LECTURE: REED COLLEGE, PORTLAND, OREGON
March 12, 1971
[No Audio Source]
It is not so easy to say what actual practice is, what Zen is. But anyway, I want to try. First of all, why we practice Zen may be the question most of you have. As you know, Buddha’s first teaching is the Four Noble Truths. According to him, our life is a life of suffering. And if you know the cause of suffering, you will know how to go through our suffering, and you will attain Nirvana or enlightenment.
Tonight maybe it is better to explain why we suffer. Suffering includes various kinds of confusion or fears we may have because of our lack of understanding of our life. The reason we suffer, according to the Buddha, is because we have desire. Desire cannot be broken, because we have too much desire-there is no limit to our desire. That is why we suffer-because we have interest in strong desire. So our suffering will be limitless, deep and long. The suffering you feel is as deep as a night when you cannot sleep is long. When you cannot sleep, the night maybe very very long for you. That is why we suffer. The root of desire is so-called “ignorance” or “darkness.” Ignorance means ignorance of our life, ignorance of human nature. If we know human nature and how we live in this world as a human being, then we will know why we suffer and how to go through suffering. I don’t say that you will go beyond it, or that you eliminate suffering. But if you know the cause of suffering, which is ignorance of our life, then maybe this knowledge will be a great relief for you. Moreover, you will find out how to cope with our suffering. For instance, if you sit in a cross-legged position like this, at first you will have pain in your legs, as some of you must have experienced already. It is not so easy to deal with the pain you have in your legs as you sit. If some of you sit thirty or forty minutes, without any instruction, you will know how you can deal with suffering. The way to deal with, or to overcome your suffering is actually the precepts which the Buddhists observe. But the precepts still will not be good enough, because you don’t know how to limit your original ignorance. So to work on the source of suffering and also to hunt the many big branchings of suffering is the true way to cope with the suffering you have. That is actually zazen practice. Through the practice of zazen you can cope with original sin, original ignorance, or darkness, and with the weaker branchings of suffering. I think the everyday lives of all of us are actually involved in this kind of suffering which originates from the source of ignorance.