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suzuki lectures      - DC suggests you go to for a better presentation of these lectures.

Shunryu Suzuki known notes on his lectures from December 1961 through 1962. These are all close to how they appeared in the SFZC's first Windbells.

From the All Shunryu Suzuki Lecture Transcripts in the May 2009 Collection

From a work in progress. Surely there are mistakes. Some footnotes got screwed up but it's mostly here - from a RTF file. - DC – 5-09




Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

December 1961


Emptiness does not mean annihilation; it means selfless original enlightenment which gives rise to everything.  Once selfless original enlightenment takes place, very subjective and objective existence resumes its own nature (buddha-nature) and becomes valuable jewels to us all.


In Mahayana Buddhism every teaching is based on the idea of emptiness, but most schools emphasize its expression in some particular sutra—the Lotus Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Mahavairochana Sutra, and others.  In Zen we do not emphasize the teaching until after we practice, and between practice and enlightenment there must not be any gap in our effort.  Only in this way it is possible to attain the perfect enlightenment from which every teaching comes out.  For us it is not teaching, practice, enlightenment; but enlightenment, practice, and the study of the teachings.  At this time every sutra has its value according to the temperament and circumstances of the disciples.


So it is the character or personality, the cross-current of teacher and disciple, that makes transmission and real patriarchal Zen possible—practicing from the point of view of the enlightenment of the Buddhas and patriarchs.  So the relationship between the teacher or Zen master and disciples is quite important for us.  By believing in one's master, one can attain his character and the disciple or student will have his own spiritual enfoldment.


Once when Yakusan Zenji was asked to talk about Buddhism he said:  "There is the teacher of scriptures, there is the scholar or philosopher of Buddhism, and then there is the Zen master.  Do not acknowledge me."  Day after day, from morning until night, he behaved like a Zen master.  "Why don't you acknowledge me" is what he meant.  To practice Zen with disciples, to eat with them and sleep with them is the most important thing for a Zen master.  So he said, "Why don't you acknowledge me?  I am a Zen master, not a teacher of the scriptures or a philosopher."


So we say, "Only to sit on a cushion is not Zen."  The Zen master's everyday life, character and spirit is Zen.  My own master said, "I will not acknowledge any monastery where there is lazy training, where it is full of dust."  He was very strict.  To sleep when we sleep, to scrub the floor and keep it clean, that is our Zen.  So practice is first.  And as a result of practice, there is teaching.  The teaching must not be stock words or stale stories.  But must be always kept fresh.  That is real teaching.


But we do not neglect the teaching or sutras of Buddha.  Because we want to find out the actual value of the teaching, we practice Zen and train ourselves to have the actual living meaning of the scriptures.  But this practice must be quite serious.  If we are not serious enough, the practice will not work and the teaching will not satisfy you.  If you have a serious friend or teacher, you will believe in Buddhism.  Without an actual living example it is very difficult to believe or practice.  So to believe in your master and be sincere—that is enlightenment.  So we say, "Oneness of enlightenment and sincere practice."


I didn't know it at the time, but the first problem given me by my master was this story about Yakusan Zenji, which I have just told you.  I could not acknowledge my master for a pretty long time.  It is quite difficult to believe in your teacher, but we must know our fundamental attitude toward Buddhism.  That is why Dogen went to China.  For a long time he had studied in the Tendai school, the very profound, philosophical school of Buddhism, but still he was not satisfied.  Dogen's problem was, "If we already have buddha-nature, why do we have to practice?  There should be no need to practice."  He was quite sincere about this problem.


Buddha-nature, you know, is neither good nor bad, spiritual nor material.  By buddha-nature, we mean human nature.  To be faithful to our nature will be the only way to live in this world as a human being.  So we call our nature buddha-nature and accept it, good or bad.  To accept it is a way to be free from it; because we do not accept it, we cannot be free.  If the idea of human nature exists in your mind, you will be caught by it.  When you accept it, you are not caught by it.  So to accept does not mean to understand it psychologically or biologically.  It means actual practice.  No time to be caught, no time to doubt.  Dogen tried to be satisfied with some teaching or answer which was written, but as long as he was concerned only with the teaching, it was impossible to be satisfied.  He didn't know what he wanted, but as soon as he met Zen Master Nyojo[1] in China, he knew.  Dogen was quite satisfied with Nyojo's character and Nyojo said to Dogen, "That I have you as a disciple is exactly the same as Shakyamuni Buddha having Mahakashyapa."  So that was the relationship.


In this way, Zen teaching and understanding is transmitted.  Nyojo said, "You must transmit this teaching to someone."  This looks as if he were trying to bind the disciple, but once you understand what he actually said, everyone you meet and everything you have becomes valuable to you.  So Dogen said, "Everyone is your master, don't pay any attention to whether they are a layman or priest, a woman or man, young or old.  Everyone is your teacher and your friend, but as long as you discriminate this from that, you will not meet a Zen master."


If we are real Zen students, we sleep where we are, eat what is given to us, and listen to the teacher, good or bad.  The teacher may say, "How are you?  If you answer, I will give you a hit, if you don't answer I will give you a hit."  He doesn't care what you think about it.  If you get hit with the stick, you will get something.  Whether the answer is right or wrong, whether you get hit or not, is not the point.  So Dogen said, "If you want to listen to a Zen master for absolute truth, you must not think about his rank, his accomplishments, deeds, or shortcomings.  Accept him just as he is because he is a bodhisattva."  That is the right attitude toward life—just accept it.  If your attitude is right, everything you hear will be Buddha speaking.  Then the master is not teacher or student, but Buddha himself.



Source: This transcript is a retyping of the existing City Center transcript.  It is not verbatim.  No tape is available.  The City Center transcript was entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997.  It was reformatted by Bill Redican (3/29/02).




1962 Jan-Sep - Early Wind Bell Lecture notes — when the Wind Bell was one page and came out once a month. These are not so much lectures as brief edited summaries of some point Suzuki had made in a lecture.







(published, January, 1962, Wind Bell #2)

If you want to meditate you must have instruction of right teacher, especially when you want to meditate at home. It will take at least six months before you get your own right posture. Everyone has their own right posture but without instructions you cannot find it.

For to be your true posture, there must be spirit which is called Essence of Mind. Without spirit it cannot be your own.

So we say, "When you become yourself then Zen becomes Zen."







published February 1962, Wind Bell #3)


To study Zen is to particularize the Essence of Mind which is transmitted from Buddha through patriarchs to us all.

The transmitted Essence of Mind is water in a river. A river originating in a deep mountain may come down through a ravine into a lake.

According to the place we dip water we want different kinds of dipper. The water itself is the same, but the dippers are not the same. Although the water in the dippers is the same, we must dip it with a special dipper, in accordance with the place we dip.

Just to talk about dipper is not our way.

Just to talk about water is not or purpose.

What is the benefit of a dipper or water?







(published March 1962, Wind Bell #4)


The idea of emptiness does not mean annihilation. It means selfless original enlightenment, which gives rise to every existence. Once selfless enlightenment takes place, every subjective and objective existence resumes its own nature (Buddha-nature) and becomes valuable jewels to the person who has attained it and to us all.

In Mahayana Buddhism every teaching is supposedly based on the idea of emptiness. The Tendai Sect emphasizes the Lotus Sutra, the highest of all the sutras. The Kegon Sect bases their teaching on the Kegon Sutra, the first sutra told by Buddha about his original enlightenment. However, each sutra has its own incomparable absolute value when it is accepted under special circumstances.


Original enlightenment makes this acceptance possible. How we accept is the practice of zazen. This practice is called "the wondrous practice." Oneness of enlightenment and wondrous practice is the ultimate purport of Zen Buddhism as well as Buddhism in general.







(published April 1962, Wind Bell #5)

In an old scripture told by Buddha there are four lands, two of which are Hokkuroshu (uttara-kura) and Nanenbudai (jampudipa). In Hokkuroshu the people obtain their food without any farming. In order to cook, they just put a fire-stone under their pan. When they eat, there is always enough food. They are quite innocent. There no thieves or bandits, no king or law. Life is without hazards.


However, in the land Nanenbudai life has many difficulties, as well as pleasures. Where there is joy there is sorrow, and where there is good there is evil.

In which land would you like to live?

Hokkuroshu is full of gold and jewels; and although you cannot stay in Hokkuroshu forever, you are supposed to live there for one thousand years.


Now then, which land would you prefer?







(published May 1962, Wind Bell #6)


One day the World Honored One mounted the pulpit, and the first principle was proclaimed. Manjusri struck the table with a gavel and said, "The Law. Understand the Law. The Royal Law is like this." The World Honored One came down from his seat. If you think what he proclaimed is the Royal Law, that is not right. The Royal Law was there when he was on the pulpit.

"Like this" was as strong as the sound of the gavel. If Manjusri had not struck the gavel, no one could know what was the Royal law. The World Honored One would not have had the chance to come down from his seat. You may say when Manjusri struck the gavel, Buddhism as we practice it began. If the World Honored One were to be always on the dais, no one could mount the dais after him.







(published June 1962, Wind Bell #7)




While you do zazen you will come to understand yourself completely and realize that there is no such thing as an "I" which exists.  Still, in this moment, there is something participating in cosmic activity.  In this moment, something exists as a part of cosmic activity, or as a part of temporal existence and in this way "I" has an absolute value in itself.


If you think, "I practice zazen," that is a misunderstanding.  Buddha practices zazen, not you.  If you think, "I practice zazen," there will be many troubles.  If you think, "Buddha practices zazen," there will be no trouble.  Whether or not your zazen is painful or full of erroneous ideas, it is still Buddha's activity.  There is no way to escape from Buddha's activity.


Thus you must accept yourself and devote yourself to yourself, or to Buddha, or to zazen.  When you become yourself, zazen will become zazen.




On May 20th Roshi Suzuki was installed as Master of Sokoji in the traditional Shinsanshiki Ceremony.  For those of us who attended, it was an occasion of haunting beauty never to be forgotten.  Zen Center members contributed much time, effort and money to its success and were rewarded handsomely.  For those who could not attend, we are happy to reprint portions of the poems that Roshi Suzuki composed and read during service.


(At front door)

Like the birds I came—

No road under my feet,

A golden-chained gate

Unlocks itself.


(After mounting pulpit)

After I lift this one piece of incense,

It is still there;

Although it is still there

It is hard to lift.


Now I offer it to Buddha

And burn it—with no hand,

Repaying the benevolence of this temple's

Founder, successive patriarchs, and my

Master Gyokojun Soon Daiosho.






(published July 1962, Wind Bell #8)


Originality and universality are the same thing for a sincere student.  Universal truth must have an original approach for everyone.  Mind and body are one; subjective and objective worlds are one in our single minded practice.  Observing that mind and body are one, and that subjective and objective worlds are one, many people fear death.  Reasoning will not solve this problem.  Hakuin Zenji said, "If you want to know about life after death, ask the man who wants to know." Thus there is no other way than to ask yourself, for this problem does not belong to the category of knowledge.  You yourself must solve it by practice.  Buddha's practice after his enlightenment is not different from each individual's practice before enlightenment, if there is no idea of self.  When you are engaged in selfless practice, you are free from the idea of past, present and future; from the idea of this world or another; from the idea of coming or going.







(published August 1962, Wind Bell #9)




A government official named Shiba visited Hyabujo Mountain and was taken by the great beauty there.  He decided to ask a monk to build a monastery on the mountain.


He chose between two monks, Karin and Isan (Reiyu Zenji).  Isan was chosen when Shiba watched the way he walked.  Karin, who was seen first, was not discouraged by not being chosen.  Years later when Karin was known as a famous Zen Master, he lived on a remote mountain and his Zen was known by birds and animals.


One day a government surveyor came across a hermitage on a mountain and found a great tiger standing at the gate.  The tiger disappeared into the hut, and soon an old Zen Master came out.  He was Karin.




The kind of Zen which walks an elegant way is quite different from the kind of Zen which tames a tiger.  Nevertheless, both should be a creative form of the transmitted original Zen from Buddha.  We should acknowledge the ways of both monks as the pure and fully transmitted zazen as well as recognize the ways as the restriction placed on each monk by a particular occasion.  In other words, we should not be captivated by some particular form of Zen nor should we discriminate some particular type of Zen.—Zen must be always creative.




Zazen is scripture itself.  To do zazen for weeks or hours is to bring scripture into being.  No scripture is left out of zazen, Buddha's whole life teaching is there.  In zazen Buddha (we) creates scripture, Buddha (we) creates Buddha.  In zazen we are Buddha.







(published September 1962, Wind Bell #10)


The Emperor Wu built many temples, translated many scriptures, and encouraged many men and women to believe in the monastic life.  The Emperor thought he would attain Nirvana as a result of these works he considered meritorious.


When Bodhidharma came to the Emperor's land, the Emperor asked, "What is the Holy reality?"


Bodhidharma answered, "Emptiness, no Holiness."


The Emperor asked again, "Who are you then?"


Bodhidharma said, "Something intangible (Holy reality)."




True merit is the result of pure and whole practice of Zen.  Holy reality is not the result of works of merit.  Because the Emperor's attitude toward reality and merit was the opposite of Bodhidharma's, he could not respond to Bodhidharma's statement.


After the interview with the Emperor, Bodhidharma crossed the river to the state of Wei; but in reality he did not leave the Emperor.  The Emperor is not always with us, but Bodhidharma is always in this place.  Thus all the schools of Zen originate from Bodhidharma's Zen.


If the Emperor's view of merit were correct, for whom would there be Holy reality?


What is pure and whole practice?






Shunryu Suzuki-roshi







[Date unknown; thought to be 1962]


Introduction by Shaw[2]


The principal character in this model subject is Baso Doitsu (Ma-tsu Tao-i) (704–768), the chief disciple of Nangaku Ejo (Nan-yueh Hai-jang), one of the disciples of the Chinese Sixth Patriarch, Daikan Eno (Hui-neng).


Introductory Word by Engo


Introducing, he said:  One gesture, one posture.  One word, one verse!  Now, if one plans such an approach (in teaching disciples), that is like gouging out wounds in good meat, making holes and cavities in it.  The Great Activity[3]  is before us, manifest.  There are no regulations in it.


If you plan to make known to men that there is an Absolute, throughout the whole heaven and the whole earth the search for it will not succeed.  Supposing one does attain, and what if one does not attain?  An extremely small matter.  Supposing one does not attain, what if one does attain?  An extremely critical matter.  And if you do not pass along either of these roads, what is the right thing to do?''


I tentatively put the matter before you.  Ponder it.


Main Subject by Setcho


Attention!  Baso the great teacher was unwell.  The temple's chief accountant visited him.  "Sir, during these recent days, how is your health?"  The great teacher said:  "Sun-faced buddhas, moon-faced buddhas."[4]

Commentary by Suzuki-roshi


Although you are looking forward to the bliss of teaching, you do not know that you are always in the midst of the teaching.  So your practice does not accord with your teacher's.


Once you realize buddha-nature within and without, there is no special way to follow for a student or any specific suggestion to give for a teacher.  When there is a problem there is the way to go.


Actually you continuously go over and over the great path of the Buddha with your teacher, who is always with you.


Negative and positive methods, or the First Principle and the Second Principle, are nothing but the Great Activities of such a character.  The buddha-nature is quite personal to you and essential to all existence.



This transcript is a retyping of the existing City Center transcript (thought to be based on notes by Baker-roshi).  It is not verbatim.  No tape is available.  The City Center transcript was entered onto disk by Bill Redican (11/4/01).






Shunryu Suzuki-roshi






[Date unknown; thought to be 1962]


Um-mon Bun-en (Yun-men Wen-yen) was a disciple of Sep-po (Hsueh-feng I-ts'un).  He died in 949.


Introductory Comments by Suzuki-roshi


Each existence, animate and inanimate, is changing during every moment day and night.  The change is like flowing water which does not ever come back and which reveals its true nature in its eternal travel.


Water flowing and clouds drifting are similar to a well-trained old Zen master.  The true nature of water and clouds is like the determined, single-minded, traveling monks, who do not take off their traveling sandals even under the roof of sages.  Worldly pleasure, philosophical pursuit, or whimsical ideas do not interest the traveling monk, sincere to his true nature, for he does not want to be fat and idle.  Such a monk does not care for hospitality which would stop his travels.  He recognizes as true friends only those who travel with him on the way.


The idea of this kind of travel may make you feel lonely and helpless.


In Japan, Zen is understood by the word wabi or sabi.  These two words are nouns, but today they are used mostly as adjectives:  wabishi or sabishi.  One meaning of wabishi and sabishi is lonesome and monotonous.  The intellectuals understand these words to mean the simplest and most humble form and style of beauty.


In the strict sense, wabi and sabi mean reality which does not belong to any category of subjectivity or objectivity, simple or fancy.  However, it is this reality that makes subjective and objective observation possible and perfect, and that means everything, simple or fancy, able to come home to our heart.  In the realm of wabi or sabi, even on one drop of dew you will see the whole universe.


Contrary to wabi and sabi, usually when some object is put into the range of perception, our first reaction is not acceptance, but rather rationality, repulsion, or emotional disturbance.  The way of Western civilization is not directed at acceptance so much as at "how to organize many objects and ideas in the realm of perception or thinking" and "how to control the sense data of the sensual world."


In the world of wabi and sabi there is no attempt, no attainment, no anger, no joy, sorrow, or any waves of mind of this kind whatsoever.  Each existence in this world is the fruit of subjective self-training and objective pure and direct understanding.  The savor of fruits comes home to our heart, and confirmation of reality takes place.  We observe falling flowers at their best.  By repeating this kind of direct experience, one may have calm and deep understand of life and deliverance from it, like a traveling monk who has full appreciation of everything and is nonetheless completely detached from it.


Now may I call your attention to the following subject:


Main Subject by Set-cho (presented by Suzuki-roshi)


Attention!  Um-mon introduced the subject by saying:  I do not ask you about fifteen days ago.  But what about fifteen days hence?  Come, say a word about this.  He himself replied for them:  Every day is a good day.


Commentary by Suzuki-roshi


Today does not become yesterday, and Dogen-zenji states that today does not become tomorrow.  Each day is its own past and future and has its own absolute value.



This transcript is a retyping of the existing City Center transcript (thought to be based on notes by Baker-roshi).  It is not verbatim.  No tape is available.  The City Center transcript was entered onto disk by Bill Redican (11/4/01).




Shunryu Suzuki Roshi





December 1962  (Published Dec. 1962, Wind Bell No. 12)


The more we attempt to manage religious activity, the more we lose our fundamental way.  The more we study the teaching of Buddhism as if it were philosophy, the more we lose the original teaching.


The founder of Eiheiji Monastery, Dogen Zenji, respected students who sincerely practiced zazen (cross-legged meditation) rather than intelligent or learned students.  Dogen emphasized organizing everyday life as the practice of Zen.  He felt that this was the proper activity for Buddhist.  When he spoke of the basic teaching of Buddhism, the transiency of life, he stressed it as an actual fact and not as a teaching of the sutras.


Dogen Zenji lost his father when he was three and his mother when he was eight.  His mother was a Fujiwara, the most eminent family of the time.  She had full experience of the teaching of transiency, and she wanted Dogen to be a priest of great sincerity.  He decided to follow her will.  After his mother died and he sat by her cold body; he reached a profound understanding of impermanence, watching a few lines of incense smoke drift.  Dogen said, "I can walk on the edge of a white blade.  I can do without food and drink, but it is not possible for me to forget my mother's last words."


In Zuimonki it is stated that Dogen said, "In order to have a strong introgressive way-seeking mind, it is necessary to see the transiency of life.  This actual fact of life is not something conceivable in our brain or something to be dwelled on as an object of meditation.  It is an actual fact.  You should not wait even for Buddha's teaching."


In Denki it is stated that Dogen said, "When we are not sincere enough to be Buddhists, there is a difference between the intelligent and the dull .…  If you lose your human life (Buddhahood can only be attained, when you have human life) you cannot have your life again." This way is Buddha's true teaching.  We should encourage ourselves with great holy desire and devote ourselves to Buddhism under the guidance of a true master."


And again in Zuimonki he says in regard to right activity, "Some people think building a temple or pagoda means that Buddhism is prospering.  This attitude is a great mistake.  Even a building of gold and precious stone is not the prosperity of Buddhism.  The only prosperity of Buddhism is the practice of Buddhism, without wasting a single moment."



This transcript is a retyping of the existing City Center transcript.  It is not verbatim.  No tape is available.  The City Center transcript was entered onto

disk by Jose Escobar, 1997.  It was reformatted by Bill Redican (10/27/01).



 [1] Tiantong Rujing (Jap. Tendo Nyojo):  1163–1228.  Chan master of Eihei Dogen. 

 [2]  R. D. M. Shaw, The Blue Cliff RecordsThe Hekigan Roku.  London:  Michael Joseph, 1961.  

 [3]  Great Activity:  Meaning "Great Use," the active aspect of the Real Way—its spiritual activity.  See also Model Subject No. 20.

 [4]  Sun-faced Buddhas, Moon-faced Buddhas:  The reference is to Butsu-myoho (A Scripture on the Names of Buddha), a scripture in twelve volumes that contains the names of 11,093 buddhas and bodhisattvas.  Sun-faced buddhas live for 1800 years; moon-faced buddhas live for one day and one night. 


[Shaw's interpretation:]  


Baso replied:  "When we think about our human lives, there are, as you know, people who live long, like those Sun-faced Buddhas, and there are people whose lives are short, like those Moon-faced Buddhas.  It's useless to worry."  The Blue Cliff Records, Shaw (ed.), p. 31.


To see what was added to this site in earlier months and years, go to  What Was New:  1999, 2000-2001,  2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, what's new this year

There's a lot of old material that's as good as new if you haven't read it. -DC

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