8. Thursday, March 23, 1973
Merit, Right Effort, Suffering, Compassion

STUDENT: When I had to stop sitting I began to see that the roof didn't collapse on me, the world didn't go dark when I stopped sitting.

STUDENT: Did you think it would?

STUDENT: I certainly did. I sat more and more because I was afraid that “Oh, oh” all that darkness would come back down on me again. So I began to see that maybe the particular act doesn't matter, it's the spirit that you're doing it in. Zazen is so good in training you that the particular act doesn't matter. Zazen is such a completely worthless, it's so unproductive, you know, by the standards we're used to. Zazen is “no merit” practice.

STUDENT: I don't understand this word “merit”.

STUDENT: It means that you have to do something free of any thought of anything coming back to you, because although something will come back, it will never be what you expect it to be.

STUDENT: But the more I sit, the more comes back, in that the world becomes brighter, and people seem to be more friendly to me.

KOBUN: Light and energy we see, which can be said are the merit of the sun.

STUDENT: You're defining "merit" as function.

STUDENT: More than that. Virtue.


STUDENT: What is “best effort”?

KOBUN: Best effort? No giving up. You don't say “I cannot do it.”

STUDENT: How do you know the point when you reach where you're going, you, know, how do you know when it's ok?

KOBUN: It's not a matter of knowing, it's a feeling, feeling no dissatisfaction. No leftover feelings. No slipping back. That is right effort. If you feel slipping back, it is recognition “I am not doing well.” Something is missing.

STUDENT: Do you judge right effort by how you feel?

KOBUN: “Judge, judge!”

STUDENT: There seems to be a judgement.

KOBUN: Feeling is enough, isn't it?

STUDENT: This word “effort” also. Involves judgement. I am not “right” or I'm not making an effort.

KOBUN: Hmm. When you say “He came just right time,” you can feel what it is. It's not “wrong,” or “bad,” just “right.” “Best effort” sound like a very rigid feeling, but ... we can see best effort of each being, and the plants and trees, animals, in our daily life. When springtime comes, in the very hard soil, pushing this hard soil, the seed sprouts and comes out from the ground. Time and the whole condition is right, with full effort, with best effort the flower blooms. I think “best effort” means very natural effort, well-balanced and well-harmonized with all conditions.

STUDENT: I wonder about that because sometimes I'm confronted with a situation which feels overwhelming. I think I have too much sense of self, but I tell myself, “Actually you have no limitations.” Should you just jump in or should you stay back if it threatens you?

KOBUN: Depends on each case, each occasion. When we keep self in any sense, we can't do anything. So in your words you say “jump into.” That “jump into” is you trust what you do. You accept a job and you do it.

STUDENT: How do you jump out? Sometimes you wonder, “Do I belong here, doing this?”

KOBUN: “Jump out” is to be free from it, finish it. The thing passes through you.

STUDENT: How do you know when you're rationalizing or deluding yourself? Do you always say, “Trust your intuition”?

KOBUN: Ya. In the human mind the most certain knowing is belief. The most stable and most certain thing is belief. This is my understanding about belief.

STUDENT: You said before that right effort had a feeling of naturalness about it. For myself, I have long ago forgotten how to be natural.

KOBUN: Maybe these three, four centuries, this word “nature” is very much twisted. It also means total acceptance of instincts. This is the more basic character of nature. The character of nature is suffering and the existence of suffering itself is very great pleasure. It involves sorrow, compassion. When you hear the city sound, like music, it all sounds like the tides of the ocean. When you go to a very high place, maybe in an airplane, to some degree you see the one whole thing, which can be discriminated various ways. You do not hear what they are talking but there is a certain one sound which you hear. On this level human talk and the barking of a dog, laughing of birds, wind in pine, sound of sunshine, all are exactly, in some sense, on this level.

Karuna is called compassion. That is what suffering means. We don't suffer without compassion. If we don't have compassion we never suffer. Because we are compassionate, wisdom appears in the suffering. And all our senses in this body, being, are a form of compassion.

Merit. Sunshine and energy is the merit of the sun. All of us and all so-called "nature" is the merit of the sun. We understand that when a very hot summer comes, and when the sun goes a little far from us, our body feels it.

STUDENT: Sensing the merit of something is sensing the source of it?

KOBUN: Umhm. This is a metaphor. If the sun disappeared, moon disappeared, maybe very quickly there would be no merit to you because of the disappearance of the sun. When I think about how we would keep living after the sun disappeared ....

STUDENT: We use electric blankets!

KOBUN: Electric blanket. It doesn't work when the sun disappears. It's a scary thing to speak this way but maybe we very seldom appreciate the sun. We are more open to the direct, physical, delicate merit of other people and things. The source we've always forgotten. At the same time we know the sun is not the real source, it's like father, mother. Here in a sense, is a deeper source which we really feel comfortable in. Death is one, and nothingness is one. We say “emptiness,” that is one. Of mother, we usually see “emptiness.” When we follow the son of the sun, or the father of the sun... that is God. Humans reflect themselves to something to really see what kind of beings we are. Always humankind have come through a trial of what can be. This is the reason why human beings have suffered so long time.

STUDENT: Did you say that death was something we could be easily comfortable in?

KOBUN: Umhm. I mean not death by thinking, actual one. For each of us, it comes certainly. The most certain thing is death. When I say “believe,” I believe that I die, that sometime I disappear. It is the most certain knowledge of all knowledge of myself.

STUDENT: Is that comfortable?

KOBUN: Ya. I feel very comfortable whenever I think of it. Very peaceful, because when I was little, before middle high school, death was charming, tempting thing. Before that it was a very, very scary thing. I hated to see that phenomena.

STUDENT: Yesterday I had a very strange experience with death. The eucalyptus trees had died from the growth of heavy groves, and I was driving through the park and the wind was rustling all the leaves and branches of the live trees. But none of the dead ones were moving. I suddenly had the feeling that was what “perfect” meant. Dead, static, finished. “Perfect” seemed very ugly, uncomfortable.

STUDENT: What's your feeling about birth? Are you comfortable with birth?

KOBUN: Birth.... Do you mean life? That's a little exciting!

STUDENT: Not so peaceful.

STUDENT: How do you cut off your suffering, and is it possible to cut off your suffering?

KOBUN: It is possible. It is behind you, so you don't need to worry about it.

STUDENT: Can you consciously do it? Sometimes I can just let go, but other times I hold on to my suffering as tightly as I can.

KOBUN: Nobody asked you to shoulder the earth. You don't need to suffer so much.

Steve: I think we'd like to cut it off in front of us instead of behind us!

KOBUN: If you cut the suffering in front of you, you have to die before doing it. Maybe I should say, behind or in front, same thing. The suffering is always dropped, don't you feel so? Fortunately this body of ours is quite limited. That is a great thing. When evening comes you become sleepy.... Sleep is, how can I say it, sleep is awake.

STUDENT: To go to sleep is to awaken?

KOBUN: Umhm.

STUDENT: It's a continuation of being awake. It's no different.

KOBUN: No different. Consciousness. For life awake and sleep is actually just like inbreath and outbreath. Work very hard in order to sleep well. It's like when you breathe very deep that the outbreath also becomes deep, too. Eating works the same way. Learning and teaching, also.

Breathing... some time you recognize it, to breathe is suffering.

STUDENT: So you can't cut it off.

STUDENT: Stop breathing!

KOBUN: I mean, in a very deep sense we cannot stop breathing, suffering. To continue breathing is suffering. This is not just a feeling, but to breathe this way is suffering. We look at the mother cat and kitten playing. Little creatures, they are. We have an idea about what is a cat, how short life they have. We directly come to a relation with other stages of life. The beauty, wonderfulness of life is the other side of suffering. When we really suffer, we recognize how beautiful thing it is. The suffering is always there.

STUDENT: The more compassion, the more suffering.


STUDENT: It gets worse instead of better!

STUDENT: Our compassion is limited by our body?

KOBUN: I feel that the body is just a line. It has no place, no space. Inside, outside, same thing. When I say your name, it's another name of the world.

STUDENT: I get the feeling that you're not lonely.


STUDENT: I realize more and more that loneliness is my fear and my suffering. I can go away from people and be quite content, but I will try to hang onto a person. Even though I remember the last time I did it I was quite content, I'm afraid next time I won't be. That's a noncompassionate state, isn't it? You can't be compassionate in that fear.

KOBUN: It is compassion too. To take a form is compassionate. If I was a magician and I disappeared, then said, “

KOBUN appear” and now appear, this appearing in this earth is compassion. Suffering is the same thing. Suffering is another term of wisdom. We don't suffer so much in the literal sense of suffering. We don't feel the suffering. Listen to the plants and they will teach us how they suffer, how they are glad to be, too.

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