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The difference you note between Suzuki's approach and the other stuff on Zen you've read is, to some extent, the difference between the Soto and the Rinzai schools.


This was one of the last Buddhist books I read before painfully realizing that 'understanding' cannot be achieved by reading and thinking my way to it. It is forever out of reach even with the guidance of great books or teachers.

A meditation practice is most useful.

Most of us can do quite well being in the moment if it's fun and things are going ok for us - but when it's lonely or painful that's tough but just being ok with our discomfort seems to be the whole point. It kinda helps some how practicing that for oneself - being here even if it's bad. As Buddha said; "Life is difficult." It's the way it is.

Suzuki Roshi's book is inspiring yet we should be aware it may also be a distraction to the simple work of actually 'being here' as best we can, mindfully. We should not 'hold on' - to expectations, beliefs, thoughts, understanding … or words - his, or mine. This is meant most respectfully.


Quotes from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

What intrigues me most about Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is the different approach to Zen. Most literature I've read on Zen seems to rely heavily on koans and symbolic syllogisms based on Japanese culture… a background that I'm not familiar with.

You may have heard things like a student asking a question like, "What is Buddha?" and the teacher (Dongshan in this case) says, "Three pounds of flax". What?

But Suzuki's approach is to teach Zen from direct, physical experiences. While I'd hate to see it in a yellow "Dummies" book, it does seem to be more practical.

He states, "Zen practice is the direct expression of our true nature." and elsewhere he clarifies this by saying that "You do not meditate to gain enlightenment, you meditate because you are enlightened." The shift here is that enlightenment (that illusive goal of Zen) is not really the goal at all. It is just our true nature, and we just need to be true to that nature.

OK, enough of an introduction, let's get on to the quote…

When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. We say "inner world" or "outer world" but actually there is just one whole world… The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door. If you think, "I breathe," the "I" is extra. There is no you to say "I."

Our culture and our perspective is very concerned with dividing, labeling and valuing everything we encounter. The Buddhist view is that these things are really just a part of us.

I recently read a story about a person who laid on her bed quietly with her eyes closed and tried to figure out the exact point where her skin ended and the air began. She couldn't do it. While we are aware of and can feel our bodies, our bodies aren't like cars with hard skins. Look at it this way, a spec of dust gets inhaled … is it inside my body? Yes, but not really as it is just in the space within my throat. The membrane between us and the world is thin.

And let's not get into the fact that the stuff that makes me up is the same stuff that makes up everything around me. The carbon in my fingers are the same as the carbon in the desk they rest upon. The DNA that makes me up is almost the same as the tree that supplied the wood for this desk. And let's not forget that the matter that makes me up is not the same matter I started out with. While we shed our skins daily, we shed every cell in our body after just a few years. So, what am I really?

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Another quote (mentioned from Chris Corrigan):

When you have something in your consciousness you do not have perfect composure. The best way towards perfect composure is to forget everything. Then your mind is calm and it is wide and clear enough to see and feel things as they are without any effort. The best way to find perfect composure is not to retain any idea of things, whatever they may be-- to forget all about them and not to leave any trace or shadow of thinking.

Reminds me of a line I heard attributed to Thelonious Monk years ago. When asked about his piano technique, Monk said "it's easy. First you learn your technique, then you forget it."