Saturday, August 25, 2012

Writings of Suzuki Shosan - II





A warrior asked Suzuki Shosan, "They say the law of Buddha and the law of the world are like the two wheels of a chariot. But nothing would be lacking in the world even without Buddhism. Why liken them to two wheels of a chariot?”

Shosan replied, ‘The law of Buddha and the law of the world are not two separate things. According to a saying of Buddha, if you can enter the world successfully there is nothing more to leaving the world.

Whether Buddhism or worldly law, there is nothing more than reasoning correctly, acting justly, and practicing honesty.

There are differences in depth of honesty. Not twisting reason, preserving justice, correctness in social relations, not crossing people, not being egotistical - these constitute honesty in the worldly sense. This is a way into the deep via the shallow.

Honesty in the context of Buddhism means realizing that all conditioned phenomena are illusions, and using the original reality-body in its natural state. This is true honesty.

The fact is that the ordinary people are very sick patients, while the Buddha is a very great physician. Ordinary people ought to recognize sickness first. In the ignorant mind that fluctuates, there is the sickness of delusion, there are sicknesses of greed and false views, there are sicknesses of weakness and injustice. Based on the mind infected by the three poisons, there are diseases of eighty-four thousand afflictions. Getting rid of this mind is called Buddhism. How is this any different from worldly law?



People who attain the Way know the principle of fundamental emptiness, use principle and duty as a forge to temper this mind day and night, get rid of the residue of impurities, make it a pure unhindered mind-sword, cut through the root of selfish and obsessive thoughts, overcome all thoughts, surmount everything, and are unfazed by anything, unborn and undying. These are called people of the Way.

Now, then, ordinary people are those who take the falsehood of illusions to be true, produce a selfish mind attached to what has form, develop greedy, angry, and ignorant thoughts, create all sorts of afflictions and lose their basic mind, always distracted, overcome by thoughts as they occur, racking their brains and belaboring their bodies, without buoyancy of mind, vainly passing the time benighted, alienated from themselves and fixated on things. This is called the mind of ordinary people.

That being so, you should know the different terms for the original mind. It is called the adamantine actuality, the indestructible body of reality, This mind is not hung up on things; it is unafraid, unshakable, undismayed, unfazed, undisturbed, and unchanged, master of all. Those who realize this and use it effectively are called great; they are said to have iron guts, and to have attained the Way. People like this are not obstructed by myriad thoughts; able to let go of all things, they are very independent.

However, people who would practice the Way of Buddha will be unable to succeed unless they have an intrepid mind first. It is impossible to gain access to the Way of Buddha with a weak mind. If you are not rigorously observant and do not practice vigorously, you will experience misery along with those afflictions.


One who overcomes all things with a firm mind is called a wayfarer. One who has thoughts fixated on appearances, is burdened by everything, and so suffers misery is called an ordinary person.

So people who work up the courage of violence with an afflicted mind may have the force to’ break through iron walls for the moment, but violence ‘eventually comes to an end. The mind of a strong person, being immovable, does not change. If men who are warriors cultivate this, why would they not attain a strong mind?

Even people of outstanding heroism, when the killing demon of impermanence comes lose their usual power, their ferocity, and ability to exert any effort. When they try to open their eyes they cannot see anything; their ears can't hear, their tongues shrivel and can't speak. When the killing demon enters the heart and destroys the internal organs, breathing becomes difficult, pain invades their bodies, and under it they become unable to overcome and kill the demon of impermanence, unable to bear the great hardships of the mountain of death, drowning in the river between here and the afterlife, shamed at the court of the king of death, falling forever into the three evils and four dispositions, disgraced generation to generation, lifetime after lifetime, as self and as other, unable to escape. 

Would you say this disgrace is insignificant because shallow people don’t know of it ? Even in the illusory human society disgrace is nothing to take lightly; how much the more so is eternal disgrace ?

Can someone ignorant of this logic be called someone who knows principle or embodies justice? Think ahead before you act.

If you know the principle, you should fear it. If you embody justice, use the fierce and firm mind-sword to cut down the enemy of birth and death and live in great peace.”


Somehow, this story reminds me of the - probably apocryphal - episode of the viper coming upon Takuan Soho and Miyamoto Musashi meditating together.

How about that ?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Suzuki Shosan quotes - I



Suzuki Shosan is among the most dramatic personalities in the history of Zen. Born in the province of Misawa (present day Aichi Prefecture) in 1579, he became a retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1541-1616), who unified Japan after the battle of Sekigahara. At age 41, after being enlightened by deities claiming to be the Nió, the guardians of the temple gate, he became a monk and developed a highly original teaching style strongly imbued with the warrior spirit. The warrior’s life, Shosan believed, was particularly suited to Zen study because it demanded vitality, courage, and "death energy," the readiness to confront death at any moment. Emphasizing dynamic activity over quiet contemplation, Shosan urged students to realize enlightenment in the midst of their daily life.



Advice to warriors :
Do your job with your mind as taut as an iron bow strung with wire. This is the same as Zen meditation.

Use your mind strongly even when you walk down the street, such that you wouldn’t even blink if someone unexpectedly thrust a lance at your nose. All warriors should at all time be in such state of mind in everyday life.

There is a practice designed to enter the Way of Buddha by means of your profession. You should apply this idea, that a man born in a house of valor, polishing a sword and sporting a bow, should always exert the strongest attention, as if he were marching right into an army of ten million men.

The strongest men and the greatest martial arts masters are born that way, so no effort can attain that; but when it comes to exerting our whole heart and disregarding our lives, to whom should we be inferior? No one should think he’ll lose, even to the greatest warriors. Why is that? Because if you back off such a person, who will back off you?

Thus consider that you are always on duty, required to firmly apply your full attention. If you slack off, you’re useless. 

Remember such a stable and firm attitude is itself meditation practice. There is no other method of concentration to seek. Buddhism itself is about applying full attention steadily, without being disturbed by external things. Developing a confident attitude that is never pained or vexed or worried or saddened or altered or frightened is called attaining Buddhahood.

There are those who discuss the amount of rewards and size of entitlement of those who have exercised considerable military ability, put their lives on the line, ground down their bones, and become famous. They are foolish! Why not do a warrior’s deed, costly though it be, for the sake of loyalty? People who think of rewards are nothing but military merchants.

There are myriad different methods of practice, but essentially they amount to no more than overcoming thoughts of yourself. The source of suffering is ego, the thought of self. To know this is reason. Once you know the reason for suffering, your sense of duty evokes effort to extinguish the thought of self with a genuine courageous mind. Fools can’t understand the source of misery and happiness; people without a sense of duty cannot break the bonds of life and death.