Posts Tagged ‘Suzuki Roshi’

Still Struggling

August 27, 2015

I’ve been trying to get back to this blog, but without much luck. Things (Street Song) keep getting in the way. But as a gesture of my sincerity, I am going to do a short one. I have an idea for a longer post, which I hope to write soon.

When I was in high school, my social studies class received two visitors from England who were on a world tour. The school had invited them to speak to us, but they bored me, so I tuned them out. I was gazing out the classroom window when I heard one of them saw something that caught my attention. “Now, I’m sure everyone in this room will agree with me when I say that Winston Churchill was the greatest man of the 20th Century.” What a preposterous thing to say! I thought. First of all, nobody in that room thought about things like that at all. And I certainly did not agree. To me, Churchill was just some fat man who sat on his ass smoking cigars while sending young men off to die in wars (an opinion that has not changed in nearly 50 years). But my disdain for the man forced me to think about who I would give the title “Greatest Man of the 20th Century.” At the time, I came up with Martin Luther King. But now I would say Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the Japanese Zen master who founded the Zen Center here in San Francisco.

David Chadwick, a former student of Suzuki, has a web site devoted to the man and frequently posts quotes from the Suzuki. Here’s a recent posting that I like very much.

Truth is not some particular, you know, thing. If I say truth you think it is some special theory [laughs] or mathematical or scientific theory. But we don’t mean such concrete, static logic by truth. Truth is unconditionality or eternal reality. Reality does not take any form.

Quote from Suzuki Roshi

May 14, 2015

The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transcendence or change. Everything changes is the basic teaching and this truth is eternal truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth. All the teaching of Buddhism can be condensed into this teaching. This is the teaching for all of us and wherever we go this teaching is true. This teaching is also interpreted as the teaching of selflessness because our self nature, that of each existence is nothing but the self nature of all existence.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Thanks to David Chadwick who puts these up regularly on the What’s New page of his site, I want to add only that you could replace “teaching of Buddhism” with “teaching of Christ” or “teaching of Taoism” or several others. There is only one religion, and it doesn’t have a name.

Spiritual Books I Recommend

October 19, 2012

A reader, Lynn B., asked me to post a list of spiritual books that I recommend. In the last decade or two a lot of the really valuable works have been obscured by new translations of the classics as well as newly written books, both with the “modern-day seeker” in mind. In short, they’re New Age, and from what I’ve seen, most of them are useless. What follows are the books that I’ve actually read and value most. There are certainly many others worth reading; but these are the ones I actually know:

Tao Te Ching: The fundamental text of Taoism. There are many, many translations. I have two favorites. One is the version by Richard Wilhelm and the other—my current favorite—is by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo. The original work is extremely terse. Most English translations have a lot of added verbiage in order to help the Western reader better understand the ideas. The Addis/Lombardo version retains the simplicity of the original text. Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with the lengthier translations, but I find this book clearer and easier to understand than any other version. It’s also more enjoyable.

I Ching: In some sense a Taoist text with heavy Confucian influences, the I Ching is really its own thing, that is, it has its own tradition. This is the book I know best. I’ve been studying it for nearly 40 years. To my mind, the only translation worth getting is the Wilhelm/Baynes version. One note of caution: A lot of people approach the I Ching with the hope that it will help them get what they want. It doesn’t do that. The I Ching is a book of wisdom. It’s a good idea to treat the oracular aspect with much caution.

Cold Mountain Poems: Han Shan (or Cold Mountain) was a Chinese religious hermit who wrote poems on the rock walls around his cave, 300 of which were collected after he disappeared. He spoke the language of both the Taoists and the Buddhists. I love this book. He can be very funny! My favorite version is by Red Pine.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind; Not Always So; Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Three books by the Japanese Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki. I love these. They are tidied-up versions of talks he gave and are especially useful because he knew that the people he was talking to were new to the subject. This doesn’t mean that they’re easy to understand. They’re not. It took me many years to even begin to understand any of Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. But they speak to a level that most Westerners can attain if we try.

Crooked Cucumber: This biography of Shunryu Suzuki, or Suzuki Roshi, was written by David Chadwick, a former student. It’s a wonderful book—humorous and well-written—and I recommend it highly.

Monday Night Class, The Caravan, and Amazing Dope Tales (aka Haight Ashbury Flashbacks): Stephen Gaskin was one of the hippies who, back in the 1960s, used LSD as a tool for spiritual exploration. He helped to develop the groundwork for what might be called Acid Religion, which is virtually identical to Taoism, Buddhism and true Christianity. (I’m not sure that “virtually” is actually necessary. But I’ll let it stand.) I like all of Gaskin’s books, but only a few of them are available today. Monday Night Class and The Caravan are currently out in annotated versions (done by him). He’s one of us and he’s talking to us.

The Gospel of Thomas: One of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, this is the only Christian text I bother with nowadays. One reason I like it is that it lacks the usual Christian mythologizing. It consists solely of the sayings of Jesus, many of which don’t exist in the standard Bible. It presents a Jesus who speaks with the voice of a sage. I only have the version by Marvin Meyer (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus). For all I know, there may be better versions. But this one seems fine.

Finally, three books  I haven’t yet gotten into deeply, but know that I will get into deeply in the future: The Diamond Sutra, The Platform Sutra, and The Heart Sutra. Red Pine has done translations of all three. I don’t speak or read Chinese, so I can’t say how good he is at that level. But I like his work. He studied for years in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. I’ve never read any negative comments about him.

Science Meets Pantheism

February 5, 2012

As I wrote in my recent series on the Three Fundamental Views of Existence, the materialist/scientific view and the creator god view have very little awareness of the third view, which I’m provisionally calling the pantheistic view. Science deals with it most often in fields that deal with the mind. This is primarily because Buddhism has developed some very sophisticated ideas about the mind, and some scientists seem to feel obliged to respond to them.

I recently read an interview with Shimon Edelman, a professor of psychology who has a book out called The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life. My attention was drawn to this particular exchange.

You talk about the default human mind as constantly wandering in order to avoid the present moment, what you call “the tyranny of the here and now.” What about practices like Buddhist meditation, which aim to quiet the mind into a state of contentment?

That’s a really good question. I set out to write the book because I wanted to find out why I was restless in situations where I supposedly should have been perfectly content. You know, literally sitting on a mountaintop, seeing the countryside, I would still feel restless. And I think I found a kind of answer. To put it very bluntly, if you are successful in following the Buddhist precepts, you cease to be human. In fact, I think one can find support for this view in the Buddhist sources themselves. If you succeed to cease desiring, you are no longer human. Of course, the Buddha himself supposedly remained enmeshed with humanity to teach others. But if you do succeed in obtaining the state that you’re supposed to obtain, then you’re no longer human. And that kind of invalidates the questions because a psychology would need to be developed for understanding those kinds of minds—they are not regular human minds.

I find his answer revealing. First of all, the guy’s understanding of Buddhism is poor. Buddhism would say that the reason he feels restless sitting on a mountain top is because he hasn’t disciplined his ego, which is inherently restless. Buddhism—all true religion actually—says that there are two levels to human nature, the higher and lower. (Suzuki Roshi called it big mind and small mind.) The lower nature is the one with all the restless biological drives. Unfortunately, that’s the only side to our nature that out-and-out materialists recognize: our lower nature. The higher nature, which we don’t see much of these days, is also our better nature, and it is very much a part of what makes us human. But science can’t measure it, so it doesn’t recognize its existence. This is where science consistently fails. It oversteps its bounds by insisting on being the explainer of everything. But science and scientists are reliable only when dealing with the limited confines of the material plane. Scientists are human beings, and as human beings they have an obligation to seek out their higher natures. To do that, they have to go beyond their field. Science cannot deal with this kind of issue.

You can find the entire interview by clicking here.

I intend to write something someday about a crazy idea I have about physics—a crazy idea that I happen to think is true.

One other thing, I’m leaving Tuesday for Santa Barbara Island and staying a week. I’ll have limited access to the Internet during that time. If anybody has a comment that demands a response, I may not be able to get to it for awhile.

Flu Update

September 29, 2011

The Japanese Zen Master Suzuki Roshi was asked what hell is. He said it’s “training.” I’ve been in training for nearly two weeks now. Today I woke up feeling the worst was over. We’ll see. I’m eager to get back to work.

The Difficulties of the Zen Waterfall

April 25, 2011

I still get e-mail—almost every day—from people who have just discovered the parrot movie. The movie has “legs,” and it’s gratifying that it continues to touch people. Those who write often want to ask about or comment on the part of the film that Judy and I call the “Zen waterfall sequence.” That’s where I talk about the death of Tupelo and how her death helped me to come to terms with some ideas that, up to that point, I hadn’t understood very well. I say:

There’s a story that Suzuki Roshi told. He was the Zen master at the Zen Center here in San Francisco. He went to Yosemite and saw a big waterfall coming over a cliff. It’s one river at the top of the cliff, but as it falls, the river breaks up into all these individual droplets. And then it hits the bottom of the cliff, and it’s one river again. We’re all one river ‘till we hit this cliff. That distance between the top of the cliff and the bottom of the cliff is our life. And all the individual little droplets think they really are individual little droplets until they hit the bottom, and then they’re gone. But that droplet doesn’t lose anything. It gains. It gains the rest of the river.

This was, for me, the heart of the experience, the heart of what I learned from the parrots. A lot of people find that story very comforting. It makes death seem graceful and easy. But lately I’ve been thinking about another angle to the story that needs to be brought out. It’s actually something that Suzuki Roshi dealt with in his original telling, but that I didn’t go into, namely: While it may be easy for a drop of water to give up its individual existence, it’s much more difficult for a human being.

A graceful death depends on one’s ability to let go gracefully. That’s difficult nowadays. Modern life makes it difficult. We have so many distractions to keep us from an awareness of death. We’re encouraged to put everything we have into this life—work hard, get rich, buy stuff, have fun, be a success. The striving and competitiveness create strong psychological attachments that are extremely difficult to sever. It’s hard to let go easily and gracefully when you’ve invested your entire being into this plane. This is where the terror of death comes from. I think most people tell themselves that there’s no reason to dwell on death, that it’s morbid and fruitless to do so. But it’s important how we die, and the only way we can be actually be unafraid at the time of death is by being prepared for it. And to prepare for it, we need to seek out a different kind of education than the one we get going about our daily lives in this culture, in this time.

Defining My Terms #2

November 3, 2010

There’s another term I want to clarify before I begin work on some posts that I want to put up here. The term is Christianity. I make a distinction between the teachings of Christ and Christianity. The only thing they have in common is that root word, Christ. I don’t believe that we know much of what Jesus actually taught. His time was short and his teachings began undergoing heavy distortion right after his death. This happens all the time. I see it happening now to Suzuki Roshi. What we call Christianity or Christendom begins not with Jesus, but with Paul. When I read the Epistles, which I find an onerous task, it is very clear to me that Paul knows very little about true religion. He is not a seeker, but a zealot, more interested in building a movement than in truth. From what I’ve read, Paul would not have had access to what became known as the Gospels. It was only after his time that different books purporting to be the true story of Jesus came into circulation. The four “official” choices all drew from other books that were available to scribes, and they quite obviously dressed the teachings up in myth. I’m convinced that all four books were chosen because they suited, or were more acceptable, to a particular political and cultural persuasion. Another early architect of Christianity was Augustine. Before he became a “Christian,” Augustine was a speculative intellectual. After his conversion, it became his aim to make his new religion acceptable to the Roman Empire. Accordingly, he came up with concepts that are not only absent in what Jesus is purported to have taught, but are even hostile to it. The distortions and obfuscations in Christianity built up over a long period of time and go on to this day. I don’t need to detail any more of them to make my point, which is simply that when I use the word “Christianity,” I mean the movement that descends from Paul, not the teachings of Christ.

Flying the Flag

May 4, 2010

Last night I went to the San Francisco Film Festival to see a documentary film about the poet Gary Snyder called Practice of the Wild. (I thought it was okay, not great.) I was reminded by the film and by the audience where my real allegiance lies: with the counterculture. By “counterculture” I mean the movement that started with the Beats in the late 1940s and peaked in the 1960s and early 1970s with the hippies and so on. I think it’s an unfortunate term in that it stresses our opposition to the current world order rather than the world we would like to see. But people know what you mean when you say it. Today, the movement is small and weak, but it isn’t dead. Most folks think it was all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but I never saw it that way. The core of it was about recovering real values. But it was only a first effort, and it floundered when the powers-that-be (through their puppet Ronald Reagan) put their foot down, insisting that it was all about money and power.

Suzuki Roshi, the Japanese man who founded Zen Center here in San Francisco, once said that the hippies needed to become “super-hippies.” I think he meant that, yes, love is the answer, but to realize love requires a very serious effort. And yes, there must be justice, but there can never be justice until we are just in our smallest, every-day transactions. I don’t think you can argue with that. And because the culture-at-large is more serious about money than it is about love and justice, I cannot give my heart to it. So I’m letting my freak flag fly.

Buddha is Waiting

December 1, 2008

Most people assume that if you quote Jesus, you must be a Christian. Or if you quote Buddha, you must be a Buddhist. Others insist that if you don’t call yourself a Christian, you have no right to quote Jesus, which is nonsense. Christ and Buddha are the same. They are different bodies living in different times, but they have the same mind. Strictly speaking, there is no Buddhism and no Christianity. The true religion has no name. It’s universal law, the way things actually happen. The Japanese Zen Master Suzuki Roshi said the same thing on several occasions. I won’t go any farther into my own thoughts on the subject right now. This is merely a preface for a Suzuki Roshi quote that I like very much. I find it humorous. From Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness:

Even to create one page of new dharma is very difficult. Even though you feel that you have invented something new, the Buddha is always waiting there for you. Buddha will say, “Oh, come here. Good for you! Come nearer to me. I have some more things for you.” It is very hard to surpass his teaching.