Freedom from Everything
"It is a big mistake to think that the best way to express yourself is to do whatever you want, acting however you please.
This is not expressing yourself. If you know what to do exactly, and you do it, then you can express yourself fully."
My practice of shikantaza or zazen changed about two years ago, after I almost drowned. I wanted to cross the creek at Tassajara. I cannot actually swim, but the students were enjoying the water so much, I thought I would join them. There were many beautiful girls over there so I tried to go over there, forgetting that I couldn't swim, and I almost drowned. But I knew I would not die.
I knew I would not drown because there were many students, and someone would help me, so I was not so serious. But the feeling was pretty bad. I was swallowing water, so I stretched out my arms hoping that someone would catch me, but no one helped me. I decided to go to the bottom, to walk, but that was not possible either. I could not reach the bottom and I could not get above the surface. What I saw was the legs of beautiful girls. But I could not take hold of their legs, and I was rather scared.
At that time I realized that we never have good practice until we become quite serious. Because I knew that I was not dying, I was not so serious, and because I was not so serious, I had a very difficult time. If I knew I was dying, I would not have struggled anymore. I would have stayed still. Because I thought I had another moment, I did not become serious. Since then my practice has improved. Now I have confidence in my practice, so I have been telling you how to sit in shikantaza.
It was a very interesting experience. I was among beautiful girls, but the beautiful girls could not save me. And, as you know, I am dying because of my sickness, not because of water. [* Note: Shunryu Suzuki was diagnosed with cancer.] When I am dying, various demons as well as beautiful women will be happy to be with me, and I will be very happy to be with them. Everything is with us, and without being disturbed, we are happy to be with everything. Usually it is difficult to feel that way because we are involved in gaining ideas, expecting some improvement in the future.
When you are not thinking that you have another moment, then naturally you can accept things as they are, you can see things as they are. You will have perfect wisdom at that time. When you are able to sit, experiencing shikantaza, then the meaning of your everyday life will be completely different. You will have freedom from everything. That is the main point. Usually you have no freedom from things you have or see, but when you experience shikantaza, you will have freedom from things. You will truly enjoy your life, because you are not attached to anything.
You will become really happy, and that happyness will continue, which is what we mean by non-attachment. Most of the happiness you have is the kind you later regret losing: "Oh, at that time I was happy, but now I am not so happy." But real happiness will always be with you and will encourage you in both your adversity and your happiness. When you are successful, you will enjoy the success, and when you fail, it will also be okay. You can enjoy the feeling of failure: "Oh, this is pretty good - not as bad as I thought!" You will always have enough. You won't want too much, as you did before.
If you come to a great difficulty, like a big mountain in Nepal that looks like it has no passageway, you will know there is a way to get through. Even a hundred-day sesshin is not difficult. Even though you die, nothing happens. It is okay. So you are always happy, and you will not be discouraged. And the kind of life you choose will be different. Before you have right practice, you may want want something big and beautiful: the number-one Zen-practice monastery in the United States, in the world - even better than in Japan. But afterwards, the things you choose and the way of life you follow will be different.
Sometimes I give pretty serious lectures. I put emphasis on difficult, hard practice: "Don't expect the next moment." "Dont't move!" I am sorry, but I have to say this because your practice looks so weak, and I want to make you stronger. Actually, it is okay that your practice is not so good, but if you are not strict enough with yourself, and if you lack confidence, then zazen cannot be zazen. It doesn't work. What makes your practice go deeper and deeper is the day-by-day effort of sitting.
In China and Japan there are many stories of teachers who attained enlightenment suddenly like this: "Umph!" [laughs and snaps his fingers] You may think it was sudden, but actually it was the result of many years of practice and of failing many times. Dogen Zenji's famous words concerning this are, "Hitting the mark is the result of ninety-nine failures." The last arrow hit the mark, but only after ninety-nine failures. So failure is actually okay.
Each time you shoot, shoot with confidence. Then you are sure to hit the mark. "Ninety-nine failures are okay. I will continue to try to hit the mark." Each time you sit, do your best. You may think that zazen is crossing your legs for forty minutes, but the most important point is to put all your effort, physical and spiritual, into it.
Concentrate on your breath. When your breathing is not appropriate, it is hard to do any physical work. Even when you sew, your breathing should follow your activity. When you lift something heavy, your breathing should be completely harmonized, or else you cannot lift it. You will need a good posture and a good mudra because your mudra is a symbol of your mental state. If your spine is not straight, your breathing will be not deep enough. Of course, it takes time to develop all your mental and physical effort.
Enlightenment does not come until your mind and body are in perfect accord. If you cannot accept your experience, you won't feel you have enlightenment. In other words, when your mind and body are completely one, then enlightenment is there. Whatever you hear, whatever you think, that is enlightenment. So it is not the sound of a stone hitting bamboo or the color of plum blossoms that makes people enlightened. It is their practice. In your everyday life you always have opportunities for enlightenment. If you go to the rest room, there is a chance to enlightenment. When you cook, there is a chance to attain enlightenment. When you clean the floor, there is a chance to attain enlightenment.
So whatever you do, just do it, without expecting anyone's help. Don't spoil your effort by seeking for shelter. Protect yourself and grow upright to the sky; that's all. That's all, but it is a little bit unusual, isn't it? Maybe we are crazy. Some people think that we are crazy, and we may think they are crazy. It's okay. We will find out pretty soon who is crazy.
Thank you very much.