When you feel the oneness of everything, you naturally don’t want to harm anything.– Roshi Shunryu Suzuki
I love exploring quotes. What do I find when I look at this one?
WHY A FEELING?
First, why does he use the word “feel” in this quote?
After all, when our nature recognizes itself, it’s not a feeling. As they say in Zen, it’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It’s a love that’s not dependent on shifting states and feelings.
I imagine he may phrase it so it’s more relatable. He knows it’s not a feeling, but it’s an easy shorthand even if it’s also a bit misleading. And quotes always come in a context where it may make more sense.
He could also refer to a sense of oneness, a kind of intuition of oneness. That’s something that can happen before there is a more clear and direct noticing. That too would make it more relatable to more people.
FEELINGS RELATED TO OUR NATURE RECOGNIZING ITSELF
There can be feelings related to our nature recognizing itself. When it happened here, there were many, probably partly because this human self was an angsty teenager not at all prepared for it.
From what I remember, it was first mostly just recognition and a sense of finally coming home to the reality that’s always been and that I have always known even without consciously knowing it.
And then a little later a mix of amazement, wonder, awe, overwhelm, shock, enthusiasm, and more. These were my human reactions to it, the response from my human self. And they were very much colored by the personal situation and make-up of my human self.
There was also another feeling created by these responses and one that’s difficult to describe in words. It was a kind of very comfortable bliss, like a kind of blanket. And for a while, I got a bit attached to this feeling. (This particular feeling went away later.)
And there is also another kind of bliss inherent in this recognition, or in our nature. This is a quiet bliss that seems less related to my human response to it.
GETTING IT VISCERALLY
There is another side to this, and that is what happens when the recognition matures us into it. As we get more familiar with this new terrain, and as more parts of us align with it, we get it more viscerally. We get it more with our whole being. Our center of gravity shifts into it.
This too is not really a feeling in the way we typically use the word, but since it’s more visceral it also fits.
WHAT DOES THE QUOTE REFER TO?
All of this is peripheral to what the quote really refers to.
In a conventional sense, we are a human being in the world. That’s an assumption that works for most practical purposes. Here, not wanting to harm anything depends on conditioning, empathy, feelings, and so on.
When we explore what we are in our own first-person experience, we may find something else.
I find I more fundamentally am capacity for what happens in my sense fields, my content of experience. I am more fundamentally capacity for the world, for any sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, and mental image and word. I am more fundamentally capacity for anything any thought or sense may tell me I am.
I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what any content of experience happens within and as.
Said with other words, I find I am what a thought may call consciousness, and the world to me happens within and as the consciousness I am.
ONENESS AND NOT WANTING TO HARM
Here, there is oneness. The world to me is one.
And when the oneness I am recognizes itself, and explores how it is to live from this recognition, it’s natural to not want to harm anything. It would be like harming myself. It wouldn’t make sense.
This is not dependent on any changing feeling or state. It’s just dependent on the recognition. (Which is, in a way, a state – a state of recognition.)
OUR HUMAN SELF MAY NOT BE COMPLETELY ON BOARD
And yet, that’s not all that’s in play here.
Our nature may recognize itself, and doing harm may not make any sense.
And life is more complicated. In some situations, doing what seems the most right may bring some harm. For instance, right now, I have a family situation that requires me to be away from my cat. I know it brings her distress but something else takes priority. That’s just a simple example, but it’s the kind of situation we often find ourselves in.
Also, our human self may not be completely on board with oneness.
Our psyche and personality were typically formed within separation consciousness, and many parts of us may still operate from separation consciousness even after there is a more general recognition of oneness.
These parts of us inevitably color our perception and actions in the world. They sometimes get triggered more strongly. And we may even get caught up in them in some areas of life and at some times.
That’s part of the process too.
There is an interesting mirroring here.
When the oneness we are takes itself to most fundamentally be something within itself, a separate self, then not wanting to harm depends on conditioning, empathy, and so on.
And when it recognizes itself, then conditioning tends to interfere with living from and as oneness.
Of course, it’s not that black and white. In the first case, the oneness we are shines through often enough. And in the second case, much of our conditioning does support living from not wanting to harm ourselves or others.
WHY IS THE TITLE LAST?
Then there is something peripheral that I have been curious about from the first day of getting into Zen when I was twenty-four in Salt Lake City.
Why do we put the title after the name? Why do most say “Shunryu Suzuki Roshi”? It’s like saying “John Smith, priest” instead of “priest John Smith”.
Yes, they may do it in Japan, but that’s because several languages in Asia use a reverse order from us.
I like to put Roshi first.
And yes, I know this has to do with a few different parts of me. One that wants things to make sense to myself and others. A part of me that likes to investigate and look at things from different angles. And also a slightly contrarian part of me that ties into the two others.
WHY IS THE TITLE LAST?
The first that stands out is just a personal wondering and doesn’t matter, but it’s something that I have been curious about from the first day of getting into Zen when I was 24 in Salt Lake City. Why do we put the title after the name? Why do most say “Shunryu Suzuki Roshi”? It’s like saying “John Smith, priest”. Yes, they may do it in Japan, but it would be more natural for us to say “Roshi Shunryu Suzuki”. (And yes, I know this has to do with a few different parts of me. One that wants things to make sense to myself and others. A part of me that likes to investigate and look at things from different angles. And also a slightly contrarian part of me that ties into the two others.)