Think the Unthinkable
===== Awakening the Archive - Tape #20, by Shundo David Haye =====
This talk comes from the middle of the second sesshin at Tassajara, in December 1967. Unlike the extreme heat of the summer sesshin, students would have been grappling with long hours of sitting in the cold, as the zendo did not get any direct sun in the winter. Not all the talks from the week are available - if Suzuki Roshi was lecturing twice a day, which he typically did in sesshin, we are missing one talk from the second day, and both talks from the third. This talk, from the fourth day, had somehow been overlooked, despite being on the same reel as the existing talk from the second day.
During the week, Suzuki Roshi had two overlapping themes. For the first time, he turned his attention to Dogen's first written text, the Fukanzazengi, in which he sets out not just the method for sitting zazen, but its value and pivotal role in Buddhism. Several talks include Suzuki Roshi reading and commenting on passages of the translation that was available at the time, by Reiho Masunaga.
Alongside this, he was talking about the hara, or tanden, as a point of focus during zazen, in a way that he did not do in any other lectures; perhaps he felt that a monastic sesshin was the only appropriate time to be teaching about this, even as he details how energy in the hara is " the most important practice for oriental arts even" (6:53).
This focus allows the student to develop stability and inward strength, which, combined with the powerful silence of sesshin, creates the possibility of understanding that everything is part of one's own mind: "To study something is to find out what you have learned before. To hear something is to hear what you have studied. And in this way your mind always develop itself by itself. Nothing from outside comes into your mind. All the activity is the self-activity of your own mind." (10:16)
From this place, Suzuki Roshi guides his students through the koan at the heart of the Fukanzazengi, in this translation rendered as "Think the unthinkable. How do you think the unthinkable? Think beyond thinking and unthinking."
As a way in, Suzuki Roshi suggests "usually when you think, you think about something. But thinking mind—if your thinking mind directed opposite way, that is to think unthinkable. Your mind is still clear, but there is no object." (37:47). He follows Dogen's example, first by making a very concrete analogy to allow the mind to grasp what is hard to grasp. The sun is always just shining, he says, but if an object appears, the sun will be shining on that. Then he also uses one of Dogen's typical methods, turning what appears to be a question into a statement, as he suggests Dogen himself is doing by asking "how do you think the unthinkable." "How is the way," Suzuki Roshi insists, before going on to conclude "unthinkable thinking is how.”
The invitation to his students, in the middle of this week of intensive sitting, is the same as Dogen's typical exhortation in his writings: don't imagine you can grasp one answer and be satisfied with it. Investigate further.
SR017 - Track 2- slow - Roshi Lecture - 12/4/67 - afternoon - copied
Footnotes in transcript:
1 I think that even though it may be difficult to actually hear the exact exclamation, he is probably saying “katsu” かつ (perhaps the kanji is 活, which means “energize” in this case). But, as you have undoubtedly experienced, a priest overseeing a sesshin may well say the word with great emphasis — and in such a case, it might sound like: “KAAAA-tsu”. - Fred Harriman
2 Shunryu is saying “kikai tanden." While “tanden” 丹田 in the vernacular is often used in place of “hara” 腹, in Chinese medicine there are potentially other “tanden”. Shunryu appears to be getting technical by specifying “kikai tanden" 気海丹田 in identifying a location of the body that is not only important for identifying one’s most “original” thoughts (one’s most “honest” or “true” thoughts), but it is also important in centering one’s self for physical and spiritual strength when practicing the martial arts such as kendo. There is only one “kikai” 気海, and it is in the hara 腹, below the navel. So he is trying to be more technically precise in identifying the tanden that he wants the practitioners to pay attention to. He explains the meaning of “kikai” 気海 as 気 = spirit, and 海 = sea (ocean). Perhaps he sensed that he might be getting a little technical, and he left the subject with a cursory description of the kanji, and he brings the attention back to the word “hara” 腹, which is more colloquial but not as precise as “kikai tanden”気海丹田. - Fred Harriman
3 This is a translation of the English proverb: Speech is silver, silence is golden. Suzuki Roshi translated the Japanese version into English again. Yuben is eloquence. -Shohaku Okumura
4 Suzuki Roshi is talking about the story of entering the dharma gate of non-duality from the Vimalakirti Sutra. There is a famous phrase from the story: Yuima no ichimoku rai no gotosi means Vimalakirti's silence is like a thunderclap. Probably he is saying, Vimalakirti's silence is louder than Manjushri's talk. -Shohaku Okumura
Transcript by PF 12/21
To talk about merit of Zen for beginners is like to count other’s treasure. So we do not talk about the merit of Zen. The only way is to devote ourselves to simple practice with hard effort. What I have told you—the point I have told you is not to mix up true zazen practice with some other practice like reading or studying something intellectual, because the way we study is quite different. Intellectual study or physical or emotional training—spiritual training also. In those activity or in those study, our effort is directed to attain something. But in zazen practice, our effort is directed to opposite way. To forget or to stop all the thinking and to resume our original—the most —inmost function of our mind, before thinking, before we feel something. The way is quite different so you should not mix up zazen practice with some other practice. In that—in Zen there are many functions, as you know, to use — to give a shout like KAAA-tsu!!! (1) [laughs] like a thunder. Or to whack people, or to see it. This kind of way—there are many kinds of way. But those activities are based on the power of tanden or hara which you get by our usual practice. That is why in this sesshin especially we concentrate to have more power in your tanden or hara. We say, kikai (2) tanden. Ki means maybe spirit. Kai means sea. Tanden is here [belly]. So our power, or hara should be like sea. This is the most important practice for oriental arts even. All the oriental arts is function of our tanden, hara.
When your mind is directed to outward you lose your power in your tummy. When your effort is concentrated inward, you have power within yourself, and everything become a part of your hara. If you hear the bell from outside, that sound at the same time arise from your hara or tanden. So sound does not come from outside. It comes rather from inside, and you hear your own sound. Nothing exists outside of yourself because your mind covers everything. So whatever you do, that is your own activity. There is no duality in your activity.
To study something is to find out what you have learned before. To hear something is to hear what you have studied. And in this way your mind always develop itself by itself. Nothing from outside comes into your mind. All the activity is the self-activity of your own mind. Yesterday I said I would rather be a rock on top of the mountain than to be a lion or tiger in the mountain, or bird. You may say, a rock is motionless and a rock has no feeling, but if you feel—if you see the rock, directly, it will tell you many things. Even a rock on the top of mountain, there will be moss on it. Even though there is no moss the natural color of the wood will tell you many kalpas—the story of many kalpas of time. Even though you smooth a stone by machine, you cannot make a rock on the top of mountain. You cannot make it. It is more than a living being. If you practice our way in its true sense, even though speechless activity in sesshin, we can communicate with each other. I think you say—you also say—the eloquence is silver, silence is gold (3)
In Zen we say a silence—a silent talk of Vimalakirti. (4) His silence is more than eloquent talk. What will—we will acquire by our practice or function of our tanden is sometime very subtle, subtle enough to catch. Where a smallest sound, and sometime the mind will pervade in the great universe. Actually, because it is so subtle and fine activity that—because it is so subtle it can cover the whole world. To appreciate smallest trivial things for you—actually how to appreciate—how to have the—how to have our—how to make our life in cosmic scale. If your mind is always caught by big or small, then that mind cannot catch anything. Only the mind, subtle mind, you may say, mind which is soft and tender. I don’t mean tender—by tender I don’t mean some emotional feeling—some, you know, subtle—subtle is the feeling will be obtained by our practice. So the mind we will obtain by our practice is something which is very subtle and at the same time which is very great. This kind of mind is the mind—is Zen mind.
There have—has been many misunderstanding with the power of hara. The power of hara is not be—necessarily be some supernatural power. The power of hara is not something which you can be proud of, which you can obtain by hard practice or, you know, the effort directed—or effort—through the effort — through the dualistic effort. This mind is beyond our dualistic mind, so you cannot explain it, what it is, by word. The mind which would be understood before you explain about it, this kind of mind is true mind. But you know, many people misunderstand this mind for the supernatural power. Or— to some extent you can develop your power of hara so that you can show the power to others. But by hara we do not mean this kind of hara. The power which you will obtain by true practice is the mind of hara we mean. Here again, it is necessary to switch over your usual way of understanding to the opposite way of usual understanding. Without working toward outside, to work inward without trying to achieve something—to forget—to stop our mind which is working always outward. This is the most important point in Zen.
I will recite the first paragraph again. First paragraph of Fukanzazengi. [Reading from Reiho Masunaga’s translation, but Suzuki changed and left out some words].
"The true way is universal, so why are training and enlightenment different? The supreme teaching is everywhere, so why study the means to it? Even truth as a whole, is clearly apart from the dust. Why adhere the means of wiping away? The truth is not apart from here, so the measure of training are useless. But if there is even the slightest gap between, the separation is as heaven and earth. If the opposites arise, dualistic mind arise, you lose the Buddha mind. Even though, you are proud of your understanding and have enough enlightenment, even though you gain some wisdom and supernatural power and find the way and illuminate your mind, even though you have power to touch the heaven, and even though you enter into the area of enlightenment, you have almost lost the living way to salvation. Look at the Buddha. Though born with great wisdom, he had to sit for six years. Look at Bodhidharma who transmitted the Buddha mind. We can still hear the echo of his nine-year wall-gazing practice. The old sages are very diligent. There is no reason why modern man cannot understand it. You should quit following words and letters. You should withdraw and reflect on yourself."
Withdraw means to change the direction of effort. Not outward but inward.
"You should with—withdraw and reflect on yourself. If you can cast off body and mind, naturally the Buddha Mind emerges—emerges. If you wish to gain quickly, you must start quickly."
And he explains carefully how to sit.
"In meditation you should have a quiet room. You should eat and drink in moderation. You should forsake myriad relation—abstain—relations abstain from everything. Do not think of good and evil. Do not think of right and wrong. Stop the function of mind, of will, of consciousness. Keep from measuring memory, perception, insight. Do not strive to become the Buddha. Do not cling to sit or lying down.
In the sitting place, spread a thick square cushion and on top of it put a round cushion. Some meditate in paryanka, sitting cross-legged and others in half-paryanka, half-lotus. You must prepare by wearing your robe and belt loosely—wearing—by wearing your robe and belt loosely. Then rest your right hand on your left foot, your left hand in your right palm. Press your thumbs together. Sit upright. Do not lean to the left or right, forward or backward. Place your ears in the same plane as your shoulders, your nose in line with your navel. Keep your tongue against the palate and close your lip and teeth firmly. Keep your eyes open. Inhale quietly. Settle your body comfortably. Exhale sharply. Exhale—sharp—sharp—exhale. Not sharply but—I don’t know what to say. Exhale sharply. Move your body to the left and right. Then sit cross-legged steadily.
Think the unthinkable. How do you think the unthinkable? Think beyond thinking and unthinking. This is the important phase of cross-legged sitting."
"Think the unthinkable." Think unthinkable. You know, think unthinkable, means think, you know, think not about something, you know. Usually when you think, you think about something. But thinking mind—if your thinking mind directed opposite way, that is to think unthinkable. Your mind is still clear, but there is no object.
The sun is not, you know, shining, only the earth, you know. The earth—if the earth is happen to be here, the sun will [laughs] shine on—on our earth. Think unthinkable in—is—your mind is—must be like the sun. It is shining, but it is not shining some particular thing. It is more than think about it —something. In this way, your mind, your function of mind, kicked in your practice. So he said, "Think unthinkable. How do you think the unthinkable?" How do you think the unthinkable? And this is very interesting word. How do you think the unthinkable? The sun is not shining some particular thing. So the sun is just the sun. It is not trying to shine anything. It is right there. Just there. But someone happens to appear near the sun, it will shine some object. That is, you know, how the sun shines everything.
So how—how do you think the unthinkable [laughs]? There is no way. How? How is the way. Because we don't know how [laughs]. You know: how? So there you can put anything, you know: how? This way is how. That way is how. The all the way is how. This is how. This is how [laughs]. This is like a what. Cat is what. Dog is what. What is there, you — you ask people. That is what, you know. What may be a mouse, a cat, a bat. So how or what means— what it means is very deep. How do you think the unthinkable? This is not just, you know, a question. It is a strong statement. How do you think the unthinkable. This is not interrogative. It is strong affirmative sentence. How do you think the unthinkable. Unthinkable thinking is how.
In what way you think, that is how. That is the unthinkable. But you have no notion of thinking about anything. That is our practice. "How do you think the unthinkable? Think beyond thinking and unthinking." Think beyond thinking and unthinking. Your thinking should be beyond "I think" or "I don’t think." It must be right there always.
"This is the important phase of cross-legged sitting." We sit in this way. This is how different it is our practice. That is why we should practice zazen. And you should not neglect our zazen because you think something else is more important. Why something is important for you is because of this practice. So if you forget all about the practice, you lose your life. Whatever you do, it doesn't work. If you insist it works, you lose yourself. You are no more. You vanished from [laughs] this world. If the earth say, I don't want the sun [laughs], what will happen to it? There is no other way, vanished from the cosmic world. Because—because of this unthinkable thinking we exist, we can think, we can live. Without this unthinkable, we cannot think. It change into delusion. If you insist on it, you—it means you are involved in dark, deep delusion.