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SF-00963
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Sunday Lecture: Milton's 'Paradise Lost'; myth of Narcissus; Four Noble Truths; Zhaozhou's "No": Marin Organizing Committee/Seniors for Peace

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of the Tathāgata's words. Good morning. Winter may never come. So I'm going to begin this morning reading you a verse from Milton's Paradise Lost. That day I oft remember when from sleep I first awaked, and found myself reposed under a shade on flowers, much wondering where and what I was, whence thither brought, and how.

[01:04]

Not distant far from thence, a murmuring sound of waters issued from a cave, and spread into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved, pure as the expanse of heaven. I thither went with unexperienced thought, and laid me down on the green bank, to look into the clear smooth lake, that to me seemed another sky. As I bent down to look, just opposite, a shape within the watery gleam appeared. As I bent down to look, just opposite, a shape within the watery gleam appeared, bending to look on me. I started back, it started back, but pleased I soon returned, and pleased it returned as soon with answering looks of sympathy and love. There had I fixed mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire, had not a voice thus warned

[02:15]

me, what thou seest, what there thou seest, fair creature, is thyself." Paradise Lost, Book Four. So these lovely verses are spoken by Eve at the moment of her creation, in the Garden of Eden. That day I oft remember when from sleep I first awaked, and found myself reposed under a shade on flowers, much wondering where and what I was. So this poem, in turn, was inspired by the legend of Narcissus, you know, the handsome youth who became obsessively enraptured by his own image in the water of the lake. And Narcissus was much loved by all the ladies and the wood nymphs who tried desperately

[03:16]

to woo him, and he scorned them all, and in doing so, brought down the wrath of the an avenging goddess who cursed him with the outcome that he too would fall in love and not have that love returned. So in Milton's poem, Eve, on the verge of that same fatal error, heeds the warning that's been given to her by this mysterious voice, you know, perhaps a nurturing parent or a good friend. What thou seest, what there thou seest, fair creature, is thyself. Now go out and play with your friends. So this ancient warning has come down to us throughout the ages regarding the grave dangers to us, the newly born, of self-centered and self-conceited lives. And in thinking about Narcissus and this susceptibility that we all have to the universal illness

[04:24]

of self-love, I remembered a startling episode from my childhood that I was a regular watcher of this series, The Twilight Zone. You all remember that, most of you, well, the elders of you remember that. Rod Sterling, no, [...] no. So in this one episode, there's this very sleazy guy, he's a card shark and a liar and a thief and an all-around nasty person, and he gets into a fight one day while he's drunk at a bar, and he picks a fight with the owner who has him taken out back and shot, and then they dump him into a trash bin. In the next scene, he's all dressed in a white tuxedo, and he's at a very high-class casino surrounded by gorgeous women, and he has a big fat cigar, and the host is asking him

[05:26]

if there's anything at all that he needs. So he goes on to win at roulette and poker and even the slot machines. So it looks like some time goes by, maybe a few weeks or a few months, it's hard to tell, could be a few years, and he calls the host over, and he says, the host is Sebastian Cabot, if you remember him, that large English actor, and he asks Sebastian Cabot, he says to him, I'm getting a little bored with winning, so I wonder if you could do something about that, and so the host says, well, of course, we'll arrange for you to lose now and then. So they do, and after a while, maybe another few months or years go by, and he calls the host over again, only this time he's really furious, and he throws his cards down and he pushes the women away, and he says, this place is the pits, he said, I don't like it

[06:28]

here, and if I can have whatever I want, send me back to the bar. It was interesting there, and he said, before you do, you tell the guy who made this place up as heaven that he's a real lunatic. So Sebastian Cabot smiles kindly at him, and then he begins to laugh, and he says, whoever told you that this was heaven? So I think I was probably 12 or 13 when I saw this rather shocking episode, and it was shocking, I've remembered it all these years, I can remember pretty much a lot of the details of it, too, you know? And I think it's because it had an archetypal quality to it. There was something in there that I knew on some level, but that I didn't understand consciously.

[07:29]

You know, I was an all-American kid raised in the suburbs, the all-white suburbs of south of San Francisco, and we had lots of stuff, and the promise of more stuff to come, you know, on the TV, all the gadgets, and the dream homes, and the dream families, and the well-behaved pets, you know, it was all there. And I was led to believe that that's what I could expect in this life. And I didn't even have to deserve it, you know, it was nothing to do with deserving it. I just needed to stay in school, get a job, and shop. This is salvation through commodities trading, right? So I didn't really understand the twist in the story, but I did understand the twist in the story, and it scared me. It scared me very deeply.

[08:32]

You know, if power, and property, and wealth, and status in this material world isn't going to be enough, then what was there for me to long for, or to strive for, or to become? What other idea of heaven could there be? I'd grown too old for the promise of angels, and certainly too old to believe I would become one. So it's taken a lot of years, and a lot of study, and a lot of work, and a lot of introspection to say nothing of the expense of psychotherapy, to discover what it is that I really want from heaven. And it's kind of surprising, but it's really no different at all from what I want from life here on earth. The very same simple pleasures that come from meaningful relationships, from doing work,

[09:37]

from contributing to the welfare of others. Words like community, commitment, and compassion all come to mind. And it sounds pretty simple, and in fact, the words are said all the time. We all say them. We all hear them. But the shift in perspective and in desire is really, and was for me, seemed as though the distance between heaven and earth. A distance defined at one extreme by the instinct of self-love, and at the other extreme by its shadowing twin, self-hatred. So this is the problem I brought here today to set down in front of you and in front of myself. How do we recognize in the light of our longing for admiration, and in the feelings of being

[10:43]

pleasured and loved, that which is selfish and stunting of our capacity for further growth and maturation? When do the excesses of greed begin rotting our lives? So I wanted to share with you the outcome of Narcissus' love affair with himself. This is from an old college text of mine, Bullfinch's Mythology. He fell in love with himself. He brought his lips near to take a kiss. He plunged his arms in to embrace the beloved object. It fled at the touch, but returned again after a moment and renewed the fascination. He could not tear himself away. He lost all thought of food or rest. While he hovered over the brink of the fountain gazing upon his own image, he talked with this supposed spirit, why, beautiful being, do you shun me?

[11:44]

Surely my face is not one to repel you. The nymphs love me, and you yourself look not indifferent upon me. When I stretch forth my arms, you do the same. And you smile upon me and answer my beckonings with the like. His tears fell in the water and disturbed the image. As he saw it depart, he exclaimed, stay, I entreat you, let me at least gaze upon you. If I may not touch you, and then with this and much more of the same kind, he cherished the flame that consumed him, so that by degrees he lost his color, his vigor, and the beauty which formerly had so charmed the nymph Echo. She kept near him, however, and when he exclaimed, alas, alas, she answered him with the same words, alas, alas. He pined away and died, and when his shade passed the Stygian River, it leaned over

[12:47]

the boat to catch a look of itself in the waters. The nymphs mourned for him, especially the water nymphs, and when they smote their breasts, Echo smote hers also. They prepared a funeral pile and would have burned the body, but it was nowhere to be found. But in its place a flower, purple within and surrounded with white leaves, which bears the name and preserves the memory of Narcissus. So narcissic, narcissistic entrapment, narcissistic, there's a lot of S's in this word. Narcissistic entrapment is not only a danger at the location of what we call our personal self, but it grows in magnitude as we collect ourselves into communities, institutions, nations, and perhaps the most deadly of all, a species that has dominated the planet, a

[13:53]

very vulnerable ecologically in the face of co-creation. And what's worse, as we soil our nests, we have been warned. The parental warning has been given. We know what we're doing, and we don't seem to know how to stop. This is obsession, the obsession of self-love. So before dropping all of us off in the deep pit of despair, I thought I would bring up some recommendations using the model for medical intervention that was offered by the Buddha many thousands of years ago. He'd been called by many names, and one of them was the great physician. And his focus throughout his teaching career was on identifying the illness within each individual and prescribing a cure, some medicine. He wasn't a pessimist, and I'm not a pessimist either, at least not anymore.

[14:57]

I really do believe that there is hope for a cure. And even though none of us in this room will see the outcome in the short run of whether or not life survives on this planet, still we can have a glimpse into how it's going to go within each of us, because each of us is a microcosm of the whole. And it's for this reason that what the Buddha discovered inside of his own body and mind applies to us equally well. The medicine that cured his illness is good medicine for us. So this formulation that he, in the simplest terms, called, I know you've all heard this many times, the Four Noble Truths. And just like any other medical prescription, it starts with the illness and then it ends

[15:57]

with the cure. So the illness is suffering, emotional and psychological suffering. And our suffering is caused, it has a cause, it's caused by ignorance, self-absorbed, self-conceit, self-identified ignorance, an isolated sense of an independent person. And that person, rampant with desires, is what causes suffering. This is what the Buddha saw in himself. It might be insulting to say that about somebody else, but he was talking about himself. This is what I see. You decide for yourself if you see that too. So that's the sleazy gambler, you know. He wants everything, he wants it now, he wants it the way he likes it. And he has miserly regard for the welfare of anyone else. The end of suffering, the prescription, is quite simply turning that patterning around.

[17:03]

It's an active cultivation in ourselves and in our children of higher values. Generosity, kindness, non-possessiveness, non-violence, discriminating wisdom, humility, and sympathetic joy. I'd love to see all of those on the White House Christmas card, wouldn't you? Instead of prosperity, victory. Sorry. So this theory and the cure has been tested many times, through all times, by generation after generation. And we know the names of the great heroes of this particular approach to healing. You know, St. Francis and Milarepa, Martin Buber, Shunryu Suzuki, Lao Tzu, Diganawida as a Lakota, Emily Dickinson, Rosa Parks, Rumi, Milton Erickson, Carl Jung, Sololinsky, just to name a few.

[18:07]

And knowing that we have the cure, there comes the time when each of us needs to bring the bitter brew to our own lips, to our own bodies and minds. To plight our troth and to risk our truth for the greater well-being of the world. So we have to do this with a great spirit of resolve. Wishy-washy won't do. So I wanted to read the introduction to the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Call forth all you can of love, of respect, and of faith. Remove the obstructing defilements and clear away all of your taints. Listen to the perfect wisdom of the gentle Buddhas. Talk for the wheel of the world for heroic spirits intended. That's us. Heroic spirits. That's the image that we needed to have reflected in the mirror by our families

[19:14]

and our friends and the world. You're a heroic spirit. Now go out and play with your friends. So these heroic spirits, kind of like Frodo with the ring, set off. Don't know where and don't know what the dangers will be, but off we go on a mission to save the world. So in the spirit of such a mission, I wanted to tell you a tiny little story from the Zen tradition. It's a question and response between a monk and Master Zhao Zhou. The monk asks a simple question, Does a dog have Buddha nature? And Zhao Zhou replies, No. So this story is rather famous and therefore somewhat intimidating,

[20:16]

to me anyway, because I know I don't understand it. But I do know that many teachers for many generations have held it out for our consideration. And so therefore I've spent some time in some of my meditation, some of my thinking, trying to come up with my own understanding of what this story is about. And so here it is. Here's my understanding of Buddha nature and the dog. So yes and no are words that arise from discriminative thinking. That's the kind of thinking that human beings do. In Buddhist philosophy they call it dualistic thinking, thinking in twos. And this may be a new idea for you, you may have heard it many times, but basically you're good at doing it, whether you've heard about it before or not. Thinking in twos. And the twos are things like me and you,

[21:21]

inside and outside, here and there, right and wrong, good and evil, before and after, and so on. We know them, we can juggle them just like balls. We're very skilled. So, in thinking of twos, I think we don't really notice how this flow goes on all through the day, all through the night. You know, it's the 24-7 of the discriminating mind flowing on and on. And because of the difference in emotional tone and voicings and images that come through our minds, it's hard for us to realize where these emotions are coming from. Where these voicings are issuing from. It looks like they're coming from the lake, the image in the lake, from outside. But look again. You know, in our practice here, we actually, all of us, turn and face this white wall.

[22:22]

It's like a projection screen. And then you watch as the movie begins. Where's it coming from? From the wall? Probably not. As Charlotte Silver once said, if you lay on the floor long enough, I promise you, things will begin to change and it's not going to be the floor. So, we don't remember. We don't remember. We're just acting on the flow, with the flow. So this practice is about helping us to remember. And there's even a deeper remembering that we need to do. That intuitive remembering that I knew as the twist in the story, The Twilight Zone. Something in me knew that there was something wrong with that story. Something wrong with my understanding of my life. And that twist is that our judgments and our views

[23:24]

have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Kind of shocking. But, in fact, it's true. It's certainly true that it has nothing to do with reality in the way we think it does. Words are simply a finger pointing at the moon. But it's our tendency, if we're really honest with ourselves, to believe that what we think is actually true. And what's more, we back it up with a lot of conviction. And this is where the danger begins. I remember recently hearing some politician who had been caught in a string of remarkable lies, being asked about it by a reporter, and he turned to the reporter, very indignant, and he said, Are you calling me a liar? But what he was really saying is,

[24:27]

Don't look at me, the liar. You know, look at my image in the water. Look at the beautiful face of Narcissus. So this koan, or public case, between Zhao Zhou and the monk, is an opportunity for us to study the inner workings of the judging mind. And most importantly, to see this danger as potency in the depth of our belief in ourself and our convictions. It's the potency which is the very seedbed of hoarding, of slander, of seduction, of torture, of killing, and of lies. It's called the ego. And he or she is not to be taken lightly. And it's one of the reasons that we suggest to people that they tie their legs into pretzels when they sit. Because the impulse to run or to fight, when we begin to see what's behind the veil,

[25:28]

you know, when we begin to expose the vulnerable little humbug that is hiding this terrible visage of the wizard. We're all little humbugs is really what we are. It's kind of sweet. So the way it works is that we take up a simple practice such as no, and we apply it liberally to everything we see, think, and feel. And it's not that anything true or false actually changes. It's that we're studying the mind by nailing it to one side of a duality. Being allowed to say yes or no feels a lot like freedom. It's the appearance of freedom. Freedom to choose. But if you just say no, it's not fair at all. You get stuck. You're caught and you're frustrated like the gambler who's always winning.

[26:31]

So from this frustration we begin to see how easily we are duped by the so-called freedom to choose. But basically what we always choose is our own opinion. And if you get stuck in yes, then you can simply switch to no. And if you get stuck there, you can try whatever. Either way, we slip away. Do you want a bath? No. Another drink? No. Some new clothes? No. A bigger house? No. Better car? No. More money? No. Different friends? No. Anything at all? No. No thank you, I have quite enough already. No is the practice of wisdom. It's the sword of renunciation. Renouncing of greed, of hatred, and of delusion. Do you understand the deep suffering of the world

[27:34]

outside of Mill Valley, California? No. Do you know how it is to be poor, or an illegal immigrant, or an African American in Marin County? No. How about Oakland, or Richmond, or San Francisco? No. Are we doing all we can to benefit others? No. So practicing with no is a technique for connecting with the stunning insight of the young prince, Shakyamuni. He took a break from a life of privilege and abundance to explore with his entire being the limitations of his own thinking. What he knew, what he believed, and who he thought he was all turned into no. No self, and no other. So no other is the final phrase that comes from the practice of deep and honest reflection. There is no other.

[28:36]

Narcissus simply neglected to include in his adoration of himself the water, the sky, the earth, and the wood nymphs giggling with longing at his youthful magnificence. And as we say in the West, he missed the forest by staring at a tree. So based in the enlightened insight of no other, we here at the Zen Center, the institution we call the Zen Center, are continuing in our own efforts to align our values and our activities with those of our neighbors and hopefully the world beyond this bright green valley by the sea. And we have stated in our vision documents a commitment to some very particular objectives based on those shared values. We say that we will build organizational competence around issues of racism, classism, homophobia, my insertion,

[29:40]

and other forms of cultural oppression to promote interfaith study and dialogue and to regard ourselves as a leading example of living lightly on the earth. So the bar has been set pretty high as the distance between heaven and earth. But I believe with the support of our friends and our neighbors and with the respect that we have for them, that we have a chance of turning back the tsunami of narcissism that is overflowing our nation and our world. New voices and old voices blend together in a resounding chorus of no, no more war, no more greed, no more blood for oil or for anything else. No, thank you, we have had enough. The Buddha was above all a teacher of etiquette. So at this time, I would like to introduce

[30:42]

some deeply honored guests who have come over the hill from Mill Valley. They're part of an organization of their own called Seniors for Peace. I think you've seen them out there on the streets. I think it's on Fridays that they're there, is that right? Fridays at noon, and you all better honk when you go by and wave because these are our friends, and they're doing the work of peace. That's their path, the path of peace. So I'm particularly honored to welcome Betty Warren, one of the seniors who's come over the hill today. Betty was one of Suzuki Roshi's first disciples, and he told her long ago, sit zazen every day, and she has, and she can tell you about that if you ask her. She highly recommends the practice to everyone. And I also want to introduce Warren Ut, who's going to take some of my time to speak with you about an organization that's forming in Marin

[31:43]

called the Marin Organizing Committee, and he'll tell you about that in a few minutes. That's how we met. So Green Gulch was there, and Seniors for Peace were there at a meeting of the Marin Organizing Committee along with a number of rabbis and ministers and union representatives of all things and teachers and public school, all the people who serve others. And they're the others that we all know very well because we see them all the time on the streets, in the schools, in the hospitals. We know who they are. They are no other. They are ourselves, and our work is to support them and represent them because they don't have anyone else to do that, and we can do that. We have time, energy, and money to burn, don't we? Yeah, I thought so. So during our tea break, after lecture, please feel very welcome to join us,

[32:46]

the Seniors for Peace and myself out by the table. We have a clipboard. You can put your name down if you like and your e-mail because it's the only way I'm willing to communicate anymore. And we'll connect with you if you'd like to be one of the people representing Green Gulch in our organizing efforts in Marin County. We're going to think globally and act locally. It's a great bumper sticker. So I thank you all for your attention and your presence here today, and I'm going to go out and then come back to listen to what Warren's going to tell us about Marin Organizing Committee, and I also thank you for your attention to what he has to say. Thank you very much.

[33:27]

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