October 2nd, 2004, Serial No. 00980

00:00
00:00
Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.

This talk will not appear in the main Search results:
Unlisted
Serial: 
SF-00980
Photos: 
Notes: 

Recording starts after beginning of talk.

Transcript: 

But it's great, because I think we're all children, so I'm speaking to the children, but actually I'm going to be speaking to everyone. And so I'd like everyone to do these things. So let's, you know, one of the things about this practice, what kind of sets this place apart, as a kind of, it's a place that reminds us about some things that are important. And one of the things that's really important is our breathing. And sometimes we don't even notice it or think about it. So I'd like to start by having us all pay attention to our breathing. And a really good way to do that is to actually feel your breath, to put your hand in front of your nose and take a breath. And just feel, just notice your breathing. Notice how you don't really have to do anything, it just happens.

[01:02]

And the other thing you could do is then put a hand on your chest or your stomach and also notice your breathing that way. And again, it's just another way of noticing, noticing who you are, noticing what's happening, noticing what do you feel when this happens, when you're just, what are you feeling right now? What's it like? What's it like to be here? What are all the things that are happening for everyone? Well, as some of you know, I'm always looking for an excuse to sing here in the Buddha Hall. Even, not for me to sing, for you to sing, I can't sing.

[02:05]

But I thought, because the children are here, because the children are here, we could all sing a song together. And the song that seemed most appropriate to me, which I hope many of you know, is an old shaker song, Tis a Gift to be Simple. And I thought, not only could we sing it, we could also kind of move to it. So, how many people know this song? Oh, boy. Okay, enough to help. So, the words are, it's, Tis a Gift to be Simple, Tis a Gift to be Free, Tis a Gift to Come Down Where We Ought to Be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, we'll be in the valley of love and delight. It's a great song. Now, the really fun part is the next verse. And this is one where I think anyone who wants to, which I hope most of you do, could stand up and act out this next part.

[03:06]

Let's see. I have to try and remember it. Oh, right. It goes, When true simplicity is gained, this is a perfect song. You'll see in a minute why. To bow and to bend, we shan't be ashamed. To turn, turn, will be our delight, till by turning, turning, we come down right, or come round right. Either one is just perfect. I mean, that's, what else do we need to say? So, anyone who can or would like to, children, I hope you guys, so let's stand up. How about everybody stands up? I should stand up. And I'll start, and please join in, and the words are simple, and do whatever you think is the appropriate movement to these words. Okay. Here we go. Without hurting each other. This is a gentle, slow, compassionate movement. Okay.

[04:08]

Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free, tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, we'll be in the valley of love and delight. Okay, get ready to move. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend, we shan't be ashamed. To turn, turn, will be our delight, till by turning, turning, we come down right. Did everyone come down in the right place? It looks like it. They're dizzy. That's why I didn't do it.

[05:11]

I'd be lying on the floor. So, that's what I had in mind for the children. I mean, they're welcome to stay, welcome to go, whatever you want to do. Do you want to stay or do you want cookies and juice? Well said, Sabuddy. Yes. Yes, I will. Thank you. Thank you. And I can kind of read them. Maybe it's a random number, but I found it. Thank you. Thank you.

[06:16]

Thank you. Well, good morning once again. I hope that helped everybody wake up this morning. Well, now that the children are gone, I thought we could talk about sex. Actually, that's not really the topic. What I really want to talk about, and there is some relationship, the subject is destructive emotions. And also, as many of you know, this is the beginning of a three-month practice period here at City Center. And the theme for this practice period is living the life of Buddha. Do I have it right? Okay. And I contend that there's maybe no other practice than working with our emotions. And that being our full, unhindered, emotional, authentic selves is what Buddha's teachings are about.

[07:55]

And that practicing with our emotions is Buddha's teaching, is our life teaching. And I thought to, in particular, address this topic. I wanted to use a case, a story, from the Mumonkan. Mumonkan is a collection of 48 koans, 48 stories, collected in China more than a thousand years ago. And the one I thought was really appropriate for talking about, there's many, but this one I liked in particular for talking about the subject of destructive emotions and living the life of Buddha is the 46th case. And it says, how do you step from the top of a 100-foot pole? And it says, you who sit on the top of a 100-foot pole, although you have entered the way, it is not genuine. Take a step from the top of a pole and the entire universe is in your eye. So for me, what this koan is saying is that we're all on the top of,

[09:06]

our lives are like we're all on the top of a pole. We have to do something, we have to say something. Whether we're sitting in zazen, in conversation with our spouse, family, lover, friend, people at work, there's no choice. There's no choice but to speak or to act. And there's no choice but to be there with our full emotional life. And the starting point for understanding this life, for understanding our emotions, living the life of Buddha, working with this koan, is what I would call investigating reality. And there's a word that's often used, mindfulness practice is a word that we use a lot. And I'm really liking this term investigating reality. It has a little more initiative and action and kind of responsibility. And it's the practice of really looking at what are you really feeling.

[10:10]

There's a, my friend, my good friend and teacher, Norman Fisher, one of the practices that he often advises is that you often throughout the day stop and ask yourself, what am I really feeling? And what's behind that feeling? And what's behind that feeling? And other questions, I thought of some questions that this koan raises for me, this sitting on the top of a pole. What am I afraid of? Where does my fear come from? What am I not saying or feeling that needs to be said or felt? What stops me? What conversations do I need to have that would deepen the quality of my relationships, of my life? Why have I been putting these conversations off? I remember once someone said to me that, you know, often when you ask someone how they're doing, they say fine, and that fine stands for feelings inside, not expressed.

[11:14]

As some of you know, I recently left a work situation that I was in for 15 years, that I started a publishing company called Brush Dance, and I had become very identified with the company, with the role of, the kind of leader, CEO role, and had become identified with the company in many, many ways. And this is very new for me that I've left, and I'm emotionally, I'm in this place where I'm noticing I'm both very much grieving, I'm still going through this grieving process of having done something, started something, and having left it. It's a little bit like the grieving of a father whose child goes off to college, because this child of mine that I started has grown up and has now left me. And also I feel this great sense of relief and joy, and that it's off on its own, and that I'm now doing something else.

[12:22]

It was about two years ago that I was having breakfast with one of my board members and mentors, a woman who's quite an extraordinary woman, who's somewhat older than me, and has a lot of business experience and also a lot of spiritual experience. This was two years ago at a breakfast meeting where she looked me in the eyes and said, it's time for you to leave Brush Dance. She said, you need to spend more time at Zen Center, more time practicing, more time teaching. She said, there's more that you have to accomplish in the world than being at Brush Dance. And I remember my first reaction was I didn't believe her. I thought, oh, she just doesn't think I'm good at doing this. She's just trying to get me out. And I realized that that wasn't it at all, that she was really being sincere. And tears came up in my eyes, and it was really interesting to see my reactions.

[13:24]

But still, even hearing this, I kept at it for a couple more years. And I realized, looking back, that in some way my body had decided that this was not the right thing for me to be doing anymore, and that the day-to-day activity, what I was actually doing, was not nurturing my heart, was not really what was most essential to me, and that I continued to find ways of avoiding those feelings, the emotions and feelings, and what I knew to be true. I remember right after I actually left the company, I had lunch with a good friend, Steve Weintraub, who lectures here often. And I sat down, and I mentioned to him that I had just left Brush Dance. And Steve leaped. He leaped out of his chair and came and hugged me and started twirling me around. And it made me realize that I had been conveying to him for years that I wanted to leave.

[14:31]

And he knew it so well, and somehow I had managed to hide it from myself. There's an expression I saw recently that I really like that says, Trust, completely trust your intuition. Don't always trust the operator, but trust your intuition. So Zen practice, our practice, provides a map, I'd say, to cut through being attached, being caught, or being driven by fears, beliefs. And we form these amazing survival strategies that may have worked for us at some point that stop working. From a Buddhist point of view, all emotions that keep us from seeing things as they are, or emotions that push us out of our state of equilibrium, can be called destructive. Our practice is to become intimately familiar with our intuition, with our deepest intentions,

[15:34]

as well as including our messy, unexplainable feelings and emotions, and to find a way to go beyond these labels and return to our authentic, free, and unnameable natures. And the koan says that in order to do this, we have to take this step from a pole. I saw this great, there's a quote by Annie Lamont that I saw this morning where she says, Reality is unforgivingly complex. And I would add to that that reality is unforgivingly simple. And I think of these things as reasons why, in addition to having a meditation practice and Zazen practice, why working with a teacher and being part of a community is so important. No matter how much meditation we sit, sitting clearly, seeing clearly can be really tricky business.

[16:39]

Sometimes it's like we're like fish in our own tank, and the water might be actually getting dirtier, and we don't see it. We're too close to it. It takes a teacher or a friend, or sometimes it takes a community. In my case, it seems to take all of those together to help me to see what it is that I'm not seeing that might be obvious to others around us. And stepping off this pole, one way to describe it is just really paying attention, truly investigating reality, really listening to ourselves, inquiring about our feelings and emotions, and really being open to our teachers, friends, family, people we work with, and learning from everyone around us. There's a book that I highly recommend, and it's called Working with Destructive Emotions. It's by the Dalai Lama and Daniel Goleman.

[17:41]

It's actually transcripts of a conference held in India with the Dalai Lama of a group of scholars and scientists and spiritual people, monks and nuns from around the world. And in this book, one of the things that they come to is that there's a distinction between our feelings and our emotions, that feelings are kind of a more first-level reaction and response, and then emotions are more of a collection of events. It's how we put these feelings that come up together. And Buddhism speaks of there being 84,000 kinds of negative emotions. Fortunately, Buddhism speaks about 84,000 doors to the path of inner transformation. And all of these destructive emotions could be boiled down to five negative emotions,

[18:45]

hatred, desire, confusion, pride, and jealousy. And in this conference, one of the conclusions they reach is that the more you examine these emotions, the more you look at the source of the human mind, that these emotions begin to fade away, that at the core of the human mind is clarity, brilliance, something that's not harmful in any way, but that the path there is to fully understand and transform these negative emotions. I was looking at a way that Suzuki Roshi, the founder of these temples, the way he talks about emotions, and there's a chapter in the book, Not Always So, in which he says, our emotions are like a movie, and he says people are so interested in the movie that they tend to forget about the screen.

[19:47]

So our feelings and emotions and all of the things in our lives that we didn't have to do, all the dramas, all of that is the movie. But that in order to really enjoy our lives, we really need to see that there's much more than the movie, that there's the screen. And that screen is, I think, what in this brilliant, core, settled mind, that settled being that we all have. I thought about, I wanted to describe what for me was an emotional aha experience that I had just a couple of days ago in talking with my wife. And I thought of this in, because it felt like seeing things in a movie, but in a slightly different way than, I think similar but slightly different than what Suzuki Roshi was talking about.

[20:48]

I noticed as I was having this, I was just having this slow, careful conversation with my wife, and suddenly I noticed that there was a part of me that was really focused in to her facial expressions. And that I had, without even knowing it, trained myself to read what I thought she was feeling and thinking by just the way her mouth was turned, or the muscles in her eyes, and I could see. It was as though, for me, the frame of my movie was slowed down, and I could see that I was having feelings and emotions that, in a way, weren't going through central. You know, that I wasn't conscious of them, but yet I was having all these feelings and reaching all these conclusions that were pretty much unconscious, and could see the way that I do that,

[21:53]

and in some way, we all do that. We all are so sensitive and so tuned in to what other people are thinking and feeling. In fact, there's this book, it's called A General Theory of Love, that describes from a scientific and biological viewpoint the way that we are, it's part of our human condition that we have this amazing genetic, biological equipment to read other people's energy and feel other people's energy, which is a huge, huge, positive, amazing ability that we have. And at the same time, it can cause our emotions and our lives to get way out of equilibrium if we are not really aware and transform this ability. At this conference and in this book, they describe what they call three essential strategies

[23:01]

for working with these destructive emotions. Right, the first method is applying antidotes. So if you're feeling hatred, then practice love and compassion. If you're feeling jealousy, then practice kindness and joy. You know, there's many, many Buddhist practices can be used as antidotes. The first four of the six paramitas are generosity, patience, energy, and ethical conduct. There's also what are called the four immeasurables, which are compassion, equanimity, empathetic joy, and loving kindness. What's important, I think, is to choose a practice and do it. And the one I would recommend is empathetic joy.

[24:03]

And what this means, it's pretty simple, but it's amazingly complex, is that if someone else is feeling happy, someone else is feeling joyful, share in their joy. They're happy about a relationship. They're happy about anything. There's something that arose for them that brought up happiness. How often, if we really look, do we feel jealousy or feel like, oh, I wish that happened to me? Or what if it's someone who we don't really like, someone who we feel out of alignment with or that they were someone who hurt us in some way, and they're feeling happy and joyful? So the practice would be to start with someone who you really feel good about and love and share in their happiness. That's fairly easy. But then there's a neutral person, someone who you don't know.

[25:05]

Someone's laughing. You see someone on the street laughing. The practice would be to share in their happiness, to feel their happiness. Again, then the hardest one is someone who you're not feeling so good about, you're having some difficult feelings around, and just try it. I would suggest actually trying it as a practice. Try it for a week or try it for a day and see what happens. The second method, the second strategy for dealing with emotions is meditation practice, or meditation practice, the practice of emptiness, the practice of impermanence. Meditation helps us to see, to slow things down and understand and see the spaces in our thoughts, the spaces in our emotions. It's a tool to deeply investigate reality, to just watch, to see the subtler levels of our own conditioning,

[26:07]

the ways that our feelings become embedded. And we can see that emotions themselves are not a problem. Having a rich and full emotional life is what I'm suggesting, not that we not be emotional, but that we not act in ways that are destructive and that we not be attached to our emotions. In meditation, we get a taste of impermanence. We can see how short our lives are and know that living in denial, in safety, or in mediocrity is destructive, is destructive to our hearts. And we get a real taste of emptiness. We can see that, for me, emptiness is very simple. It means that the world is empty of separation, that we're all intimately connected to everyone.

[27:08]

I had an amazing experience a few weeks ago in which I felt like I got a big hit of impermanence when I was walking by myself in the hills above Green Gulch as it was getting dark and came face-to-face with a mountain lion. And I was in denial for about a minute. I thought, hmm, is that a German shepherd? Or that sure is a big coyote. But there was no owner there, so no, not a German shepherd. And it was about three times the size of a coyote. And it was sitting on a hill and just staring at me. And I could see that I was game, that it had completely...

[28:13]

And I was trembling. I was kind of saying my goodbyes. And then I remembered, oh, you're supposed to look really big and tough. So I looked as big and tough as I could possibly muster. And I also remember that it said you're supposed to not lose eye contact. And I did not lose eye contact with this. I felt myself really tuned in. But it was and continues to be transforming to feel in that role and to feel the sense of impermanence and the sense of how lucky we are to be alive, how it made me appreciate my own breath, my own aliveness. The third method, which is often said to be the most difficult and the most effective, is to transform our destructive emotions.

[29:15]

And they use this analogy of saying that there's three ways to deal with a poisonous plant. The first way is to uproot the plant. That's like applying this antidote method. The second way is to pour boiling water over the plant. This is like applying emptiness. The third is like the strategy of the peacock who eats poisonous plants. And it's said that the more poisonous plants the peacock eats, the brighter, more colorful feathers become. And so this is saying that we need to turn towards our emotions and really know them, experience them fully. And I think that practice, Zen practice, is doing all three methods at the same time, the antidote practice, emptiness practice, and transformation.

[30:16]

It's investigating reality, exposing our feelings in ourselves, our feelings to ourselves, practicing meditation, practicing with impermanence and emptiness, and being willing to take this step, taking this step from the pole by turning towards what's really difficult. In a practical day-to-day way, what this means to me is if what you want from your friend or your spouse, lover, whoever, if you want more openness, acceptance, and love, then you go first. You practice and demonstrate more acceptance, openness, and love. If you want the other person, if what you want in your life is to be more vulnerability,

[31:19]

more sharing, more risk-taking, if that's what you want from someone, then you do it. You demonstrate it. You go first. So this is a way in which your actions... I feel like this is an example of all three practices at the same time. This kind of behavior is acting as an antidote. It's having the courage to see the connections that we have, and it's turning towards what might be the most difficult thing for you to do, which is to actually act on and move toward what you most want. Seeing that everything is impermanent and not separate can be a great encouragement. And because our lives are so short, it doesn't mean that our actions and relationships are unimportant. In fact, I'd say it means just the opposite. Since our lives are so short, everything we do is quite significant. And the fact that we're not separate from others

[32:20]

doesn't mean that we shouldn't take things personally. In fact, I would say, again, just the opposite. Everything is personal. Take everything personally. Take everything as important. This koan says... It doesn't say, wait for the other person to step off the pole first. It says, step from the pole. I think what makes our most intimate relationship so challenging is that they demand that we apply all three of these methods, working with emotions. For many of us, our relationships... We find ourselves in situations that push us outside the limits of what our meditation practice has taught us, into territory where we bump into these ingrained habits of responding, of thinking, and of linking together feelings and responses. Our most intimate relationships have a way of touching our deepest and ingrained views.

[33:22]

Sometimes these strategies, again, these strategies, we bump into the ways that these strategies are so ingrained that they're survival strategies that we need to transform. And again, the way to transform them, turn towards them, act with what you really want. And I think, again, I think of Suzuki Roshi and the term... He uses the term beginner's mind. And, again, I feel like that's a word that's been so overused that it can stop having meaning. But what really is beginner's mind? What would it really mean to take our meditation practice into the world, to take that kind of risk-taking with the people that we're most close with, with the people we're most intimate with? Stepping from this pole in some way means

[34:24]

to step out from behind ourselves and from our habits. This doesn't mean stepping away from pain and confusion, but, again, stepping towards it. We can ask the people who we care most about, is there a way, is there some way that I'm hurting you? Is there a way that my words, that my actions are causing you pain? Please tell me. Please let me know how I can support you and be there for you. How can I express my love and care for you? Why is it so difficult to say these words, to talk to others in this way? What kind of armor do we have on that prevents us from being this real and this disclosing? What is the treasure that we're protecting and some idea that we have that we need to be safe, that we are afraid to shake things up

[35:26]

by coming out from behind ourselves? What do we think we'll lose? What would it really take for us to stop fooling ourselves, to breathe, to relax, and to step, take a step from this pole and leave our armor protection behind? When we penetrate and uncover and transform these emotions, we can see that we've already stepped, we've already stepped from the pole. Here we are, all together, working, working with our emotions, working with how to live the life of Buddha and how to live our own deepest, authentic, authentic selves, authentic lives. So I wrote down, maybe this is the,

[36:34]

maybe I should have been a school teacher because at the end I wrote down the key points to remember. This is for myself, but here's the key points to remember. I often sleep during lectures, so if you've been sleeping, here's what I said. It's great, especially, this is the only, this is the only place in America where you can talk and it's a good thing to be looking down and not at the speaker, you know, and it's kind of, it's okay. The points I wrote are, there's no other practice than working with emotions. Start by investigating reality. We all need meditation practice and we need to work with others, teachers in a community. Since life is so short, everything is important. Since we're all connected, take everything personally. Choose one practice and really do it and report back. Empathetic joy is the one that I recommend,

[37:37]

but there's lots to choose from. And notice your armor and put it away again and again. And I want to finish, I want to finish with a poem by Rilke, which I thought was just right for this topic. It says, I am too alone in the world and not alone enough to make every minute holy. I want to unfold. I don't want to stay folded anywhere because where I am folded, there I am a lie. And I want my grasp of things to be true. I want to describe myself like a painting that I looked at closely for a long time, like a saying that I finally understood,

[38:41]

like a picture that I use every day, like the face of my mother, like a ship that took me to safety through the wildest storm of all. Shall I read that again? I should say I'm cheating a little bit here. This poem, this is the first line of this poem, and then I took, it's a long poem that I took the first line of and a piece of. This is from, it's a Robert Bly translation, collected poems of Rilke. We probably have it here in the bookstore. And this is towards the beginning. I think they're numbered. This is like number seven or number eight, somewhere in and around there. I am too alone in the world and not alone enough to make every minute holy.

[39:41]

I want to unfold. I don't want to stay folded anywhere because where I am folded, there I am a lie. And I want my grasp of things to be true. I want to describe myself like a painting that I looked at closely for a long time, like a saying that I finally understood, like the picture I use every day, like the face of my mother, like a ship that took me to safety through the wildest storm of all. Thank you very much. We are.

[40:27]