Some years ago I had the occasion to visit San Francisco Zen Center. The founder of the center, Suzuki Roshi, has a shine dedicated to him and it is customary to make bows in such a place, to remember and honour the monk so enshrined. Like so many people in the early days of Zen in the west, I was influenced by his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Always and am forever grateful for that encounter.
Only afterwards did I discover why there were SO many frogs (toys, small models etc.) enshrined with him! In a lecture, published in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and partly published below, he talks about ‘sitting like a frog’. That is, being completely there, being a frog, attentive, present. Ready to move and respond to circumstances, ‘Ah! a fly’! ‘Catch it’! ‘Ah! the phone rings, answer it’. We call that ‘reflexive action’. Note the word reflexive. One can react, jump out of one’s skin, so to speak, i.e. react. Or one can respond out of awareness and presence. This is a condition one aspires to, all day long – aware and present.
In this way we should understand our way. And in this way we should understand our life and we should practice our way in this…with this understanding. And we should solve our problem in this way. Just to work on the problem…if you are always working on the problem, that is enough. When you are polishing the tile, that is our practice. The purpose of practice is not to make a tile a jewel. So as long as you are sitting, that is practice in its true sense. So it is not a matter of whether it is possible to attain Buddhahood, or if it is possible to make a tile a jewel. But just to work, just to live in this world with this understanding is the most important point, and that is our practice. That is true zazen. So we say, ‘When you eat, you eat’. You should eat it, you know. Sometimes we don’t eat it. Even though we are eating, our mind is somewhere else. You do not taste what you have in your mouth. So I say, ‘Oh, I am sorry but soon you will see the bright sunrise every morning and a beautiful sunset in the evening, every evening, but right now perhaps you…under your situation, it may be impossible to see the beautiful sunset or bright sunrise, or beautiful flower in your garden, and it is impossible to take care of your garden, but soon you will see the beauty of the flowers and you will cut some flowers for your room.’ When you start to do this kind of thing you are alright. Don’t worry a bit. It means when you become you, yourself, and when you see things as they are, and when you become at one with your surrounding, in its true sense, there is a true self. There you have true practice; you have the practice of a frog. He is a good example of our practice. So when a frog becomes a frog, Zen becomes Zen. When you understand a frog through and through, you attain enlightenment. You are Buddha. And you are a good wife or good daughter. That is zazen.
San Francisco Zen Center Blog – 1967 talk
This is for the person, many miles away across the seas who was honoured to have a frog sit beside them for 20 mins. Just sitting. May you continue on, in good health. The frog has spoken!