March 27th, 2004, Serial No. 04102

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Good morning. I think that we are a little bit of a mixed audience this morning. And this is because Saturday morning is probably the best time of all to come here if you're a beginner, because we have Zazen instruction every Saturday morning at 8.45. And we also always have this Dharma talk. So the Saturday morning program is a really good opportunity for somebody who's new to get a feel for the practice here. And in fact, this is called Beginner's Mind Temple, and it's the entry point for many people who continue to practice for many years.


Today is a little different than most Saturdays in that it's the first day of a seven-day Sashin that about 35 of us are participating in. And so every day of the Sashin, there will be a Dharma talk, and this is the first talk of our Sashin. And I should tell you that I also am a bit of a beginner. I am serving as head student for a practice period that's going on now, and that's a training position. So one of the things the head student does is give talks for the first time. And so this is the first time I have ever given a talk in the Buddha Hall on Saturday. And I am really impressed by how many of you there are. So during the next seven days, those of us in the Sashin will spend our entire days alternating sitting and walking meditation,


beginning at 5 a.m. and ending at around 9 p.m., with some time out for meals and breaks after each meal, and a stretching period in the afternoon, and a talk every day. So we're going to be doing a lot of sitting, and I think it's appropriate to use this time to talk about Zazen and Sashin practice. And I think that the guidelines for sitting a seven-day Sashin are really just the same as the guidelines for sitting one period of Sashin, or one period of Zazen. So I'm hoping that there will be something in this talk that will be meaningful to everybody here. So as I said, this Sashin is the end of a nine-week practice period that's been going on here.


And the theme of the practice period is time, and the koan, the one who is not busy. So I'm sure a lot of you know about koans. A koan is a teaching story about our Zen ancestors that's been handed down to us. And maybe these stories are a little bit like a dream, in that the characters in the stories might represent different parts of ourselves. And also, like a dream, they're a little puzzling and bizarre, and they don't quite make logical sense. So we use them to try to find the meaning in them for our practice. And that's what we've been doing with this koan during our practice period. So I would like to read you this koan.


As Yunyan was sweeping the ground, Daowu said, Too busy. Yunyan said, You should know there's one who isn't busy. Daowu said, If so, then there's a second moon. Yunyan held up his broom and said, Which moon is this? And Daowu said,


If so, then there's a third moon. And Daowu said, If so, then there's a third moon. They're friends, or peers, or Dharma brothers. They're fellow monk practitioners. So Yunyan is sweeping, and he looks very busy and bustly. And Daowu comes along, and he says, Oh, too busy. So Yunyan replies, You should know there's one who isn't busy. And then Daowu says, Oh, then there's a second moon. Well, we all know that there's really only one moon. So what Daowu is saying is, Oh, well then how many selves do you have? So he's teasing his Dharma brother a little bit. But Yunyan has the last word. He holds up his broom and says, Which moon is this? And I won't demonstrate this time.


So we are studying how to get in touch and stay in touch with the one who is not busy in each of us. This is an urban Zen center, and so I think many of the people who practice here have very busy lives. I expect that most of us in the room are working with or struggling with how to keep our minds clear and calm while we raise our children or do our jobs or fulfill our responsibilities, whatever they may be. And I think that most people today feel that they are too busy, that there just isn't time to get everything done that needs to be done. So this is a koan about being in touch with the one who is not busy. How to find the one who is not busy


and act from that place in the world. One of the practices that we use to try to find the one who is not busy is Sushin, which is an extended period of sitting meditation. If you consider all the different kinds of beings, known and unknown to us, that there are in the universe, being born as a human being is rare and miraculous. And it's even more rare that everyone in this room has come into contact with the Buddha Dharma and the opportunity to practice the Buddha way in this lifetime.


So the opportunity to sit a seven-day Sushin is a rare and wondrous gift that is very precious. But even though we understand that it's precious, I think most of us have some ambivalence about sitting a Sushin. If we have some experience with lying sitting, we already know that during the next seven days it's very likely that there are going to be some difficult or painful moments. This is because sitting still for such a long time is not what our bodies or minds naturally like to do. An image that comes to mind for me is a snake in a tube. Now, I don't know very much about snakes,


so I don't know what would really happen, but it seems to me like if you put a snake in a tube, it would get very unhappy very quickly. Even if the tube was long enough and wide enough for the snake when it was all stretched out, I think it would quickly become miserable and start fighting with the tube. Because it constricts the way the snake habitually is in the world. So that's a rather extreme example, and I don't think you should be discouraged by it. But on the other hand, I think we're a little bit like that snake. We like to move. We like to try to find a more comfortable or advantageous position. And when thoughts come up, we like to pursue them. We like to think about our thoughts, and that keeps them alive in our minds.


Now, we do have a big advantage over that snake, and that's that we know why we're here and what we're doing. Or at least we hope we think about that some. We're not always so sure. So Zazen and Sushin are about getting comfortable with our actual limited position and our minds as they actually are right now. So I think that during Sushin, we go from a feeling of being restricted in that we're trying not to move and we're trying not to follow our thoughts to a feeling of some new kind of freedom because we're relieved of our habitual thought patterns


and the necessity of doing anything. I think it's a process of stripping away rather than adding anything. It's stopping doing, which is a very radical thing for human beings. But this doesn't mean that we're just idle or lazy or make no effort. Actually, we have to be very alert and attentive to stay in the present moment with our body-mind as it actually is right now. Ehe Dogen, who is the founder of this particular school of Zen, wrote an essay called Fukunza Zengi in Japanese, and in English that means


Universal Recommendations for Zazen. It includes complete Zazen instruction and it's really a passionate exhortation to do Zazen wholeheartedly right now. So I would like to read some sentences that I've taken from it. This is not the whole thing. You should cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate yourself. Eat and drink moderately. Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs.


Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no thoughts of becoming a Buddha. Think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Non-thinking in itself is the essential art of Zazen. The Zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss, the practice realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the way.


Going forward in practice is a matter of everydayness. The character of this school is simply devotion to sitting, total engagement in a mobile sitting. You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not use your time in vain. So for me, the most essential and hardest of these instructions is cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. I am so used to being busy and trying to accomplish something that it's very hard for me to stop being busy. I have lots of trouble just getting to the Zendo


because I'm so busy trying to accomplish something. So I am especially grateful for this practice period and Sushin so that I have these seven days to devote entirely to Zazen. Along with my busyness, I spend much time living in the past and the future. And at Zen Center always, but especially during Sushin, we're strongly encouraged to live in the present moment. Many of us have waited for this Sushin as an opportunity to go deep in our meditation. Some of us have the rare privilege of getting to meditate every morning,


and I'm really grateful that I have that. But still, the periods go quickly, and often the period is gone and I'm still not concentrated. So I think, oh, well, pretty soon there will be a one-day sitting and maybe I can get calm and concentrated then. So the one-day sitting comes and goes, and it happens very quickly, and I have much the same feeling. I think, oh, too bad it's over, and I didn't get blah-de-blah-de-blah. But at least there is Sushin coming up, and I'll be concentrated then. So that then is now. Sushin is right here, right now, and this is the opportunity that many of us have been waiting for. So I will be doing my best to really make it happen this time,


and I hope you will too. Now I'm going to make some suggestions, and I want to say that I'm not making these suggestions from some place on high. When I try to cook up this talk, I think my job is to encourage people, and so the first person I have to encourage is myself. And so these are things that I work with too. Please do cast aside all other involvements, and direct all your resources to your sitting. Please limit your activity to what will help you sit and follow the schedule completely. Take care of your body. It is the instrument of your meditation. Keep it clean. Use the exercise period in the afternoon to tune your instrument.


Rest as fully as you can during the breaks. Eat the food that's offered in the zendo, and be careful about beverages and caffeine. Consider what helps you to sit. If you habitually smoke, consider whether that helps or hinders your effort. And also take care of your mind. Avoid reading. Avoid conversations, as both of these tend to increase the number of thoughts that are likely to appear in your mind. Try to maintain silence. Please do whatever you can when you're not in the zendo to keep your mind as still as possible. One of the meditation practices of our school of Zen is called shikantaza, which means just sitting.


I think this is what Dogen means when he talks about think of not thinking. Not thinking is neither pursuing thoughts nor banishing them. As we sit, thoughts will naturally arise. If we just let them come and go on their own without inviting them into tea, pretty soon our mind will naturally get quieter and quieter, and not so many thoughts will even come up. This instruction is really simple, isn't it? But it's not easy to follow. If it were, I think we'd all be enlightened right now. It's very tempting to follow our thoughts. There are happy thoughts, there are imaginations of things that you want to do,


that you want to follow, and there are negative thoughts that for some reason we tend to follow. But anyway, all of this stuff just keeps thoughts alive and active in our mind and keeps us from being able to settle down. I know that in my life I get very bugged down in negative mind states. Most of these seem to be the result of following a negative train of thought, but comparing myself with others, wondering what people are thinking about me, some of these thought progressions are really painful. So the practice of non-thinking in zazen can give someone like me a big relief. It shuts off that stream of negativity and self-doubt


so that I can be with what's happening in my body-mind right now. And this moment mind is calm and peaceful. I think it's what Dogen means when he talks about the dharma gate of repose and bliss. We are freed from our negative thought processes and also from the necessity of doing anything. We just sit, we just don't do anything. We don't think, which is different from pushing thoughts away or suppressing them. We just don't entertain our thoughts. We abide in the present moment, which is completely still and at rest. During this practice period, we've been studying another essay by Dogen called Being Time,


and that will be the text for the rest of this session. This essay teaches that time itself is a process, that life is being, and all being is time. I am time, and there is no time separate from my existence. Since my existence is inherently empty, time is also empty. So time is a relative concept that we use to describe our experience of life to ourselves. In my last talk, which was about time, I brought up the suggestion that the appearance of impermanence, change, and movement is like a movie with many instants of complete stillness, like frames on a piece of film,


which arrive in the mind one after another so quickly that we perceive them as flowing. So time does not move, or fly away, or disappear, or get lost. It is our thinking mind that is always moving, our conceptual thinking that creates this experience that we have of change and impermanence. So what does this teaching tell us that will help us during Sishing? Well, for one thing, we are always new and fresh each moment. There's a famous phrase that you can't step into the same river twice. And I think it's helpful to realize that our bodies and minds are just like that.


Every moment, a new configuration of the universe arrives. Whether we've been sitting for seven days or one hour, our body-mind is fresh and new right now. If you have sat Sishings before, you are probably familiar with the experience that pain or difficulty is not necessarily continuous or cumulative. You may have a really difficult or painful period of zazen, and then the next period of zazen will be pleasurable and just fly by. So it's completely impossible to predict what's going to happen next. Our Sishing practice, then, is just to be with what is happening right now, without comparing it to what happened in a previous period of zazen, or what we hope or fear will happen in the next period,


or what we're planning to do after Sishing is over. Another thing I want to talk about before we go is making mistakes. I remember the first time I was ever on a serving crew for a zendo meal. It was quite memorable. I got so nervous. I think it was, if not my first zendo meal, then it was close. I had not had very many zendo meals. And I got so nervous that somehow, even though I thought I was listening to the serving instructions, I must not have been. I think I was probably worrying about spilling soup on my teacher, and so I didn't get it when they told me the pattern of walking in the zendo. So I arrived in the zendo with my pot and had no idea where to go.


And for those of you who don't know about zendo meals, they're kind of choreographed and ritualized, and it's a very pleasurable way to eat a meal, but training the serving crew is an important part of it. So I felt like I made a big fool of myself, and then I spent a good part of the sashiin obsessing about the mistake I made. So during the sashiin, many of you will be asked to perform various tasks. You may be on serving crews or bedouins or chidins or whatever. And these activities usually have some ritual element to them. And I think it's important to know that the ritual is intended not just to please us aesthetically,


but also that it's a mindfulness tool. These things encourage us to pay attention and keep our zazen mind during activity. So if you drop your chopsticks during an orioke meal, it's a wake-up call. You know, oh, I wasn't paying attention. I was thinking about something else. So because we are human, and because of the nature of these activities, there are lots of mistakes kind of sitting there waiting to be made. And if you make one of them, please don't worry about it. Just say, oh, I made a mistake, and go on with what you were doing. I know from experience that it's very hard to make just one dough-on mistake. It's a little like eating one potato chip.


This is because the dough-on who has made the mistake is sitting there thinking about the mistake instead of being present for whatever is supposed to happen next, which is what they're supposed to do. So guess what? Another mistake. And this is kind of how life is, I think. So if you make a mistake, or even lots of them, try to be grateful for the information that they give you, and then just go on with what's happening, and don't worry about it. You're still a good person, and the most important thing is for you to enjoy your sashimi. So in my last talk,


I read an essay that I found on the Internet that was about time, and it described our perception of time as being like a movie, as I mentioned earlier. So it said that it's actually a series of stills that go by very quickly, and that it's our conceptual mind that makes them move. So today I'd like to read another description of life as a movie. This one comes from our founder, Suzuki Roshi, and the focus here is not really so much about time, it's about zazen, and it has a little different slant that I think is interesting, so I'm going to read that to you now. Our everyday life is like a movie playing on the wide screen.


Most people are interested in the picture on the screen without realizing there is a screen. When the movie stops and you don't see anything anymore, you think, I must come again tomorrow evening. I will come back and see another show. When you are just interested in the movie on the screen and it ends, then you expect another show tomorrow. Or maybe you are discouraged because there is nothing good on right now. You don't realize the screen is always there. But when you are practicing, you realize that your mind is like a screen. If the screen is colorful, colorful enough to attract people, then it will not serve its purpose.


So to have a screen which is not colorful, to have a pure, plain, white screen is the most important point. But most people are not interested in the pure white screen. I think it is good to be excited by a movie. To some extent, you can enjoy the movie because you know that it is a movie. Even though you have no idea of the screen, still your interest is based on an understanding that this is a movie with a screen and there is a projector or something artificial. So you can enjoy it. That is how we enjoy our life. If you have no idea of the screen or the projector, perhaps you cannot see it as a movie.


Zazen practice is necessary to know the kind of screen you have and to enjoy your life as you enjoy movies in the theater. You are not afraid of the screen. You do not have any particular feeling for the screen, which is just a white screen. So you are not afraid of your life at all. You enjoy something that you are afraid of. You enjoy something that makes you angry or makes you cry. And you enjoy the crying and the anger too. If you have no idea of the screen, then you will even be afraid of enlightenment. What is it? Oh my! If someone attains enlightenment, you may ask him about the experience that he had. When you hear about the experience, you may say, oh no, that is not for me.


But it is just a movie, you know, something for you to enjoy. And if you want to enjoy the movie, you should know that it is the combination of film and light and screen. And that is the most important thing, and that the most important thing is the plain white screen. That white screen is not something you can actually attain. It is something you always have. The reason you don't feel you have it is because your mind is too busy. Once in a while, you should stop all your activities and make your screen white. That is zazam. So I think it is time to go back to the zundo and work on our white screens. Thank you very much.