July 20th, 1969

Originally offered: July 20th, 1969 | Modified September 15th, 2011 by korin

Shunryū Suzuki-rōshi

Sunday, July 20, 1969

Listen to this talk: Suzuki-roshi 69-07-20

If you go to some library you will see many books.  And those—in those books, we will find out our achievement, our human knowledge, which is almost impossible to study out.  And now we are going to arrive to the moon.[1]   And [laughs] actually I don’t know anything about, you know, how they reach to the moon and what kind of feeling they may have when they arrive at the moon.  To me it is not so interesting a thing.


When I reflect on myself, especially when I feel, on this occasion, I have to speak about the moon trip [laughs, laughter], I have no time to study about those things.  So if I try to speak about it, it is nothing but to tell you how foolish I am, you know.  That is what I can do, you know.  If I talk about the moon trip you may think, “Ah, he is so ignorant about [laughs, laughter] the moon trip.”  And I think I may see many people today or tomorrow to speak about the moon trip as if he knows everything about it [laughs].  When I hear them speak about the moon trip, you know, how I feel is—maybe because I don’t know or he has—he is interested, actually really interested in the moon trip, you know.  And because I know that, I may not respect him so much.


The first—even the first one who may arrive at the moon—I don’t think, you know, if he is very much proud of his achievement.  How I feel is I cannot think he is a great hero.  I don’t know how you feel, but I don’t feel he is a great hero.  But on television, you know, he may be, you know, for some time, a great hero.  At least he will be treated like a great hero.

And why we treat him a great hero is, you know, quite different reason, you know.  He may be very proud of his experience, but reason why he is treated by the people as a hero is quite different.  If we think in this way, we immediately know how important it is to practice zazen.


Instead of seek for objective world, in its usual sense, we, you know, try to make our life or make our every moment of life, deeper and deeper.  That is purpose of zazen.  Someone said—I—I remember what someone say—as someone said—one of your student—our students said:  “The more we see many things changes, the more we find out the similarity in it.”  Nothing changes, you know.  Even though things looks like changes, but actually we do not find anything new.  I think that is very true.


Nowadays—when I came to America, you know, first feeling I had is—I—before I came to America I thought America may be the quite different country from Japan [laughs].  But when I came to San Francisco, I was amazed because San Francisco was not—there was not much difference, you know, in Tōkyō and San Francisco.  I think if you make your trip all over the United States, still, you know, you will—I don’t think you will find out something different.  You will not be interested in the way of life in different states.


And I remember one experience when Marian [Derby], you know, show me—showed me a small stone.  I like the stone very much.  And she picked up the small—not stone—sand, actually.  And she gave it to me.  She gave it to me.  “This—those are very interesting stones [laughs],” she said.  But that was just, you know, a pick of sand.  And she asked me to see it through a glass, you know, small glass like this, which—which you use to see jewels or something.  And those small stones are not—nearly—nearly the same as interesting stones I have in office, you know, although the stone is—stone I have in my office is big [laughs].  That is the—difference is just the size of the stone.  But I found much more interesting stones in the sand.  And I think even though you go to the moon, the moon—the rocks they will bring to us [laughs] may be the same, I think.


If you say, “This is the rock from, you know, the moon,” you will be very much, you know, interested in it because it is—it was [laughs] on the moon.  But actually I don’t think there is a great difference between the rocks we have on the earth.


Maybe in ancient time, long, long, long time ago, the earth and—the moon may be the piece of the earth.  I don’t know.  I think, even though you go to the Mars [laughs], you will find out the same rocks.  I am quite sure about it [laughs, laughter].


If you find out something very interesting, you know—if you want to find out something quite interesting, only way is—instead of hopping around the universe, you know, like this—to enjoy our life in every minute, you know, and to—to see—to observe things which we have now.  The surrounding—or to live in the surrounding, in its true sense.


Yesterday I went to see an island where there were many kinds of animals:  birds and fish and maybe shells, which owned by—which is owned by Natural Conservancy group.  It was very, very interesting place, this place.  If you live in that, you know, area and really start to see things—see the plants and animals in that area, you will—I think you will stay whole life.  It is so interesting place.  But we human beings, you know [laughs], what we do is hopping around or driving around the states, you know, by highway, losing [laughs] many interesting things.  And that kind of trip will be extended to the moon and to the Mars [laughs, laughter].  It is rather foolish, you know.  If you stay that place, you know, you will enjoy your life completely.  Ev- [partial word:  even?]—that is more, I think, human life, you know.


We are now—I, I don’t think we are even human, you know, now.  We are just, you know—I don’t know what it is [laughs].  Dōgen-zenji said when he received the purple, you know, robe from the emperor—although he refused it second time—but the emperor said, “You must receive it.”  So he at last received it.  But he didn’t wear it.  And he wrote to the—wrote back to the emperor saying, “If I wear this, the birds and monkeys in this mountain will laugh at me [laughs, laughter].”  That was what he said to the emperor.  “I am very appreciate,” you know, “your purple robe, but I am afraid I don’t wear it.  If I wear it,” you know, “birds and monkeys will [laughs], in this mountain, will laugh at me.”


I think there we find—find spirit of zazen, you know—way of life we should follow as a human being.  In other word, we should not be fooled by things, you know—fooled by some i- [partial word:  idea?]—some particular idea.


Now we are practicing counting-breathing, you know, practice—in comparison to use—using various machine or computer, you know, to count your breathing [laughs].  It is very silly [laughs] to count your breathing from one to ten, making, you know, mistake—”Oh!  [Laughing.]  Six or seven?”


If you use computer, you know, you will not make any mistake [laughing].  But is very silly to count your breathing just because of this is traditional way of practice.  Why it is so—it looks so silly is the, you know, underlying spirit, or thought, or understanding of our life is quite—is the same, you know.  If we count our breathing in practice—in our practice—in its—in ordinal [ordinary] sense, as you count the distance from earth to the moon, you know, our practice doesn’t mean anything.  But it—our—when we count our breathing, you know, in each number we find limitlessly deep meaning of life.


Not only we count our breathing by our whole mind and body, we count each number with the power of whole universe.  That is, you know, counting-breathing practice.  So when you ex- [partial word:  experience?]—when you have—when you experience really the counting-breathing practice, the gratitude you have in your practice is more than to arrive at the moon, you know.  [Laughs.]  You will not be so interested in, you know, something great, in its usual sense, or something limitlessly small, in its usual sense.


Of course, you may—you may be very much interested in to have some new experience like a small—like a baby.  But like a baby, you know, you will—you—you are comp- [partial word]—your basic attitude towards things will be the same as—same—always same.


Babies founds many things, you know.  And he is—she is very much interested in things, always.  But if you watch her, she is always, you know—she has always same joy.  She will not [be] fooled by things, you know.  She is always aware of it.  And she al- [partial word:  always?]—she will be always enjoying her life.


But we, you know, adult has too many ideas—many preconceived ideas because we are not completely free from objective world.  Or we are not one with objective world.  So sometime we [are] interested in something, but some other time we will not be interested in so mu- [partial word:  much?]—things so much.


Yesterday, you know, I experienced—I could see myself quite clearly when I went to the island where there is—there were many birds, you know.  Young people are very much excited [laughs], but I was not so much, you know.  That is just because I am old [laughs].


Even though we see things, you know—same things, the way—the life we have is quite different.  Even though I didn’t enjoy so much, but I was not discouraged [laughs], you know.  I know why I am—I was not so much interested in it, you know.  One of the reason is because I am old, you know.  But that is not just one reason.  There—there must be many and many reasons.  So I was not discouraged.  And I think I had some other joy which is different from young people may have.


So, you know, if you observe things and everything is changing, you know, that is not what I meaned when I say everything is changing.  Everything is changing—when I say everything is changing, I don’t—I don’t see the similarity in change.  I feel always difference in change, instead of similarity.  So to say:  “The more we see the changes the more we find out the similarity of things”—it may be so, but what we mean or what we find out in the things which changes is to find out complete change, you know, in everything.  In other word, to enjoy our life moment after moment [taps stick on table after each of previous three words] in its true sense.


The life we have cannot be the same.  The life I had yesterday is—cannot be the same as my life today.  And we—we will enjoy completely new life in each moment.  Before you become Buddhist, you know or—most of us become Buddhist because we find out evanescence of life, and we seek for the life which is more stable or which is more meaningful.


So things changes, you know.  For usual person [it] is very much discouraging, you know.  You cannot rely on anything.  You cannot have anything.  And you will see which you don’t want to see.  You will meet someone whom you don’t like.  If you want to do something, you know, you will find out it is impossible to do something.


In this way you will be discouraged by the, you know, the w- [partial word]—by the things—by the way things go—is going—are going.  That is why most people, you know, become Buddhist or seek for religion.  It means that actually you are trying to, you know, change—you are trying to change the foundation of your life—or understanding of your life.


Before you have—when you haven’t right effort to enjoy—right understanding or right effort to enjoy your life, you know, things—that things changes will be the reason why you suffer in this world or when you are—why you are discouraged by the change—by the evanescence of life.  But after—when you change the understanding of life or way of life, then the evanescence of life is the reason why you enjoy your life.


So the point is, you know, to change your understanding of life.  And the point of practice is to practice our practice with right understanding of it.  To arrive at the moon may the great—the historical event, but if we don’t change the understanding of life, it doesn’t make much, you know, meaning.  It doesn’t make much sense.  What we should do right now is to have deeper understanding of life—to make effort with right understanding of life.


You may say “Rinzai way or Sōtō way” [laughs], you know, “Hinayāna practice and Mahāyāna practice.”  Whether it is Rinzai or Sōtō, you know, if you practice it as you drive your car or as you hopping around whole universe, you know [laughs], it doesn’t—it is same thing, you know—Rinzai or—there is no Rinzai or Sōtō.  Mostly people, you know, who say Rinzai or Sōtō are the people who want to practice zazen as they drive their car—as they choose their car:  Chevrolet or Ford [laughs] or—you know—I, you know—that is their understanding of zazen.  A train or, you know, airplane.


If you understand—if you have right understanding in your practice, you know, that doesn’t make much difference, you know.  Train or airplane or ship or—doesn’t make much difference.  You can enjoy, you know, trip—your trip anyway.


If you go to Japan by boat, it may take ten days.  But you will—and by airplane, maybe ten hours.  But if the point is to enjoy your trip, you know, it doesn’t, you know, make much difference.  Time is not the point because you don’t—even though you make a trip by airplane, you cannot live a thousand years [laughs]—same thing.  You only live, you know, maybe one hundred years at most.  So it—it—it is the different way of enjoying your life.  It is.  And you cannot repeat your life, you know.  So you cannot compare your life to someone—some other’s life.  You have your own life.


So the only way is to enjoy our own life.  So even though you are practicing zazen, you know, counting breathing like a snail [laughs], you can enjoy your life, you know, maybe much better than to make a trip to the moon.


That is, you know, how—why we practice zazen.  And we should—whatever—what kind of life you may have is not important.  The most important thing is to be able to enjoy your life, without fooling by things.


Thank you very much.



Source:  City Center transcript entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. Transcript checked against tape and made verbatim by Katharine Shields (6/27/00) and Bill Redican (7/27/00).

[1]  Apollo 11 was launched July 16, 1969, at 9:32 am EDT.  It landed on the moon on the day of this lecture, July 20, at 4:17 pm EDT.  Neil Armstrong walked on the moon later that same day at 10:56 pm EDT.

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3 Responses to “July 20th, 1969”

  1. korin Says:

    An edited version of this talk entitled “Enjoy Your Life” was published in Not Always So (page 25).

  2. Jarle M Says:

    Reading in “Not always so”, on page 26 third line from the bottom reads: “When we go to the moon I am not sure we are following the best direction for human beings”. I cannot find this statement anywhere in the transcript. Where does it come from?



  3. korin Says:

    Thank you for your comment Jarle.
    I think the sentence you quote is not literally in the original – but derived from the section above:

    “And that kind of trip will be extended to the moon and to the Mars [laughs, laughter]. It is rather foolish, you know. If you stay that place, you know, you will enjoy your life completely. Ev- [partial word: even?]—that is more, I think, human life, you know.
    “We are now—I, I don’t think we are even human, you know, now. We are just, you know—I don’t know what it is [laughs].”

    In preparing Suzuki-roshi’s talks for publication, some editing has taken place, in this case, by Edward Brown, who studied with Suzuki-roshi for a number of years.
    Some of this editing is simply a matter of correcting the grammar, eliminating repeated words, etc.
    Sometimes, however, the original could be misread and so considerable editing is applied in an effort to clearly convey the sense of what Suzuki-roshi was intending to express.

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