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Teacher's Greeting - April 2009

Greetings fellow wayfarers,

There is a story that Mitsu Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s wife, tells of Suzuki Roshi and his time at Tassajara towards the end of his life.

He loved working in his garden outside his cabin, but Mitsu did not like to see him working so hard when he was already sick with cancer. She would scold him when she caught him. So he posted a student to be on the lookout for her while he worked away. When the student spotted her, Suzuki would quickly exchange places with the student and pretend to be taking it easy while the student worked.

One day, she caught him, sweating profusely, working with a shovel bigger than him. “Hojo-san,” (Hojo-san is an honorific title for the Abbot of a temple) she shouted. “You will cut your life short working so hard!” “If I don’t work hard, my students will not grow,” he said. “Go ahead and cut your life short then, if that is what you want,” was her response.

I encountered this little vignette about seventeen years ago at the very beginning of my life of Zen practice. I was much moved. I felt then that there was something vitally important in this story. Today it brings tears to my eyes. My practice all these years has simply been to try to understand this story. How was it that his working hard in his garden all by himself was helping his students to grow? When I envision this story I don’t think I see his students all standing around in a big circle watching him. They had other things to do—clean toilets, cook food, make beds, clean the zendo…

As I write these words, I am in the midst of Shiho, the Dharma Transmission Ceremony. I am getting up at three in the morning, bumping around in the dark, offering incense and bowing at various altars here at Green Gulch, feeling very happy, feeling very close to Suzuki Roshi, trying once again to understand his spirit.

My teacher Norman Fischer said in our Shiho study group that Dharma Transmission is all about practicing for others. He then said that, of course, being a Zen priest is all about practicing for others. Suzuki has said that our Soto Zen way is itself all about helping others before helping ourselves. So Dharma Transmission is really nothing special, I suppose.

Still, I am very grateful. And I am very grateful to have been a teacher for Mountain Source these past few years. It has given me an opportunity to make many mistakes trying to figure out how to be good teacher for you. You have been very patient with me. I ask your continued patience as I pledge to keep on trying to figure out how to be a better teacher. Many more mistakes to come, I am sure.

But our mistakes don’t matter much, if we understand our spirit correctly.

Albert Einstein has said, “The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.” I cannot agree. We each have our own intrinsic value as living beings that does not need to be earned, and cannot be taken from us. I suspect, however, that our personal sense of peace, happiness, and self-worth are very dependent on our commitment to be of service to others.

Lao Tzu said, “The sage has no mind of her own, she takes others minds as her own mind.” (See below for other translations of this important selection of text.) Our practice points to and emerges from this mind. This mind is the “Big Mind” that Suzuki Roshi was always talking about. This Big Mind is our own deepest nature and it is at the same time everything and everyone around us. It is very vast. When we understand, when we have this feeling for Big Mind in our practice, helping others is nothing special; it is just simply how we live. And our joy is calm, quiet, and as vast as this Mind.

Once a student came and asked Suzuki Roshi if he felt burdened by all these hippies coming to him, asking him to enlighten them. He said, “I am very grateful for them. I will do everything I can for them.” The student said that Suzuki seemed so light and happy when he said this.
I still want to understand Suzuki Roshi’s spirit. I want to know his joy. If I persevere in this wish, maybe some day I can be a good teacher for you.

Will you help me with this?


Beck - The wise have no mind-set. They regard the people's minds as their own.

Blackney - The Wise Man's mind is free But tuned to people's need:

Bynner - A sound man's heart is not shut within itself But is open to other people's hearts:

Byrn - The Master has no mind of her own. She understands the mind of the people.

Chan - The sage has no fixed (personal) ideas. He regards the people's ideas as his own.

Cleary - Sages have no fixed mind; they make the minds of the people their mind:

Crowley - The wise man has no fixed principle; he adapts his mind to his environment.

Hansen - Sages lack a constant heart-mind; they deem the public's heart-mind as heart-mind.

LaFargue - The Wise Person is always a man without a mind - he takes the mind of the hundred clans as his mind.

Legge - The sage has no invariable mind of his own; he makes the mind of the people his mind.

Lindauer - Sages are entirely absent of mind It happens that the mind of the one hundred families acts as a mind.

LinYutan - The Sage has no decided opinions and feelings, But regards the people's opinions and feelings as his own.

Mabry - The Sage's heart is not set in stone. He is as sensitive to the people's feelings as to her own.

McDonald - The wise man makes no judgments of his own. He has no rigid and plump ideas alone. Maybe no certain, opinionated feelings. He uses the heart of the people as his own inner side and heart. People's opinions and feeling are then as his own.

Mere - The sage does not distinguish between himself and the world; The needs of other people are as his own.

Mitchell - The Master has no mind of her own. She works with the mind of the people.

Muller - The sage has no fixed mind, She takes the mind of the people as her mind.

Red Pine - The sage has no mind of his own his mind is the mind of the people.

Ta-Kao - The Sage has no self (to call his own); He makes the self of the people his self.

Walker - The sage has no set mind. She adopts the concerns of others as her own.

Wieger - The Sage has no definite will of his own, he accommodates himself to the will of the people.

World - The sage has no mind of her own. She is at one with all of humanity

Wu - The Sage has no interests of his own, But takes the interests of the people as his own.

Read the January Teachers Greeting

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