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Shunryu Suzuki Lectures

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Beginner's Mind

Chapter 6 - Horse Sense

See THE MARROW OF ZEN, p. 38 of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
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Beginner's Mind Chapter Index

Marian Derby's original manuscript that led to Zen Mind,
Beginner's Mind

from the 1965-66
Shunryu Suzuki talks
at the Los Altos, California, Haiku Zendo

Shunryu Suzuki Lectures

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read the story of the creation of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

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Horse Sense

In our scripture it is said that there are four kinds of horses -- an excellent one, and not so good ones, and bad horse. The best horse will run before it sees the shadow of the whip. That is the best one. The second one will run just before the whip reaches his skin. The third one will run when it feels pain on his body. The fourth one will run after the pain penetrates into the marrow of his bone. That is the worst one. When we hear this story, perhaps everyone wants to be a good horse -- the best horse. Even if it is impossible to be the best one we want to be the second best. That is quite usual understanding of horse. But actually when we sit you will understand whether we are the best horse or the not-so-good ones. Here we have some problem in understanding of Zen. Zen is not the practice to be the best horse. If you think so -- if you understand Zen as a kind of practice to be a best horse you will have a problem -- big problem. That is not the right understanding of Zen. Actually, if you practice right Zen, whether you are the best horse or worst one doesn't matter. That is not the point.

If you think of the mercy of Buddha, what do you think the Buddha will feel? He will be more sympathetic with the worst one rather than with the best one. So if you have the right understanding of Zen, or deeper understanding, worst horse should be most valuable horse. And because of the imperfect character of ourselves we have to express our inmost feeling through our imperfect body and characters. Usually those who can sit physically perfect take more time to obtain the marrow of Zen -- the true taste of Zen -- actual feeling of Zen. Those who find a great difficulty in practice of Zen will find more meaning of Zen. So sometimes I think the best horse is the worst horse and the worst horse is the best one. Sometimes. If you study calligraphy, usually those who are not so clever will become best calligraphers, and those who are very clever at his hand will find great difficulty to attain excellent calligraphy. That is quite usual in our art and religion. So we cannot say, "He is good," or "he is bad." The posture we take is not the same. For someone it is impossible to take this posture. Even though he cannot take right posture he can practice Zen in its true sense. In our everyday life we are always ashamed of our self -- reflecting what we are doing. Some student wrote me saying, "You sent me a calendar, and I am trying to follow the good message of the calendar, and I find the calendar undaunted by failure." The calendar is a calendar of failure.

Dogen Zen-ji said, "Shyoshaku jushaku." Shaku means mistake or wrong. With wrong succeed wrong with wrong. To succeed wrong with wrong, or to succeed mistake with mistake. It means continuous mistake. Shyoshaku jushaku. Some Zen master says, "Shyoshaku jushaku -- It means, My eighty years of life is succession of mistake." But there is Zen in it. We say, "Good father is not good father." Do you understand? Good father is not good father. Those who think he is good husband is not good husband. Those who think he is bad husband, may be good husband. This is true.

When we find it is impossible to sit because of pain on your head or some physical difficulty, but in such case we should sit when we are worst horse. Then you will get the marrow of Zen. Suppose your children are suffering from hopeless disease. You don't know what to do. You cannot lie in bed. Usually the best thing for you is to lie in warm, comfortable bed. That is the best place to live, but in such case you cannot rest on your comfortable bed. So you may walk up and down, because you cannot stay still. You think that is the best way. In such case how is it possible to stay still? But actually the best way to stand for the mental suffering is to sit. This is the best way. If you can't sit in such case you are not Zen student. Even though you work in and out of your house it doesn't work. It is nearly the same as you try to lie in your comfortable bed. In sitting your mind and your body has power to accept things. In standing posture you have no power to accept your difficulties. In this posture you have big power to accept things. Whether your posture is right or wrong is out of question. So when you sit, you have enormous power to accept things as it is, whether it is agreeable to you or disagreeable to you. You can accept things as it is. When you feel disagreeable it is better for you to sit. There is no other way to accept it and work on it. That is the only way we have. And we have always this wonderful way to accept things. And to work on things.-Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

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