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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Shunryu Suzuki died 50 years ago Today

Thank you Suzuki Roshi for coming to America and being our great teacher. - dc

From the lecture Richard Baker Roshi gave on December 4, 1971, the day Shunryu Suzuki died. It was the first day of a sesshin.

Today's Cuke Podcast will be the audio for this portion the lecture 

A story I have always liked is about Chuang-Tzu - you know the founders of Taoism in Japan – in China – are of course Laozi who supposedly wrote Tao Te Ching and the most famous person who came after him is a man named Chuang-Tzu. Actually, I think maybe they are not sure who came after whom, but traditionally Chuang-Tzu came after Lao Tzu. When Chuang-Tzu’s wife died and a friend came to his little house after hearing the news and Chuang-Tzu was behind the house – he found him behind the house, sitting and banging on a bowl and singing and his friend said, “How can you, after your wife just died – how can you sit there and bang on that bowl?” and Chuang-Tzu said something like “Well, I lived a full life with her and she had a good life and now she’s gone and that’s all”. But I’m sure that every day he didn’t bang on the bowl – it was some expression of his grief.

And this morning I noticed that even though we continued our sesshin – continued our practice – and our regular meal – we banged on the bowls a lot in breakfast this morning. There was quite a lot of noise of people dropping things, not picking things up quite right. So Suzuki Roshi who taught us so much steadiness, even when we try to follow his way, there is some – particularly today… No matter how we try – all our life – there will always be some – some banging on the bowl. But of course we should still try, as carefully as we can, to continue Suzuki Roshi’s practice – he has given us so much, I’m sure we can.

The other day, I went to his room to talk to him about something – he asked if I would come every day and say “good morning” or something and some days I hadn’t come because he was so unwell that it was an effort for him to see people, so I had missed some days and he asked that I should come anyway and so I went and – so maybe three or four days ago I saw pretty clearly that he was getting less well and he was, at this point, we had some brief conversation and it was -  he was getting so that he was unable to talk and I had to – the questions I had about something or he wanted to talk to me about – I really had to talk to his wife, Oksan ??,  and I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but Oksan said, “He can’t hear so well and it’s so difficult for him to talk now” so I turned to him and I said, “Where will I meet you?” and he looked at me and he went [indicating] and I returned the bow. So, that is where we will meet him. We will meet him all the time.

 I was going to talk about precepts because a sesshin is five days and there are five precepts and I was going to talk about the five precepts – each day, one.

The first precept is “do not take life”. But before we can know what it means to not take life, we have to know what life is. Do any of you actually know what your life is? Buddhists think if you don’t practice zazen or if you don’t have some kind of practice, you don’t actually have your life. Without practice you are taking your own life. For the principle meaning of that precept is – don’t take your own life. And, of course, if your idea of life is an idea or some thinking about things or some plans of the future or past and not this – then you have taken your life.  Suzuki Roshi, when he has talked about the precepts himself, he says actually there is one precept and it is this and how we divide it into ten or sixteen or eight or … is really not possible – there is only precept. I really don’t have much to say… I hope we can keep before us in this sesshin this one precept. As you practice zazen and sesshins are pretty difficult – even if you have been doing them a long time, they are still pretty difficult.  

Who is it that is practicing zazen? What is it that you feel while you are practicing zazen? Is that life? What is life?