The Quality Of Being

“When you do something, if you fix your mind on the activity
with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is
the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the
quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity.”

Chapter “The Quality of Being”, Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

The purpose of zazen is to attain the freedom of our being,
physically and mentally. According to Dogen-zenji, every
existence is a flashing into the vast phenomenal world. Each
existence is another expression of the quality of being itself.
I often see many stars early in the morning. The stars are
nothing but the light which has traveled at great speed many
miles from the heavenly bodies. But for me the stars are not
speedy beings, but calm, steady, and peaceful beings. We
say, “In calmness there should be activity; in activity there
should be calmness.” Actually, they are the same thing;
to say “calmness” or to say “activity” is just to express two
different interpretations of one fact. There is harmony in
our activity, and where there is harmony there is calnmess.
This harmony is the quality of being. But the quality of being
is also nothing but its speedy activity.

When we sit we feel very calm and serene, but actually
we do not know what kind of activity is going on inside our
being. There is complete harmony in the activity of our
physical system, so we feel the calmness in it. Even if we
do not feel it, the quality is there. So for us there is no need
to be bothered by calmness or activity, stillness or movement.
When you do something, if you fix your mind on the
activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of
mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on
the quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity.
Movement is nothing but the quality of our being. When
we do zazen, the quality of our calm, steady, serene sitting
is the quality of the inunense activity of being itself.

“Everything is just a flashing into the vast phenomenal
world” means the freedom of our activity and of our being.
If you sit in the right manner, with the right understanding,
you attain the freedom of your being, even though you are
just a temporal existence. Within this moment, this temporal
existence does not change, does not move, and is
always independent from other existences. In the next moment
another existence arises; we may change to something
else. Strictly speaking, there is no connection between I
myself yesterday and I myself in this moment; there is no
connection whatsoever. Dogen-zenji said, “Charcoal does
not become ashes.” Ashes are ashes; they do not belong to
charcoal. They have their own past and future. They are an
independent existence because they are a flashing into the
vast phenomenal world. And charcoal and red-hot fire are
quite different existences. Black charcoal is also a flashing
into the vast phenomenal world. Where there is black charcoal
there is not red-hot charcoal. So black charcoal is
independent of red-hot charcoal; ashes are independent of
firewood; each existence is independent.

Today I am sitting in Los Altos. Tomorrow morning I
shall be in San Francisco. There is no connection between
the ” I ” in Los Altos and the ” I ” in San Francisco. They are
quite different beings. Here we have the freedom of existence
. And there is no quality connecting you and me; when
I say “you,” there is no ” I ” ; when I say ” I , ” there is no
“you.” You are independent, and I am independent; each
exists in a different moment. But this does not mean we are
quite different beings. We are actually one and the same
being. We are the same, and yet different. It is very paradoxical,
but actually it is so. Because we are independent
beings, each one of us is a complete flashing into the vast
phenomenal world. When I am sitting, there is no other
person, but this does not mean I ignore you, I am completely
one with every existence in the phenomenal world. So when
I sit, you sit; everything sits with me. That is our zazen.
When you sit, everything sits with you. And everything
makes up the quality of your being. I am a part of you. I go
into the quality of your being. So in this practice we have
absolute liberation from everything else. If you understand
this secret there is no difference between Zen practice and
your everyday life. You can interpret everything as you wish.

A wonderful painting is the result of the feeling in your
fingers. If you have the feeling of the thickness of the ink in
your brush, the painting is already there before you paint.
When you dip your brush into the ink you already know the
result of your drawing, or else you cannot paint. So before
you do something, “being” is there, the result is there. Even
though you look as if you were sitting quietly, all your activity,
past and present, is included; and the result of your sitting
is also already there. You are not resting at all. All the
activity is included within you. That is your being. So all results
of your practice are included in your sitting. This is our
practice, our zazen.

Dogen-zenji became interested in Buddhism as a boy as he
watched the smoke from an incense stick burning by his dead
mother’s body, and he felt the evanescence of our life. This
feeling grew within him and finally resulted in his attainment
of enlightenment and the development of his deep philosophy.
When he saw the smoke from the incense stick and felt
the evanescence of life, he felt very lonely. But that lonely
feeling became stronger and stronger, and flowered into enlightenment
when he was twenty-eight years old. And at the
moment of enlightenment he exclaimed, “There is no body
and no mind!” When he said “no body and no mind,” all his
being in that moment became a flashing into the vast phenomenal
world, a flashing which included everything, which
covered everything, and which had immense quality in it;
all the phenomenal world was included within it, an absolute
independent existence. That was his enlightenment. Starting
from the lonely feeling of the evanescence of life, he attained
the powerful experience of the quality of his being. He said,
“I have dropped off mind and body.” Because you think you
have body or mind, you have lonely feelings, but when you
realize that everything is just a flashing into the vast universe,
you become very strong, and your existence becomes very
meaningful. This was Dogen’s enlightenment, and this is our

The chapter “Emptiness” read by Peter Coyote:


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