January 2nd, 1999, Serial No. 04060

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"Tape starts late"


There really isn't anything to say and sometimes it's difficult to speak, you know, to begin bringing up something. It's just nice to sit here all together, we can just sort of relax, the sun is pouring in the window, it's a brand new year, Feliz Año Nuevo. So, why busy ourselves, why add anything, however, but it is kind of silly, isn't it?


Can't we just all sit here and be whatever we are for the moment, open-hearted or not, or nervous, or angry, or happy, sad, really, you know, what difference does it make, ultimately? We're either alive or dead, and that's the story. Oh, thank you, can you hear me now? Down to business, yes. My brother goes like this. I don't know when he started that. He's cute. I am my brother's older sister, but I'm only older by 14 months, which I understand turned


out to be a real problem for me when I was a baby. This is not funny. I've been working on this for years, it's very funny. Anyway, I went back to Colorado just a few weeks ago, which is why my knee is twisted, and it's very funny, you know, he was kind of really sort of insinuating a little bit that he was actually my older brother, because, you know, he lives the, I was going to say sane life, how odd, you know, he's a layperson in the family and has accomplished certain things and thinks that's very important, and I'm the, you know, person who does something else, and in the world it's not necessarily thought of as even coping, actually.


Oh, gosh. And speaking about coping, I've spent all yesterday and today trying to fix my computer, not even fix my computer, just trying to get AOL on my computer, and I've spent almost all yesterday, it took six hours, I clicked the wrong button. This is what, you know, this is conditioning arising or whatever. I'm reading the thing, trying to pay complete attention, it gave me a choice, download or not download, so I thought, I didn't know. So I chose download, well, six hours later, it took six hours, I couldn't believe it, and now I've got something that no, so far, two other, three AOL help people, thank God, haven't still yet been able to figure out how I can start on AOL and not have my computer freeze up. Ever had that experience? Well, when the talk is in the computer, this is the new world, you know.


I'm trying to keep up with it desperately, but the truth is, it's passed me by. All right, let's get down to business. So, oh, my knee, I told you about my knee, okay. My knee? Oh, it has everything to do with my knee. I was skiing, such as it was. Life. You know, actually, it's kind of a neat injury if you're going to have one, you know, skiing injury, but people who make their living by sitting cross-legged, it's pretty stupid to put myself in that situation, but I was in Colorado because before I went to Colorado,


I'm never going to get done with this talk, I'm sorry, I haven't even started it yet. I went to Colorado because it was on the way, I thought it was on the way home from Utah. It turns out it's not on the way home from Utah, it's a little bit east from Salt Lake City. But anyway, I went to Salt Lake City to go to a session, which is very interesting. I represented Zen Center at a session and gave a talk about Dogen, my hero. And it's very interesting, while I was there, to be immersed in a different kind of Sangha, a different kind of Soto Zen group is very interesting. Their sessions are very different schedule from ours. Anyway, I'm not going to go into it.


All right, here we go, I better talk fast. Should I cut to the end? Okay. Why am I having such trouble getting going? You have to upload. Upload. Maybe you can help me now. All right. Anything we do beyond just living is vanity. I don't know where I got that quote, but I read that somewhere recently. And I thought, gosh, that's really interesting. And then I opened my Bible. I have a Bible at home because I was confirmed.


Confirmed, yeah, that's what it's called, confirmed, I was confirmed. The only problem with that confirmation was that my rabbi and I had some real serious disagreements. I was looking for God, you know, and he wanted me to memorize the Hebrew 12 months of the year. So I got my Bible and I was confirmed, but I didn't get the piece of paper. He wouldn't give it to me. That's okay. So I was looking in my Bible, because it rang a bell, vanity, and I turned to Ecclesiastics, which is one of my favorites. And it says... First of all, let me tell you about... I also was reading in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which is such a profound book. I really always, when I read it, I'm amazed again and again and again. So if you haven't read it, give it a shot.


And if you've read it, read it again. It's really good. But I was reading in the chapter called Right Effort, and in it, Suzuki Roshi says that the main thing that we have to get... He actually used the word rid of, which is very unusual for him, is pride or vanity, pride in achievement, or right effort is to get rid of anything extra. I thought that was very interesting. Anyway, so vanity does mean some kind of pride or puffed-upness, which is exactly self-clinging. So here we go. From Ecclesiastics come the words of Koalath, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, said Koalath, vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit hath people of all their labor wherein they labor under the sun? One generation passes away and another follows,


and the earth abideth forever. The sun also rises and the sun goeth down. The wind goes toward the south and turns unto the north. It turns about continually in its circuit. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. Unto the place where the rivers go, there they will go again. All things toil into weariness. Humans cannot utter it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. That which hath been is that which shall be, and that which hath been done is that which shall be done. And there is nothing new under the sun. I'm going to have to really skip about. For children, of course, everything is new under the sun. They have this sense of wonder until,


if you watch children, it's very interesting, until around, I think, maybe for those of you who are with children, three or four, something like that, or four or five, they begin to have a sense of self. And if you watch, it's very painful. They begin to be self-conscious at that age. And to see that happen is just so painful because we know what the consequences are. However, if that doesn't happen, they'll never be able to be free. We have to go through the self to be free. So, even though it's kind of painful to watch, it's necessary. Suzuki Roshi, they used to say of Suzuki Roshi, that he was child-like because he had that kind of wonder and a bubbly kind of enthusiasm for everything he was doing. But how about us? Some people choose to ignore life, either with intoxication or rigid denial. Sometimes people settle into a kind of stupid happiness.


That's okay. So long as they're happy, you know. Others keep themselves jacked up to a fever pitch with the kind of excitement that is encouraged on TV or in the movies. I remember when I was young, we used to dance and get excited also. You know, sixteen years old, tons of energy. But there were places to go then, you know. It was easy. There weren't so many people, and there was lots of country about. But now, it seems like every place you look, they're telling you, you know, be happier, happier, more happy. And happiness means da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da. It's exhausting. Just exhausting. But most of us face life's blessings and disappointments trying to keep some awake sanity in the general rush towards sleep. Buddhism must be about life, my life,


or it's useless, completely useless. We know by now that anything that's conditioned will not make us ultimately happy. But Midler once said, I was unhappy when I thought I could be happy all the time. It's the, oh, if only, syndrome. If only, blah, blah, blah. If only, blah, blah, blah. If only, blah, blah, blah. So, if we're not running after happiness all the time, then how do we live? What is the guiding light, and where do we find it? As some of you know, tomorrow we're going to have a ceremony. It's a ceremony about vowing. I vow, blah, blah, blah.


And I suggest today that that kind of commitment to vow is a guiding light. A vow is a beacon, a light pointing back to our own heart. Consider what it might be like to judge everything we do by whether or not it is of benefit to as many beings as possible. Wouldn't that be something? How we put down a cup, how we wait for the bus, how we light a cigarette, if people are still doing that. If everything we did, we did for the benefit of all beings. There is nothing that we can hold on to.


Everything changes. Everything. Impermanence is immutable. There is no way that you can grab onto something, an idea, a person, a relationship, a status symbol, a job, that will not change. We study something called... another way of thinking about emptiness, that there is no thing, person, anything that has an inherent separate existence, thankfully. This is the study of the middle way. If there is nothing to hold on to,


nothing, not even the practice. Emptiness is the characteristic of everything. This groundlessness, sometimes for some people is scary, because we're used to hanging on to what's familiar. But actually it's a big release and a relief. It's refreshing. It is ultimately refreshing, allowing the renunciation we call no-self clinging to come forward. And this renunciation is what some people will vow tomorrow.


To live in this renunciation is to live in vow. We vow even when we don't think for a minute we can do whatever the vow is. I vow not to eat too much or I vow at least to be aware when I do overeat or even I vow to notice that I have overeaten. Some guiding light about whatever it is that is uppermost for you. Thank you. In the middle of Ecclesiastics it says, you'll recognize this, there have been songs made about this, to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die,


a time to plant, a time to pluck up that which is planted, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to seek and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away, a time to deep silence and a time to speak, a time to embrace and a time to keep from embracing. With nothing to lose, it's already lost, it's already gone. With nothing left in a totally hopeless situation, hopeless, really hopeless, we have relief and release. For Kohalath, the speaker, this situation led to despair, like early existentialism of the West. But in Buddhism we acknowledge the emptiness


and move on, returning to wonder. We can do this because we understand the emptiness of the self and how clinging to the self causes suffering. It's a really important point. With nothing to depend on, we return to the world, we return to life. We can simply vow. We acknowledge an intention to go beyond the self and we offer our vow to the vast universe. To live in vow means to live in the acceptance of totally hopeless situation. Suzuki Roshi said, Life is like getting into a boat and sailing out to the ocean and then sinking. Can anyone tell me that's not true?


Therefore, if we really understand that, that our life is slipping away all the time from us, that there is nothing to hold on to, it's not possible. If we can just open our hand, give up the struggle, throw our lives into something bigger, make a vow, save all sentient beings. Ridiculous. Maybe I'm going to try. I'll live that way. Trungpa said that hopelessness is actually an advanced practice. And it is. Because for some people, moi, it takes decades to give up. Decades. It's karma. Can't help it. So we just have to love ourselves while we're, you know,


fighting the useless fight. With this insight, we can begin giving up wanting anything and can flow along as life is happening, paying strict attention to our own stuck places, being deeply responsible for the miracle of our lives. We offer our body and mind to the Buddhadharma, which just is our daily life. If we turn away from our life as it is, we can say, Rev used to say, that this is evil. Why? Because if we turn away from life,


from something difficult, if we don't want to look at it, that means that we're clinging to the safety of the self, of the... That was ironic, can you see? I mean, it's ridiculous. But that's what we try to do. We try to protect this non-entity all the time. So if we ignore our own life, ignore our own pain, we keep ourselves separate from everything else. And in this separateness, we can hurt ourselves and other people. So that's why denial is evil. So a vow, when we vow, it's not that we know something, that we know how to help,


that we know what is good, that we have a view of what is right. No. We don't know anything. We don't know what it means to help. Katyagiri said one day, the most important thing having to do with another person is just to try to understand. So the attitude we have in life is more like, what is going on now? What is happening right now? Near the end of Ecclesiastics, Koleth, King David's son, again repeats all he has described as vanity, especially, especially because we're going to die. There is death informing everything,


and the caperberry shall fail because people go to their long home and the mourners go about the streets before the silver cord is snapped asunder and the golden bowl is shattered and the pitcher is broken at the fountain and the wheel falleth, shattered into the pit and the dust returneth to the earth as it was and the spirit returneth unto that which gave it vanity of vanities, I say. All is vanity. So how do we find this vow place? It is hidden in the depths of our heart. If we listen carefully enough, it is there. It is a yearning to touch the source of all life. It is a wish to live from the heart.


Open, bigger than the confines of the limited, contracted self. And that's a feeling. You can feel yourself contract. It's not comfortable. We want to be in touch with the vastness. We sometimes call God, some people, or I am that I am, or the nameless one, or source, in Buddhism we call it thusness. Because of death, because everything changes, because we give up the struggle, the struggle of the self, then we can appreciate our life. This is a quote from Suzuki Roshi. We should be very grateful to have a limited body,


like mine or like yours. If you had a limitless life, it would be a real problem for you. The reason why some people who are dying are so neat to be around is because they've given up wanting anything. They're just there appreciating everything. That is completely Soto Zen. How depressing. But not really. Whether we make a public vow or let it bubble secretly inside, we need something bigger than our small selves to guide us in this mystery we reduce to the word life. Doesn't touch it, does it? To make a public commitment


in front of your community, your family and friends, that you will make your very best effort day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, to be accountable to your friends, to your family, to your community, that this selflessness is the most important thing in your life. This is a ceremony of ordination we will be joyfully witnessing tomorrow, in my point of view. People do this vowing, I think, as an offering. It's an offering. They offer their mind and body to the way of the Buddhas and ancestors who walked as human beings before them, with them and after them, so that the wisdom of this way is not lost. As in any ceremony,


the doing of it magnifies the vow and the time leading up to it is just as important as the ceremony. We could and do reconfirm and recommit all the time, but making a public vow magnifies it so we really, we, the vower, really takes notice of what they're saying. Oh yes, I really do want to do this, whatever it is, not drink anymore. I can't take it for granted. This is my life. We then wake up to the simple truth that we are life and that we are taking responsibility for it. Buddha said at the end of his life, he reminded everybody that everything that is conditioned, which is everything, dies, ceases, he says, dies.


Therefore, he said, be a light unto yourself. It is your responsibility. Each one of us's life is our responsibility. And then he said, that's something like diligently, continue diligently, strive diligently, I think he said something like that. This ceremony tomorrow is an initiation into something new for those people, and yet, it's a coming home also. To their true selves. We vow to take refuge, to take refuge, to return to our own heart.


This vowing is not ultimately a rational event. It's an event of the heart. It is irrational, and no matter how much we think and reason about it, it is still a mystery even up to the very moment it is proclaimed. It is a complete unknown. And we do it anyway, because our heart leads us there. Yes, I will renounce the limited self. Yes, I will notice dualistic thinking. Yes, I will be present all day long. Yes, I will live to benefit all beings. Yes, I will not steal. Yes, I will not lie. Yes, I will not praise self at the expense of others. Yes, I will not intoxicate my mind. Yes, I will not misuse sexuality. I will refrain from doing evil. I will do all good.


Yes, I promise. I will. So, tomorrow we have such a ceremony and everyone's invited to come. You can come and witness these people doing this silly, foolish thing. It's actually happiness for the community and for everyone a kind of profound giving up. And in this case, you know, they're going to be priests, but it doesn't really matter. You know, lay people do the same practice. It's just that when it's made public like that then everybody can make sure that they're accountable. So, that's that.


And please, I hope, of course, that's what I'll do, that next year we all are completely, fully enlightened, free and at peace, forever happy, and so is everybody else in the entire world. No more suffering. Just a little bit. Okay. Thank you.