Buddha Nature and the Ugly Duckling

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.


Zendo lecture; feeling of not fitting in and not belonging that sends us towards spiritual practice.

AI Summary: 



Recording ends before end of talk.


Good morning. This morning I want to talk about something that I've thought about for several years while in this training and certainly for many years before that in my other life. We, we call it Buddha-nature, but first I want to tell a short version of a short story. Once upon a time there was an ugly duckling, but she wasn't always an ugly duckling. Before that she was an egg and she was, this egg was in the nest with several, with many other duck eggs and on top of the eggs was a mother duck who loved them all, even though


one of these eggs, her egg, was big. It was much larger than the other eggs. The mother consulted her friends and they decided that it certainly wasn't, well they lived at a farm so there were only, there were only three kinds of bird type things that came out of eggs. One was a chicken, it certainly wasn't a chicken egg. The other was a turkey, might be a turkey, but they decided that they would just wait and see and if it took to the water it was a duck. So being a mother she, she loved them all so she sat on them and the others, the others hatched eventually, but the big egg took much longer to hatch, which was odd, something different


about this egg, but finally it did hatch and out popped this scrawny, albeit very large, duck. Or so, it had to be a duck, it wasn't a chicken, but it might have been a turkey. But they decided pretty soon it was a, it was a duck. But it was so different they called it ugly, which is, which is a word used to describe something really different, ugly, [...] ugly. And for some reason they impressed that upon this poor little duckling so that soon she saw herself as ugly, I mean there was no question about it, she was just ugly. And nobody liked her. The other ducks and the chickens all pecked her, that's what birds seem to do with things they don't like, they peck them and try to kill them if they can, because not only, if


something is ugly it's also presumed weak and the weak must be destroyed in most of nature. She had, she was tall, that was her first mistake. She had a long neck. The other ducks don't have long necks and they're not tall, they're very small. One morning I was sitting out by the creek and in the summer and a mother duck came by with twelve little ducklings, they were like ping pong balls bobbing after their mother. It was beautiful and it was really sweet and cute and they stayed right with her like glue no matter where she went. But they were all the same size, the little ducklings. Okay, so this one, to make the short story shorter, had a terrible, terrible time.


She knew she was really ugly, but not only ugly, she was also shamed, so she thought she was also bad, not only ugly but bad, just because she was different. And she was born I guess in the summer and had a very, very bad long winter. She finally left her family and as it turned out she wasn't a turkey because she really loved the water. And she roamed around the countryside and one day she managed to look up and she saw these, a flock of giant white birds with long necks and they were so beautiful, with gigantic wings, and she had no idea what they were, but somehow she was drawn to them. There was something about their beauty and their grace that struck something in her. And so she went about her business and she stayed with a human family for a while and they were not much better because the cat in the family wanted the duckling to be a


cat and the, what was the other one? A cat and something else, well it was another animal, but that other animal wanted the duckling to be like that too. So whatever she was, she was the wrong thing. So she left them eventually and she slept in the marsh that winter and it was cold but she survived. And then I just want to conclude, come to the ending of the story by reading, by reading the ending, it's very short. Ah, let's see, spring, spring came to the marsh. Oh, it was so lovely here in all the freshness of spring. And straight ahead, out of the thicket, came three beautiful white swans, ruffling their feathers and floating so lightly on the water. The duckling recognized the splendid creatures and was overcome with a strange feeling of


melancholy. I will fly across to them, those royal birds. They will peck me to death for daring, ugly as I am, to go near them. Never mind, better to be killed by them than be nicked by the ducks, pecked by the hens, kicked by the girl who mines the poultry and suffer hardship in winter. And so she flew out onto the water and swam towards the beautiful swans. As they caught sight of her, they darted with ruffled feathers to meet her. Yes, kill me, kill me, cried the poor creature and bowed her head to the water, awaiting death. But what did she see there in the clear stream? It was a reflection of herself that she saw in front of her, but no longer a clumsy, grayish bird, ugly and unattractive. No, she was herself a swan. It doesn't matter about being born in a duckyard as long as you are hatched from a swan's egg.


She felt positively glad at having gone through so much hardship and want. It helped her to appreciate all the happiness and beauty that there were to welcome her later. And the three great swans swam round and round and stroked her with their beaks. Ta-da-da. Of course, there's a little moral there, isn't there, that it was hard to miss, that all of our hardship will be rewarded later. But that's not what I, that's not where I wanted to go with that. So in listening to people's way-seeking mind talks, I suspect it was obvious that so many of us come here having felt, as we were growing up, that there had been some mistake made. That perhaps we, somehow our egg got in the wrong nest. That somehow we didn't, that we were never quite understood, or that our values seemed


to be different. But at any rate, we felt that we didn't belong, that we didn't quite fit. That whoever we were, the clear message was, don't be you, don't be you. Be like us. Be a duck, be a duck. So, if the folks or the people we hung out with were really good at it, we did become them. But later on in life, that doesn't, that can't last for too long, I don't think, without a lot of suffering. So we come to a place like this. And folks that are of great spiritual achievement all seem to speak of our true nature. And that certainly did catch my attention. When was it?


Maybe in my twenties, I guess. That there might be something that's a true nature, because certainly the one that I'm experiencing doesn't seem to be true, doesn't seem to fit. What they also say is that our true nature is usually hidden from us, which doesn't seem like much of a deal. So, ask, you know, why, why, why, why is it hidden? Why can't we see it? Well, in Buddhism, it seems, that any time we avoid our suffering, or try to avoid our suffering, we enter the world of delusion. With its children, greed and hatred and misinformation, stories and thoughts like, no, you're not a Buddha. In fact, you really shouldn't be you. You should be like us. Also, the five skandhas with which we perceive the world aren't really so good.


They're rather limited in what we can see. So, in a large way, we're not really equipped so well to find our true nature. And if we have no need to, we probably won't. Probably won't even try. In Christianity and Judaism, it's said that we can't see who we really are because of our dualistic, discriminating mind, believe it or not. This appears mainly in the Garden of Eden story. Most people think that it's about, it's why life is so ugly, because we were bad in the beginning. But the story really is about Adam and Eve being at one with the Garden and at one with God until they ate of a certain tree. And it wasn't just that it was a naughty tree, it was the tree of the knowledge of good and


evil. So, it's the tree of duality. Right, wrong, this, that, you, me, God, us. So, in other words, all the relationships were broken. And so God sent, I think maybe Gabriel, was it Gabriel, with a flaming sword and kicked them out. And they could never, ever, ever, ever, ever go back again. But as it turns out, they didn't really have to. Because our quest in these terms is not to go back to the Garden of Eden, to go back to the One, it's to go, in those terms, to the New Jerusalem, which is a whole new being. In other words, our true nature. Our true nature isn't unconscious. It's vibrantly conscious. So, this true nature then, if it does exist, and I think probably each of us have had a hint, have had a taste of our true, deep nature, otherwise I don't think we would have made the trip. So, where is it?


Well, so then the argument arises, well, is it inside or outside? You know, in reading the Lotus Sutra, I think the biggest thing that at least smacks me in the head is, no, it's outside. It's outside. It's like a jewel that is given to you. It's like the rain that falls on everything equally. It's like, it's outside the burning house. It's outside. Well, that's usually the approach of evangelists, people who are trying to convert others, do you know? And if I'm a person who doesn't think much about these things, but still, things are uncomfortable, I will probably respond to something coming to me from the outside, because I certainly don't see it on the inside. So, that's a special trick with TV evangelists. If you only take on a belief, or if you only turn over your life, or something like that,


to something else, or someone else, then everything will be much better. Well, the other side of that, the inside part, is the mystics, so-called mystics, and where they say, it's all within you. In fact, Jesus said that too. The kingdom of God is within you. And why the folks, why the ones in charge let that stay, I do not understand. Very dangerous, telling common folk that they are God. Very dangerous. One of the early saints, Saint Augustine, in one of his more lucid moments, said, he was talking about the eternal birth of God, which is a rather subtle notion, but the Lotus Sutra speaks of it too, that the Buddha is not only temporal, but eternal. And so, Augustine, in talking about this eternal birth, that God is always being born, all the time,


he said, what does it avail me, if this birth is always happening, if it doesn't happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters. What a cool thing to say. What is it to me, if it doesn't touch me? And one of the other mystics, Meister Eckhart, much later said, between God and your own soul, there is no between. So, whatever this true nature is, it's something very, very close. So, is it inside? Is it outside? Is it both? Is it neither? Or is it just unfathomable? And so, what occurred to me in thinking about this was, well, how do we determine what's real? How do we actually determine, how do we find out, how do we know what's real? What's really happening? And, you know, I don't think we do.


I don't think we do know what's real, ordinarily speaking. I think reality is incredibly difficult to grasp. Of course it is, by its very nature, it's ungraspable. But it does show itself. And what I thought that came to me was, of this inside-outside, this-or-that, is it both, or is it something else, is it something beyond, was, I was thinking about light. You know that when we look at light through instruments, which enhance our five skandhas, what we do notice is that it's either a particle or a wave. Depends on which instrument you're using and what you're looking for. So, the particle or the wave are like the many.


That's the many, the many manifestations of light, right? Two of the many. But what is the one, the many and the one? The one is the word light, I should think. You know, what we see. But what is that, light? It's, alas, just a word, a concept, an idea that has no existence in it at all. But then, I think, you know, when Dogen says, leap beyond the one and the many, I think that's where the true nature is found. When you leap beyond the one and the many, not that we leap ourselves, but we allow it to happen. I'll say something about that in a second. To leap beyond the one and the many is to know the reality, and the reality is unfathomable. And I was thinking about that, too, in that, you know, if you think of your finger, I mean, I know what this is, it's a finger. And, you know, I know a lot about it, it's attached to the rest of me.


It's very helpful. But if I were to look at that with a magnifying glass, I'd say, oh, my goodness, there's more to this than I thought. If I were to look at it under a microscope, I'd be surprised. Goodness, I didn't know this was here. And if I were to stick it under an electron microscope, if you can do that sort of thing, I don't know. No, well, but if you could, I suspect I'd find even more that I was totally unaware of. And so the point is, the reality, whatever it is, completely eludes me. And I think that's probably the way it should be. Otherwise, I would get an even more greater sense of control, feeling of control. Well, finding out our true nature, truly who we are, how do you do that? How do you find that? Well, Dogen says, at least, he says,


when you find your place right where you are, enlightenment unfolds. In other words, when we find our place right where we are, then we find out who we are or what we are, or we find out our reality, our Buddha nature. So, and as far as I can see, we find this reality by first discovering our delusions that hide and obscure it from us. You know, in the, what is it, in the, hmm, Fukunzan Zengi, well, one of those, where Dogen says, Buddhas know that they are deluded. They don't always know that they're enlightened. I thought that was really cool, because I think what we can know precisely are our delusions, since we make them up, or they've been given to us. The discriminating mind makes up delusions so that we can be protected from pain. So, somehow, if we find our place right where we are,


we will realize that we actually do belong here, that we actually do belong in the nest, even though our egg is big. Also, there's also something about that, too. It's not as if reality is a thing, do you know what I mean? It's not really a thing like other things, that once we spot it, we can then give it a name and put it in a box and forever have it be useful to us. Apparently, being enlightened about our true nature isn't an experience. In other words, there's no observer observing this thing over here. You're actually at one with what is happening. So, in other words, you can't ask somebody if they're enlightened. The question doesn't make any sense. Does that make sense? It's not as if I am experiencing enlightenment. That's not what it is.


It's knowing what's real, and that's not an experience. So, what is it? Even though reality, or our Buddha nature, is unfathomable, inconceivable, it does have attributes, or at least we can pin some on it. One person that I particularly like these days is a psychologist who talks about the true self. One thing he has said is it contains the compassion, it contains the vision and perspective we would call wisdom, the confidence we would call faith, to live an inner and external life of harmony and sensitivity. Pardon me, inner and external. But our true self apparently is compassionate, it's wise, it is confident, and it is able to live in harmony and sensitivity.


Sherry Huber, whom most of you have heard of, I suspect, says that, well, I think of her as the queen of slogans. She has a slogan for absolutely every occasion. This one in particular, she says, anything other than compassion is ego. In other words, our deluded self is everything but compassion. So when you are compassion, you are acting from your true self. In other words, Haku and Yasutani, who I think is contemporary, I think he's at Rinzai, I suspect, but he says that our Buddha nature is unfixed, it's devoid of mass, beyond individuality, personality, and imagination. It's inconceivable and inscrutable, yet we can always awaken to it because we are it. Another Buddhist teacher who is also a psychologist, David Brazier, says,


when our conditioning is abandoned, which is what we do in our practice, obviously, we deal with our conditioning, trying to abandon it, then the Manas relaxes. The Manas is that consciousness that Vasubandhu made up to explain why I think I'm the same now as I was a second ago. There's something in me that is solid and goes through time, relatively solid and goes through time. The Manas relaxes, the alaya consciousness settles, and alaya is all that sticky, nasty stuff of karma, which gives us a feeling that something lasts, that I last. So, when these two things relax and settle, then the mind fills up with radiance from below. That would be the Buddhata, the Buddha nature. In other words, when we do our practices, in order to get out of our own way, what arises is the radiance of our true nature. Isn't that nice? Yes, it is.


So, how do we let it arise? Well, first of all, we have to be there for it, which I think probably is the hardest thing, to make a decision to actually stay awake. How bizarre! Who would want to do that? But we do. We brave the terror of staying awake. And some of the things that we use in this awakening are forms. And I alluded to form at some point. Oh, I know, I was talking to the Tangario students. But I ran across in this kaleidoscope, you know, the pink book on the Lotus Sutra, there's an article in there by a Japanese guy, Taitetsu Uno, and he's talking about the Lotus Sutra, but he mentions the idea of form, or kata, in martial arts training.


And I thought this was the best thing I'd ever seen in form. He says, the training, the way he says, kata, or form, or mold, originated in the mastery of no dance and performance. This training involves three stages, physical, psychological, and spiritual. On the physical level, the mastery of form is the crux of the training. A model is demonstrated by the teacher, and the burden of learning is on the student, who repeatedly observes and emulates the model until the form is completely internalized. This is like bowing, eating oreoki, zazen, any of the forms that we use. We do it over and [...] over again until we can't stand it, and then we do it more and more and more and more until we become it. This results in a centered stance,


ambidextrous movement, fluid performance, and subtle body and mind. He says there are also psychological changes that occur in practicing the forms. He says the monotonous repetition of form practice tests the student's commitment, sincerity, willpower, emotional stability, and inner strength. Doesn't it? But most importantly, it reduces stubbornness, curbs willfulness, and eliminates bad habits of body. With the investment of time and effort, psycho-physical maturity takes place, ultimately leading to the complete mastery of form, which ensures maximum performance, artistry, and power. Then he goes on to say that the highest achievement, however, is spiritual, which is the displacement, get this,


it is the displacement of a rigid ego-self, God forbid, with a fluid, integrated self which can break free of form so that there appears spontaneously the unique flowering of talent, individual creativity, and uncanny resonance with reality. Sign me up. So, form, we'll do all this stuff, which is in a way of enacting our true nature. Those things describe our true nature. The precepts, by following the precepts, that's behaving as a Buddha. It's behaving as a real, honest-to-God, honest-to-goodness human being who is undiluted. So every time we follow the precepts, we are actualizing our Buddha nature, our true nature.


Upright posture, sitting upright is how a Buddha sits, is how a Buddha meets reality. Reality actually can only be met in an upright posture, neither leaning left, nor right, nor forward, nor back. You know, when I think of this, I think of, well, is there anybody who actually turned out to be the right egg in the right nest? And what came to me was the Dalai Lama, whom I never really knew. Well, shall I say this in public? I never really liked so much because I couldn't relate to him. Somebody that kind and that open and forgiving and compassionate. What does that to do with me? Well, now, I'm older now, and can you imagine what it must be like to be raised as a Buddha? No, well, probably not. I can't.


Maybe you can. But here's a guy who, since he was a little tiny tyke, I don't think he ever got the impression he wasn't a Buddha, that he wasn't the embodiment of compassion and wisdom. And not only that, he was taught that over and over and over again and treated kindly and respectfully, if the movie's true. And what that produces is this amazing person, astounding person. Thankfully, it's never too late to start. So we can jump on that train anytime. So, to end all this, you know, Immanuel Kant, in one of the things that I was able to understand, he said that we act as if in order to become.


And the Lotus Sutra certainly talks about that. You know, you must practice hard to become who you really are. How can that possibly make sense? But it does. In Christianity, there's an expression, the time is coming and now is. The future present is a way that, speaking of our place in time and space. So we act as if, by doing our practices, our practice, we act like a Buddha, an authentic human being. So, in other words, we are reconditioning ourselves to be who we really are. Because we all have had expert conditioning otherwise. Expert, expert. And so here we are to recondition so that we can leap free of the whole business and find out who we really are. So that what we,


actually what we learn here will serve us for the rest of our lives. Excellent. This time, are there any questions or comments? First may I ask, what time does the kitchen leave? 10.15? We've got too much time for questions. Oh, yes. Well, talking about these things is sort of easier in a face-to-face little room. In...


When you find who you really are, it's not an it and it's not a who. How's that? As Yasutani Roshi said, that it's not about individuality, it's not about personality, it's not personal. The personal is the ego. I am this, I am that. Enlightenment isn't about that at all, as far as I can tell. Because when you act from who you really are, your behavior is always appropriate. Erin? When you said that you have to do that upside, can you say what you mean by upside? Neither leaning left, nor right, nor forward, nor back. I want that.


I don't want that. I don't think this is good. I think it's very good. That's leaning. So we are... Correct me if I'm wrong, we're all very good at that. That's a skill we don't have to cultivate. So what we're trying to cultivate is the upright stance, the upright posture. Not necessarily... I don't mean that literally, but in terms of practice, definitely literally. When we sit, we're practicing that. Hopefully we can take that out of the room with us. Incidentally, you know that the reason why we keep our eyes open is so that when we're out there, we can be upright because our eyes are open. If we only know how to be upright


with our eyes closed, then to be upright outside we have to keep them closed all the time, which would be a hazard. Judith? When we leave this reality sometimes, is the memory, or the ugly feeling and feeling that we have belonged and we're in the wrong place, do they... I just wonder if there's a ripple of this, if there's facts we can find on this that somehow flip. Is there a way in which we realize our true nature? That doesn't look anymore like


it's so horrible. Did I give you the impression this was bad news? I have no idea. That's just how I heard it. All of those uncomfortable, horrible experiences that we've had with a lot of fear and, you know... Well, that's okay. They're okay. Because what... Adam and Eve, for example, weren't kicked out just because they were awful. They were kicked out because that was the next step. You know, when someone tells you, Don't eat that. I know it looks good, but don't eat it. What are you going to do? I'm going to eat it. So, I mean, the next step in their development, you know, they knew the one. We know the one in the womb, apparently. Apparently. Who could have told me that? Well, whatever. But once we know the one,


then we have to know the other. You know, the ego has to develop. Otherwise, we can't cross the street. Apparently. But, for whatever reason, that's the way a human being develops. We develop an ego. Some of us develop really functional ones. Some of us develop very hurt ones, wounded ones. But, in a way, it doesn't really matter. What matters is practice. Completely accepting. Well, it's all delusion, you know. But I'm anything. Anything I say is not quite right. If I say I'm really, really terrific and special, is that any different from I'm the worst? So, in a way, what brought your ego into development doesn't matter so much. But it's doing the practice. You're putting the practice onto it. I think where we wake up, where we become who we truly are, which is compassionate and wise and confident.


Does that speak? I just wonder if we then see those early difficult experiences that we tend not to experience and we all kind of have to accept and enjoy. Like what other choice did they have? Given their circumstances and given me, what choice was there? Probably not much. Probably not much. Plus, having come from a different planet, also came into it. Don't you find, when you look back, that things seem to make sense a little bit? Or even if they don't, it's okay. At least, that's what I find. It's all right.


I can let it rest. Only if I truly accept myself now. If I don't, then I won't. Joan? I was thinking back when you were moving forward and you just moved on. In general, I was thinking, like, what would you call that? Stuffing? All that moving? Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So then I just read, yesterday, the platform Citra, where it says, suffering always in the light world. Yeah. And it reminds me of something you said a few years ago about the passion book. Absolutely. Is that how you understand it? Same thing. Yep. Yeah. By leaning into it, without my being aware of it, it's just like being so sound asleep that I'll say, Maha Prajnaparamita. What I see happen with that, it's funny, but there's also,


it's really easy to go into this judgment or sarcasm, which, I don't know, I've just been noticing that lately, that you can bring it up, but the mind still goes, what? Good and bad. Are you speaking of your own sarcasm or mine, which I hope isn't? Which was, actually. Well, it just arises, you know? Yes. So, I guess, how to hold that tenderly, when the meaningless happening, it's a barrier and it's also a gate. Yes, yes. But we seem to forget that. Oh, yes. Yes. Because our identity is at stake. Who we think we are is at stake, and that's very dangerous for us. You know, Buddhas know about their delusion. So a Buddha, an awakened one, when they see themselves, when they feel themselves leaning, they say, Oh, leaning. And they've awakened. You know, anything that, like judgment or sarcasm, you know? Same thing. Oh, judgment, sarcasm.


No, that's compassion, right? Oh, your needs. Oh, your sarcasm. Does that speak to what you're saying? Oh, yes, please don't get me wrong. I'm not against suffering. I think it's the only gate. I think it's the only gate into who we really are. Yes? That quote you read about the form was really inspiring, and it brought up a few things that come to mind for me. One is taking the form not too seriously and getting kind of passionate about it. And then the other is being just flat. And then also, the most important thing is, what about people with disabilities or having certain physical problems that you can't use the form? How might you take that quote and apply it to another problem?


Well, I don't see any difference. I don't see that as a problem. Okay. I think it's your... No, I don't see that as a problem at all. Yeah. Don't think about it as a problem. Cool. No, if you only have one arm, this is gassho. If you can't do that, then this is gassho. I don't see it as a problem. Does that make sense? Yeah. Stephen? Regarding what you were saying about form, pitfalls and practice, can you say something about learning through repetition? Is there an intermediate stage that becomes habitual or is that probably different? Well, you know,


habit, I think, I think has a bad rap. I mean, even the word habit. I mean, who wants to be told they have a habit? I was thinking about that, too. And what I thought about was, so what? I have habits and their escalated version of addictions. Of course, they're the same. And I have a habit of coming to the zendo. So some habits are wholesome. Other habits are unwholesome. If I come to the zendo out of habit, that's a pretty good thing. If I know I'm coming to the zendo out of habit, that's even better. Mary? I'm just curious about


like enlightenment. I mean, it's not just a habit. It's through this, that, and the other. Right. Like my experience is that based on people's experience, moments of delusion happen. And then And then there is a sense of memory. Okay.