Developing Confidence in Buddha Nature

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SF-00074
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Sunday talk.
Koan with the wild ducks; story of the king who questioned the Buddha; report on global warming.

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Transcript: 

Good morning. And welcome to Green Gulch Farm and Green Dragon Zen Temple. On this day, which is very close to spring, yesterday someone noticed the Ceanothus moth had just emerged, and there was one over by the walkway here, magnificent, has a wingspan of about 5 or 6 inches. Today I just noticed where we had plum blossoms a little while ago, now we have little plums

[01:07]

forming, like little green peas. So it's a beautiful day. We've been having what we call a practice period here, which is a time of more concentrated time, mostly in this room, in the Zengo, and during this time we've been looking at the matter of how to establish confidence in Buddha-mind, or confidence in your true nature. What is your true nature? The question arises, how to even be in touch with your true nature when there are so many ways to be distracted, so many ways to be busy, and we're so buffeted by events, events

[02:16]

from the outside and events from the inside. We're buffeted by our own mental and emotional events. Today I want to consider a little bit how we can see and acknowledge the things that distract us, including our own misdeeds of the past, and the karmic consequences of misdeeds. Which we don't always see as misdeeds, it's really a way in which we may just distort our perception of the world around us. There's an old Zen story from 8th century China of Bai Zhang and Matsu. Bai Zhang became one of the founders of Zen, Chan, as it was called in China, and actually

[03:20]

set out the rules for monastic living in China, but this was before all that happened, and he was a young student, maybe he was a work practice student at Matsu's monastery, or maybe he was resident staff, but one day he and Matsu were out walking, and some wild ducks flew by, and Matsu said, what's that? And Bai Zhang said, wild ducks. Matsu said, where have they gone? And Bai Zhang said, they've flown away. And at that Matsu, the teacher, reaches over and grabs Bai Zhang by the nose, gives it a twist.

[04:22]

And Bai Zhang yelps with pain, and Matsu says, how can you say they've flown away? And Bai Zhang wakes up to his own delusion that there was some other place. His delusion that Buddha mind was bounded. So many people today have a similar kind of delusion, that there is some other place. That Buddha mind, in your own true nature, is bounded, and definable, and graspable, and identifiable. So many people think that there's heaven, or hell, someplace else.

[05:28]

That seems to influence much of what we do. Influences who we vote for. So that notion of something, of there being another universe, of there being some place that things can fly away, has been clearly refuted in our Zen Buddhist lineage. So with a twist of the nose, in this case, Bai Zhang's delusion dropped away. Sometimes it takes a little pain for us to realize that the way we think of things is maybe not quite complete. Bodhidharma, a few centuries before that, when he came to China from India, and was asked by the Emperor Wu of China about what is the most essential teaching

[06:40]

of the Buddha way, he said vastness. Vastness. There is nothing holy. Which is another way of saying that everything is holy. Vastness, there's a boundless world, and everything in it. Wherever you touch is important, sacred. So we then can find ourselves wherever we are, wherever we are in this vastness. In true nature, or in Buddha mind, as we call it. But how do we do that? We have a practice that we call stopping. Returning to ourselves. Some of you may have seen the cartoon.

[07:43]

There was a little cartoon that had a kind of a storefront. It said Zen Center. And as I remember, there were two characters. One character was looking in the window of the Zen Center storefront. And there was another person, like a homeless person, sitting on the sidewalk. And the person looking in the window starts looking around and says, Well, how do you get into the Zen Center? I don't see a door. And the person sitting on the sidewalk says, Inquire within. So this is, I think it was in one of those Buddhist magazines. But there are several now these days.

[08:44]

So we have the practice of inquiring within. And when you deeply inquire within, you may notice that the boundary between you and your environment becomes permeable. For example, with sound. You may notice that it's not so clear where the sound is. I'm sitting here in the Zen Dojo and listening to frogs. Listening to owls. Listening to big trucks rumbling up and down Highway 1, creating that detour. But where is the sound? Now I know that the sound is vibrations that come through the air. And I have this little bit of skin in the ear that we call an eardrum that vibrates sympathetically.

[09:49]

With the sound, vibrations that are coming through the air. And then there are these little bones right in the ear that move just slightly and send signals to the nerves of the brain. And so, where is that sound? So that organ, the organ of hearing and actually all our sense organs are evidence of our connection with owls and frogs and trucks on the road. It's clear that we are not actually separate. And the Genjo Koan, Dogen, Zen Master Dogen in Japan wrote something about how when we stop putting our idea of ourself between us and our experience, that we actually wake up to a world that's dynamic and

[10:58]

vibrationally influencing us and changing. So he put it very succinctly, saying, to carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening. So that when you carry yourself forward, that is when you put yourself in the foreground, you tend to separate yourself, not realizing that you are actually yourself, an expression of the myriad things. But when you step back, stop for a moment, just listen, you may notice that the myriad things

[12:03]

are actually realizing themselves through you, that you are included. So how often do you do that? How often do you carry yourself forward? Most people, upon awaking in the morning, quickly begin a stream of thoughts that creates a sense of identity and confirms your belief in who you are and what you are and what you're not and what irritates you and what you like. Maybe even waking up irritates you. That kind of waking up with the alarm clock It's not really waking up, though, but it may be the alarm clock that you say, that's what irritates me, or my own feeling of not having had enough sleep.

[13:05]

So there's a way in which we take our experience and hold it. And a word that's come into more frequent use these days to describe that is, we reify our experience. That is, we take a piece of our experience, reify it. The word comes from the Latin res, R-E-S, for thing. So what we actually do when we do that is we make things out of our experience, including making things out of ourself. It's kind of a process of thingamatization. So reify is easier to say. So we reify our experience. And this is a...

[14:13]

Actually, we don't notice, usually, that we do this, but it is actually a powerful karmic activity. That there's karma, there's consequences from the mental activity of making things out of our experience. And of course we have to do this. Our survival depends on it, right? We instinctively do it from the time we're little babies trying to understand our experience. We turn it into things. And eventually we tend to turn ourselves into a thing that's separate from other things. So this is all good, except we tend to forget that we do it. And then we get out of balance because we don't notice the other side. The other side in which there are no things.

[15:15]

The other side of our experience in which the frog's voice in my ear is one. The frog in the pond and my sitting here are one. And... So... I've been reflecting on this in my daily activity for a long time. And every once in a while I try to find some way to express it. This week I was fortunate to have an hour or so to work in the garden. And so I composed a little poetic expression of my experience building compost. So I'll read that with apologies to the people who

[16:20]

were here yesterday for the Dharma talk. I included it there yesterday. So this is Green Dragon Compost, 2007. Mid-practice period. Cusp of spring. In muddy boots I traverse the wet grass of morning. Four of us are building a layer cake of compost. Weeds and green prunings. Stems and straw. Two wheelbarrows of fragrant horse poop and heavy buckets of kitchen leavings all seasoned with dried blood and inoculated with the ancestral lineage of aged wisdom compost. Impermanent flowing of countless lives over ten thousands of years tens of thousands of years have turned rock into soil.

[17:21]

Freely giving the body of garden, of farm a body-mind that shapes a sense of self. And I in turn in this fragile moment am and in being am also gone. Immersed in an ocean of luminous blossomings seeds are swelling sprouts are bursting unhindered rising into the light that grows abundant with each day rapidly rushing into equinox and beyond. In this ocean I rise like a wavelet a bobbing cork of indeterminate size I am lifted and dropped turning and being turned. And I tremble with the knowledge of war with its terrors and killings its karmic machinery of death

[18:25]

rising from this same earth industrial metal and chemical dust meat, tender skin and splintered bone its severed limbs and blood on the threshold of this cusp of spring links sunlit street and torn, violated living room carpet. All this surges into the compost as we wash out the buckets of kitchen slops red and green cabbage leaves remnants of bread, of soup out of the mind of cooks out of the mind of chopped carrots Someone is dying someone is being born someone is falling in love someone is left behind seeing what is and taking my turn with a forkful of weedy greens

[19:27]

I offer my blessings. So that's part of the fun of making compost. I encourage everyone to appreciate compost and also to notice what goes into it and also notice what doesn't suit compost so well. For thousands of years everything that humans did and worked with and created could be returned to compost but since I think it's partly because we have such a desire for permanence that we wanted to take the metal from stone

[20:30]

and make things that last So before Columbus arrived here on what some people call Turtle Island everything was compostable Of course some things took a long time like rock does take a while but now we have so many things that we've created that don't fit into compost. We're so ingenious we've created materials that do not return to the earth So to me it's a tremendous irony that in our disposable use it once and throw it away effort, we have created things that we can't throw away. We've created

[21:30]

plastic grocery bags and so-called disposable diapers that we actually can't throw away because we can only throw them away if we think there isn't a way But once we realize that there is no away that is there is no returning, no actual regeneration in these things that we're creating then we find that we've created something that then is a burden that we somehow must carry for we're not sure how long Thousands of years? How can we take responsibility when we can't really think beyond maybe two or three generations? It's hard for us to practically envision how the processes that we're involved in can play out

[22:33]

over more than two or three generations say 60 to 100 years It's a little hard for us to grasp So some of this comes, I think, because we want to live like royalty We all want the comforts of kings and queens and it's part of the myth I think of the democratic world is that everyone can live like a king or queen So we have this built into a kind of a structure in our particular culture but it goes way back Let's see how much time I have Maybe I can fit this in. There's a story of a king

[23:34]

in the time of the Buddha His name is Ajatasattu Vedaputta Rajah I discovered this name a couple of weeks ago It wasn't so familiar to me. It's in one of the earlier texts early Buddhist texts He was a king who was a local king Maybe we'd say he was a raja He was the head of or maybe the lord mayor of the town of Magadha and he was quite comfortable being a king except he realized somehow he didn't sleep so well and he thought that maybe he could learn something

[24:38]

from considering the values of a spiritual life and so he asked his advisers who are the teachers you might recommend for me to learn something about the value of a spiritual life so the sutra goes on and lists dozens of these various teachers but they all had some limitation he wasn't so happy with wasting his time and finally they got down to the wise sage of the Shakya clan who we today refer to as the Buddha and so there were some good stories some good reports about his teaching and so he said well let's settle up my royal elephants and let's go on over there and they went over and he had to get off his elephant

[25:39]

and then walk and then as he was walking into this kind of forested area he became alarmed because it was so quiet and he turned to his he turned to his adviser and said you know I thought you told me there was a big gathering here and it's much too quiet is there some kind of a plot on my life he was quite worried but they assured him that no this was actually people being peaceful so he was then reassured enough that he was able to approach and eventually worked his way in close and was then recognized by the Buddha and he asked his question which is the question of what are the benefits and what are the rewards of a spiritual life can you really tell me what they are and the Buddha was

[26:41]

pretty alert and he said well haven't you already asked this question of dozens of other teachers and he said yes so what did they say and so then there's this whole repeat of this sutta where it explains various teachings of other teachers and then he says but can you describe anything that's really completely satisfying that's a big order what can be completely satisfying and the Buddha says yes I can and so then he described in some detail the life of the people who had come to join him beginning with their practice of morality that they had embarked upon a life in which they restrained their tendencies to cause harm they had actually made vows

[27:43]

to no longer cause harm to any living form of life any living being and then the Buddha pointed out that because of this practice of morality the people in his gathering were free from fear they no longer lived in fear so this is a significant teaching of course the king may not have realized that just a short while ago he himself was too afraid even to walk into this quiet place and then the Buddha describes the benefits of having a concentrated mind with a concentrated mind one can actually develop clarity and in the process of this

[28:47]

then the various hindrances that interfere with having a clear mind and a compassionate mind and a mind that can see that the things of the world are actually not separate from oneself in the process of this one overcomes the various hindrances there's a class here currently going on in studying hindrances the hindrances of say compulsive desire the hindrances of carrying animosity or ill will the hindrances of having a worried mind the hindrances of a tendency to get really tired and go to sleep when faced with things that are unpleasant in particular the tendency to doubt one's own true nature

[29:48]

so all these hindrances actually are overcome as the Buddha explained in the life of the people who are gathered with him and then further he talked in more detail about various states of meditation and the satisfactions and the joy that actually can arise when you drop off these notions of reified identity of yourself and others and finally said that if you live in this way you can actually accomplish what you're really meant to be here for the complete realization of the potentiality of this human form of life and the king was really happy to hear all this

[30:52]

and he rejoiced that he was so lucky to hear all this and said I want to take refuge in the Buddha the Dharma and the Sangha and the Buddha said that's a good thing to do he said but isn't there something that you need to tell me about and the king said well there is this one thing that I've been meaning to to confess to someone and you're a good person for me to make this confession to that this matter of a time that I was really wicked and I was carried away into transgressions and I deprived my father of his life so that I could have the throne and now I want to acknowledge that

[31:58]

and confess and the Buddha said well that's very good it's actually very good to acknowledge and confess your misdeed and so he accepted his confession and then the king said well thank you and I'm really busy and I need to go I've got a lot of things to do and so he hurried away and after he left the Buddha he talked to the people around him and said the fate of the king is sealed because of his karma he's not able to actually see clearly

[32:58]

what I'm teaching it's a sobering statement that the king was not able to see the king was not able to actually release his grasp on all the things that he had accumulated in his own busyness, in his own activities and so he couldn't actually stay and undertake the practice that the Buddha was laying out for him and so historically it did happen that King Ajah Sattu's son eventually assassinated him so this is just a cautionary tale a reminder that

[34:04]

many of the troubles that we encounter as humans actually come from our own activity and we often don't actually fully account for the consequences which are unintended we didn't intend to cause global warming so my my wife Lane clipped out from the paper last Sunday's Chronicle an article that says dire warning of global warming's effect on humans you can see the bias there already we're concerned about humans that makes the headline

[35:06]

if it was dire warning on the effects of global warming's effect on the ceanothus moth it would be a footnote, it wouldn't be the headline well that's ok this is the way we are and of course many of us have been aware for decades that the activity of humans has created stresses on the planet that are having effects that we really don't know how to manage I just wanted to read a couple of quotes which I'm sure most of you are already aware of but finally this is a report of the intergovernmental agency on what's it called here intergovernmental panel on climate change

[36:10]

which has been making these reports and now we're finding out of course that some of the reports are watered down because of political interest so the last one was a few years ago and this one is finally accepting that quote, changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent this is a marked contrast to a 2001 report by the same agency things are happening and happening faster than we expected said Patricia Romero-Langkau of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado one of the many co-authors current problems change in species habitats more acidified oceans, loss of wetlands bleaching of coral reefs increases in allergy inducing pollen

[37:13]

can be blamed on global warming that's still not a step in blaming ourselves but there is some consideration that humans have contributed to global warming so this report which actually is going to officially be released in June gets at what this article calls the emotional heart of climate change this is the story of how it's going to affect people the science one of the scientists says the science is one thing but this is how it affects you, me and the person next door many of those effects now here's the hope is that many of those effects

[38:14]

can be prevented if within a generation the world slows down its emissions within a generation well that's you can say a generation is usually considered to be 30 years maybe we need to act more quickly well we have 30 years many of these effects can be prevented if the world slows down its emissions and if the level of greenhouse gases stabilizes, a couple of ifs there if that's the case most major impacts on human welfare would be avoided but some major impacts on ecosystems are unavoidable so it's important for us to

[39:20]

be willing to acknowledge the situation that we are in and particularly how we contribute to it so as we look at the whole practice of understanding the nature of self the relation of self and environment it's helpful I think to stop and consider the effects of our actions so that includes appreciating those who make compost appreciating what goes into compost and making some of your own take some time everyday

[40:20]

to stop and let your mind clear listen to sounds as sounds see if you notice when you reify them the same goes actually for all of your senses acknowledge and confess your misdeeds to someone preferably as wise as yourself or even a little wiser and listen to the response and keep your inner voice tuned keep tuning in your inner voice to the sounds of the great way what is true nature what is buddha mind now I'd like to end

[41:26]

to do this is an act of actually relaxing your grasp on what you usually think what you usually hold on to and just as a reminder I just wanted to teach you the phrase relax your mind there's a song that was written by a man named Lead Belly that I appreciate you helping me sing it's called relax your mind and he wrote the song talking about driving whole books now have been written about how to relax your mind while driving you still have to do it you have to remember it and it's harder and harder with more traffic

[42:28]

so the chorus goes like this relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometimes you have to relax your mind and then there's relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time that's maybe too low let's pitch it up a little bit relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometimes you have to relax your mind that's still not very good as Arlo Guthrie said you know if you're going to change the world

[43:38]

you've got to sing loud relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometimes you've got to relax your mind so here's a verse when the light turns green put your foot on the gasoline that's the time you have to relax your mind relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometimes you've got to relax your mind and when the light turns red push that brick down to the bed

[44:39]

that's the time you've got to relax your mind relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time that's the time you've got to relax your mind thank you for singing and thank you for listening

[45:09]