(previously published as ZenQuotes #4)
- by Shana Ritter
©2000 - All Rights Reserved
In the last edition of ZenQuotes, I presented the first part in a series of excerpts from the biography of Shunryu Suzuki, "Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki," by David Chadwick. Before I continue with the next part in that series, I want to share with you some excerpts of Suzuki-roshi's lectures, so that you may get a whole grasp of the man and his teachings. This passage, "Mind Weeds," was taken from "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal talks on Zen meditation and practice," which is a small compilation of some of his lectures assembled by one of his disciples, Trudy Dixon. (Weatherhill, 1970)
"When the alarm rings early in the morning, and you get up, I think you do not feel so good. It is not easy to go and sit, and even after you arrive at the zendo and begin zazen you have to encourage yourself to sit well. These are just waves of your mind. In pure zazen there would not be any waves in your mind. While you are sitting these waves will become smaller and smaller, and your effort will change into some subtle feeling.
"We say, 'Pulling out the weeds we give nourishment to the plant.' We pull the weeds and bury them near the plant to give it nourishment. So even though you have some difficulty in your practice, even though you have some waves while you are sitting, those waves themselves should help you. So you should not be bothered by your mind. You should rather be grateful for the weeds, because eventually they will enrich your practice. If you have some experience of how the weeds in your mind change into mental nourishment, your practice will make remarkable progress. You will feel the progress. You will feel how they change into self-nourishment. Of course it is not so difficult to give some philosophical or psychological interpretation of our practice, but that is not enough. We must have the actual experience of how our weeds change into nourishment.
"Strictly speaking, any effort we make is not good for our practice because it creates waves in our mind. It is impossible, however, to attain absolute calmness of our mind without any effort. We must make some effort, but we must forget ourselves in the effort we make. In this realm there is no subjectivity or objectivity. Our mind is just calm, without even any awareness. In this awareness, every effort and every idea and thought will vanish. So it is necessary for us to encourage ourselves and to make an effort up to the last moment, when all effort disappears. You should keep your mind on your breathing until you are not aware of your breathing.
"We should try to continue our effort forever, but we should not expect to reach some stage when we will forget all about it. We should just try to keep our mind on our breathing. That is our actual practice. That effort will be refined more and more while you are sitting. At first the effort you make is quite rough and impure, but by the power of practice the effort will become purer and purer. When your effort becomes pure, your body and mind become pure. This is the way we practice Zen. Once you understand our innate power to purify ourselves and our surroundings, you can act properly, and you will learn from those around you, and you will become friendly with others. This is the merit of Zen practice. Bt the way of practice is just to be concentrated on your breathing with the right posture and with great, pure effort. That is how we practice Zen."