Zenju herself (and by extension an even deeper appreciation of Suzuki Roshi), here is what she says of “her self” : “I have gone through many gateways. But I am neither monk, nor nun, nor priest. I am neither Zen or Buddhist. I am neither teacher nor guide, nor author. I am a dark seed of a lineage that has resisted annihilation for thousands of years. I am a voice from the great darkness of transformation, grace, and constant birth and death. I am a collective voice that weeps and protests. I am the ever-abundant blackness and darkness that has given birth to everything. I am life from the first source of life. I am because we are.” ~ from her website
So, today we offer a sampling of Suzuki Roshi through his recent book Zen Is Right Now: More Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki … via excerpts from the Introduction (by David Chadwick, the book’s editor) plus some of the stories/anecdotes that provide further insight into Suzuki Roshi and his teachings …
This post is part of our ongoing Shambhala Publications series that offers substantive previews of selections from Shambhala Publications new and classic titles …
All italicized text below is adapted from Zen Is Right Now: More Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki Edited by David Chadwick © 2021 by David Chadwick. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. Shambhala Publications has also generously offered a free downloadable PDF of the Table of Contents (link is at the bottom of the post).
You can purchase the book at Shambhala Publications or Amazon.
A student asked, “Who is buddha when we bow?” Suzuki answered, “When you bow, you are the buddha.” ~ Suzuki Roshi
In case you don’t know anything about Shunryu Suzuki or just need to have your memory refreshed on the basic background, I can do no better than to include some of the introduction from Zen Is Right Here. But first, a few words from his students.
Suzuki had a very human style. He never put on airs. He was traditional yet able to take a chance, which he sure did in San Francisco in the sixties—going there and start- ing Tassajara and all. I’ve never met anyone like Suzuki since. Pauline Petchey
I remember he used to say that every teaching of every buddha was really for that moment at that place for those people or that person and that it’s imperfect. It’s even imperfect at that moment—but it’s close to perfect. Toni (Johansen) McCarty
To Suzuki Roshi, the heart of a Zen temple is the zendo, or zazen hall. There he would join his students in zazen (often just called “sitting”), formal meals, and services in which sutras, Buddhist scripture, were chanted. There he would also give lectures, sometimes called dharma talks. Dharma is a Sanskrit word for Buddhist teaching. Usually one or two forty-minute periods of zazen were held early in the morning and in the evening. Sometimes there would be sesshin, when zazen would continue from early morning till night for up to seven days, broken only by brief walking periods, services, meals, lectures, and short breaks. During sesshin Suzuki would conduct formal private interviews with his students, called dokusan. We called Suzuki’s wife Okusan, which is wife in Japanese.
Suzuki talked about the paradoxical dual structure of reality—form and emptiness, relative and absolute, then and now. Echoing Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen, he taught that Zen practice is not preparation for something else; that the practice is enlightenment, not something that leads to it. Of course we have to consider the future and plan, but we ground ourselves in the immediate.
Suzuki encouraged his students above all to be themselves and not to use him or Buddhist teaching as a crutch. He said in a lecture, “Your conduct should not be based on just verbal teaching. Your inmost nature will tell you. That is true teaching. What I say is not true teaching. I just give you the hint.” He’d say he had no particular teaching. To me, he was just always trying to help us wake up.
Michael Wenger, who has worked a good deal with the Suzuki lecture archive and San Francisco Zen Center publications, once said he had an image of Suzuki with a bow—he was shooting arrows up into the air, hoping they landed on a target. We are all his target. I hope some of the arrows that follow land on you.
Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
January 6, 2020
Zen Is Right Now: Stories & Anecdotes
A student said she did not understand the meaning of her life. Suzuki answered,
“Eternal meaning is in your everyday life. So there is no need to figure out what is the meaning of life.”
Suzuki Roshi once said during a sesshin, “Zen is to feel your way along in the dark, not knowing what you will meet, not already knowing what to do. Most of us don’t like going so slowly, and we would like to think it is possible to figure everything out ahead of time. But if you go too fast, or are not careful enough, you will bump into things. So just feel your way along in the dark, slowly and carefully.”
He gestured with his hand out in front of him, feeling this way and that in the empty air.
“When you do things with this spirit, you don’t know what the results will be, but because you carefully feel your way along, the results will be okay. You can trust what will happen.”
In zazen, leave your front door and your back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.
In a lecture Suzuki said that emptiness will be realized when we are involved in some activity completely, that then we will disappear and that we’ll realize that what we thought was “us” is just activity—no one’s activity. He said that is nothingness, or emptiness, and it is not somewhere else; it’s right here. The proof could be found in practicing zazen.
A student asked, “What do Zen masters do when they’re alone together?”
Suzuki said, “They laugh a lot.”
What zazen really is has been explained in many different ways. One day Suzuki Roshi put it very simply: “It’s just to be ourselves.”
A student asked, “When does my life express the dharma and when does it not?”
Suzuki answered, “Your life always expresses the dharma.”
~ Suzuki Roshi
The next post in this Shambhala Publications series will feature Radhule Weininger’s Heart Medicine: How to Stop Painful Patterns and Find Peace and Freedom—at Last … so stay tuned …
All italicized text above is adapted from Zen Is Right Now: More Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki Edited by David Chadwick © 2021 by David Chadwick. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. And, click here for the free, downloadable PDF of the Table of Contents.
You can purchase the book at Shambhala Publications or Amazon.
Let us bring our collective wisdom to bear on the current humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine … by helping in whatever way we can … and to that end here are some options:
1) NPR: Want to support the people in Ukraine? Here’s how you can help
2) Washington Post: Here’s how Americans can donate to help people in Ukraine.
3) Go Fund Me: How to Help: Donate to Ukraine Relief Efforts.
4) USA Today: Want to support the people of Ukraine? These apps and websites can help you send money.
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We are all facing financial challenges but IF your situation allows you to donate and help then please do so …
May you remain safe and healthy as you navigate these unsettling times across the globe.