Form is form and you are you – Zen

This post contains a little over two pages from the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, the chapter NON-DUALISM, by Shunryu Suzuki.

At the bottom you will find the YouTube video of Peter Coyote reading this audio book.

(bold highlights are mine):


“To stop jour mind does not mean to stop the activities of mind. It means your mind pervades jour whole body. With your full mind you form the mudra in jour hands.”

We say our practice should be without gaining ideas, without any expectations, even of enlightenment. This does not mean, however, just to sit without any purpose. This practice free from gaining ideas is based on the Prajna Paramita Sutra.

However, if you are not careful the sutra itself will give you a gaining idea. It says, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” But if you attach to that statement, you are liable to be involved in dualistic ideas: here is you, form, and here is emptiness, which you are trying to realize through your form.

Shunryu Suzuki 1

So “form is emptiness, and emptiness is form” is still dualistic. But fortunately, our teaching goes on to say, “Form is form and emptiness is emptiness.” Here there is no dualism. When you find it difficult to stop your mind while you are sitting and when you are still trying to stop your mind, this is the stage of “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.”

But while you are practicing in this dualistic way, more and more you will have oneness with your goal. And when your practice becomes effortless, you can stop your mind. This is the stage of “form is form and emptiness is emptiness.”

To stop your mind does not mean to stop the activities of mind. It means your mind pervades your whole body. Your mind follows your breathing. With your full mind you form the mudra in your hands. With your whole mind you sit with painful legs without being disturbed by them. This is to sit without any gaining idea. At first you feel some restriction in your posture, but when you are not disturbed by the restriction, you have found the meaning of “emptiness is emptiness and form is form.” So to find your own way under some restriction is the way of practice.

Practice does not mean that whatever you do, even lying down, is zazen. When the restrictions you have do not limit you, this is what we mean by practice. When you say, “Whatever I do is Buddha nature, so it doesn’t matter what I do, and there is no need to practice zazen,” that is already a dualistic understanding of our everyday life. If it really does not matter, there is no need for you even to say so. As long as you are concerned about what you do, that is dualistic. If you are not concerned about what you do, you will not say so. When you sit, you will sit. When you eat, you will eat. That is all. If you say, “It doesn’t matter,” it means that you are making some excuse to do something in your own way with your small mind. It means you are attached to some particular thing or way. That is not what we mean when we say, “Just to sit is enough,” or “Whatever you do is zazen.” Of course whatever we do is zazen, but if so, there is no need to say it.

When you sit, you should just sit without being disturbed by your painful legs or sleepiness. That is zazen. But at first it is very difficult to accept things as they are. You will be annoyed by the feeling you have in your practice. When you can do everything, whether it is good or bad, without disturbance or without being annoyed by the feeling, that is actually what we mean by “form is form and emptiness is emptiness.”

When you suffer from an illness like cancer, and you realize you cannot live more than two or three years, then seeking something upon which to rely, you may start practice. One person may rely on the help of God. Someone else may start the practice of zazen. His practice will be concentrated on obtaining emptiness of mind. That means he is trying to be free from the suffering of duality. This is the practice of “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” Because of the truth of emptiness, he wants to have the actual realization of it in his life. If he practices in this way, believing and making an effort, it will help him, of course, but it is not perfect practice.

Knowing that your life is short, to enjoy it day after day, moment after moment, is the life of “form is form, and emptiness emptiness.” When Buddha comes, you will welcome him; when the devil comes, you will welcome him. The famous Chinese Zen master Ummon, said, “Sun-faced Buddha and moon-faced Buddha.” When he was ill, someone asked him, “How are you?” And he answered, “Sun-faced Buddha and moon-faced Buddha.” That is the life of “form is form and emptiness is emptiness.” There is no problem. One year of life is good. One hundred years of life are good. If you continue our practice, you will attain this stage.

At first you will have various problems, and it is necessary for you to make some effort to continue our practice. For the beginner, practice without effort is not true practice.

For the beginner, the practice needs great effort. Especially for young people, it is necessary to try very hard to achieve something. You must stretch out your arms and legs as wide as they will go. Form is form. You must be true to your own way until at last you actually come to the point where you see it is necessary to forget all about yourself. Until you come to this point, it is completely mistaken to think that whatever you do is Zen or that it does not matter whether you practice or not. But if you make your best effort just to continue your practice with your whole mind and body, without gaining ideas, then whatever you do will be true practice.

Just to continue should be your purpose. When you do something, just to do it should be your purpose. Form is form and you are you, and true emptiness will be realized in your practice.