Single Minded Way

From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki

Single-Minded Way

The purpose of my talk is not to give you some intellectual understanding, but just to express my appreciation of our Zen practice. To be able to sit with you in zazen is very, very unusual. Of course, whatever we do is unusual, because our life itself is so unusual. Buddha said, “To appreciate your human life is as rare as soil on your fingernail.” You know, dirt hardly ever sticks on your nail. Our human life is rare and wonderful; when I sit I want to remain sitting forever, but I encourage myself to have another practice, for instance to recite the sutra, or to bow. And when I bow, I think, “This is wonderful.” But I have to change my practice again to recite the sutra. So the purpose of my talk is to express my appreciation, that is all. Our way is not to sit to acquire something; it is to express our true nature. That is our practice.

If you want to express yourself, your true nature, there should be some natural and appropriate way of expression. Even swaying right and left as you sit down or get up from zazen is an expression of yourself. It is not preparation for practice, or relaxation after practice; it is part of the practice. So we should not do it as if it were preparing for something else. This should be true in your everyday life. To cook, or to fix some food, is not preparation, according to Dogen; it is practice. To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or for yourself; it is to express your sincerity. So when you cook you should express yourself in your activity in the kitchen. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook! That is also an expression of our sincerity, a part of our practice. It is necessary to sit in zazen, in this way, but sitting is not our only way. Whatever you do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.

The Bodhisattva’s way is called “the single-minded way,” or “one railway track thousands of miles long.” The railway track is always the same. If it were to become wider or narrower, it would be disastrous. Wherever you go, the railway track is always the same. That is the Bodhisattva’s way. So even if the sun were to rise from the west, the Bodhisattva has only one way. His way is in each moment to express his nature and his sincerity.

We say railway track, but actually there is no such thing. Sincerity itself is the railway track. The sights we see from the train will change, but we are always running on the same track. And there is no beginning or end to the track: beginningless and endless track. There is no starting point nor goal, nothing to attain. Just to run on the track is our way. This is the nature of our Zen practice.

But when you become curious about the railway track, danger is there. You should not see the railway track. If you look at the track you will become dizzy. Just appreciate the sights you see from the train. That is our way. There is no need for the passengers to be curious about the track. Someone will take care of it; Buddha will take care of it. But sometimes we try to explain the railway track because we become curious if something is always the same. We wonder, “How is it possible for the Bodhisattva always to be the same? What is his secret?” But there is no secret.
Everyone has the same nature as the railway track.

There were two good friends, Chokei and Hofuku. They were talking about the Bodhisattva’s way, and Chokei said, “Even if the arhat (an enlightened one) were to have evil desires, still the Tathagata (Buddha) does not have two kinds of words. I say that the Tathagata has words, but no dualistic words.” Hofuku said, “Even though you say so, your com- ment is not perfect.” Chokei asked, “What is your understanding of the Tathagata’s words?” Hofuku said, “We have had enough discussion, so let’s have a cup of tea!” Hofuku did not give his friend an answer, because it is impossible to give a verbal interpretation of our way. Nevertheless, as a part of their practice these two good friends discussed the Bodhisattva’s way, even though they did not expect to find a new interpretation. So Hofuku answered, “Our discussion is over. Let’s have a cup of tea!”

That is a very good answer, isn’t it? It is the same for my talk — when my talk is over, your listening is over. There is no need to remember what I say; there is no need to understand what I say. You understand; you have full understanding within yourself. There is no problem.

Our corruption is that we are cut off from the universe

This is Kodo Sawaki, as quoted in Brad Warner’s blog.

People only grow angry because they think of their body as a possession. Yet the Sutras talk about it, all they say is that it is a big bag of stinking skin. When somebody in a rage shouts, “What do you take me for?” or “Who do you think you’re talking to?” I think to myself, “To a big bag of stinking skin.”

Human beings tear each other apart because of their opinions, politicians tear each other apart, husband and wife tear each other apart. The whole world is full of tearing. Why? Just because of the vanity of our egos.

Even monks and nuns and priests tear each other apart. Is there life after death? Is the soul eternal or not? All of that is nothing but trivial jokes, ego stories. If we stop paying attention to the ego, such nonsense as eternity or not eternity ceases to exist, for the soul.

This degenerate world is the reason why professional liars succeed today. But if we observe impermanence, there were no more lies, and where there are no more lies religion appears.

You can see your image in the mirror, but how do you see the mind that not even a mirror can reflect? It’s possible in zazen. Nothing reveals the ego like zazen. The purer the zazen, the more transparent, the better you can see the illusions of your ego.

Our corruption is that we are cut off from the universe, and our illusion is that we confuse the cut-off ego with the one that, originally, is not separate from the cosmic system. The roots of that true ego are the same as those of sky and earth, the same body and same mind as all sentient beings.

This is true religion, which has no right side or wrong side, no inside or outside, is transparent from sky to earth, is the secret of Zen. Everything must become completely transparent, me and you, past and present and future. In terms of reality this means that our life today, our attitude now, gives life to the past.

If our attitude is false and then all those who have fed us and taught us, all those we have met and known, have acted solely in order to produce that falseness. If our attitude is right, whatever they have done they did solely in order to produce that rightness. The limits of the Self are truly beyond any imagining, and fill the sky, earth, and the whole universe.

In terms of religious faith, space and time and have nothing to do with it. It is only right now that we can use this ordinary human body to practice zazen with Shakyamuni, with the Buddhas of the whole universe in ten directions, practice zazen with the mountains, rivers, and trees. That’s why I practice zazen.

Sitting like this is what makes up the self become transparent, makes us able to see without any limits, in harmony with sky and earth, and it is what gives the self a total vision of the whole universe. That is the way of silent sitting and the principle of shikantaza.