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Sunseed - Zen in America - film transcript


Transcript of Shunryu Suzuki section of SUNSEED -- ZEN IN AMERICA

To see video go to and look for the moving image section

credits below


Summer 1969.

[Opens with the sound of the han being struck, and the inside of the zendo with students and Shunryu Suzuki. Chanting and preparing for an oryoki meal. Also, scenes of the garden and tending vegetables and lighting incense].

Bill Shurtleff: The longer you practice zen, I think, the less you know what itís about --   and the less you know what youíre doing, in a sense that you can verbalize it or answer some question coherently [laughs]. You know, if you ask most students here Ďwhatís zen?í, theyíll kind of laugh at you. Itís like a palace with so many rooms, you know, and youíre in one room and then youíre in another room and you canít describe that palace with all of those rooms inside it. Or, itís like a jewel with many sides. And as you practice through the cold of the winter and through the part of the summer when there are flies, you know youíre always in a different room. But the variety of experiences that comes in the total simplicity of this way of life is astounding.

Our practice at Tassajara and Suzuki Roshiís practice is not based on attainment. Itís based on living totally in each moment. Of giving life to your life situation in each moment. And not really even at each moment because that becomes some plan that you set for yourself. But more simply, in this moment. In living in this moment. And the only time that you ever are is now. And the only place that you ever are is here. And what are you going to do with it? What are you going to do with it? With the person that you meet; with the eating bowls as you open them in the morning; with the bread as youíre kneading it -- ah, it either is alive or itís not. And to live totally in that one moment, the only moment that you ever live in, is the emphasis in our practice. And any notion that you have of searching takes you out of that moment. And any notion that you have of something that youíre going to attain in the future only takes you out of that moment. Some people ask, well, you know if thereís nothing to attain, then why are you practicing? Whatís the purpose of sitting zazen, of getting up at 3:45 in the middle of winter with no heat in the morning? And, like, thereís no answer to that question. But, here we are, you know [laughs]. And weíre doing it.

[Scene of Reb Anderson in the zendo striking students with the kyosaku stick].

Meg Gawler: Itís like I got into zen without even being aware of it, you know, it was like before I knew it it had taken my life. A lot of people, when they start sitting, are very hesitant, you know, it takes them a long time to get into it. You come and then you go away for a while, and you come back. But, um... [Man asks Ďhow did you get into it?]. Well, I read a book, and then I came to San Francisco, and I started sitting, and that was it. You know, I met Roshi and as soon as I could, I came to Tassajara, and Iíve been here ever since.

[Scene of Shunryu Suzuki, outside among the trees].

Shunryu Suzuki: If we try to listen to something wonderful [laughs] -- it means that to ignore the bird which we are listening now. You know, when you think Buddha said something wonderful, and I must find out what he meant; then your mind is directed to Buddhaís words [pointing up with his right hand], so you donít hear the birds [pointing left with his left hand, and birds are chirping loudly]. So always we sacrifice various actual reality because we stick to something. And we stick to something which looks like very good [laughs], but that is not so good. If we have this kind of attitude, when we listen to words or teaching even, we lose our life and maybe our whole life will be sacrificed because of some special teaching. So I always rather to enjoy, you know, our life right now without sacrificing.

[Scene of Shunryu Suzuki playing yoyo with a child].

Shunryu Suzuki: This is a kind of desire, you know, which human being has. To some extent, desires we have is good, but if we are enslaved by desire, you know, we will lose whole being. [laughs].

[Scene of an oryoki meal in the zendo, and Shunryu Suzuki unwrapping his oryoki bowls. And scenes of students working in the garden.]

Alan Marlowe: The zen masterís mastery is in everything -- everything that he does is with that concentration. It comes out of zazen, out of sitting. I mean, I keep Roshiís house, and when he eats an apple -- the core I canít even describe it to you. The core of the apple is about a matchstick thin. Heís really eaten that apple, you know. I find a little apple core sitting there. So that everything about the person develops in the sense of this vastness, like a circle -- it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And that is the difference, in a sense, between zen and all of the other religious practices that Iíve experimented with or gotten involved in the past ten years. That, if you look into our garden, youíll find people practicing. If you see the way -- look at the stone wall for instance -- thereís no mortar in that stone wall. And itís just a question of finding each stone and making it fit. And thatís what youíre doing. And then thatís your practice, thatís your training. Or, if cleaning a cabin. But itís in the concentration thatís applied to whatever youíre doing.

[Scene of han being hit, and Shunryu Suzuki leading a small procession into the zendo. Chanting and lighting incense].


Movie credits:

Zen in America.

A film by Amertat.

Produced by Ralph Harper Silver.

Cinematography by Baird Bryant.

From the film Sunseed.

transcribed by Clare Holland 12-12
posted 12-13-12

To see video go to and look for the moving image section


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