Intelligence of the Natural World

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Sesshin Lecture: frog chorus; silence and activity; pain and fear of pain; Bodhidharma

AI Summary: 



Good morning. And welcome to the sixth day of Session and a wonderful drizzly rainy morning. Dragons love it, right? And frogs delight in it. Hearing the sound of frogs has been a big part of our experience and sitting, allowing the sensation of just being completely immersed in sound. It's a wonderful practice in itself. And I've been struck repeatedly by a sense of the intelligence of the whole natural world.


Just walking back and forth on the path past the plum tree, noticing the little plums, and each day, the branch gets just a little bit lower as the plums expand, taking in water and nutrients from the earth and energy from the sun. And of course, today, the branch dropped quite a bit because of the rain, but there's a suppleness, a flexibility, a resilience in the plum tree. Now clever human beings, of course, have selected for larger plums, right? And so it makes it harder for the tree to bear, and then the branches may exceed their


range of suppleness and flexibility and then break. So then we have to prop up the branches so they don't break. So we, with our desires, have created many, many, many kind of karmic repercussions for ourselves. Once we set something in motion, we're not sure of all the effects that follow. And so then we find ourselves behind, trying to catch up and repair or support or bring back into balance what we have disturbed. And with this whole field of intelligence, which actually gives rise to consciousness and you may experience it actually as consciousness, as a few days ago we were talking about Dung Shan, hearing the sounds of the insentient beings as dharma, seeing the entire intelligence


of the world around us as consciousness, then when some piece of it is removed and we feel some lack of it, it's almost as if we become just a little more stupid when some species becomes extinct. There are many, many frog species that have become extinct in the last few years. And we usually don't, we have no way, actually, of understanding that loss. It's incalculable. We have no way, really, of understanding our own participation in that loss. And yet we know that at some level, in some way, we are contributing to the demise of many species just by our activity and what we call our normal life.


And so we also participate in that sense of loss, some grief, some extension of what we were talking about yesterday with love and attachment and loss. But then there are the frogs expressing themselves. The frogs that exist have no problem, as far as I know, thinking about the frogs that don't exist. Someone said to me that they heard the frog speak up, like saying, I'm here, and then another frog responding, I'm here, and then another frog, and then a whole chorus, a whole orchestra of frogs. Maybe some of you had read Richard Brodigan's book, The Confederate General from Big Sur.


Did anyone read that book? Yes, all right. It's one of the funniest books ever written. But one part of it is they're living in Big Sur, and there's a frog pond, and the frog says, I'm here, and another frog says, I'm here, and then the 11,677th frog chimes in, and it's driving them crazy, trying to get some sleep, until somebody brings an alligator, and they slide the alligator into the pond, and the whole orchestra goes quiet. But I've been listening, and I noticed, I lose count at five, five frogs, and I thought, well, maybe that's all there are, maybe there are just five frogs.


So, and they say, I'm here, or they say, I had a friend in junior high, when the roll was called, it would be, you'd call somebody's name, Smith, here, Jones, here. My friend, Grove, always said, present, he felt, I don't know, that was more dignified or something. Present, which is our practice, right, being present. So I imagine the frogs are saying, present, present, present, present. So I thought, if we could try that, if we had five volunteers, there's one, there's two, there's three, there's four, there's five, there's, well, let's stop at five first, okay. So the first person say present, and the next say present, right, immediately, or you can


have a little space at first, but then tighten it up, like a round, but this kind of a round maybe picks up the pace, right. So let's try with five. You are really pathetic frogs. So you really have to sing it out. If you're going to say it with the spirit of, I am here, right, say, present. So okay, you're number one, you're number two, you have to be three, that's not, I think I'm three, yeah, okay, three, and then let's go over, four, four, where's five, five, okay. So Brian is five, okay.


Let's try that again. Now you have to keep going then. So Marianne, as soon as the last is five goes, then you come back again, okay. Now you're getting it, now you're getting it, yeah, yeah, yeah. You have frog potential. But see, with just five, you're just beginning to get that wave effect, right, with a little more practice. That could be it.


Well, before I forget, I wanted to mention about late night sitting again. This is our sixth day, so it's our last night, our last chance to come in and sit after the lights go down in the evening. So it's a great time to come and tune in with the frogs. Last night it was pretty quiet, but you didn't, you set up to go sleep in here, right, but then you didn't come back, at least for a long time. I set up so that I could do it quietly, and I left, came back, and figured that there was a woman sitting, and I could disturb her. There still was one, she was sitting, and I hope I didn't disturb her. Well, it was really quite disturbing to have your absence.


Whatever happened to Jim? Yeah, it's hard to know whether to be silent or to say something. Kadagiri is the two sides returning to silence, or you have to say something. Sometimes your silence is saying something, and sometimes your saying something is silence. So I wanted to look a little more at that transition of silence and activity, and the role that fear plays in the transition from silence to activity. You have to say something. It sounds a little bit like there's something pushing or compelling. You have to overcome the fear or resistance, or simply inertia, to move from silence into activity.


We do that each time the bell rings and we get up for kin-hin. There's some transition. We're in seven days of session, so our activity is really quite limited, and it gives us a chance to deepen our experience of silence. Some people are realizing it's the sixth day and are beginning to think, Oh, well, it's winding up, and mentally beginning to think, Oh, I should get ready to re-enter activity. But see if you can stay and deepen your practice in the zendo while you have the opportunity. And then when you do make the transition into activity, there's your activity.


And hopefully you can enter it. I mean, there's your opportunity to do that, and there hopefully you can be kind to yourself, not trying to hold on to seshin, not holding on to the form of seshin, but maintaining the practice of being present into the activity. So if you have not clarified the matter of birth and death, it's more difficult. It's more, actually, more fearful going into any kind of activity. It's hard to be very clear about the difference between the experience, say, of pain and the fear around pain.


Many people experience some pain somewhere in some part of their body sitting seshin. People who are sitting cross-legged often experience it in their knees. Other people may experience it in their back, or even your sitting bones may be raw. So it's an ongoing study to notice the tendency to add to the pain with fear. Even to say pain is not quite right. There's some sensation. You may notice some that you have a slight, or maybe even extreme, tendency to tense your body against that sensation. And it takes careful investigation to see the layers of that, because there are layers of it.


It's not just something that is, say, in your intellect or in your psychological formations, but also in your body formations, where you habitually carry some tension as a way of protecting yourself from the pain. But actually it doesn't really work. When you're sitting still, it doesn't work very clearly, because the kind of reaction that you would have in activity, where there's some pain and you move away from it, that's a muscle response you can't do when you're sitting still. You can't just move away from it. So your muscle is trying to move away from it, but you're sitting still, so you're not actually moving away from it. So you just are holding that tension. So you may have noticed this as you sit, that you're holding some tension. We use this mudra, the cosmic mudra, and there's a tendency to let it just rest.


But actually the best place for the mudra may be floating. If you use your own intuitive sense of where the mudra feels that it's in balance, usually it's floating, it's not necessarily sitting on your... not resting on anything, on your leg or your heel or anything. But then you may notice that you have tension in your shoulders or your arms. And then it's a question of, are you doing anything extra? Are you adding any extra effort, extra work? And of course you are. Because your thinking mind has a kind of exaggerated sense of what you need to do to hold that mudra. So it's only by working with it over time that you begin to shed all the extra. All the extra work and energy. And then sitting becomes much lighter. So all the effort that...


Usually it takes a few years for people to actually, let's say, find their seat. To actually be able to embody this sitting posture without extra effort. But then it's an ongoing refinement of that because you'll notice decades later that a little something extra may be creeping in. So what we think of as fear is often a very incomplete picture of that kind of... that reaction. Yesterday we talked about gambling everything on love. From Rumi. And that's a frightening thing because the word gamble, of course, means risk. What if you love and lose?


There's an old song, I just remember one line of it right now. Dave Van Ronk, I hear his voice singing it. It just goes, When you lose your money, learn to lose. Lose your money or lose your lover. Lose your status. Learn to lose. How does that relate to Dogen's suggestion that the study of the way is to study the self? The self really emerges in the pain of loss. It's a great opportunity to study the self. It's hard to trust that Buddha nature is there in the loss.


So we have this ongoing predicament. Holding on to something. Holding on to... Well, there's a couple of ways to go here. I think I want to talk about fear in another sense. Unconscious fear that we carry. I just mentioned loss of status. A couple of years ago I was reading some work by a Catholic theologian, German Catholic theologian, Jürgen Dreivamann. A Catholic theologian, I think he's been excommunicated by now. I know he was silenced for a while. But he's looking at the connection of fear and evil. Evil in society. And seeing that what we unconsciously carry as fear contributes to evil actions.


And so this is one little excerpt in which he gives an example of what he means by that. The crews of the B-52 planes who bombed North Vietnam coming from Thailand did not need to fear much that the enemy would shoot them down. So these are the pilots of the bombers. They could calmly drink a cup of coffee while they used ingenious devices to set huge areas underneath them on fire with napalm bombs or precision bombs aimed at bridges and truck depots. But they greatly feared refusing to do their job. They feared to be degraded, to be thrown out of the army, to be despised and dishonorable by their wives and to look like losers at their clubs. As a rule, they did not have a clue for what reason, against whom


and to what extent they let suffering and destruction rain from the sky. But the fears just mentioned naturally determined their behavior. No intense forces of drives made them become henchmen of death. Rather very banal, everyday fears. Their, quote, aggressions during bombardment were lower than that of a driver of a car passing on a highway. Their sexuality awakened again only at night in the bars of Bangkok. But fears which did not increase their pulse rate by a single beat because they did not need to waste a single thought on them as long as everything was functioning, allowed them to observe their dashboards with the neutral matter-of-factness of a technician while they were subjectively completely unaware


of being compulsively guided down to every detail by certain fears. And as a consequence of these fears caused unspeakable suffering. So that's a dramatic example, but also an example that continues to persist every day. Someone asked me about my old rug that I used to wrap books in. A bit of carpet. Actually, it's a prayer rug. Muslim prayer rug. When I use it, I'm reminded that the practice in Islam is to bow to Mecca five times a day. Actually, there are many Zen students who,


outside of Seshin, don't recall Prajnaparamita five times a day. So actually, that's pretty good practice to do. Completely, say, remember that you're abiding in Prajnaparamita five times a day. Where is Mecca for a Zen Buddhist? Mecca, right where you are. But this practice then of, say, taking up some ritual, belonging to a group practice, then has that danger of the fear of being seen as something less because you're not participating in the right way. So there's a way in which those little fears


that then can take over and become the power of your life, actually rob you of the power of your own life. We have the legend of Bodhidharma, and the emperor. In my mountain seat ceremony, I made an offering to Bodhidharma and said that Bodhidharma, whether he was facing the emperor or facing the wall in his cave, had the same mind. That he wasn't fearful in the face of the emperor. And Dogen, in his section on continuing practice, Yoji, fascicle two, has his own version of this encounter of Bodhidharma and the emperor,


in which he depicts Bodhidharma as an Indian prince coming with a whole retinue, arriving in China, working his way up through the kingdom of Liang, and eventually having a chance to meet with Emperor Wu. So this is Dogen's way of describing the scene. The governor of Guang province, called Jiao Ong, officially welcomed Bodhidharma. Carrying out his duty, he reported Bodhidharma's arrival to Emperor Wu. On the first day of the tenth month, Emperor Wu sent a messenger to Bodhidharma to invite him to the palace. Bodhidharma went to the capital city of Jinling and met with Wu, who said, Ever since I became emperor, I have built temples, copied sutras, and approved the ordination of more monks than I can count.


What is the merit of having done all this? Bodhidharma said, There is no merit. The emperor said, Why is that? Bodhidharma said, These are minor achievements of humans and devas, which become the causes of desire. They are like shadows of forms and are not real. The emperor said, What is real merit? Bodhidharma said, When pure wisdom is complete, the essence is empty and serene. Such merit cannot be attained through worldly actions. The emperor said, What is the foremost sacred truth? Bodhidharma said, Vast emptiness. Nothing sacred. The emperor said, Who are you that faces me? Bodhidharma said, I don't know.


The emperor did not understand. Bodhidharma knew that there was no merging and the time was not ripe. Thus, without a word, he left on the 19th day of the 10th month and he traveled north of the river Yangtze. So, Bodhidharma arrives and responds to all the excellent deeds of the emperor by saying, There is no merit. So, he is able to say this because he is not fearful. He is actually abiding, according to Dogen, he is actually abiding in Prajnaparamita. As it says in the Heart Sutra, When the mind has no hindrance, there is no fear. Right. When the Bodhisattva abides in Prajnaparamita, there is no hindrance. Without any hindrance, there is no fear.


So, it's a subtle thing, but it becomes monumental as to whether you are actually abiding in Prajnaparamita or whether you are abiding in desires, in fears. Even to walk into your house after you've been away, or you visit your family home, there may be some trepidation, some fear. How will I be received? Are you abiding in Prajnaparamita? Of course, only the greatest, illustrious Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, are continually abiding in Prajnaparamita. And yet, particularly sitting Sashin,


we begin to have some sense of it in the body. Your body may become more peaceful, even though you don't consciously understand what is meant by Prajnaparamita. Your body becomes more peaceful. You actually are not abiding in your usual fears and desires. And so you have a chance to face and be present with the fears and the desires that you may not usually recognize or want to recognize because you experience it in some other way. Just as the pilots of the B-52s did not experience their fears, their fear of, say, being kicked out of the army. It wasn't an active fear, but they were still acting on the basis of that fear. So reading this story, Bodhidharma and the emperor, now sitting in the abbot's seat, I think, okay, so,


when someone comes to me and says, you know, if I donate a million dollars to San Francisco Zen Center's capital fundraising campaign, is there any merit in that? Is that a good thing? No merit whatsoever. And then the president of the Zen Center comes over to me and says, you told the donor no merit whatsoever. That just cost us a million dollars. Or how do you feel? You know, it's easier to, say, overcome your fear of someone's opinion if they, if their opinion doesn't really count so much. And if you think, oh, well, they're not that important a person,


and so whatever they think, it doesn't matter to me. Or whatever their opinion may be does not affect my life, right? Whether they're someone who's inconsequential to you or someone who's just maybe not in proximity, at some distance. And so it's easier to be generous. It's easier to be magnanimous and say, okay, they're just who they are. They don't understand. People are people. Not a problem, right? Fish swim like fishes. Birds fly like birds. People behave like people. But then, is it the same for you? Do you have the same state of mind when the person actually has some position? Of authority. Maybe your boss at work. You actually would like a raise.


You may want to make a request. So the opinion of that person and your feeling about that person is affected by your desire and your fear of the loss that may follow some difficulty with that person if you contradict them and say, oh, you really screwed up there, boss. Or if you're a child and your parents have tremendous power over you, right? So it's hard to say that their behavior is actually unfitting. Not befitting. They're Buddha nature. Hard to point that out. To say, oh, your statements you made are biased.


The statement you just made is cruel. The action that you just took is a sign of weakness. It's hard to point that out when someone may kick you out of their house. Or they may just send you to your room. Or they may just tell you, you know, shut up. Why? Because I said so. So it's hard. So we learn. We have these kind of habitual fears that are actually deeply embedded in us. So the actual, say, enlightenment experience, you may have an experience, a body and mind dropping off. And that's wonderful. And then you go out of the zendo. Or maybe you're walking peacefully in the garden


and that's when you have some great awakening experience. And then, from there you walk back and you meet someone who doesn't understand. As Shakyamuni Buddha had his great awakening under the Bodhi tree and then walked down the road and met someone who didn't get it when he talked about his awakening. It actually took some confidence for him to go back and meet with his companions who had rejected him when he gave up their austere practices. So was there some risk in expressing the Dharma? Could they possibly even understand? Would they just reject everything


because they had rejected him before? So how to actually bring the Dharma into your everyday life? Every moment is a challenge. Every moment you may discover there is some way in which you are bringing some screen of bias, some distortion into the picture because of some fear you have of the unknown. You don't know what will happen. So we say that this Bodhisattva path of awakening takes all of your sincerity and all of your courage. And it is in every instance challenging.


Even quite ordinary. Dogen also talks about these are just very ordinary comments here that were written down by his attendant, Ejo. This is his encouragement to the practitioners. This was at Fukakusa. So this was after he came back from China and was setting up a little temple at Fukakusa just south of Kyoto. A couple of years before he went to begin a new place, what was later, what is now a Heiji monastery. So Dogen says, Monk Aeon was appointed work leader. Then we were in the middle of the rainy season and the thatched roof hut was leaking.


When I went to Zazen, billowing waves spread from the eaves across the floor of the monk's hall in the adjacent hallway. So this is everyday life in a new temple, right? The monk's assembly of pure ocean moved to the center of the monk's hall and were stranded there. I asked the work leader, Aeon, to fix this. He took off his Dharma robe and together with the carpenters went up hatless onto the roof to oversee the work. Although the rain was falling hard, it didn't bother him. I felt like writing a poem for him. In my lineage, there is a precedent for this kind of appreciation. Since then, six months have passed and I have not yet composed my poem, but I have not forgotten about it either. It was common for ancient Buddhas not to pick up the brush to write poems in the hot season, but to do so in the cold season. So now we're heading


toward the one-year mark since Aeon took his position as work leader. The monastery fences have been constructed. This is a fortunate sign. I see him share his knowledge with the community just like a boat coming down the river and being unloaded. I also personally see him present his subtle understanding. His effort brings joy to all of us. And there's more about the work leader, but I'm going to go to another person. Zen person Kene left his village in the West bidding farewell to his parents and has just joined us. He's now in the presence of the practice of the ancient Buddha ancestors. He should maintain and treasure his joy. People from the East, South, and North cannot have equal fortune. And they never will. Now there are different ways for newly arrived monks to work in this community. One is to be the leader of new monks. The other is to be an ordinary new member.


I am pointing Kene to the head of purity in charge of the toilets. It is the second year of the Ninji era. You should respectfully attend the Buddha ancestors, whether you are the leader or one of the newly arrived monks. Once you present yourself, you are brand new. What is presenting? To forget great enlightenment. What is brand new? To be greatly enlightened all of a sudden. Tell me, how so? So, what is presenting? Being present like the frogs to forget great enlightenment. Forget great enlightenment and take charge of the toilets or go up and fix the leaky roof. What is brand new? To be greatly enlightened all of a sudden. So just a flavor


which I think brings we often talk about Dogen's more illustrious philosophical writings, but it is wonderful to appreciate the things that they are dealing with making the transition from zendo to activity to take care of their life. Now that scene of the leaky roof and the the waves coming across the monks hall reminded me of this very room in January 1973 we had a tremendous storm tremendous storm and in the morning I opened well it wasn't as nice a door as we have there now but opened that door looked into the zendo and at that time we had


we had gozo mats down on the floor with zafus we didn't have zabutons just gozo mats with zafus sitting on the floor and I looked at them and they were kind of going like this and there was water all over this floor even though there's you know the creek is still down below here so the creek hadn't risen but what had happened is we found out that the spring valley creek where it comes down below you know just above the parking lot there some branches had fallen in and blocked that culvert and it backed up and it overflowed came right through the parking lot down through this area and this was an open door and the water came rushing in big stream rushing through that flowed right in here and and the floor of course let some water go through


but not fast enough and so it flooded the whole floor so here we didn't have to fix the roof we had to go up and clean out the culvert and reroute the river and pick up all the wet stuff and dry it out while fully abiding in Prajnaparamita I had a couple of thoughts from Jane Hirshfield let's see no not that one why Bodhidharma


went to Motel 6? so you can imagine standing at the counter in Motel 6 if you're a Bodhidharma where is your home? the interviewer asked him here no, no the interviewer said thinking at a problem of translation when you are where you actually live now it was his turn to think perhaps the translation? when you are where you actually live this one is called against certainty there is something


out in the dark that wants to correct us each time I think this it answers that answers hard in the heart's in the heart grammar's strictness if I then say that it too is taken away between certainty and the real an ancient enmity when the cat waits in the path hedge no cell of her body is not waiting this is how she is able so completely to disappear I would like to enter the silent portion as she does to live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live one shadow fully at ease inside another so this may be a little bit idealizing


the cat poised silent and then the other image I think of as the Zen saying when the tiger catches a mouse pounces on a mouse it uses its full strength so wholehearted activity so the cat right here is poised silent and actually disappearing into emptiness then leaping out it actually becomes a tiger right pounces and catches the mouse again full wholehearted present activity so


she opens this poem again by saying there is something out there in the dark no there is something out in the dark that wants to correct us so the unknown that we are always meeting is pointing out our inadequate view our inadequate understanding our bias our prejudice the distortion in our vision and as we meet the unknown we learn there is the correction if we are open to it that comes from the strictness of things just being the way they are things as Suzuki Roshi used to say things as it is combining unity and duality now when you lose


your lover learn to lose when you lose your status learn to lose when you lose your peace of mind learn to lose so be present how to be present and peaceful even losing your peace of mind you know the setsu hits the floor everyone in the zendo participates so we all do what we need to do again finding our composure when things are a little out of balance so the genius of Dogen's practice realization is that you never


you never can rest on your attainment that whatever place you arrive the next moment arises in uncertainty and so the Bodhisattva path is to realize that arising from the unknown finding that finding that fear and being at peace with it finding the composure you always have that amazing capacity Buddha nature is much bigger than your own limitation your own fear so you actually have that capacity to find composure in the midst of that jarring shocking


loss so again the kitchen is left and my short talk is is wrapping up and I'm wondering if anyone has a question or a comment yes bigger than our being yeah yeah what is it


what is it that's bigger than your being so your being must be pretty big it's hard to imagine something bigger Bodhisattva vow includes being and non-being so this is very important point that's right in that first well second third section of the Diamond Sutra where the Bodhisattva saves all beings and the Bodhisattva vow includes all beings the many beings what goes beyond that to realize that there are no beings so the Bodhisattva working very hard in a completely relaxed way


to meet not turn away from to see each being as Buddha as awakening presence so it's actually presence meeting presence when presence meets presence it completely dissolves there's no separation no beings okay yeah yes that five times a day you stop reacting so how to do that


you may have to set an alarm five times a day and then don't react to it or you set an alarm and you react you hear that and then you remember oh now I have to do I have to now that means I take the backward step so that means that actually how do I do that well I have some I've learned some approach so the approach is to return to my breath if I can find my breath okay now I find my breath and there's all this other chatter but I'm really going to step back and just stay with my breath for this entire breath maybe two or three breaths depending on the kind of activity or the job you're in or whatever you can say I'll take five minutes five times a day to just not react


to not do anything return to the peaceful experience in which you let the tension that you're carrying drop away to whatever extent you can return to silence and then after that say something or re-enter activity so our practice always has these two sides Uttasottan Gary Snyder's teacher's parting comments to him was parting comment was Zen is two things Zazen and tending the garden so Zazen means this abiding in Prajnaparamita and tending the garden means taking care of whatever activity it's great actually to literally tend the garden but it may be


tending the children or maybe stirring the pot in the kitchen it may be going shopping whatever it is it may be having a meeting with someone so in the midst of that five times a day of course is not nearly enough five hundred times a day is not nearly enough five thousand times a day maybe five million times a day begins to approach it that closely abiding in Prajnaparamita so reminders are helpful and other having other Sangha members around and you just see oh their presence reminds me to be present so that's something to be rejoicing about


so so I think maybe we should close with the frogs rejoicing so can we have our frogs again and now say rejoicing and then other people can join in shall we try that are you up for it rejoicing [...] Thank you for your great practice. May our intention...