The Blue Jay Will Come Right Into Your Heart

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by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

All the objects of the senses
interact and yet do not.
Interacting brings involvement.
Otherwise, each keeps its place.

In the last talk I explained how people stick to ji, “things.” That is usual. The characteristic of Buddha’s teaching is to go beyond things—beyond various beings, ideas, and material things. When we say “truth,” we usually mean something we can figure out. The truth that we can figure out or think about is ji. When we go beyond subjective and objective worlds, we come to the understanding of the oneness of everything, the oneness of subjectivity and objectivity, the oneness of inside and outside.

For instance, when you sit zazen you are not thinking about anything or watching anything. Your focus is four or five feet ahead of you, but you do not watch anything. Even though many ideas come, we do not think about them—they come in and go out, that’s all. We do not entertain various ideas—we do not invite them to stay or serve them food or anything. If they come in, okay, and if they go out, okay. That’s all. That is zazen. When we practice in this way, even though we do not try, our mind includes everything. We are not concerned about, nor do we expect, something that may exist beyond our reach.

Whatever we talk about at any moment is within our mind. Everything is within our mind. But usually we think there are many things: there is this, and this, and this out there. In the cosmos there are many stars, but right now we can only reach the moon. In a few years we may reach some other planets, and eventually we may reach some other solar system. In Buddhism, mind and being are one, not different. As there is no limit to cosmic being, there is no limit to our mind; our mind reaches everywhere. It already includes the stars, so our mind is not just our mind. It is something greater than the small mind that we think is our mind. This is our understanding.

Our mind and things are one. So if you think, “All this is mind,” that is so. If you think, “Over there is some other being,” that is also so. But more to the point, when Buddhists say “this” or “that” or “I,” that “this” or “that” or “I” includes everything. Listen to the tone of it rather than just the words.

Sound is different from noise. Sound is something that comes from your practice. Noise is something more objective, something that can bother you. If you strike a drum, the sound you make is the sound of your own subjective practice, and it is also the sound that encourages all of us. Sound is both subjective and objective.

In Japan we say hibiki. Hibiki means “something that goes back and forth like an echo.” If I say something, I will get feedback—back and forth. That is sound. Buddhists understand a sound as something created in our mind. I may think, “The bird is singing over there.” But when I hear the bird, the bird is me already. Actually, I am not listening to the bird. The bird is here in my mind already, and I am singing with the bird. Peep-peep-peep. If you think while you are studying, “The blue jay is singing above my roof, but its voice is not so good,” that thought is noise. When you are not disturbed by blue jays, blue jays will come right into your head, and you will be a blue jay, and the blue jay will be reading something, and then the blue jay will not disturb your reading. When we think, “The blue jay over my roof should not be there,” that thought is a more primitive understanding of being. Because of our lack of practice, we understand things in that way.


The More You Practice zazen, the more you will be able to accept something as your own, whatever it is. That is the teaching of jiji muge from the Kegon (Ch. Huayen) school. Jiji means “being that has no barrier, no disturbance.” Because things are interrelated, it is difficult to say, “This is a bird and this is me.” It is difficult to separate the blue jay from me. That is jiji muge.

The text says, “All the objects of the senses interact and yet do not.” Although things are interrelated, everyone—every being—can be the boss. Each one of us can be a boss because we are so closely related. If I say “Mel,” Mel is already not just Mel. He is one of Zen Center’s students, so to see Mel is to see Zen Center. If you see Mel you understand what Zen Center is. But if you think, “Oh, he is just Mel,” then your understanding is not good enough. You don’t know who Mel is. If you have a good understanding of things themselves, you will understand the whole world through things. Each one of us is the boss of the whole world. And when you have this understanding, you will realize that things are interrelated, yet they are also independent. Each one of us is completely and absolutely independent. There is nothing to compare. You are just you.

We have to understand things in two ways. One way is to understand things as interrelated. The other way is to understand ourselves as quite independent from everything. When we include everything as ourselves, we are completely independent because there is nothing with which to compare ourselves. If there is only one thing, how can you compare anything to it? Because there is nothing to compare yourself to, this is absolute independence—not interrelated, absolutely independent.

Now the text says, “All the objects of the senses.” The senses—our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body—are gates, and sense objects enter the gates. They are interrelated and at the same time independent. For eyes there is something to see, for ears there is something to hear, for the nose something to smell, for the tongue something to taste, for the body something to touch. There are five kinds of sense objects for the five sense organs. This is Buddhist common sense. Referring to them here in the poem is just a way of saying “everything.” It is the same as saying “flowers and trees, birds and stars, streams and mountains,” but instead we say “each sense and its objects.”

In Buddhism, mind and being are one, not different. As there is no limit to cosmic being, there is no limit to our mind; our mind reaches everywhere.

So the various beings that we see and hear are interrelated, but at the same time, each being is absolutely independent and has its own value. This value we call ri. Ri is that which makes something meaningful, not just theoretical. Even though you don’t attain enlightenment, we say you already have enlightenment. That enlightenment we call ri. The fact that something exists here means there is some reason for it. I don’t know the reason. No one knows. Everything must have its own value. It is very strange that no two things are the same. There is nothing to compare yourself to, so you have your own value. That value is not a comparative value or an exchange value; it is more than that. When you are just sitting zazen on the cushion you have your own value. Although that value is related to everything, that value is also absolute. Maybe it is better not to say too much.

“Interacting brings involvement.” A bird comes from the south in spring and goes back in the fall, crossing various mountains, rivers, and oceans. In this way, things are interrelated endlessly, everywhere.

Photo by Mette Welm

Photo by Mette Welm

“Otherwise, each keeps its place.” This means that even though the bird stays in some place, at some lake, for instance, his home is not only the lake but also the whole world. That is how a bird lives.

In Zen sometimes we say that each one of us is steep like a cliff. No one can scale us. We are completely independent. But when you hear me say so, you should understand the other side too—that we are endlessly interrelated. If you only understand one side of the truth, you can’t hear what I’m saying. If you don’t understand Zen words, you don’t understand Zen, you are not yet a Zen student. Zen words are different from usual words. Like a double-edged sword, they cut both ways. You may think I am only cutting forward, but no, actually I am also cutting backward. Watch out for my stick. Do you understand? Sometimes I scold a disciple—“No!” The other students think, “Oh, he has been scolded,” but it is not actually so. Because I cannot scold the one over there, I have to scold the one who is near me. But most people think, “Oh, that poor guy is being scolded.” If you think like that you are not a Zen student. If someone is scolded you should listen; you should be alert enough to know who is being scolded. This is how we train.


Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1904-1971) was a Soto Zen monk and teacher, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, and author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

From Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, Copyright ©1999 by The Regents of the University of California. Edited by Mel Weitsman and Michael Wenger. Reprinted with permission of University of California Press.

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