One-Day Sitting Lecture

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Deshan and the old woman; the distortions of sexism, racism, others; the bodhisattva grandmother; devotion to zazen; bringing attention and support to the natural states/bodily conditions that are difficult

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A long time ago we used to have to yell, can you hear me in the back, but now we have this excellent sound system, I can just whisper. Is that okay? Before I continue I want to confess my misdeed of calling people into gassho during the food offering, the Buddha tray offering. So that's not the custom here. And so when do we actually bring out our bowls, there's the food offering and what's the signal for bringing out our bowls? After the second bump bump. I was just outside communing with the Quercus Agrippolia and the Remnus Californica, the


Narcissus, the Rosemary, right outside the Zendo here. Beautiful sunlit day, we must have some good reason to be indoors. Of course this room is built of sunlight and earth, with the help of water and atmosphere. These great wooden beams across the ceiling are put together from the efforts of pine trees and fir trees, redwoods, and the floor that we sit on comes from Douglas fir, again composed of sunlight and earth.


This morning in Zazen I said our practice of Zazen is to make a complete effort, a whole-hearted effort of body, mind, and spirit, and our effort is actually the same as the effort of the oak and the Douglas fir. Our practice of Shikantaza, or just sitting, we say just sitting or nothing but sitting, not adding any props, not adding any techniques, not adding any idea of getting someplace else. It is very similar to the practice of the oak tree simply receiving sunlight.


Of course if we're thinking that we need to get rid of props and get rid of techniques then that itself is not what we mean by Shikantaza. The effort to get rid of something would be actually contrary to our bodhisattva vow of awakening with all beings. So, given that we have no props and no techniques, we have props and techniques as needed, and Shikantaza can include all the resources that we can bring as needed. So, among our props and techniques we have many traditions, many forms, and many Zen stories.


One of my favorite stories is the story of Deshan and the old woman. And many of you have heard this story, and many of you have probably heard it many times. So, see if you can listen with a fresh mind. So, this was in 9th century China. Deshan was a scholar monk. He was well-versed in the Vinaya and well-versed in the Diamond Sutra and wrote commentaries on the Diamond Sutra. In the north of Sichuan, and when he heard that the Zen teachers in the south were saying that it's possible to realize the Buddha's mind in this lifetime, he was upset and felt some righteous indignation that people were belittling the Buddha Dharma.


So, with the thought that it was clear to him that even if people would practice many, many kalpas, millions of years, taking great care to observe all the details of mindfulness throughout the day for millions of years, even then they would not attain the Buddha way. So, he felt that he needed to go and straighten out these people and their delusion. And so, he traveled with his commentaries in his backpack. And at some point he came to a crossroads. And at the crossroads there was a little kiosk, a little stand with an old woman who was selling dim sum and tea. So, he went and set down his backpack and said he was interested in having some refreshment.


And the old woman looked him over and said, Ah, I wonder what you have in that backpack. And he said, Well, I have commentaries on the Diamond Sutra. I'm a teacher and a scholar of the Diamond Sutra. And she said, Oh, is that so? In that case, I have a question for you. And if you can answer it correctly, I'll give you my dim sum and tea free. And if you can't answer it correctly, then you'll have to go elsewhere. So, he said, Okay, that's fine. And she said, In the Diamond Sutra, it says that past mind cannot be grasped. Future mind cannot be grasped.


Present mind cannot be grasped. So, I ask you, scholar monk, with which mind will you refresh yourself with my dim sum? And Deshan was speechless. In his hesitation, according to some versions of this story, she said, You know, there's a Zen teacher not so far away from here. You might go see if he can help you. And to Deshan's credit, he thought maybe he could use a little guidance. And so he went to visit Longtan. Longtan means Dragon Pond or Dragon Marsh.


And you can still see by Deshan's attitude in his approach to Longtan, he says, when he arrived at the Dharma Hall with Longtan, he says, The name Longtan is greatly renowned. But here on arriving, there's no pond and I see no dragon. And Longtan simply says, You now have met Longtan. So, no dragon, no pond, Longtan. And Deshan stayed for some time, we're not sure how long, and studied with Longtan. And then there are various stories from there that I won't go into today.


But eventually, Deshan's sincerity led him to become a wonderful Dharma teacher, where he wasn't speechless in the face of a surprising question from an old woman. So what do we have here? We have, in this little story, we have many parts. We have, of course, we have Deshan. And we have his attitude, his righteousness, his conviction that he knew what was correct. And we have the Diamond Sutra. And we have the old woman, whose name we don't know. We have her question. We have Deshan's speechlessness.


And we have his sincerity, that he was willing to open up his questioning mind, his mind of inquiry. Whereas before, he thought he knew the answers. And then we have dragon pond. No dragon, no pond. So there are many points that we could open up in this one story. Today, I want to look a little bit more at the old woman. Years ago, I gave a talk here in this hall. And at the conclusion of the talk, I told a story about my grandmother, actually. And at the conclusion of the talk, I said that I felt that it was time, at that time,


for men to stop talking, and for women to expound the Dharma. Since then, at San Francisco Zen Center, we've had two women as abbess. For a while, for two women as the leaders of San Francisco Zen Center, at the same time, with Blanche Hartman and Linda Ruth Cutts. I don't think that that necessarily means everything is in balance, but that I do feel okay. At this point, and I know as the elders discussed whether to invite me to be in the role of abbess, part of the deliberation had to do with gender. We have many, say, biases in our culture, which distorts our own perceptions.


From the time we were very young, our deceptions, as we adopt some of the prevailing notions of our culture, we fail to see things any other way. Just as Deshaun could only see things one way, until he was stopped with a question. I also want to note that it's Black History Month. We need to have a Black History Month in this country because of the cultural bias and distortion around racism. It's like a hidden wound that needs to be brought to our attention from time to time. And it's, I would say, an extreme example of the kind of distortion that we call delusion


when we say our four vows and we vow to end delusions. Moment by moment we may notice some delusions that arise, some that are not so obvious or that are so ingrained. We may not notice until someone really calls it to our attention. In a staff meeting this week, I sat in on the staff meeting and listened to some discussion about how to make this place accessible for someone in a wheelchair. So we tend to build things and assume that, OK, this works for people, and not realize that we have a bias. Until someone calls it to our attention. And then, how do we respond? So here in this story we have the old woman.


We don't know her name because of the cultural bias in China at the time, I think. I regard her, though, as being a real Zen teacher. Someone who has taken her practice, can you imagine? Working in the dim sum shop day after day, year after year, paying close attention to who comes in the door. Most people who come in the door would have no idea what the old woman is capable of. No idea of how alert she is. To them she's just the person who takes their order and serves the dim sum. If they're paying attention, they may notice some aliveness or lightness in her.


But she's not making a big deal out of it. Only when someone who is ready for her question arrives, does she reveal her deep compassion and her alertness. A couple of weeks ago I was at a training for priests. And part of our study was looking at our own spiritual path. But the question of who contributed to our own sense that there was such a thing as, say, truth. Integrity. Integrity. A sense of deep trust. Many people had a very difficult experience with their parents.


Didn't feel that they could trust their parents and had good reason not to trust their parents. Many people, some people had not really even lived with their parents growing up. And some people having lived with their parents found it painful and actually frightening and confusing. It was interesting to me, though, that most people had some person in their life who they felt they could trust. Someone who actually accepted them as the truth of their being. So I thought of that as the Bodhisattva grandmother.


The Bodhisattva grandmother archetype, because there are a number of grandmothers that people mention. And I myself am very fortunate to have a grandmother who I didn't recognize until I'd been practicing Zen for many years. I didn't realize how wise she was and how she had influenced me. I want to tell one story about my grandmother's teaching. It always moves me when I tell it, so I'll see if I can get through it. I feel actually a little more emotional being here. After our opening ceremony the day before yesterday, when we walked around Green Gulch making offerings at various altars,


when I came out of the office and towards the Zen Do, and I looked over the Zen Do roof and the magnificent pine tree right over here that we built the Angala roof around, it just was so vivid and powerful. Tears came to my eyes. So my grandmother, Olga, she was pretty quiet most of the time. This was a Germanic patriarchal family. My ancestors came from Switzerland. They were Anabaptists,


persecuted in the 16th century and moved around Europe and then into Russia. And then came from Russia to Kansas in 1873. All those years, I think, the head of the household was understood to be the male and the woman had to take some lower position. My grandmother inherited that. She even had to take a lower position to her sons, one of whom was my father. When I was maybe 13 or 14, we acquired a new riding horse, a mare named Hilarious Lady.


And she had been trained as a barrel racing horse. It's here the quarter horse thoroughbred mix. I was a relatively inexperienced rider and my father said, okay, with this new horse you can ride around the yard, which is between the barns and around one's shed, and past the garden, but don't take her out into the pasture because she'll probably get away from you. So I rode around this yard, I rode around this yard, I rode around the yard, walking and trotting, walking. After a while my grandmother came out and she sat down on a stump that was there at the edge of the garden


and she watched me come by a couple of times and then she raised her hand and signaled for me to stop and said, why are you just riding around here in the yard? I said, well, dad said not to take her out into the pasture. He wanted me to just, he thought that would be too much or something and she said, oh, oh, I see. So I continued and rode around, around a couple more times and then she raised her hand again and she said, you know, I've been wondering if there's water in the reservoir in the pasture. And I said, yeah, yes, grandma, I'm sure there's water in the reservoir. She said, well, I really would like to have it checked. So would you take the horse out and check,


see if there's water in the reservoir? So I did a little computation, you know, and I thought, dad said not to take the horse out there, but she's dad's mother. So if he has a problem with it, I can put it on her. She knows that dad said not to do it. So I said, okay. So I took the horse out into the pasture and and rode out to the reservoir and sure enough, there was water in the reservoir. Then I turned the horse and as I turned her, she took off running. And she had the bit in her teeth. Those of you who are riders know that to the point


if the horse has a bit in their teeth, it was impossible for me to get it out of her teeth. She was racing full tilt and I was yelling, whoa, whoa, whoa, which had absolutely no effect. And then we came to a little creek, the creek that fed into the reservoir. And I thought, what's she going to do? And she leaped the creek. At that point, I almost lost it. I was riding bareback. Grabbed a handful of her mane and hung on. And she kept running at a full gallop. And then I realized I was riding. I was flying. I had a minute maybe,


maybe 30 seconds of pure joy. And then we were coming to the end of the pasture and there was a fence. And I thought, she jumped the creek. What's she going to do? Is she going to jump the fence? So I again tried to get her to slow down and had no effect. And we charged right up to the fence and I was thinking, she's going to jump the fence. But instead, she planted all four feet and skidded to a stop. And then I slid up over her neck and overhead and landed on the ground right in front of her. And I picked myself up and dusted myself off and she was just standing there. Grabbed the reins, found a place where I could get back on and took her in hand this time and rode back to Grandma.


And I said, Grandma, there is water in the reservoir. And she just nodded and said, now you can ride anywhere. So, it wasn't until years later that I realized that she understood that I needed to be liberated from my father who was a very loving person but also was a kind of a tyrant in a way. So when I think of Deshan and the old woman,


and that old woman, I see my grandmother. So in these Zen stories, it's helpful. Some of them seem arcane and distant but it's helpful to find some image, some person, some experience in your own life that can bring that story alive for you. So this old woman I think of as being a real Zen student. Someone who was practicing mindfulness day by day, moment by moment. But someone who was not limited to


some particular form. She was taking her practice right out into the marketplace. Who knows how many people she helped in myriad ways to find some balance in their own dharma path which is unique to each person. So I want to support each of you to find your own true place in your own dharma path. Again, it may be good to chant the Metta Sutta. Sometimes it may be good to chant the Heart Sutra. To understand that you actually can't understand,


you can't realize the truth of Avalokiteshvara. Seeing through form and emptiness without a loving heart. Today we're emphasizing Zazen. One day sitting. Until dinner time. So please pour your whole body, mind and spirit into your Zazen. With that intention you'll begin to notice the way that you are and the ways in which you fail to do that. You'll begin to notice because of your deep intention you can notice that there may be some part of you who's not so


willing to be present. That's hesitant or tentative. Faced with the question of your life there may be some part of you that's speechless like Deshan. Suzuki Roshi once gave a talk in which he said that any part of your body that's having some trouble sitting can be recognized and all the other parts of your body can bring encouragement and support to that part. So if your knee is not so willing to be fully present then bring some attention to it. If you have some emotional state


that's distressing bring some attention to it. But can you do that without being overwhelmed by it? Without being say, distracted from your intention by it? So always have that question and then come back to your stable, centered grounded quality of mind. And only from there can you actually be very helpful. So I think my grandmother and the old tea woman were working from a grounded, centered pretty clear and loving place.


And those qualities are all essential. And those are qualities that we all have. But sometimes they're covered up. Sometimes we lose that say, access to those qualities and we need to stop. Just like Deshan was invited to stop. . [...] So I think I'll stop with that. And we have time I think for some questions comments if there are any. . . .


. . . Yes, darling? . . . Olga . . . Olga Lorine Crabel Stuckey . [...] I very much appreciate you talking about the importance of hearing women's voices at a time when the United States is going through somewhat of a tense upheaval, and we feel that that's changed. And also that it's Black History Month. And I wanted to also mention that I think it's today, it's the anniversary of the Japanese-American


incitement to the death and killing of so many thousands of Japanese-Americans in California. I have commemorations. This is the anniversary of the edict of internment. What's that? Executive Order 966. Thanks for that. Yeah, so that was an extreme time. But actually, we're living in some extreme times. Yes. No, just speak up.


I can hear you speak up a little bit. Everyone can hear. Something like that. I was just reading again that board that was put by Dr. DeCloyer. I mean, it's a good account. Many, many instances of enlargement monsters. In there, what?


I wanted to say something about our own black history. It's, you know, the black history, yeah, and the transitions that we've had up there, the monsters who were in our perspective, now we're trying to do their own. And we're trying to stop the transgressions. We're just trying to ease black history. I'm sorry. I'm just trying to finish reading that board. Is there a particular question?


No. You can feel it, the question about our present and family of life and past lives. I'm not getting anywhere with part two. I'm just going to prepare the things that come down here in the series. I'm not getting anywhere with part three. Thank you.


Well, I thank you for bringing that forward. I think it's important to acknowledge that, quote, enlightenment, unquote, is no excuse for harmful behavior. And I think we really have to be careful about, say, identifying a person with the term enlightenment as if that somehow removes them from karma. So we say that we're all enlightened. That's not said lightly.


We are all enlightened. In our Zen school, we tend to emphasize that particular interpretation of Buddha's awakening, seeing all beings as enlightened beings. So that actually puts us all on the same level. And then we all have work to do to see how we tend to not really live up to our true nature. My understanding of Sangha is that it's an invitation for us to ask each other, what are you doing? We're all making vows as a Sangha to live in the best, clearest,


most compassionate way. And we're all equal in Sangha. Although, at given times, like today, I'm sitting up in front, that doesn't mean that my practice is superior to yours. So I want to, I think, look at errors of the past, misdeeds of the past, as an opportunity for us to clarify our practice, our understanding. And that means that we have to acknowledge them. That's the place to begin. One of Samantabhadra's ten vows is to always, continuously,


confess misdeeds of the past. So even Samantabhadra, great bodhisattva of activity, is always confessing misdeeds of the past. That really needs to happen before we can deepen our study, deepen our inquiry. Anytime we codify something, you know, it's not quite true. Hafiz, the Sufi poet, says, if I can remember, says that all the great religions are like big ships. Poets are like lifeboats.


Every sane person I know has jumped overboard. That's good for business, isn't it, Hafiz? So part of the role of a poet, I think, is to speak the truth. A poet like Prophet speaks the truth in the face of whatever is conventional, whatever is authority, whatever is reified. Listen to the fresh breeze. Yeah, one more. And there was someone here too, is that right? Yeah. He's been holding his hand up for a long time, I think,


and then we'll come back to you. I was wondering how you might answer the old woman's question. There's two vendors' questions. Ask me the question. The mind cannot grasp the past. The mind cannot grasp the future. The mind cannot grasp the present. Therefore, with which mind will you grasp the key? But that was in the past. What's the question right now? With which mind will I... With which mind will you grasp the Dharma? The mind that looks into your eyes right now. If we believe it,


then we don't see what's happening. And I feel that the consequences of our being only arise if we have in our mind somebody. I mean, this is different pieces of what I've heard in different places. Which is why I'm a little confused. And if the intention of the founder is to say what are you doing? How does our practice help us to become aware of how can we say that's what we're acting and contemplating upon? Certifying what we mean to mean later on others because they're different. Is there a place for people to keep asking what am I doing to kind of have somebody else see my behavior that might have negative consequences? If only our intentions


count, how can we ask and believe it? Am I completely comfortable? Someone's saying only our intentions count? Yeah. If you intend to cause harm, then you cause harm. No, I understand. I understand. I don't buy that, that only our intentions count. Our intentions are an important factor but the actual action, your intention may be a deluded intention. You may think that you're being helpful and at the same time you're not being skillful and you're actually causing damage. And so that's why we need each other. And we need to ask how do you see what I'm doing? One more.


Devon. Breath. It's a gift. It's a gift. Do you want more? Yes. Well, let's see, when I say body, mind and spirit, there's ways in which we tend to think of body and mind as things. We tend to objectify body,


tend to objectify mind even. So I say spirit to go beyond that. Spirit is not separate from body and separate from mind as I see it, but spirit is to evoke the flow, the energy, the quality of, when I said breath, the gift of this moment. It's wonderful to realize that we are not just our bodies. We are not just our thoughts. In that


section of the Diamond Sutra that talks about past, present, future, mind cannot be grasped, the Buddha stated that we are talking about streams of thought that someone who is awake can actually see streams of thought. Because there are streams of thought, there is no thought. Because there is no thought, there is no mind that can be grasped. So this is a sense of spirit. That's something that is another way of looking at the reality that we experience but cannot be grasped. And so . . .


It's not another reality. It's the same reality. It's another way of perceiving. Another way of understanding this inconceivable world that we live in. So words are a little clumsy but we need them. And today I said spirit. Another day I may say something else. So the Diamond Sutra says because there are no streams of thought we talk about streams of thought. That's the logic of Mahayana. I think the genius of Mahayana. Maybe that's enough


for today. I hope that you're all encouraged in your sitting and that you stay right with your whole being, your breath, your body, your feelings, moment by moment. May our intention . . .