View Full Version : 4/10 - Branching Streams: 9th Talk - The Willow Tree

04-11-2009, 01:24 AM
On to the NINTH TALK in Suzuki Roshi's talks on the Sandokai ... "THE WILLOW TREE CANNOT BE BROKEN BY THE SNOW", pages 123 to 133.

I'd like to repeat something that I have found in listening to thousands of talks by Japanese teachers and essayists over the years (not only Zen teachers, but Japanese speakers and writers in general). As a cultural tendency, talks in Japan can be very "free flowing", with points apparently disjointed, heading in no single direction, and often leading to no definite conclusion. Suzuki Roshi presents excellent examples of this style, which is often combined with the language barrier and the whole nebulous nature of Zen discourse.

The way to approach this, I think, is not to look for one general conclusion from his talks, but to see each phrase (and sometimes single word and space between the words) as a flower in a garden standing on its own. Appreciate it for its own sake, as well as its total effect on the garden as a whole.

That is, after all, a perspective of dependency and independency.

If you would like to listen to a talk on this section with a different flavor, one of the priests from Shasta Abbey offers a talk rich with their style of teaching ...

http://www.shastaabbey.org/audio/series ... /san11.mp3 (http://http://www.shastaabbey.org/audio/series/sandokai/san11.mp3)
http://www.shastaabbey.org/sandokai.htm (http://http://www.shastaabbey.org/sandokai.htm)

Gassho, Jundo

04-11-2009, 05:14 PM
Im quoting a bit more here in this chapter... like you pointed out Jundo, there are a few points that stand up on their own.

So at first the talk of being strong in a sense that isn't promoted a lot round these parts - perhaps young kids league hockey folks (parents esp. should ) try this ;D

When we have both a soft side and a strong side, we can be strong in a real way.
It may be easier to fight and win than to endure without crying when you are defeated.
Later in the chapter Suzuki Roshi touches back on this again and gives more examples, elaborates some... paraphrasing here but in my understanding he says letting your self be soft and tough, forgiving and steadfast (hmm 2 sides of the same coin...heard this somewheres before :)_) is being truely strong.

Next bit im quoting stood out to me and is what i came to realize not to long a go.

When you learn something, you should be able to teach it to people. You should put the same effort in to teaching as into learning. And if you wnat to teach you should be humble enough to learn something
And I think this is where our practice leads us. Practicing is not just about "Me" and when we realize that we are compelled to try to share it as much as we are to practice. Although i might say "when you learn something, you should be willing to teach it"... rather then able... lol im willing but my abilities my do more harm :)

A moral code is, rather, to help others. The moral code you find when you want to help and be kind to others will naturally be good for you as well
I agree, I just have to remember that some will not want your help and kindness so be okay with bowing out.

It is necessary to think about it, to have a recipe, but it is also necessary to chew and mix everything
Examining every aspect of the receipe does not bake a delicious cake. To experience the whole of our practice you must be willing to put down the book, drop the thoughts of proper and improper practice and just dive in. (of course while holding lightly on to the books, teachings and ideas of right and wrong practice).

Okay! Im done with the quote button for today.

Gassho, Shohei

04-13-2009, 12:32 PM

So this finishes the interpreation of reality in terms of light and dark. I really learnt alot from this. I think, most of all, I appreciate more about the balance of light and dark. I have always tended to consider emptiness (dark) as more important than things (light) but I can now see a benefit in a more balanced approach and respecting both sides equally and appropriately.

Thanks, Jundo for creating this opportunity.



04-13-2009, 02:06 PM
Hi Paul,

Well, we are talking about the same point on the Adyashanti thread.

Easy to speak of in theory, not so easy in day to day practice perhaps.

But that is why it is called "Practice".

Gassho, Jundo

04-14-2009, 10:54 AM
Blimey, the Adyashanti thread is a thread and a half.

I'm afraid I can't read it all now as my dinner is ready and my stomach is empty.

Keep having fun.



04-14-2009, 11:19 AM
Ah, skip the Adyashanti thread. Not important. Bunch of people talking about "ifs" and "maybes".

04-14-2009, 01:40 PM
Jundo: thanks for the advice for looking for a 'nugget' here and a 'nugget' there in the book. It has helped me already.

Dirk: nice job doing just what Jundo suggested in finding the pockets of wisdom throughout the chapter. You did a very credible job of relaying some important elements.

I'd like to pick up on the first topic you cite regarding having a strong and soft side. That really hit home, maybe because n the May 2009 Shambhala Sun there is an interview with Roshi Joan Halifax. The section talks about her work in hospice but seems relevant nonetheless.

She talks about "strong back, soft front: which, she explains, "is about the relationship between equanimity and compassion. 'Strong back' is equanimity and your capacity to really uphold youself. 'Soft front' is openeing to things as they are." Equanimity and compassion: fearlessness and vulnerability.

Some good lessons that have hit home for me.

Thank you,

PS: in the message from the editor of the same magazine the page is written by the editor of web publications. He gives a prop to Jundo by citing how digital media can be used: "Particulary ripe for 'web optimization' is the realm of Buddhism and all those who are working towards building a more mindful society. Thaks to blogs, virtual sitting groups (Jundo Cohen, the adminstrator of one such group, goes out of his way to say that meditating together via online interface isn't 'virtual' at all, and he's got a point), and the constant discussion the web engenders, dharma-friendship truly knows no bounds these days.'

04-14-2009, 09:23 PM
Jundo: thanks for the advice for looking for a 'nugget' here and a 'nugget' there in the book. It has helped me already.

I agree with Jeff that the “nugget” approach was a helpful way to look at this chapter.

The Shasta Abbey was a nice complement for the reading having a devotional and, at times, sort of trippy (in a good way) feel to it. The nuggets I got from this chapter was the fluid and dynamic nature of reality. As stated in the Sandokai:

Light and dark oppose one another
Like the front and back foot in walking

The Shasta Abbey lecture used the world “training” and I sound this quite useful.

Light goes with darkness like steps in walking…to know this we must train ourselves.

An example of training could be reading the Sandoki or practicing zazen. In addition, our insights should be put into practice. This got me to thinking the other day when I was in a bit of an uncomfortable social situation. I was facing a window from which I could see a number of large pine trees. I just took a couple of deep breaths and considered the dynamic nature of light and dark. Although fragmented and only for an instant, I had a feeling of oneness and peace, which was quite helpful at the time.


04-14-2009, 09:50 PM
So, to learn is to teach and to teach is to learn. If you think you are always a student, you cannot learn anything. The reason you learn something is in order to teach others after you have learned it.

I tend to have a pedagogical nature and often find myself getting in trouble by trying to teach people things when they they don't think I have any authority to do this, or know enough about Buddhism. They are probably right of course. I was also told elsewhere that you need to study Zen for at least 10 years before you even attempt to teach anything about it. Zen practitioners of my acquaintance seem to think it a badge of honour that they don't try to teach anything about Zen because they are not ready for it. But this section seems to contradict that idea. In fact, he seems to go to the other extreme - that we have a duty to teach, and you will not learn anything properly yourself unless you teach. So I guess I will have to persevere in passing on my half-baked knowledge to others :D


04-15-2009, 12:11 PM

I don't think anyone can actually teach anybody anything.

All one can to is to present learning opportunities for people and try and support them.



04-15-2009, 01:45 PM
I don't think anyone can actually teach anybody anything.

But given the subject matter of this book aren't we being taught something which most of us have no experience of and which we are unlikely to have an opportunity to learn about by ourselves? We are being taught understand the "absolute", and to interpret it should we ever encounter it, in a Zen way. A Christian priest would teach us to understand and interpret it in a different way.


04-15-2009, 02:26 PM
Actually, a related question came up because some Treeleaf members were thinking about starting local sitting groups and, when asked, answering questions for people coming to sit there ...

I said to teach what you are comfortable in teaching, and try not to teach what you are not comfortable or equiped to teach ... and to know the difference. That is true even if someone has been teaching Zen for 50 years.

So, for example, I see no harm in someone who has only been sitting Zazen for, let's say, a year or two helping newcomers on basic questions of sitting and such. However, be conservative about going beyond what you feel comfortable to say.

In that way, it is much like teaching anything I suppose ... even cooking in a cooking class, or flying in a flying school. Hopefully, the flying instructor will only be passing on to folks what he is trained to pass on, and not teaching flying skills he is not competent to teach!

The system of Dharma Transmission is more for the potential student's benefit, to say that some senior teacher thinks the Transmittee will be a good teacher (that is not a guaranty that that will always be the case, but you can usually assume that a flying instuctor with a diploma on the wall is more likely to be a competent one than a flying instructor who taught himself). So, usually, "heavy duty" formal teaching is supposed to be left to us "licensed flight instructors" But, even for someone who has been practicing Zazen for a week ... if they feel they can answer some question for someone, they should!

Heck, folks around Treeleaf are teaching folks around Treeleaf all the time ... and often do the best job of it, compared to my old tired stories.

Just try to do good for the person asking, and not mislead them or provide them with information which will misguide them. Know the difference.

Gassho, J

04-16-2009, 07:29 AM

The line about walking (and the text) initially led me to think of the word "balance"; somehow we maintain a fine balance between pairs of opposites. However p126 asks which foot is ahead and which is behind? S Suzuki seems to be saying that we should be able to switch effortlessly between the opposites: front foot - back foot, dependent - independent, light - dark.

In reference to teachers and teaching, I'd agree with Paul (the second sentence as well as the first!). The opportunity is presented by the teacher, but the student has to use the opportunity. Like the old saying, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." I'd say the answer to Charles' question is a most definite "Yes", provided we ourselves are open and willing to learn.

Aren't we being taught something which most of us have no experience of and which we are unlikely to have an opportunity to learn about by ourselves?Thinking about John and Jundo's comments on teaching, I wonder if you need to teach Buddhism (basics like the four truths, precepts, etc.) before attempting to teach Zen or Zazen. Zazen without Buddhism is just ... meditation, isn't it?


04-16-2009, 08:45 AM
Thinking about John and Jundo's comments on teaching, I wonder if you need to teach Buddhism (basics like the four truths, precepts, etc.) before attempting to teach Zen or Zazen. Zazen without Buddhism is just ... meditation, isn't it?

If you do not teach some Buddhist history and philosophy hand-in-hand with the Zazen, then Practice ... and Zazen ... can turn into mush. Zazen is clay, the teachings of Buddhism that potter's hand.

Our Zazen is goalless, formless, with no place to get ... but that does not mean it should be aimless, shapeless and adrift.

Gassho, Jundo

04-16-2009, 10:54 AM

My thoughts are:

From the teacher perspective they are trying to teach something, and it is important they try and do their best, e.g. prepare, assess the audience, make sure they teach at the right pace etc.

From the students point of view ,they should be open minded, try and listen to the words and understand the meaning, not be distracted by, maybe, the teachers mannerisms, external noises, unrelated thoughts (what's for dinner?) etc.

In the best case something (knowledge, understanding, perspective, etc) can be transmitted from the teacher to the student and probably both the student and teacher gain from it.

Sometimes a teachers just puts stuff out and it is up to the student to try and get the most.

In the worst case the student just misses the whole point or, worse still, misunderstands.

I think the key aspect is learning. Is something learnt by the student?

Really, learning is most dependent on the student (horses and water as mentioned), so while teachers should always try and do their best they shouldn't be disappointed with failure and shouldn't think they are a great teacher if they get some success.

I believe the Buddha said he never taught anybody anything and he is known as a teacher of gods and men (and probably a lot of other types of sentient beings as well). So it is probably safest to not think of oneself as a teacher but nothing wrong in thinking of others as teachers or even great teachers.

I'm not sure if I really got what I think across in any sensible form but I'm not a very good teacher.....



04-16-2009, 10:55 AM
Oh, and from a non-dual point of view don't forget there is no teacher, student or learning.



04-16-2009, 06:50 PM
Hello all,

This chapter was filled with so many bits of wonderful insight, it is hard to pick out any one thing. For me, I find that I will be coming back to these words time and time again. My need for a more thorough understanding of independency is now complete. Wonderful!

Dirk, you summarized this chapter so well...thank you!

JohnH - the same word came to my mind as I read this chapter..."balance". When our world is in balance, we can see both the light and the dark. We can see our strengths/weaknesses, as well as, others' strengths/weaknesses and we can accept them fully. We can be both the student and the teacher and feel content in both.

I truly enjoyed and related to his words on finding our own moral standards or codes. In my life, before I had children, I thought I knew all that I stood for. Now that I have children, I feel I need to define things more clearly for myself, so that I can pass on to my children that which I find most important in this life.

Thank you all for sharing and for teaching me on a daily basis!

Kelly (Jinmei)

04-16-2009, 10:09 PM
Though I'm still working through much of this chapter, one statement stuck out for me:

But even though you read scriptures and observe precepts, without right understanding they will be precepts of either light or darkness, and when you are caught in this way or rely too much on precepts or scriptures, they will not be Buddhist precepts or scriptures anymore.

This reminded me of something I found in Steve Hagen's Buddhism Is Not What You Think:

In the first view we find multiplicity and relativity; in the second, Oneness or Totality. Which view is correct? In Zen we understand that to take hold of either view is to miss the mark. Although both views are indispensable, neither offers us an accurate picture of Reality... What's necessary to complete the picture is to see these two views, A and B, as merged -- that is, a single view.

Earlier in the Sandokai, we read the same sentiment:

Grasping at things is surely delusion;
according with sameness is still not enlightenment.

I've taken lately to thinking of it sort of like a movie. When we watch a movie in a theater, we see the movie screen, blank and real. When the movie starts, light is projected onto the screen in shifting patterns. The light is just as real as the screen. However, when we focus on the patterns the light makes on the screen (both light and screen are necessary, and both appear as one), we get sucked into those patterns, so much so that we forget all about the screen and the light. Even if we were to think of them, chances are good that the patterns of the light would seem more real in that moment than either the screen or the light themselves.

Are the patterns real? Yes. Are the patterns imitations? Yes. Is the screen real? Is the light real? Yes. And no. But the reality in that moment truly is screen, light, patterns, all distinct, all one, all real, all not real.

Not to mention the thoughts and emotions we experience as we watch the film. Are they real? Have you ever left the theater after an intense movie that was wrenchingly sad and suddenly felt sad about your happy life, somehow, for a few minutes or hours? Is that sadness real? Yes. And no.


04-17-2009, 05:04 AM
Hi all,

When we started this book some weeks ago I began with the idea that I needed to say something profound each week. It was much the same when I began sitting zazen...I thought every sitting had to hold some special meaning and reveal profound wisdom. In both cases, such an idea has fallen away and much of what I experience could be best described as a "warm and fuzzy" feeling and I think that's just fine.

I will say that I think way too much about things and quite literally have found myself thinking about how to walk while I'm doing it. And as Suzuki Roshi alludes to in the chapter, if we do that we are likely to fall flat on our faces! All that we do in our lives is something we just feel as we go along, but zen reminds us also not to allow our daily lives to become too routine...it is about flow...moving, but not towards or away from anything in particular.

Lastly, the discussion of being weak and strong has great relevance to my life since I previously believed that I was weak and not strong. However, since becomeing a stay at home dad I realize I do something everyday that many a "manly man" would feel powerless to do. And it is in those moments of weakness that I allow myself to show true strength because without them I wouldn't know what being strong was.