2004.05.01-serial.00025

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You kind of get inoculated after a while, or ... Do you know if the recorder's on, if this is working now? Do we have any idea it's working? Okay. And is the microphone in a good place, can you tell? I have no idea whether I'll ever listen to this, but I find it interesting to listen to my talks sometimes, and just, you know, to study up. I have various things to talk about, but first I was ... I came in here and went to offer incense in the other room, and I was remembering ... And you see, I tend to trust things that occur to me before talks. So, as I was coming into the room and going up to the altar to offer incense, I was remembering working with Suzuki Roshi on rocks, and I learned a few things. And I realized that I may be my teacher's disciple.

[01:11]

This morning I was talking with many of you about cutting and how to cut, and to study how to do something in a way that's truly easy, as opposed to making extra effort to do the same amount of work. And just now when I was walking, I was remembering how Suzuki Roshi, when we worked on rocks, most of us Westerners, we'd try to move the rocks with brute force, and he would take this little bar, you know, and pivot it just so, and move it. I said, no, [...] just ... So, it's the same principle, you know, why make it hard when you could, if you apply the, you know, if you study what is the point, what is the pivot, what do things pivot on, what, where if you exert a small or exact kind of

[02:21]

effort, it has a big result. So this is, I realized what I want to talk about today. So wasn't that nice? It occurred to me just in time. Have a seat. Welcome. And, you know, there's a certain aesthetic to things too. And so, you know, and each of us is kind of developing our own aesthetic. There's not just one aesthetic that is for everybody, and part of what I do when I teach cooking is to share my aesthetic, which doesn't mean that that's the aesthetic you should have. It means that this is my aesthetic, and then, you know, you can develop yours. What ends up being important to you, and which differences make a difference to you?

[03:22]

And so, anyway, another thing that I learned about rock work with Suzuki Roshi was that he wasn't, he wasn't, what do you call that? It's where you're, you want to make it exactly exact, perfectionistic. He wasn't a perfectionist. He wanted things to, the rocks to fit, and the rocks to work, and the wall to stay in place, but he wasn't trying to make it perfect, and exactly, you know, and a kind of fastidious. And so, we would get a rock into place and think, oh gosh, that doesn't quite fit, and so then we would move it and then chisel off a high place on the rock, and then it would fit. Or there'd be a little gap and he would take a small stone and push it in there, tap it in. So I was actually, before I worked with him, much more, I wanted things to be, you know,

[04:31]

much more meticulous. Anyway, I wanted to read you a story here from the Tenzo Kyokan, the instructions for the Tenzo, the head cook. Most of you have probably heard this story, but some of these things, bear repeating at least for the sake of a little talk. During my stay on Mount Tien Tong, a priest named Yong from Qingyuan Prefecture held the position of Tenzo. One day after the noon meal while I was walking along the eastern covered walkway to a sub-temple called Chao Ran Hut, he was in front of the Buddha hall drying some mushrooms in the sun. He had a bamboo stick in his hand and no hat on his head. The sun was very hot, scorching the pavement. It looked very painful.

[05:33]

His backbone was bent like a bow and his eyebrows were white as a crane. I went up to the Tenzo and asked, how long have you been a monk? 68 years, he replied. That's how long he'd been a monk. So, we've got to add another 10 or 12 anyway, for how old this person was. Why don't you let a helper do it? Others are not me. Reverend sir, you follow regulations exactly, but as the sun is so hot right now, why do you work so hard as this? Until when should I wait? Sometimes that's translated, it's really hot, couldn't you do this later? And then he says, that wouldn't be now. So I stopped talking. As I was walking further along the covered walkway, I thought about how important the Tenzo's position is.

[06:36]

So, I don't know, this story is one that of course struck me, working in the kitchen, and continues to strike me. It's quite an example of the concept in Zen or Buddhism of fulfilling one's position. We each have our own position, which in one sense is me being me, and we're fulfilling our own life. And then on the other hand, what do I do to fulfill my life? And then there's also fulfilling the position in terms of various relationships. So there's some, we each have some position. Those of you who are at Tassajara, you're in some position in terms of the various activities for the summer. And then there's also position in relationship, position in family.

[07:40]

So fulfilling the position of being a parent, or a brother, or a sister. And so we're studying how to be in the various positions we're in. How do we do that? And it's, you know, in not always so, the book of Suzuki Roshi's lectures, he says, no one else is going to do your position but you. It's very much like this. So one of his lectures, he says, the teaching, all of the teaching of Buddhism is just for you. You know, for each one of us. And no one else is going to fulfill your life for you. You know, it's, you either fulfill your life or fulfill your position or, you know, carry yourself forward or allow things to come forward in your life so that you move forward in your life or you don't. That's the way it works. I one time thought, I for a while thought, you know, we hear the expression like, and

[08:48]

Suzuki Roshi used it a lot, to practice without any idea of gain, you know, to do things without thinking, like, what do I get out of this? Which is, of course, what everybody asks you when, you know, if you've just started meditation and you've been meditating for six months or a year and then you see some old friends or you see your parents and they say, so what are you doing? You say, well, I've been practicing meditation. They say, well, what do you get out of it? And then it's very hard to explain, well, what I get out of it is not having to worry about what I get out of it. And just to be able to do something and throw myself into it without that kind of concern. So this is that kind of idea. So Suzuki Roshi would mention that, you know, we're practicing without an idea of gain,

[09:53]

whether it's meditation or the work we're doing, and there's various ideas of gaining approval or respect or appreciation or thanks or gratitude or a job well done or something that reflects well on me, you know, depending on how I do what I do, it would reflect well on me. This is a very interesting thing, finally, but I said to Suzuki Roshi once, you know, I don't know about this, you know, how to do things without any idea of gain. And he said, you need to be working on something and going forward. And I said, but I thought we were going to practice without any gain. And he said, if you're not going forward, you're going backwards, downhill. So this is interesting, you know, what is the difference between working on something and, you know, focused and energized.

[10:56]

And today I'm talking about sharpness, so keen, you know, what is it that brings some keenness into your life, which is different than, you know, gain. And which is something to do with fulfilling my position, you know, fulfilling me, fulfilling what life and fulfilling what life is asking of me, responding to things. Over the last year, my last July, my mom died. And the last several months before she died, this is my second mother who'd been my mom for 51 years. So then there was a lot to do, taking care of her and getting her to doctor's appointments and getting her medications and putting them in the different, you know, pillboxes for each day of the week and many, many things. It's fulfilling a position, you know, some people, and I would hear these sort of horror

[12:04]

stories of every so often somebody would say, you are such a good son. And I said, no, I'm just doing this stuff. And they'd say, no, you know, some people, they take their parents' money and put them in a, you know, a home someplace and never visit them. And then they use the money, you know, to buy their house or to live on. And it's actually not that uncommon. So it's, you know, again, anyway, we're studying how to be in the position of me and fulfill the roles, the various positions that, you know, I'm in. Just as an aside, or just to finish up one of my asides here, maybe most of my talk is asides, but, you know, when I first started cooking, I definitely, I had definitely gaining

[13:09]

ideas. I definitely wanted people to like the food, and I was very concerned about it. And little by little, I got sort of over it. But it was challenging because, and it's very painful because, you know, when I made the oatmeal, when the oatmeal was kind of runny, people came into the kitchen and said, we're working very hard. That's when we were digging the septic tank by hand outside the kitchen. Every day, you know, four or five or six people shoveling pickaxes. Now we just, you know, rent a backhoe for the afternoon. That was like three or four months. And the guys would come in and say, you know, the oatmeal needs to be thick. We're doing a lot of physical labor. You really should be able to chew it. And we need some substance. It's hard to do that kind of work on, you know, oatmeal anyway.

[14:13]

And in those days, it wasn't as well understood that you don't just go directly into the kitchen and mouth off. So then if the oatmeal was thicker, you know, a different group of people came into the kitchen and said, you know, this is breakfast, you know, breakfast should be light and easy to digest. You know, it should be well cooked and moist and, you know, very soft. And you know, so that, you know, it's not a big weight or challenge for our digestion. And then if you put oatmeal, I mean, raisins in the oatmeal, then the macrobiotics would come into the kitchen. Why are you poisoning us? Poisoning. Because sugar is like poison in that world, you know, even in the form of raisins, let alone in the form of sugar. So it's very challenging to, you know, please people. And then some people like spicy food and some people like plain food and on and on, you know, it's endless. So how do you, what do you do? And at one point I got to thinking about it, I realized, you know, I want people to like

[15:20]

the food. And then I realized at some point, you know, that doesn't exactly mean they like me. But I thought if they like the food, that's as though they like me. Because we identify, some people say men are better at this than women, you know, to identify with one's performance. If you perform well and you get approval for your performance, you know, then that goes to show that you're okay. But actually, of course, it doesn't show anything about you, it just shows your performance. So, you know, sometimes performers, of course, are very lonely, because nobody knows you. They just know your performance and they say, the food was great. And then they want you to repeat your performance or outdo yourself. So it's very challenging to keep, you know, making a better performance. And then I thought, well, what do I care about this for, you know, whether people like me

[16:21]

or don't like me? And I thought, well, if they liked me, then maybe I could like me. Maybe if I got enough evidence that other people liked me, I could agree to like me too. And that's when I realized, like, I guess I don't like myself. Sometimes this is kind of a surprise. Some of us know better that we don't, you know, we're not particularly fond of ourselves. But I thought you get evidence. Well, it turns out, of course, there's never enough evidence that you could like yourself. And at some point, you just have to lighten up and say, oh, okay, here I am. Cut finger and all, supposed to be the teacher, whack. And you know, we're kind of who we are and up in front of everybody. You know, we're all appearing in the world, we're all in front of one another. And people can say good things and bad things and, you know, positive things and negative things.

[17:28]

But it's kind of like, okay, you know, here I am. So that's also, by the way, called sincerity. Sincerity is that you agree to be seen with all the blemishes. And Zen, as much as anything, emphasizes sincere effort. You know, honest, sincere effort where people see what you do and there's various problems. And, you know, there's, because sincere is the without, S-I-N is without, like sans in French. And then sere, C-E-R-E is wax. It's without wax, which you can use to fill in the little blemishes in your sculpture. Or you can clip out a part of a coin and fill it in with a little wax and then collect. Apparently people did this in the old days. And then you can collect the metal and, you know. So sincere is, you know, the lines show.

[18:29]

You haven't had a facelift. You haven't covered everything up. You're not sort of like hiding and doing a performance for everybody. You know, you're just making an honest, sincere effort and working at something. Anyway, part of what strikes me about the story about the mushrooms, so here's somebody who says, why don't you have others do it? Well, they're not me. And what I wanted to bring up today, you see, is about sharpening knives because at 4.30 I'm going to do a little knife sharpening demonstration and some of us will practice a little bit. And this is the kind of thing that it's really unlikely that others are going to do it for you. I don't know, somehow that just seems to be the way it works. So if you want, if you actually, you know, if you want to have a sharp knife in your life, it's like you've got to take responsibility. Now maybe taking responsibility means you find somebody that you

[19:30]

trust the way that they sharpen knives and you pay them and, you know, but at some point it's also like you could decide, I want a sharp knife, I'm going to, this is fulfilling my position, you know, I'm going to do this, I'm going to undertake this and I'm going to find out how to do it and I'm going to work at it. And there's a quality in that also, of course, of at some point it's going to have to be now. But of course this isn't just knife sharpening, but there's certain things that we tend to avoid in our lives or don't get around to or postpone or put off and we have this same kind of spirit, for instance, here at Tassajara, of course, like getting to meditation. It's at a certain time and we say, let's all agree, I'm going to show up

[20:32]

in time, you know, I'm going to show up there, I'm making that commitment. So there's something about that that, you see, it has to do with sharpness. This kind of commitment of, I'm going to be at a certain place, at a certain time, doing a certain thing. So, and this is very, this of course is very interesting to me, sometimes when people ask me what is Zen, that's what I tell them. Doing a certain thing at a certain time, in a certain place. And that you undertake to do that. Each certain thing, each certain time, each certain place. So, I in thinking about what sharpness is or what makes you know, what allows a knife to be sharp, it occurs to me it occurred to me when I was thinking about this, that a large part

[21:35]

of this is that your mind, you know, it's necessary for your mind to be keen or sharp. And then you can get the knife to be keen or sharp. Am I making sense here? This is not just metaphorically, but then you know, there's a kind of literalness to this. So I want to say just a few words about what this sharpness involves. The keenness is, you know, there's a keenness you know, maybe enthusiastic, interested energized, there's a quality Buddhism sometimes mentions the quality of investigation or I call it sometimes just finding out how to do something. There's a kind of quality of and there's a basic quality here at the very foundation of Buddhism which is life doesn't work I'm going to find out how to live with that fact. Life doesn't work the way I'd like

[22:37]

it to work. You know, my life isn't, life is way more difficult and way more challenging than I thought it was going to be when I agreed to come out of the bardo into this human realm. And I thought it was, the bardo they have great advertising it's like all the new car ads, you know. Out in the bardo there you know, you're watching the new car ads, the car is going down the road there's never a lot of traffic in the new car, you're never stuck in traffic in the new car ads. So there you are out there in the bardo and you know get a life, get a life, it's great, you'll love it. And so we say when you're out in the bardo you're not thinking really clearly for the most part so here we are and it's not working out quite the way we thought, that's how we ended up at Tassajara and then but there's this quality you know of

[23:39]

it doesn't work, I'm going to figure out how to live with this, how to how I'm going to live considering that what I thought I could accomplish, what I thought I could do, all the things I thought I could have the things I thought I could avoid, I'm not successful at all my strategies you know, what am I going to do? Well I'll figure this out, I'll get to the bottom of this I'll untangle the tangle. This is one of the classic expressions I'm going to untangle the tangle, this is all life is all knotted up and it's kind of unworkable and I'll figure it out I'll sort things out, I'm going to get to the bottom of this and I'm going to basically find out how to live with things being impermanent, no self painful or unsatisfying different kind of subject but anyway but there's a similar sense here of I'm going to figure this out I'll do this, I'm going to take this on, I don't know how to do this, I'll figure out how to do this and I'll work at making something happen

[24:42]

so in a way this is also agreeing to do something in your life that's inconceivable that you haven't done before so none of us have done this moment so I show up here agreeing to find my talk, which this talk I haven't given before and then you show up here listening, you know, what haven't I heard before and what am I going to do with this and why am I here and how do I make this work for myself so sharpening so there's a quote, because you see this is different than to have some keenness about doing it and finding out how to do it is different than, boy this is a dull thing to be doing this is so boring, sitting here sharpening a knife and nothing seems to be happening, oh well and so now I lose interest because I'm working at something and nothing is happening

[25:46]

and I'm working at it and nothing is happening and this is stupid and I'm out of here and I'm going to go do something where it's more obvious that something is happening and I get something done, of course the knife still isn't sharp oh well, do you understand this so there's a kind of keenness that you bring to an activity which then makes the activity alive or sharp there's a kind of sharpness there or keenness, now the other qualities of sharpness that go into when you actually sharpen the knife, there's this keenness or interest or investigation or finding out, then there's a kind of quality of focus, you focus on the activity you're involved in you focus on doing it and then you watch how does this work, is this working or not, what are the indications of how I'm doing and so there's observing what happens as you focus and work at something, there's observation

[26:49]

checking the results and then there's a continued kind of concentration, basically this is a quality that you could call absorption you take your awareness and you're applying it to an activity in doing that there can also be then joy and pleasure or ease, when there's focus which is when you're engaged in what you're doing and there's a kind of steadiness and continuing and perseverance, patience you work at something, you observe the results, you adjust your effort, you continue to work at it and then that's ongoing some people describe this as ships going at sea and they're always adjusting their course and to stay on course you have to actually keep adjusting your course so in the effort of sharpening, so what I try to teach

[27:55]

people in sharpening a knife is not so much exactly how to do it but there's a certain understanding you can have and then there's observing the results and then there's continuing your effort and sustaining something long enough that sharpness results this is not complicated but it's interesting how rarely people take this on I want to say just a little bit more about sharpness because metaphorically in Buddhism sharpness is to be able to cut this from that, it's discrimination separating this from that, what is enlightenment, what is delusion about the same thing, some Zen teachers say different

[28:57]

words for the same thing, your own inward bright awareness your own luminous presence but anyway wisdom is separating this from that or discrimination separates this from that and partly what we're endeavoring to do in terms of practice is to be able to accurately separate this from that or at least a bit more accurately so Suzuki Roshi said, usually when we discriminate the basis for discrimination is something personal or self I like that, I don't like that that's good, that's bad, so usually our discrimination is around me and so he said we're studying how to have discrimination that's more free of me, maybe it's never completely free of me but it's more free of me so if you study how to make a knife sharp

[30:00]

that's not about, I like doing this, I don't like doing this, I'm interested, I'm not interested, it's just like I'm going to give myself to this and make this work and so the basis for wisdom in Buddhism, wisdom is said to be sometimes people call wisdom to discriminate accurately based on non-discrimination or to have discrimination that's based on something other than just self, and even that discrimination of course is we say tentative not final or fixed so we're studying how to both discriminate and also to let go of discrimination but that's another subject which we're not going to get into this afternoon but we try to see things both ways, this is completely important and who cares anyway

[31:01]

I think I've probably talked enough but I thought if you have any interests or responses to what I've been saying I'm happy to visit with you for a few more minutes maybe another ten minutes anything you're particularly interested in or struck by what I said or it makes sense or it doesn't make sense or put you all to sleep huh? my dear, yes? Marco? oh the meal offering? I was telling the guest cooks that when I was last summer somebody said to me, Ed were you ever a guest cook?

[32:07]

and I'm like, I think that's probably before you were born but when I was Tenzo we make these food offerings which we then offer to the Buddha before the meal and I thought for years this is really stupid and I have more important things to do with my life than make up little bowls of food for the Buddha who doesn't even seem to be interested in it one way or another and never says great soup or love the rice or anything it's kind of strange or there's something kind of non-relational about this or one way I offer the food to Buddha and Bill Kuang was down here at one point when I was Tenzo and he was so careful and conscientious about putting the food and so

[33:07]

well I mean it's just obvious he wasn't like me this kind of distaste or disgruntled quality of alright I'll do that and I did this for years but he was so easy about it and so careful and then it was only about like 15 years after I'd been Tenzo I thought wow isn't that amazing what a wonderful thing you can put the food in the dishes you can offer it to the Buddha you can bow and then you just turn and walk away and you've done your job as the cook and then you let people have whatever experience of it they have because there's no way to control that some people will like it some people won't like it some people are pleased other people aren't there's just no telling and as soon as you try to control somebody else's response to you

[34:12]

oh boy this is heavy I could tell you a lot about that but it's otherwise known as you know marriage relationship you know parents and children we get involved in trying to control one another and how they respond to us because if I loved you you wouldn't behave if you realized how much I love you you wouldn't behave like that and etc all of these kind of things shouldn't your love make a difference to people so you know cheer up I love you don't be sad I love you anyway there's a lot of those so you just as a cook you just serve the food you bow and so this is the food and you know

[35:16]

the activities of our life then are it's more like offerings it's an offering it's a gift or it's a giving of our time and effort as opposed to let's see what kind of transaction I can make here you know I'm going to do this if I get back the appropriate exchange so one of the nice things about being here at Tessajara is we're not involved in the market economy it's not like anybody's here to do you know for a job I'm doing this you know to get paid so we're already involved we're already in this sort of thing of I'm doing this to you know as my offering to the community we say that in the ceremony of the day for the departing monk you know having contributed their effort to the community to the well-being of the community so it's pretty sweet that's pretty nice yes Jackie

[36:19]

it's very much like the point where you don't need anything back from the patients you can just do what you do for them and it becomes like this very clean one way transaction where they're not required they're busy trying to get well and they're not required to give them anything back it's really wonderful and it takes about 13 years to get there well thank you again

[37:22]

for being here and I appreciate you know part of what I appreciate being here at Tessajara is because I feel people's sincere effort and I'd like to you know if I can encourage that and but who knows but to talk out there and you know it's important and you do something with it or not or we don't even know so it's kind of mysterious but I and you know it's a bit challenging for me from time to time because I don't necessarily feel that you know what I have to offer is especially important or valuable but on the other hand it's my position it's becoming my position I'm more of an elder now it's come to that in spite of myself

[38:26]

oh well so anyway thank you blessings so some of you may like to come I know my group we're going to meet at 4.30 in the student eating area and do a little I'm going to demonstrate and talk about knife sharpening and if some of the others of you have the time in your day today and want to come by you're welcome to and at least some of us will have a chance to practice for a few minutes thank you

[38:56]