ON SHUNRYU SUZUKI
from an early draft of Richard Baker's Book, Original Mind
Original Mind - chapters from Baker's yet published book
Zentatsu Richard Baker cuke page
One day I was on the way to a samurai movie with a painter friend whom I had known in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and whom I saw occasionally in San Francisco. Since we were a little early we stopped by George Fields', my favorite bookshop then for esoteric and Asian books. I was telling my friend about a recent film I had seen and illustrating a typical moment with a raised sword and shout. George Fields looked up from his desk, which I was leaning toward with my imaginary sword, and said, "You should meet Suzuki‑sensei." (He was called 'sensei' then‑‑it being the most common and respectful word for teacher in Japanese.)
He said, "He is a Zen Master of the other kind of Zen (meaning not Rinzai). He is giving a lecture tonight. He does every Wednesday night. He's a wonderful person. You should meet him." I thought it was a good idea. But deeper than that, and half‑consciously, I felt commanded. I felt I was being directed by my dream and somehow by George Fields.
We decided to go to Suzuki‑sensei's lecture and postpone the dinner and movie. We sat down. This small man who didn't feel small came in. He was completely present. Without saying or doing anything, he felt bright. If I may say so, he seemed luminous. He gave the impression of standing at the center of the world. And he made me feel located just there where I was. I don't think my friend noticed much. It was just an interesting lecture to him. But for me it seemed as though I was meeting someone out of the ancient texts I had been reading. At college I had attended the lectures of some of the leading philosophers and theologians of our time. They were intellectually interesting, but what they said did not seem to come directly from their life. Nor was it their present experience as they were talking. This was in contrast to Suzuki‑sensei's talk which was so immediately present that he was presenting the experience as he was talking. There was no artifice in the way he spoke, the way he stood when speaking and when not speaking, or the way he walked into the room, then during the talk walked a little back and forth in front of us, and, at the end, out of the room.
After he left I realized I was exhilarated. Could I have met someone out of the past? Someone like those masters and others who had created the present I was living and studying. Could I have met, someone who might now be creating the future? He did create my future.
Of course I didn't know that then. But I did conclude that if such teachers had lived in the past then why not in the present? It still had to be possible. I felt deeply grateful to have met him. There was an unfathomable sense about him‑‑a mystery and beauty. At the same time, he gave me the feeling of intimacy and familiarity, as if he had known me, or I him, already. I felt I was coming home.
Now this is not a story about Suzuki‑roshi as a person or as a teacher, although it is about his teaching. Nor is it a description of my relationship to him. But since practice is so personal‑‑it is inseparable from one's personal life‑‑I found in writing that I had to say, at least, something about my life and experience in practicing. So I have decided that I have to describe Suzuki‑roshi sufficiently for you to understand his role as my teacher.
Most of the feeling for practice and the teachings in this book come from the first five years of practice with Suzuki‑roshi. This was from 1961 until 1966, just before we started Tassajara Zen Monastery. It has taken these twenty‑five to thirty years for me to 'unpack' the teachings I received from Suzuki‑roshi and to understand them in sufficient clarity, dynamism, and maturity to be able to teach them myself and to write about them now.
I do not want to glamorize or romanticize Suzuki‑roshi or my relationship to him. However, since it was a relationship that fundamentally transformed my life, and is still changing it, it is difficult for me to describe him without using words that sound excessive. What I want to do is to show something of the nature of the traditional teacher‑disciple relationship that is both inside and outside of language and that transmits a lineage teaching (physically, mentally, and spiritually) to another person.
There are some lines from an e.e.cummings' poem that have stayed with me until now. They were especially present in those years when I first came to San Francisco.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
At college I had been used to teachers who only taught 'about' something, but didn't represent what they were teaching. My primary and secondary education up to that point had disabused me of the expectation that teachers might be models for life or of what they were teaching. I accepted this. But, as I have implied, at a deep level I was disillusioned and came to believe that the kind of wise men and women that I imagined had created our culture were only to be found in literature and histories. Consequently, when I went to Suzuki‑roshi's lecture, I was astonished to find someone I had always hoped existed.
STARTING TO PRACTICE
I went to Suzuki‑sensei's Wednesday and Sunday lectures in the following weeks with a certain excitement. However, the momentum of my life continued its nondescript course. I usually ate lunch at 'Blanche's'‑‑a little Italian seafood and sandwich place on the dockside of a very stinky canal (sewage had been directed into it through some public works corruption). I came to know Blanche and her husband fairly well. Eating there had a kind of family feeling. He was a fisherman and the owner of several fishing boats. Once he asked me if I would take charge of one of his fishing boats. His boats went to sea for weeks at a time. Although this intrigued me, I decided I didn't need another two‑year career in my twenty‑four‑year‑old life.
I usually ate and read on the dock. One day, on the way back to the warehouse, I was walking slowly enjoying the sun. Very often I would continue reading as I was walking‑‑occasionally lifting the book, reading a few sentences, musing for a while, and then reading again. This day the book was one of D. T. Suzuki's. While I was going along it occurred that in addition to going to lectures I should start practicing meditation. But then I thought, "I am not good enough to practice zazen."
I imagined I had to be more developed or some special kind of person. I had a clear feeling that I was not ready for such a serious practice. So I decided to read a little more and I reopened the book at random. A sentence jumped off the page, "To think you are not good enough to practice zazen is a form of vanity." I snapped the book shut.
D. T. Suzuki in all his books had almost never mentioned zazen! So reading this sentence surprised me. But I thought, "He's right! It is a form of vanity!" Suddenly it didn't matter whether I was good enough or not. I resolved to sit the next morning. What did matter was that I saw clearly how vanity and many other attitudes interfered with what I was doing or planning to do.
At the time I thought of this decision as little more than a step toward accepting the practice of zazen and maybe learning how to do it. But it was really a deep resolution. At that moment my 'wandering' in the world stopped. There were no more fishing boats or other careers I just started sitting in order to stop the wandering of my mind.
The next morning at 5 A.M. I entered the Zendo. It was a dark, fairly small, nondescript meeting room on the second floor of an old building that had been a synagogue. I made my way toward barely visible pillows on the nearside of the door. I sat down on the first empty cushion. A few minutes later Suzuki‑roshi came in and whispered close to my ear that I should move to the other side of the Zendo as I was on the women's side. In those early days the few women and men who were sitting sat on opposite sides of the room.
I liked sitting. It immediately made sense to me. However, I was very skinny and inflexible. Trying to sit cross‑legged felt like trying to bend two‑by‑fours that had been rigidly nailed together. I called my posture the 'half‑lily' because it nearly killed me. I had to come to zazen early in order to slowly force and work my legs down into an approximation of sitting posture. Anywhere between five and twenty minutes into the period they would pop up into tailor posture. When I reached twenty minutes on a regular basis after six months or more I felt I was well on my way to being an adept.
We sat facing the wall. At that time Suzuki‑roshi's custom was to get up in the middle of each period from his own seat and reassuringly walk by everyone. He would sometimes straighten a posture, or hit someone with his short stick if they asked by putting their hands together in front of their face and bowing forward. He usually only hit people's shoulders when they asked, but not always. I tried to learn to remain in my initial hard‑earned posture until he had walked around. Then I would shift to sitting with my knees quite high up in the air. I sat on three pillows stacked on top of each other. Even with all this difficulty and discomfort sitting was still a relief from the complications and complexity of my usual state of mind.
MARRIAGE AND LAY LIFE
I met Virginia Brackett, my wife‑to‑be, a few months after meeting Suzuki‑roshi. I asked Roshi what he thought about my getting married. He was thoughtful and then said, "There are problems in being married and there are problems in not being married. It's not so different. What's important is that your spouse supports your practice." I talked with Virginia. She clearly supported my practice. So we were married by Suzuki‑roshi in May of 1962‑‑a little less than a year after I started to practice. Virginia was really miraculously supportive and open to the unconventional life I was choosing and that she was choosing too.
Now at that time I had a full‑time job organizing academic conferences, programs, and classes for the University of California Extension. On top of this, I was a graduate student in oriental studies working on my M.A. and Ph.D. (The Ph.D. was permanently interrupted by the founding of Tassajara shortly after I received my M.A.) Zazen practice helped me absorb the pressures I was under as an employee and student of the University, starting a family, studying Zen. But, more than that, it helped me to accept all the suffering I saw and felt within myself. Until I started zazen, I didn't know how to cope with it or absorb it. I was willing to try anything that might help.
The fact that Zen practice was unconventional didn't worry me. But I did think that it was a long shot. I had no proof that it had ever worked for a Westerner. As far as I knew no Westerner had ever made it work. But it still made unequivocal sense. I liked it that Zen practice depended on each person doing it on their own with nothing more than the ingredients of mind, body, and intention to rely on. Of course, we had the help of the teachings and a teacher. But still, even with these gifts, we had to do it ourselves. I liked these simple, minimum ingredients. I knew that if practice worked, if I came to feel better and the world more whole, then, because the practice was so clear and simple, I would understand how it had happened. My life would become my own territory. At the same time, practice made me recognize that life was indescribably bigger than I thought it was.
There was a clean, crisp feeling to practice. It came from Suzuki‑roshi. But it also came from the sounds of the bells, the wooden fish chanting drum and, especially for me, the 'clack' of the wooden clappers. I so liked the sound of the clappers that I hunted for weeks for wood that had a clear, crisp sound. I finally found a nondescript little board that sounded great. And I made my own clappers‑‑cutting, rounding, sanding, and staining them. Virginia, Sally, my new‑born daughter, and I would start our little meal chant with them. (It makes me happy to see that they still have a good sound thirty years later. We start our informal meals at Crestone Mountain Zen Center with them.)
Every morning I bicycled to the Zendo at 4:30 A.M. for two periods of zazen that were followed by service. And then back home for breakfast about 7:20. It was a 20‑minute ride each way. After breakfast, at around 8, I cycled down Russian Hill to the East Bay Terminal to bus to work at the university in Berkeley. In the afternoon I made sure I was back in San Francisco in time for the 30 to 40‑minute ride avoiding the hills across the city to the Zendo for 5:30 zazen. It was an intense day‑‑practicing, commuting, and squeezing in classes between organizing conferences and programs for the extension department. I worked at the university for five years until we started Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. But my 'real work' and 'way' during those years was to remain present in Suzuki‑roshi's teaching throughout the day and night.
There was zazen twice a day. Suzuki‑roshi gave lectures every Wednesday evening and Sunday morning. I read sutras and commentaries every morning at home and then on my lunch break on the campus somewhere. During the day, I tried to find practices to do when walking, attending classes, meetings, and so forth. And I also relaxed, letting my mind float and my body just sit or stroll along.
I am giving these details about San Francisco and my life at that time because everything became inseparable from Zen practice. The details of zazen posture had taught me how to live on my cushion. And although zazen was not the details, yet zazen was not separate from them. Learning to live in this posture established a new connection with my physical existence. From zazen I began living in the physical details of my life with continuity and bodily awareness. The consciousness of my wife Virginia, the awareness of my infant daughter Sally, the atmosphere of San Francisco with its Japanese and Chinese restaurants and many parks. Walking, bicycling, being with my family, shopping, etc., this was my daily world of practice and just being alive. I had learned to live in the Zendo on my cushion, and now I was trying to learn to live in my daily life with equal presence and concentration.
In those days, as I have said, San Francisco had almost no tall buildings. Downtown for me was Chinatown, North Beach, and Japantown across the city. I had come from Manhattan, the city bordered by "the lordly Hudson hardly flowing under the green grown cliffs," as Paul Goodman described it. And the Hudson flowed straight past the city. Living there you would hardly have known it. Even crossing the bridges you couldn't see it. The bridges were too high and the traffic too thick. The people of Manhattan could barely feel this wide, dark water of northern rains, trees, and mossy lakes. Activity took over everything.
In San Francisco water is unavoidable. The Bay surrounds the city with choppy‑‑gray, dark‑blue, and pewter‑‑waters. The sky is often not much different. Beyond the Bay, the ocean is always present. Wet breezes and boat and fog horns constantly announced to my consciousness these two primordial worlds of the cold bay and the rougher sea. The ocean pulls down the sky at the horizon and draws the hot air of the Central Valley across the city as rain and fog.
The Bay wraps in around the city, Berkeley, Oakland, Marin. It flows right up against the parks, sometimes below cliffs and sometimes almost into the streets and next to the buildings. Some of the city borders on the ocean itself. Often the bay shines up, dances in the sun, shimmers under its bridges. The open water was often filled with boats, and the perimeter was often lined with people‑‑walking and bicycling. This double embrace of ocean and bay was simultaneously reassuring and lonely.
The weather fluctuated in a tug of fog and sunshine up and down the Bay and Sacramento River channel from the Central Valley, through the coastal mountains, to the ocean. The weather was driven by the cold of the Pacific and the intense heat of California's dry and enormous Central Valley. So the same day in San Francisco could alternate between sunny skies and dark foggy streets. On a winter morning there could be spring breezes, and on a summer afternoon chill ocean winds‑‑the smell of ocean and the cries of gulls unseen in the fog. In those days, before the build‑up of downtown, the city felt low and small and completely subject to the weather‑‑a kind of outpost in the sea. It was a good place to live and to practice.
I didn't really understand it then‑‑except in a poetic and intuitive way‑‑but part of the genius of Chinese and Japanese Zen is that it has developed so that nature and the outside world are part of a living being that is your practice. And living in San Francisco, being married, bringing up a child, and practicing Zen, all this came together as one consciousness. The outside world and the inside world were the same continuity. The world of San Francisco and northern California were inside of me.
If only I hadn't learned from birth onward, to give accepted meanings to things, if only I could see them in the expression they have separate from the expression that has been imposed upon them....If only I could notice everything for the first time, not apocalyptically, like a revelation of the Mystery, but directly like the blooming of Reality....I see that the mist that left the entire sky, except where the blue still appears not quite blue, has truly entered my soul, and at the same time entered into that part within all things that is the part through which they have contact with my soul. (Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, p. 60)
The world was vivid, powerful, delicious, its own being and, at the same time, constructed in my senses. Looking at the world, I saw my mind, my sense fields. Looking at my mind, I saw the world. I could almost see through both. My senses were layers in which I lived constructing and absorbing the world. In this new physical continuity, things were heard, seen, and felt differently‑‑and very directly. When a plane went overhead I felt the sound with my body. The breezes were not outside but inside, clearing and stirring.
Some days the sun in its brightness would dissolve the boundaries of everything. And later, the streets would be filled with fog and only outlines of buildings could be seen leaning into the streets. The weather bathed and purified, turned me inward and outward. I lived in a new continuity of resonant feelings and observations. It was a continuity bred partly through practice, for practice became the establishment of continuity (physically, phenomenally, sensually, and sensorially) in an awareness outside of, or larger than, conceptual thoughts, ego, and the back and forth of likes and dislikes that usually shaped my personality. The past flowed indissolvably into the present, and the present disappeared into mindfulness‑‑a kind of a deep present of awareness and associations without comparisons. The future opened from the present without separation. The future was present. There was often a kind of stopped space, whether in the fog or the sun. For me, San Francisco was suspended in its own world, somewhere between America and Asia.
EVERYDAY IS ENOUGH
As we have seen the founders of the Zen school committed themselves to the radical and yet obvious choice of the 'everyday' as the scene of practice and of enlightenment. This emphasis on the 'scene of ordinary life' pervaded all the teachings and practices I was studying. Zen does not, like some schools of Buddhism, give us images to visualize in minute detail or complex mudras to shape in conjunction with sounds and visualizations. Zen says we already have everything we need for practice and realization. It is right before our eyes‑‑in minute detail.
Although this is true, still our eyes have to be changed a bit and our mind and body opened before we can see it, and before you can implement 'the provisions of the everyday' as practice. It was not easy for me to recognize that what I already had was all I needed. I had never heard that it might be enough, never knew that there was a state of mind and being in which 'just now' really was enough. I needed the mental and physical calmness of zazen to see it. And I needed the permission of Suzuki‑roshi and the confirmation I saw in his life and way of being.
During the first year and a half or so of living in San Francisco and many of the months in New York before I came, I was in considerable mental distress. My younger sister had committed herself to a mental hospital not too long before I moved to San Francisco. And I had an uncle who had lived out his adult life in such a hospital. The suffering they both endured was unbearable to me. I couldn't put a world together, I couldn't stand a world, in which there was so much suffering. I thought maybe I would go crazy. I just barely got through each day. I didn't show it on the outside, but it was difficult. I remember thinking that I would trade any physical pain for the mental pain I was feeling. I saw a psychiatrist once a week for about two years. That helped. After a year or so, I couldn't afford my psychiatrist and so I started seeing a student intern he recommended. They were both good. I learned a lot about myself and others. And I continued practicing.
One of the first breaks I had from this suffering came through an inconsequential, almost comical, event. Not too long after starting practice, I was walking down California Street outside the central part of town. I stopped to light a cigarette. It was windy and I burned my finger cupping the match. It was only for as long as it took for the match to flash and burn out. But during that time, just for a moment, I felt good. The cloud lifted inside and the sky outside became clear.
It was the first time in about a year I had felt easy with myself and the world for even a brief moment. It immediately closed down again, but I thought, "If I can feel good for even a moment as a result of such a commonplace thing as a match burn, then I can reverse my situation. Instead of feeling terrible for a year and good for a moment, it must be possible to feel good for a year and only bad for a moment." I vowed (at that moment) to reverse the year. I KNEW it was possible. I just had to find the way to do it.
It was a kind of tiny replay of the four noble truths. There is suffering, there is joy. There is a cause of suffering‑‑and joy. And if there is a cause of joy then it must be possible to cause joy and end suffering. There must be a path of joy. This was the reasoning of Buddha. And a reasoning‑‑and experience‑‑that happened instantly in me, resonating with my beginning practice and study of the Four Noble Truths. The scale and context in which I felt this may sound inconsequential. But it was one of the most consequential moments of my life. I vowed to find the cause of suffering and the cause of joy. And I vowed to enter the path of joy and freedom from suffering.
In effect, I took the precepts at that moment‑‑really the precept before the precepts, which is to enter the path of Buddhism. I did. It was not lost on me that it was a moment of accepting pain that caused the joy. Nor that, ironically, I had been walking past the headquarters of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. Insurance is a form of society's compassion and the Four Noble Truths are the root teachings of compassion. For a moment. I saw Buddhism as the Sufferer's Insurance Company. It was, in retrospect, a humorous moment. But one in which I had an insight. And as a result, I took the vow which saved and changed my life.
ADEPT LAY PRACTICE
Suzuki‑roshi taught that adept practice and understanding the Way were fully possible in lay life. And he felt that Zen practice belonged most appropriately and effectively in the fabric and entanglements of everyday life. He used to call it entering the weeds, the 'forest of thorns'‑‑a phrase from the koans. I used to think of it as 'br'er (brother) rabbit's briarpatch'. I believed him and tried to practice that way. He thought that monasteries should not be necessary. In his compassion and vision he was committed to each person's being able to practice and live the Buddha's teachings in all the circumstances of life.
On the other hand, the Zen stories he told and the stories he told about himself were almost always about monastic and temple life. His father had been a Zen Master and he had grown up in a temple. So this was the life he knew best, even though he went to college (a Zen Buddhist college) in Tokyo and was a chaplain in Manchuria during World War II. He saw his coming to America as an opportunity to practice and teach Buddhism in a fresh context without the constraints, lassitude, and bureaucracy of Asian Buddhist institutions.
My solution was to commit myself to lay practice while trying to understand and bring into practice the essentials of monastic and temple life. I didn't have a choice if I wanted to stay with Suzuki‑roshi. He lived in San Francisco on the corner of a busy intersection. Buddhist monastic life was in Japan, in another culture.
It was not possible to live with him in the dilapidated wooden building, a former synagogue, that had been turned into a Zen temple by the Japanese congregation. He and, later when his wife came, the two of them, lived in a room under the dome of one of the two tiny towers that 'adorned' the fašade of the temple. If you didn't know what the temple was, still driving in the traffic with the timed lights, momentarily, you might still notice these strange towers, mysterious and alone, above the traffic. His teenage son lived across the street.
On the second floor, under the tower, was Suzuki‑roshi's office. It opened into the Zendo and the hall. Behind the Zendo was a long kitchen. The main auditorium was used as a movie theater on weekends and occasionally converted into a temple for big ceremonies and funerals. The Japanese congregation, individually and in small groups, were constantly in the office with Suzuki‑roshi or in the kitchen with Mrs. Suzuki.
There was no space in the building to live‑‑except for their little room. And Suzuki‑roshi's duties to the Japanese congregation, plus his family responsibilities, made it impossible for any of us to live with him, except during the once‑a‑year, week‑long sesshin. During this week we sat from 4:30 or 5 A.M. until 9:20 P.M. (I don't remember the schedule exactly.) My close friend in practice, who had come slightly before me, was Grahame Petchey, from England.
The two of us received permission from Suzuki‑roshi to sleep in a back basement room behind the auditorium. This allowed us to sit late, until twelve or one, after the regular sitting had ended. We shared the only bath in the building with Suzuki‑roshi. In those days we were allowed to take a bath during sesshin. I found it a special pleasure to wait for Suzuki‑roshi to finish, and then Grahame (since he was senior to me), and then to bathe in this makeshift bathroom in the dark basement.
The experience of living at the temple during sesshins was one of the seeds of my desire to find a site for a monastery. This was six years before we founded Tassajara. However, in those days, even if we had had a monastery, my family responsibilities and financial needs in the early '60x would not have allowed me to leave San Francisco.
So I decided to practice as if I were in a monastery. I looked at each situation as if its details required the kind of attention that monastic life would require. San Francisco itself became my monastery. It had big grounds, an ocean and a wide sky, but still I said, this is my monastery. I will live in the city, at home, and at work as if I were in a monastery. I decided that even if I were to go crazy trying to understand life, deal with pressures, and my personal concerns, there was no place to go crazy to. I was always going to be right where I was‑‑whether the surroundings were the world, a monastery, or a mental asylum.
Each day in my pretend monastery I tried to put into practice whatever Suzuki‑roshi was currently saying in his lectures. And I tried to maintain the feeling of zazen through various ways of concentrating, primarily on my immediate activity, state of mind, breathing, and a particular teaching. The teaching was usually either a phrase or a feeling. Or something I was puzzling over or trying to put into action. It might be something Suzuki‑roshi said to me personally or in a lecture.
Sometimes it was just a feeling I carried from things he did. And almost always I had a line, or word or two, from the current paragraph of whatever sutra I was reading. This sounds like a lot of things to do. But each thing would fertilize each other thing and come together in one practice, feeling, or conundrum. It would resolve into a theme that would stay for days or weeks, and then evolve into a new theme. I learned to stay present with nongraspable feelings.
As a practice, each day I read a few sentences or maybe a paragraph or a page from a Buddhist sutra or a commentary. I tried to pay close attention to my physical state‑‑my physicality‑‑and emotions as I was reading, sensing that my body and feelings must be reading, participating in the reading, and 'understanding', as well as my mind. This meant I had to read at a pace that included my body and emotions.
I didn't read more than I could attempt to practice and understand through the day. Sometimes it took days to get through one paragraph. I would stay with a sentence until I felt that I had gone as far as I could in opening up and realizing the teachings there. Then I would start on the next sentence. It would take months and sometimes more than a year to get through a sutra or commentary.
Throughout the day I watched my feelings, emotions, thoughts, as they appeared and disappeared. I often kept my mind and attention on my feet and walking‑‑sometimes on the sidewalk or grass. I anchored my mind in whatever part of my body touched the world‑‑my feet, my arm on a desk, even the surrounding air. It was an exercise in embeddedness and awareness, sealing me into the world. I paid attention to the way things just looked, in themselves‑‑the sheer appearance of things. Perhaps the way a painter sees.
I did this without comparing what I felt or saw to any other moment or object‑‑at least as much as possible. And I didn't try to make any special effort. I relied on presencing my intention and nourishing it rather than trying to will something. I preferred things to happen through willingness, rather than will. I let my mind rest in itself as much as possible. I wanted to be free from the intention to act or not to act. I let my mind and breath relax into the ease of 'no place to go and nothing to do'.
NO OUTSIDE, NO INSIDE
This kind of repetitious, presencing, mindfulness, practice has results that are unexpected and in situations that are predictable. So we can't practice hoping for results. Of course in a general sense we do‑‑its natural‑‑but at the intentional and operative‑‑moment by moment‑‑level of practice, it is essential that there be no desire for results. It's good to practice without much in our mind and without expecting anything. As Suzuki‑roshi always said, "No gaining idea."
My practice was set‑up by an experience I had during the first few months when the ground was literally changed under my feet. Sometime in the late summer or early fall of 1961, I was walking back from lunch mid‑day in San Francisco to the warehouse where I worked. Lunch was a time to be alone, read a little, practice. I was a beginner. I had only been practicing two or three months, but I was trying to be mindful and be just where I was. For a change, I had not eaten at Blanche's but at a nearby corner cafeteria. Of course, I had one or two books. Probably at least one in my hand and one stuck under my belt. I have always liked choice and a little dissonance‑‑in general probably, but here I mean in my choice of reading material.
Crossing the railroad tracks leading up to the back of the warehouse, I paused and lit a cigarette. I didn't inhale, never had, but I liked the physical ritual of smoking. I threw the empty package onto the ground between the tracks and started walking away. But immediately I felt a little strange. I paused again, half‑turned back toward the scrunched‑up cigarette pack. It wasn't morality. It wasn't that I shouldn't litter. It was that I felt I had thrown something down on the ground that was still in my mind. It was burning a hole in my mind.
So I went back to pick it up, thinking I really shouldn't litter even on these already littered back tracks. But moving to pick it up didn't satisfy me. There was some deeper discomfort‑‑than littering. We would say now that something didn't compute. I stood in this indeterminate space, letting it have its shape. Because I was practicing, I had developed already the habit from zazen of staying with discomfort in a kind of timeless feeling‑‑not worrying about whether it would end or continue. It was an inner patience I had discovered.
Then I felt as if I was moving in slow motion and suddenly I realized that I thought this was outside‑‑that I had thrown the packet into the outside, and that I too was in the 'outside'. And I noticed that I felt this outside was fundamentally different from the inside. That the 'outside' was a place of freedom or inconsequentiality, where cigarette packets floated in space forever. Then I thought probably I had noticed this because the cigarette package wouldn't be swept up here, while it would be inside the warehouse. (Where, in fact, I would have had to sweep it up.)
I felt a moment of loneliness for the cigarette packet which might lay there for years disintegrating all by itself. But then I thought again, it is more than that it won't be swept up: "I believe that inside and outside are different. I believe they are fundamentally different realms. And because of that I don't really have to live in the present. Because there is a fundamentally different realm out there somewhere‑‑or just ahead of me: my future." I believed in what Daowu called a 'double moon', another reality than this PRESENT‑‑which we are sealed in and free in.
This distinction between inside and outside that I had believed up until that moment, folded out into further believed distinctions: between past and future, and between my 'self' of that moment and some future self. I saw that I thought there was a world outside where my life would happen‑‑perhaps was already happening‑‑and soon someone would come and tell me. The warehouse job was only an anteroom of the future where I was waiting for my life to happen in some other space. I recognized that if I always felt that way, I would never have a present‑‑or a future. The warehouse was in fact my present, and in retrospect, a very consequential present that engaged my whole life, including everything that has happened since.
Then I noticed: even my life in the future will be 'right here', 'right here' in the future. Future, past, and present disappeared. At that moment the warehouse, and the inside of the warehouse, and the railroad tracks were on one ground that passed right through me and had no boundaries. There was no outside and no inside. There is no outside and no inside.
When you sit zazen facing a wall, it appears that
the sitter and the wall are two different things, but
actually they are not separate. In order to
understand this we need the mind of universal
('Koku', 'Universal Emptiness', Dogen, Kosen Nishiyama)
I have lived in a different present from that moment on. Because I was practicing at the time and have continued to practice, this was not just an experience that happened in the past, it continues in the successive presents. This is still true. As it is true for you reading this book. Have you noticed it!
Some say that Buddha Nature is similar to the seed
of a plant, when it receives the nourishing rain of
the teaching, it naturally sprouts and leaves,
flowers, and fruit appear, the fruit containing
seeds. Those holding such a view should learn
that the seed, flowers, and fruit each and
simultaneously are the seed and mind of Buddha
Nature. Although the seeds are not visible,
still the roots,
stem, and the rest grow, branches
multiply and a
large tree appears. This performance
is not outside n
('Bussho', 'Buddha Nature', Dogen,
Kosen Nishiyama, Richard Baker)
This whole experience was a succession of almost instantaneous recognitions. Each one small, but each one fundamental. Seed and fruit proceeded without interruption. Practice had readied the mindground. My views changed, ratcheted forward and then shifted on to another gear, and then another, and then another. My life has been fundamentally different since. The direction changed and the present became my home.
I said it wasn't morality, but that probably is not right. I had a very strong thing about not littering. It was one of the main things my mother admonished the world about, particularly throwing things from cars. But on these old, messy, mostly unused railroad tracks, there was considerable litter already, a small history of trash. And in those days in this new city, I was trying to find a new personality‑‑less idealistic, purist, moralistic. I tried to be looser, not always rigidly following rules and isolating myself from the ordinary carelessness and everyday irresponsibility of us humans.
Let me tell the story again‑‑trying to recreate, from a slightly different point of view, the hindered, notching‑up, process of this little but transforming realization. I think morality did play a role as a precept, 'not to litter', that I had learned from my mother. It was part of the built‑in intentionality of my mind and activity. And it was part of what stopped me and made me consider what I was doing. What I thought was real.
I saw all the trash‑‑mine too. I confronted the new looser me that thought I should litter a bit like everyone else. This inner dissonance precipitated a new mind, where I saw the trash inside‑‑and I realized I thought it was outside. It was not. If it was outside I couldn't have thrown it down. And if it was outside‑‑really‑‑it could not have affected me. It would have been gone (floating in space somewhere). I realized then, as I have said, that I thought there was an outside where things were gone or differently consequential. It was staring me in the face: Outside and inside are mental categories, not real boundaries of a world presenced and functioning in interdependence.
The ingredients of dream were there too: images, an interaction of outer and inner circumstances, words that look both inside and out, railroad tracks going nowhere, the backdoor of a warehouse, a 'where?house', a nowhere house. The sun was high above me. I was alone, concentrating on practice, while having to go back into being an employee. Smoking was a kind of spiritual space for me, and reading too.
I was 'back tracking' in my mind wondering about my past, and how I got 'here', and where my future was, when suddenly the PRESENT intruded itself through the throwing away of a cigarette wrapper. Then the Present swallowed me up in boundarylessness. Dreamthinking, practice, and my ordinary daily life came together in mindfulness, in the first real NOW of my life‑‑at least‑‑through the preparation of practice‑‑the first that I acknowledged so thoroughly, that my societal, psychological, and inherited philosophical habits could no longer fool me.
Suzuki‑roshi's book came out eight years after this experience, but in those early days he often spoke about our practice as an iron railroad track. Since the railroad track behind my warehouse was where I threw down and picked up my life, let me quote from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (pgs. 54‑55).
The Bodhisattva's way is called "the single‑minded
way," or "one railway track thousands of miles
long." The railway track is always the same. If it
were to become wider or narrower, it would be
disastrous. Wherever you go, the railway track is
always the same. That is the Bodhisattva's way. So
even if the sun were to rise from the west, the
Bodhisattva has only one way. His way is in each
moment to express his nature and his sincerity.
We say railway track but actually there is no such
thing. Sincerity itself is the railway track. The
sights we see from the train will change, but we are
always running on the same track. And there is no
beginning or end to the track: beginningless and
endless track. There is no starting point nor goal,
nothing to attain. Just to run on the track is our
way. This is the nature of Zen practice....There is
no need to remember what I say. You understand; you
have full understanding within yourself. There is
But for me there still was a problem. Although I had realized the groundlessness and freedom of the present and felt tremendous joy and relief, still this experience did not end my suffering. At the level of personality, I was still caught in the suffering of my sister and in my inability to resolve the many contradictions of life. Deep down I felt secure and open‑‑very stable‑‑but above that, there was a great deal of choppy water.
The difference was that I now could see the water and its choppiness in contrast to a deeper stability. It even made the water more choppy, as if the choppiness had a mind of its own and did not want me to see the simultaneity of the clear calm water‑‑in the midst of the waves. Eventually I did for I accepted the 'railway track' of practice. I knew I was on it. I wanted nothing else. I knew there was "no starting point no goal, nothing to attain." I just wanted "to run on the track." I knew that was my way "even if the sun were to rise from the west."
ENTERING DAILY PRACTICE
Zazen practice was a great relief to me. For three forty‑minute periods a day, and two lectures a week, I had no place to go and nothing to do‑‑except to be on the cushion in my own presence and in Suzuki‑roshi's presence. Nothing I had known before, at least intellectually, would have made me think that sitting doing nothing could be anything other than nothing. I had been geared by my culture and my insecurities to believe that every moment should be productive in measurable ways‑‑in worldly accomplishment or least in intellectual development. By contrast, when I did zazen I felt I was stepping outside my life and into my life at the same time‑‑out of my concerns, into a calm space of 'no place to go and nothing to do'.
I don't mean that I didn't deal with my concerns‑‑worries, problems, responsibilities‑‑but I met and dealt with them in a much calmer way. Even in the midst of many things to do there was this place where I rested on my cushion with 'no place to go and nothing to do'. But how was I to bring this satisfaction of sitting on the cushion into daily life?
I hit upon an obvious solution that also resonated with my sense of Zen practice. Mostly I came to it because I couldn't think of anything else to do. I just decided to repeat this deep fact that 'there is no place to go and nothing to do'. We are, in fact, always here. HERE! There is really no 'there' or 'over there', unless we think comparatively‑‑which is a useful, but not a very nourishing state of mind.
The solution was to bring a repetitive verbal description of what I wanted to realize or understand into every moment of perception‑‑every moment I could. I had the feeling that if an 'answer', if 'understanding' is possible, it will appear on some moment and I should be ready for it. I also felt that 'answers', what I need, is already here and if I just keep reminding myself of that, it will make it appear‑‑in my mind or in my activity. I had faith that any moment could open up‑‑alchemically‑‑into understanding and realization through being brushed, prodded, patted, by the gentle invariable repetition of a turning word or phrase.
This was a faith born partly of not knowing what else to do except ask each moment for its secrets and simultaneously‑‑without contradiction‑‑accept each moment as complete. Therefore, on each moment, I just reminded myself that there was 'no place to go and nothing to do'.
We may not find it so interesting to cook the same
thing over and over again every day. It is rather
tedious. But if we lose the spirit of repetition,
our practice will become quite difficult. So we
should become very observant, careful, and alert.
Our way is to put the dough in the oven and watch it
carefully. Once we know how the dough will become
bread, we will understand enlightenment. Actual
practice is repeating over and over again until we
find out how to become bread. There is no secret.
Just to practice zazen and put ourselves into the
oven is our way.
(partly from "Repetition", Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.)
I didn't come to this phrase through some deep thought, or sophisticated reasoning about realizational phrases. It just happened. Really it was just the opposite of what I had to do. I had a family to support, a very active job to which I had to commute, a demanding graduate program, and at least a twice a day Zen schedule. There was not a minute that I wasn't active. And perhaps in desperation (I don't remember), one day I just found myself saying the phrase: "no place to go, nothing to do'.
It expressed the relief and concentration I had found in zazen. And repeating it brought zazen mind into my daily activities. Sometimes the phrase itself became zazen mind. Sometimes I repeated the words aloud, sometimes under my breath, and sometimes I just hummed or thought the phrase. It became a presence in my background mind and a feeling without words.
I say I hit upon this‑‑just repeating what I wanted to be true. That is what I felt at the time, but looking back, I think there were sources that got this phrase turning in me. For example over and over again in Buddhist ceremonies the phrase, "no coming, no going", is repeated. And in Dogen's Uji, Being Time, which I had been reading regularly since I started practicing, there is the teaching:
Mind and words are between coming and going, not‑
coming and not‑going; and they are also being‑time.
(Dogen, Uji/Being‑Time, tr. Nishiyama, p.173)
I also knew the koan in which Dawu, seeing his brother monk busily sweeping, said, "Too busy!" And Yunyan (our Dharma ancestor) answered, "You should know there is one who is not busy! (Book of Serenity, Case 21, tr. T. Cleary) And being so busy, I decided to discover 'the one who is not busy'. This is one of many koans that Suzuki‑roshi gave me. He didn't directly give me this phrase, 'no place to go and nothing to do', but I felt that he had indirectly and I knew he could feel me practicing with it.
This phrase brought back a childhood preoccupation with how things existed and even whether anything existed, including time. When I must have been eight or nine (since it was before we left Indiana) I remember saying to my father, "Can we say time doesn't exist and so then nothing exists?" I loved asking my father questions because he treated them all seriously. He asked, "What do you mean by saying time doesn't exist." I said, "It can be a minute to twelve, then half‑a‑minute to twelve, then a second before, and then a tiny part of a second before, and then it will be a tiny part of a second after twelve. So there is no twelve! It is either just before twelve or just after. There is no measurable length of time which is twelve, and so twelve does not exist. And if twelve has no length of time, then there is no time. And if there is no time, how can we say anything exists."
I had been puzzling about this for several days. I remember clearly that my father answered, "If something is approached and then passed, we can say it exists." Then he added, "But being able to say something exists is only a statement. It is not necessarily related to how or whether something exits‑‑except that the statement itself exists in the saying of it." I liked the answer. It was both common sense and philosophy‑‑and it stopped me completely. I mused on it a long time‑‑in some ways until today. And in many ways it led to my preoccupation with 'no place to go and nothing to do'.
Years later, I remember a tiny boy swinging and singing as he was going back and forth, "Every day I do. Every day I don't." When I heard this kid, it brought me back to my mantra and how childlike are many fundamental questions and concerns.
As I was going places and doing things, I simultaneously repeated the phrase—no place to go and nothing to do. It was an undercurrent present all the time. It didn't interfere with the way I did things or where I went; but it did change things. It brought an inner calmness to my actions. I knew in a deeper sense that there is no place to go and nothing to do. I began to know 'the one who is not busy' in the middle of going places and doing things.
Although this phrase, no place to go and nothing to do, seemed to just arise in me, I can see now that it expressed an attitude and a presence I found in Suzuki‑roshi. It was in the language and attitudes he expressed in lectures and in answers he gave to my and other's questions. I asked him a lot of questions. Every day I had one or two questions that appeared from my sitting and reading and that stayed with me. I developed a special attitude toward questions. They were a way of defining a situation. They held my attention. I realized that each question joined and represented aspects of my life spiritually, practically, morally, and philosophically that I couldn't see clearly. Being able to clearly identify a question that gripped seemed to me to be a rather big step. The question always seemed to me to more than half way toward an answer. The forming question was the first surfacing in my consciousness of dimensions and directions of being that until then I had no inkling of. A question often felt like the first act, the opening scene, of a play that about to be revealed, a play in which I hadn't known that I was a player. So I took the questions seriously and stayed with them until I answered or resolved or went past them or on to the next question. I am still on this path. Questions are still leading me.
My mother says that I was always asking questions as a kid. She wrote me a while ago that one of the first questions I asked her—we lived on a lake when I was little—was, "Why does our moon swim across the lake like that." My father encouraged me in asking unanswerable questions and at the same time he tried to answer all the questions he could. I think he thought an unanswerable question was a good and fertile state of mind.
Maybe I got it from my Father, but I used questions and puzzling statements (that are essentially questions) as ways of holding my mind, attention, and feelings in the inexplicable and the not yet realized. The understanding wasn't present, but what I didn't understand was present. I discovered how to locate myself in the middle of what I didn't understand and stay there. It was a kind of deep curiosity that I couldn't get away from. Inscrutable statements that present questions are the stuff of koans and life: 'Although you do not hear it, do not hinder that which hears it.', 'This very mind is Buddha.', 'Just now is enough!', 'The universe in all directions is one's whole body.', What about no before and no after!' 'Not knowing is nearest.' Questions will yield their answers, their other halves, if you believe in this practice and trust that you already have 'everything you need' and that 'just now is enough!'.
The poet Rilke says,
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your
heart. Try to love the questions themselves like
locked rooms, like books that are written in a
foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, live the
It was as important to me, actually more important, to stay present in my questions than to answer them. At the same time, I took what opportunities were available to ask Suzuki‑roshi the questions I was living. In the early days, I volunteered a few minutes after each lecture to help Suzuki‑roshi with his English. Sometimes he didn't like to be bothered, but usually he gave me the chance to ask questions or just to hang out. When I presented a question, he often seemed not to hear or he brushed me or the question off a little. Other times, he answered clearly and definitely. It became a study in how to ask questions. I also began to see that I often couldn't look to his responses as answers in the usual sense; so I accepted them as foils, mirrors, changes in energy, or sometimes as hints.
Sometime in the early '60s when I was driving Suzuki‑roshi home after a trip together to visit a Japanese parishioner, I said to him, "Roshi, my understanding is that time doesn't exist." And I started to say something, if I remember, I was mumbling as we were parking, about time being a function of distance and space, but he didn't pay any attention to my qualifications, he just said firmly, "Time exists. I think time exits. It is too rash to say time doesn't exist." Clearly he wanted no more discussion. He got out of the car.
I liked it that he sometimes used words like 'rash'. I always wondered where he got them. But it gave vividness to what he said. His answer made me less intellectual and more accepting." He answered where I was pretty much, at the time.
Frequently, he would change the topic and start talking about something else or to someone else. Then I discovered answers in what he did. However, he answered, the answers were always about how to practice or what to practice or what were fertile attitudes. For example, if I asked him a question about breathing, he might not say much or he would seem to change the topic, but I would notice that he changed his breathing in a noticeable enough way for the change to be instructive. Sometimes he just went on talking about someone else after I asked him a question. And later I would realize that in seeming to speak about someone or something else, he was often identifying something I should notice or what I was really asking. Now and then, I would realize that through asking him a question, something would happen to me that a few days later I would find that I was living a solution to the question I had asked. I think he thought that we all made one long continuous body, each of us were holding up various corners of one being so that he could talk about someone or to someone as a way of talking to you or me.
Occasionally he would answer a question brusquely, with something like: "I already said that in lecture." As if to say: why don't I pay more attention? But I hung in there trying to learn the ropes, snares, and passages of this new way of life and study. I always assumed that most of his responses were some kind of answer. At the same time, I felt it was funny and might be coercive of me to think that he had to be on duty all the time. So often I just looked at him as I might at a sunset or sunrise or starry sky, without any questions at all. I would try to withdraw desire, need, and fear from the way I looked at the world, and just look. In any case, it was up to me to find out how what he did or said were answers or how they pointed to what was happening or what could happen.
Several times in the hall outside the Zendo he started hitting me with his stick in front of everybody. Usually pushing me onto my knees and my head down so he could hit me on the shoulders or across the back (the way the stick is used in the Zendo to wake or loosen people up). It usually came out of the blue, I didn't know what was going on. I just accepted. It was clear a couple of times that he was speaking to someone near me who could hear better when the blows and words were not directed at him. As he was hitting me he would say something like, "You should understand under my anger!" I just stayed present in the flurry. Even when it was directed at another person or everyone, it was still directed at me. I took it that I should be more attentive to something. I understood something each time. In any case, it definitely changed the atmosphere. There was a lot of clarity after that.
At other times, in the Zendo during a period of zazen, Suzuki‑roshi would get up without warning and sweep around the zendo almost running, hitting each person twice on the shoulder as he went by. There was a wind from his robes as he did this. It also changed the atmosphere—strangely with a feeling of deep caring, accepting us, but asking us to not indulge ourselves. It was exciting to have such a force present in our lives—a force that cared so much. It hadn't been the way I was taught at college, but then, there I was bored.
I would like you to understand that Suzuki‑roshi was a mild, warm, really very sweet person that everyone loved meeting. He was so agreeable. He made you feel like the center of the world, like there was no one else on his agenda but you. But there was another Suzuki, an Iron Man, who also lived with a fierce uncompromising expectation that you be your absolute best. Sometimes the agreeable, compassionate Suzuki‑roshi would be there—and at other times, both would be there. The uncompromising iron dimension, Buddha Eye, would shine out like a fire from the window of a stove. A rose with thorns and sometimes the rose was fire. I would jump back, when I saw this. Or forward. At last, I had met a strong person. He was a little dangerous and at the same time very loving. He remains the most accepting person I have ever met.
His face was contemporary, and his manner, accepting and understanding of contemporary culture. Then, at other times, seeing into his face was to look into the past, into an ancient and dignified past, into the Eye of an ancient people, a primordial pre‑cultural being, all of which seemed to be living fully in the present, at that moment, through him. In those early years, I had never formally asked Suzuki‑roshi to be my teacher or if I could be his disciple. I just decided that I was going to treat him as my teacher. I would stay as close as possible to him—or at distance, if that is what he wanted. But I would continue practicing with him. A few times we went to Los Angeles together to visit the Japanese congregation there. Many of the Japanese at the Buddhist temple would ask if I was Suzuki‑roshi's disciple. Since I had never asked Suzuki‑roshi this question, I answered by saying that I want to be. Coming back from one of these Los Angeles trips—I had been practicing with him about five years—I decided to ask Suzuki‑roshi if I could be his disciple. On the way to San Francisco he slept in the window seat next to me, half on my shoulder, so I had to wait for him to wake up. He woke as we were landing so I waited during the taxiing for him to really wake up and then before the doors opened, I said, "Suzuki‑roshi, many people in Los Angeles asked me if I was your disciple. May I say I am your disciple?" He said very simply, "Yes, you can say you are my disciple." This was a big moment. We got off the plane together. I didn't need him to say this, but I was very grateful.
This resolution began five years earlier riding in a car with Suzuki‑roshi. I was in the back seat with Grahame Petchey. Suzuki‑roshi was in the front passenger seat. I had been practicing with Suzuki‑roshi only a few months, maybe two or three, I don't remember. At that time we called Suzuki‑roshi, Sensei (another word for teacher). As we were driving through San Francisco, on impulse, I leaned forward and asked, "Suzuki‑sensei, do you think we can understand Buddhism? He turned around right away and looked directly at me and said, without a trace of doubt, "Yes, if you practice. If you know how to practice." He turned forward, and we continued driving along. I knew at that moment that my life was practicing Zen.
A year or so later he did something I never could have expected. It was the custom after the finish of morning and evening zazen in the old synagogue on Bush Street for us each to leave the Zendo one by one through his office door. He would wait inside the office and as we stepped into the office, he would bow to each of us and we would bow in return. Then we left through the other office door into the hall. One morning as I came through the door and bowed, he returned the bow, but he didn't look at me. Normally he looked at each person as part of the bow. That evening and the next morning he also didn't look at me. And then later that week when I went into his office for some reason, he didn't look at me. He would look at his desk or talk to other people in the office. He did not exactly ignore me—it did not feel at all hostile—it is just that I was never included and barely acknowledged.
Somewhat nonplused, but not exactly hurt, I trusted him too much, and after a week or so of curiosity and studying what was happening, I decided he would have to do whatever he did and I had to do what I did—which was accept him as my teacher. My decision to study with him was my decision, he hadn't asked me to study with him. So I continued with my decision, although I found his behavior perplexing. After a while, I got used to it. It was just the way it was. I could speak to him directly about something or I could participate in a meeting, but there was minimal contact. But, we had this strange secret, that whenever it was a one to one encounter, he would not look at me. I didn't take it exactly personally; but it did make me reflect in minute detail on my actions, my relationship with him, and my relationships with other people. Certainly the ordinary ways one shapes a relationship with smiles, small talk, listening, being smart had no place in this new relationship with Suzuki‑roshi. It lasted a year. It lasted a year! Then one morning after zazen as I went through the door, he looked at me with a clear gaze. We never spoke about it.
Suzuki‑roshi smiled almost all the time. Or he caused me to smile so much that my face used to be sore from smiling with him. I used to complain to Virginia about the soreness. This was different from the smiling intended to elicit something or to render yourself harmless. Suzuki‑roshi also didn't smile. Sometimes it was very clear, sometimes he just didn't smile. He often had a neutral, relaxed, unreadable face; although there was always a feeling of intimateness. The Tao Te Ching says,
"I am the wilderness before the dawn. I have not
yet emerged into form. Like an infant who has not
yet learned to smile. Lost like one who has nowhere
As the translator, Ellen Chen, comments,
"The infant who has not yet smiled has not attained
the awareness of self. The Taoist keeps himself in
this state of the infant, without the determinations
and limitations that come with receiving one's name."
If I could listen and watch him carefully enough, Suzuki‑roshi would answer each of my questions in his actions. When you study someone like this a heightened rapport is established, a kind of bio‑entrainment. In that heightened rapport you learn many things. First your teacher's actions and presence begins to speak to you and then the whole environment begins to speak to you. I could hear answers to my questions in his actions, conversations, lecture—and answers to questions I hadn't asked. In this way I was able to answer most stages of questions myself and able to go on to second and third generation of a question before I asked him. It was kind of covert operation in which we both tracked each other. He was always following my understanding and practice. I could tell that. It felt very loving. This atmosphere of working through something all the time with another person produces a fruitful and wonderful state of mind. You begin to be able to hear situations. There is no situation in which teachings do not arise.
One of the question I was constantly asking explicitly and implicitly was about Westerners studying Zen. It was a question Suzuki‑roshi was asking himself too. He would over and over make statements like, "You should be Americans first. You should understand your own culture. You must understand your own culture first in order to study Buddhism." There was a trust and casualness in him that we could understand Buddhism within our own culture. In fact, he felt that this was the only way it could be.
Through his attitude, the responsibility fell a lot upon all of us to find our own way in practice. But since he was Japanese and we were all looking to Asia and Japan for Buddhism, I would ask, "Do you think I should go to Japan to study and practice? Do you think I should get to know Japanese monastic life." He would always tell me, "Dick, there is no place to go." At other times I would ask, "Is there something you would like me to do?" He would say, "There is nothing to do. You can do anything you want. Just be your self."