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I love this photo of the Zen sage D.T Suzuki. He was one of my first “gurus” if I, or he, believed in such things. His “Essays in Zen Buddhism” certainly was a huge influence in my life, as he was for so many, including Martin Heidegger, Thomas Merton, Carl Jung, Alan Watts, and John Cage.

So I was excited to find this photo and article about him on Maria Popova’s fascinating website Brainpickings. Many of the quotations she includes were ones I highlighted in my dog-eared copy so long ago. I highly recommend you reading her article on “How Zen Can Help You Cultivate Your Character.”

What I love about Suzuki’s approach to Zen is its emphasis on the psychological and the practical, and the turning away from the merely logical and rational, or verbal.

“The truth of Zen is the truth of life,” he writes, “and life means to live, to move, to act, not merely to reflect.”

He goes on to explain:

“In the actual living of life there is no logic, for life is superior to logic. We imagine logic influences life, but in reality man is not a rational creature so much as we make him out; of course he reasons, but he does not act according to the result of his reasoning pure and simple. There is something stronger than ratiocination.”

“Zen is to be explained, if at all explained it should be, rather dynamically than statically. When I raise the hand thus, there is Zen. But when I assert that I have raised the hand, Zen is no more there.”

“Zen therefore ought to be caught while the thing is going on, neither before nor after.”

We must see directly into the thing in itself as itself, into the “suchness” of life: “responding to a call, listening to a murmuring stream, or to a singing bird, or any of our most ordinary everyday assertions of life.”

To do this: “We must first of all acquire a new point of view of looking at things, which is altogether beyond our ordinary sphere of consciousness.”

When we do: “The old world of the sense has vanished, and something entirely new has come to take its place. We seem to be in the same objective surrounds, but subjectively we are rejuvenated, we are born again.”

Yet this new “sphere of consciousness” must be grounded in our practical, ordinary lives.

“Psychologically there is a most intimate and profound relationship between a practical turn of mind and a certain type of mysticism .  .  .  If mysticism is true its truth must be a practical one, verifying itself in every act of ours, and most decidedly, not a logical one.”

He goes on to quote the Zen poet Hokoji:

“How wondrously supernatural,

and how miraculous this!

I draw water, and I carry fuel.”

This too is what I love about Suzuki’s approach to Zen, his emphasis on work, and on work as love.

“For the soundness of ideas must be tested finally by their practical application. When they fail in this–that is, when they cannot be carried out in everyday life producing lasting harmony and satisfaction and giving real benefit to all concerned–to oneself as well as to others–no ideas can be said to be sound and practical.”

“The fact is that if there is any one thing that is most emphatically insisted upon by the Zen maters as the practical expression of their faith, it is serving others, doing work for others: not ostentatiously, indeed, but secretly without making others know of it. Says Eckhart [Christian mystic], ‘What a man takes in by contemplation he must pour out in love.’ Zen would say, ‘pour out in work,’ meaning by work the active and concrete realization of love.”

Throughout his essays he quotes generously from Zen masters and poets, and from Christian mystics and other Western thinkers and philosophers. Thus he weaves together common threads as well as pointing out differences between Zen and Western philosophies and spiritual practices.

Popova calls his essays “a moral toolkit for modern living, delivered through a grounding yet elevating perspective on secular spirituality.”

I would have to agree with that. Certainly I used it as a “toolkit” for my own own understanding of Zen and its application to ordinary life.

Suzuki writes:

“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.

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.

That is what I work to do:

To grasp the fact of life and its sufficeness with bare hands.

To “step barefoot into reality” as the poet puts it.

Although, too often this is forgotten in the busyness of things, the turmoil and petty pleasures that swirl around us all and steal our attention.

But I’m beginning to understand that even these upsets and petty pleasures have a place within the larger scheme of things, if only we would see them as such:

Oh, how wondrously supernatural,

and miraculous this!

The spilled cup, the dime novel.”

In a life that suffices, nothing is wasted.

 

 

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