On this instructing from 1965—taken from the oldest extant recording of his talks—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi explains what it means to know your true nature.
We’ve been learning the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch—and with it, prajna, or knowledge. However this knowledge isn’t mind or data. This knowledge is our so-called inmost nature, which is all the time in incessant exercise. Zazen follow is knowledge looking for for knowledge. “Knowledge seeks knowledge” is zazen follow, and on a regular basis life is knowledge. Realization of our precepts is our on a regular basis life; when our on a regular basis life relies on knowledge, we name it “precepts.”
Once we sit, we don’t do something. We simply sit. There’s no exercise of our thoughts. We simply sit, and all we do is inhale and exhale. Typically you’ll hear some birds singing, however you aren’t truly listening to. Your ears will hear it; you aren’t listening to it. Simply sound comes, and also you make some response to it, that’s all. This type of follow known as “knowledge seeks for knowledge.”
We’ve true nature. No matter you do, even in case you are not doing something, your true nature is consistently working. Even when you find yourself sleeping, it’s fairly lively. Your pondering or your sensations are the superficial actions of your self, however inmost nature is all the time working. Even if you die, it’s working. I don’t imply some soul, however one thing—one thing is all the time incessantly working. No matter you name it, I don’t thoughts. You possibly can put many names to it, otherwise you may give it numerous interpretations, however the interpretations belong to your intellectuality. That’s mind. So, no matter you name it, inmost nature itself additionally doesn’t thoughts. Somebody might name it “soul.” Somebody might name it “spirit.” Somebody might say, “Oh, no, no, that’s simply materials. Soul is a few sort of operate of materiality.” Perhaps. Individuals will put many names to it, however our inmost nature is our inmost nature. Names have little to do with it.
Once we sit, we are saying that it’s the self-activity of inmost nature. Let it work—we don’t do something however let true nature work by itself. That is Zen follow. After all, though you don’t do something, you should have ache in your legs, or some problem to maintain your thoughts calm. And typically it’s possible you’ll assume, “Oh, my zazen isn’t so good.” That can also be the exercise of inmost nature—not your exercise, however the exercise of your true nature. Your true nature says, “Your zazen isn’t so good.” If it says so, you must settle for it: “Oh, not so good. What are you pondering? Cease pondering.” That is Zen.
Once you do one thing, it has a sort of morality in it. It’s because you’re doing one thing by alternative. When making a decision to do one thing, your inmost nature will let you know, “That won’t be so good. Why don’t you do it this fashion?” That’s the precepts, when we’ve some alternative in our exercise. In zazen, we’ve no alternative—we simply sit, and no matter inmost nature says, let it do it. “I don’t thoughts.” That’s zazen.
However if you make a plan, you’re liable for it. Then, you must hearken to what your inmost nature says—it would let you know what to do. Should you perceive this fashion, then it’s the means of morality. It’s the precepts. The precepts usually are not solely 200 and fifty or 5 hundred. 5 hundred or 300—it doesn’t matter. No matter we do is the precepts, as a result of we’ve some alternative. We’ve to make some choice.
“I’m liable for it—what I ought to do?” Once we make some choice, we hearken to buddhanature: What ought to I do? That’s all. Right here in your on a regular basis life, you’ve got precepts, and you’ve got freedom, too. No matter you do, that’s as much as you. So long as you’ve got freedom, you your self make selections, so try to be liable for them. You shouldn’t say, “Buddha needs to be liable for it. I’m not liable for that.” We can not say that in our on a regular basis life; we must always observe the precepts, as an alternative of leaving the duty to Buddha. We needs to be accountable. However on the identical time, we’ve freedom—there isn’t a want so that you can be sure by precepts. Precepts are formulated by your individual alternative. So long as you’ve got aware exercise, there may be freedom, and on the identical time, try to be accountable. That is freedom—true freedom.
Somebody might say, “No matter you do, that’s buddhanature, so it doesn’t matter what you do.” It is a misunderstanding. Morality with out buddhanature is only a ethical code, a inflexible ethical code by which you may be enslaved. Should you develop into conscious of buddhanature, innate nature, then that’s freedom, not inflexible precepts. You do issues by your individual alternative and based on your true nature: full freedom. That can also be morality.
On this sense, you’ve got freedom—you aren’t enslaved by both buddhanature or an ethical code. And our ethical code isn’t all the time the identical. It’s not everlasting. Strictly talking, there’s a ethical code no matter you do. So we are saying Zen and the precepts are one. In on a regular basis life, we name it precepts; within the follow of zazen, we name it Zen. They don’t seem to be completely different; they’re each primarily based on the self-activity of inmost nature. It is a crucial level.
We bowed this morning 9 occasions. Bowing to Buddha is a sort of follow to eliminate our self-centered concepts, to present ourselves fully to Buddha. Right here, to present ourselves means to present our bodily and mental life to Buddha as a result of it’s primarily based on buddhanature. Even when we overlook all about it, we nonetheless have buddhanature. So Buddha bows to Buddha. That’s bowing. That is one that means.
One other that means: so long as we dwell, we’ve a physique right here, and we’ve to assume one thing. Buddha practiced Zen, and we follow Zen, so everybody, once they follow Zen, known as Buddha. And buddha thoughts, or bodhisattva thoughts, is our spirit. To realize oneness in duality is, in brief, our spirit.
As a result of we aren’t so good, we attempt to enhance ourselves. That’s our true nature. And we comprehend it—we’ve some intention to enhance ourselves. This intention is proscribed to human beings. Flowers come out within the spring with out fail, however they don’t make any effort; they routinely come out—that’s all. We additionally attempt to open our flower within the spring, you recognize. We attempt to do proper issues on the proper time. However we discover it very troublesome—though we attempt to do it, we can not. That is our human nature. We all the time attempt to do one thing. We all the time have some difficulties. However this level is essential for us. It’s why we’ve pleasure as human beings—as a result of issues are troublesome and we’re all the time making some effort. That effort ends in the pleasure of human life, a pleasure restricted to human beings. That is known as our true nature.
Should you perceive this true nature, you can find out the true nature inside your self and in each existence. Flowers have this nature. Even when it’s chilly, they’re getting ready for spring, though they have no idea they’re making a great effort to return up in spring. Once we develop into conscious of it, we are going to know that this nature we’ve is common to each existence. Once more, this consciousness of true nature is proscribed to human beings, so it is extremely necessary. That is the attention, in brief, of attempting to do one thing good. It’s our spirit.
We don’t know why we must always attempt to enhance ourselves. Nobody is aware of. There is no such thing as a purpose for it; it’s past dialogue. Our true nature is so large. It’s past comparability, past our mental understanding, so it doesn’t make any sense. Those that comprehend it will snicker at you if you happen to focus on about why it’s so. “What are you speaking about?” It’s too large an issue to debate. For this reason we bow to Buddha.
From the oldest extant recording of a dharma discuss by Suzuki Roshi, given in Los Altos, California, on July 22, 1965. Printed with permission by San Francisco Zen Heart.