When You Have A New Experience
===== Awakening the Archive - Tape #15, by Shundo David Haye =====
This talk was given later on the same day of the first Tassajara sesshin as the last one discussed (https://suzukiroshi.engagewisdom.com/talks/genjo-koanmorning). The beginning of the talk was not recorded, and according to notes on the original transcript, Suzuki Roshi was talking about "four stages... belief, intellectual understanding, practice, and enlightenment" (these are mentioned in the Lotus Sutra). Naturally for a Zen talk, part of the advice given during the talk is that students should not rely on these as a series of progressions. In fact, Suzuki Roshi cautions with a laugh, the stages may occur in a different order altogether, before he goes on to say, "actually there is no stage [laughs, laughter]. I am intellectualizing for, you know, some -- to help you, that's all." (11:14). Students should also not be attached to giving their experience a name like "kensho," the traditional "seeing one's own nature" definition of enlightenment, even if that was something they had been striving to attain in their practice.
The subject of the talk reflects that he sees members of the new monastic community trying to deal with breakthroughs they may have had as part of their now intensive training at Tassajara, which he knew would be even more likely during a sesshin: "I saw many students who is very afraid of new -- their new experience. It is so unusual that you become afraid of it, but there is no need to be afraid of it." (23:22).
He encourages them to see a teacher when they have such an experience – and during the sesshin there would be more opportunities to speak with a teacher than usual – but the bottom line is that they have to continue their practice from where they are, digesting this new experience, and incorporating it into their lives -- "act bravely according to the new experience" (4:11). It is their own lives they have to make sense of, and to practice with: "Then you will have true meaning of your own life. Religion is through and through a personal thing. Religion is just for yourself, not for others." (20:28).
At the same time, since Zen always sees things from both sides, this individual experience and practice is also what connects the practitioner to the Buddha's own practice; it verifies the Buddha's practice, and is verified by Buddha's practice. Understanding that point is the fourth stage. This is where studying the teachings, the second stage, also helps: "All those teachings are each drops of -- drop of the ancient sages -- drop of blood of ancient sages. So we have to study with our warm heart, not just by your brain." (18:15)
--- called gyo, or practice. This kind of process will be understood. So when some new experience -- when you experience some new experience, at first you may be, you know, even afraid of it. And you may cry over the new experience even, because it is so different from the experiences you have had, and the experience is too real to you. But that is because your practice is still wanting. You are not -- until -- you have to practice in other words until you get accustomed to them [and] you can digest the new experience and you can act properly according to the new experience. This kind of thing is -- understanding is necessary.
So before you become afraid of it, or before you wonder what it is, you should practice more under the new experience, following the new experience. This is also very important thing. You may -- you may see your teacher when you have a new experience, but teacher will say "Practice more with the new understanding." So I don't think all of you can practice our way with a teacher always. Some of you must go to your own home and practice alone. In that case -- in such case, you should -- when you have some new experience, you should continue your practice folding the new experience within yourself, and act bravely according to the new experience. This kind of make-shift should be -- is necessary for you. We should not be bound by the same old way always. We should be always ready for new experiences. You may say that is kensho, or you may say -- whatever you may say, this is quite a new experience -- experience both intellectual and emotional.
And the many -- many of our patriarchs and Buddhas will prove your experience. That is the last stage. Then you have the same experience with the experience the old -- our buddhas had. In this way Buddhism will be developed.
So the most important thing is to believe in our Buddha nature and then intellectually you have to study our way, which is not one. There are many ways. Back and forth we have to study our view of life. And we have to have enough experiences to accord with reality. And then we have to acquire the power by which you can act [without] any restriction, without any idea of teaching even. To act quite naturally without being out of the track. This the third stage. And to be proved by Buddha is the last stage.
But this experience can be interpreted in reverse [laughs]. What Buddhas attained is the purity of the mind or the absolute mind, so the last stage will be the first one in which you believe in. And because you have the last stage which every one -- every Buddhas attained, and which everyone has, and because everyone has the same wisdom, whatever we do, whatever we understand, we think that is -- that follows. Because of -- because of our true nature, we are possible to think things in various ways and act various ways. So the last stage will be the first one. And next stage where you can act is because you believe in the -- firmly believe in -- our attainment of the Buddha. You can act without any doubt. So that will be the second stage. The stage where you can emotionally follow the way will be the second stage, when you believe in actual Buddha who attained enlightenment three thousand years ago, you see. If you believe in him, you can believe in -- emotionally, you can believe in Buddha's way, and you can intellectualize his teaching.
In this way, back and forth, there's many possibilities in our practice. The first stage may be the last stage, and the last one may be the first one. So actually there is no stage [laughs, laughter]. I am intellectualizing for, you know, some -- to help you, that's all. So actually, I don't know which is the right order, starting from actual Buddha to the third stage, or starting from the believing in the absolute nature which we originally have, and then intellectual understanding, and then emotional activity -- activity which -- emotional practice which your emotion follows. Or until your emotional activity follows your practice, or follows your intellectual understanding, you practice it.
There may be two ways to order. I found recently for you, for most of you, it is more appropriate to follow the first order, starting from believing in the absolute nature of all being, and to have various intellectual study -- various religions or various teachings of Buddhism from intellectual -- by intellectual way, and having -- and practice it -- and practice zazen, so that you will find intellectual study something more emotional activity. And then read scriptures, or read the biographies of our teachers, or to listen to lectures. This is also -- this is the more usual process for you. But the other way is to read the biographies of the various teachers, and to live with teachers like this in a monastery, and more and more intellectualize those experience we have, or life we have here. This is also possible.
But whichever way you take, the most important thing is the practice, practice of Zen. Anyway, if your process of attaining the actual meaning of life does not follow practice, it is impossible. The problem you have will not be solved, your life will not be your own life. It is like your food: even though you take food, if your tummy doesn't digest it [laughs], it doesn't work. So the important thing is to digest things you have had. That is practice. By practice you will attain the oneness of the intellectual understanding and emotional understanding.
Anyway, we are so grateful to have many teachers, and to have teachings which is accumulation of the actual experience of various sages. All those teachings are each drops of -- drop of the ancient sages -- drop of blood of ancient sages. So we have to study with our warm heart, not just by your brain. Direct experience, direct practice is necessary (?). If you want to do so, you have to be very straightforward, you should be very open, and you should be ready for everything which will happen to you.
This is the most important belief we should have - to believe in nothing [laughs]. To believe in nothing is to believe in everything. First of all, we should believe in nothing. Don't feel lonely [laughs]. You should exist just by yourself. This kind of spirit you must have. And then practice our way, and then read scriptures, or see your teacher. Then you will have true meaning of your own life. Religion is through and through a personal thing. Religion is just for yourself, not for others.
What I told you this afternoon is based on the order of belief: shi, ge, gyo, sho - four -- four stages. Shi is belief, gyo is -- ge is intellectual understanding, and gyo is practice. Here it means more something -- emotional practice -- emotional activity followed by intellectual activity, we call gyo. And sho is the enlightenment or proof, to be proved by various teachers. This is a very important thing. Four ways. So this four stages -- our practice includes those four order -- in each order, our practice should follow. Our practice is not just one of the four orders of entering our way.
My explanation, I'm afraid, was not so clear to you, maybe, but I want you to think about it more. Why I talked about it is, I saw many students who is very afraid of new -- their new experience. It is so unusual that you become afraid of it, but there is no need to be afraid of it. And those people may not be able to see your teacher some -- most of -- in most cases. Anyway, we should practice our way from beginning to end. As long as the practice follows, your intellectual understanding or your emotional activities, whatever it is, will be adjusted, and will be your own in its true sense. Whatever it is - if your practice follows, it will be your own.
If you say, "I cannot practice any more [laughs] because of this or that," that is the opposite. Because of this or that, you have to practice! [laughs] Do you understand? Because you are busy, you have to study [laughter]. Because your mind is occupied by some particular thing, you have to practice [laughter]. Because you are interested in some particular thing recently, so you have to practice our way or else you will be lost [laughs]. Whatever you do, [laughter] it doesn't work; it is not -- you are not you. When you want to leave you, you practice zazen. That is the most important thing for you.