Shinichi Suzuki Sensei’s
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Onegaishimasu. Good evening, everyone. Thank you for coming. Tonight I will read you Tohei Sensei’s Shokushu #11, “The Essence of Ki.”
“We begin with the number one in counting all things. It is impossible that this one, even reduced to infinitely small particles of itself, can ever become zero. Because, just as something cannot come from nothing, one can never arise from zero. Universal Ki is the infinite gathering of infinitely small particles. This universal Ki condensed becomes an individual, which further condensed becomes the One Point in the lower abdomen, which in turn infinitely condensed, never becomes zero. In this way, we are one with the universe. Thus, we realize the essence of Ki.”
Don’t worry, Be happy. We can say that this is a kind of even-mindedness, or maybe “equanimity.” It reminds us that we do not want to get trapped worrying about something that has very little consequence. In addition, when we worry about altering the inevitable, we are of course thinking about finding a fix for something that we are not able to fix. Even when it seems we find an external solution to a problem, ultimately the problem may return again and again, until we have seen it through to it’s very cause within us. We may feel a compelling urge to cause a change of some kind, to concern our self deeply about making something happen. If so, this is the main thing that Suzuki Sensei was talking about, why he made the fourth of these principles.
We all have a habit of getting caught up in the moment and losing our perspective. Here we are pointing to simply maintaining perspective; remembering what counts, ultimately, and what does not count. Every teacher advises us to live with awareness of the present. Yes, let’s live in the moment. However, if we are in awareness, we find that there is no moment here that we can point to! It’s just always this, what’s happening right now, here, this infinite movement, with no beginning and no end. When we’re not thinking about the past or the future, our awareness is of this river of constantly moving, always changing, phenomenon.
We notice that when we worry about something we’re always dwelling in the past or the future. It may be worrying about something that we said or did that we feel maybe we shouldn’t have. Or it’s worrying that we could have done something better, and this then extends to the future, thinking about all the things that might go wrong tomorrow, what someone else might say to us, or how something might not work out right. Our awareness is so often taken up by something else besides here and now, isn’t it?
I would suggest that this way of using our attention seems to arise out of a kind of ignorance. By “ignorance” I mean we are making our small selfish mind, or ego, the essential doer of everything, the fixer, the only one that counts. This means we are taken up by a perception that is not reflected by the clues provided to us in the present. Ignorance = ignoring the clues.
Some teachers remind us that living life fully is like a dance. When we are dancing, we are not looking for a result, but simply enjoying dancing for itself. And just like when we are dancing, there is a rhythm to life that must be perceived and followed, joyously. This is never a slog, but a cheerful opportunity for which to be grateful and enjoy. Hence, “Don’t worry, Be happy”!
If we’re busy worrying, we can’t be happy at the same time. So, maybe the answer to “be happy” is the same as the answer to “don’t worry.” And that is to be in a state of presence and gratitude for being alive, always. In the beginning, this may seem unreasonably difficult, but it basically just means we don’t allow ourselves to get too wrapped up in things. We don’t over-emotionalize things. As we practice this way, be will begin to notice that we have always assumed our small mind is the center of success in our lives, that our ego self is the one that gets things done. This basically means we are believing that this is how change happens, that we are responsible for evolution itself.
To learn to be skillful about doing anything, or “accomplishing great things,” as Tohei Sensei talks about, is to learn to allow life to take place without our personal arrogant hindrance. Someone was asking me, “Don’t you ever have the compelling urge to correct someone?” Yes, of course. I think everyone does, at least once in a while. However, most of the people that we have the compelling urge to correct, didn’t ask us for that correction and do not make themselves available to us for that reason. It may or may not be true that we have something valuable to share with others, and it may or may not be true that we’re more experienced than the ones we feel obliged to correct. However, the bottom line is always that the other person must first ask us for advice if we are to offer anything to them at all.
You folks right here are a good example of this. Even if you are not active students of Ki Society, you have joined my class here when I’m teaching. This basically means that you are seeking a deeper understanding, at least of Ki Aikido, so it then becomes my responsibility to say these things because of this request. However, for example, my personal family rarely asks me to address these kinds of questions, so in that case I do not offer these kinds of discussions to my family at all. Even if I have what feels like a compelling reason to do so, I must resist doing so.
Advice only helps us when we ask and are open to it, right? Otherwise, we don’t want to hear it. We’re not interested. Even when we ask and someone responds, even then, sometimes we may not appreciate the answer.
Here is where all four of these principals are important to keep in mind. “So What?, Do Nothing, Be Natural. Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” These may sound like commands, do nothing, be natural, don’t worry, be happy. When we receive this kind of advice, even when we have asked for it, it can seem like something that we are being ordered to do. And then, how can we be expected to do these things when one of the four things is “do nothing”? The whole teaching around these four principles, and in a larger sense, the whole teaching of Suzuki Sensei, and originally Koichi Tohei Sensei, is basically learning how to leave ourselves alone, so that we can function at our optimum. We want to keep our hands out of the proverbial wind-whipped pond and wait for the mind-wind to calm and the mind-waves to subside, allowing the situation to become peaceful by itself. We allow the universe to have its way with us. We live our lives in concert with the universe and allow speaking and acting when it is time, and not before. This again is learning to dance with the rhythm of the universe.
Basically, a good rule is, if we feel the compelling urge to speak, we do not speak. When the time comes, the situation will let us know when it’s time to speak and then we can express our great piece of wisdom. Ironically, often once we have allowed a conversation to run its course, we will no longer find the need to say anything at all.
This is the last of these Four Principles of Suzuki Sensei’s teaching. So, I would like to ask you to speak about it yourself. I want to hear what you have to say. You may have a question, or you may have a comment.
Student: Hi, Sensei. The urge to get involved in something, to speak or not to speak, and not worry about what would happen if you did or didn’t speak up, sometimes is based on “Should I just not do it or should I do it while choosing my words carefully?” This can lead to confusion.
Yes. There’s a well-known movie that came out a few years ago called “The Bridge of Spies.” In the movie, Mark Rylance plays a Russian spy who has been captured by the United States, and Tom Hanks plays the part of his lawyer. The lawyer is explaining to the spy that the U.S. authorities are possibly going to execute him. The spy seems to be quite calm and not at all concerned about this. His lawyer notices this and says, “Excuse me, but do you understand that they may execute you for this? Why are you not worried?” The spy says to him, “Would it help?”
Student: I see.
When or if it will help to worry in some way, you will know it. It will be clear. See, the dilemma that we are tortured about is this question you asked, “Should I or should I not?” But this is a false dilemma, because whatever we do from our own small mind’s intention, whichever side we choose, we are very likely getting in the way unnecessarily.
On the other hand, each of us is the center of the universe, so whatever we do is necessary, from this perspective. Both doing and non-doing are possibilities at the same time. These are always two sides of the same coin. When we come upon two sides to a question, whether to do this or that, even if each side is supported by incontrovertible evidential argument, our true practice is to hold them both in our mind at the same time. We just let these two apparent opposites rest in us. We don’t necessarily choose one over the other. We don’t try to reconcile them or balance the two options.
We wait. Eventually, both views can be seen as arising from a common source. This is what we mean by “two sides of the same coin.” Only now we see the whole coin itself. Once we can see the entire picture that gives rise to two opposing views, then we can rest and allow our words or actions to respond accordingly.
In some schools of Zen Buddhism, the teacher often asks a question of us that has no reasonable answer, like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “What was your face before you parents were born?” These kinds of questions are known as “koan” and everyday life is filled with them. In fact, if we pay very close attention, we will see that our lives are built of these very unanswerable questions, or impossible choices. When we don’t notice this, it means that we are living based upon conceptual assumptions.
This is one way of expressing what we call “living in the dual/non-dual reality,” and it cannot be approached conceptually. This is how it is that Tohei Sensei’s “shoga” (the relative view) and “taiga” (the absolute view) are not seen as opposites. The relative condition is finally seen as a subset of the absolute condition. When that begins to be experienced, the physical world of people and things does not disappear. Instead, it becomes infinitely more clear, with a feeling of being indescribably present and full of meaning. The mirror that is this universe finally reflects clearly who and what we are.
To be skillful, to master this, is to understand this and learn to listen in such a way that even when we’re speaking, we’re listening. We are always allowing evolution to take place in our lives. We are not trying to get in and fix the small broken part that we see, simply because our view has identified it and is obsessed with it. It is simply not possible for us to see the whole picture. These principals are asking us to pause a moment and “take a long view” or “see the big picture.” Of course, there is ultimately no way we can actually see the whole of the big picture. It’s too big, too complex. There are simply too many implications suggested by every single thing that happens, even if it’s a tiny part of some whole. Should I kill this mosquito on my desk or not? No matter how small, you cannot see the implications of this kind of action, not even in a relative sense, let alone in an ultimate sense. We just cannot see the infinite number of possibilities. However, if we listen and open our minds, we often are able to catch a bit more of the implied meaning for us in any situation. Again, this is allowing the mirror universe to support us.
The whole idea of deliberating any question, “should I or should I not” is fairly delusional. The reason we teach gratitude so much is that to recognize and respect life itself is the path to humility, a path that helps us to not get in the way as much as we tend to want to.
Student: Thank you, Sensei.
Okay. Thank you. Someone else, please.
Student: Sensei, this is easier said than done! Do you have any techniques or approaches for helping people when they notice something like, “Oh shit, I’m worrying about this too much,” or “I’m not in the moment”? What can I do to hit the reset button? Can you expound on something like that?
Well yes. In Ki Society we say, “Keep One Point.”
Student: But again, what if I’m trying and it’s not working?
You know, the one thing that everybody always says to me is, “Yes, Sensei, I do understand that, but how can I do that?” Actually, if you do understand, then what you understand is that there is nothing to do, as such. It goes back to why Tohei Sensei gave us his Four Basic Principles, “Keep One Point, Relax Completely, Keep Weight Underside, and Extend Ki.” He told us these are just four ways of looking at the same thing. You used the word “reset.” Well, this is resetting. When we’re really going crazy, some people might just say “Take a deep breath,” and that alone can be a great help. Just take a deep breath. But of course, this thing will come back and come back. So, Keeping One Point is something we do right at the moment, yes, but also he says “Keep,” so to me that means we must continue to rest in this One Point always.
As you said, it may be “easier said than done,” but this is why we practice. Nobody is expert at this in the beginning. It takes time to become skillful because it’s changing the way our mind operates. We are learning to Keep One Point as an automatic reset. Most people don’t even know that such a thing is a possibility, let alone that it is required of us. Once we do recognize that this is how we reduce suffering for ourselves and others, then it becomes advisable to practice doing that as much as possible.
Shinichi Tohei Sensei gives us a Ki Test, and we may notice that our One Point comes up a bit. When this happens, he says “Your one point is up a little bit.” At this point, some tend to get serious and treat it as a problem to be solved. But this is not it at all. Sensei tells us that we must become skillful enough that when we reset, it’s like that [snaps fingers], in an instant. It’s not like we must go somewhere and be alone for an hour and get over it. That would be self-indulgence. No. He says we just let it go right now. That’s it. Boom, it’s done. We need to practice this so much that we can instantly let go of our clinging to a fix for a problem, without ignoring or hiding it in any way. This is not burying something, and it’s not avoiding. This is not saying we don’t have feelings or don’t recognize something. It’s knowing and being in it and accepting it for what it is. And this is our practice.
One other thing. I think it was the Dalai Lama who said, “There are three things that are really important in life: love, humor, and work.” He says that we need all three of these to be happy. Why is humor so important? Humor is important as exemplified by these Four Principles of Suzuki Sensei’s. He was a very happy, humorous person. Anybody who was often with him knew that he never took things too seriously, at least not in a self-indulgent kind of way. He could be deadly serious, and he could get to the point rapidly with you, if that’s what was required. But about himself he had a great sense of humor. That’s a lightness of being. That’s the way to allowing ourselves not to worry, not to get caught up in it all. Again, after being close to him for over 35 years, my take on his teaching is really encapsulated in these Four Principles leading to freedom from stress. He spent his entire life learning to take things lightly, to hold things lightly.
We often teach not to mind about something. Some take this to mean the teaching is not to care. But no, it doesn’t mean don’t care. It means we are able to care by not minding. So, take whatever it is seriously, but have a light and humorous perspective about it. Train hard but maintain humility and enjoy it. This is something that must be second nature to a person that trains a lot. This cannot happen without enjoyment.
Well, this answers your question?
Student: Yes, Sensei. Thank you.
Student: Your last comments kind of answered my question because I was thinking that, given the severity of this Covid19 pandemic that we’re living through, would one not seem callus to be not worrying and being happy in the face of so much suffering? But then what you said is “care but don’t mind.” That clarified it for me.
Yes, don’t let it get the best of you.
Student: Yeah. Then your comments on silence reminded me of the comment by Abraham Lincoln, “Rather be silent and risk looking a fool than speak and leave no shadow of a doubt.”
Very good! I like that.
I recently was listening to a young Tibetan Buddhist teacher. I only saw him speaking for maybe just 10 minutes on the computer, but I was incredibly taken with this person.
He didn’t say anything special really…no words like Abraham Lincoln’s there, nothing brilliant really. He was just sitting and talking with his students, and as I listened, I wondered what is it that compels us so much about a certain person? In this case, I decided that it was his innate humor. He didn’t make any jokes, as such. But his sense of humor about himself and about the dilemma of this practice came through everything he said. That is, the paradox of this practice, that we must have a goal and to train hard and go for it and if we don’t do that we’ll never wake up, but at the same time that is the very thing that will keep us from waking up! This irony is loaded with irony and entirely humorous. Of course, this is not something that can be resolved in a conceptual or logical way. This kind of thing is humorous simply because of our inability to go in two directions at the same time.
So, when we feel humility and we feel a sense of gratitude, then to me, what goes right with this is not taking ourselves too seriously. This attitude promotes humor. It’s having a lightness of being, holding all things lightly. We can’t just make that happen. We can’t create that or achieve it. Do you know why? Because it’s already here. It’s not something that we’re missing and need to acquire. It is something that we notice. We just leave things alone a little bit. We get over ourselves. And then we don’t worry, and we can be happy.
Yes, this is a very trying time and there are people suffering all over, and that can be very worrying. It’s not that that doesn’t concern us. It’s not that we don’t care that people are going through this, but our small mind, the selfish mind, the mind that would mull over that, cannot find a solution by worrying. That worrying will not help anybody. If we care, then when we have the opportunity to sit for a few minutes with someone who is suffering, what’s the best thing we could do? Maybe share an irony, or a humorous story with them, or anything that will lighten their own worries a little bit. Or maybe just being there with them is enough. I think this implies something very profound, in terms of how we treat each other, and so also the importance of these four teachings.
These teachings from Suzuki Sensei have been very supportive to me, personally, because they helped to open me up. As most everyone, I have been one that could take himself very seriously at times. And of course, in some sense there is not really an end to that. Meaning that, even now, as I am teaching these Four Principles of Suzuki Sensei’s to you folks, they are being reviewed for me too. I’m sharing this with you now only because of how much I have been, and continue to be, moved by these teachings.
Student: There is always this little voice in my head that makes it difficult for me to decide whether the thing that I’m experiencing is true or not. For instance, when I sit in meditation, and something from your teaching comes up for me, my voice may be telling me, “This is what he meant. This is what he was talking about, isn’t it?” And then I wonder if this is my imagination creating this experience, or is it real?
Give me an example of this.
Student: Okay. So, for instance, I love to walk in the woods. While I am walking, I start thinking about the training and the practice that we have and the stories and so on and then somehow something catches my eye. It could be a tree, and it looks so different all of a sudden. Is this my imagination coming from this story that I was remembering? In other words, am I seeing this tree in a different way because of what you may have said to me, or is it real?
What’s the difference? Don’t worry, be happy. Of course. Everything is real, even on the surface, and then there is always something more. I say that because everything we experience in the relative world is kind of like looking through a screen. It’s not that it’s not real, but it’s not the whole of reality. We can say that what we see on the surface is a kind of reality, but there’s always something else peeking through, if we really look. We cannot say that any moment of seeing comes about independent of what we have learned in the past. We are all of that now, and so it colors everything we perceive.
Try this mirror exercise. Just stand in front of a mirror and gaze at yourself for 15 or 20 minutes. You will realize right away that you don’t normally see your face this way when just looking at yourself to shave or brush your hair. Maybe you will notice that you don’t look like you thought you did. You do, of course, on a very superficial level, but there’s much more to all of this “seeing” thing than what we may notice at first, unless we really learn how to look. The key is seeing what’s behind what we see. The same thing is true of a sunset or even just a tree. In my garden here, if I sit with a tree and look at it for a while, of course I begin to see the possibilities that are suggested or implied through this tree. There is no end to what is “real” about any moment. What is profound about this process of seeing into what surrounds us every day, is often simply seeing that which we never considered was possible.
I would suggest that, when you are walking, and contemplating what is “reality,” and you suddenly see a tree differently, that is simply a peek at an as-yet-unknown possibility.
When we notice something in particular, as we are walking along and contemplating, it is always pointing mirror-like to whatever is currently passing through our mind. So what is real there? What we see may be much more profound than whatever we were considering when we were walking along there. But I am saying that it’s not divorced from it. It’s pointing to it. And everything, every moment is a revelation like this. There is nothing wasted in this life. There’s no moment that is squandered, because that’s all there is, this moment. So how could it be that one moment is more important than another?
This is why I always say, “just notice.” Don’t try to figure stuff out. That’s just like worrying. It’s debating with yourself. It’s going back and forth about something. Just be quiet, Keep One Point. We only make assumptions because we are uncomfortable not knowing. But if we can have a beginner’s mind, a mind of query, then we will be free to listen with care. Notice what’s happening, not just inside you, but outside too, because there’s no real difference. It’s all you. You’re perceiving it all so it’s all you. Everything we are experiencing here is offering a revelation to us.
If we can just see it, if we can just listen and be calm enough and humble enough and grateful enough, then we will begin to truly notice. That is, in itself, the practice. Don’t you think so?
Student: I think so.
Okay. You don’t really need more instruction than that if you just practice that. Next time I see you you’ll say how did you say that last time? Of course, that’s why we have a relationship. That’s why we’re together so we can constantly be supporting each other this way.
Student: I have one question, Sensei. If you’re a teacher and you embrace these principles, how does that or how should that impact your teaching style?
That’s a good question. You know the answer to that already. When Suzuki Sensei turned over the teaching to me after years of preparation, I did my very best to teach exactly what he taught. He taught on Wednesday night and then I taught on Friday night, and so I would just repeat on Friday night what he taught on Wednesday night. I was very good at repeating just what he was teaching, and I thought things were going well.
Then one of the other teachers, Larry Shishido Sensei, who was older than I was and more experienced, came and sat and watched my class one night. Afterward, he called me over to talk for a minute. He said, “That was a good rendition of Suzuki Sensei’s teaching. But when are we going to see what you have to offer as a teacher?” This had never occurred to me. I was completely in the dark about that. I thought that I was supposed to be teaching exactly what Suzuki Sensei was teaching.
This, of course, meant that I was not listening and living in the moment at all. I was parroting what had come before. It may have been informative, even impressive, but perhaps kind of dull…you know, not very alive and inspiring. I really appreciated Suzuki Sensei’s teaching, and I thought what I was doing was okay. But after that I began to understand that it wasn’t real, because I was not him teaching. This was me imitating his teaching. And only when I started to learn to listen and be truly happy with this moment, did my teaching began to change.
So, to answer your question, I think these principles are calling for us to honestly reflect our spirit as a teacher. As a teacher, we must never repeat just what someone else says. We may point to something our teacher has taught in the past, which happens very often, but then we must be experiencing what we are saying when we say it.
It’s not a matter of giving somebody else credit. It’s not even about trying to be original. There’s no such thing as an original idea, in any case. Whatever comes up when we are teaching, it must be alive. That is what is meant by “original.” We may repeat a teaching many times, but even so, it must be new to us in the moment that we speak of it.
Being natural is not being artificial. It’s being original like this. There’s nothing original in this whole universe when seen based on history, and yet every single aspect of every single moment is unique and original, when seen based on living. It simply must be lived. As Suzuki would say, “living life completely in the present moment.”
This is his life and death teaching to us.
Thank you. And thank you, everybody.