An Immovable Rock

David Chadwick tells this story about Suzuki Roshi in To Shine One Corner of the World:

There was a big boulder in the Tassajara creek that Suzuki Roshi said he wanted for his rock garden. Every day four or five of us went down to the creek during the silent work period and struggled to move the boulder by various devices and means. Each one of us was secure in the knowledge that somehow we were going to move that stone to his rock garden, which was quite a distance away. After a week the rock hadn’t budged, but no one was about to break the silence or give up. One day Suzuki Roshi came down to the creek and struggled along with us. Some visitors called down from the bridge to ask what we were doing.

Suzuki Roshi called up, “We don’t know!”


Shinshu s Commentary:

We hear a lot about “don’t know” in Zen. What kind of “don’t know” is this? When we have a problem that just doesn’t seem to have an answer “don’t know” is the place to be. When we are beside ourselves and can’t find any solution, then “don’t know.” Why? “Don’t know” is an open mind, a ready mind, a relaxed mind. “Don’t know” is saying “I don’t know.” When we can admit that, a certain ease may come. We may look to others and consider and see what we had not seen before.

Suzuki Roshi worked with his students with a sense of solidarity and perhaps he thought he could help. His help was probably practical, but his humor and “don’t know” was the teaching. Maybe the rock is a metaphor for our life. We do this, we do that. Is it moving? Is it helping? What kind of mind do we bring to this life? Is it fixed? Is it rigid? Does it matter if the rock is moved? Maybe, maybe not. We always come back to the circumstances. But whatever the circumstances, the mind of “don’t know” will always be helpful.

Did the rock ever make it to the garden, “I don’t know.” But, I suspect it did.

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