Berkeley Zen Center

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

This lecture is reprinted from the January 2004 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

From Rohatsu Lecture, 1995

To forego your own enlightenment for the sake of saving all beings is to stop thinking about whether you're ever going to get there or not. We do the work we have to do without worrying about whether we will end up in Nirvana. We just do what is presented to us to do. That's total freedom. Whatever's presented, just do it! Don't work for your own crossing over, just take care of what's in front of you.

Practice has two aspects. One is to do something for your own cultivation. The other is to help others for their cultivation. Both of these aspects are still in the realm of discrimination. Even clinging to the idea of helping others before yourself is in the realm of discrimination. Non-discrimination practice is simply to work for the benefit of the dharma. If you think, "I'm washing the toilet for you," that's still discriminating mind-that's ego. That's pure activity. Sweep the floor not because you're going to get it clean but because you're sweeping it. In the process the floor will get clean and that will benefit you and others. But if you think, "I'm sweeping the floor for you," or "I'm sweeping the floor for me," that's discriminating mind at work. It's clinging to the good you're doing. It's better to do good things than bad things, but it's still discrimination. We should be able to do good things without partiality.

Of course discriminating mind keeps on working. You can watch it work during sesshin. "I don't like the way the server is walking. How come he always serves me this way?" That's what comes up. A little thing like that becomes magnified, because our attention is very concentrated. We should realize that this is our discriminating mind looking for something to attach to. Discriminating mind, anger, lust, envy, all these things are latent in us, and all they need is an object to bring them forth. When the object appears-boom! "I don't like this," or "I hate that." When that comes up, step back and realize "this is discriminating mind," and let go of it. It is a hindrance to clarity.

Student: If you're cleaning the toilet bowls and you're just cleaning the toilet bowls, it's not a divided activity. But sometimes that kind of focus seems to encourage us to block things out. If I'm cleaning the toilet bowl and there's nothing else, that's wonderful. But if there's a kid crying in the next room, maybe it's not so good to be totally focused.

Sojun: When you're washing the toilet bowl, just wash the toilet bowl. When the sound of the child meets the ear and activates the consciousness, then discernment arises. "What kind of a cry is this? Is it a cry for help, or is the baby just crying?" You have to decide, "Shall I rescue the baby or leave the baby alone?" This takes about one one-thousandth of a second. If you're really concentrated, and your mind is open, you'll know what that cry means. If the baby needs help you'll drop your scrubber and go and help the baby with the same attitude with which you're washing the toilet bowl and without any special idea about it. If your mind is empty you can see right away what's happening. You should not be attached to your activity. Just be your activity, then do the next thing completely, and then the next, going freely from one moment's activity to the next.

When we first practice we're motivated through our discriminating mind. We want something. We learn how to practice. We learn how to sit zazen and we go through whatever it is we go through. The mark of a mature zen student is letting go of practicing just for your own sake. After we practice for a couple of years and come to the zendo every day we may think "I'm getting tired of this!" There are interesting things on TV and lots of things to do at night. We don't feel like going to bed and getting up early in the morning any more. But we continue coming to zazen. We continue practicing because our practice is not only for ourself, but to encourage and support everyone. When I come to the zendo, I'm not coming just because I like to sit zazen, but because it is what I do. I just do it, without thinking whether it's good for me or not. I just do it because it's the practice that I'm committed to and it's for the benefit of the practice, not even for the benefit of others or myself, but just for the sake of the practice itself. I would never ordain someone who didn't have that attitude.

Student: Sojun, can you give me a word of encouragement? Here we are, doing our own practice, but I feel there's an overwhelming tide against us. I look around and see five billion people on this small planet polluting and consuming everything. It's not only the physical world, it's in people's hearts. There's this overwhelming greed. It just seems that what we do here, what little effort we manage is totally overwhelmed by what's going on all around us.

Sojun: When we started the Zen Center in San Francisco there was just a little old priest, his helper, some hippies, and a small cross-section of society. Everybody practiced quietly for a long time, and pretty soon people started knowing about this, and little by little it became known all around the world. Suzuki Roshi's talks are known all around the world. So many people have come in and out of Zen Center, and have crisscrossed the world spreading those seeds. No matter what country you go to, there's somebody who's heard about Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, or zazen and Zen Center. Somehow it has an effect. Little by little, just doing our work where we are creates a far-reaching effect. I sincerely believe that.

Student: The world is going to do what it's going to do anyway, no matter what we do. I don't think it matters whether we do it or not.

Sojun: If you think that you will or will not save the world, that's still dualistic understanding. Just do the work without worrying about the result. Of course we all worry about the world, but if you worry that this is not going to work and the world is going to fall in on us, then you can't do it. You have to have faith in what you're doing regardless of what happens. When the tidal wave finally comes and sinks the boat, then you go down. But until that time you're working with the sails and you're working with the tiller, and you're doing your best up to the last moment without losing faith. That's the kind of attitude that's necessary in order to practice.

Student: Do you believe that the energy we create or our way of life does affect the outer world?

Sojun: Of course. Everything we do influences the world. Positive energy has positive results. Negative energy has negative results. This controversy over whether violence on TV has an effect on society-to even question that-is unbelievable! Corporations pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for one minute of advertising. Violence is on twenty-four hours a day-free advertising twenty-four hours a day. And people say, "I can't understand what's wrong with our country. Why are we having so much violence?"

Student: I think the assumption is that we are violent by nature and it's a vicarious means of satisfying that urge.

Sojun: Yes, but we don't need it. It's just that people make more money by creating that kind of scenario than they would by creating some other kind. Good things don't bring in as much money as bad things. We're so immersed in a materialistic world that many people don't understand what it's like not to be materialistic. We're inundated. But still we can clear a little circle in the midst of it. I think that you have to do what you have to do regardless of the way things are. This is the great challenge. Even if we know that the end is immanent we just continue. It's not a matter of being encouraged or discouraged.

Student: I'm also struck by the feelings of despair that arise with reading the newspaper or walking around, being asked for spare change, seeing mothers with children on the streets. Having something to do that you really believe in is important.

Sojun: Just doing something will make you feel connected, no matter how insignificant it seems. When you encounter someone asking for money, just give without wondering, "Are they going to use this for wine? Do they really need this? Is this just a scam?" I just give them some money-something out of my pocket. I rarely walk by someone who's asking for money without giving them something. Even the person who's got a scam has a problem. Just to be able to contribute helps to free you from the feeling of despair.

Right now the world has a certain look. The things that are going on have always been going on, but we haven't been as aware of them because they've been so distant. Now that the world's so small, it's right in our face. It seems that everything's going to hell in a hand basket, which it is, but there's also something else coming up, something new. It's not just doom. It's black as well as white. It folds in on itself and comes out of itself. This undulation of cause and effect is continually at work. A lot of people get wiped out by it and a lot of growth comes out of it. We need to keep that in mind, otherwise we'll fall into a state of despair.

When we see these things happening we want to go out and rescue everyone. But if we give up what we bring to the world through our practice, then it will really be dark. This practice is a light in the world. For me, the most important thing is not to let that get lost.

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Last revised 3/16/04. Copyright 2000 Berkeley Zen Center.
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