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Zendo Lecture

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Good evening. I don't think I'd ever heard that fan running before. I was kind of surprised coming in to realize that the air in here was going to be a little cooler. I was thinking of attending many late-night talks and giving some late-night talks like this. Well, this is late-night Tassajara time. Watching the bobbing heads of the dedicated Zen students. Well, let's see. Let's see if this has any effect. Tassajara is an amazing place. As I was waiting over beside the abbot's cabin and listening to the sands. You know, you can listen to the sands and you know what's going on. You hear the footsteps going up the stairs


to the zendo. The crunch of the rocks. The miscellaneous voices becoming fewer and fewer as the place sort of quiets down. And the crickets picking up. It's a time at night when the crickets sort of burst into song. A very enlightening meditation. Cricket listening meditation. If you listen carefully, you hear a whole series of different rhythms. Some of them in relationship to each other and then some of them just like going off all on their own. Like on a jazz special. And Tassajara has this kind of intimacy that's created out of knowing. You know, for those of us who've been here for a while,


we become familiar with what rocks are in front of what doors. It's very different. I live in San Francisco. You know, someone drives up the street. You have no idea where they're coming from or where they're going or whether they're happy or sad. Whether they've just broken up with their lover. Whether they've just won the lottery. Just this mysterious event passing by. Not that the intimacy is easy. It's a mix. It's a mixed blessing. Like our lives. They're a mixed blessing. That's what makes practice peculiar. It's more like a love-hate


relationship than a straight love relationship. As you practice awareness and you get to know yourself, then some things you'd rather not know. There's a Japanese saying that says, a problem lived with for ten years becomes a blessing. This is our practice. You just live with yourself. And then those places where you tend to get stuck. You know, those ways in which you tend to overreact or pull back or have a hard time admitting. Just keep staying close to them and eventually something amazing happens to them. They open up a Dharma gate. They become a teacher. They show you right in the middle of them that there's


liberation. I'd like to talk about this this evening in this way. I'd like to read a piece of it's a statement that's made in the middle of one of our initiation ceremonies. Priest Ordination. In the Zen world our ceremonies are a kind of ritualized wisdom. Somehow we in re-entering the ritual, the attempt to re-manifest the innate wisdom that has brought it about. It's very much the spirit of Zen practice. Every one of us


is challenged to discover directly for ourselves what the practice is and how do we liberate it. No one's going to do it for us. So here's the thing. In this world of birth and death when we realize our imperturbable way-seeking mind Bodhi is right at hand. This very beginner's mind Bodhisattvas know as immeasurably deep and wide not even a Buddha can define it. ... ... In this world of birth and death. So the imagery in Zen is that when we drop all our baggage, when we let go of all our anxieties and yearnings something is given birth to.


... It's like the opposite of our conventional world. We live and then we die. In Zen world we die and then we live. Several months ago I was in Northern Ireland where I grew up and there's a euphemistically called peace wall it's a 30 foot high barrier that divides Protestants from Catholics and it's so high so they can't throw rocks or bombs or bricks at each other over the top. But on the top of this so-called peace wall there's a whole lot of graffiti and there's one graffiti that says, is there life before death? ... And interestingly all the television crews from around the world of all the slogans that were written on it, that was the one they all honed in on


and sent around the world. So somehow we all get it. What is it to be alive? ... ... ... A couple of weeks ago we actually did an ordination ceremony for someone who's close to death. He literally has weeks to live. It was amazing to go through this initiation with someone who knows the fragility of his own existence in this world of birth and death. So sometimes Buddhist teachings are quite ferocious. They want to remind us


you are going to die. ... But I'm going to come at it from a different angle this evening. We'll save that one for later. There's a different kind of death in this end world. It's pointed at our finder, Shinryu Suzuki Roshi. In one of his lectures he said ... [...]


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... ... ... than trying to protect ourselves from it. When we realize imperturbable way-seeking life, imperturbable. Perturbable, I think, means to be disturbed, to be anxious. Imperturbable, to not be disturbed, to not be caught up in feeling anxious. So how do we engender that? How is that state of being? Maybe we think, well, let's go to a hot springs, deep in a valley,


surrounded by wilderness, where the food's good, and they have hot baths, and it's serene. Yeah. Yet when you live here, you find, imperturbable mind is not so simple as just creating the right surroundings. You bring something with you, as does all the other people here. Now the key is in way-seeking mind. This is the heroic activity of awareness. So we pause. And then, you know, quite literally,


we pause, we make contact, we engage, and we pass through. And actually there is no we passing through. The next moment recreates itself, and we're just part of it. So we pause before the inhale. We pause before the exhale. We pause to taste the dessert. We pause to feel our body slip into the warm water of the plunge. And we let the warm water undo us. Not knowing what's body and what's water. Not knowing where I end,


and everything else begins. Not knowing I'm this size, I'm this weight, I have this idea, I have this identity. In that moment, body and water, water and body are not separate. So this is the engagement. And then more usually, what's experienced is the separation. So we have some sense of engagement. Literally the word in Zen is immersion. Immersion. And when we're immersed,


there's no separation. But our life is separation. That's what comes up. We get in the water, and we immediately think, this is wonderful. As soon as I'm done, I'm going to go over to the office and see if I can stay an extra night. Or if you're a student, you think, oh, I better hurry up. I have to get to evening service. No. Don't dawdle. So way-seeking mind says, oh, separation. What is it to reconnect? What is it to turn what seems to be an obstacle into a bridge of connection? So when we can catch this flavor


of relating, this way of relating, it's a wonderful gift in our lives. So sometimes we enter directly with something like, what's happening? And when the answer is simple, separation, we can ask, okay, what is it to practice with this? This person really annoys me. Okay, what is it to practice with that? How do I not get stuck there? How do I not get stuck in feeling separate and different and hostile with this person? This is way-seeking mind in Zen talk. What's the way


back to connection? And the way back is something is asking to be undone. That which is creating the separation. What's my hostility about? Why does this person feel so different? What's what's going on? How do I practice with this? This is way-seeking mind. So normally


our mind is filled with other kinds of agendas, other kinds of questions. How can I be happy? How can I be loved? How can I avoid the things that might cause me pain or suffering? So way-seeking mind makes a shift. It simply says, how do I wake up in the middle of this? How do I get in touch with everything that's going on right now? How do I feel this feeling? Be clear about the thoughts going through my head. Be aware of the perceptions of what's happening. So this,


in one way, is an enormous challenge for human life. And then in another way, it's no more difficult than just feeling the hot water when you get in the plunge. So this is no more difficult than listening to the crickets. But the compelling nature of the urgency of our life presents us with a kind of dilemma. Because it is our best efforts to be alive. So our challenge


is to somehow engage it in a way that isn't attempting to overwhelm it. To be in conflict to it. If we set up practice as something that's in conflict to the energy of our life, then it's just a new way to struggle. The art of practice is that we we meet our practice meets and flows and turns the energy of our life. There's a Dharma teacher who loves to use the analogy of aikido. Because that's what you do in aikido. You meet the energy, you move with it, and you turn it. So when we say what's happening, it's not so we can


immediately oppose it. It's so we can know it intimately. So there's contact and then there's engagement. It's like when you're sitting zazen and your posture just doesn't feel comfortable. You can make up an idea in your head as to how to move your body. Or you can feel your body as carefully and completely as possible. And from that place of intimate contact then we can start to work with it. This is the key to our practice. We pause, we make contact, we engage. This is the key to our relationships. You know? A wonderful way when there's difficulty in any kind of relationship


is start by asking the other person. How is this for you? And listen carefully to the answer. Oh. Okay. Here's how it is for me. So what's happening? The very act of engaging it with this kind of curiosity rather than judging mind sets the stage for the capacity to turn it. To let it turn into something else. To let it become its own event rather than the repetition of habit energy. Bodhi is right at hand. As we enter into this


malleable way of relating to our experience this willingness to become part of what's happening. The possibility, the opportunity to awaken is right at hand. The evening breeze can enliven, can awaken. The smell of the sulfur can stop the stream of thoughts. I was in the baths yesterday and someone was showering and then he turned off he wet his body and then he turned off the water to soak himself. And I thought,


oh, of course. So I turned off the water to soak myself. This is how we help each other to practice. It's also something about being willing to see and learn and respond. Bodhi is right at hand. Then the next line says, this very beginner's mind. Everything to learn, nothing to know. There's a little baby here. Is Sarah here? Oh, okay. It's not literally in the room. It's having dinner with her and it's just wonderful to watch how she's constantly taking in information.


Beginner's mind. Where am I? What is going on? What is this thing called being alive? What is this? Beginner's mind. This was the catchphrase of the finder of Tathagata. The Zen practice is the cultivation of beginner's mind. Everything to learn, nothing to know. Practice is not to make us experts. So we know that we have all the answers. It's to make us beginners so we have all the questions. So each time we sit down, we wonder, what is it to sit upright in a balanced posture that also can be completely relaxed? What is it to sit here


and bear witness to this period of time that's about to begin that I have no idea exactly what's going to happen? When we sit for 30 minutes, there's no way we can tell what thoughts, what feelings, what images are going to go through our mind. Every time. That's true. This is our beginner's mind each time we sit down. To bear witness to this constant, miraculous creation of life. And we all know most of the time we settle for reruns of tried and true stories or fantasies. Oh, I'll watch that movie again.


Well, okay. But the heart, the spirit of our practice is to realize, no, this has never happened before. This will never happen again. This is the beginning of something original. Original. Bodhi, this original, this beginner's mind, Bodhisattvas know as immeasurably deep and wide. Life is always unfurling in this extraordinary way. If we let it. We can't stop it, but that doesn't mean we let it. This is the intrigue of practice. You can't stop


being completely yourself, but you can struggle with it. You can try to feel, you can feel compromised about it. It's not quite enough of this and it's too much of that, but you can't stop it. This is Michelangelo's letting go of something extra. The genius of creation is always unfurling. This is Zen practice. Can we wholeheartedly allow what's already happening? And when we pay close attention,


we see it's immeasurably deep and wide. The range of thoughts and feelings. I said to someone recently, well, it's about being authentic. And they said to me, authentic? I'm constantly baffled by exactly what that is. Well, of course. It's immeasurably deep and wide. Each situation has its own nuances and complications and challenges. And then the last line says, not even a Buddha can define it. It's not that we get it, we grasp it all, we conceive it and understand it. It's more that we enter into it.


We become part of it. We flow with it. We interact with it. Yes, we can be at Tassajara and we can hear the signs of people going to the lecture and the air cooling off and knowing the bats are coming out and the crickets. And know the lamp lighters going around and lighting the lamps and the dishwashers washing the dishes from guest dinner. And the students are going to the Zendo for evening meditation. Those things we can know. But there's also something completely mysterious. The workings inside a single human being. How this enormous miraculous creation


keeps unfurling. Even a Buddha can't define it. So this verse we say at the start of our initiation. Let me read it again. In this world of birth and death, when we realize our imperturbable way-seeking mind, Bodhi is right at hand. This very beginner's mind, Bodhisattva's know as immeasurably deep and wide. Not even a Buddha can define it. Thank you.