Ever heard of Shunryu Suzuki? If not, then you’re in for some Zen wisdom today.
Suzuki was a famous Japanese monk and teacher who helped popularized Zen Buddhism in the United States and is renowned for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia.
When he went to America, he saw a real need for people to learn about Zen. He saw it as his duty to teach classes to help others achieve inner peace and happiness.
He is also famous for creating the concept “The Beginner’s Mind”, thanks to a hugely popular book he wrote.
Below we go over some of his most popular zen quotes on life, acceptance and the true purpose of Zen.
The Beginner’s Mind
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”
You are one with everything
“Wherever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars you see. You are one with everything. That is more true than I can say, and more true than you can hear.”
The best way to control people
“Even though you try to put people under control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in a wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good. That is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.”
“The most important point is to accept yourself and stand on your two feet.”
“When you accept everything, everything is beyond dimensions. The earth is not great nor a grain of sand small. In the realm of Great Activity picking up a grain of sand is the same as taking up the whole universe. To save one sentient being is to save all sentient beings. Your efforts of this moment to save one person is the same as the eternal merit of Buddha.”
“The person who can freely acknowledge that life is full of difficulties can be free, because they are acknowledging the nature of life – that it can’t be much else.”
How to practice zazen (sitting meditation)
“While you are continuing this practice, week after week, year after year, your experience will become deeper and deeper, and your experience will cover everything you do in your everyday life. The most important thing is to forget all gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. In other words, just practice zazen in a certain posture. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything. Then eventually you will resume your own true nature. That is to say, your own true nature resumes itself.”
What true calmness is
“Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself. We say, “It is easy to have calmness in inactivity, it is hard to have calmness in activity, but calmness in activity is true calmness.”
Anything can be Zen
“If you understand real practice, then archery or other activities can be zen. If you don’t understand how to practice archery in its true sense, then even though you practice very hard, what you acquire is just technique. It won’t help you through and through. Perhaps you can hit the mark without trying, but without a bow and arrow you cannot do anything. If you understand the point of practice, then even without a bow and arrow the archery will help you. How you get that kind of power or ability is only through right practice.”
When you do something, do it with all your heart
“When you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do.”
“When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”
The true purpose of Zen
“The true purpose [of Zen] is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes… Zen practice is to open up our small mind.”
“Zen is not some fancy, special art of living. Our teaching is just to live, always in reality, in its exact sense. To make our effort, moment after moment, is our way. In an exact sense, the only thing we actually can study in our life is that on which we are working in each moment. We cannot even study Buddha’s words.”
“So we should be concentrated with our full mind and body on what we do; and we should be faithful, subjectively and objectively, to ourselves, and especially to our feelings. Even when you do not feel so well, it is better to express how you feel without any particular attachment or intention. So you may say, “Oh, I am sorry, I do not feel well.”
When you listen to somebody, listen to them fully
“When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other. Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even really hear it.”
Life and death are the same thing
“Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. This is called “mind-only,” or “essence of mind,” or “big mind,” After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling. You attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life.”
“When something dies is the greatest teaching.”
“To live is enough.”
The true meaning of Buddhism
“To have some deep feeling about Buddhism is not the point; we just do what we should do, like eating supper and going to bed. This is Buddhism.”
The swinging door of “I”
“What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.”
We exist for the sake of ourselves
“We do not exist for the sake of something else. We exist for the sake of ourselves.”
“The best way is to understand yourself, and then you will understand everything. So when you try hard to make your own way, you will help others, and you will be helped by others. Before you make your own way you cannot help anyone, and no one can help you.”
The power of Zazen (meditation)
“In the zazen posture, your mind and body have, great power to accept things as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable.
In our scriptures (Samyuktagama Sutra, volume 33), it is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones. The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver’s will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as the first one does, just before the whip reaches its skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn how to run!”
Emotional problems are created by us
“Emotionally we have many problems, but these problems are not actual problems; they are something created; they are problems pointed out by our self-centered ideas or views.”
We should be free from my knowledge
“We should not hoard knowledge; we should be free from our knowledge.”
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