W I N G "
Bowing is a very serious practice.
You should be prepared to bow, even in jour last
moment. Even though it is impossible to get rid of our
self-centered desires, we have to do it. Our true nature
wants us to."
After zazen we bow to the floor nine times. By bowing we
are giving up ourselves. To give up ourselves means to give
up our dualistic ideas. So there is no difference between zazen
practice and bowing. Usually to bow means to pay our respects
to something which is more worthy of respect than
ourselves. But when you bow to Buddha you should have no
idea of Buddha, you just become one with Buddha, you are
already Buddha himself. When you become one with Buddha,
one with everything that exists, you find the true meaning
of being. When you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything
becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object
After zazen (sitting meditation) we bow to the floor nine times in
front of Buddha's altar, each time touching the forehead to the floor
three times and lifting the palms of the hands.
And we bow this morning nine times. Why we bow to Buddha is -- it is
-- it is actually a kind of practice to get rid of our self-centered
idea -- to give ourselves completely to Buddha. Here I mean to give
myself, or ourselves, means our physical functions and our
intellectual functions, or life -- physical and intellectual life to
Buddha because it is based on Buddha Nature. So even though we forget
all about it -- still we have Buddha Nature
When everything exists within your big mind, all dualistic
relationships drop away. There is no distinction between
heaven and earth, man and woman, teacher and disciple.
Sometimes a man bows to a woman; sometimes a woman
bows to a man. Sometimes the disciple bows to the master;
sometimes the master bows to the disciple. A master who
cannot bow to his disciple cannot bow to Buddha. Sometimes
the master and disciple bow together to Buddha. Sometimes
we may bow to cats and dogs.
In your big mind, everything has the same value. Everything
is Buddha himself. You see something or hear a sound,
and there you have everything just as it is. In your practice
you should accept everything as it is, giving to each thing the
same respect given to a Buddha. Here there is Buddhahood.
Then Buddha bows to Buddha, and you bow to yourself. This
is the true bow.
So even though we forget all about it -- still we have Buddha Nature
here, so Buddha bows to Buddha. That is bow. This is one meaning.
If you do not have this firm conviction of big mind in your
practice, your bow will be dualistic. When you are just yourself,
you bow to yourself in its true sense, and you are one
with everything. Only when you are you yourself can you
bow to everything in its true sense. Bowing is a very serious
practice. You should be prepared to bow even in your last
moment; when you cannot do anything except bow, you
should do it. This kind of conviction is necessary. Bow with
this spirit and all the precepts, all the teachings are yours, and
you will possess everything within your big mind.
Sen no Rikyu, the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony,
committed hara-kiri (ritual suicide by disembowelment) in 1591
at the order of his lord, Hideyoshi. Just before Rikyu
took his own life he said, "When I have this sword there is no
Buddha and no Patriarchs." He meant that when we have the
sword of big mind, there is no dualistic world. The only
thing which exists is this spirit. This kind of imperturbable
spirit was always present in Rikyu's tea ceremony. He never
did anything in just a dualistic way; he was ready to die in
each moment. In ceremony after ceremony he died, and he
renewed himself. This is the spirit of the tea ceremony. This
is how we bow.
My teacher had a callous on his forehead from bowing. He
knew he was an obstinate, stubborn fellow, and so he bowed
and bowed and bowed. The reason he bowed was that inside
himself he always heard his master's scolding voice. He had
joined the Soto order when he was thirty, which for a Japanese
priest is rather late. When we are young we are less
stubborn, and it is easier to get rid of our selfishness. So his
master always called my teacher "You-lately-joined-fellow,"
and scolded him for joining so late. Actually his master loved
him for his stubborn character. When my teacher was seventy,
he said, "When I was young I was like a tiger, but now
I am like a cat!" He was very pleased to be like a cat.
Bowing helps to eliminate our self-centered ideas. This is
not so easy. It is difficult to get rid of these ideas, and bowing
is a very valuable practice. The result is not the point; it is
the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no
end to this practice.
My teacher had hard skin on his forehead because he bowed and bowed
and bowed so many times and he knew that he was very obstinate,
stubborn fellow, so he bowed and bowed and bowed and he always heard
his master’s scolding voice. That is why he bowed. And he joined our
order when he was thirty. For Japanese priest to join the order at the
age of thirty is not early. So his master always called him ‘You
lately-joined fellow’. He said, [Japanese phrase missing in
transcript]. It means priest who joined our order when he is old. When
we join order when we are young we have little -- it is easy to get
rid of our selfishness. But when we have very stubborn, selfish idea
it is rather hard to get rid of it. So he was always scolded because
he joined our order so late. To scold does not mean slight people, or
it does not mean to -- actually his teacher was not actually scolding
him. His master loved him very much because of his stubborn character.
When he was seventy he said, “I --
when I was young I was like a tiger but now I am a cat.” He was very
pleased to be a cat and to be like a cat. “Now I am cat”, he said. And
to bow means to eliminate our self-centered idea. It is not so --
actually it is not so difficult -- easy -- and although it is
difficult to try to get rid of it is very valuable practice. The
result is not the point but effort to improve ourselves is valuable.
There is no end in our practice.
Each bow expresses one of the four Buddhist vows. These
vows are: "Although sentient beings are innumerable, we
vow to save them. Although our evil desires are limitless, we
vow to be rid of them. Although the teaching is limitless, we
vow to learn it all. Although Buddhism is unattainable, we
vow to attain it." If it is unattainable, how can we attain it?
But we should! That is Buddhism.
To think, "Because it is possible we will do it,'' is not Buddhism.
Even though it is impossible, we have to do it because
our true nature wants us to. But actually, whether or not it is
possible is not the point. If it is our inmost desire to
get rid of our self-centered ideas, we have to do it. When we
make this effort, our inmost desire is appeased and Nirvana
is there. Before you determine to do it, you have difficulty,
but once you start to do it, you have none. Your effort appeases
your inmost desire. There is no other way to attain
calmness. Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop
your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself.
We say, "It is easy to have calmness in inactivity, it is hard
to have calmness in activity, but calmness in activity is true
We have four vows -- although sentient being is innumerable, we have
to save -- we vow to save them (that is one). Although are evil
desires is limitless, but we vow to get rid of it (that is second) and
although the teaching is limitless, but we vow to study. Although
Buddhism is unattainable, we should attain it. That is four vows. If
it is unattainable, how can we attain it? But we should. That is
Buddhism. Because it is possible we will do it. That is not Buddhism.
Even though it is impossible we have to do it if it is our true
nature. Whether it is possible or not is not the point. If we want to
do it we have to do it even though it is impossible. So whether it is
possible to get rid of our self-centered idea or not is not the point.
Anyway we have to try to get rid of it. When we make this effort there
are our appeasement, there our Nirvana. There is no other way to
attain calmness of your mind than to do it -- than to try to do it. If
you -- when you thinking about -- before you decide -- determine to do
it you have difficulty but if you start to do it there is no
difficulty -- there is appeasement, there is calmness of your mind. So
calmness of your mind should be found in -- real calmness should be
found in activity. Calmness of your mind does not mean to stop our
activity. In our activity there is true calmness. So we say, ‘It is
easy to have in inactivity, but it is hard to have calmness in our
activity, but calmness in activity is true calmness.
After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that
it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even
though you try very hard, the progress you make is always
little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you
know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are
getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by
little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, "Oh,
this pace is terrible!" But actually it is not. When you get
wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no
need to worry about progress. It is like studying a foreign
language; you cannot do it all of a sudden, but by repeating
it over and over you will master it. This is the Soto way of
practice. We can say either that we make progress little by
little, or that we do not even expect to make progress. Just
to be sincere and make our full effort in each moment is
enough. There is no Nirvana outside our practice.
As to progress -- we don’t know how much progress we made, actually,
but if you practice it you will realize -- some day you will realize
that our progress is not -- it is not possible to make rapid,
extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, you cannot
actually make progress. The progress you make is always little by
little. It is like -- to go through fog. You don’t know when you get
wet, but if you just walk through fog you will be wet, little by
little, even though you don’t know -- it is not like a shower.
When you go out when it is showering
you will feel, ‘Oh, that’s terrible!”. It is not so bad but when you
get wet by fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. This is how we
make progress. So actually there is not need to worry about your
progress. Just to do it is the way. It is, maybe, like to study
language. Just repeating, you will master it. You cannot do it all of
a sudden. This is how we practice, especially Soto way, is to do it
little by little. To make progress little by little. Or we do not even
mind, we do not expect to make progress, just to do it is our way. The
point is to do it with sincerity in each moment. That is the point.
There should not be Nirvana besides our practice.
Thanks to Peter Ford for making this table comparing the chapter and
sources. Further checking was done by DC.
For more go to these entries on the Suzuki lecture archive found on Shunryu Suzuki dot
not Edited by DC, posted 1-11-15