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Excerpts from Crooked Cucumber

On peace and war 

From Crooked Cucumber, chapter eighteen, The Driver - 1971, pp. 362-363.

How can you practice zazen? Only when you accept yourself
and when you really know you exist here. You cannot escape from
yourself. This is the ultimate fact, that "I am here."


After returning from Japan, Shunryu Suzuki experienced a period of relatively good health and was enjoying life with his students at Page Street. He went to zazen, led services, ate frequently with residents and boarders in the dining room, and saw many students privately for dokusan and tea.

While full of confidence in his sangha and in Richard still back in Japan, Suzuki was not naive about shortcomings and stumbling blocks. In lectures he warned about clinging to Buddhism and said that religion indeed could be an opiate—let it fall away and just be yourself. He'd been reminded during his 1970 trip to Japan of the decay inherent in institutions. "Don't give me that old-time religion," he said, and urged his students to be ever vigilant. One danger he saw was "losing oneself in a group." While extolling the

virtues of the sangha, he warned his students not to become like sheep. During Suzuki's recent visit to Kyoto, Uchiyama, like his outspoken master Sawaki, had railed against Japan's "mob psychology" and tendency toward "group paralysis." In a lecture at Page Street, Suzuki spoke in his back-and-forth, contradictory fashion on this subject.

We know how we can develop Dogen's practice in Zen Center. Our practice is individual practice; at the same time it is group practice. It is hermit-like practice, and at the same time, it can be practiced in this modern world. This is the characteristic of Dogen's practice. This is the true meaning of settling oneself on oneself. Even though you are in this modern society, you should not lose your fresh experience moment after moment. We should not be caught. We should know the fresh vitality within ourselves.

The most important thing in our practice is just to follow our schedule and to do things with people. Again, you may say this is group practice, but it is not so. Group practice is quite different; it is a kind of art. In wartime, when we were practicing zazen, some young men who were enthusiastic about Japan's militaristic mood told me that in a sutra it says, "To understand birth and death is the main point of our practice." They said, "Even though I don't know anything about that sutra, I can die easily at the front." That is group practice. Encouraged by trumpets, guns, and war cries, it is quite easy to die. That kind of practice is not our practice. We practice with people, first of all. But the goal is to practice with mountains, trees, and stones—with everything in the world, in the universe—and to find ourselves in this big cosmos, this big world.

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