Berkeley Zen Center [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Commentary on Suzuki Roshi's Sandokai Lectures

by Sojun Mel Weitsman

This lecture is reprinted from the June 2000 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

Note: Suzuki Roshi's quotes are in italics.

Suzuki Roshi was always very sympathetic to people's problems, realizing that people have these problems because of our human nature. He made an effort not to criticize but to understand the basis of our desire, why we are driven and attached to things so much. "We must include our desires as one of the many factors in order to see things as it is."We don't always reflect on our desires. "Without stopping to reflect on our selfish judgement we say, 'oh, he is good' or 'she is bad.' But someone who is bad to me is not necessarily always bad. To someone else, he may be a good person. Reflecting on this we can see things as it is and this is Buddha Mind." Suzuki Roshi is talking about not being one-sided. We tend to evaluate our friends or people we know on the basis of some strong characteristic. We tend to see people through that lens. But we don't see the whole person because of our label. Then we tend to think about that person in the same way, over and over, and always relate to them in that way. Even if they change we tend not to notice the change -- this person is like this, that person is like that -- , instead of seeing everyone for who they actually are, aside from our label, aside from evaluation.

I think it is very important to always look at the other side, or look underneath this covering, this emotional or intellectual covering. This is actually how we work with everyone and create a harmonious sangha. We accept everyone as they are and donŒt try to change people even though we would like to see them change. Even if we wish someone was different or would change, we accept them just as they are. In that way we have the possibility to see them just as they are and to allow what is just beneath the surface to come to the surface. I think our practice is a slow maturation process of trusting even when there is no trust. Even when you feel you can't trust, you trust the maturation process. When above, Suzuki Roshi says: "Reflecting on this we can see things as it is," this is the Buddha Mind. The Buddha Mind is the Great Mirror Wisdom Mind, which reflects everything as it is, not distorted through our conceptions.

"The poem begins, 'the mind of the great sage of India.' That is Buddha's big mind that includes everything. The mind we have when we practice is we're not bothered. That's zazen, whatever happens to us, we're not bothered. This is the stage you have to reach, the stage of not being bothered, whatever happens. "It is something happening in the vast sky. Whatver kind of bird flies through it, it doesn't care. This is the mind that is transmitted from Buddha to us."

During tea I was talking about mind, big mind which is likened to a blank screen, or the vast sky. Sometimes they use the term "a white sheet of paper," or a blank sheet of paper - nothing is written there. In a movie, the action is projected onto the screen, we don't think we're seeing a screen, we're just seeing the movie, but the screen is there all the time. The movie is being played on the screen of big mind. Big mind and small mind are really integral with each other but small mind is the expression on the screen of the activity of big mind. When we practice zazen, we're not concerned with the projection on the screen; we're only concerned with the screen itself, like the vast sky. But then the movie goes on or the bird flies across the empty sky. We are continuously writing our story on the empty sky, painting our picture, but at the same time, the empty sky is always the empty sky. When we get off the cushion, the movie comes into the foreground and we pay attention to the movie, but the big sky is just the same. In zazen, although the movements of the mind are interesting, we don't engage them. So the movie of the mind doesn't bother us. Because we discriminate the pain, we experience suffering.

"Many things happen as you sit. You may hear the sound of the stream. You may think of something but your mind doesn't care. Your Great Mind is just there, sitting. Even when you are not aware of seeing, hearing or seeing, something is going on in big mind." If something nice comes, you just enjoy it and let it go, if something distasteful comes, you notice it and let it go. Whether it's good or bad, you just accept it and let it go. When you stop and attach to it or grasp it, that's called the arising of a self. When there is no attachment or grasping, and you're just allowing things to come forward and present themselves, when you simply acknowledge and let them go, no self arises. This is what is meant by self-arising or self-not-arising.

Self is the consciousness that attaches to things and creates a picture. It's characterized as the seventh level of consciousness (manovinana), which is the ego consciousness. When it allows things to come and go, that is its function. When it takes the center stage and attaches to what comes and goes, then it's called the self. When it's no longer attaching and not self-conscious, it's called the wisdom of equality. "We observe things without saying good or bad, we just sit." It's the self which says good or bad; when we say good or bad, like or dislike, this is the self arising. "We enjoy things but have no special attachment to them. We have full appreciation of them at this time but that's all. After zazen, we say, 'Good morning.'" We're just totally open. Nothing to attach to. After zazen, everything is very fresh and new and a whole realm of possibilities lies before us. "In that way, one after another, things will happen to us and we can fully appreciate them." We have no preconceptions about what things are.

This is the mind transmitted from Buddha and this is the way we practice zazen. It is called unassuming mind, even though I may know something. I know this person is angry and reticent and so forth, but even though I know that, I don't assume it. I wait until something happens leaving open the possibility that it may not happen. When the mind is open like this, one can see everyone as Buddha because one is looking beyond those characteristics to the deeper reality of this person. The person's characteristics are part of that person, but there is something more than just those characteristics. We must always try to go beyond the characteristics to the true person. That's why I often say, treat everyone as Buddha without exception, which is difficult. it's hard to see the person who is harming you as Buddha, but you have to look for that somewhere in that person. Otherwise you don't know where you are, you lose your footing and you start reacting on the same level as that person. If you practice zazen in this way, you are less likely to have trouble when you are interacting with others.

(Rohatsu, 12/99)

(Suzuki Roshi's lectures can be read in the book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, co-edited by Sojun Mel Weitsman.)

Last revised June 17, 2000. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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