From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki.
NO TRACE “When you do something, you
should burn yourself completely, like a good
bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”
When we practice zazen our mind is calm and quite simple.
But usually our mind is very busy and complicated, and it
is difficult to be concentrated on what we are doing. This
is because before we act we think, and this thinking leaves
some trace. Our activity is shadowed by some preconceived
idea. The thinking not only leaves some trace or shadow,
but also gives us many other notions about other activities
and things. These traces and notions make our minds very
complicated. When we do something with a quite simple,
clear mind, we have no notion or shadows, and our activity
is strong and straightforward. But when we do something
with a complicated mind, in relation to other things or
people, or society, our activity becomes very complex.
Most people have a double or triple notion in one activity.
There is a saying, “To catch two birds with one stone.”
That is what people usually try to do. Because they want to
catch too many birds they find it difficult to be concentrated
on one activity, and they may end up not catching any birds
at all! That kind of thinking always leaves its shadow on their
activity. The shadow is not actually the thinking itself. Of
course it is often necessary to think or prepare before we
act. But right thinking does not leave any shadow. Thinking
which leaves traces comes out of your relative confused
mind. Relative mind is the mind which sets itself in relation
to other things, thus limiting itself. It is this small mind
which creates gaining ideas and leaves traces of itself.
If you leave a trace of your thinking on your activity, you
will be attached to the trace. For instance, you may say,
“This is what I have done!” But actually it is not so. In your
recollection you may say, “I did such and such a thing in
some certain way,” but actually that is never exactly what
happened. When you think in this way you limit the actual
experience of what you have done. So if you attach to the
idea of what you have done, you are involved in selfish ideas.
Often we think what we have done is good, but it may
not actually be so. When we become old, we are often very
proud of what we have done. When others listen to someone
proudly telling something which he has done, they will feel
funny, because they know his recollection is one-sided. They
know that what he has told them is not exactly what he did.
Moreover, if he is proud of what he did, that pride will
create some problem for him. Repeating his recollections
in this way, his personality will be twisted more and more,
until he becomes quite a disagreeable, stubborn fellow. This
is an example of leaving a trace of one’s thinking. We should
not forget what we did, but it should be without an extra
trace. To leave a trace is not the same as to remember
something. It is necessary to remember what we have done,
but we should not become attached to what we have done
in some special sense. What we call “attachment” is just
these traces of our thought and activity.
In order not to leave any traces, when you do something,
you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should
be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely,
like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky
fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not
burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in
what you do. You will have something remaining which is
not completely burned out. Zen activity is activity which
is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes.
This is the goal of our practice. That is what Dogen meant
when he said, “Ashes do not come back to firewood.” Ash
is ash. Ash should be completely ash. The firewood should
be firewood. When this kind of activity takes place, one
activity covers everything.
So our practice is not a matter of one hour or two hours,
or one day or one year. If you practice zazen with your whole
body and mind, even for a moment, that is zazen. So moment
after moment you should devote yourself to your practice.
You should not have any remains after you do something.
But this does not mean to forget all about it. If you understand
this point, all the dualistic thinking and all the problems
of life will vanish.
When you practice Zen you become one with Zen. There
is no you and no zazen. When you bow, there is no Buddha
and no you. One complete bowing takes place, that is all.
This is Nirvana. When Buddha transmitted our practice to
Maha Kashyapa, he just picked up a flower with a smile.
Only Maha Kashyapa understood what he meant; no one else
understood. We do not know if this is a historical event or
not, but it means something. It is a demonstration of our
traditional way. Some activity which covers everything is
true activity, and the secret of this activity is transmitted
from Buddha to us. This is Zen practice, not some teaching
taught by Buddha, or some rules of life set up by him. The
teaching or the rules should be changed according to the
place, or according to the people who observe them, but
the secret of this practice cannot be changed. It is always
So for us there is no other way to live in this world. I
think this is quite true; and this is easy to accept, easy to
understand, and easy to practice. If you compare the kind
of life based on this practice with what is happening in this
world, or in human society, you will find out just how valuable
the truth Buddha left us is. It is quite simple, and practice
is quite simple. But even so, we should not ignore it; its
great value must be discovered. Usually when it is so simple
we say, “Oh, I know that! It is quite simple. Everyone
knows that.” But if we do not find its value, it means nothing.
It is the same as not knowing. The more you understand
culture, the more you will understand how true and how
necessary this teaching is. Instead of only criticizing your
culture, you should devote your mind and body to practicing
this simple way. Then society and culture will grow out of
you. It may be all right for the people who are too attached
to their culture to be critical. Their critical attitude means
they are coming back to the simple truth left by Buddha.
But our approach is just to be concentrated on a simple
basic practice and a simple basic understanding of life. There
should be no traces in our activity. We should not attach
to some fancy ideas or to some beautiful things. We should
not seek for something good. The truth is always near at
hand, within your reach.