In No Beginning, No End, Zen master Jakusho Kwong-roshi shows us how to treasure the ordinary activities of our daily lives through an understanding of simple Buddhist practices and ideas. The author's spontaneous, poetic, and pragmatic teachings--so reminiscent of his spiritual predecessor Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)--transport us on an exciting journey into the very heart of Zen and its meaningful traditions. Because Kwong-roshi can transmit the most intimate thing in the most accessible way, we learn how to ignite our own vitality, wisdom, and compassion and awaken a feeling of intimacy with the world. It is like having a conversation with our deepest and wisest self.
Jakusho Kwong-roshi was originally inspired to study Zen because of zenga, the ancient art of Zen calligraphy. Throughout this book he combines examples of his unique style with less well-known stories from the Zen tradition, personal anecdotes--including moving and humorous stories of his training with Suzuki-roshi--and his own lucid and inspiring teachings to draw all readers into this intimate expression of the enlightening world of Zen: the world of who we are.
The "Big Mind" that Zen Buddhist master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi so poetically described in his classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind shines throughout this collection of talks by Kwong, a disciple and authorized successor of Suzuki's. Appropriately for someone erasing the usual dualistic lines that separate self and other, Kwong's voice is strikingly reminiscent of his teacher's, from the traditional stories and poems he cites to the same central figures of speech and simple diction he uses. The book is also organized like Zen Mind into three parts with quotes pulled out to head each chapter. It even includes 10 of Kwong's calligraphic illustrations, while Zen Mind opens with calligraphy facing its title page. Unlike his teacher, however, the California-born Kwong speaks the language of Zen with an American accent. He is intimately familiar with the American lexicon of words and values, which gives him direct experience-important in Zen-to bring to the cultural meeting of modern American and Japanese Zen minds. He uses "living words"-concrete nouns and simple examples from everyday observation or experience-rather than abstract concepts to make plain and understandable the teasing and logic-confounding contradictions found in Zen. Culled from a lifetime of teaching and studying, the book is persuasive. It is the fruit of a ripened mind, hardened by practice but also softened by the compassionate wisdom drawn from those same long years of experience.
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-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 10, 2003
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Excerpt from No Beginning, No End by Jakusho Kwong
One Inch Sitting,
One Inch Buddha
When the sun first comes up and shines on you, he said, your shadow is big behind you. But as you continue to sit, your shadow gets smaller and smaller, until finally it's just Buddha sitting there.
In the early 1960s, at the Zen Center in San Francisco (which was also known as Soko-ji), there was a Buddhist priest from Japan who became discouraged because he couldn't speak English very well. He felt so badly about this that he was thinking of giving up and returning to his country. He told this to Suzuki-roshi, who responded by inviting the priest to a talk he was giving the next day. But during his lecture Suzuki-roshi used only a total of about twelve English words. He started off with something like, "Today is today." And then he said something in Japanese. Then he said, "Today is not tomorrow." And he followed that with something in Japanese again. Then he said, "Today is absolutely today." And so on. But all the time he was expressing himself with complete confidence from a presence beyond our thinking, conceptually limited mind.
If you come to listen to a talk as if you are going to hear something great from somebody else, this is a big mistake. The word teisho means something you already intimately know, and it is during the teisho that the roshi makes the Dharma, or truth, come alive. So the Dharma talk is really going on twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes it seems like it's with Roshi. Sometimes it's with the sound of an airplane. Sometimes it's with the heater turning on. Sometimes it's with roosters crowing across the way or the sound of wind and rain. But the Dharma talk is going on continuously, without interruption, realized or not. We should remember this. It's usually very near at hand, preciously close, and always with you.
During a recent visit Hoitsu Suzuki-roshi, Suzuki-roshi's son and a very good teacher and friend of ours here at Sonoma Mountain, was describing a calligraphy he did. A rough translation of the calligraphy is "One inch sit. One inch Buddha." It's interesting to note that the word Buddha comes from the Sanskrit syllable budd, which means "awakened." When he showed us the calligraphy, he mentioned that it had to do with shadow and light. When the sun first comes up and shines on you, he said, your shadow is big behind you. But as you continue to sit, your shadow gets smaller and smaller, until finally it's just Buddha sitting there. Just the sitting Buddha. You are exactly the same as the sitting Buddha.
Our sitting style is called "silent illumination," but just because it's silent doesn't mean that nothing is happening. Or said another way, literally Nothing is happening! This illumination shines throughout your body, breath, and mind and dissolves your delusions based on greed, anger, and ignorance. And that's exactly how the light and the dark interact. In the case of sound-for instance, when the heater turns on or a cell phone rings-the ears hear the sound and an interaction takes place. Just as it does when I strike my stick on the floor: Bam! And though, again, it is beyond our thinking or conceptual mind, there is an intimate communication here. This is Nothing is happening. No one can pinpoint exactly what, or where, or when. As you sit, you'll discover this for yourself, and you'll also discover that through your sitting practice you will develop some kind of stability in your life. There's something very deep and immovable in yourself that was always there, just like right now there are some buds on the trees and plants, little ones. And if you were to look, even in the deep snow you'd discover some small sprouts already growing.
There's a Japanese word, anshin, that is very important for us to understand. Basically it means "calm, serene, undisturbed." But its meaning also reaches much further than those words. Anshin implies that the question of the self has been settled. The question of life and death has been resolved, and your spiritual question has been fulfilled. That's true liberation. Even to translate it as "calm and serene" doesn't quite touch it, because these words actually refer to their source, the empty essence from which the whole universe springs forth.
One way to express this idea is to say that this "something," which is so deep, immovable, and pervasive, always lies within you just like an unseen sprout in the snow. Small as it is, in time this sprout will stand as a whole tree. And of course, since it is rooted in anshin, as the sprout grows, we naturally come into our own presence at the same time.