Genjo Koan

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===== Awakening the Archive - Tape #14, by Shundo David Haye =====

The acquisition of Tassajara in 1967 was a huge leap for Zen Center. Suzuki Roshi had long been interested in finding a suitable location for a monastery; an early Wind Bell mentions a trip to Jenner for that reason back in 1962, when Zen Center was a brand-new non-profit. Many sites were subsequently investigated, but Tassajara fit the bill. While the initial intention was to buy the Horse Pasture land nearby, and build on that, when the hot springs resort became available, it was the obvious way to go.

In 1966, Zen Center's operating budget was around $8,500. Now, $150,000 had to be raised, but such was the embracing spirit in the culture in San Francisco at the time, the sums materialised, and Zen Center had its monastery.

For Suzuki Roshi, it was the perfect place to transmit the ancient monastic practices that had been followed in Japan since the 13th Century, using Dogen's well-recorded guidelines, with sustained practice periods offering a strong container for students to deepen their understanding. For his students, it offered the opportunity to live alongside Suzuki Roshi in an ongoing way that was not possible in San Francisco, and to learn from him not just on the teaching seat (some of the early reports in Wind Bell contain descriptions of enjoying how Suzuki Roshi worked with rocks).

The tapes for the initial seven-day sesshin, held in August 1967, one month after the official ceremonial opening of the monastery, were among those recently rediscovered. While transcripts were available, these recordings offer the opportunity to hear Suzuki Roshi expounding for the first time his vision of monastic practice for his western students, and his explanations of the various questions that they had come up with as they threw themselves into more intensive practice for the first time.

The talks are well-labeled, though the dates only span five of the seven days, and it seems that the boxes may have been switched - one of the reels yielded four tracks, the other three, so the photographs show the boxes that match this. This talk has been variously noted as the first of three talks that Suzuki Roshi gave on the Genjo Koan during the week (having already spoken about the text several times the year before at Sokoji), but also possibly the last, since he is commenting on the last paragraphs of Dogen's work - the dates and track listings support the former.

There are intertwining themes that run through all the talks that he gave during this sesshin: he starts this talk discussing form and emptiness, and the various permutations of this recur throughout the talks. There are commentaries on different passages of the Genjo Koan, many references to the Prajna Paramita Sutra, and also clear explanations to help his students see how all parts of their daily life in the monastery supported their practice and their understanding.

Talking about the story that concludes the Genjo Koan, it is noticeable that Suzuki Roshi is not just offering a commentary on the meaning of the master fanning himself, but also using concrete examples of Tassajara and San Francisco to bring home the point.

As the days go by, he is ensuring that the students not get big ideas, but focus on the most important thing: to be aware of just where they are and just what they are doing: "You should appreciate, moment after moment, what you are doing right now, under some condition. And first of all, you must know under which condition you actually are." (22:14)

Here he is paraphrasing other well-known lines from the Genjo Koan: "When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point." This was the gift that Suzuki Roshi and Tassajara offered.

AI Summary: 



Zenshinji Track 1 1 7/8 ips Suzuki Roshi 8/20 - transcribed 5/8/68 T.D.

NB- the photos for the boxes of 05134 and 05135 have been switched as the track listings only make sense when you do. Presumably at one stage the two tapes were mixed up. - SDH

Transcript updated from the tape, SDH 04/21.

Links to relevant Wind Bells:


Old notes associated with this talk:

Sunday, August 20, 1967
Morning Sesshin
Zen Mountain Center, Tassajara
Edited by Brian Fikes

(Note from Brian Fikes: The first portion of this lecture was not recorded. This is the first [sic]1 in a series of [three] lectures on the Genjokoan given during the sesshin ending the first training period at Tassajara.

[Transcribed by Brian Fikes. Text reformatted and notes amended by Bill Redican 2/20/02.]

1According to Wind Bell (1968, No. 1-2, p. 16), this is the last lecture of a series of three on the Genjo Koan given by Suzuki at Tassajara. The fact that Suzuki is discussing the last paragraphs of the fascicle also supports the conclusion that this is last in the series rather than first -- WKR, April 30, 2001.

File name: 67-08-20: Genjō Kōan (Not Verbatim) Edited by Brian Fikes; #new-audio, #awakening-the-archive


Our understanding will be four: one is form is emptiness, and emptiness is form, and form is form, and emptiness is emptiness. “Form is emptiness” is -- may not be so difficult to understand, “form is emptiness”, but this understanding will be misunderstood like -- some radical or some advanced, hasty people may understand this way -- this view of “form is emptiness”: “Yes, form is emptiness. There is no need for us to attach to some particular thing. Form is emptiness.” [Laugh] This is -- this looks like very clear, but this is -- even though this view of life is maybe better than to attach to some particular form or color, because view of existence -- it's actually many, many views of life. And view of non-existence is more deeper. If you see many things which -- if you see something actually it looks like permanent and it has -- it looks like to have some self-nature. But as we explained already, and you have -- as you have understood already, there is no special nature -- self-nature for anything, and everything is changing. As long as everything is changing, nothing is permanent. So this is more advanced view of life maybe.

But “emptiness is form” is rather difficult to understand. The emptiness which is some -- emptiness which is the absolute goal we will attain, or enlightenment itself, is form. So whatever you do, that is enlightenment itself. This is rather difficult to understand it, or to accept it, because you think emptiness is something -- unusual thing. So something unusual is something [that] is very common - this is rather difficult to understand, especially when you practice zazen. Even though your practice is not perfect, that is enlightenment. But this statement is very difficult to accept it: “No, my practice is not perfect.” So, in this way, you will -- it may be hard for you to accept it. But if you understand form is emptiness, and emptiness is form, back and forth in this way, the form is form, and emptiness is emptiness. Emptiness -- when emptiness comes, everything is emptiness. When form is -- form comes, form is form, we accept things as it is.

So when we come to the understanding of, “Form is form, and emptiness is emptiness,” there is no problem. This stage, or this understanding, is the understanding, “When the moon is in the -- even the moon in the water, the moon will not be broken -- water will not be broken, nor the moon will not be wet.” Moon is moon, and water is water. This is “form is form, and emptiness is emptiness.” But here there will be misunderstanding whatever -- then there will not be no need to practice Zen, you know: “Form is form, emptiness is emptiness. If that is true, why do we practice zazen?” [laughs] This kind of misunderstanding you will have. But one understanding of the four should include the rest of the three, you know. The one statement of the four includes all of four statements, four ways of understanding. If it is not so, it is not true understanding. But the meaning of the four statements actually is the same. So if you say form is form ,or emptiness is emptiness, or form is emptiness, or emptiness is form, one is enough for you. This is true understanding of Prajnaparamita.

And here Dogen Zenji refers to the koan: "Priest Hotetsu of Mount Myoho was fanning himself." He was a disciple of the famous Hyakujo Zenji, and he was a very good Zen master. “Priest Hotetsu of Mount Myoho was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, 'Sir, the nature of wind is permanent, and there is no place it does not reach. Why then must you fan yourself?'” If the wind is everywhere, why do you fan yourself? Do you understand? Why, [if] everyone has Buddha nature, when -- and when form is emptiness, or emptiness is form, why then must you fan yourself? "'Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent,' the master replied, 'you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.'” "Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent," even though you understand form is emptiness, but you do not understand that emptiness is form, in other words. “'What is the meaning?' asked the monk. The master just fanned himself” [laughs, laughter]. He did not answer, but just fanned himself. You know here is big difference between a man who fans himself and who does not fan himself. One will be very hot [laughs], one will be very cool, even though wind is everywhere. “The master just fanned himself. The monk bowed with deep respect.”

"This is an experience of moving Buddhism and correct proving Buddhism and its correct transmission," Dogen says -- Dogen Zenji says. “Those who say we should not use a fan because there is a wind, know neither permanency nor the nature of wind. The nature of wind is permanent. The wind of Buddhism actualizes the gold of the earth and ripens the cheese of the Long River.”

“Ripens the cheese of the Long River.” This is a quotation from the Gandavyuha Sutra -- Kegon Sutra. The water of the Long River is supposed to be pure milk -- it is pure milk -- it is said that. But even though the water of the river is pure milk, if you do not -- if you doesn't get through the right process, it cannot be cheese, you know. Milk is milk, and cheese is cheese. So if you want to well ripen cheese, you should work on it. Even though there is wind, you know, if you do not fan -- use your fan, it will not make you cool. Even [though] there is a lot of gold on the earth, if you do not pick up, you cannot get gold. This is a very important point.

People may think Zen is a wonderful teaching, you know. "If you study Zen, you will acquire complete freedom (laughs). Whatever you do, if you are in the Zen Buddhist robe, it is alright [laughs]. If you wear a black robe like this, whatever you do will be alright. We have that much freedom in our teaching." This kind of understanding looks like observing the teaching that form is emptiness, but form -- what do I mean by “form is emptiness” is quite different. Back and forth we practice, we train our mind and our emotions and our body. And after those processes, you will acquire the perfect freedom.

And perfect freedom should be only -- will be acquired only under some limitation. When you are in some position, you can fulfil --fulfil -- you can realize -- realization of the truth will be there, will happen to you. But if you do not work on anywhere, wandering about this place to the other place, without knowing where you are, without knowing your place on which you work, then there will be no chance for you to realize your true nature. Even though you use something to make yourself cool, sometimes, even though you have fan -- Japanese round fan and a Chinese -- this kind of fan,or big electric fan like that [laughs], if you are always changing one to the other as you wish [laughs], then you will be spend your time [laughs] just to change your equipment to make yourself cool. And you will have no time to appreciate the cool wind. That is [what] most of people are doing [laughter]. If you do not have proper -- if you are not in some condition, you cannot experience the reality. Reality will be experienced only when you are in some particular circumstance. And only when you appreciate it. So that is why we say form is -- emptiness is form. Emptiness may be something very good, but emptiness can [only] be appreciated in some form or color, or under some limitation.

But you cannot be attached to it, you know. Even though it is very wonderful to use a big fan in Tassajara, but if you use it in San Francisco, [laughs] what will happen to you? You cannot use such a big electric fan in San Francisco. So you cannot, you know, stay -- you cannot use, or you cannot be attached to anything.

But you should appreciate, moment after moment, what you are doing right now, under some condition. And first of all, you must know under which condition you actually are. This is very important. If you are a mas -- teacher, you should behave like a teacher; if you are -- when you are a student, you should behave like a student. So first of all you should know what is your position, or else you cannot realize -- realization of the truth will not happen to you. In this way we should understand our way. So to realize our position and fan ourselves is the way.

So here he says, “'You do not know the nature of -- even though you know the nature of the wind is permanent, everywhere,'” but strictly speaking, this is a kind of rhetoric, you know. He [the monk] doesn't know even the nature of the wind. This is, you know -- this is just compliment, "Even though you know the nature of wind", but actually he doesn't know the nature of the wind, nor what does it mean by permanence. So “'Although you understand that nature of the wind is permanent,' the master replied, 'you do not understand the meaning of it reaching everywhere.'” How the wind reach everywhere, and what is everywhere, what is to reach, he [the monk] has no idea of it. “'Although you understand that the nature of wind is permanent'" - this is just compliment [laughs]. He doesn't know even the nature of wind, he does not know at all, about anything! When nature of the wind is permanent, and how it is permanent, is when the wind works to some certain direction, in some speed, under some condition, then the nature of wind will be -- appear. You see?

And “reaching everywhere” means the one -- the cool wind, which is blowing to some certain direction, in some speed, that activity of the wind covers everything -- covers everything. On that moment, the movement of the wind is whole world, and the independent activity of the wind. Nothing can be compared with the wind in this -- under this condition. As -- like ash is ash, you know, having its own past and future. Firewood is firewood, as is having its own past and future. Firewood and ashes are independent. So is the wind. This is how wind reaches everywhere, and this activity is beyond the idea of time.

When we attain enlightenment, all the patriarchs attain enlightenment at the same time. You cannot say Buddha is before and we are after. When you understand enlightenment, you are independent from everything. You are -- you have your own past and future, as Buddha had his own past and future. And his position is independent, and your position is independent. If so, this realization is beyond time and space. In this way, wind reaches everywhere. Do you understand?

You cannot say Buddha is before and we are after, like you cannot say ashes is after and firewood is after [before]. In this way, you should understand how the wind reaches everywhere. In this way, you should realize the nature of wind, which is permanent. So he has -- the monk did not have any kind of this -- any of understanding of this kind. So for Hotetsu Zenji, there was -- it was impossible to explain about it -- about this direct experience of reality, so he just fanned himself [laughs], appreciating the cool night wind.

This is a very famous statement: “The wind of Buddhism actualizes the gold of the earth and ripens the cheese of the Long River.” Only through your practice, only by your practice, or only when you practice zazen, there is enlightenment already. In this -- when you practice zazen in this way, aiming at this kind of goal, will you have chance to attain true enlightenment.

Thank you very much.