Zen: NOTHING

This post contains two and a half pages from the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki. In this short chapter Shunryu gives us a sense of what the Buddhist term “Nothing” means. I find this term very similar to the view in quantum physics of the Field or the Plenum. For David Bohm, one of the leading quantum physicists of our age, the Plenum is an “immense background of energy”.

(At the bottom you will find the YouTube video of Peter Coyote reading this chapter.)

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi:

I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color—something which exists before all forms and colors appear. This is a very important point. No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea. You strive for a perfect faith in order to save yourself. But it will take time to attain such a perfect faith. You will be involved in an idealistic practice.

In constantly seeking to actualize your ideal, you will have no time for composure. But if you are always prepared for accepting everything we see as something appearing from nothing, knowing that there is some reason why a phenomenal existence of such and such form and color appears, then at that moment you will have perfect composure.

So it is absolutely necessary for everyone to believe in nothing. But I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form, and it has some rules, or theory, or truth in its activity.

Shunryu Suzuki 1This is called Buddha nature, or Buddha himself. When this existence is personified we call it Buddha; when we understand it as the ultimate truth we call it Dharma; and when we accept the truth and act as a part of the Buddha, or according to the theory, we call ourselves Sangha. But even though there are three Buddha forms, it is one existence which has no form or color, and it is always ready to take form and color. This is not just theory. This is not just the teaching of Buddhism. This is the absolutely necessary understanding of our life. Without this understanding our religion will not help us. We will be bound by our religion, and we will have more trouble because of it. … So this kind of understanding is very, very important.

While you are practicing zazen, you may hear the rain dropping from the roof in the dark. Later, the wonderful mist will be coming through the big trees, and still later when people start to work, they will see the beautiful mountains. But some people will be annoyed if they hear the rain when they are lying in their beds in the morning, because they do not know that later they will see the beautiful sun rising from the east. If our mind is concentrated on ourselves we will have this kind of worry. But if we accept ourselves as the embodiment of the truth, or Buddha nature, we will have no worry. We will think, “Now it is raining, but we don’t know what will happen in the next moment. By the time we go out it may be a beautiful day, or a stormy day.

Since we don’t know, let’s appreciate the sound of the rain now.” This kind of attitude is the right attitude. If you understand yourself as a temporal embodiment of the truth, you will have no difficulty whatsoever. You will appreciate your surroundings, and you will appreciate yourself as a wonderful part of Buddha’s great activity, even in the midst of difficulties. This is our way of life.

Using the Buddhist terminology, we should begin with enlightenment and proceed to practice, and then to thinking. Usually thinking is rather self-centered. In our everyday life our thinking is ninety-nine percent self-centered: ‘Why do I have suffering? Why do I have trouble?” This kind of thinking is ninety-nine percent of our thinking. For example, when we start to study science or read a difficult sutra, we very soon become sleepy or drowsy. But we are always wide awake and very much interested in our self-centered thinking! But if enlightenment comes first, before thinking, before practice, your thinking and your practice will not be self-centered. By enlightenment I mean believing in nothing, believing in something which has no form or no color, which is ready to take form or color. This enlightenment is the immutable truth. It is on this original truth that our activity, our thinking, and our practice should be based.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Believing In Nothing, pgs. 116, 117

YouTube with Peter Coyote reading this chapter:

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6 thoughts on “Zen: NOTHING

  1. Pingback: Melanie’s Mind Twisters To Spur An Awakening | Melanie's Life Online

  2. Pingback: Books I Want to Read | Month Hacker

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  4. If you must conceptualize ‘Nothing’ and Bohm’s plenum does not help, even though real, use space as a model. Anything that has form, including ourselves is still 99+% space, or God, or Buddha, or… I do like Suzuki’s simple description, ‘without form or color.’

  5. Pingback: In constantly seeking to actualize your ideal, you will have no time for composure. | Mirrors of Encounters

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