The Gift of Nothing

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Sunday Lecture Children's Lecture: one who is not busy, one reality; the gift of nothing; sesshin, from Suzuki Roshi; our mind is the same as Buddha's; all things are impermanent; illusion of self; desire based on ignorance; Transmission of the Light

AI Summary: 



I vow to taste the truth of the Tathāgata's words. Good morning. Good morning. Well, I'm really excited because I knew you all were coming today and I went out and bought a special story just for you. And then another special story happened that was more like a real story that I thought I'd tell you too. My daughter is in Minnesota. She's 13. And in getting ready for her to go to Minnesota, her other mother and I were quite nervous because, do you know what it's like in Minnesota in December? Do you have some idea? Anybody? Yeah. Really cold, yeah. Kind of like the North Pole in my thoughts.


So we bought her some new things like gloves about this big and a coat twice as big as she is and so on. And we took her to the airport. And then, in our rush to get her ready, when we got to the airport, guess what we forgot? The coat. Exactly. So there she was in her sweatshirt with her big gloves and no coat. So I called her later and I said, How are you doing? Are you okay? I think there were about 10 seconds between the car and the hotel and so on. But she said, I'm okay, but did you pack my swimming suit? So I have this story that I got at the store and I really liked it. I sat in the children's section at Book Passages


and I read almost all the stories there, wonderful stories. And then I got this one. It's called The Gift of Nothing. It cost $14.95. It was a special day. Can you see the pictures? See, it's a little house and there's snow. It's Minnesota. Our abbess is from Minnesota, by the way. It was a special day and Mooch, one of the children, wanted to give his best friend Earl a gift. Mooch is a cat and Earl is a dog. But what could he get him? He had a bowl. He had a bed and he had a chewy toy.


In fact, he had it all. Here he is on his bed with his chewy toy and his bowl and his loving owner. Mooch thought and thought, what do you get someone who has everything? So there he is thinking with all these little question marks all around his head. What do you get for someone who has everything? So he got so dizzy from thinking he fell down. And then he had an idea. He said, get them nothing. He would give Earl the gift of nothing. But in this world filled with so many somethings, where could he find nothing? So he is looking all around the house for nothing. Mooch often heard Frank say that there was nothing on TV.


But as far as Mooch could tell, there was always something on TV. Blah, blah, blah, blah, all around the TV there. My TV is like that too. Mooch often heard Doozy and her friends say that there was nothing to do. But as far as Mooch could tell, everybody was always doing something. They were throwing snowballs at Mooch. Millie came home from the store and said, there was nothing to buy. So Mooch went shopping. I hope you kids are getting this too. It might be a little esoteric. So here the cat is at the store trying to find nothing to buy.


Well, what did he find? Something. Nothing but something. Lots of somethings. Buy, buy, buy. Money, money, money. Mooch looked up and down every aisle. He found many, many, many somethings. The latest this and the newest that. But as far as he could tell, there was nothing. No, as far as he could tell, nothing was not for sale. So Mooch went home. He looks so sad. He looks so sad. He's failing. And he sat on his pillow and he just stayed still, as cats often do. So there he is on his little striped Zafu, sitting very still, just like you guys are doing right now. And then, not looking for it, he found nothing.


When he stopped looking for it, he found nothing. Did you ever find nothing? Have you? No? Not yet? Most of us haven't. We're trying. So he went and he got a box and he put nothing in it. And then Mooch thought, hmm, maybe Earl deserves more than this. So he got a bigger box. Hmm. Now that's plenty of nothing, he said. And he carried the box over to Earl's house, all wrapped up. For me? said Earl. Mooch, you didn't have to give me anything. Mooch said, who told him? Earl opened Mooch's gift and he looked inside.


What did he see? Nothing, that's right. There's nothing here, said Earl. Yeah, said Mooch, nothing. But me and you. That's why I like this story. And they hugged. Nothing but me and you. So Mooch and Earl just stayed still and enjoyed nothing. And everything. Okay. Is that a good story? Yeah. Okay. Well, thank you all for coming. It was nice to have you here. And there's a great program planned for you. You're going to make something out of nothing. So I hear. Okay, bye. See you soon. Bye bye. Bye bye.


You like the book? You do? I like it too. It's called The Gift of Nothing. Can you do that? Oh my goodness. That's great. She's in a full lotus up here, guys. Thanks for showing me that. You're a yogi. Did you know that? Yeah. Okay.


Good morning again. Many of the people who are sitting here in this room are going to be entering into Sesshin tomorrow morning, which is a seven-day sitting practice. Sesshin is a Japanese word, and it means gather the mind, or another translation I saw, a serious mind. And Sesshin was brought to California by our founder, Suzuki Roshi, who, when he came here to America, was asked by people if they could practice with him, and he taught them Sesshin. So he would sit a couple of times a year for seven days with the students, and he would give a talk each morning. They would eat their meals together in the zendo.


They'd sit for 40-minute periods most of the day, and then at night they'd sleep for a while before waking up early to the wake-up bell and starting the day again. So this pattern of Sesshin was learned by Suzuki Roshi in Japan in part of his monastic training, and the Japanese, in turn, had learned it from the Chinese, who had learned it from the Indians. And according to the ancient text, the whole model is based on the story of Shakyamuni Buddha, who sat for seven days at the base of a tree. At the end of Sesshin, there's a celebration of Buddha's enlightenment. So everyone in this room will be walking around in a circle on the morning of the last day of Sesshin.


And at that time, we have baskets of fragrant herbs and flower petals, and we throw them at each other and celebrate how fresh and new the world looks to us, and especially how fresh and new we appear to each other as well. So what does it mean to have a serious mind or to gather the mind? When the poets talk about the experience of gathering the mind, they use images like dew drops or flashes of lightning, dreams, bubbles. And even though I myself have sat quite a number of Sesshins in my years at Zen Center, it always feels as though when I try to remember the experience, that I'm remembering last year's summer vacation,


or yesterday's forgotten meals, just bubbles, dew drops, dreams, and flashes of lightning. So in order to really understand the fundamental point of Sesshin, it really is only possible by sitting one. And even though that's so, I still want to talk about Sesshin today and about gathering the mind and about the words of the poets and the Zen masters that were written almost as with smoke, in order to try and help us to understand some of the most profound truths about our human life. So this story that I read this morning, The Gift of Nothing, I think is a wonderful example of the kind of realizations that people may have


when they have sat with themselves for a while, kind of like a cat, and very much like the Buddha. Like many of us, the Buddha had run out of other options. As a young prince, he had grown tired of the never-lasting promises of pleasure. And as an ascetic, he had grown tired of the never-lasting promises of meditative trance. Just bubbles, dreams, lightning flashes, and clouds. So the principle of never-lasting is also called impermanence. And the Buddha explained that this is the fundamental nature of reality, impermanent. In fact, it's recorded as his very last utterance before he died.


The Buddha, it's recorded, said, Indeed, O monks, I declare to you it is the nature of all creations to dissolve. That's what it says in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the last teachings of the Buddha. Indeed, O monks, I declare to you it is the nature of all creations to dissolve. And with that, he did. And apparently, without complaint. So we could even go so far as to say that all of the great teachers, Shakyamuni Buddha and Dogen Zenji and Suzuki Roshi, were also gifts to us of nothing. Nothing, nothing at all, but eating their meals with us and seeing us as though for the first time, fresh and new. It's nothing at all that allows us to see with a fresh and a clear mind.


And yet, I think as all of us know, something is always getting in the way. The clouds in our mind, or the rain on our parades, or those crashing sounds in our sleepless nights. That something that gets in the way is what the Buddha was studying on the seven days under the tree. And in the sutras, he describes that something in the most vivid and lurid details. Armies of drooling orcs and hideous monsters, and then followed by chorus lines of voluptuous women, men and boys. I don't know if any of you have seen the movie Brazil. Have you? Not some nods? If you haven't, it's an amazing film. But the Buddha's mind was kind of like that. Morphing from one terrifying realm into some heavenly scene,


and then back into terror again, over and over. It's all too familiar. The Buddha's mind, in fact, was no different than ours. And I think that may be the very best news that any of us is ever going to get. Dogen Zenji, the Japanese master of Soto Zen, in a poem called Eihei Koso Hotsugamon, shares this good news in this way. He says, Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we, and we in the future shall be Buddhas and ancestors. Revering Buddhas and ancestors, we are one Buddha and one ancestor. Awakening Bodhi mind, we are one Bodhi mind. Because they extend their compassion to us freely and without limit, we are able to attain Buddhahood and let go of the attainment.


Therefore, the Chan master Longya said, Those who in past lives were not enlightened, will now be enlightened in this life. Save the body, which is the fruit of many lives. Before Buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we. Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old. So this is the most important point, number two, that our minds are exactly the same as the Buddha. And important point number one is that the mind, all things, are impermanent. So when we put these two points together, we can get a glimpse of what the Buddha was experiencing under the Tree of Awakening. He saw no things apart from the momentary arising of appearances,


dew drops, bubbles, dreams, lightning flashes, clouds, a mock show, a fault of vision, and a star in an empty sky. Sounds familiar. The difference between the Buddha and me has to do with how I feel about the way things are. I, by definition, am the one who is attached to things being different, and in particular, more important and more personal than they really are. And a Buddha, on the other hand, is not. I want things to last. I want things that I like to last a long time. And I want things that I don't like to go away. And I want to last a very long time.


And I want to decide when it's over. These feelings and preferences are precisely the mechanism by which I come into being over and over and over again. My existence as a separate, isolated self depends entirely on my liking or not liking the arising of momentary appearances in the mind. A hair's breadth deviation creates a difference as distant as heaven from earth. A hair's breadth deviation creates a difference as distant as heaven from earth. That's us. We're the distance between heaven and earth. So this experience of there being two things,


namely me and then everything else, is the fundamental cause of suffering. And it goes back before my life, and it goes back before my mother's life or my father's life, all the way back to beginningless greed, hatred and delusion. And this experience of there being two things, namely me and everything else, will only end at the moment of awakening. In the first and second Noble Truths, the Buddha declared that the cause of our suffering is desire based in ignorance. Ignorance he defined as the belief in a separate and isolated self, a self which simply isn't there. My grandmother recited a verse when I was a child


that I used to think was kind of dark and scary. However, I think it's quite relevant to what I'm talking about. I met a man upon the stair, a little man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. Oh, how I wish he'd go away. It's scary, huh? My grandma was a little scary, too. That scary little man is none other than our false self, an imaginary person who lives as though outside of all creation, as though cut off from the rest, as though something that's not part of the whole. And along with that imaginal separation comes a tremendous amount of longing, longing to belong, to be part of.


People say to me so often, I'm lonely. At the moment of awakening, on seeing the morning star, the Buddha was born in and as a flash of realization, a realization that he wasn't there. And he wasn't there again today. How wonderful, how wonderful, he's finally gone away. And with that going away, goes away all that you wished for because nothing is outside anymore. The last line of the Heart Sutra that those in Sashin will be chanting every day is in celebration of this perfect freedom that the Buddha found under the Bodhi tree. Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhisvaha.


Gone, gone, gone beyond, completely gone beyond, all praise to awakening. After his awakening, the Buddha spent 49 years teaching other people what he had learned. He never stayed in seclusion after that. He had one robe and one bowl, lacking nothing, the true gift of nothing. He told many stories and used many parables and metaphors in order to try to help people understand the insight that he had that moment of his awakening. Yet each of those stories was based in the same principle that was illustrated by the words that he spoke at the time he was awakened. In the sutras he said, I and all beings together on earth attain enlightenment at the same time.


That was his first statement. I and all beings on earth together attain enlightenment at the same time. That's what he saw. So this very important proclamation of the Buddha is explained in the first chapter of a wonderful, wonderful book of teachings. There are stories of the Zen masters as retold by Zen master Kaizan. And the book is called The Transmission of Light. Transmission of Light. Each of the stories illustrates another facet of what it means, what it means to say awakened mind. What is an awakened mind? And each of the teachers in the stories expressed their understanding at the moment of their own awakening. And each story is different. Of course, each of us is different. So the first story in the book is about Shakyamuni Buddha.


And Kaizan writes a commentary about each of these stories. So in response to the Buddha's statement that I and all beings on earth together attain enlightenment at the same time, Kaizan has this to say. I is not Shakyamuni Buddha. Even Shakyamuni Buddha comes from this I. And the case, I know you can't tell the difference in sound, but the I in this writing by Kaizan is the letter I capitalized, not this I. And it does not only give birth to Shakyamuni Buddha. All beings on earth also come from here. Just as when you lift up a net, all of the holes are raised. In the same way, when Shakyamuni Buddha was enlightened, so too were all beings on earth enlightened.


While this is so, do not think of Shakyamuni Buddha as having become enlightened. Do not see Shakyamuni Buddha outside of all beings on earth. Now he changes from the letter I to the I. This one. However immensely diverse the mountains, rivers, land, and all forms and appearance may be, all of them are in the I of the Buddha. And you too are standing in the I of Buddha. The I has become you. Buddha's I has become everyone's whole body, each standing tall. Therefore, this clear, bright I that spans all time should not be thought of as the people evidently here. You are Buddha's I. Buddha is your whole body. So I don't know how it is for you,


but when I hear this kind of talk I feel really enthusiastic, like there's a possibility of breaking out of my limited view of me and of the possibilities for my belonging in this world, in this universe. I once had an image of each of us as a kind of portal, an empty space where the universe both talks and listens to itself. One of the images from the sutras is of the waves in the ocean rising up to take a look around. But sometimes these waves scare each other, right? You get frightened. You're looking at yourself and it's like, whoop, there you are, on my right hand and left hand, being afraid. But at other times we can really see how funny that is, how wonderful, how playful. We can wave at each other without fear, without our false imagination. Sachin is an ancient technique for studying the waves


arising in the oceans of the mind. And we are instructed from the very first moment we arrive at the Zen Center to sit upright and to place our bodies on a cushion, either on a chair or on the floor, and to leave our eyes open, our lips closed, our minds open, to breathe comfortably and to relax. Think not thinking. How do you think not thinking? Non-thinking. This is the essential art of Zazen. This phrase, to think not thinking, comes from Zen Master Dogen's universally recommended instructions for Zazen, especially recommended for those of you about to sit Sachin. Thinking and not thinking, when combined,


create all of the possibilities there are in this human life. Would you like to think about that? And so do inside with outside, inhaling with exhaling, and silence with sound. Perfect complements. Oppositions, or dualities, are a creation of our minds and of our language, and they serve to separate the universe into twos, or so we imagine. However, the universe, despite our magical spells and our shamanic incantations, refuses to be separated. It remains resolutely inclusive and still.


This is non-thinking. Non-thinking. The kind of thinking the entire universe may do, or that a Buddha may do. Nowhere, no one, and no thing is outside. Buddha is none other than the basic nature of the mind. Keizan goes on to say that once you come to know your true inner self, Shakyamuni Buddha can wiggle his toes in your shoes. So I want to wish all of you Seshin people a lot of luck with that. And then the last thing I want to talk about this morning is for those of us who are not going to be sitting Seshin starting tomorrow morning. And I promise you it's a much larger number by far. And at the same time, I'm wondering what are we planning to do this week


other than drive around quickly in our cars? I have no doubt that we non-sitters are just as eager for liberation as the sitters are. But I also know that many of the perspectives I've been talking about this morning are very difficult to see without the concentration, effort, and effort that arises quite naturally when we sit these long sittings such as Seshin. And this is largely because the mind is so busy that everything it looks at looks busy too. It's kind of like riding on a horse and commenting on the mountain ranges bobbing up and down on the horizon. Finding the calm at the core of reality is an essential prerequisite for insight into our own true nature as awakening beings.


And once that connection with tranquility is established, then sitters and non-sitters alike can dip into it freely. There's a very famous story about all of this in the Book of Serenity called Yunyan Sweeps the Ground. As Yunyan was sweeping the ground, Dawu, his Dharma brother, said, Too busy. Too busy. Yunyan said, You should know there's one who's not busy. Dawu said, If so, then there's a second moon. Yunyan held up the broom and he said, Which moon is this? As Yunyan was sweeping the ground, Dawu, his Dharma brother, said, Too busy. Yunyan said, You should know that there is one who's not busy.


Dawu said, If so, then there's a second moon. Yunyan held up the broom and said, Which moon is this? Kind of like Earl and Mooch, very good friends, playing with nothing. The main point of the story is not to fall into the trap of setting up a special reality body, something like heaven or nirvana, that's separate from the physical world. If we imagine that there's a special place where the sitters go to sit, then that leaves those of us driving around in our cars kind of stuck on the highway. And traffic, as a matter of fact, is just as good a place as any to wake up to the true nature of reality. In fact, it may even be better. There's a greater motivation for us to wake up when we're stuck in traffic. So even if those of us who are driving in cars sit up straight


and concentrate with all our might on our driving and turn off the radio, there still will never be a second moon. Awakening to the one reality is everyone's assignment. So to close, I would like to suggest that the kindest gift we could give to the sitters, those of us who are not sitting with them this week, is very much the kind of gift that Mooch gave to his dear friend Earl. We can support these people by giving them absolutely nothing, which is precisely what we have to give them. And it's my prayer that those people will open that giant box of nothing and find their way to freedom, perfect freedom. And when you do, please don't linger there.


Otherwise, you can't come back here to the imperfect world to receive our imperfect love for you. And we really, really want to give it to you. Thank you all very much.