Little by Little, by Maezumi Roshi

Bodhidharma scroll. Photo: © Hazel WaghornWe can see in both Soto practice and Rinzai practice sudden and gradual aspects. We can say it is a continuous process — first practise, then sudden realization, then further practise   and   further  realization continuing endlessly. From the experiential point of view, the gradual and sudden aspects together are a gradual  process.

In Soto Zen we also emphasize the intrinsic point of view. In other words, from the beginning, practice and realization are one. Practice is this life, and realization is this life, and this life is revealed right here and now as each of us. Realization is nothing other than seeing this plain fact. Whether we realize it or not, it is the fact. Whether we practise five years or ten years or not at all, it is the plain fact. In each moment the Buddha Dharma is completely revealed as this life. Every instant appears and disappears as the absolute truth. What could be more sudden than this?

Whether we know it or not, this life is an abundant treasure house. The trouble is that, instead of taking care of it in the best way, we are just about strangling our own necks with it. This is why Dogen Zenji says, ‘This dharma is amply present in every person, but unless one practises it is not manifested, unless there is realization it is not attained. It is not a question of one or many; let loose of it and it fills your hands. It is not bounded vertically or horizontally; speak it and it  feels  your  mouth.’

There is a beautiful expression in Spanish, poco a poco, little by little. Our life is always poco a poco, and the way we practise poco a poco is zazen. In each moment, in each little by little step, the Buddha Dharma is completely revealed. So little is not little, it is boundless.

Instead of just talking about this or that and getting caught in extremes, how do we take care of the two sides? I’ll leave it to you. Our practice is always poco a poco. If you say it is little by little – fine. If you say little is not little — fine. If you say gradual, that’s okay. If you say sudden, that’s okay too.

To read more from Taizan Maezumi Roshi click here.

From an article first published in The Ten Directions in October 1981, and reproduced here by the kind permission of The Zen Center, Los Angeles.

Buddhism Now February 1990

Read some more Zen teachings from Dogen.

Read more teachings from Taizan Maezumi Roshi.

Categories: Buddhist meditation, Chan / Seon / Zen, Mahayana, Taizan Maezumi Roshi

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4 replies

  1. How many lifetimes does it take to get “sudden” realization?

    • Buddhism teaches sudden awakening. This becomes obvious once we see our tendency and attachment to delusion. Time has nothing to do with it.
      Hope this helps.

      • Why speak of “gradual” or “sudden” if it has nothing to do with time? Sorry for my confusion with Zen, it’s why I stopped practicing it and started practicing the Theravada. Am I to understand that it’s part of Zen practice to be constantly confused? In a state of questioning? _/\_ Thank you for your response.

      • No confusion Ed, most traditions have a ‘gradual and sudden’ wing, although they might not use those terms.

        Take a look at these Buddhadasa Bhikkhu posts especially Nirvana for Everyone

        Best wishes,



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