No Self

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SF-00971
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One-day sitting lecture: Bodhisattva Initiation - dharma names; Buddha's second teaching - "No-self Characteristic Sutta"; shamata - posture instructions; Bodhisattva precepts - the scrimmage line

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Transcript: 

I vow to taste the truth of the Tathāgata's words. Good morning. I was wishing as I was sitting down that we were closer together. Maybe sometime we can agree on that, that we can sit closer together. I can kind of see you back there on the thong. Would you like everyone to get up and come forward? Well, I think some of them have to go to the kitchen, but if you don't and you'd be willing, I would happily wait for you to come closer, but it's your choice. Thanks. No, only... In fact, never mind. But Bhānto and I will talk about these things.

[01:03]

Well, invoking the presence and the compassion of our ancestors, in faith that we are Buddha, we enter Buddha's way. These are the opening words of the Bodhisattva initiation ceremony. In faith that we are Buddha, we enter Buddha's way. And I've been thinking that really that's the only basic requirement for Buddhist life, is faith that we are Buddha, including the choice you all made to come here today. I think a lot of us have been traveling for a long time to try and find the truest expression of who we are. And now that I have a dog, I'm kind of jealous.

[02:13]

He can just bark and birds can sing, but I think humans are born wondering who we are and where we belong. And in order to find out, even if there is an answer to that question, we have to spend a great deal of time deeply listening at the well of our existence. And I was thinking today that having heard that one of our dear friends, some of you know Hector, who's quite, quite sick, close to death, that it's the kind of listening that we do when someone who we love is dying, or the kind of listening we do when someone we love is giving birth. We're closest to that which we care most deeply about. And usually at such times we're pretty quiet, pretty still.

[03:21]

And I was thinking that it's at those times that the world itself will come and give you a name, will call you a name. A name like Luminous Night, or Way-Seeking Heart, Light of Compassion, Luminous Owl, The Whole Works. These are names that have been taken from a dictionary of human virtue. And then they were given to human beings by their teachers in the great hope that they would grow into them and become them, against all odds, and in the face of great doubt, that we are Buddha. So tomorrow some new names are going to be added to the lineage chart.

[04:30]

There are three people sitting here today who will be asking to receive the Bodhisattva precepts right here in this room tomorrow afternoon. And they've been preparing themselves for quite some time. And I've been preparing for them for quite some time. And we don't know what's going to happen. Not then, not later, but we have great faith that we are Buddha and we will enter Buddha's way. So I've been feeling grateful that we were able to have a sitting the day before the ceremony. The ceremony is a very tender time in one's practice. And sitting together is an enactment of the teaching itself,

[05:33]

that we are not independent from one another. We are interdependent. We desperately need one another's support, love, and companionship. So I wanted to read a little bit from Tenzin Roshi, my teacher's understanding of the precept ceremony. The Bodhisattva precept initiation is a ceremony of sudden awakening. It's like going through a door, just as a fish swimming in water may take the water for granted. We moving through life may take life for granted. But if we put a door down into our life and walk through it, we may suddenly realize, oh, I am alive. This initiation into a fresh new life is at the same time a coming home.

[06:41]

Our home is Buddha, our family is the great earth, and all living beings. So in the spirit of this homecoming, I wanted to welcome all of you sitting here today to enter fully into the practice, the life of practice on this day, in this place. Because this is a doorway as well, a doorway into a life of practice. And it's another opportunity for us to find out who we are and where we belong. One of the places that we belong is in a human body. And this body has been framed with a layer of skin, it's been stuffed with muscles and organs,

[07:45]

and it's been sent aloft through the growing of bones and marrow. However, from the teaching of the Buddha, we need to know that this body is not our self. And that's what I want to talk about today, is this teaching of no self. No self, nowhere, no how. So from the discourse on the not-self characteristic, which I believe was the second sermon of the Buddha, he says to the monks, if this body were the self, this material form would not lead to affliction. And it could be had of this material form, let my body be thus. Let my body be not thus.

[08:46]

In other words, what he's saying is that you could boss your body around. But I think we all know that we can't boss our body around. In fact, we can't really boss anything around. Not the plants or the stars or even the elephants, even though we try. And trying is our selfishness. And our selfishness is the cause of suffering in this world. And then the Buddha says to the monks, how do you understand this, monks? Is the body permanent or impermanent? Impermanent, Lord, they reply. And then he says, but is what is impermanent unpleasant or pleasant? Unpleasant, Lord, they reply. So is it fitting to regard what is impermanent, unpleasant,

[09:52]

and subject to change as this is mine, this is what I am, this is myself? And again the monks reply, no, Lord. Therefore, monks, any material form whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, in oneself or external, coarse or fine, inferior or superior, far or near, should all be regarded as it actually is by right understanding thus, this is not mine, this is not what I am, this is not myself. So I think sometimes on hearing these teachings there is a tendency to want to rid ourselves of the body, the troubles of the body,

[11:00]

or to rid ourselves of the trouble of the material world, you know, and to indulge in self-loathing if we direct that tendency inward, or world-loathing if we turn our aversion to the outside. So the Buddha knew this tendency of the human being to want to get rid of that, which causes us difficulty. So before this sermon on the not-self, he gave his first sermon called The Turning of the Wheel of the Law. And in that sermon his very first sentence directed to us was, O monks, avoid the extremes, avoid the extremes of self-mortification, of hatred of oneself, lost in the realms of hatred.

[12:03]

And avoid the extreme of self-love, lost in the realms of desire. Follow the middle way discovered by a noble one, which avoids the extremes, gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, and to nirvana. The middle way. So when you turn your awareness towards your body, I would like to suggest that you do so the way a kindly parent turns their attention toward a splinter in a child's finger. There is pain, there is fear, and there is a great burning desire to run away. And in the face of this desire to run away, I think what you'll find is that

[13:17]

getting out of this body is not such an easy thing. It's not so easy to die. And no matter where you run, you'll find your bodies come along. So the body is the natural limitation of just how far we have to go. So what we do, what we ask of ourselves instead is to sit upright inside the body, with the body, as the body, as still as we can, as relaxed as we can. And we listen, deep listening, at the well of our existence. This is taking the shape of a Buddha. And as far as I can see from where I'm sitting, that's what I,

[14:19]

appears to be in this room, the shape of Buddhas, lots of Buddhas. In fact, you all look sincere, calm, upright, awake, and sacred. And that's all I know of you, at this time. This is taking refuge in your true body, in the body of the teaching, and in the body of our practice. We're here in Buddha's house, we eat with Buddha's bowls, we're wearing Buddha's robes, and it's almost like a child's riddle, then who are we? In faith that we are Buddha, we enter Buddha's way.

[15:20]

Seeing thus, monks, a wise, noble disciple becomes dispassionate towards material form, and likewise towards feelings, perceptions, karmic formations, and consciousness. Becoming dispassionate, her lust and aversion fade away. With the fading of lust and aversion, her heart is liberated. And when liberated, there comes the knowledge, it is liberated. Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what was to be done is done, there is no more of this to come. That is what the Blessed One said, and the monks of the group of five were glad, and they delighted in the Buddha's words, and while this discourse was being delivered, the hearts of the monks of the group of five were liberated

[16:32]

from taints through not clinging. And then there were six arhats, six accomplished ones in the world. So there is a very fine point, like an acupuncture needle point to exploring within ourselves the subtleties of this teaching, this teaching of not clinging, and of no-self. At the same time, this teaching is foundational to what the Buddha explained as the path of liberation. So it's very important, and at the same time we must be very careful. It's easy to shoot past the mark.

[17:36]

Suffering is caused by ignorant clinging. This is the First Noble Truth, and in particular in regard to an isolated sense of self. The end of suffering is caused by release of that self-same clinging. This is the Third Noble Truth, cessation of suffering. And the enactment of that release can only take place in every moment at the scrimmage line, between what I perceive as myself and the other, where the rubber meets the road. And at the scrimmage line, where you and I meet, there are some rules that we, as followers of the Buddha way, agree to follow.

[18:47]

And those rules are called the Bodhisattva Precepts. And they go like this, you know, I promise not to kill you. And then you say, I promise not to kill you too. Okay, that's good. That's rule number one. I promise not to steal from you. I promise not to lie to you, to abuse you sexually, to intoxicate you, to slander you. I promise not to praise myself at your expense, to remain angry with you, and so on. So, this kind of game looks more like a dance. You know, I was thinking as I was at home

[19:48]

that the image of Fred Astaire came to mind, you know, rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's like, we dance together, beautifully, practiced, you know. Looks easy, but we know it takes a lot of rehearsals to dance like that. And I think we also know that it's very easy to veer off of our intended path. And there are grave consequences to ourselves and others when we do so. We know that too. And I was reminded of these video games that you sit down at the wheel of a very fast, high-powered car and try to drive the road that appears, you know. Most of the time, you know, I'm holding fast to the wheel

[20:49]

and running into the railings or oncoming traffic. You know, it's kind of like that. The middle way is moving pretty fast. And our clinging keeps us pretty much asleep at the wheel. So what can we do? How can we meet the oncoming traffic safely, lovingly? I had another car image. I was reminded of when I was a kid going down to Disneyland and taking Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I don't know if any of you have taken Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Has anyone taken Mr. Toad's Wild Ride? Two people? Oh good, maybe six. Well, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, you get in his car, you know, his motor car.

[21:52]

His eyes spin when he thinks of motor cars. You remember the story of Mr. Toad, but he was a lover of pleasure and new gadgetry. And when motor cars came along, his eyes literally would spin in his head at the possibility of owning such a vehicle. So he got a motor car and terrorized his neighborhood. And in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, you get in his motor car and then you go along the tracks, you know, and it's kind of fun in the beginning, but then little by little you get into the dark woods and then there's a train tunnel and big flashing signs and lights are screaming at you, go back, go back, you're going the wrong way. But, you know, you break through the barriers and right into the tunnel and then this big light is coming at you very fast with the sound of a train. It's terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. I screamed at the top of my lungs.

[22:55]

And that was last year. And then somehow it's over. You don't even know what happened. Your eyes open and there you are back at Disneyland. And there's laughter. It's funny. But, you know, I know that going the wrong way in my family life or my community life or on the freeway can have very, very bad consequences if I am unconscious and if my unintended actions are not taken care of and reflected on. So, we need to calm our minds in order to discern reality.

[23:57]

And that's the first step in our practice is shamatha, tranquility practice, calming ourselves, turning off the car and getting out and starting to walk. So, today is a wonderful opportunity for us to practice shamatha, tranquility. You know, you can settle yourselves into your upright posture and allow your breath to comfort you. And little by little, perhaps the wildness in your mind will begin to quiet. On the inhalation, the world arises. And on the exhalation, the world descends like a bright green turtle on the open ocean. Wonderful, wonderful. So, I think for some of you who are newer to practice,

[25:03]

today practicing calming would be more than enough to take up. And I want to suggest to you that you look toward the body, it's not the self, but toward the body and find its qualities that are variable, they'll change, the location of your discomfort will change, we hope. And the first thing you want to do is attend to the weight of your body on your cushion and find a comfortable place for yourself and for your legs. And then allow your spine to lengthen, balancing your head over your shoulders, your nose in line with your navel, and lifting your sternum, which lets more fresh air into your lungs. Your tongue is behind your upper teeth.

[26:09]

I've heard that if you put the tongue, still the tongue, that it stops some of the chattering in your mind. Your tongue will kind of move along with your mental process. So, quieting the tongue, quieting your visual sense, lowering your eyes down, and then energizing that posture. It's not a sleepy time, it's an energetic time. This is work, the work of resting in an upright state, poised. And if you do find that you've become steady and calm, then you might want to try considering some of these insight teachings, in particular, the ones I've been mentioning from the Buddha's sermon, the teaching of not-self and of not-clinging.

[27:15]

And maybe you could do that. Maybe you can watch for ways in which you attribute self to what's happening to you, whether during meals or going out to use the restroom. What are the ways that you show up isolated and independent from others? So the studying of the Buddha way is studying this self, all the way down to the very tips and beyond. And little by little, we can begin to realize from these teachings that the very elements of our existence are continuously coming to us as gifts.

[28:17]

We don't get anything, but we receive an abundance, continuous abundance of treasure. And the treasure comes in a variety of forms. You've seen many of them. The snowflakes, cornflakes. Yesterday I got to hold a steel string guitar. That was new. Electric guitar. My daughter wants one. So these appearances are continuous and they're gifts. If we grab a hold of them, we'll start to get bored. But if we just care for them, then they will free us

[29:19]

by their perfect independence of our notions. To carry the self forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening. So this is the subtle, this subtle point where the whole universe turns. Carrying the self, that one we imagine we are, forth and experiencing myriad things is grasping, is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening. It sounds simple. True freedom will come only when we obey the absolute law of non-separation

[30:29]

between the self that we imagine and that which we imagine to be the other. And despite how it looks, how it feels, how we think and how we act, we enter this tunnel of non-separation, a dark tunnel. And when we do so, no trace of a self is left behind, like a butterfly shedding a chrysalis. Whole earth, whole sky, whole spring, new. And then, like the butterfly, we can move from flower to flower. True self, busying about its day. So, sitting is a real trip.

[31:36]

And it's a very long one. And it's been going on, so I hear, for thousands and thousands of years. And even though I've only been sitting myself for a couple of years, a few of those thousands of years, I was thinking, I really don't know how come. And I thought, well, maybe I know how come, but even if I say so, that story vanishes before it even reaches its end. And then there's another story, and I don't know which one is true, or if there are any stories at all. But I must say, I find comfort in the company of others, particularly when my balance is getting off, when the splinter of myself is causing pain,

[32:47]

both to myself and to others. So, I am really grateful that you are here, making my life. And I really do mean that. Please enjoy the rest of your day. Namaskar. May our intention... May our intention...

[33:19]

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