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Sunday Lecture: zen as a return to Buddha's natural questioning, rather than a religious institution with fancy temples, robes, statues, etc

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Good morning. There's a crazy Kazan tradition. Who is it? Who thus comes? Well, I'm Lou Richmond. I used to live here a long time ago. I was ordained by Suzuki Roshi a long time ago. My day job, I have a small software company. My dharma job, I have a small sitting group in No Valley called the Vinaya Sangha. More information about which is probably out on the table.


So, does that answer the question? No, not entirely. That's one way. Let's try again. I'm the person giving the talk. I'm up in the high seat with my special robes, talking to you and you're not talking to me. I'm supposed to know something, you're here to learn something. Is that it? No, not completely. Let's try again. I'm an ordained Buddhist priest. So, what that means is my primary job in life, my vow, is to help other people practice the dharma.


Over and above my own needs. So actually, I'm kind of a servant here. I'm not really sitting on the high seat. I'm sitting on the low seat and you're sitting on the high seat. And I'm here to do whatever you want. In a very humble way, I hope I can do a good job. So, is that it? Maybe we're getting a little bit closer. I think all of those things are true in a certain sense. The last one is probably the most true. It's getting closer. And that's the arena I want to spring off from today. More that I'm not the boss.


I'm not here to deliver something that I think will be useful. I'm here to be with you and to have you help me figure out what to do. The problem with all religions, once they get going, is that they seem like they're something. So, Buddhism seems like something. And it seems hard to imagine that you could know much about Buddhism unless you read the Buddhist scriptures. But here's the deal. The Buddha did not read the Buddhist scriptures because they hadn't been written at the time that he lived. So, he didn't have that advantage. In fact, he didn't know anything about Buddhism because it didn't yet exist. The same is true for Jesus. Jesus didn't study the Bible because the Bible's about him. So, the Zen tradition, which was kind of a late arising in Buddhist history in China after Buddhism had been going for several centuries


and had beautiful temples with great big beautiful Buddhas like this, and lots of rituals and ceremonies and fancy silk robes like this, it seemed like that's what Buddhism was. And some of the best and brightest of that time, people who might have been nuclear physicists or something in our age, started asking themselves, well, let's see, wait a minute, did the Buddha have a big temple like this? Did he bow to gold statues? No, I don't think so. I think the Buddha was a prince, a person of privilege. He left that environment and went out into the forest by himself with rags and lived on almost nothing and sat down under a tree, basically. So, well, we can do that.


We can do that. We don't need these big temples and all these scriptures and all these holy things. Why don't we do what the Buddha did? Let's try that. Let's try that. So that was the Zen or Chan as a kind of movement starting in the 7th century A.D. It was a kind of reactive tradition, very roughly like St. Francis or somebody like that, who said, you know, even though St. Francis also was a wealthy man originally, you know, it occurred to him at some point that Jesus didn't wear ermine capes and all the things that the church had. And so he walked out of his palace and just like the Buddha, he tried to live like Jesus might have lived. So what I'm leading up to is that authentic or transformative Dharma,


as opposed maybe, not opposed to, but to the one side of maybe popular or worshipping Dharma, begins with a question of some kind. Always with a question. And it's not a question that is foreign to any of you. It's the same question for all human beings. In the case of the Buddha, Gautama, we'll call him Gautama. That was his family name. The question was, once he actually got out of his palace and saw how people lived in 5th century B.C. India, why do people have to live this way? Why do people suffer? Why do people fight? What's the fundamental reason why that's so? And that was his question. And we went to all the religious teachers of the time and essentially presented that question. And he was sharp enough and trusted his own question enough not to be satisfied with the answers that he got.


So eventually he went off by himself and sat under a tree and came to his own conclusions. So that sounds like the beginning of Buddhism. That's the founding myth of Buddhism. Who knows whether it ever happened literally, but it happens. And it's happened actually for the last, who knows, 2 million years that we've been around. This is the great perennial drama of searching for fundamental answers to fundamental questions. Just a few other question stories. Bodhidharma was the legendary founder of Zen in China, an Indian monk who came to China and supposedly sat in a cave facing the wall for nine years. I love these myths, they're great. He wondered when he ever went to the bathroom or something.


And his student, who we call the second ancestor Hui Ke, came and wanted to ask a question of this great yogin, this great saint. And again the legend has it that he stood outside the cave in the winter in the snow and the snow rose higher and higher. And finally Bodhidharma turned to him and said, well, what do you want? And Hui Ke said something like, I've been, what's the nature of my mind or something like that. And Bodhidharma said, well, bring me your mind and I'll explain it to you. And Hui Ke said, well, I've been searching and searching and I can't find it. And Bodhidharma said, well, there, I've settled it for you. And that's a great teaching story in our tradition.


Another one, the sixth ancestor, Hui Nung, who was really the one who popularized Zen in China, was an illiterate woodcutter who came to a great temple of the fifth ancestor. I forget his Chinese name. Do I remember the fifth ancestor's name? It doesn't matter, fifth ancestor. And there were all these monks wearing robes like this, beautiful statues, big, big temple. And this guy kind of was, not only was he illiterate and a woodcutter, but he was from the south. Barbarian land in this part of China. People from the south were considered beneath contempt. So he was a real bedraggled person. And he wandered in and somehow informally happened upon the fifth ancestor. Fifth ancestor said, well, who are you? Where are you from?


And Hui Nung said, I'm from the south and I've come here because I want to be a Buddha. So that's a kind of question. What does that mean? He's bringing a question that he's had for a long time. And the fifth ancestor said, you're a southern barbarian, aborigine. How can you be a Buddha? And Hui Nung said, well, people may be from the north or the south, but what difference is there with respect to their Buddha nature? Right then, the fifth ancestor realized this guy was no ordinary person. And the story goes from there. He was a lay person. He was not a priest. He was not tutored in any way. He was just an ordinary human being who had a question. And in the Zen world, that takes precedence over everything. It takes precedence over whose robes, over my evolution.


Over my exalted status as a disciple of Suzuki Roshi or whatever you may think. These statues, this hall, this place. All that really matters is the question, your question. So what I thought I might do today, and I'm giving you a little bit of advance warning. We do have a question and answer after the official lecture here after tea. But I thought, well, that's fine. Let's do that. But let's also play around with having a little question and answer right here. At least for a little while. So I'll talk for a little while longer, and then I'd like to turn the floor over to my bosses, you. And I'll let you do what everybody in Buddhism has always done, is ask the question that's in your heart. So I'll give you a little time to think about that.


A little bit of guidance here. We have a room of 100 people, so short is the Roch word, short. Also, not too personal. Maybe in question and answer or privately, we could deal with personal things. The kinds of questions that we're interested in, in the Dharma, in Buddhism, are not necessarily so personal like, why am I fighting so much with my boyfriend or something? But why do human beings fight at all? That would be more what we're interested in. Something more universal, something that we all share. And maybe something that we think might not just be your question, but someone else's question or everybody's question. So the question is not just a private question, but more of a public question. Like the questions I mentioned are questions anybody with a heart could have asked.


Not just those people. So Dogen, the founder of our lineage in Japan, his question was kind of interesting, a little different. By that time, Buddhism was very, very well established and lots and lots of scriptures and literature. And so he wasn't coming, you might say, with a naked question. Like, why do human beings suffer? His question came out of those scriptures. The scriptures teach that all beings without exception are endowed with the nature of a Buddha. So, like any good Buddhist, he didn't take that at face value and just say, okay, well, it's in the scriptures, so I'll just go with that. He said, well, wait a minute. I don't see that. I don't see that in myself. I don't see that in other human beings. Where is this nature of a Buddha that we're all supposed to be endowed with? Why do we have to work so hard, practice in such difficult ways to realize that?


So his question came both from a kind of faith, he trusted what the scriptures said, and a kind of doubt in the sense that maybe it was true, but it wasn't true for him. So he was a very sincere and also very insightful person. A little bit like Einstein. At the time that Einstein was learning physics, Newtonian mechanics was the law of the universe, but there were certain anomalies in the experiments that couldn't be explained. And so on one level, Einstein accepted that Newtonian mechanics was true, but he also had the intuition to realize that there was something that wasn't quite explained by that. So it's very much like Gauguin. Gauguin was kind of a Buddhist Einstein. He was very smart. He read the entire canon of Buddhism, which is about 30 volumes of stuff by the time he was nine years old, so it was said.


So real smarty pants. He realized later it didn't help him at all. And I can vouch for that. What I really like about the Quang Nhung story, The Sixth Patriarch, the one who was an illiterate woodcutter, is that it's also a kind of story about status or role. He had no status. Not only he wasn't a monk, not only wasn't he illiterate, he wasn't even from the North, where civilized people lived. He was from the South. So the story, which is concocted and probably isn't true in any literal sense, but it's a wonderful story about the externals of what we see that human beings are. Oh, you know, the person giving the lecture must know something,


or Buddhist priests are more enlightened than lay people, or something like that. So the story really magnifies the notion that he was a complete, utter nobody. In fact, it goes further, and when it turns out that there's a kind of verse competition with the head monk of this Thousand Monk Temple, and the head monk writes a poem, and then Quang Nhung writes a poem, and it turns out that Quang Nhung is the one that's given the transmission from the master, not the head monk, but this guest student, who newly arrived, rice-pounding nobody. People wanted to kill him, and they chased after him. In fact, there was a monk there who used to be a high general. He led the contingent to get this guy, this imposter. You see the wonderful drama of the story. There's a general in the monastery, he's kind of like Colin Powell or something,


and he's going to get this guy. And then there's this great story where they catch up with Quang Nhung, and Quang Nhung has the precious robe and bowl given to him by his master, and the general says, Give us that robe and bowl, you imposter, or we'll kill you. So then the story gets kind of magical. Quang Nhung puts the robe and the bowl in a rock, and he says, Fine, take it if you want it. So they go to take it, and it's like King Arthur, they can't lift it, they can't get it off the rock. And so then the general is transformed, and he bows down and he says, I'm really not here to kill you, I'm here for the Dharma. And then he has a question. There's a great dialogue that ensues from that. So the notion of a deep question or a real question, an authentic question that's outside of any sense of external roles or who wears the robes or who's got the goods, is a real fundamental theme of our particular tradition,


and I think all of Buddhism too, and I think all of religion. There are always people like St. Francis or Meister Eckhart, or people that somehow are so true, so deeply true to the essence of their tradition that people get very suspicious of them, burn them at the stake, want to kill them, call them heretics, all of that, all of that. So I'm here to tell you that today nobody's a heretic, there won't be any generals running after you if you ask the wrong question. There are no wrong questions. Everything that I learned the hard way when Suzuki Roshi was alive, and I think we all go through this, I'm not just telling you my story, I had the sense he was such an impressive person and so exotic at that time


in his robes and the way he was, a real Zen master, that I was intimidated, at least in public, from asking the real questions that were in my heart. I think I was proud too, I didn't want to be embarrassed, I wanted to be a smart guy who already knew it, you know what I'm talking about, it's that kind of feeling. So he died, of course, when we were all rather young, and I think that more and more as I grow older I have a feeling of regret that I was too young and too proud and too much of a whippersnapper to expose myself because there are so many things I would like to ask him now, and I can't. So I'm inviting you, not that I'm anything like him, as I say I'm your servant and who knows what I know, maybe nothing, but I'm inviting you, and in the end it's not about the answer, it's about the question, and I can't actually answer any of your questions, really.


That's something, a little bit of the point, when Hoika said, I can't settle my mind, and he says, well, show me your mind. It's not like Bodhidharma actually answered anything, he just turned the search back on the person themselves and he was able to answer his own questions. So don't have any high hopes for me, please. This is more of a process or ancient enactment of something that we've been doing as human beings since we lived in caves or not in caves. When am I supposed to end? Okay, it's a quarter of now. Let me see if I have anything more to say,


anything more to distract you before I open things up. Oh, when you ask your question, if you're sitting in a chair, stand up and speak in a loud voice so that everybody can hear. And I'm going to repeat the question so that it gets onto the tape, so it won't just sound like I'm speaking in outer space about something. And please, I don't want to make this at all highfalutin, I want to make this very comfortable and just ask anything you want or say anything you want. And let's do something together that's very basic. Some of you maybe have a sitting practice, some of you don't. Some of you have been coming here for years. Some of you are coming for the first time. It doesn't matter. You're all here for some reason, I can't imagine why. It's so nice outdoors. But I talked to a woman just before the lecture


who had been here for one day and had taken a kind of retreat from her life. And the first thing she remarked, which we all remarked, is how beautiful it is here, the gardens and the land and the ocean. And I was here when I was involved in the leadership when Zen Center bought the land, and it was kind of overwhelming. And all modesty aside, it's probably one, if not the most beautiful piece of real estate in California and probably one of the four or five most beautiful pieces of Buddhist real estate in the world. So we're all very lucky to be here. And the temple itself is a teaching, and the land itself is a teaching. And I know that maybe one of the reasons you all come here is to soak some of that up. And it's why do people who live here, live here? I lived here for seven years, so it's like coming home to be here. And look at all the trees and how big they are and everything. And the same old planks that I used to walk over and little scratches on the wood.


You know, I know everything. Well, I think that's really all I have to say until you have something to say. So what's on your mind today? Let's just start. I like to start way in the back because they always get ignored, so you, yes. Oh, good. You really start big, don't you? Well, what? Oh, yes, sorry. Yeah, keep reminding me because I'm absent-minded. He said, what is the Buddha way? Well, what have you come up with so far?


All right. Uh-huh. Not really. Well, he's talking about a famous case in one of the Koan collections.


What is the way? What is the path? Ordinary mind is the path and so on. It's a very, very famous teaching story. Yeah, well, I mean, it's replicated. It's a core teaching, not just in Zen. Well, your question was, what is the Buddha way? The Buddha way is to live with a story like that until it opens up for you. That's the Buddha way, for you anyway. Yes, oh, let's see, I want to start from the back and move forward. So if you're in the back, you have an advantage. Yes, way back there. No, no, you're it. You're the one. Everybody's interested in the Dharma.


That's one of the things you start to realize. Even Saddam Hussein is interested in the Dharma, believe it or not, somehow. Oh, you be the one. Tell me every time to repeat it. That's your job. She said, in terms of being a humble servant, like I said about a priest. Maybe I make sure I understand your question right. What about people that are interested in the Dharma? What about them? Is that your question? Am I a humble servant of those people too? Absolutely. Do I consider myself a humble servant of people who have no interest in Buddhism? Yes, I do. See, I can do it, answer questions. Yes, no. Yes?


Mm-hmm. Good question, yeah. She said she goes around to various centers and she doesn't see very many people of color, minorities and so forth. Mostly white people, right? Mostly well-off white people. And so how can we open the Dharma up more to people of color? So... Do you have any suggestions? I bet you do, actually. Go ahead. Mm-hmm. Aha. Aha. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I just had a... when you said that, that you were from Nicaragua, I remember...


Guatemala. Guatemala. Guatemala. Well, anyway, I remember a story about when I was here as a teacher, you know, living here, giving talks more regularly. We used to have a question and answer over in the Wheelwright Center over there. And at the time, you know, it was the Iran-Contra time, there was a big war going on in Central America. And somebody asked me with some heat, really, what the devil does all of what you're talking about have to do with what's happening in my country? I can't remember whether they were Nicaraguan or Guatemalan, but you know, they were Central American. And I really didn't know how to answer the question. I don't think I answered the question very well at all. I think I was stumped. So, now's my chance to do better. Well, I think you're right. I think that... I think the clue in what you said about, oh, there should be more Spanish speakers, I think that when there are more leaders of Dharma who are people of color, then quite naturally, they will attract more people of color.


So, that's one practical answer. I agree with that completely. Other than that, I don't really know. I think many of the Buddhist centers have developed or put together some kind of diversity committees or diversity outreach, and they're working on it. I know that Spirit Rock is, and I think Business Center has some things. So, I think that we're aware of it, and we're working on it. Does anybody who's involved with that have anything to explain? Pru, how's it going in Zen Center? Questioner's question is inaudible.


Questioner's question is inaudible. Oh, okay. I didn't know that, too. Uh-huh. Yes? Questioner's question is inaudible. Questioner's question is inaudible. Well, what I'm getting from all of you, thank you all for explaining these things, I think that the essential effort is to ask people of color, and actually not think we know something, but just ask, what would work? What would make things better or more welcoming, or how can we serve you in a more authentic way?


So, ask the question and listen to what the answers are, I think is probably the basic of what you're saying. And that's what I've been saying all day, really. So, something else? Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.


I'm not sure I can repeat all of that, but you started by, you heard something on the radio about lucid dreaming, and let me see if I got the sense right, that you're wondering what's the point of all of these special practices, and there are many of them, lucid dreaming is a practice that comes out of the Tibetan tradition, if ordinary mind is the point, as the story says. Well, it doesn't, translations are always such an important issue with these stories, it doesn't exactly say ordinary mind, like just schleppy mind, walking down the street, keep on trucking. The feeling is more like basic mind, or ground mind, or fundamental mind, or something like that. That's the feeling of the story. So, which includes schleppy mind. It's more like, Suzuki Roshi used the term big mind, because that was not very technical,


and you could get a feeling for that, big mind, including everything. Just a second, I'll call on you next. In a pure sense, we don't need anything to rest in our big mind, it's right here. But, this was Dogen's question, this is exactly Dogen's question, as I told you, if that's so, why do we act the way that we do, why are we so confused, why are we so deluded, why do we kill each other, why do we lie to each other, why do we live that way? Clearly, that basic mind is not, it may be there, but it's not being manifested in the way that we live.


So, to have faith in that that basic mind is at the root of who we are, and have the honesty to admit that we're not able to manifest or live in it, means that we have to do some work, and that's where all the special practices come in. Lucid dreaming is not part of our practice, but you could say that Zazen is a kind of lucid dreaming, it includes it. Have you ever done a long retreat where you said a lot of Zazen? Well, those of you who have know that dreaming is part of it. So, our basic practice is to sit still and rest in that basic mind and let it work on itself. But, over the centuries, the various traditions of Buddhism have come up with lots of different slants on how to do that. So, that's where you can read Buddhist books, there are 10,000 in English, and there's all these confusing practices, myriads of them, and they can confuse you.


So, in the end, that's the point of the story about the illiterate woodcutter, he didn't know any of that. He hadn't read any of the 10,000 books, he just walked in and said basically just what you said to the Master. So, that's why the question is much more important than the details. I see you're smiling, so maybe I've done something good. Yes, in the back there, you had raised your hand. Right, yeah, right.


Yes. It's a wonderful thing to worry about, and I laud your sincerity in being willing to expose that. I've heard that same question so many times. It's a universal question, universal question for people who practice. So, yes. See, I have special radar hearing, it's a special power I've developed. I can hear these questions even when none of you can. The question was, let me see if I can hone it down. A lot of times when he's doing Zazen, he's focused on the future, on planning, on how to develop himself,


be a good person, how to help the world, and all those things that we do. And every so often, he comes to rest, like when you're chopping vegetables in the kitchen. Do you have to leave? Are you in the kitchen? Yeah, let's stay for this. Yeah, you're the questioner, so you're excused from the kitchen. And you have a concern about, are you just going to come to rest in some kind of meditation space where you're not ever going to develop or do anything useful or socially active? Is that roughly what you said? Won't be focused on helping others. Well, actually, Buddhism historically has had a real problem with that. It is, you know, the side of Buddhism that's meditation oriented, that's inward looking, can easily slip off into being something self-indulgent. It can. So that's an acknowledgment that we have to be on the guard about that.


But let me go back to the very beginning of what you said. If I remember what you said, it was something like, a lot of times in Zazen, you feel like you're focused on the future. But those thoughts about the future, when are those thoughts happening? They're happening at the present. So when we say the future, it's not like there really is a future out there. It's like it's a certain kind of thought that's happening in the present that you're paying attention to. Would you agree? Yeah. So actually, all of our thoughts happen in the present because that's the only time that there is. And even the present is emotion. There's no present. The time I've taken to say the word present, it's already in the past, right? So the key point here is, what do we pay attention to?


Where is our attention focused? That's the issue, not past, present, or future, but what are we paying attention to? What are we putting energy into? And what's the intention of that? That's the key point from the standpoint of practice. And if the intention of practice is to find a way to escape from the intractable suffering and existential confusion that is our world, then it's not actually Buddhism at that point. It's something else. What makes it Buddhism, what makes it the path, is that we never stop paying attention to that. And we understand that that's all happening now. So what's happening now includes plans. There's an appropriate time for plans. There's an appropriate time for paying attention to chopping vegetables in the kitchen.


There's an appropriate time to sit. So I appreciate that you're thinking about that. Don't ever stop thinking about that, and then you'll be okay. Because that was the Buddha's question. That's what impelled him to leave the palace, was just your question. And what made him become the Buddha was that he never stopped focusing on that question. But at the same time, he spent many years sitting under a tree. So what's that all about? Very powerful. Let me just time check here, 11.05. I think we have time for maybe two more. The two of you maybe get the jackpot. So first you, and then you. I really like that.


I don't have anything to add, but I will remember to repeat the question. And you help me nod if I'm doing well, and shake your head if I get it wrong. Wait, water. Your question makes me thirsty. What I got from what you said is that's what we're all doing. And we have to each find our own way to that, just like the Buddha did. Is that pretty much what you said? Yeah, I agree. Thank you. We each have to find our own way. And at the same time, we need to take advantage of and benefit from those who have come before and the hints that they left us, never forgetting that those hints are not us.


Those hints are hints. It's still your path. It's still your problem and always will be. And I can't help you at all in the end, as much as I'd like to. Thank you. This is the last one. Sorry. It's a mystical experience I'm having. Sorry. Datasei Zazen in mindfulness is an extraordinary experience. We have a saying...


Oh. He asked. I understand that in the Soto tradition, we don't put a lot of emphasis on mystical experiences. Do you mean by that like enlightenment or something? Kensho experience, yes. Kensho means to see your nature. And what's my view on that or what would I have to say about that? Well, what I said, I still stand by. Just being right here, you and I talking, is beyond extraordinary. As to the Soto approach and what you said, that's a common understanding. In Soto, they don't emphasize enlightenment or satori or something. In some other schools of Zen, they do. That's not really very accurate.


And probably to really answer that question well, maybe you should come to question and answer and I'll take the time to really go into it. But I'll just try to answer very briefly. Kensho means to see our mind, the nature of our mind, our fundamental mind. To see meaning to grasp it in a way that changes our life. And to say that's not important is basically to throw out all the Buddhism in the trash can because that's the essence of what Buddhism is. So it is important. But what we have to guard against is to treat it like something that we can get or something that we want or a possession or something. Because that actually is the core problem that the Buddha tried to solve. So if we start treating spiritual opening itself like something to get, then we destroy the whole thing.


So to put it in the terms that my teacher Suzuki Roshi would say, we practice without gaining idea or gaining motivation. But that doesn't mean there's no accomplishment, no transformation. It's a very subtle point and worth a lot more than I can say about it right now. But I think that the notion that, oh, Soto Zen, we don't care about. I wouldn't call it mystical experience. Enlightenment is not a mystical experience or Kensho is not. I don't like the word enlightenment. Bad word. Kensho is much more accurate. It means something quite precise. That's not a mystical experience. It's beyond mystical experiences. It's more like... that. Do you want me to be mystical about that? No.


I don't think so. But we say in Zen, and Dogen said, quoting Raymond Pond, the small miracle is celestial Buddhas, great enlightenment experiences, wonderful arisings of vast fields of myriads of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, universes, the sands of the Ganges. That's the small miracle. The big miracle is chopping wood and carrying water. That's the big miracle. That's our answer. Beautiful. I saw them. I hung out in the kitchen for a while before I came to the spa, gone to the spa, watching things here, and I saw them carrying water out for the tea, and cups too,


that we're going to have now. And it was so beautiful. Most of the people there are pretty new, they work in the kitchen like the Sixth Ancestor, like Raymond. They get relegated to the back room. But who knows who's there? I opened the door for them, and I felt so beautiful. Thank you very much. May I touch him? May I touch him?