reading Suzuki Roshi 43 years later

I remember the first Dharma book I ever bought. It was Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Suzuki Roshi. I still have that dog-eared, multi-highlight layered paperback I bought in San Francisco in 1979.

It’s been a dear friend to me all these years. I pick it up from time to time, open it and read random passages. Like this one:

When you are practicing, do not try to stop your thinking. Let it stop by itself. If something comes into your mind, let it come in, and let it go out. It will not stay long. When you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by it. Do not be bothered by anything. It appears as if something comes from outside your mind, but actually it is only the waves of your mind, and if you are not bothered by the waves, gradually they will become calmer and calmer.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

have I made any progress?

Despite reading passages like these over and over again for decades, I am struck by how little progress I seem to have made in carrying out their simple instructions! I tell myself not be bothered by thinking, but by the time I remember, I am usually quite far down a mental path of self-recrimination or enmeshed in some sort of revenge fantasy.

As I read on, Suzuki Roshi comforts me a little by saying:

It will take quite a long time before you find your calm, serene mind in your practice. Many sensations come, many thoughts or images arise, but they are just waves of your own mind. Nothing comes from outside your mind … You yourself make the waves in your mind. If you leave your mind as it is, it will become calm. This mind is called big mind.

But I just can’t seem to leave my mind as it is!

When it’s bored, I want to stimulate it with some spicy fantasy. Or when it’s melancholic, I try to cheer it up. And when it’s restless or tired, I just want to dive into a bag of Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread.

The iconic Dharma book, Zen Mind,Beginner’s Mind, by Suzuki Roshi

Suzuki Roshi continues:

Even though waves arise, the essence of your mind is pure; it is just like clear water with a few waves. Actually water always has waves. Waves are the practice of the water. Water and waves are one. Big mind and small mind are one. When you understand your mind in this way, you have some security in your feeling. A mind with waves in it is not a disturbed mind, but actually a fulfilled one.

Now this is blowing my mind!

How can I see, feel, and live my disturbed mind as a fulfilled mind? Maybe if I just let that particular thought wave alone, and leave it as it is, then something becomes clear – but what exactly?

let go of the habit to fixing or controlling

We have a hard time doing this, to be sure, this “leaving our mind as it is.” We have acquired habits of fixing, holding and controlling life. We all want to know and have the power we think comes from knowing.

Meditation reveals how many fixed ideas and opinions we have. How much judgment, expectation, and preconception we carry around with us all the time.

allowing intimacy

Over the years I have seen that if I allow myself to be intimate with moment, and am neither seeking some answer or trying to fix something, a gentle and sublime wonderment arises.

As Suzuki Roshi reminded us a few paragraphs ago: “If you leave your mind as it is, it will become calm.”

This calm, this settling, encourages an opening revealing an essential innocence. An innocence wherein preconceptions, expectations, judgments and opinions are simply waves—impermanent, evanescent, ephemeral. 

letting things be as they are

We sit with awareness of the body, or the breath. We let thoughts and feelings come up, but we don’t make a big deal out of anything. We let whatever comes up to come up naturally, without resistance. We appreciate it, and leave it as it is. We don’t get tangled up in a web of complication

But we still seem to be looking for something. This moment is often seen as a barrier to overcome so that we can at some later moment get whatever it is we thought we were looking for when we got into this meditation stuff. 

there is no other moment

But at some point it begins to dawn on us that there is no other moment. Then everything becomes very simple.

As we sit this way, we allow ourselves to fully be who we have always been. 

And we realize we are actually already profoundly content.



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