I recently came across the book Zen Is Right Here on one of our bookshelves. It is a collection of short stories and brief personal stories, which are contributed anonymously, offer a strong sense of Suzuki Roshi, his teachings, and his enduring sense of humor.
Suzuki Roshi was the Soto Zen Master who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States and is renowned for founding Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia. A book of his teachings, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is one of the most popular books on Zen and Buddhism in the West
The pieces in Zen Is Right Here are rarely longer than a paragraph each. I found it remarkable how each page only contains a few sentences yet manage to tell a story of such great depth.
A few examples below:
“Suzuki Roshi, I’ve been listening to your lectures for years,” a student said during the question and answer time following a lecture, “but I just don’t understand. Could you just please put it in a nutshell? Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?”
Everyone laughed. Suzuki laughed.
“Everything changes,” he said. Then he asked for another question.
During a lecture in which Suzuki Roshi was talking about the precepts, he said: “Do not steal. When we think we do not possess something, then we want to steal. But actually everything in the world belongs to us, so there is no need to steal. For example, my glasses. They are just glasses. They do not belong to me or to you, or they belong to all of us. But you know about my tired old eyes, and so you let me use them.”
One day in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, “When you see one leaf falling, you may say, Oh, autumn is here! One leaf is not just one leaf; it means the whole autumn. Here you already understand the all-pervading power of your practice. Your practice covers everything.”
Once in a lecture, Suzuki Roshi said, “We should practice zazen like someone who is dying. For him, there is nothing to rely on. When you reach this kind of understanding, you will not be fooled by anything.”
One night after a dharma talk, I asked Suzuki Roshi a question about life and death. The answer he gave made my fear of death, for that moment, pop like a bubble.
He looked at me and said, “You will always exist in the universe in some form.”
On the fourth day of sesshin as we sat with our painful legs, aching backs, hopes, and doubts about whether it was worth it, Suzuki Roshi began his talk by saying slowly, “The problems you are now experiencing . . .”
“Will go away,” we were sure he was going to say.
“. . . will continue for the rest of your life,” he concluded.
The way he said it, we all laughed.
One day Suzuki Roshi went with a group of us in a truck to a ranch some miles from Tassajara to pick fruit. We were all trying to be good Zen students—work hard, pick the fruit, pack the boxes. We didn’t realize how serious we’d become, until Suzuki Roshi climbed a tree and started throwing fruit at us.
After an evening lecture a man in the audience asked, “You say that Zen is everywhere. So why do we have to come to the Zen Center?”
“Zen is everywhere,” Suzuki Roshi agreed. “But for you, Zen is right here.”