For those who keep asking me, “What books should I read, O Master?” but who have not read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and for those who keep asking, “I have no teacher, whatever shall I do?” I present this excerpt from Shunryu Suzuki’s classic. It’s on page 72 and the chapter is called “Right Attitude.” Take it away, Shunryu!

“Our Soto way puts an emphasis on shikan taza, or ‘just sitting.’ Actually we do not have any particular name for our practice; when we practice Zen we just practice it. Even though we are sleepy, and we are tired of repeating the same thing day after day; even so we continue our practice. Whether or not someone encourages our practice, we just do it.

“Even when you do Zazen alone, without a teacher, I think you will find some way to tell whether your practice is adequate or not. When you are tired of sitting, or when you are disgusted with your practice, you should recognize this as a warning signal. You become discouraged with your practice when your practice has become idealistic. You have some gaining idea in your practice, and it is not pure enough. It is when your practice has become rather greedy that you become discouraged with it. So you should be grateful you have had some warning signal to show the weakness in your practice. At the same time, forgetting about your mistake and renewing your way, you can resume your original practice. This is a very important point.”

By the way, for the “I have no teacher” crowd, you know, you really do need to make a little effort. It’s not enough to just Google® the name of your hometown and the word “Zen” and then just give up when the entries you find there don’t live up to your expectations. In Zen, there’s a saying that you should not answer questions about Buddhism until the questioner asks three times. I don’t know anyone who practices this literally. It’s just a rule of thumb to follow so that you’re not wasting time with people who just want to make frivolous conversation and who are not serious. Many good teachers do not advertise their presence. Most of them certainly don’t blog!

My advise to those who don’t have a teacher? Get out from behind your computer screen and look. It takes time sometimes.

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21 Responses

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  1. Wildman
    Wildman August 17, 2006 at 11:20 am |

    I’m on my second day of hardcore zazen, previously I had been counting my breaths but after reading your book and the bit where you say maintaining posture will cut out the need for koans and counting etc, I thought I’d try it your way.

    The difference is remarkable! I was so unaware of how much I had been slouching during practise. You’re right too, slouching and wandering mind do seem to go hand in hand!

    I now truely understand what you mean about zen being boring, before with the counting I found it to be very pleasant, now its a bit trickier. I also wasnt facing a wall before, I just kinda sat in the middle of the room with my eyes doing whatever they felt like in the open/closed arena.

    Thanks for help, just finished your book last night and got my girlfriend reading it today. Two chapters in and already you got her verbally sparing with the pages! hehe!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. satorimedia LLC
    satorimedia LLC August 17, 2006 at 12:47 pm |

    Nice timing, Brad. The quote from Suzuki helped drain the anger that I was feeling from a professional slight that I’d perceived against me in my own hobby, and reminded me of why I do what I do. I’ve read ZM,BM, but perhaps it’s time for me to crack it again.

    Not that you answer questions here, but what do you think of Reb Anderson?

  3. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey August 17, 2006 at 1:54 pm |

    Im pretty lucky considering I am situated in the middle of London, where there are about 30 or so zen groups/centres plotted all over this town. The thing is, although I take zen seriously, the times of zazen sessions are scheduled at times I would consider “sleepy hour” or “chilling time” Either too early or too late.

    But this post has given me abit of
    inspiration. Maybe I will check out one an hour away.

    Why is it that zen masters are low profile and don’t advertise their classes?

  4. katyzen
    katyzen August 17, 2006 at 6:56 pm |

    I sit at a Zen center in the heights here in Houston. If anyone here lives near Houston and would like to sit with a sangha and teacher, just let me know! Our teacher’s lineage happens to be Shunryu as well.
    P.S. Hopefully I can gather enough courage to invite you down here for a dharma talk Brad!

  5. nai wakara
    nai wakara August 17, 2006 at 10:42 pm |

    thank you, i have this book, and i forgot this.

    why do you bother including trademark symbols and such, it’s distracting.

  6. Dan
    Dan August 18, 2006 at 9:01 am |

    you’ve found 30 drunken monkey? where? i’ve only found about 4 but then again i didnt look very hard.let me know if you find a good one. do you ever go to dogen sangha’s monthly one day retreat in bethnal green/hackney run by mike luetchford? i went there for the first time last week and i can highly reccomend it to anyone here who lives in london.

  7. Milan Davidovic
    Milan Davidovic August 18, 2006 at 1:12 pm |

    “why do you bother including trademark symbols and such, it’s distracting.”

    Could be a sly reference to this.

  8. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey August 18, 2006 at 4:14 pm |

    dan, I just checked the bookmarked page of zen centres and I just realised that I was chatting crap, as usual.

    There are about 30 zen groups around the whole country, but there are about 3/4 soto groups in london. But there are also chan’, vietnamese and rinzai groups scattered around the city.

    “do you ever go to dogen sangha’s monthly one day retreat in bethnal green/hackney run by mike luetchford? i went there for the first time last week and i can highly reccomend it to anyone here who lives in london.”

    ooh, I didn’t know about that. Could you point me to a website that has all of the information? That would do splendidly.


  9. Dan
    Dan August 19, 2006 at 7:58 am |

    yeh it seems that there are only a mere handful of soto zen centres in london. 🙁
    oh well.
    info for dogen sangha in london can be found

    you can add yourself to the mailing list on that page as well. recently they’ve been held in bethnal green but i think the one in september is gonna be in hackney again.

  10. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey August 19, 2006 at 8:32 am |

    Thanks Dan. I’m going to try to catch the next one.

  11. livebyte
    livebyte August 19, 2006 at 10:13 am |

    Thanks for posting that, Doughboy. For some reason I think I needed to hear just those words, for some reason. And they sounded just like Peter Coyote was speaking them.

  12. K'vitsh
    K'vitsh August 19, 2006 at 2:29 pm |

    Yeah, but, to have a teacher, I’d have to be around people. Bleh.

    I had one (sorta) but she moved back to England.

  13. cromanyak
    cromanyak August 19, 2006 at 4:03 pm |

    Doughboy??? I think you Doubtboy.

  14. oxeye
    oxeye August 19, 2006 at 10:25 pm |

    i can remember when doughboy was just a skinny little fellow..

  15. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 20, 2006 at 12:16 pm |

    Many good teachers do not advertise their presence. Most of them certainly don’t blog!

    Maybe if they’re not advertising, they don’t want to be found.

    If you can’t find a group through the Internet, check for posters in local book and health food stores. Often these get posters for talks by visiting bigwigs. Ask large national groups if they have local affiliates. I’d also suggest word of mouth, but that won’t work if you’re not plugged into the local Buddhist “scene.”

  16. Asana Bear
    Asana Bear August 21, 2006 at 8:43 pm |

    zen is wherever you are. teachers are great but remember the buddha’s dying words…

  17. earDRUM
    earDRUM August 22, 2006 at 2:37 pm |

    That was a nice Suzuki quote Brad.

    In my spare time, I am re-listening to Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind (on cassettes, read by Peter Coyote).
    I pick the book up from time to time and always seem to find something new. My understanding grows deeper as time goes by.
    There is much wisdom in those pages.

  18. Genryu
    Genryu September 9, 2006 at 9:33 am |

    “zen is wherever you are. teachers are great but remember the buddha’s dying words…”

    Someone, with the same idea of Zen being everywhere, once asked Suzuki Roshi,

    “You say that Zen is everywhere, why do we have to come to the Zen Center?”

    “Zen is everywhere, but for you, Zen is right here.” Replied Suzuki Roshi simply.

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 14, 2007 at 2:21 am |

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  20. Generic Viagra
    Generic Viagra February 17, 2011 at 7:53 am |

    The lifestyle is so cool,I have read the book Zen Mind,beginner's mind and it is so excellent , I like the book because it is a compilation of talks given to his satellite Zen center in Los Altos, California.22dd

  21. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 14, 2014 at 11:40 am |

    I remember reading Joko Beck when she said that at one point she realized that she would have to do this on her own, that no teacher could do it for her.

    I’ve always been surprised by that, for me it’s always seemed pretty clear that practice is between no-one but myself.

    Sure there is this desire to have some enlightened one tell you that one true fact that shatters your worldview and shows you the truth.

    But really? Not going to happen.

    My question has always been why do I need a teacher at all? As far as I can tell a good teacher can give you a kick when they see you going down some blind alley.

    I’m not even sure that I have that going for me. Feels like lonely stuff when I think of it that way..

    Bu what can you do? I’ll just keep sitting. That’s my faith.

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