Zen Scholar, Author, Teacher, Zen Master (roshi)
Shunryu Suzuki, also Daisetsu Teitaro or D.T. Suzuki or Suzuki-Roshi
Zen Scholar, Author, Teacher, Zen Master (roshi)
As nature abhors a vacuum, Zen abhors anything coming between the fact and ourselves. According to Zen there is no struggle in the fact itself such as between the finite and the infinite, between the flesh and the spirit. These are idle distinctions fictitiously designed by the intellect for its own interest. Those who take them too seriously or those who try to read them into the very fact of life are those who take the finger for the moon.
What Zen offers, Suzuki suggests, is a gateway into precisely that elusive nature of the self:
Being so long accustomed to the oppression [of the intellect], the mental inertia becomes hard to remove. In fact it has gone down deep into the roots of our own being, and the whole structure of personality is to be overturned. The process of reconstruction is stained with tears and blood? It is no pastime but the most serious task in life; no idlers will ever dare attempt it.
Zen ? must be directly and personally experienced by each of us in his inner spirit. Just as two stainless mirrors reflect each other, the fact and our own spirits must stand facing each other with no intervening agents. When this is done we are able to seize upon the living, pulsating fact itself. Freedom is an empty word until then.
For anyone who has ever experienced the soul-squeezing sense of not-enoughness ? and in a consumerist culture, most of us have, for the task of consumerism is to rob us of our sense of having enough and sell it back to us at the price of the product, over and over ? Suzuki?s words resonate with particular poignancy:
Zen goes straight down to the foundations of personality.
In a sentiment that the wise and wonderful Parker Palmer would come to echo decades later in his courageous call for ?inner wholeness,? Suzuki adds:
Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one?s own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom. By making us drink right from the fountain of life, it liberates us from all the yokes under which we finite beings are usually suffering in this world.
Life as it is lived suffices. It is only when the disquieting intellect steps in and tries to murder it that we stop to live and imagine ourselves to be short of or in something. Let the intellect alone, it has its usefulness in its proper sphere, but let it not interfere with the flowing of the life-stream. If you are at all tempted to look into it, do so while letting it flow. The fact of flowing must under no circumstances be arrested or meddled with?
Zen may be considered a discipline aiming at the reconstruction of character. Our ordinary life only touches the fringe of personality, it does not cause a commotion in the deepest parts of the soul? We are ? made to live on the superficiality of things. We may be clever, bright, and all that, but what we produce lacks depth, sincerity, and does not appeal to the inmost feelings? A deep spiritual experience is bound to effect a change in the moral structure of one?s personality.
Life is after all a form of affirmation? However insistently the blind may deny the existence of the sun, they cannot annihilate it.
Zen proposes its solution by directly appealing to facts of personal experience and not to book-knowledge. The nature of one?s own being where apparently rages the struggle between the finite and the infinite is to be grasped by a higher faculty than the intellect? For the intellect has a peculiarly disquieting quality in it. Though it raises questions enough to disturb the serenity of the mind, it is too frequently unable to give satisfactory answers to them. It upsets the blissful peace of ignorance and yet it does not restore the former state of things by offering something else. Because it points out ignorance, it is often considered illuminating, whereas the fact is that it disturbs, not necessarily always bringing light on its path.
Love makes the ego lose itself in the object it loves, and yet at the same time it wants to have the object as its own? The greatest bulk of literature ever produced in this world is but the harping on the same string of love, and we never seem to grow weary of it. But? through the awakening of love we get a glimpse into the infinity of things? When the ego-shell is broken and the ?other? is taken into its own body, we can say that the ego has denied itself or that the ego has taken its first steps towards the infinite.
More than a century before Alan Lightman so elegantly assuaged our yearning for permanence in a universe of constant change, Suzuki writes:
No amount of wordy explanations will ever lead us into the nature of our own selves. The more you explain, the further it runs away from you. It is like trying to get hold of your own shadow.
Suzuki argues that the ultimate essence of Zen lies in its promise, both practical and profound, to ?deliver us from the oppression and tyranny of these intellectual accumulations? and to offer, instead, a foundation of character at once solid and transcendent:
The great fact of life itself ? flows altogether outside of these vain exercises of the intellect or of the imagination.
The more you suffer the deeper grows your character, and with the deepening of your character you read the more penetratingly into the secrets of life. All great artists, all great religious leaders, and all great social reformers have come out of the intensest struggles which they fought bravely, quite frequently in tears and with bleeding hearts.
The ultimate standpoint of Zen, therefore, is that we have been led astray through ignorance to find a split in our own being, that there was from the very beginning no need for a struggle between the finite and the infinite, that the peace we are seeking so eagerly after has been there all the time.
This body of ours is something like an electric battery in which a mysterious power latently lies. When this power is not properly brought into operation, it either grows mouldy and withers away or is warped and expresses itself abnormally. It is the object of Zen, therefore, to save us from going crazy or being crippled. This is what I mean by freedom, giving free play to all the creative and benevolent impulses inherently lying in our hearts. Generally, we are blind to this fact, that we are in possession of all the necessary faculties that will make us happy and loving towards one another. All the struggles that we see around us come from this ignorance? When the cloud of ignorance disappears? we see for the first time into the nature of our own being.
We are all finite, we cannot live out of time and space; inasmuch as we are earth-created, there is no way to grasp the infinite, how can we deliver ourselves from the limitations of existence? ? Salvation must be sought in the finite itself, there is nothing infinite apart from finite things; if you seek something transcendental, that will cut you off from this world of relativity, which is the same thing as the annihilation of yourself. You do not want salvation at the cost of your own existence? Whether you understand or not, just the same go on living in the finite, with the finite; for you die if you stop eating and keeping yourself warm on account of your aspiration for the infinite? Therefore the finite is the infinite, and vice versa. These are not two separate things, though we are compelled to conceive them so, intellectually.
And yet this ?reconstruction of character?? is no cosmetic tweak:
We are too ego-centered. The ego-shell in which we live is the hardest thing to outgrow? We are, however, given many chances to break through this shell, and the first and greatest of them is when we reach adolescence.
Wherever I go, I meet myself.