How do you like zazen?

I think it may be better to ask, how do you like brown rice? Zazen is too big a topic. Brown rice is just right. Actually, there is not much difference.

When you eat brown rice, you have to chew it, and unless you chew it, it is difficult to swallow. When you chew it very well, your mouth becomes part of the kitchen, and actually the brown rice becomes more and more tasty. When we eat white rice, we don’t chew so much, but that little bit of chewing feels so good that naturally the rice goes right down our throats.

When we digest food completely, what will become of it? It will be transformed, changing its chemical nature, and will permeate our whole body. In the process it dies within our body. To eat and digest food is natural to us, as we are always changing. This organic process is called “emptiness.” The reason we call it emptiness is that it has no special form. It has some form, but that form is not permanent. While it is changing, it carries on our life energy.

We know that we are empty, and also that this earth is empty. The forms are not permanent. You may wonder, “What is this universe?” But this universe has no limit. Emptiness is not something you can understand through a space trip. Emptiness can be understood when you are perfectly involved in chewing rice. This is actual emptiness. The most important point is to establish yourself in a true sense, without establishing yourself on delusion. And yet we cannot live or practice without delusion. Delusion is necessary, but delusion is not something on which you can establish yourself. It is like a stepladder. Without it you cannot climb up, but you don’t stay on the stepladder. With this confidence, you can continue to study our way. That is why I say, “Don’t run away. Stick with me.”

I do not mean, “Stick to me.” I mean stick with yourself, not with delusion. Sometimes I may be a delusion. You may overestimate me: “He is a good teacher!” That is already a kind of delusion. I am your friend. I am just practicing with you as your friend who has many stepladders.

We shouldn’t be disappointed with a bad teacher or with a bad student. You know, if a bad student and a bad teacher strive for the truth, something real will be established. That is our zazen. We must continue to practice zazen and continue to chew brown rice. Eventually, we will accomplish something.

Thank you very much.

From Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen by Shunryu Suzuki, © 2002 by San Francisco Zen Center. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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