November 13th, 2004, Serial No. 04335

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Reverend Shariputra, please come in.
Reverend Shariputra, did you come here for the sake of the Dharma or did you come here for the sake of a chair?
Reverend Shariputra, he who is interested in the Dharma is not interested even in his own body, much less a chair.
He who is attached to anything, even to liberation, is not interested in the Dharma, but is interested in the taint of desire.
The Dharma is not an object.
He who pursues objects is not interested in the Dharma.
The Dharma is not a safe, secure refuge.
The Dharma is not a sight.
It's not a sound.
It's not a category.
And it's not an idea either.
Thereupon, Shariputra, if you're interested in the Dharma, you should take no interest in anything.
Greetings, Manjushri.
Please take your vows.
Manjushree Bodhisattva, you have been in many universes, traveling and teaching in universes throughout innumerable Buddha fields.
Can you please tell us, in which Buddha field did you see the most excellent lion thrones with the finest qualities?
Bimalakirti, in the universe called Merudvaha, there dwells a Buddha
and the height of his throne is 6,800,000 miles.
Noble Sir Imalakirti, the finest thrones exist in that universe.
Thank you, Manjushri.
Now, focusing myself in concentration through the power vested in me by the Samadhi of the Buddhas and ancestors,
Hereby, I call forth from the universe, 3200,000 thrones, each 3400,000 miles high.
And now, place them here in this modest 10-foot square room.
Manjushree, please now, you and Shariputra and all of the Bodhisattvas here assembled, please be seated on these thrones, having transformed your bodies to a suitable size.
Thank you, Vimalakirti.
Vimalakirti is famous for his silence.
But now I'll say good morning.
So the scenes that Lu and I have just enacted are from the sutra about the great enlightened Bodhisattva
Vimalakirti, the great enlightened layman of Buddha's time.
And this afternoon from one to five in the dining hall, we will be doing a workshop on some aspects of this great sutra of Vimalakirti.
And so this is now a preview of that and some little bit about three aspects that we want to talk about.
The inconceivability teaching of the great trickster magician Vimalakirti.
and as an enlightened layman, his immersion in the world.
Thank you, Mark.
And also about Vimalakirti's teaching about the great love.
So, first of all, this scene that we've just depicted
happens in Vimalakirti's room, and the great enlightened layman, more enlightened than all of the great monk disciples of the Buddha, is ill, and they come to see him, and Manjushri comes, and is followed by many, many beings.
And it turns out that Vimalakirti's room is 10 foot square.
And so they wonder how all of these beings are going to fit in there, and where are they going to sit?
And Sariputra, of course, is worried about his chair.
So this inconceivable display happens when Vimalakirti calls forth these 80, what is the number?
I'm bad at remembering numbers.
These thrones that are each 3,400,000 miles high and
Many, many of them come and they fill this room that is 10 foot square.
So all Zen abbots ever since then have been known as Hojo in Japanese, Hojo-sama, and their quarters have been called the Hojo and that means 10 foot square.
So this is a very, this Hojo that we're in now is of course quite large.
by Vimalakirti standards.
And still, all of these beings have filled the room.
And you may think that you're sitting on a chair or a zabuton, but from the point of view of Vimalakirti, the truth of reality is much wider and deeper and inconceivable.
So this is based on the teaching some of you may be familiar with about the emptiness of all things.
We say that which is form is emptiness and that which is emptiness is form.
What this means is that there's no separation.
My idea of chairs, my idea of this Buddha hall, my idea of my idea, all of it is empty.
And Dhamalakirti is the great Bodhisattva who demonstrates the implication of this and the truth of this and the expression of this and the practical use of this in our world through this magical display of inconceivability.
And in the sutra there are many examples of how he turns inside out our idea of who we are, our idea of what the world is.
So this is a fundamental aspect of our practice and of our zazen, of our meditation, that we start to see how actually what we think the world is and who we think we are is just our idea of that.
Now, of course, we need to have some idea of who we are and how the world is to get out of bed in the morning and to make it to the Buddha Hall at Zen Center on a Saturday morning.
So it's not that our idea of things is wrong, it's just that it's a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny bit of reality.
They say that we use only a tiny portion of our brains.
When we are willing to be present and upright as ourselves on our own cushions in Zazen, we start to get a glimmer of the inconceivable as Vimalakirti demonstrates it.
We start to get a glimmer of other possibilities.
We start to have a wider sense of reality.
We shift our perceptions.
we doesn't mean we get rid of our perceptions, but we know that there is more to this world and its reality than what we can't see or how we think about it.
So I like the example of the brain of a dolphin Buddhist.
We don't know how dolphin Buddhist and bodhisattvas practice.
but they have a bigger brain than us and they're not hampered by all of the products of opposable thumbs.
How is it that Buddha's that Buddha dolphins or or even beginner bodhisattva dolphins do Zazen?
How is it that they practice the Buddha way?
We have no idea.
And yet in all of the different realms, in all of the different dimensions of this world and many other worlds, there is this way of awakening.
There is this path.
there is this possibility of seeing beyond our limited perceptions, of opening up to the practical aspect of emptiness, which eventually we will discuss as the great love.
So our practice of inconceivability has a lot to do with patience and not knowing and recognizing that we must be patient with this
complex reality that we have little tastes of and that Vimala Kirti demonstrates in dramatic, powerful ways.
Our sense of size and dimension is just our sense of size and dimension.
Actually, in each atom of my thumb, there is vast space between the protons and electrons.
So our usual, you know, we manage to function in this world because we have some idea of the size of a chair.
But actually, chairs come in many forms and many sizes, huge and immense and tiny for the tiny beings too.
So we can't see all of it.
We can't know all of it.
We can't calculate it and write it all out and figure it out and put it in a frame and put it on the wall and figure it and finish our practice.
Beings are everywhere.
We don't know how this world works.
Even if you have a very good and refined idea of how this world works, even if you have very good theories about how to bring peace and justice to this world, those are just your ideas.
So, Vimalakirti is talking about the reality beyond our ideas and how we bring it into this world.
Just supposed to make me louder?
I guess.
Well, Chaigan and I are experimenting with how to do this, you know, tandem lecture.
But so far, I like it.
Hope you enjoyed the show.
I got to play two characters, Shariputra and Manjusri.
Shariputra, in almost all Mahayana sutras, is a little bit of a dunce.
He represents the old-style, narrow, pure monk, and so he ends up being the butt of a lot of jokes, including here.
And Manjusri, of course, is the manifestation of wisdom.
While you were talking, Tygen, I remembered that a book that some of you may know, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks.
Wonderful book.
There's a story in there, all these incredible brain injuries and what happens.
There's a story in there about a man who became a dog for a while.
Because of an injury, I think it's actually cocaine, overdosing, or whatever, the olfactory powers in his brain suddenly became enhanced by a million-fold, and he could smell everything.
he could smell walls and floors.
He said it was the most incredible experience of his life and he was really sad when he got better and he lost the ability because he really felt like he understood how dogs experience reality.
So I thought that was very interesting relating to your comment that we only really experience a very tiny part of our potential of consciousness.
I've been entranced with Vimala Kirti as a figure in Buddhist teaching for a long time.
My Buddhist group, which meets in Mill Valley, is called the Vimala Zen Center, short for Vimala Kirti.
The word Vimala means pure, and Kirti means reputation.
It's often the case superficially that people think the point of the Vimalakirti Sutra is to extol householders and lay people over monks like Shariputra.
And there are, in fact, some comical scenes where Shariputra loses out to the great householder Vimalakirti.
But that's only one very superficial understanding.
The real point of the Vimalakirti Sutra, as Taigen has said, is that Vimalakirti, being completely pure, and it starts out by telling about his life.
It says that he's a householder, wears the white clothes of a householder, but he's as pure as a monk.
He has a family, he has children, he has servants, he has a palace, he's a very wealthy person, but none of that matters to him.
He's always focused on the Dharma.
He goes anywhere and everywhere.
It says that he is a businessman among businessmen.
He goes into the schools.
He participates in government.
He goes to sporting events like football games.
In all these environments, he's able to do it and do it effectively and turn people toward Dharma by totally blending in or
being one with how people are.
So there's no limitation to his ability to manifest Dharma in any situation.
So since here in our tradition at Zen Center, we're not exactly monks in the traditional sense.
We're not exactly lay people.
We call ourselves priests.
But really, we live as householders.
We all do.
I have a family.
Most of the priests in the Zen Center lineage have families and children.
I think that Vimalakirti is actually a good model for one aspect of priest life, which is that you devote yourself
unceasingly to meeting people where they are and being able to turn their situation into a teaching.
So the three aspects of the Vimalakirti Sutra that Taigen and I are going to focus on this afternoon in our four-hour workshop here are the
The details of how it works that Vimalakirti manifests himself freely in all guises and situations, his ability to work in the world, that's one.
The second is the inconceivability quality that Taigen discussed, that part of the reason
that Vimalakirti is able to go to a football game and be a football buddha is because he can clearly see beyond the surface that it's a football game and he can see that there's something vast and mysterious going on.
He can move right into that space and turn beings toward awakening and awaken their bodhicitta.
So this is his inconceivable power and it's it's uh this is one of the few sutras in the whole of buddhist literature that one is funny
And two is you can dramatize.
There's very few sutures.
You can do what we did, where we actually played roles and had lines.
And there's a lot of interesting stuff about the transcendence of gender.
There's one famous part where he switches sexes.
Shariputra, again, who's constantly on the losing end of these things, he believes he's a man.
And so this goddess comes, and they switch bodies.
And then she asks him if he's still Shariputra or not.
So there's a great, rather funny moment there.
And Vimalakirti is shown as reaching up into the air and grabbing whole universes, whole galaxies, and making them show up in the 10-foot square room.
So the basic feeling is that a fully fleshed out person of dharma
uh... and and uh... if you know the detect ten oxygen pictures this is this whole point is a manifestation of the tenth stage in the marketplace uh... you realize that uh...
a person accomplished in Dharma like Vimalakirti operates freely in all realms.
And then the last topic we're going to cover is the great love of the Bodhisattva, the ultimate driving force that impels Vimalakirti to live this way, to do these things, is his unboundless love for all beings who aren't exactly even there, the great contradiction of emptiness and compassion.
And there's a marvelous passage, which we'll go into, where Vimalakirti listens to Manjusri extol about emptiness and how insubstantial everything is.
And then Manjusri says, well, if that's the case, if that's really true, if reality is like a foam or a bubble and beings are like foam and bubbles, then why should we care about them?
It's a wonderful question.
And I think one of the few places in Mahayana literature where the question is just,
out there in very stark form, and I think all of us should be asking that question too.
Why should we care about insubstantial beings?
And Vimalakirti's answer is really incredible, and it's all based on Mahamaitri or Mahametta, great love, great
kindness, which is the underlying emotional component of his dharma activity.
So this is our hope, and in four hours we can somehow say something reasonably useful this afternoon, and this morning as well.
The Vimalakirti Sutra was, well you should say, Taigen, because Taigen's written a whole book about bodhisattvas, and there's a whole chapter.
He's done far more research into this, but maybe you could say about
the history of its popularity in China, and I know that it's a very important sutra in Tibetan Buddhism as well, and how it's inspired people throughout the centuries, and so on and so forth.
Yes, well, I'll start by saying why it's so important for us.
So, as Luz said, this is what's sometimes seen as the end of the path, the tenth ox-herding pictures, returning to the world.
And for us in America,
As Lu said, whether we're, according to the Soto Zen tradition, priest or lay people, we're actually all lay people, all in the world.
We're all practicing in the world.
And the point of our Zazen, the point of all of these forms, the point of all of these teachings, is how do we express this Zazen heart?
How do we express this great caring, this great love?
in the practical aspects of the world, in our daily activity, in terms of how we each take care of ourselves, in terms of how we respond to family and friends and co-workers, and also how we respond to the problems, great problems of our society.
So the Malakirti Sutra emphasizes that this is a practical teaching.
We may hear about emptiness teaching and think it's this abstract,
theoretical idea, but this is about how can we actually bring our awareness at whatever stage we might think we are at in terms of our limited ideas.
How do we bring this into our life?
How do we apply the uprightness and patience
and a bit of calm that we experience in our practice into everything in our world, in our own lives and in the society around us.
So in a similar way, I think this sutra appealed very much to the Chinese, partly because Chinese literati, the government officials and poets and the educated Chinese class,
you know, didn't want to give up, didn't want to become full monks.
They didn't want to give up their poetry and their positions.
And yet they were attracted to this practice.
And Vimalakirti became this wonderful model for how somebody could be in the world and practicing.
And not just practicing, but actually expressing the deepest, fullest awakening of Buddhists.
So in China, one thing that happened is that
The Chinese emperor was very impressed with this sutra and he sent an envoy to go find the home of Vimalakirti in India.
and figure out how big was that room that all of those huge chairs came into.
And he managed to get to India and asked the people in Vaishali, the town where Vimalakirti was supposed to have lived.
And from the point of view of historians, this is kind of mythic.
You know, this is Vimalakirti.
We don't have any evidence that he was an historical person according to the usual idea of history.
But anyway, the Indians,
didn't care about literal fundamentalist kind of readings of sutras.
They understood that this was a wonderful true allegory or metaphor or image of the deepest reality, the vastest reality.
But the Chinese envoy came and he wanted to measure the house.
So they showed him this old ruined building in Vaishali and said, oh this is where Vimalakirti was and he measured it.
and found out that it was our equivalent of 10 foot square, so that's again the name of Abbess ever since.
But this sutra was very popular in China for these reasons, and very popular in Japan, and I think has special meaning for us, because as Suzuki Roshi said, we're neither monks nor lay people.
We're in the world, and yet,
Many of us are practicing very intensely.
So one question is, what is the renunciation of the Malakirti?
As a householder, as one who goes into bars and taverns and football games and educational institutions and is immersed in the world, as Lou was describing.
What is it that he renounces?
And I would say that this has to do with this great love that we want to talk about today also, this great caring.
Vimalakirti renounces the idea of separate things.
Vimalakirti renounces the idea of our separation.
Vimalakirti renounces the idea of enemies.
Vimalakirti sees how we're all connected.
how somehow, even if it seems like there is a huge divide, people in the red and blue states will eventually have to talk to each other.
People all over the world will have to find a way to renounce their sense of me, mine, you, others, our sense of separation.
And we do that right in the middle of being in the world and making mistakes.
And even though Vimalakirti doesn't seem to make mistakes, he seems to be this magnificent embodiment of magical perfection.
And yet he represents for us this possibility of really demonstrating the truth of this great love, this great caring.
So I would say that just the fact that you are here in this room this morning means that you have had some experience, some taste, some glimmer.
Even if this is your first time at Zen Center, you've had some inkling that you may not realize of this great love.
Somehow you care about the quality of your life.
and of the quality of the world.
And so this teaching of emptiness is not just a description of reality, it's something that we have a responsibility for, that we must take care of, because of this great caring and great love.
So maybe you could say some more about the great love.
Well, I will, but before I do...
Taigen won't say this, but I will.
His book, Faces of Compassion, is a great book.
And it's got a whole chapter in there about Vimalakirti, and I learn more from reading that chapter about the background and relevance of the sutra than from anything else.
So I don't know if the bookstore has very many copies, but if they don't, get them to get it, or you can get it on Amazon.
I'll have several copies at the workshop.
If you don't come to the workshop, get Dan's book, Dan Leighton, L-E-I-G-H-T-O-N.
Sorry, Dan, but we have to do this for each other.
It is a very good book, and I used it for a whole class here I gave a while back, and I thought it was very, very helpful.
He talks about all the bodhisattvas, and actually Vimalakirti is not officially a bodhisattva.
He's just a figure, a hero of a sutra.
Before I talk about the Great Love directly, while you were talking, Taigen, I thought of a couple, since I was around way back in the old days, a couple of stories about Suzuki Roshi, the founder of these temples, that I thought were Vimalakirti-like.
One of them actually took place right here.
that'll really relate to you.
But the first one was before I came, I heard about this story.
There was some problem shipping something from Japan, I guess.
And so Suzuki Roshi and a student drove out to the docks or wherever, was stuck on a ship, into this world of the docks.
where there are kind of, you know, working class guys driving forklifts and things like that.
You know, it's not, it's a different environment.
And they had to speak to some rather gruff person who didn't want to release this thing out of customs or something.
And the student who drove Suzuki Roshi noticed that he suddenly started talking in a voice that he'd never heard before, sort of like Tony Soprano or something.
Very tough, like this.
And, you know, they got the thing out.
So, he turned himself into a working class guy that, you know, didn't know anything about priests or, you know, religion and stuff just to get it done.
So, I thought that was a pretty neat story.
The other story, you know, we bought this building in 69, I think.
In the early years, it was a difficult neighborhood, and there was also a lot of curiosity in the neighborhood about what the heck we were all doing here.
It was very exotic, bald heads, black robes.
And the kids particularly really wanted to check us out.
So one of the jobs that you had to do in those days, maybe you still have it, is somebody sits by the door downstairs when people come in for Zazen.
Kind of a person.
What do you call it?
Door watch.
Door watch.
Well, there was a door watch.
And so one day Suzuki Roshi himself wandered out there just to see what was going on during Zazen or at the beginning of Zazen.
And this kid came in from the neighborhood.
And he was pretty freaked out to see Suzuki Roshi in his robes like this.
But anyway, he was tough.
So he said, well, what do you guys do here anyway?
And Suzuki Roshi said, oh, well,
We hit each other with sticks.
He said, here, turn around, and I'll show you how we do it.
He had his little stick.
The kid turned around, and you know, Sugiroshi tapped him on the shoulder.
And he said, see, it's like that.
And then he said, and he handed the stick to the kid.
And he said, now, you do it to me.
And he bent down.
You know, Sugiroshi is pretty small.
And he bent down, and the kid, yeah.
tapped him on the shoulder.
And he said, yeah, that's what we do here.
So the kid felt wonderful.
He felt really addressed.
Now he knew.
So I think that's a good couple of Vimalakirti stories that I think
quite well characterizes the way he was as a person and as a teacher.
You always felt whatever the situation, he would find a way to meet you, and he was pretty creative about it, like the stories I told you.
He didn't stick to some particular way of acting as a Buddhist priest or as a Japanese person or any of those things.
So people ask me, because they know my group is named after Vimalakirti, oh, well, was Vimalakirti a priest or what?
And these days I'm saying, well, yeah, he was.
Because my teacher Suzuki Roshi was a priest, I'm a priest, and the priests that I know who I feel the best about are those that can be that way, like Vimalakirti.
and just meet each situation.
I mean, I'm sure that, getting back to the great love, that what allowed Suzuki Roshi to come up with that little thing with the stick and the child was that he didn't see anything there other than a Buddha in the making, and he loved that being that was in front of him.
And out of love, I mean, think about your own relationships and the people that you love.
When you love somebody thoroughly and there's no sense of separation, there's a playfulness that arises in the middle of that.
You can play around.
You can joke.
I think out of that divine playfulness comes this inner quality of flexibility.
I think that the one word that characterizes Vimalakirti's style the most was flexibility.
I know when I was in Japan once, touring around, we visited a famous Roshi named Mumon Roshi, and he had a disciple whose name I forget, who was kind of our host, who didn't know much English.
But the one word he knew was flexible, which he pronounced flexible.
And so whatever happened, there were all sorts of little problems with the trains and connections and difficulties in getting these Westerners around in their odd robes and stuff.
So he would always smile to us whenever that happened and say, flexible, flexible, flexible.
So, I would say that that's kind of a one-word summary of what we're talking about here, is I think that the great love of the bodhisattva is fundamentally flexible.
There's no sense of constraint.
Like the drama that we did where I was Shariputra.
Shariputra wasn't very flexible.
You know, he came into a room, there was nothing there, and he didn't know where to sit.
He couldn't figure out.
It seemed like a problem, you know.
Where are the chairs?
Where am I going to sit?
Because if you're going to sit, you need a chair, right?
And so Bimalakirti solves that problem in a very unusual way.
I was asking Taigan before the lecture, how did the Indian people who developed this sutra exactly figure out just how many hundreds of thousands of miles high these chairs really are?
Did it really make a difference?
Because they're very precise about it.
The Indian mind is, if it's going to be 184,000 million miles high,
They want to get that right.
And actually, you may have missed it, but the last piece of magic that Vimalakirti does is he impels everybody to transform their bodies to fit the chairs.
So what's actually supposed to happen is that all of us are supposed to suddenly become 184,000 million miles high so we fit into these great, great thrones.
So I hope that we've all been able to do that.
If anybody is insufficiently flexible to have risen to the occasion, let us know afterwards.
We'll work on it.
Let's see.
How are we doing?
Do you want to say anything else about the great love for now or wind it up?
We will have a discussion period in the dining room after the Dharma talk.
But we're going to maybe concluding statements, each of us.
I had fun.
Did you have fun?
It was great.
We should do this again.
Was it fun?
Maybe a little drama is good for the soul here.
We worked this all out, you know, we practiced and up in the waiting room where we were waiting to go, I saw these big beads and I thought, you know, why don't you use those as part of your magic prop?
It'll be fun.
I don't know if anybody's ever used them.
They're beautiful and I don't know where they've come from.
We borrowed these from the Dove Center in Blanche.
I'm sure you don't mind.
Ah, these are from Texas.
The biggest beads in the country are from Texas, of course.
This Texas magic.
Well, thank you all for your indulgence in our little charade here.
We enjoyed it.
And I think it's very much in the spirit, I mean, the whole spirit of the Vimalakirti Sutra, which is kind of unusual.
Mostly the sutras are very, very serious.
But there's a lot of humor in it.
And whoever developed it, or however it got developed, and nobody knows, the scholars don't know, it represents a stream of Buddhist teaching, which is, I think,
very interesting and also probably something that we in America, just starting out here, can really use that feeling.
I think that that feeling is a good feeling for when you're starting out Dharma, so that we remain flexible as long as possible, because trying to do Buddhism in the United States of America in 2004 requires, I believe, a certain amount of deep flexibility.
Okay, thanks everybody.
And I'll just add, and we will have a discussion period in the dining room, and you can still come to the workshop, which will be from 1 to 5 in the dining room.
Well, just to say, for those of you who are interested and know a little bit about the technical aspect of Buddha's sutras, this is kind of a combination of emptiness teaching, this Vimalakirti Sutra, from the Heart Sutra and the other perfection of wisdom, Prajnaparamita Sutras,
and this magical side from the Flower Ornament Sutra, this psychedelic side of Mahayana Buddhism where there are vast Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and Buddha worlds all over.
And yet it's also again, I want to emphasize this practical side, this great love that doesn't see the other as a separate being, that does unto others
as others are at oneself.
So it has a lot to teach us.
When I was younger, I heard this song that said, all you need is love.
So here we are in the great love, and it's our job to help support that in this Buddha field.
Thank you.