November 6th, 2002, Serial No. 01064

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How's the energy in here? Is it? Ben and I were talking about various things we could do. He suggested dancing. He also suggested throwing things. Okay. Woke me right up. Thank you. Better be careful what you say around here. I wanted to talk about obstacles and opportunities. I think when we pay attention, our lives are filled with obstacles and opportunities.


From a certain point of view, you might already be thinking, well, from an absolute point of view, what's the difference? There's no difference between an obstacle and an opportunity. But we're human beings and we live in a relative world. We live in a world filled with lots of desires and energy and all kinds of obstacles and opportunities. I wanted to start with a deep secret to reveal that I've realized I've never revealed in public before, which is that I'm short. I doubt most of you have noticed. I was thinking that as a child, it was really hard being a short guy. I always thought that if I were only taller,


life would have been so much different, that women would have flocked around me, that I would have been so popular, would have been great at sports, and that I would have been happy. In some way, I just wanted to be like everyone else. It seemed like the glasses that I was looking through was that everyone else was taller. I remember I was probably about 12 or 13 years old when a cousin of mine, my cousin Hank, put his arm around me and said that he wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk. There were very few heart-to-heart talks that I can remember in my childhood, so this was pretty rare. Hank had just become an eye surgeon, and he was about my height. He pulled me aside and said, I know that it's really hard being short. He said, but let me tell you there's an advantage to it.


The advantage is that you have to try a little bit harder, and that trying a little bit harder can really make a big difference. Actually, sometimes I think that, I tell myself that I just haven't hit my growth spurt yet. It's really just a question of time. My mother promised me that I would be tall, and my mother wouldn't lie to me. I once told my teenage daughter, who I've talked about here some, that the reason that I don't own a lot of pants is that I'm afraid that I'm going to have a growth spurt, and I don't want to have a lot of pants in the house that don't fit me. She looked at me and she said, really?


I laughed at her. Actually, the moral of this story is that if you can't accept things as they are, a vivid imagination really helps. Actually, the reason that I bring this up is, I realize now that I think that almost everyone thinks that everyone is either too short, or too tall, or speaks with an accent, or is not pretty, or is overweight, or is not the right sexual orientation. Everybody has something that we think that we're different, or something lacking. We might think that if this one part of us were only different,


life would be so much different. I think that my cousin Hank gave me a real gift by saying to remember that it was important to try a little harder. I think not so much trying to accomplish something, or trying for some goal, but to try harder to be who we are, to be our own authentic selves. Our practice is to completely face ourselves so that we can let go of self-consciousness. This trying harder can be kind of a burden, but it can also be a great opportunity, and it can be a path to accessing some sense about what the absolute is, what our big mind is. Suzuki Roshi often spoke about himself


as having to try harder because he was not very smart, and that he was always the slowest of the disciples of his teacher, and that all of the other students who were smarter, they were all smart enough to leave, and that he was the only one to stick around. So he was kind of talking about the opportunity in being slow. He also talked about that he felt that he always remembered things better, though he had to try harder to learn, but he had a way of really bringing things to heart. When I was thinking about this topic of obstacles and opportunities, I was thinking of how amazing it is for me to be living in this building. There's a sign on my door that someone put there that says, Have you met your life today?


Every day, every time I walk in and out of my room, I read the sign that says, Have you met your life today? I think it's a really good question. If you don't have one of these signs on your door, I highly recommend it. I was also thinking of a recent obstacle slash opportunity in my life. My wife asked me to recommend a designer. She had a project she was going to do, and I came up with two different designers, and I said a little bit about what their strengths and weaknesses were, and I emailed it. I thought I was emailing it to my wife, but I inadvertently emailed it to one of the designers. It wasn't that I said anything bad, but I knew that this designer was going to be hurt


because I never would have said what I said in this email. I was saying that she was the second best, that she was really good, but she was second best. I was mulling. In fact, I remember I talked about this in a small group, and I was mulling about what am I going to do in this situation. I walked upstairs up to my room. Actually, first I decided to stop off at the bathroom, and I went in, and I peed, and I'm walking out of the bathroom thinking about this, and a woman walks into the bathroom. I said, what are you doing in the men's room? She looks at me and says, this is the women's room. I felt like moment after moment, obstacles and opportunities. A monk asked his teacher,


what is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West? This is, of course, a classic question in Zen. The teacher replied, I'm stiff from sitting so long. My interpretation of this is that the student is asking, please explain the effort that we're all making. What's the purpose and meaning of this practice? The teacher, I believe, is basically saying there are obstacles. There are difficulties and pain. In this case, the obstacles are stiff legs, and there's opportunities. Opportunities are also these stiff legs. I was also thinking, I think sometimes since I'm working outside,


and at the moment I have this kind of a dual life, but I talk a little bit about this in terms of my own work practice. I was remembering, I was thinking of one of the hardest days that I ever had at work, which was there was a time when things were not going well, and sales were not meeting expectations, expenses were surpassing expectations, and it was just really, really grim. It had been that way for a while, and I didn't see a way out. I remember looking at the numbers, looking at how to pay payroll, how to keep things going, and I couldn't see any way out of it. My world actually began to spin. I remember feeling kind of sick and nauseous.


It was a really terrible feeling. At the same time, I felt really inspired to somehow find some way out of that, and I eventually did. I remember it was after that in which I was asked to be on a panel called Business and the Dark Knight of the Soul, in which it was really quite an honor to be on this panel. A panel of losers to talk about how we had failed, how we had failed at business. But we actually had all pretty much made it through and had some good stories to tell as well. What was ironic was that little did I know, but things then got much worse, that things really got bad after that as we tried to become an Internet company.


When that crashed, things were really, really horrible. But I had learned a lot from how bad it was previously, and I had learned that it was okay if the world spun around and I could sit at my desk and cry, and people would come over and cry with me, and then we'd kind of say, okay, what do we do now? How do we pick up the pieces? I wanted to tell a Tassajara story, which I think fits in the subject pretty well. I'm sure some of you know this story, the Tassajara elderberry story, the elderberry tea story. Do you guys know that? This must have been the summer of 1983. I was director that summer at Tassajara, and it was just a hot August day.


I believe it was August, and there was afternoon tea every 3 o'clock or 3.15. I think that still happens these days, but it was always, as usual, an outrageous tea. In fact, I remember the teas were unbelievable. I remember one day, I'll digress here for one second, I remember these hikers walking in, and they came in during tea time, and they had never been in Tassajara before. They walked in over the mountains, and there they were in their hiking gear, and they were at tea, and the tea was chocolate cake, mounds of chocolate cake, French toast, all kinds of jellies and jams and cookies. I remember the person, one of the hikers, looked at me and said, what is this place? Is this some kind of a cult? I said, yes, it's a food cult. After this particular tea,


tea ended, and someone came up to me and mentioned that one of the students was sick, and they just thought that it would be a good thing for me to know that. A few minutes later, someone came up to me and said that another person is sick. It seemed strange, but people get sick at Tassajara. Then someone else came up to me and said, so-and-so is pretty sick, and you should come look at this. As I was walking down to go meet with the third student, someone else came up to me and said, there's a student who's having trouble breathing. Somehow, I think there were, luckily there were several doctors there who figured out pretty quickly that it was some kind of poisoning. It didn't take a long time to figure out that, I think we knew that one of the students had made a special tea,


had been harvesting elderberries on the ridge above Tassajara, and didn't know that the leaves and bark of elderberries are deadly. They're quite poisonous. Inadvertently, some of these leaves and bark had gotten into this tea. This was clearly a serious emergency. I remember running to the phone to call a helicopter, which, of course, I had never seen done. We were totally unprepared for it. Cranking on the crank phone to get an operator to connect me with the helicopter emergency crew. The moment I most remember from this incident was being on the phone. There are many moments here, but a key one was where I explained


quite excitedly that there was an emergency, there were many people sick, and we needed to get a helicopter into Tassajara right away. The response was, how do we get there? And I said, you're kidding. I explained where Tassajara was, and actually, quite quickly, it probably was 30 or 45 minutes, which seemed like a long time, but it was relatively short. There was a helicopter hovering above Tassajara. There was a helicopter site, as probably most of you know, but it was totally untaken care of. The thought of trying to carry these bodies, these were some large men who were pretty much not able to walk and were going to need to be carried. So I thought, well, maybe it's possible


this helicopter could land in the central area of Tassajara. I ran up and caught the attention of the person operating the helicopter and suggested that he try and land. He came down, and as he came down, you could see he started to wobble because the wind off of the walls was catching him. He ended up going back up, and I pointed over to the helicopter site. As you can imagine, we had everyone's attention at Tassajara, and there were groups of people who were organized to carry people up the narrow, winding path up to the top of the helicopter site and loaded in, I think we loaded five or six people into this helicopter that had landed up on the helicopter site. The other moment that really jumps out was we closed the doors, and the helicopter's engines rev up, and this driver, the operator,


was a Vietnam vet. It was a great spirit. They were just right there. As they started to lift off, the helicopter slid off the side. It just slid. I was standing on the top watching it go down, and my heart sank. Apparently, that's how they take off. That's how they learn to do it in Vietnam, that they drop down into the valley, and then they come up. It was a startling and beautiful sight, and everything was okay. Everybody was fine. There were many, many opportunities. One is that we did really get our act together with really taking care of the helicopter site and formed a relationship with the emergency people and really took some actions, but it was pretty amazing. I was also thinking, one of the amazing things about Tassajara


is how much we live in nature, the opportunities that living in nature provides, the obstacles and opportunities. I can remember it pouring so hard on a winter day that we thought that the cabins were going to be flowed away, and I can remember standing up by the gate, everyone with their Birkenstocks on, holding these umbrellas, standing in our robes, just waiting for the creek to go down. Do you remember that, too? I also was thinking of when my wife Lee was pregnant, and we were living in Tassajara, and we went, it must have been the middle of winter, December or January, that we drove out for our first birthing class, and about a mile up the road,


as we were driving out, I guess it was shortly after a rainstorm, there was a boulder. There was a boulder in the road that was completely blocking the road. It was probably ten feet wide and ten feet high, and we just turned right around, and I think it was the next day that we moved out of Tassajara to Jamesburg, and took the opportunity to change our lives, and I began commuting back and forth. Without obstacles and pain, and without difficulty, we can't find true peace and joy. It's difficult to embrace pain, but what choice do we have? Our pain is Buddha's pain, and by embracing pain and facing obstacles, we can also embrace our own joy and our own authenticity. I mentioned in my way-seeking mind talk


that when I left Tassajara, I went to business school in New York City, and people often think that because I went to business school I know a lot about business, but actually, the only thing I learned in business school was it kind of gave me the confidence to start a business. It gave me the confidence to get in lots and lots of trouble, and by starting something, I was able to create many, many obstacles and find many opportunities. A person who a person who takes risks and is willing to start things, and think in a fresh way, the word for that that we often use is an entrepreneur. I actually think that Buddha was one of the great entrepreneurs, that he thought,


he had the courage to think differently, and had the courage and foresight to encourage everybody else to think for themselves. As I was thinking about this last night, I realized that I think many of our contemporary Zen teachers are actually wonderful entrepreneurs. I think of Suzuki Roshi and Richard Baker as the entrepreneurship that it took to buy this building and to buy Tassajara and to do the risks that they took and the things that they made happen amidst tremendous obstacles. Bernie Glassman formed a variety of enterprises in New York, a bakery and homeless shelters and a variety of religious orders. I think of Norman Fisher going out and starting everyday Zen. I think about Paul forging through his involvement


with hospice, with prisons, and starting all kinds of programs. These are just a few examples. I think many of the senior teachers here are quite entrepreneurial. I think for a Buddhist, being an entrepreneur means not being attached to results, but doing things from your heart and really seeing what's in your heart and seeing... An entrepreneur is someone who sees the needs of people and sees what the energy is that is in them and in other people and is willing to think freely and openly and start things. I'd like to encourage all of you to... I think all Zen students should think like entrepreneurs, to look at what people's needs are, to think for yourself, to be willing to do things in new ways, to forge new territory. I think it's this entrepreneurial spirit


in a way that for many of us is what has drawn us to Zen practice. Another word that I think of that describes what I'm talking about is the word radical. I was surprised when I looked up the meaning of the word radical. It means returning to the root. In some way, Zen practice is a radical form of Buddhism. It's really returning to the root of Zazen practice. What I'm suggesting tonight is that you all consider being radical entrepreneurs. Radical in the sense of returning to roots through Zazen practice and through beginning to loosen yourself from habits and thought patterns that are old and habitual and that no longer work. Entrepreneurial in the sense of being willing to trust yourself completely, to really trust yourself and act on


what your heart is telling you, act on what the needs of people are. The paramitas The paramitas can be really powerful tools to use in seeing obstacles and in a way turning these obstacles into opportunities. Yesterday I was having lunch with my 19-year-old son and he's kind of bouncing off the walls. He's taking a year off from college and trying to figure out what to do with his life. He's presenting to me all of these opportunities and ideas and kind of getting in his own way and not knowing how to even think about this decision. I looked at him and I said, Can I ask you a question that has nothing to do with what you're thinking about? I realized that he's been


to Tassajara, he's been to Green Gulch and he sometimes calls himself a Buddhist. But I asked him, I said, Do you know anything about Buddhism? Do you know what the life of the Buddha was? Do you know what the Four Noble Truths are? He kind of stopped and he said, No, I don't. I said, Can I tell you in five minutes the life of the Buddha? and the Four Noble Truths? I just told him and he looked at me and he said, That was really helpful. That really helped me. I felt that I wasn't really trying to. When I looked at it, I felt like I was practicing a kind of generosity, I thought, with my son. That I was being myself and presenting things.


Actually, in part, ever since Ben's talk, I've been meaning to have that talk with my son about what's most important when you're trying to make your decision. Really think about what's the most important thing in your life. He said he'd really think about it. As I was preparing for this talk, I was thinking about my hike in the Sierras with Steve and a few other men friends. After walking for about 12 hours, we came to this incredible valley at about 10,000 feet called Evolution Meadow. All around us were these towering, beautiful mountains.


Many of the mountains were more than 12,000 feet high. Every mountain was a different shape, a different size, a different character. As I was looking at these mountains, I felt like I just was appreciating each of these mountains just as they were. It didn't matter. The fact that they were all different, completely different feelings and makeups was really beautiful. Really, they were all expressions of nature. They were all earth. They were all from the earth. Just as all of us are. We're all beautiful just as we are. We're all this amazing expression of emptiness or of Buddha-mind or of nature. So please, I'd like to encourage everyone


to practice with really seeing what the obstacles are and practice with turning these obstacles into opportunities as ways that we can help ourselves and help other people. Thank you very much.