July 5th, 1995, Serial No. 00987

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Good evening. Do I need an introduction? Who am I tonight? Thank you for inviting me. I have a sitting group that meets on Monday nights in my living room in San Rafael.

[01:04]

So, two nights ago, I asked them what I should talk about tonight, and people said, well, it's right after the 4th of July, so you should talk about freedom and the pursuit of happiness. And someone else thought I should talk about evil. So, what is the Buddhist perspective on evil? Then I looked at the newspaper yesterday, on the 4th of July, and they were running a series in the Independent Journal, which is the San Rafael paper, asking people, what does freedom mean to you? So, I thought, well, maybe I should say a little bit about that. Is my voice audible?

[02:18]

Okay, this is quite a system. So, I may work in something about freedom in this talk. I grew up as a, I was raised as a Mennonite, and we sang hymns in, I think, a rather stilted fashion, some enthusiasm, but there was a part of me that wasn't touched.

[03:21]

And so, there was a part of me that could never become free under that particular approach. As I was driving over here tonight, I remembered that, for me, a gate, a passageway from the doctrines that I grew up with to Buddhist practice, was a different kind of singing. An American art form called the blues. And the blues, I began singing, learning to sing the blues when I was about 15. And for some years, it was very helpful to me to listen, because the blues would actually

[04:33]

address suffering and address death, very directly. So, here's a few lines from, it's been a long time, so I think this is probably a combination of something from Blind Lemon and, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lance Lipscomb, who I listened to a great deal when I was about 17, 18 years old. I've got trouble in my mind, Lord, I believe I'm fixin' to die.

[05:35]

I've got trouble in my mind, Lord, I believe I'm fixin' to die. Well, I don't mind dyin', but I hate to leave my children cryin'. I got hard luck and trouble in front of me all the time. I got hard luck and trouble in front of me all the time. Lord, I got plenty. If you want some of my hard luck and trouble, I won't even charge you one thing dime. I got trouble in my mind, Lord, I believe I'm fixin' to die, fixin' to die.

[06:45]

Yes, I got trouble in my mind, Lord, I believe I'm fixin' to die. Well, I don't mind dyin', but I hate to leave my children cryin'. So I think your answer about what freedom means to you has to go completely through all hard luck and trouble and death. But singing the blues for me was not adequate. I could sing the blues, but I never really understood. I never really penetrated to the other side until I was able to practice stopping.

[07:55]

Stopping is a part of our practice. And in stopping you realize what is going, what are you doing, what are you doing unconsciously, what are you doing habitually. And then what is being done that you're not controlling? What is being done that you might be deluded about? You might be thinking that you are doing. So I'd like you to join me in doing a breath check right now. Check into your own breathing.

[08:58]

Bring your attention to your breath. Now we say your breath, but whose breath is it? You might join me in this experiment and just stop breathing. Make no effort at all to breathe. Let your breath completely stop. And don't start it up again. Stop breathing. Stop breathing. I'm waiting to see people falling over.

[10:07]

And no one is falling over. Who's breathing? So we want to claim our breath. But you don't even have to. The question then, of course, is who can be free? Who is it? We have, I don't mean to diminish the fact or demean the fact that we have, and are fortunate to have, some cultural awareness of human rights and some cultural awareness of individual freedom.

[11:14]

In fact, if we didn't have a certain amount of individual freedom and support and protection for human rights, we wouldn't be able to open a Buddha hall like this. There are places in the world where you can't open up a Zen dojo. Buddhism, actually from its beginning, I think, from reading the talks that were given by Shakyamuni 2,500 years ago, assumed a certain amount of individual freedom and extended that freedom and that understanding of rights, actually, to all human beings. The caste system was just devalued.

[12:24]

Early Buddhists did not put energy and support into the caste system. And in India today, many untouchables are becoming Buddhists because it's a way for them to actually have a cultural possibility of developing culture that recognizes their individual worth, individual value. And Buddhism extended this understanding of rights and freedoms to even non-human animals and non-animal plants and all beings of any kind of origin, even origin that could not be understood or expressed. Which might include bacteria and atomic particles.

[13:30]

So there's a certain appreciation for individual freedom. At the same time, the question, who is it? Who's free? Who has the capacity to be free? Who has the capacity to realize complete liberation? Now, most of the people who answered the question for the Independent Journal in Marin County said, basically, that freedom meant that they could do what they wanted. Freedom means I can do what I want without interference. And people gave various examples. They didn't want to be interfered with by the government or by other people. They didn't want to be defined by other people's opinions. Ramblin' Jack Elliot quoted Chris Christopherson,

[14:37]

freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. But the person who surprised me had this to say. His name is Lenny Lipton. So I'll nominate him for Independence Day Buddha. He said, Last weekend, my 15-month-old son, Noah, bopped me with a toy workbench. And now I have a black eye. In an instant too brief for thought, when I felt the rush of pain, there was no anger. I had nobody and nothing to blame. I can't recall having been in such a state of mind, facing my own suffering.

[15:38]

At such moments, usually I get angry and blame somebody or something. But my love for my little boy freed me of self-pity, blame and anger. I accepted my fate. That's freedom. Isn't that amazing? Isn't that wonderful? So, no blame, no anger, and he realized that he was free of suffering. With his black eye and his 15-month-old son It could have been a 15-year-old son. It may have been a little different. But that's the test then, right?

[16:40]

So we can tolerate certain indiscretions and painful experiences from children. But it's hard to accept from people who should know better. Especially grown-ups. It's really hard to accept pain. It's really hard to accept being stepped on, bumped, pushed, even if it's not intentional. Not to mention when it's intentional. Someone steps on you or pushes you or puts you down. Sometimes you don't know if it's intentional or not.

[17:44]

But it's pretty hard to find freedom in those circumstances. But we have a deep insight in this practice which is called the Bodhisattva vow. The Bodhisattva vow is making room for dumb people. It's making room for people who do stupid things right in front of you. Without getting involved in blaming. And of course it's very easy to find examples. Just driving over here, there were many examples. People changing lanes in front of me without turn signals.

[18:47]

And not only is it foolish, but of course it's dangerous on the highway. So what is your your Bodhisattva practice every day? How do you save all these beings right in front of you? To really act appropriately you need to find your open mind. And I think most people find their open mind right here. In the center of your of your body. In your heart.

[19:50]

In your gut. I was at the the Museum of Modern Art Sunday. First time. The new museum. And probably all of you who live in the city are familiar with the exhibit there. I saw some of the the current modern Japanese exhibit which was quite interesting. If you haven't seen it you should make a point to go I think because it's there for just I think to the end of July. And of course Japanese people suffered a great deal during the war and the aftermath and how that is expressed in the art of the period. I think this is quite interesting. Some of it is very provocative. But then I was on the

[20:52]

second floor I think where they have the Matisse two of the contemporary collection some of which is is hung of course and it's a rotating collection. But many of you probably know the painting by Jim Dine which is a big it's a big canvas maybe five by five six by six. And it's mostly a big heart sort of red brown texture right in the center in the center of the heart is a blue clamp a C clamp that he got from some hardware store and attached to the center of this heart. When I saw that I thought oh you ever feel

[21:56]

I felt that there was a part of me that was in a vice and there was an almost instantaneous reaction to that which I wanted to get rid of that feeling. I wanted to loosen up the clamp and take it off the painting. You might think that freedom would be to take the clamp off the heart. Our practice though reminds us that that's not quite right. I Dogen says

[23:03]

for the self to advance and confirm or recognize or experience the myriad phenomena is delusion. For the myriad things to come forth and express the self is awakening. So even if your heart is in pain in this practice there is an orientation to don't do your breath. Let your breath do your breath. Don't try to push

[24:08]

the clamp off the heart. Right effort is in my beginner's mind. Suzuki Roshi is pretty clear here. He says if your if your effort is headed in the wrong direction especially if you're not aware of it it's a deluded effort. He says our effort should be directed from achievement to non-achievement. So how do you do this? You think to get from achievement to non-achievement means that you're trying to get rid of unnecessary and bad results of effort. So if you notice that you're trying to get from where you are to achievement investigate that tendency.

[25:10]

Be aware of it because it's deluded practice. And the the practice that he recommends is to let go of those tendencies that are unnecessary and direct your effort to a boundless mind that includes the pain that you're already feeling. I would say it took me about 10 years of practice before I really really felt miserable. Oh gosh.

[26:17]

I was pretending I was feeling pretty good. I wanted to feel better and actually it took me a while to realize that what was what I was actually feeling was pretty miserable. So from a Buddhist point of view freedom means to actually be completely comfortable with things exactly as they are. No pretense. No idea about making it different. Things are going to be different. Things are going to change. But it's a radical approach. So this is the way to pursue happiness is to completely forget about pursuing happiness.

[27:23]

And to remind yourself again and again to simply see what's already in front of you and not only that but not grasp it. Not only see it but don't grasp it and not only see it but don't push it away. You know we have two two precepts we have ten what we call grave or prohibitory precepts and the first two are that a disciple of the Buddha does not kill and that a disciple of the Buddha does not steal. And if you look at that from a more subtle subtle perspective you realize that not killing means you don't even push away. If you push away sometimes you need to push away.

[28:27]

I'm not saying let somebody run over you but I'm saying if you push away realize that you actually can't get rid of the experience that you're feeling it'll change but you have to you have to fundamentally receive it accept it acknowledge it then you can push it away and you're you've entered the realm of emptiness where you're not actually pushing away. Likewise stealing in its more fundamental understanding is not not taking not grabbing just as your breath is already there so much is already given so much is already arising within you and when you grab you actually

[29:29]

narrow down your experience and deny who you are in your bigger sense. So freedom means to be able to be committed to completely receive everything and of course you're already receiving everything already why fight it? So this this practice is endless subtle simple and easily available you can do this practice

[30:29]

anytime so when you're today I had a lot of things to take care of so all day long I'm acting taking care of what I need to take care of and stopping taking what I need to take care of stopping you can extend your practice of sitting so you stop every day if you're doing it if you're doing zazen practice on a daily basis which is highly recommended you have an opportunity to stop completely completely you have no habitual stuff going on, right? you may notice there's still habitual stuff going on and when you see that again you just don't entertain it

[31:30]

you don't put any additional energy into it that in itself is cultivating this practice cultivating awareness and expanding your zone actually your zone of freedom and so if you have the experience of stopping and then you bring that experience of stopping into your whole day whenever you have an opportunity sometimes it's obvious you're driving along there's a stoplight you stop you have a chance to stop and but if you're still holding on to the steering wheel like this or leaning forward saying when is that light going to turn do something back to them or whatever these complicated things can just be dropped

[32:32]

so just like Lenny Lipton realized that even though he had just been attacked he has a black eye freedom was to feel the pain so in this way your realization and your building of your character which is actually building a vessel that stops perpetuating old karma this goes hand in hand the realization

[33:38]

and the building of the character so this is a matrix that then produces wonderful people who I think can go out and help heal wounded wounded society and wounded friends mostly just by being there and being willing to face what's really happening what's really going down oh I was going to ask you to join me in another song which you might remember while you were

[34:40]

out there extending your practice from the zendo into the activity of your daily life and it's called Relax Your Mind and this is a song that Huddy Leadbetter Leadbelly used to sing and it has a chorus which is very easy it's just relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a very long time sometime you've got to relax your mind and there are a couple verses which I will do and then maybe we can have a few minutes for questions if it's not too late ah relax your mind

[35:46]

relax your mind helps you live a great long time maybe that's too low relax your mind relax your mind give me a moment here relax your mind relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometime you've got to relax your mind ok so you can all join in right relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometime you've got to

[36:53]

relax your mind I had a friend who crossed the railroad track oh lord he forgot to relax that was the time he sure has relaxed his mind relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometime you've got to relax your mind oh when the light turns green put your foot down on the gasoline that's the time

[37:55]

you've got to relax your mind relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometime you've got to relax your mind and when the light turns red put that brick down to the bed that's the time you've got to relax your mind relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time

[38:56]

now's the time now's the time you've got to relax your mind thank you do we have ten minutes or so are there any comments or questions yeah yeah be sure you see that blue light yes no oh yeah uh huh

[40:06]

uh huh yeah mhm yeah and there of course biologists are quarreling about the borderlines you know where there's certain certain forms of life that are not quite plants and not quite animals it may be that that the forms of plants evolved into animal forms and of course we need to make appropriate distinctions in terms of you know what we bring into our house and what we eat and who we shake hands with but but you know there are a number of there are a number of sayings that

[41:08]

for example one of the founders of our lineage Dungshan for a long time investigated the question what does it mean that rocks and trees expound the Dharma how can rocks expound the Dharma and the Diamond Sutra which is I mean there are many many sutra references but the Diamond Sutra being one of my favorites it just goes through a list of all beings and in terms of their origin at the time of course two thousand years ago they didn't have the study of genetics they weren't even sure quite how many beings came into existence but they just said all beings whether they're born from animals

[42:10]

whether they're born from moisture whether they're born from unknown sources all form all these beings all these beings are included and not only that all these beings are part of a Bodhisattva's vow and all these beings when a Bodhisattva realizes awakening all these beings realize awakening and so it's pretty clear that there's ultimately no distinction this really is a boundless commitment you don't just cut it off and say okay you look pretty much like me so or you have a beating heart and red blood so you're included it goes beyond that yes Well, I'd say one moment miserable, one moment free.

[43:47]

But if you think, oh, there's a time when you're never going to feel miserable, that's a miserable state to put yourself in. So it really doesn't, there's a point at which it really doesn't matter. You feel miserable, okay, you feel miserable. You feel, any misery can be physical, it can be physical pain, it can be exhaustion, it can be psychological. But whatever it is, it's something to work on. It's really an opportunity to bring your attention to what that experience is. And so, I actually don't think so much about grading or rating or judging, but more about

[44:51]

what is this experience, what's its texture, what's really in there. Yeah, anything else? Well, don't forget to make a great effort and relax your mind.

[45:12]

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