Breathing In, Breathing Out

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SF-01146
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Sunday Lecture: simplicity; story of Prajnatara in Malawi; the sun comes up, the sun goes down; connections; the four foundations of mindfulness; Navajo rain dance

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I vow to taste the truth of the Tathāgata's words. Good morning. Did any of you go to see the Blue Angels yesterday? It's hard to avoid. I actually went. At first I was just going to go up on the hill here and I thought I could see them, but I couldn't see anything. So I ended up at Fort Baker with lots of people. And I kept wondering what I was doing there. And there were lots of boats on the bay. It was a beautiful day. And after a while they showed up and I kept feeling very frightened. And I was worried that something terrible was going to happen. And while I was watching,

[01:02]

this sailboat went by right where I was sitting. And as it passed, I could see the name on the back and it was the Nirvana. So I left. Well, today I'm really wanting to talk about simplicity. But every time I started to think about simplicity, my mind and the entire world got extremely complicated. And that's not what I wanted to offer to you today. So while I'm talking, I'm going to remind myself, this is about simplicity. Being simple. So I'd like to start with a story from the Book of Serenity

[02:08]

about a Zen master, a master of simplicity, who lived a long time ago. A Raja of an East Indian country invited the 27th Buddhist ancestor Prajñātara to a feast. The Raja asked him, why don't you read scripture? The ancestor said, this poor wayfarer doesn't dwell in the realms of the body and 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. 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 this scripture,

[03:11]

hundreds, thousands, millions of scrolls. For quite a few years now, I've been participating with the Marin Interfaith Council. Green Gulch Farm is a member of the council. And on the board right now, there is a rabbi, there has been an imam, there are Sufis, Lutherans, lots of Presbyterians, Buddhists, and Hindus. And I really find the time I spend with the board both deeply inspiring and spiritually invigorating. So recently, one of our members returned from a long trip to the country of Malawi. And she said that Malawi is perhaps the poorest nation

[04:15]

on the planet Earth. The average income there per person is $12 a year. And she said that there are no garbage cans in Malawi, because everything is used. So they would have these wrappers and things in their hands, feeling embarrassed, and would stuff them in their pockets. At the same time that she was telling us about the financial poverty, material poverty, excuse me, she also kept talking about the tremendous wealth of the culture and of the people. The wealth that showed up in the objects that she brought back with her, these small brooms and pots and toys,

[05:18]

all the same color. And as she said, the same color as the land and the same color as the people. And she also said that they were extremely rich in physical contact with each other's bodies. The older people with the younger people, the men with the men, the women with the women, the teenagers with the babies. Everybody was hugging and touching and singing and dancing together. She said one of the girls told her that she was quite old before she realized that she only had one woman had given birth to her. So I met my friend on Tuesday morning at a meeting and it was my turn to share. And when we share, we read something from our traditions. So I shared this story about Prajñātāra. And afterwards, each of the people say something in response,

[06:24]

some impression. And my friend's name is Susan Kirsch and she's from the Unity Church in Novato. And Susan said, there's a saying in Malawi that no matter what happens, you know, people die, one day a man had drowned who was fishing, babies were born, and the people say commonly, the sun comes up, the sun goes down. So that was Tuesday morning. And on Wednesday morning, as I stepped outside of this building, it started to rain. Very simple. Very, very good feeling. So remembering the rain reminded me of another story

[07:28]

that I had read about a man who was slowly going blind. He wrote a book about his experience going blind called Touching the Rock. I have a sister who's blind, so I was very interested to hear what that might be like from someone who could perhaps give me some more of the story of being blind. So he said that at first, he was a teenager when he began losing his sight, and at first things were dim, and eventually he could no longer remember the faces of his children or of his wife or even his own face for that matter. And this was the very darkest part of his experience. And then what helped him in his recovery, his emotional recovery,

[08:28]

was the days in which it rained. He said he would stand outside of his house and in the sound of the rain he could see his green lawn and the cars parked on the street and the rooftops of his neighbor's houses. So I think simplicity is like the rain for the blind man. It's a connector that brings together our inhalations to our exhalations, the summer to the fall, birth to our death, the earth to the sky. And when it rains I always feel as though there's plenty of time and plenty of room and not so many choices. Babies are good at it and old people are good at it

[09:31]

and trees and buffalo and alligators are good at it. Good at simple living. So when I include in my thoughts the teachings of the Buddha it occurs to me that the moment of his awakening was probably just like that. Very simple. Very simple. Quiet, serene, calm, under a tree, naturally loving, naturally clear. Sun comes up, sun goes down. Wonderful. How wonderful. So while I sat at my computer contemplating this talk and these ideas about simplicity I looked around my room and here's what I saw.

[10:34]

I made a list. Hundreds of books. Many unread. Dozens of little crafty things. Ceramic bowls and animals, bronze and wooden statues, a paper mache mask that my daughter made in the second grade, paintings and weavings and photographs of my teachers, of my family and my friends, my cat and my daughter Sabrina. Furniture, clothing, office supplies, electronic equipment, bags for carrying things, rocks, a flute, a teapot, a jar of honey, a baseball, a hand puppet and a clock. And that's not all. At the Zen Center officers meeting last Thursday

[11:37]

I heard about a method of testing drinking water to find out if it's safe or not. They put some kind of a sticky net into the water so a large volume passes through and all the little creatures that are in there are trapped in the net so they can see if any of them are the kind that make humans sick. So I think my room is like that, like the net. I have trapped a tremendous sampling of the world but I really don't know what to make of it all. So it sits there all around me, a collection of samples that are speaking to me of who I am, where I've been, and what I've longed to be. But like the man who has lost his sight, without the rain, nothing at all can be seen. Inhaling and exhaling, standing, walking,

[12:40]

sitting or lying down. Sun comes up, sun goes down. Among one of the earliest and simplest scriptures of the Buddhist canon is the Maha Sati. The Patthana Sutta, the four foundations of mindfulness, which I did find to my left on the bookshelf while I was looking, very gratefully so. In this sutta the Buddha is teaching in a market town called Kamastama to a tribe called the Kus. And he tells the people this, there is a way to the purification of beings for overcoming sorrow and distress, for the disappearance of pain and sadness, and for the gaining of the right path and for the realization of nirvana. The way that the Buddha teaches to the Kus

[13:43]

is called the four foundations of mindfulness. So I was thinking it might be good for you to hear about the four foundations of mindfulness. And I know some of you already have, and perhaps many of you have not. But either way, all of us are fully equipped with the foundations on which mindfulness takes place. Those foundations are basically simple. The body is the first foundation, the feelings the second, the third is conscious mind, and the fourth are the objects of the conscious mind. So basically that's each and every one of us and the world that circulates both within and without. Mindfulness is very much like the man

[14:49]

listening for the sound of the rain. So the first contemplation, the contemplation of the body, this is from the Sutta. Having gone into the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty room, a person sits down cross-legged, holding their body erect, having established mindfulness before them. Mindfully breathing in. Mindfully breathing out. Breathing in a long breath, I know I breathe a long breath. Breathing in a short breath, I know I breathe a short breath. And so I train myself thinking, I will breathe in conscious of the whole body, I will breathe out conscious of the whole body.

[15:50]

And so I train myself thinking, I will breathe in calming the whole bodily process. I will breathe out calming the whole bodily process. Following this meditation, there is a section called the insight. So during this meditation, it's quite possible that the meditator will have an insight. And this is the one that is suggested for mindfulness of the body. It's a simple understanding which is said something like this, There is a body. From within this simple understanding, the meditator abides independently, not clinging to anything in the world.

[16:54]

There is a body. So this insight is like the very moment when the blind man sees the green lawn. It's not more and it's not less than that. There is a body. There is a body. A body that does not cling to anything in the world, a body that is not different from the world. So this is a very important experience for a human being. It's a moment of recognition, a moment of presence, and a particular sensation of freedom. However, it is possible, in fact it is highly probable, that at this moment of seeing oneself as both simple and free,

[17:58]

the human being tries to make that experience into a thing, like a sailboat named Nirvana. We make these insights into things, into some things, a something that we have, a something that we know, a something that we are, a something that we can depend on. So within moments of unhooking from the complexity of imagining ourselves into the simplicity of being ourselves, we are re-hooked again. In the commentary section of case three, it says, this old fellow Prajñātara, Prajñātara is the master in this story, this old fellow Prajñātara had no signs of greatness either. He took a gourd water dipper and flipped it over once.

[19:01]

The raja bowed in respect at that. What does he know? I say the king of a nation coveted one grain of another's rice. This old fellow Prajñātara had no signs of greatness either. He took a gourd water dipper and flipped it over once. The raja bowed in respect at that. What does he know? I say the king of a nation coveted one grain of another's rice. So even a king surrounded by wealth and by servants fails to know that there isn't something special that he lacks. Prajñātara in his simple gesture of flipping the gourd looks to the king like a great master, a great magician. And the king wants to know his secret. Why don't you read scriptures?

[20:05]

So the master tells him his secret. Be ever mindful of your breathing. Sun goes up, sun goes down. So these are the simple teachings from the Buddha ancestors who wish for us every success in our spiritual endeavors. And yet like anxious parents, they cover their eyes as we heedlessly speed along the path searching for we don't know. Speeding along the path reminds me of a joke that my daughter told me yesterday. What does the snail say when he rides on the back of the turtle? Anybody know? Yeah, don't you know that? Did you hear it?

[21:08]

So the ancestors kindly teach us the various pitfalls that may occur as we proceed along the way. One of which is called having only one eye. Having only one eye means that we have come to an understanding for ourselves alone, our own personal freedom. But we haven't yet clarified the eye of objective reality, of everything and everyone else. Having only one eye can lead to a very narrow and restricted adaptation of a spiritual life. You know, clinging to scriptures bound by the tenets of morality. Having two eyes is a real job. And it's a job that takes every ounce of our courage and every ounce of our integrity in order to stand up in the midst of our fellow humans

[22:21]

and to sing our song and to dance our dances even when we really don't know how. I was very moved by this film Little Miss Sunshine. You know, she redeemed her family by dancing even though she didn't know how, wholeheartedly. You know, in this vicious competition of little girls who were highly trained and dressed like poodles. And I felt redeemed sitting there in the audience, too, having been kind of worried about her, you know. Nothing to worry about. Jellyfish have no eyes. In seeking food they must depend on prawns. When I read the stories from the ancestors,

[23:23]

I take them as signals to slow down and to recommit my own daily practice to the most basic and elemental portions of this teaching. I will breathe in, calming the whole bodily process. I will breathe out, calming the whole bodily process. I will breathe in, calming the whole bodily process. The second foundation of mindfulness is mindfulness of feeling. And again from the Sutta, Here a monk feeling a pleasant feeling knows that as a pleasant feeling. Feeling a painful feeling knows that as a painful feeling. Feeling a neutral feeling knows that as a neutral feeling. The insight that comes to the monk from this meditation

[24:24]

is similar to the one that arose concerning the body. There is a body, only this time there is a feeling. Once again the monk abides independent and not clinging to anything in the world. The third foundation of mindfulness is the contemplation of the mind. Here a monk knows a lustful mind as lustful, a mind free from lust as free from lust, a hateful mind as hateful, a mind free from hate as hateful, a mind as free from hate, a deluded mind as deluded, and so on up to a liberated mind as liberated, and an unliberated mind as unliberated. So this time the insight arises there is mind.

[25:24]

And the monk abides detached not grasping at anything in the world. The last, the fourth foundation of mindfulness is contemplation of the objects of the conscious mind. Among the objects that are listed under this contemplation the Buddha includes most of the traditional teachings in some great detail. The five hindrances, the five aggregates, the twelve sense bases, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the four noble truths. Following these contemplations the insight arises in the monk there are mind objects. And the monk abides detached not grasping at anything in the world. When the Lord spoke the monks rejoiced and were delighted at his words.

[26:27]

So why is that? Why were they so happy? Well, I got pretty happy reading these teachings myself because they're very simple. They're so simple, you know. Just like when it rains. There is a body. There is a feeling. There is a mind. There are objects of mind. That's all. And yet the question still remains, what do I do with all of my stuff? I was thinking, well, eventually it'll all be put into boxes and taken to the good will by whatever's left of my friends and my family. And I thought they'll probably wish I'd done some of that work myself. Recently my own brothers and my sister and I

[27:36]

did this very same work for my mother who is still quite lively but we've really reduced her inventory and she's really, really mad. She said, I don't understand why you've taken all of my things. And we don't want her to be mad but we couldn't fit it all into a room of my sister's house. As it is, she can barely get to her bed. So we did our best. We got as much as we could and new shelves have been built. But still, what have you done? Why have you taken all of my things? My mother's forgetting most everything but not that. So the next step, the Buddhist version of object relations is getting our second eye.

[28:37]

Finding our second eye. We have to have both eyes open in order to see how deeply we love and how truly we belong. I recently told my therapist that I had gone to Borders and shopped for a 2007 calendar. The one I really liked had pictures of wooden sailboats. And the feeling inside of me was kind of soaring as I looked at these pictures of these boats under sail. And then I thought, but I don't sail. And sailboats are for rich people or for people who love them so much they spend their lives building them and maintaining them. So I put the calendar back and instead I got one of vegetables.

[29:40]

Vegetables that have been made into little animals. It's called, play with your food. So my sometimes kindly therapist said, you don't have to be a dog to become a vet. And while I was trying to figure out what he meant by that, he said, the people who know you and care about you will not be surprised at all to see that you have a calendar of wooden sailboats. They won't be surprised at all to see the collection of things, your things, reflecting who you are, where you've been, and what you love. How about you? So it's no coincidence that my favorite story from the Zen tradition is about Master Tozan who is the founder of Soto Zen,

[30:48]

the school of Zen that we follow, I guess, here. So Tozan lived in China and after many years of study he had only gotten one eye fully opened, the eye of detachment and freedom from the world. But he was still looking, he was looking for his other eye. So he went on a pilgrimage to find a teacher in order to help him in his search. And as he was crossing a creek, he looked into the water and saw his own image reflected there. Both eyes were suddenly opened and he said, perhaps with a face full of tears, just this person, just this person. He had found himself, the missing piece of the puzzle. He was right where he had always been, not dwelling in the realms of the body and mind,

[31:50]

not getting involved in married circumstances, moving freely like the water and thinking freely like the wind. So this is object relations without the subject. There is a body, there is feeling, there is mind, there are mind objects and that's all. There isn't anyone missing and there isn't anything here. Each moment is whole, plain and simple, just like a bagel. Last summer I went with some families from here to the Navajo lands where we camped for a week with several Navajo elders and children from Little Singer Community School. Last August when I spoke here, I talked a lot about that trip and I told stories of our time together.

[32:51]

Very meaningful trip for me and the people who went. I know that, we've all spoken about it. And I know how Susan Kirsch feels coming back from Malawi, deeply touched by the lives of people, the simple lives of people who are close to the land and close to one another. And when we spoke about our experiences, we were struck by the poverty we feel in our own community and the poverty that people speak of in living so far away from each other, out of contact, not touching. So my favorite story from the Navajo land took place the last day of our trip. I told this in August and I'll tell it now again. We'd spent the morning at a Hopi village

[33:54]

where we'd been invited to watch the kachina dances that were being done by a hundred men in identical masks and traditional dress. And they were going to be dancing all day long, very simple steps to a drum, back and forth, big spiral of men. And we watched from the rooftops of the Pueblo. And then we said our goodbyes at mid-morning and we took off across the desert, each in our own family cars. When my family got to Flagstaff, up in the mountains, the sky was quite black. Oh, I don't know if I mentioned the dance these men were doing was a rain dance. There had been four years of drought on the high mesas. So I called on my cell phone, I called Etta Shirley, the woman from Little Singer, my friend. I said, Etta, what's happening?

[34:54]

She said, very matter-of-factly, phew, it's starting to rain. Sun comes up, sun goes down. So I want to finish with the verse from the case that I read, case three of the Book of Serenity. A cloud rhino gazes at the moon, its light engulfing radiance. A wooden horse romps in spring, swift and unbridled. Under the eyebrows, a pair of cold blue eyes. How can the reading of scriptures reach the piercing of oxide? The clear mind produces vast eons. Heroic power smashes the double enclosure. In the subtle, round mouth of the pivot turns the spiritual work. Hanshan forgot the road by which he came. Shite led him back by the hand.

[35:57]

Thank you very much. They are intention. They are intention. They are intention.

[36:05]

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