August 24th, 2002, Serial No. 01119

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Good morning, everyone. I just want to look around and see who's here. I'd like to just start by remarking on a matter of form in the Buddha hall and in the meditation hall downstairs, which is that as we create a sacred space for our practice, we observe certain forms. One of which is we take our shoes off, of course, before we enter the Buddha hall or the Zen do. And the other thing is we also uncover our heads. So if those of you who have caps or hats on could be kind enough to take them off. I assure you the room will slowly but inevitably fill up with hot air. It'll be quite warm. So welcome. Welcome especially to people who are here for the first


time or perhaps for the second or third time. Can I see like a show of hands of who maybe is here for the first time? Great. And how about those of you who had Zazen instruction this morning? Okay, good. Mostly, I try to talk when I give lectures on Saturday mornings to the new people. So those of you who have been around for a while will hear a lot of things you already know and perhaps could say better than I could. So Buddhism can be spoken of in many different ways. We can take a point of departure anywhere we like. We can start with a particular teaching, a particular practice, one of the schools of Buddhism, one of the historical events of the Buddha's life. Any of these things can begin as a place for us to start talking. And they all intertwine and to pick out


one thread leads inevitably to the whole great teaching. So somewhat at random, I've had to pick out a topic for this this morning and I've decided to talk about what is called in Sanskrit the Trishiksha. This translates as the threefold training. And it's a way of looking at Buddhist teaching and practice in sort of a easy to talk about and easy to digest paradigm. The Trishiksha, the threefold training, consists of Shila, Samadhi, and Prajna. For those of you who are not up on your Sanskrit, Shila is usually translated as something like ethical behavior or the code of precepts or how we behave, how we manifest body, speech, and mind in this world. Samadhi can loosely


be translated as meditation. It's the practice that we do. And Prajna is translated usually as wisdom. So I'd like to talk a little bit about each of these three as we go along. And I think they provide a very nice entry into Buddhism. So Shila, we'll start with that. Shila, as I said, is the practice of ethical behavior, ethical conduct, morals, etc. And I want to talk a little bit about a Buddhist understanding of ethics. In Buddhism, our understanding of ethics or morality, if you wish, is based upon a deep respect for and understanding of cause and effect. We do or do not do things because of their consequences. This differs from, say, the theistic religions in which we do or do not things, people do or do not things, because the deity has proclaimed them to be done


or not to be done. For example, is it okay to eat pork? Is it not okay to eat pork? Well, if you're a Muslim or a Jew, it's not okay. If you're a Christian, it's okay. Is remarriage after divorce okay? Well, it depends on your... So God has opinions about these things. And the basis of his opinions are sort of hidden from the rest of us. So Buddhism is very practical. It's sort of hands-on, down-and-dirty. And it's, you know, if X follows Y, inevitably, then if Y is a conclusion we want, we should probably do X. If X follows Y and Y is something we don't want, we probably shouldn't do X. This sounds very logical, and it is very logical, and it sounds as though it should be easy to practice, and it's not. How many times have I done something knowing full well that it's not good for me, you know? The pint of Ben and Jerry's tastes really good going down, you know? And then the next morning


at the gym. So we do or do not do things, ideally, because of consequences. And, you know, we can't always tell. I mean, we don't always know what the consequences are going to be, right? So the teaching is about listening to those who have gone before us and who have had experience, you know, who have repeated the experiment enough times to be able to tell us with fair certainty what the outcome is going to be. And as we progress along the path or as we progress along, you know, our life experience, we gather more experience. And sometimes, rarely, we can learn from it. So shila is necessary for practice, not because of good or bad or because the deity likes it or does not like it, but because it is a precondition for the rest of the path. In other words, if the ultimate goal is something like liberation or enlightenment or the end of suffering, you know, you have to do certain things


to get there. It's very logical, very straightforward. So in order to be able to sit down and do meditation, samadhi, which is the next step, we have to have our lives to some degree in order. And if we, if our lives are in disorder because of things we have done or things we regret or things we feel guilty about or things that are distressing us or because of behaviors we've done yesterday or three weeks ago or in our past life, then we're not going to have much calmness. We're not going to be able to sit calmly. So it's kind of like training for the big game, you know, ethics is. And it's based on, shila is based on the acceptance of the principle of cause and effect in our lives. So what this means in a very deep level is letting go of denial and letting go of magical thinking. You know, most of us have as our central delusion, the idea that the world should or can be the way


we want it to be. If only we think about it hard enough or, you know, if only we manipulate it well enough that the world is going to follow our desires. And this, as I said, is our central delusion. We want it to be, and we want ourselves to be, a particular way. And most of the time, that's actually not going to work. I want to point out, however, that acceptance does not mean approval. You know, it's very hard to approve of such a world that we live in, and I often find it very hard to approve of myself. But accepting is to acknowledge the reality of what is going on here and now, regardless of whether we like it or whether we dislike it, regardless of whether it makes us feel comfortable or uncomfortable, regardless of whether it is good or bad. There's a story that I like a lot. There are two monks walking along. This is one of those old


Chinese Zen stories. There are two monks walking along together, I guess they're friends, going on pilgrimage or something, and one of them takes a staff and bangs it on the road and says, just here is the summit of the mystic peak. And his friend pauses a moment and says, yes, what a pity. So acceptance does not mean approval. And it's hard to approve of this world and our lives as they are, because they're fashioned, the world is fashioned ultimately of fear. You know, often we talk about greed, hate, and delusion as the basis of our ongoing cycle of karma, but I think sometimes I think fear is primary. Fear becomes the organizing principle in our person, in our prison, in our interactions with the world. The fear of losing ourselves is primary, the fear of dissolution. And greed, hate, and delusion are all coping mechanisms for dealing


with this fear. Unfortunately, they don't work. You know, the Buddha spoke of his teaching as going against the current, going against the way of the world. So when we find ourselves succumbing to our fear, when we find ourselves reacting to the world with greed, hate, and delusion, pushing it away, trying to hold it back, going back and forth not knowing what is going to make us comfortable. You know, we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves or berate ourselves. This is the natural reaction to a very, very difficult world. And this is what people do. This is what we do when we are uninstructed and we don't have practice in our lives. And even if we do have our practice, we often do this. It takes a long time. So we give into our fear more than we master it and see it as the boogeyman it is. You know, and actually our fear is constantly being exploited and encouraged by an insane social system. The more you're afraid, the more you'll buy.


It works like that. It's a little bit more complicated, but ultimately, the more you're afraid, the more you'll buy. So, cause and effect. You know, we don't submit to cause and effect as though we had a choice. We are cause and effect. We are the sum of the conditions and the causes of all that produced us and nothing else. We are, in another way of speaking of it, all of the things that we are not. So, Sheila is this going along with cause and effect. And Sheila, the practice of Sheila of morality, can be stated in two ways, both negatively and positively. Negatively, we state it as the precepts. The precepts that we take are a disciple of the Buddha does not kill. A disciple of the Buddha does not take what is not given. A disciple of the Buddha does not misuse sexuality, does not lie, does not delude mind


and body of self or others, does not slander others, does not praise self at the expense of others, is not possessive of anything, does not harbor ill will, does not abuse the three treasures. The three treasures are Buddha, Dharma, which is the teaching, and Sangha, which is the community of those who practice together. So, this is sort of a negative way of stating our path. A positive way of stating our path are the so-called paramitas, generosity, ethics, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom. And just as there are two ways of expressing Sheila, the precepts and the paramitas, so there are at least two ways, two main ways of observing them. Originally, the precepts, and still in the Theravadin schools of Buddhism, are very, very long lists of behaviors that are prohibited, behaviors of body, speech, and mind. And they are


exacting and minute and transformative. If you give yourself over to these precepts, they regulate sort of everything that you do. And this is one way of achieving liberation, to submit ourself to the great law, and to the little ones too. It's sort of like acting as if, or thinking or acting ourselves into right thought. So, this is one way of approaching the precepts. The other way of approaching the precepts is the way I think of them being approached by the Mahayana schools, the so-called great vehicle. And in this case, the precepts are limited. I just read 10 of them. So, that's a lot different than the 380-plus that monks and nuns are required to take in Theravadin practice. But the precepts in this case, our precepts, are like a light turned inward to illuminate


ourselves. Once, a long time ago, when I first started practicing, I was complaining about something to Isan Dorsi, who some of you may have known and some of you may have heard of. And he said to me, well, you know, Zazen will show you exactly who you are. It just doesn't guarantee you're going to like that person. And he's right. So, turning the light inward when we practice the precepts or try to practice the precepts is a way of keeping the precept always as a question, as opposed to an answer. It's kind of like a koan. A koan, as most of you probably know, is the question that we face or that is sometimes used as a meditation device, where we face the question again and again, what is it? What is it? What is it? And there is no, of course, right answer. So the precepts are like this. A disciple of the Buddha does not kill.


Okay, well, it means on one hand that I don't go out and get a gun and shoot all the people I don't like. It would be carnage. But what about flies? What about eating meat? What about wearing leather shoes? What about abortion? What about the just war, so-called? You know, these are sort of gross examples that each of us has to come to terms with at some time in his or her life. We may not have to deal with all of them, but we certainly have to deal with some of them. And these are the grosser examples. But how do we do violence? How do we kill our own spirit? How do we kill the spirit of another? How do we kill the aspiration of another or ourself? A disciple of the Buddha does not take what is not given. You know, on a very obvious level, keep your hand out of the till. But what does it mean not to take


what is not given, when in this country the poorest of us lives in a luxury that is unknown in many parts of the world, and that that luxury is only possible because we are the heirs and beneficiaries of a system which plunders the rest of the world, its natural resources and the labor of its people, and that we eat because others starve? You know, what is the question of taking up what is not given under these circumstances? I'm not going to go through all of them, but you kind of get the idea. You know, the precept is a question, always. What are we doing? What am I doing? How do I align myself with liberation for myself and others? So on one hand, shila, we have ethical parameters so that we may have a mind quiet enough to practice meditation, and this understanding can be seen as sort of the basic foundation. However, on the other hand,


shila, our practice of morality, if you will, also reflects to some extent the goal as well. Wisdom, prajna, liberation, the goal, in that wisdom sees the interpenetration and interdependency of all things, the mutual identity of self and others, and our behavior naturally flows from that understanding. So when we're very early on, perhaps in training, you know, we undertake these precepts as training precepts. Somewhat later on, when we have some insight, we undertake these precepts because it is the natural way for us to act. So how do we develop the sort of mind that reaches out naturally for virtue, and that hungers for virtue? In other words, can we get there from here? Somebody once said, and I've always remembered this, I've always loved it, that it is by observing the virtue of others that our own virtue grows. So we train ourselves little by little to seek out


virtue in others, to notice the virtuous action of others, and then through that we take part in their virtue, and we learn ourselves. And you know, to see virtue in another is in itself virtue, and to seek out the good, to seek out the similarities rather than the differences, and to practice with seeing self as other and other as self. So, you know, we divide the practice into the three trainings, but it's just a convenient way of looking at it and of talking about it. Each is contained in the other, dependent upon the other. For example, you know, we wouldn't be drawn to the practice of Shila if we didn't already have at least a glimpse of wisdom of the goal of liberation. Each of us here today has had his or her own moment of clarity, a vision of our lives lived with serenity and compassion, an opening into the possibility of enlightenment, or we wouldn't be here. And so we have this glimpse,


though, you know, fear and willfulness can slam that door shut again. But the trace of that moment of clarity lingers like the almost memory of a beautiful dream. So let's go on to the next leg of the tripod, which is Samadhi. This can be loosely translated as meditation. For our purposes, I think we'll just leave it at that. The word Zen, as a matter of fact, comes from another Sanskrit word, Dhyana, which is often also translated as meditation. So Zen is that school of Buddhism which relies on meditation as its primary practice. And it is in, it is the greatest tool we have in our search for liberation for self and other, which of course are one and the same. Self cannot be liberated without the liberation of other. I was reading, I guess it was in last week's New York Times book review, a


review of the biography of Dunbar, the early 20th century African-American poet, and how he and his wife were of the privileged small, small minority of African-American people. In their day, they were college educated. They could publish. They had fairly decent lives. And yet the story of their lives really brought home to me that, you know, as people of color, they were not liberated, no matter how well they had it, because nobody was liberated. It just really struck me how, you know, I cannot be liberated or enlightened or privileged or whatever on my own. It just doesn't work. So, Samadhi, Zazen. I always tell people that Zazen is an experiment, which I think is a good way to look at it. It's an experiment in which our minds and our bodies are the laboratory,


the material being experimented on, and the experimenter, him or herself. You know, Gandhi called his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, and I kind of like that, the experimental thing. In our meditation, I don't think we're quite so grand as thinking that we're experimenting with truth, but at least with things as they are, our life on life's terms. Or maybe we should actually talk about our experiments with delusion, because in Zazen meditation, we get to be thoroughly experienced with our delusion through and through, the arising, the consequences, and the nature of delusion. And the nature of delusion is the origin of suffering. You know, Dogen Zenji, who founded the Soto School in Japan in the 13th century, said, sentient beings are those who are thoroughly deluded about enlightenment, and Buddhas are those thoroughly enlightened about delusion. So it's not such a bad thing to have our delusions in meditation and to get kind of cozy with them.


We need to know them quite thoroughly before we're ready to let them drop, maybe a little at a time. And in meditation, the classical division is into Samatha and Vipassana. Samatha is the concentration practices which leads to calming the mind, and it lays the ground for further investigation of reality. So we have to be somewhat calm to be able to remain with what arises in our meditation, much of which is inevitably going to be somewhat uncomfortable. And so we arrange our lives beyond the meditation cushion as well in a way that allows us to sit down quietly. The French philosopher Pascal said something to the effect that all of the trouble in the world comes from the fact that people cannot remain quietly in their own rooms. So as we sit, he really did say that, or words to that effect, except he said it in French


where it sounds much more elegant. So as we sit, it takes us a while to begin to appreciate the subtle flavors of our mind, especially for those of us raised on a steady diet of adrenaline, which is basically all of us. They always need to up the ante on experience and sensory input. If you don't believe me, just watch television for five minutes. And this is good for the market economy. This is good for selling cars and Coca-Cola. But it's not so good for our spiritual lives. So the calming of the mind is often developed with the use of concentration practices on the breath, counting or following the breath in one way or another, or mindfulness of body states, or by the use of mantras, or whatever works to sort of arrest the frenetic wheel of thought and feeling. We want to slow down the wheel at least enough to be able to see the spokes a little bit,


the wheel being our busy, busy minds. And so when this begins to happen a little bit, when things slow down a little bit, we can begin the careful observation of what is. And when we're not completely driven by greed, hate, and delusion, we are not free from the three poisons. But hopefully we can see where they arise and sit with them long enough to watch them fall away and not feel the need to act out on them. You know, this calmness of mind provides a safe place for the play of thought and emotion as we watch them arise and linger and fall away again and again and again. So the seeing into is called vipassana, or insight, and it's sort of the second stage of meditation. It's a carefully observed deconstruction of what has hitherto been the impenetrable mass of our experience. The world in the self is dense, implacable,


and overwhelming, the stone so heavy that even God can't lift it. And so with some insight born of concentration and calmness, this huge mass resolves, becomes little by little less opaque, and we begin to have moments where we see that our actions of body, speech, and mind have the consequences and actually create our experience of world and self. At this point, the background and foreground of our experience merge, and self and objects begin to be seen as points along a continuum rather than discrete atoms interacting across empty space. So this can be very liberating or can be very scary as things start to fall apart in some way. And if the fear arises, we return to those practices which calm the mind. The practice of meditation that we do in the Soto School of Zen, which is


what we practice here at Zen Center, is called shikantaza, which literally means something like just precisely sitting, or only just precisely sitting. And it combines both shamatha and vipassana. And some of you who've had zazen instruction today will know what I'm talking about, and some of you have done this for quite a long time and will know what I'm talking about. And the rest of you can come back for zazen instruction next week, because I'm not going to talk about it right now. Anyhow, suffice it to say that it combines both calming and investigation. And there are many, many ways to practice meditation in Buddhist teaching, and they ultimately all conform to this paradigm of calming and insight. But the different types are offered for different types of individuals. Sometimes the Buddha is spoken of as the great physician who has the proper medicine for each illness. So if the kind you learned here today doesn't seem to work for you very well, there are many other types of meditation available.


And we're very lucky in the Bay Area in that almost all of the schools of Buddhism are represented somewhere or another. So just keep at it until you find what you're looking for. So ultimately the purpose of both shila, the path of morality, and samadhi, the path of meditation, is to lead to wisdom. And of course it's useful to note that wisdom, prajna, is the Sanskrit term, is like shila, both the training and the goal, the seat and the fruit. Suzuki Roshi, who founded Zen Center, said that it is wisdom that is seeking after wisdom. So we talk about this particular wisdom, this prajna, as prajna paramita. And paramita is a Sanskrit word which can be translated in one of two ways, depending upon how you divide the word in the original Sanskrit. It can either mean gone beyond, the wisdom which has gone beyond, or it can mean perfection. So sometimes we talk about the perfection of wisdom, sometimes we talk about


wisdom beyond wisdom, or wisdom which has gone beyond. So when we say this, this wisdom which has gone beyond, this perfection of wisdom, we don't mean the wisdom of the world, worldly wisdom. The wisdom which is the hard-won experience tinged with disillusionment and touched with cynicism. It's used here in a special sense of direct insight into the true nature of things, which is shunyata, or emptiness. Emptiness is the true nature of things. And at first it seems kind of like a booby prize, you know. I practice earnestly for decades and all I get is emptiness. It reminds me of when I was a guest student here many years ago, and we were talking about zazen, we were having tea with the guest student manager, and he said, well you know, he's a very serious fellow, well you know, zazen is very good practice for dying. I thought, oh great, you know, my knees hurt, my back hurt,


I can't sit still, I'm driving myself crazy. You know, the periods of zazen last for six and a half hours, well 40 minutes, but it seemed like six and a half hours, and all I get is to learn how to die, which I have to do anyway. You know, I might as well be out having fun. So when you understand that, you know, all this stuff is to realize emptiness, it sounds, you know, like not a very good deal. Yeah, so, but what we mean by emptiness, what we mean by emptiness is not, you know, nothingness or some brand of nihilism or despair, but rather liberation. It's only because all things are empty that liberation is possible, and this emptiness is very specific. We're talking about the, when we say that persons and things are empty, we mean that they are empty of own being, that there is no thing, no person, no nothing that is not contingent, that is not made up of causes and conditions, and this is the Buddha's perhaps deepest and most radical insight, is this lack of


own being, this lack of standing alone without support, that there is nothing that exists in this manner, but that all things exist interdependently, and that the world is not fixed, but we are not fixed, but rather a constant flux gathered, governed by the rules of cause and effect, which is karma. And when we first come upon the notion of shunyata, of emptiness, it can be kind of dizzy-making. It's about as comfortable as a landslide, as everything that we thought that was solid, the world in itself slips away, dissolves, changes, ceases to be. But it's through this practice of shila and samadhi that we learn poise in the shifting world, and as in so many things, that which originally was the source of our fear and distress becomes the basis of our freedom and joy. And we may feel frightened and defeated and utterly groundless when we are first told, or perhaps have our first glimpse of emptiness into the reality that all things are without


basis or abiding self, and that when we first realize or are told that there is no underlying safety net, no absolute, no God, no oversoul, no individual soul holding it all together, but that we and the world are both utterly other than we had originally thought. It can be like having everything turned upside down or turned 180 degrees through a funhouse mirror. We find out that basically everything we knew and believed is wrong. And yet as we continue to practice, we meet this initial insight and this initial fear again and again, and we come around to it as we return to the same place in sort of an upward spiral over and over again. Through practice, you know, our insight is refined at each turning of the spiral until what was fear is transformed into liberation. And you know, the Buddha says that our suffering comes from this lack of insight


into the way things really are, from taking the impermanent for permanent, for taking that which is painful for pleasure, and for taking that which is non-self for self. I'll give you an example. I think we're all probably familiar with this one at one time in our life. You fall in love, and the person with whom you fall in love embodies everything that is good, everything that you want in his partner. You're smitten, infatuated, and you think, one, if only so-and-so would love me, I'd be happy forever. It would always be the very best day of my life. This is taking the permanent, taking the impermanent for the permanent. This leads to suffering. Some of us may have experienced this. Two, regarding the loved one. We would never fight or disagree or get tired of each other, and the sex would always be fantastic.


I would live in a state of spiritual and emotional and physical bliss. This is taking that which is not pleasurable for pleasurable. Because actually, as we know from our experience, John Keats was right when he, in his poem, I think it was on the Ode to Melancholy, talked about aching pleasure nigh, turning to poison while the bee mouth sips. The ice cream cone always melts, the new car smell always goes away, and your perfect lover ends up being just another person like you with his or her own faults and fears. But we attach to pleasure, and the harder we grasp at it, the less pleasurable it becomes. So the handful of rose petals turns into the handful of thorns. So that's finding, thinking that we will find pleasure in that which is not inherently


pleasurable. And when so-and-so loves me, I will be complete. Finally, I will be a real person, full and finished. Like a particularly difficult crossword puzzle, with all the boxes filled in, and all the answers right. And I will stay that way forever and ever, because my lover is the necessary final perfect puzzle piece that allows me to be whole. And he or she will always remain a part of me. This is taking the non-self for the self, thinking that we can build a permanent, lasting sense of who we are that will stay the same and never go away, and always give us pleasure. Wouldn't it be nice if it were true? I mean, I really want it to be true. I really, really do, and it's not. It just isn't. So this is maybe a little bit extreme or overreaching, but not so much so. We can take as examples, instead of the loved one, the job, the things we own, the family,


the teachings of Buddha, or somewhat less wholesomely, the drink, the drug, the abusive relationship, or at the bottom of the pit, daytime television. And whatever can be turned into a poison will be. When we are not aware of it viscerally, of its baselessness and emptiness, and when we are, when we've practiced enough with the ethical training, enough to be able to practice with the meditation training, enough to be able to give us an entry into pranayama, then it's then we begin to taste the flavor of liberation. So our practice, then, in each of the three legs or trainings, is simply to let go. It's what we're called upon again and again and again. You know, Suzuki Roshi supposedly said that renunciation is not so much giving things up as admitting that they change. And this understanding is the very essence of the three


trainings which lead to liberation for self and other. That's pretty much all I have to say today. The thing is, you know, what I have offered you actually is a teaspoon from the ocean of dharma. You know, the great joy of our life is that the teaching of dharma and the practice of dharma is unexhausting. You know, it will never run out on us. Buddha is the lover who never lets you down. So if you liked the flavor of the teaching, come back for more. If you didn't like the flavor of the teaching, please blame the spoon. Well, thank you all for coming. I guess I


should shut up while I'm ahead. Thanks.