Breathing In and Breathing Out

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SF-00934
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One-day sitting lecture: Book of Serenity Case 3, Anapanasati Sutta, Six Subtle Dharma Gates

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of the true mind of faith, of the true body of faith. Good morning. This morning I have chosen some stories from the Buddhist tradition to share with you. And so I wanted to invite you just to relax and listen to the stories, and if you can, notice how stories wash through our minds, very much like water washes over our hands. And for a while, anyway, they feel clean and fresh. So the first story is from the Book of Serenity, and this is the case that I was given to study when I was the Shuso here at Green Gulch.

[01:03]

Case number three. The Invitation of the Ancestor to Eastern India. So this ancestor is named Prajñātara, and Prajñātara was the teacher of Bodhidharma. So he's the 27th ancestor from the Buddha, counting from Buddha, if you look at our ancestor chant book, there's Buddha, Mahāgāshapa, Ananda, and so on, and number 27 is Prajñātara. And then the first ancestor in China, Bodhidharma. So Prajñātara sent his student away, far away, off to China to see if he could be of some help in that great land. So in India at the time, Buddhism had been around for a long while and was basically the religious tradition of that culture.

[02:05]

And so it was well known, the stories were well known, and this teacher was well known. A rāja of an East Indian country invited the 27th Buddhist ancestor, Prajñātara, to a feast. The rāja asked him, why don't you read scriptures? And the ancestor replied, This poor wayfarer doesn't dwell in the realms of the body or mind when breathing in, doesn't get involved in myriad circumstances when breathing out. I always reiterate such a scripture, hundreds, thousands, millions of scrolls. So in the Buddhist tradition, in the teachings of the Buddha, there are two great systems of meditation practices

[03:06]

that have been handed down to us. One system, on the one side, is the system of tranquility practice, samatha. And samatha leads to concentration, samādhi. On the other side, the other great system of practices is vipassana, or insight. And insight practice leads to wisdom, prajñā. So I was imagining a kind of four-layer cake made in the shape of an upright seated human. And based in tranquility, there arises concentration. And based in tranquility and concentration, there arises insight. And based in insight, there arises the radiant wisdom of the Buddha.

[04:14]

These teachings, as all of you know, are the realizations of the young prince Shakyamuni, who, pretty much without help and guidance, found his own way to an ancient trail, an ancient path, as he described. He said, I didn't invent this way. I found it. It's right there. It was there all along. And this path led him through the forests of his own fear and dread, and through the swamps of his own lust and boredom. And these are the very same landscapes which surround and perpetuate in each of us a sense of an isolated and lonely self. And this is the self which we can always find at the core of all human suffering in this world.

[05:24]

You know, it's a very small word for a very big problem, you know, the word me. So I find that it's important for me to remember what the Buddha meant by the word suffering. You know, I think it's hard for us sometimes, it's such a weighty word, to see how that applies to this safe and quiet place where we're sitting today, you know, this lovely valley on the coast of California, where we have the privilege of living together and practicing together. You know, what is this word suffering that the Buddha said is common to all humans? So he himself had been raised in privilege and safety, as we know. So he had to go out into the world in order to really witness the range and intensity

[06:29]

of mental and physical anguish that is possible for any one human to endure. And I think for most of us in this modern era, we haven't been as successfully sheltered from the bad news of the world. But I don't think that means that our inspiration need be any less than the inspiration of the young prince to bring relief to the suffering of others. And the inspiration for his own life as a teacher and as a spiritual being came from the great circle of healing that as always must begin with ourself. In the healing of his own delusions and his own hatred and his own unrequited loves, he was able to turn back again and enter the world of suffering with great gifts,

[07:33]

gifts of his hands, of his eyes, and of his understanding, and most particularly of his gentle heart. When he began to teach, he used the example of himself and the world as inseparable in order to define this word suffering. It wasn't his own personal suffering. It was the suffering of the world. And he called this suffering, he defined this suffering in this way. This is from his very first sermon, The Turning of the Wheel of the Law. Birth is suffering. Aging is suffering. Sickness is suffering. Death is suffering. Sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering. Association with the loathed is suffering.

[08:34]

Dissociation from the loved is suffering. Not to get what one wants is suffering. In short, the five aggregates form, feeling, perception, impulse, consciousness, affected by clinging, by grasping, by desire, are suffering. So having himself crossed over this ocean of human misery and become a Buddha, an awakened one, Shakyamuni knew full well what was required of a human being, what we must endure in order to pass through this world of suffering and to follow him along the path of liberation. And yet, out of his great compassion, he did teach the path.

[09:38]

And then, when he passed away, he passed all he could to his disciples, to his family and his friends, warm hand to warm hand, all the way down to us. We are the lucky inheritors of these teachings. And yet, I don't imagine we can expect less by way of difficulty than was met by the young prince long ago. So the Buddha's story is our story, and his effort is our effort, and his realizations and his discoveries are always right at hand, right there to be met, moment after moment. So here's another one of the things that he had to say. Those Bodhisattvas abiding and depending on an unwavering resolution,

[10:44]

that is, to expound the teachings for the welfare of all beings and to become unsurpassably, perfectly enlightened, must cultivate tranquility and insight, shamatha and vipassana, these two great systems of meditation practice, the four-layer cake. When the Buddha was still the young prince, trying to find some support and learn some teachings, there were many teachings available in the India of his day. There still are. And he was lucky to find teachers who taught shamatha, tranquility, which he mastered, and then was invited to become the master of those schools, but he declined because he experienced shamatha as that which doesn't last.

[11:50]

After we come away from tranquility, we're back in the world again with this misery and this suffering. So he knew this wasn't the path, but he did recognize that it was a very valuable tool. So tranquility allows us to experience clear seeing, and it's the necessary preparation for the path of insight, for understanding. I sometimes say to people, it's very hard to see the scenery from the back of a galloping horse. You know, it's better if the horse stops for a while and chews on some grass, while you sit down by the side of the creek. So I know that many of you have been studying these teachings and have heard them before. For some of you, they may be new. But either way, when you hear the teachings, you know, this is the entry point to the ancient trail through hearing.

[12:56]

It's called śruta-māyā-prajñā. Śruta means to hear. So hearing the teachings of the Buddha locates you right on the trail. It's like those signs in the park, you know, that say, you are here, you are here, you are on the path. So this wisdom that comes from hearing, śruta-māyā-prajñā, is an inborn wisdom, you know. No one taught you how to hear wisdom, to recognize it. You know it, you know it when you hear it, just like you know the magnificence of a flower or of a dragon. And once you hear the teaching, for example, this teaching I'm talking about today, śamatha, tranquility, then we have an opportunity to practice that teaching with our own bodies and minds.

[13:58]

And today is a very good day for practicing calm abiding. And this next step of learning is called cintamaya-prajñā, the practice that comes with study, that we study and we investigate and we apply the teachings to ourselves. This type of wisdom is also called carving the dragon. You know, with patience and persistence and repetition, we work these teachings into our own body and thought. It takes quite a bit of time to carve a dragon. So then, once the dragon has been carved, we are at the last step of learning, called bhavanamaya-prajñā, the wisdom of becoming. You have become a dragon.

[15:03]

You are tranquility itself, peace itself. Tranquility is characterized by buoyancy and joyfulness, lightness, kindness, ease, flexibility. It's like a dragon that's playfully sporting the waves of illusions. And such a person with such a mind is quite ready and quite eager to hear the teachings of vipassana, the insight, to look into the nature of reality itself and into the dreams from which dragons and mountains and oceans and people are made. In the old wisdom teachings, there are many types of shamatha practices

[16:04]

that you can read about and study. The best known are the mindfulness practices, four foundations of mindfulness, mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of thoughts, mindfulness of the elements of experience, dharmas. And the first foundation, mindfulness of the body, includes mindfulness of the breath, which the Buddha also wrote an entire sutra just on this practice of mindfulness of the breath. It's called the Anapanasati Sutta. And I summarized it a little bit for you. Monks, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it is of great fruit and great benefit. Here a monk gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut or to her seat in the zendo sits down, having folded her legs crosswise,

[17:09]

setting her body erect and establishing mindfulness in front of her. Ever mindful, she breathes in. Ever mindful, she breathes out. Breathing in long, he understands, I breathe in long. Or breathing out long, he understands, I breathe out long. Breathing in short, she understands, I breathe in short. Or breathing out short, she understands, I breathe out short. She trains thus, I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body. I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body. He trains thus, I shall breathe in tranquilizing the bodily formations. I shall breathe out tranquilizing the bodily formations.

[18:10]

And so on, through rapture, pleasure, and mental formations, through awareness of mind, the gladdening of mind, the concentrating of mind, and the liberating of mind, and so on, through contemplation of impermanence, of fading away, of cessation, and of relinquishment, and so on, through the fulfillment of the seven factors of enlightenment, mindfulness, investigation of states, tireless energy, unworldly rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. Monks, that is how the seven enlightenment factors, developed and cultivated, fulfill true knowledge and deliverance. That is what the Blessed One said.

[19:14]

The monks were satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One's words. So mindfulness of breathing is the most simple and readily accessible object of meditation for calming our chattering or rampaging minds. In the first few moments of your life, you inhaled. In the last moment of your life, you exhale. And in between are the hundreds, thousands, and millions of scrolls which the great ancestor Prajñātāra was continuously reading. So here is both a place and a way, the road of breath

[20:17]

that grows wider and deeper as we blend air and mind. So I want to suggest that for the first part of the day or perhaps for the entire day or even for the rest of your lives if you like, you consider focusing on your breathing and watch the subtle movements of the body as air moves in and out. It used to be in Zen Center we gave Zazen instruction by telling people to count their breathing as a way of focusing, bringing the mind together with the breath. And then I think it was discovered that there were people who didn't know they could stop counting, and they for many years were counting their breaths

[21:18]

and not very happy about that. So with all apologies to any of you who did that, I think I might have been one of them, it's okay not to count. However, it's also okay to count. It's really your choice. If you find it useful, then please do. I personally find it very helpful. When I sit down in the morning, I was kind of checking it out this morning to make sure it's true, I often start by counting until the discursive thinking quiets down, which usually takes a while, maybe the entire first period, in many, many cases for me. And once you find that the counting is no longer necessary, that you're able to maintain awareness of your breathing, of your respiration, then the counting can just simply cease and continue following the breath.

[22:20]

So these two practices, counting and following, are the first two of what are known as the six subtle Dharma gates that were taught by the great Tendai Master, Juri, who was a tremendous influence on our Pounding Master, Master Dogen, who began his career as a Tendai monk and learned these practices, studied these practices in full. Tendai is the school of the Lotus Sutra, which was also a great influence on Master Dogen. I think as you read the Chobugenzo, you'll see that very often his quotations are from the Lotus Sutra, reflecting this early training in the Tendai school. So Master Juri wrote this treatise, the Six Subtle Dharma Gates, which I once typed in full for Zen Master Rev. Anderson.

[23:23]

It's rather long and not as interesting as counting your breathing, but one of those steps, the first one, counting, allows us to then engage in following of the breath. The next step is stopping. I don't think your breath actually stops. That would probably be tragic. I think what happens is that the appearance of movement ceases, kind of frozen. Something's going on there. And the next step is contemplation within this quieted, non-moving, the illusion of movement has ceased. And then the next level is returning, and the final level is purification. So these are very traditional practices and well written about.

[24:24]

You can study them yourself and you may find them quite interesting. But for now anyway, counting and following, and perhaps you'll see stopping. So this may be enough of a focus for you for the day. However, if you find that you've become tranquil and concentrated and you would like to shift to vipassana practices, then this is a conscious choice you can make. From that tranquil position, you may decide to look into the nature of mind or the nature of existence. So we re-engage with our discursive thinking, but in a very slowed down way. The horse is now just walking along, not running. Among the many spiritual teachers and philosophers of the Buddha's day,

[25:26]

each was distinguished by a particular theory about the nature of mind, the nature of existence, just as is true in Western philosophy and theology. And these theories basically ranged from there is nothing, the nihilists, to there is a permanent something, the eternalists, and then to those in between, basically the materialists, who suggest you might as well get it while it's hot. So within these choices, basically you can yourself lean either into nothing or into a very permanent something, or perhaps you're wavering. You're not sure which one it might be, which theory you find more comforting. But actually, all of these theories have more to do with thinking itself than with what human beings can actually see or know.

[26:29]

So the Buddha, unable to make a claim in any direction, said that he had no theories or views whatsoever about the nature of existence. In fact, he taught that clinging to theories and views is precisely, along with clinging to bodily pleasures, the very cause of our suffering. So his teachings were concerned with not so much how the arrow got there, but how to get it out. There's a very famous exchange that takes place between the Buddha and the skeptic Dikkanaka, who says to the Buddha, Master Gautama, my view and my theory is this. I have no liking for views. And the Buddha says, This view of yours, I have no liking for views.

[27:34]

Have you no liking for that as well? And then the Buddha taught the monks in this way. Holding to views of any kind will clash with others who hold a different view. And when there's a clash, there are disputes. When there are disputes, there are quarrels. And when there are quarrels, there is harm. By foreseeing that, one abandons all views without clinging to some other. So in light of our Samatha practice today, I wanted to also include the teaching of the Buddha regarding views. He actually includes a teaching that's concerned with our clinging to the view that we have arrived at peace. So this must have been a danger for the monks,

[28:36]

as it must be for us as well. And it has to do with mistaking the fruit of Samatha practice, the peacefulness, the blissfulness, and the clarity, for some kind of spiritual attainment or goal. In the sutra called the Five and Three, the Buddha tells his disciples that those monks whose behaviors are not entirely wholesome or who lack resolve concerning the fetter of sensual pleasure and who have become intoxicated with the rapture of seclusion may regard themselves thus, I am at peace. I have attained nirvana. I am without clinging. Such a monk is in fact clinging to the view of themselves at peace. And this too is declared to be clinging on the part of this good recluse or monk. And the Buddha continues,

[29:39]

The supreme state of sublime peace that has been discovered by the Tathagata is that liberation arising through not clinging to any objects of sensory or mental experience whatsoever. So not dwelling in the realms of the body and mind when breathing in. Not getting involved in myriad circumstances when breathing out. This scripture I study hundreds, thousands, and millions of scrolls. Or as one of our teachers, Paul Disko, once said, it's not what you're going to get, it's what you're going to lose. So all of the practices, the insight practices in the Buddhist tradition has this same quality of turning our awareness back onto itself. Taking this light and turning it onto the clockwork of illusion and deceit.

[30:48]

There's an exchange from a novel that was written about the Buddha called The Lady of the Lotus, which I like very much, in which the Buddha is in the garden and he's just endured the assault of the armies and of the offerings of the dancing women and men. And he's sitting there now face-to-face with Mara, the evil one. And Buddha says to Mara, I know who you are, deceiver. And to which Mara scoffs, Oh no you don't. Oh yes I do, comes the Buddha's reply. And at which point Mara grows anxious and hisses, Never, you will never know who I am. And then the Buddha says quietly, You are myself. And with that, Mara vanishes. So we quiet our minds in order to know ourselves completely,

[32:03]

to know the many voices and views that animate our bodies and overly determine our behavior throughout the day. When our practice begins to ripen through long years and through the support of our faithful Dharma comrades, the primary insights of the Buddha become nearly visible in our gestures and in the vapor trail of our fiery breath. Cloud dragons soaring. That primary insight as he gazed on the morning star was of the non-dual nature of existence. No star outside, no lonely prince inside. Both sides completely broken through by the gentle passage of wind through a gateless barrier. Thank you very much.

[33:05]

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