Non-Thinking and the Twelve-Fold Chain of Causation

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Sunday Lecture

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I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Good morning. I was thinking how kind it is for our eyes to go as we age. You know, everything just looks more and more beautiful. Soft and wrinkle-free. Well, that doesn't help. Oh dear. So, after many years of studying the teachings of the Buddha,

[01:03]

I began to feel that I'd gotten a little lost in the forest of the tradition itself. That there are so many images and sutras and commentaries, languages. And even though I'd known for a long time that I wanted to be a Buddhist, I think from when I was very young and saw David Carradine as Kung Fu, it was just clear that this was my path. But I really didn't know what a Buddhist was, you know, what it meant. But I did think that these images from my childhood and my young adult life that represented Buddhist to me had to do with values such as community, self-respect, personal integrity.

[02:03]

And later on I added nonviolence and had to drop David Carradine, I'm afraid. So these are values that are in my heart and have been in my heart since I was pretty little. I kind of think they're in everybody's heart when they're little. So as I tried to understand what a Buddhist was, then I really wanted to know more and more about what a Buddhist thinks, how they see the world and how they explain what they see, which for a Buddhist really means, how does a Buddha think? What is the thinking of a Buddha? So that's what I want to talk about today, offer some examples of Buddhist thinking, and particularly how the Buddha thinks about the causes of our terrible suffering and violence in this world, the endless cycles of suffering,

[03:08]

starting with endless greed and endless hatred and endless confusion. So I wanted to begin by talking a little bit about thinking itself. And I was imagining that those of you who have not yet begun some kind of meditation practice of your own, whatever it might be, may not have spent much time looking at your own thinking. But even if you have, it's not that easy to do. It's kind of like trying to study smoke or fog. As soon as you try to get a hold of it, it sort of moves away. But I think it's important, and I think it's important because thinking is, according to the Buddha, the very cause of our sense of isolation

[04:12]

and our sense of loneliness and of our need for defense, that both as individuals and as nations cause this terrible round of grief and of violence. So if I were to ask you all to think in a particular way, you might find that difficult to do, but I'm going to try that anyway. I'm going to give you an instruction of a way to think in just a moment. And if you're willing, maybe you could see what happens when you try this instruction on. You know, that thinking is the cause of our great suffering, is what we can say is the bad news. But the good news is that because thinking is the cause, it's also the possibility for release. Our bondage is based on thinking, and our liberation is based on thinking,

[05:16]

what kind of thinking we do. So this is shooing the fly away out of the bottle. The instruction I want to offer this morning is from Zen Master Dogen, and he wrote a fascicle, or I guess it was first a lecture that he gave to his students. And this one we call in English, The Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen. In Japanese, Fukan Zazengi, Fukan Zazengi. And you can find the full text of this lecture in our sutra book, which is available in the office, and also we chant here in the morning quite often. So in the beginning of this lecture, he gives quite a bit of instruction about posture. And I think if all of you who've been to Zazen instruction have received the basic list of pointers, you know, to keep the spine straight and the head balanced on the shoulders,

[06:19]

the ears in line with the shoulders, and so on, that you're in an upright and more or less relaxed, comfortable posture. So then assuming that that's how you're sitting, and that there's energy and awareness in your body, you're starting with the body, then we go looking for the mind. And Master Dogen says, Place your tongue against the front roof of your mouth with your teeth and lips both shut. So there's not much talking at this point. Your eyes should always remain open, and you should breathe gently through your nose. Once you have adjusted your posture, take a deep breath. Inhale and exhale. Then rock your body left and right and settle into a steady...

[07:31]

Oh, that's so lovely to see you do that. Rock your body left and right and settle into a steady, immovable, upright sitting position. So here's the part I want you to try. Once you've settled, are you settled? I'll know when you don't move. Okay. Okay, here it is. Think of not thinking. This is real. This is true. It's what it says. Think of not thinking. Think of not thinking.

[08:55]

And then he says, How do you think of not thinking? Non-thinking. Non-thinking. This is the essential art of Zazen. So I, of course, don't know how that experience is for each of you. Only you know. But I wanted to imagine that perhaps for some of you a kind of spaciousness might have occurred. And this spaciousness is the possibility that opens for us when we think of not thinking, which is very close to thinking of not me, or not here,

[10:01]

or not now. Yesterday I was preparing for this talk and my daughter kept coming into the room and I kept saying to her, Honey, not now. You know, not now. Finally, toward the end of the afternoon, she said, Maybe you don't want a kid. And I said, Honey, I do, but not now. So, what is it that's not me, not now, not here, not thinking? What is that place? It's a big place. So if you feel kind of stumped by these suggestions, that's the idea.

[11:04]

They're stumpers. And the Zen tradition is basically full of stumpers, one after the other. Other stumpers include, What is it? That's a great one. You go in feeling all open and sweet and your teacher says, So what is it? Whack! That's mean. Well, being stumped is kind of like, Now what? We're trapped, a little trapped. But being trapped is a good thing in this case. This is allowing the discursive mind to get trapped, to freeze or be tranquilized just for a moment. You know. I just had the image of watching the Craighead brothers tranquilizing a grizzly bear, you know, in order to tag its ear.

[12:06]

And pretty soon the bear started to wake up, and they jumped back. So that's the mind, you know, the grizzly bear. We've got to get it quiet just for a moment so we can see what else there is. Look at the wilderness all around the grizzly bear. Excuse me, so what about not thinking and not me, but here and now? But here and now? Rather than not here and not now. You like that better? I like what I say better. You do? Okay. It's okay with me. Not thinking, not me, not here, not now. Yeah. What about that? Well, where's that? Right here and right now. Yeah. Well. We can talk about that later. I'm going to lose track of what I was saying if I keep going here. Good, thanks. Okay, so.

[13:14]

Not here, not now. Not now. So when we're stumped, you know, being stumped is what happens when you cut down a big tree. What's left is what we call a stump. So this is the same thing with this discursive thinking, this stream of thought, this river of consciousness. When you stop it, we're stumped. What's left? Well, what's left is a kind of poised quality or a potentialized consciousness. It's ready. It's alert. It's not moving. So being stumped is a very good first step in learning how a Buddha thinks. It's a very good first step on the path of peace.

[14:18]

Now for some of us, I would count myself in this crowd, it's kind of scary when thinking stops. I have a mom who talks a lot. And I once asked her if she would be willing to try an experiment while we were driving of not talking. And I got away with it. She said, sure, I can do that. So I thought, oh, well this will be interesting. So I said, okay mom, I'm going to time you and for five minutes you're not going to talk. So about two minutes later she said, so has it been five minutes? And I said, no, not yet. So we waited a little longer and maybe another minute. So then I said, so what happens to you when it's quiet? And she said, I get scared. I think something's wrong. Which really helped me.

[15:28]

It really helped sweeten my feeling about my mom and her talking. She's getting scared. Something's wrong. So when we freeze this discursive mind, when we let it stop, it may be a little scary. So that's one nice reason to sit with other people. You can kind of look around, everything's okay. You'll be back in a moment anyway, not to worry. But if you're lucky, at that moment of freezing you may get a glimpse of reality in its wholeness, its fullness. Just this is it. There's kind of the potential for a big wow, wow. Wow, in that big space. That's where the beauty arises. And we've seen it many times. We all have. At the ocean or staring into a fire, into the sky at night.

[16:33]

Or perhaps into our lover's eyes. Wow. One of my favorite movies of all times is a Japanese film called, I think it's called, Ever After. Maybe somebody knows if that's right after I tell you a little bit. It's a film about a kind of halfway house on the way to heaven where these people, what's it called? Afterlife. And these people who are on their way to something, they've died, come to this halfway house and they are assigned a case worker to help them figure out which memory of all their memories they would like to have recorded to be their eternal moment. So apparently this began as a documentary of asking people this very question

[17:37]

and it turned into such a wonderful thing that they made it into a film, a movie. Whatever is the opposite of a documentary. Anyway, so one by one these people were interviewed and they talked through their lives and eventually selected that moment. And it's a very sweet process. One very old woman chose a time that she was young and she got a new pair of red ballet slippers and was dancing in her slippers. That was her moment, eternal moment. Another man chose the time he was flying through the clouds in a small airplane. So they replicated the scene using a mock-up of an airplane and some cotton batting until they got it just right. And he said, yeah, yeah, it was like that. They had a fan going and it was very cute.

[18:38]

And he said, yeah. And then they recorded this scene. So there was another rather kind of creepy guy, an older middle-aged man who was really angry. He kept saying, I'm going to pick one of those times with one of those women, you know, and we were getting it on and blah, blah, blah. And the caseworker kept saying, are you sure that's what you want to choose? You might make me think about it a little bit more. Finally he picks a moment when he was a schoolboy standing on a trolley when the first breeze of spring hits his face through a crack in the window. Very sweet. So then they show this film of these chosen moments in a theater, and as the scene comes up with that person in it, the person in the theater vanishes one by one until they're all gone. And then there's just the caseworker sitting there. Now as it turns out, the caseworkers are people who couldn't choose.

[19:41]

So they're stuck in the halfway house. And they're very nice people. They just haven't been able to choose. Some of them have been waiting a long time. One of them is this very handsome young man who was killed during the Second World War, and his life never happened. So he can't choose something that for him didn't happen. But finally, in really the very sweetest scene of the whole film, he does realize that he has a choice to make. And then you see him sitting on a bench, and you don't know what he's looking at, but he's smiling very sweetly. And then they show you the scene, and it's all of his fellow caseworkers standing, looking back at him, smiling. And that's what he chooses to have recorded for eternity, this bond of human affection. Suzuki Roshi said that sooner or later we die,

[20:52]

and we go to the same place that we go when we sit Zazen, the place of non-thinking, the place where everyone and everything is myself. So this depiction of the eternal moment is also one of the major features of one of the greatest texts in the Buddhist collection of sutras called the Lotus Sutra. And it occurs in the first chapter, in which the Buddha creates this enormous vision of reality for the assembly. I wish I could do it, it would be so cool. He basically opens this kind of circle of white hair on his forehead, and everybody sees the entirety of reality. Eighteen thousand worlds in the eastern quarter, all illuminated with all the details of the heavens and the hells, and just whew!

[21:53]

Everyone is like, Wow! Wow! But then, one of the humans raises their hand and says, What does it mean? What kind of thinking is that? So that's how we humans are. Very quickly, after the miracle, we want to know what it means, or what time is it, or what's next. Can we do it again? So in the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha then begins to teach, and this is Chapter Two, it's called Skillful Means. So not thinking becomes thinking again for the benefit of others. And he explains, slowly and carefully, for the humans, why they suffer.

[22:56]

He teaches the Four Noble Truths. There is suffering, there is a cause of suffering, there is cessation of suffering, and there's a cause for the cessation of suffering, and that is that you have to change your way of life. And you have to address your way of thinking. It's all about thinking. So thinking comes back. Non-thinking, thinking. What kind of thinking is that? Non-thinking, non-stick thinking, like a pearl rolling in a silver bowl. This is a Buddha's thinking. So if this kind of experiential lesson were enough for us, then we could be done, you know? Just think not thinking. This is the Essential Art of Zazen.

[24:02]

It's a nice package. And of course the problem is that we don't remember. We forget. We forget what we got. Forgot. So this is exactly what happened to the young prince, Shakyamuni Buddha. When he was a young man, he forgot. And he abandoned his palace and his child and his loving family, and he walked off into the wilderness to practice severe punishing forms of asceticism. He forgot how to balance himself between thinking and not thinking, between wholeness and loss, and between water and the sea. And then on one wonderful morning, as he gazed at the sky at a star,

[25:06]

he remembered who he was, where he came from, and why he was here. That eternal moment had returned. And he said, the entire universe in the ten directions is the true human body. That's who he was. The entire universe in the ten directions is the true human body. And then he said, we are here to live in harmony with one another. That's why we're here. Just this is it. And yet he knew how deeply his own confusion and anxiety had driven him away from harmony, from peace, from his own humanity. And so he was reluctant to teach what he now understood. And then in the legend,

[26:09]

it's said that the gods intervened and convinced him to try to find some people who would listen to him. And it might be able to learn what he had to say. So he went looking for the five ascetics who he had practiced with, who had abandoned him when he had come away from the asceticism. They thought he'd become a slacker, and they wandered off without him, left him there under the tree. When they saw him coming, they had agreed among themselves not to be very warm in their greetings. So they said, well, we'll give him a seat, but that's about it. But as the Buddha approached, they quite naturally began to treat him with great respect. They could see that something had happened to their friend. So they gave him a seat, they washed his feet, they took his bowl and his robes, and they welcomed him to sit at their site. And then he said to them, The awakened one

[27:13]

is accomplished and fully enlightened. Listen monks, listen monks, the deathless has been attained and I shall instruct you. I shall teach you the Dharma by practicing as you are instructed, you will, by realizing it for yourselves, here and now, through direct knowledge, enter upon and dwell in the supreme goal of the holy life. Pretty good. Pretty good offer. They couldn't refuse. By his words and his deportment, they were able to open their hearts and to listen to what he had to say. And of all the things that one could choose to say, this is what he offered them as his first sermon, called, Rolling the Wheel of the Law. This is just the first paragraph

[28:14]

of the first sermon. If you look into the other teachings of the Buddha and in the tradition, I think you'll find this first paragraph and first sentence echoed over and over and over again. This is very foundational to all that followed in the teachings. Monks, there are these two extremes that ought not to be cultivated by one who has gone forth. What two? What two extremes? There is devotion to pursuit of pleasure and sensual desires, which is low, coarse, vulgar, ignoble, and harmful. And there is devotion to self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and harmful. The middle way discovered by the awakened one avoids both of these extremes.

[29:16]

It gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to nirvana. The middle way. Avoid the extremes. So this morning I was talking first about thinking itself and the potency of thinking in determining the outcome of our lives. I've talked to some of my friends who are hospice workers and what they say is that most often people die the way they live. You know, if you're angry or sad or disappointed, then often your death will be full of anger and sadness and disappointment. If you're grateful and joyful and peaceful, then your death may also be that way. So, you know, this is the time

[30:20]

that we want to look at how we think and see if there's some way we might address our thinking and redress our thinking to alter this, what might be otherwise an inevitable outcome. And it takes some courage for us to gaze into the psychological and attitudinal well of our existence. For any of you who've tried a little therapy or read the Enneagram, you know, it's a little scary to see yourself characterized. In fact, the other night I went to a play called Is Anybody Home? which a friend of ours, Sheila Glover, is doing up in Larkspur. It's well worth the time if you have it. I think she's showing the play next week as well. And it's a depiction of the Enneagram. She comes out in different costumes as each of the nine characters. It's very funny. I was really laughing a lot.

[31:20]

Except when she got to the one that I think is closest to me. That wasn't funny. And then that's how you know which one it is. So she told me later, so which one didn't you like? And I said, the boss, number eight. She said, aha, just what I thought. So anyway, it's important for us to do these explorations into ourselves because in this way we'll begin to find the most important of the two extremes that we need to avoid. And that is the extreme view of ourself, me, and the other extreme view of the other or you. Self and other is the big one.

[32:21]

That's the big wall. And this is the one that's the cause of all of our nuclear weapons to start with. The way we dress, the way we talk, how we house ourselves, how we identify ourselves are all in the service of protecting the one that we believe is in here to be saved, that little guy. We believe in that little guy and we do a lot of stuff to keep her safe. And this is the source of our suffering. True safety comes from letting go. Just the opposite of what we think. So, looking at the extreme views, as the Buddha taught in his first sermon, avoid the extremes. The extremes are views. And this is different than this first exercise

[33:21]

I had you try, which was think not thinking. That's about cutting thinking off. This is a different practice. It's the practice of samatha, or tranquility. When you allow thinking to be quiet, there's a very peaceful state that's possible. You can enter for a while, take a rest. When it's time, when you feel restful, then you bring thinking back into view. Bring your views into view. Take a look at how you think, your opinions, your political affiliations, whatever it might be, where your passions start to rise. There you are. That's the self coming back. Self-view. What I believe to be so. This is how we suffer. By holding these views, not by having them, they're fine, you can have all the views you want, just don't hold on to them, and don't hit anybody with them,

[34:21]

or yourself. So, again, rolling like a pearl in a silver bowl, think not thinking, non-thinking. So this other kind of practice, practicing with our views, extreme views of self and other, is called insight practice, or vipassana. And it's through insight that we come to understand ourselves better and the world better. And in this process, we can begin to let go of our mistaken views, which most of them are, actually. Very few left when you get done with this process. Stumped. Just call us stumpy. There's a little poem that I like to... It's kind of dark, actually. You probably know it.

[35:22]

Last night I saw upon the stair a little man that wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. Oh, how I wish he'd go away. Yeah, that's stumpy right there. So this self that we believe is in here is actually the very target of our spiritual practice. We want to find that one, reassure it, and dismantle it. Let it go. You're fine. Now, you know, go away. Shh. Go away. And one way to study this self is to study how it got there in the first place. And this was exactly the content of the Buddha's enlightened reasoning. The night of his enlightenment, he was studying what he called the twelvefold chain of dependent co-arising. And basically,

[36:23]

he was watching his mind and how it formed into a self, a person, a person who then created a barrier to the outside world and then reached through that barrier to get a hold of stuff to bring inside. You know that process? Go shopping. Bring it home in a big bag. So this is the process he was exploring in his own mind, just sitting there under the tree, watching the arising of this self, creation of the self. Twelvefold chain. There's twelve steps, and I'm going to go through them. Hopefully you can stand it. I'll try to make it interesting. So the first step is called ignorance. And ignorance is basically ignoring the fact that we are not separate. If you don't do that, the rest of it doesn't follow. Unconditional love

[37:24]

does not separate us from the world. It connects us to the world. In a state of unconditional love, it's fine. Everything's fine. But, you know, we don't stay there. We go to this other state called ignorance where we feel separate, isolated, afraid, alone, betrayed, you name it. We all know those states. We contract from non-separation. So that's step one in the link, ignorance. And the image, the drawing, most of these teachings were done to a preliterate society so the people didn't know how to read, but they could see pictures. So the picture of ignorance is of a blind man with a cane. The second step is called karmic formations. And that picture is of a potter making little pots, one after the other. So these are our tendencies, our habits, our way of doing things.

[38:25]

Do you ever notice how familiar your life has become? It's a little assembly line. So these are karmic formations, again and again. And the next step is consciousness. And the picture there is of a monkey in a tree kind of looking around, quickly. Scanning, looking, seeking, searching. Restless. So consciousness now has arisen. It's kind of diffuse at the moment. Then the next step, there's a boat on an ocean with three little characters inside. So this is the, now we're assembling a person. We're beginning to create a person here. The boat is the body, form. Inside the boat are these qualities, and three of them are very strong. Feelings, perceptions, and notions about your feelings

[39:27]

and your perceptions. So those are the big three. Feelings, perceptions, and notions. And they're in the boat, in the body, and the body is floating along on the ocean of consciousness. So that's what we call a person. That's really what we mean by me. This set of activities that are going on all the time. Busy, busy, busy. And the next step in the link, so now we're getting more and more of a person, the person leaves the boat and moves into a castle. And the castle has lots of windows and doors, and it has a big wall all around the outside. And this is the kind of completed or fully, fully embodied person. And then the next step, the castle meets another castle. And the picture here

[40:28]

is of a kiss on the lips. In the little drawing, it's a man and a woman. You know, it could be a man and a man, we know that. Woman and a woman. But anyway, lips together. Contact. This is called contact. After contact, the next link, and this one is a little harsh for us to hear, is a picture of a person with an arrow in their eye. It's called feelings. But you could also just show somebody being hit by a thunderbolt, you know. We say that when we fall in love, right? So there's a big feeling that happens when we have contact, castle to castle. Big feelings. They're not necessarily bad, but they're big. They're impactful. So that's okay. If you just stop at feelings, you can live a pretty happy life. But we don't do that.

[41:28]

We go from feelings to desire. So then they show a picture of a guy sitting in a tavern having his glass refilled over and over again. That first one was good. How about the second one? How about the third one? How about the fifth one? So we become drunk on our feelings. This is desire. We're intoxicated. The next picture is of a person picking ripe fruit off a tree and having huge baskets of ripe fruit all over the ground, picking it all up and gathering it, taking it to the storage area. This is our accumulation of karma as a result of our desires, grasping more and more and more, trying to pack it all in. You guys have closets in your houses? I sure do. It's amazing. I keep them closed so that stuff doesn't come out at night. So all of these different parts

[42:34]

are glued together by thinking. It's like a magician's skillful conjuration. This is not really happening. It just looks like it is, and we're caught by how we think. So the wheel turns. It's very hard for us to stop this turning wheel. So we've now collected all the fruit, and then the very next step Let's see, where is it? The fruit. Oh yeah, oh yeah. This is terrible. Then the next one is becoming, becoming, and that's kind of like it's predestined. I have a story about becoming. The one illustrated in my little tanka drawing is of a couple in a tent having sex, and it looks like casual sex. But I wanted to offer a better example from my own life.

[43:34]

I think it's a better example. I once went fishing with some friends out in the fair lawns. This was before I was officially a Buddhist, and we were fishing for rock cod, and I by accident caught a ling cod. I didn't mean to do that, but the rock cod that I caught was bait for the ling cod. So this ling cod was about 6 feet tall, and they pulled this fish into the boat, and everyone was going, oh, way to go, you know, way to go. I was absolutely horrified. The fish stayed alive in that boat for a long time, biting. It was an amazing animal, and the fishermen, who didn't seem to mind, were just hitting it on the head and stuff. It was awful. The whole thing was really awful, and everyone's cheering, you know, way to go. I was Nancy at the time. I said, Nancy, great. And then I have a picture of myself holding this fish.

[44:36]

So then the fishermen cut the fish up into little pieces, and I and all my friends carried this fish home in little bags, which I then stuffed into my freezer and all of their freezers, and I never could eat all that fish. So this is becoming. And the next step, which is death, birth and death, birth, the birth of the outcome of all of this stuff that we've been into was that I threw all that fish away. It was really sad. I couldn't eat all that fish, and it's still very painful to me. What was I doing? How much do we need? What is this that we're doing? So anyway, we can see it in our own lives, these patterns. And then the very, very last step is the final curtain call, you know, death, aging and death, when the whole sequence

[45:37]

collapses on itself and disappears in our belief that things end, that there is a curtain call. The curtain closes, and it's all over, right? Well, except that we just start again with the next round, separation, round and round and round. Buddha called this endless cycling, samsara, endless circling, round and round. And this is a function of our mind. This is how the imagination works. This is what we see, what we think, and what we believe is so. We are dreaming of these things. And therefore, we can wake up. We can think of not thinking. You know, what kind of thinking is that? Non-thinking, the essential art of zazen.

[46:38]

And he also said that there is a self, not that one, but there is another self that we can claim and that we can treasure, and that this is the one that's closest to us when we allow that moment of peace, that opening that occurs when we're not thinking, that eternal moment, when once again we are conjoined with the sense of wonder at life itself, and when we are conjoined once again in a wholeness with the universe, not separate, filled with unconditional love. In such a place, there is no coming and there is no going.

[47:41]

There's no arising and there's no ceasing. What kind of thinking is that? Thank you very much.

[47:52]

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