The Secrets of the Body

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SF-00993
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Sesshin Lecture: great effort, no result; ritual, bowing; Diamond Sutra; boundaries

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Now we begin. So we're just settling into the challenge, the difficulty, and the reward of just sitting down and shutting up for a while. Now, last night our shuso, Eva, said some things. What I remember at the end was, listen to the secrets told by your body and live in the center of the cave of your heart. So it may be characteristic, actually, of sitting quietly, and you begin to notice that

[01:26]

your body has many secrets. They're known to your body, but they're not known to your conscious mind. But as you sit, sometimes something that's been held very closely in your body becomes apparent. And it unfolds. So this practice of listening, we've been talking about listening, and this applies to very careful listening attentively to your own body, your direct experience, noticing how the usual thoughts that may interfere with your listening to the secrets of your

[02:28]

body, those thoughts are not so tightly held. So in this practice of sitting, if you allow yourself to release your tight holding onto your usual thoughts, your usual habits of mind, which may be kind of boring anyway, if you release those, then you may discover something new unfolding. And that takes some courage, because you don't know what it could be. And still, when that happens, that allows you to deepen your life. Yesterday, I talked a little bit about right effort, and quoted Suzuki Roshi, that was

[03:38]

from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, where he says that right effort is effort in the direction of non-attainment, not gaining. Kaz Tanahashi once told me that early on in his life in Japan, he actually lived in the same town with the teacher who developed Aikido. And so, as a boy, he went to the dojo and studied Aikido, and he understood that the principle of Aikido was to use your body and energy in a way so that you got the greatest result from the least effort. And then he came later on to Zen practice, and he came to San Francisco and met Suzuki

[04:41]

Roshi, and he learned that Zen practice is making the greatest effort for no result. No interest in result, just great effort. And yet, it's inevitable that people will be looking for result, right? Look for some result. So I also mentioned the Tao Te Ching yesterday, and today I wanted to just quote a short section. This is from Section 38, where the Tao, the description of the Tao actually turns into more of the description of the De. And it says, failing Tao, or when the Tao is lost, people resort to virtue.

[05:50]

When virtue is lost, people resort to morality or goodness. When morality fails, people resort to ritual. And ritual is the merest husk of faith and devotion. It's the beginning of confusion, chaos. Very interesting that the Tao Te Ching says that ritual is the beginning of chaos. Usually what we think of as ritual is so much order. Now, I can't help noticing that since I accepted the position of being Abbot, I've been involved in more ritual. So I have to look at how that contributes to chaos, to confusion and disorder.

[06:58]

So there are these various ways in which we may look at our activity. Ritual is, the way we do it here, we may be always looking for some kind of meaning or some kind of purpose. But I would call what we do here purposeless ritual. Just like Zen is maximum effort for no gain, purposeless ritual. In contrast to the more usual purposeful rituals that we usually engage in. Gary Snyder a few years ago wrote a poem that I wanted to read which contrasts purposeful

[08:11]

ritual and Zen. It's called, Why Log Truck Drivers Rise Earlier Than Students of Zen. In the high seat before dawn dark, polished hubs gleam, and the shiny diesel stack warms and flutters up the Tyler Road grade to the logging on Poor Man Creek, 30 miles of dust. There is no other life. So, this activity, purposeful activity, shining those hubs, my wife has been telling me recently

[09:16]

there's a program on TV called Trick My Truck. Trick My Truck. Has anyone seen that program? Evidently it's compassion, you know, when the Tao is lost, then compassion. Right? So some of these truck drivers are helping each other, helping truck drivers who are a little poorer or can't get it together. And they take their truck and bring it into the shop and clean it all up and polish it and put those flaming decals on it until it's all tricked out. You'll see them. Going down the highway, passing you at 70 miles an hour. Isn't that wonderful?

[10:19]

Trick My Truck. So here we have a purposeless ritual. Bowing. What's the purpose in bowing? You're not getting anywhere, right? You're going down, getting up, going down, getting up. Some of my relatives would actually conceive of it as sinful, right? Bowing in front of a graven image. Misunderstanding it completely, thinking that there's some purpose in it. Thinking that in bowing that I'm worshipping the graven image. Certainly idolatry.

[11:22]

And we may be involved sometime in comparative thinking, you know. Some person's doing a bow more perfectly than another. So is the purposeless in the bow and imbued in the perfection of the form of the bow? If you really bow with the most elegant, perfect form, does that attain a higher level of purposelessness? How is it that bowing is an expression of our vow, of our bodhisattva vow? There is an attitude of surrender, there is connection with the earth.

[12:38]

So there is, I think, built into it some quality of humility. Suzuki Hiroshi evidently recommended that we Americans who have arrogant tendencies bow nine times at the beginning of our morning service. Whereas in most Japanese temples they bow three times. So I've actually maintained the practice of bowing nine times in the morning for many years. And it's always some question, actually. Each bow, some question. If the bow had a purpose, then I actually knew the full meaning of the bow. I could tell that to myself.

[13:41]

Then the bow would become ritual in the sense that the Tao Te Ching warns against. It becomes purposeful in the sense of trying to, say, make a pathetic excuse for losing the great way. But if you just bow completely with no particular idea of getting anything out of it, that you just bow completely present in that bow, then the presence of your existence in that infinite moment is completely imbued with your inner connection with all beings.

[14:41]

There are no beings left out. Although we bow in some particular direction, we actually bow in the ten directions by bowing completely in one direction. The ten directions, north, south, east, west, and the halfway points in between, and zenith and nadir, which really is an indication of 360 degrees. Times 360 degrees. All directions. And then we include, as we say, three times. Ten directions, three times. Past, present, and future. Past, present, and future in one moment. So there, the bow, without any purpose, expresses the infinite,

[15:55]

expresses the great way, expresses the Tao, expresses true nature, Buddha nature. And yet, we come up against some limitations. We can bow, and then we discover, we stand up, we have some limitations. K. Ryan's poem talks about a kind of limitation. Miner's canaries. Isn't it arbitrary? Isn't it? It isn't. Wait a minute. It isn't arbitrary. It isn't curious. Miner's canaries serve ordinary purposes, with just a fillip of extra irony.

[17:02]

Something is always testing the edges of the breathable. Not so sweet, not so yellow. But something is always living at the wrong edge of the arable. Something is always excused first from the water table, chalking the boundary of the possible from the far side. Even in the individual. So, K. Ryan, with that last line, points to your own inner miner canaries. Something is always testing the edges of the breathable. Even in the individual. So, you may notice in your sitting that there's some edge, some boundary of your breath.

[18:17]

And if you don't notice, maybe it's good to pay attention, look for that. But do you notice areas that you're not aware of the breath? Do you notice areas that you're not including? When you're listening to the secrets unfolding in your body, are there some areas that clearly are not unfolded, not opening, not telling you their secrets? And that's okay. I don't intend to suggest people prying around. But you may notice there may be some barnacle or some clam closed. So what happens when you just appreciate it, not trying to direct your

[19:23]

attention to any purpose, but just to include it in your awareness. Just to be with it, just to breathe with it. How is it? How is it? And then what is your real intention in being here? The Diamond Sutra begins with a question posed by Subhuti to Buddha. It says, Buddha Tathagata, you've been so kind in helping and supporting and recognizing all of those of us who have made some vow to be bodhisattvas, to actually take up the way of the bodhisattva. That is the way of awakening and a way of assisting and maturing all beings.

[20:31]

So can you please say some more about how bodhisattvas may walk, how bodhisattvas may abide, how bodhisattvas may regulate their thoughts? So this is just what we're doing in Seshin, right? We're walking, we're abiding, and we're regulating our thoughts. Or as we said on day one, that Seshin means to order the mind or gather the mind. And the Buddha Tathagata replies saying that, what a wonderful, what a wonderful question.

[21:35]

And then it says, I will tell you how bodhisattvas should stand, abide, and regulate thought. The bodhisattva should open up a vow in this manner. I vow to take all beings to liberation. Beings that are born from a womb, beings that are born from air, beings that are born from moisture, beings that are born by a miraculous means, beings that have perception, beings that have no perception, beings that have neither perception or no perception. All these beings, I as a bodhisattva will take with me to the field of liberation.

[22:47]

There will be no beings excluded, no beings left behind. And when I see that all beings are thus carried to liberation, I recognize that no beings have been liberated. Not a single being has been liberated. And why is this? Because for a bodhisattva to have a notion of a being, to have a notion of some separate person, is contrary to the nature of a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is one who is completely without purpose in this way, without any guile, without any strategy. A bodhisattva is completely willing to be present without any self.

[23:59]

Now, there's another way. I'm going back and forth, different ways of looking at things. This is a poem by Gunnar Ekeldorf from Stockholm. You know, poets are often looking at this whole matter of Tao and virtue. If you ask me where I live, I live right here, behind the mountain. It's a long way off, but I am near. I live in another world, but you live there also. That world is everywhere, even if it is as rare as helium. Why do you ask for an airship to bear you off?

[25:11]

Ask instead for a filter for carbon dioxide, a filter for hydrogen, for nitrogen and other gases. Ask for a filter for all these things that separate us from one another. A filter for life. You say you can hardly breathe. Well, who do you think can breathe? For the most part, we take it with some equanimity. A wise man has said, it was so dark I could barely see the stars. He just meant it was night. So who do you think can breathe? Everyone here investigating breath now for several days. Who breathes? Whose breath is it? If you think that you're doing zazen and you think that you're breathing,

[26:19]

then you are not able to carry all beings to liberation. It's tempting to think that our way is so great, and then to make it into a concept. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that he's had the problem of how to relate to the Jehovah's Witnesses who come to his office. They come right in and ask if they can read the Bible to him, and he says to himself, well, I'm doing a Bodhisattva practice, so I should be friendly. So I say, okay. And then they read the Bible for a while. And we have a nice conversation. They're very friendly. And then they come back again the next week. And then they started bringing more, more people.

[27:24]

The friendlier he is, the more they think, okay, he's going to join them in their beliefs. But he says, but I'm a Zen student. How could I believe what they're telling me they believe? And as a Bodhisattva, I'm beginning to feel now that I'm actually creating misunderstanding by being friendly. So at what point does being friendly become confusing and be misunderstood as a leading them on? So he discovers he's in an awkward position now. And so it's a little painful, like those canaries in K. Ryan's poem, those canaries that have to die to let you know where the boundary is.

[28:33]

It's a little painful to say, oh, there's a boundary here. And is, she asks, the death of the canary a great act of compassion? When do you say no as an act of compassion? And yesterday, Suzuki Roshi, and what I quoted from Suzuki Roshi said, those thoughts that actually are in the direction of attainment, those gaining ideas are not helpful to you, so please get rid of them. And getting rid of them may not be quite right.

[29:40]

It may be misunderstanding, as if, oh, then you have this whole battle, and you're trying to get rid of these and gaining ideas. That can be kind of an aggressive misunderstanding. So it may be helpful to just think, if I set them aside, let them exist, but not buy into them. If I thought that the Buddhadharma is superior to the Jehovah Witness, then I would be betraying the Buddhadharma. The Buddhadharma is not subject to comparative thinking.

[30:43]

Buddhadharma is completely beyond comparative thinking. It's easy to be caught thinking that it's, oh, something, since it is so inconceivably wonderful. So the doubt can be lost to ritual. It can be lost to goodness, morality. It can be lost to compassion, virtuous action. And yet, it's there in every virtuous action. It's there in every purposeful action. It's there in the log truck driver's chrome hubcaps,

[31:47]

in the tricked-out truck. The Bodhisattva's vow is to include and save all beings. It's pretty difficult. Pretty difficult. So in your own sitting, you may notice beings that you're not so willing to be with. Beings you would rather avoid. Maybe secrets in your own body that you would rather avoid. But please use this opportunity in satsang to be willing to be fully present, even with what you would rather avoid. Okay.

[32:58]

Any questions or comments? Yeah. Say that again. Okay. Thank you. So is this about canaries? This is Kay Ryan, and her poem is entitled, Miner's Canaries. So, you know, the canary in the coal mine. Does everyone know that? The canary in the coal mine? What that refers to? No? Some people are saying no, or going like this. Which, in this country, usually means no.

[34:06]

So canaries, you know, and of course now we have electronic testing equipment for air quality. But before that, canaries were taken down into coal mines. And the canary, as long as the canary could hop around and sing, and it could breathe, the miners felt that the air quality was safe. But when the canary keeled over, then they knew that the air quality had gone down in the mine, and they needed to leave the mine, or pretty soon they wouldn't be able to survive. So that's the canary in the coal mine. It's like, you know, if you're going to a stream and you want to, and you see fish in it, then you know, okay, it supports life.

[35:08]

And you can drink. And if you're fussy, you may notice what kind of fish, you know. Because some kind of fish can live in pretty, you know, in the water. Toxic water. But it's the same kind of thing. Miner's canaries. It isn't arbitrary. It isn't curious. Miner's canaries serve ordinary purposes with just a fillip of extra irony. Something is always testing the edges of the breathable. Not so sweet. Not so yellow. But something is always living at the wrong edge of the arable. Something is always excused first from the water table, chalking the boundary of the possible from the far side, even in the individual. Just a fillip of irony.

[36:18]

Case dry wit. Anything else? Thank you for listening.

[36:39]

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