October 19, 2010

Zen Is Right Here

I recently came across the book Zen Is Right Here on one of our bookshelves.  It is a collection of short stories and anecdotes about Zen master Shunryu Suzuki.  The pieces are rarely longer than a paragraph each. Some are quite profound while others are just plain funny.  I started carrying it with me and sneaking quick reads here and there. Here are a few examples,

A student asked in dokusan, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?" Suzuki Roshi answered, "It doesn't matter."


One day at Tassajara, Suzuki Roshi and a group of students took some tools and walked up a hot, dusty trail to work on a project. When they got to the top, they discovered that they had forgotten a shovel, and the students began a discussion about who should return to get it. After the discussion had ended, they realized that Roshi wasn't there. He was already halfway down the mountain trail, on his way to pick up the shovel.


A well-known Japanese Rinzai Zen master dropped by Sokoji to meet Suzuki Roshi. After they chanted a sutra together, the visiting priest asked to see a sutra book on the altar. He looked at it, then suddenly exploded, stamping his foot on the floor and shouting, ''This is not Zen!" He tore the book in two and threw it on the floor. Suzuki squatted down and picked up the pieces. "Oh, this sutra book was donated to the temple when there was a memorial service for an old woman from a different sect," he said. "We accept everything here. We chant everything. We eat everything." For a moment the guest still looked angry, then Suzuki said, "Let's go have some tea." A friendship began that continued as long as they were both alive.


One evening in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, “If you’re not a Buddhist you think there are Buddhists and non-Buddhists, but if you’re a Buddhist you realize everybody’s a Buddhist—even the bugs.”


A clinical psychiatrist questioned Suzuki Roshi about consciousness. “I don’t know anything about consciousness,” Suzuki said. “I just try to teach my students how to hear the birds sing.”

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Arnold Zeman's picture

Perhaps Suzuki Roshi's answer might have been translated in English as, "No matter" because that phrase can contain (yes, contain) more than one meaning?

Russ Abbott's picture

“We accept everything here. We chant everything. We
eat everything.” For a moment the guest still looked,
angry then Suzuki said, “Let’s go have some tea.” A
friendship began that continued as long as they were
both alive.

Beautiful story. Why is that? In thinking about it, it occurred to me that this illustrates the psychological notion of the therapist being a spacious container. That doesn't mean that the therapist contains the client's emotions in the sense of restricting them. It means that the therapist is capable of accepting the client's emotions and letting them be so that both can see them.

The story illustrates how Suzuki Roshi was spacious enough to contain everything he encounters in the same sense.

Damon's picture

(gassho & bow)

Barbara Cary's picture

The little book of Zen. Finding the book sometime ago has been a great help to me.I recommend it also. B. Cary

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks for commenting Enrique and Eosforos!

It's a great little book

Eosforos's picture

Shunryu Suzuki's accounts sounds to me like real jewels; after all, can one separate humour from wisdom? Thank you for sharing, dear Monty.

Enrique's picture

I don't know anything about zen.

With these excerpts I begin to get it!