To Polish A Tile Is Our Practice Actually

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===== Awakening the Archive - Tape #18, by Shundo David Haye =====

Further to the date confusion and missing talks discussed last time, it seems that even Suzuki Roshi lost track of time during the first seven-day sesshin at Tassajara: "We have one more day [two people whisper: “two more”] two more days [laughter]. Oh I see [laughter]. Two more days? Just one more. I missed very much [laughter]." (35:38) He also refers twice during this talk to a morning talk which we do not appear to have any record of, as well as a talk given by Maezumi Roshi the night before which is not in the archives.

In this talk, appropriately for the middle stages of a sesshin, he is encouraging his students, and weaving together the themes he has already been addressing in his talks: the value and importance of their practice, the Genjo Koan, and Prajna Paramita which underpins everything. He grounds his main theme in the well-known story of Baso and Nangaku - adding Dogen's twist that while we cannot expect to gain enlightenment through sitting, any more than we can polish a tile to make a mirror, nonetheless we continue to sit, and nonetheless enlightenment occurs: "Because of this kind of practice, enlightenment is yours, whether you are aware of it or not. Here, the meaning of practice is very deep, so our zazen is not just some way to attain enlightenment." (3:22)

Several words and phrases recur: "through and through," indicating a whole-hearted and committed approach, necessary to withstand the rigors of intensive sitting, without adding the distance of mental discourse about what one is doing, and "actualize," again, promoting the reality of one’s experience rather than simply an intellectual understanding of it.

In the moment, he acknowledges, this practice may seem painful, and that "it may be much better to take LSD. [laughter] That is much easier [laughs], and maybe less expensive [long laughter]. It is true. Here we - Maezumi Sensei, Chino Sensei, and many students spending seven days in hot weather. This is ridiculous [long laughter]." (22:34)

Suzuki Roshi wryly notes that LSD does not allow the user to experience an embodied practice, as zazen does. He also grounds this embodied practice in the understanding that this is the present manifestation of what the Buddha himself practiced: "Actually, whatever you experience, whatever experience you have, almost all the experiences you have, will be already told by some of our patriarchs. They are waiting for you to experience something always [laughter]." (16:42)

Additionally, he is encouraging his students that they should not only be looking backward to see their place in this lineage of transmission, but to appreciate that they are laying the groundwork for generations to come as well. Here we see Suzuki Roshi emphasizing both the value of this historic sesshin as it happened, and consciously positioning it in a wider context for the growth of Zen in the west.

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Track 1 1 7/8ips lecture 8/23 - transcribed 9/18/67 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 and title SDH 10/21; #new-audio, #awakening-the-archive


This morning we understood how important it is to practice zen; to understand our teaching; and to actualize our teaching in our everyday activity; and to attain harmony of intellectual faculties and emotional faculties. To attain this kind of oneness is only by the practice - there is no other way. By practice, you not only digest the teaching, but you attain the oneness of the various factors of your faculties. So whatever you do, it will -- the work you do will become of your own. So this kind of practice is something more than training. Training is some means to attain something, but practice is the fundamental way of acquiring various acquisitions. That is why we put emphasis on practice.

Here, by practice we mean something as important as enlightenment itself, or another interpretation of enlightenment, because without this kind of practice, you cannot obtain enlightenment - the enlightenment will not be yours. Because of this kind of practice, enlightenment is yours, whether you are aware of it or not. Here, the meaning of practice is very deep, so our zazen is not just some way to attain enlightenment. This kind of practice is the practice which is transmitted from Buddha to us.

Do you know the famous story of Nangaku polishing up a tile? [laughs] I think you know this story. Once, Baso, Horse Master [laughs] Horse Vendor (?), whose tongue was so long like a horse [laughter] - when he speak -- when he spoke, his tongue reached to his nose [laughter]. And he had a great physique (?). Horse Master was sitting, practicing zazen [laughter]. Nangaku passed by, and seeing the Horse Master - at that time Horse Disciple [laughter, a few words unclear] - sitting zazen, the master said, "What are you doing?" "Oh, because I want to attain enlightenment, so I am sitting here." All of a sudden, Nangaku picked up a tile and started to polish it. Seeing this, the Horse Disciple asked the master, "What -- what are you trying to do it?" he said. The master said, "I am making -- making a jewel [laughter] from the tile, so I am polishing it." "How is it possible to make a jewel from the tile?" The master said, "How is it possible [laughs] to attain enlightenment by sitting?" [laughter] You know this story; this is a very famous story.

To polish a tile is our practice actually. You cannot say it is impossible [laughs] to attain enlightenment by sitting zazen. It is possible, but if the enlightenment is something quite different from usual things - usual activity or usual acquirement -- acquisition - if it is something quite different from ordinary things, it may be impossible. But when tile is tile, through and through, the tile, for its being tile, covers the whole world. When tile is just tile, through and through, it is jewel. You cannot say tile anymore - it is not just tile. If you do not know -- if you do not see the tile through and through, it is only tile. But actually, when it is really tile, through and through, it is jewel.

When Baso, Dogen Zenji said, Baso, the Horse Master, became -- become Horse Master through and through, that is -- zen becomes zen, through and through. Everything becomes jewel. This is our practice. Here you will -- you have understanding of form and emptiness, and emptiness is form. Form -- when form is form through and through, it is emptiness. When a tile is tile, through and through, it is jewel, you see? By jewel we mean emptiness, by tile we mean form.

This kind of practice is our practice. So in this sense, from practice everything comes out. Where there is practice, there is everything in its true sense. Where there is no practice, it is delusion, which is impossible to acquire. So if you try to acquire something without practice it is -- it means you are seeking for delusion [laughs]. You have no chance to get it. And you have no chance to know who is you yourself in its true sense.

This kind of practice is our practice. So when you practice our way, there is teaching - teaching comes out from practice. And that teaching will accord with the teaching which was told by Buddha. That is how we get our transmission. Transmission is not something which is handed down from Buddha like some treasure. It is something which you will -- which you have, which you will actualize, which you will realize. And which will be proved by Buddha. That is transmission. So in one way, it is something which was transmitted from Buddha. On the other hand, it is something which is acquired by yourself, in its true sense. This is our teaching, and this is how we get transmission, and how you transmit our way.

Human being is human being because we know how to communicate and how to hand down our culture or civilisation by calculating, by indicating in various ways. So, cultural heritage can be transmitted from ancestor to descendant. But that is not perfect. The true way of -- to receive the heritage of our ancestors is just only by this kind of practice. Only through this kind of practice, without any restriction, you will live in your trans -- tradition.

Nowadays the young generation does not lead the framework of old tradition. This is because the way of handing down our true culture is not right. In our practice, in our way of receiving transmission, it is no restriction, because it is something -- it will be something which our patriarchs and Buddhas experience already, and taught in various ways already. Actually, whatever you experience, whatever experience you have, almost all the experiences you have, will be already told by some of our patriarchs. They are waiting for you to experience something always [laughter].

But we don't -- we don't know about it, so we strive fast -- strive hard for it. And we extend our way as we like, but in its true way. So for us there is no restriction. But our Buddhas and patriarchs will be very glad that you came -- that we reached there -- came here. If you extend our tradition more, the gratitude of the patriarchs will be more. This is how we extend the cultural heritage of Buddhism.

So we say zazen is most easy way -- easy way. Easy way means -- does not mean easy or difficult. It means most natural and unrestricted way, where we find freedom, where we can stretch our hand and take [laughter] as much as you can even though you are sitting in a cross-legged position. This is the feeling of zazen in your sitting.

Our Buddhist culture comes from within always, not without. Something which comes from outside is not our treasure, we say. Something which comes outside is someone's treasure, not ours. True treasure should come out from inside, from ourselves, through practice.

Just to sit in cross-legged position is not always zazen. Maybe more sometimes it is (a few words unclear), I am sure. But that is not always right. True understanding should follow. That is why we study Prajna Paramita Sutra during sesshin, through our practice. You can actualize the Prajna Paramita Sutra by your practice. So you can say, when you practice Prajna Paramita Sutra, Prajna Paramita Sutra becomes Prajna Paramita Sutra. And Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva becomes Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Buddha becomes Buddha. All the patriarchs and Bodhisattvas appear all at once with your practice.

This kind of practice is true practice. Or else there will not be no need to practice seven days in Tassajara. It may be much better to take LSD [laughter] That is much easier [laughs], and maybe less expensive [long laughter]. It is true. Here we - Maezumi Sensei, Chino Sensei, and many students spending seven days in hot weather. This is ridiculous [long laughter]. You are laughing but I am [[laughter drowns a few words]. It is so, you see.

I am not comparing Zen to LSD, but Zen is something different from -- what I mean is from just training to acquire some state of mind. State of mind is maybe important, but if you do not (one word unclear), if you cannot live in it, it means nothing. What we should strive for, or if you want to know what you should do without any teaching, is, you know, just sit. And when you act, you should see your surroundings, and what kind of -- what will be the best way to (one word unclear). That is how you should find your way. Especially you have responsibility to leave our teaching for your descendants, or to leave your cultural heritage for your descendants. How to hand down, how to leave your cultural heritage to your descendants is why you practice zazen.

Through zazen, without saying anything, you can hand down your cultural heritage. What you have strived for, what you have attained, will be your descendant. But without this kind of effort, in other words, when you have no cultural heritage in its true sense, you have nothing to transmit actually [laughs]. When you have it, actually, then, without saying anything, someone will receive it, someone will understand it. If no-one -- even though no-one understands it directly, some day someone will understand it. That is what was written in Shobogenzo. He says, "What I have studied, what I have acquired, may be difficult to be understood by the people in our days" - in his days - "but if I write down in this way, someone some day will understand me."

So when something, some cultural heritage, is someone's own, it its true sense, that cultural heritage will be known by someone some day. This kind of confidence comes from our practice. Even though Shakyamuni Buddha left many and many teachings, and many books and sutras, if the teaching he left is not his own, in its true sense, no-one will be interested in it. Because what he said comes from his character, in its true sense. So he has so many descendants. Why this kind of thing happens here is because we know how to transmit, and have to study how to live in it.

As I said this morning, in deference to Maezumi Sensei's talk last night, it is important to have teachers for you, because our teaching is not something which will be told perfectly. The way is to believe in it. How to believe in it is through true relationship between the teaching and you. To have direct, thorough, or complete relationship between teaching and you is to know -- to have close relationship with your teacher who believes -- perfectly believes in the teaching. It is much easier to understand -- listen to your teacher than to read some books, because as long as he is telling you something, he is believing in it. So that belief -- communication through belief will result in tremendous impact here.

So this is not just intellectual study, and this is also emotional study, and the study with your mind and body. That is why it is better to study with your teacher. This the difference between just reading and practicing something here. If practice is so important, there must be a teacher. And if there is a teacher, you should not be concerned about just intellectual understanding or discriminat -- criticism or discrimination. You should give up all those imperfect ways of communication. Teachers should not have any discrimination, and students should also not have any discrimination. Just to respect Prajna Paramita is the way.

When you are listening to a teacher with your whole body and mind, you have Prajna Paramita. When you have Prajna Paramita, you have whole teaching. This is how the Prajna Paramita works. In this way, we have been studying Prajna Paramita Sutra. Although there were many inconveniences in our practice here in Tassajara, but I think we did it pretty well. But the meaning of our practice is much than we understand.

We have one more day [two people whisper: two more] two more days [laughter]. Oh I see [laughter]. Two more days? Just one more. I missed very much [laughter]. I am so glad to hear that - two more days [laughter]. I was counting students who may come to me for dokusan, but if I have two more days, I was very much relieved.

Anyway, we have been doing pretty well. It may be pretty difficult, I know, but if you switch your mind a little bit you will be quite different person. And this is also true. So I want you to make a last effort in those two days. Thank you very much.