Sesshin as a Koan for the Body

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Sesshin Lecture: Easter/Buddha's Birthday; enlightenment experiences; dharmakaya; not doing anything; nirmanakaya; this is your life

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Good morning, and welcome to this 7th day of session, and last day, so it's ending, already some feeling of ending, and of course today is also April 8th, in the Mahayana, northern countries is recognized and celebrated as Buddha's birthday, so, and it's also Easter Sunday, Easter, recognized in the Christian world as the most important day of rising


from the dead. And Easter, the term actually, Easter, is borrowed from, originally from Sanskrit, a term which refers to the dawn. Usra, Usra refers to dawn, but a kind of a shining quality, something that shines. And then in Germanic countries, there was a goddess, a dawn goddess, Aestra, and so the goddess of the dawn's name was borrowed, when Christendom took over Europe basically, adopting various pre-existing pagan festivals, the date was


set for Easter. So, I thought, should I give a little talk on Buddha's birthday, but here at Green Gulch we've moved the celebration of Buddha's birthday back for our convenience in our calendar a few weeks, so I think that'll happen in May, so it'll be a big celebration of Buddha's birthday. First Sunday in May this year? May 6th, okay. And then I feel some sadness on this shining day of awakening. I feel some sadness for Vince Rousseau, my friend and Dharma practitioner, who was really the inspiration and the leader


of the San Quentin Buddha-Dharma Sangha, and losing his wife suddenly, unexpectedly. And the information I have is just very, very scant at this point. I just talked with Lee de Barros on the phone a few minutes ago, and he didn't have any more information, but just that she died very suddenly, possibly a heart attack on Friday. So I keep having these thoughts, imagining what Vince might feel, although I really don't know what he might feel. But I would imagine some frustration at not being able to go out from San Quentin and take care of any of the affairs around her death, and then they have a 13-year-old son. So it's


really, for that teenage boy, very difficult. So birth and death, very much in my mind. I think she was in her 40s. Lee de Barros didn't know her age, but I asked him, he said, he thinks she was in her 40s, and people thought that she was taking good care of herself and was in good health. So some of you here will go, I think Emila and Astrid, I don't know if anyone else is going to San Quentin this evening, and they'll do a memorial service there, and we did one here this morning, so I'm sure they'll come back with more information. So ending Sashin is a loss in itself, and then this adds another cloud. Maybe for you,


it's just a chance for celebration, ending Sashin. But I actually feel, myself, it's been a wonderful, wonderful Sashin. People practicing with such sincere dedication is an inspiration to me. And in case I might forget, I want to thank all of you for your practice. So this is the first opportunity I've had to lead a Sashin here at Green Gulch. And much, much has happened during the Sashin. There have been many enlightenment experiences that I know about, that people have told me about, and of course they're gone now.


The enlightenment experiences come and go. It's actually very difficult to understand, interpret, and bring meaning to the experiences that we have in Zazen sometimes, because our usual mind isn't adequate, is not adequate to the task, and really shouldn't even take it on as a project. When the mind takes it on as a project to understand the meaning of various experiences you've had, then of course you know what happens. You get further and further away from the awakened state. So there's been some, one description that came up was that this practice of sitting Sashin is really a koan for the body, a body


koan, that it baffles and bewilders the mind, but the body actually understands. And there's something that you feel and experience, a kind of clarity, some acceptance, some peacefulness, that affects just how you touch each thing that you touch, how you work with your Bariyoki practice. You may notice it particularly during meals. You may notice it when you walk out of the Zendo and are suddenly struck by the beauty of the day, that your eyes have a fresh receptive quality. So this is all included actually in the experience. And there's a


sense in which you're actually cultivating another body, a body of awareness, that's not just your physical body, and it's not your usual mental organization of how you identify yourself or put things together, how you understand and perceive things. There's a shift in that. You know, we chant at the beginning of serving at the meal, we chant the names of Buddha, we chant Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya Buddha. And of course there's much Mahayana descriptive writing about different bodies of Buddha. And it's some effort actually to put into words the experiences that we actually have in our


practice, that go beyond what we can conceive. Although we can say intellectually that Dharmakaya we know is the inconceivable realm. There is no birth and death in the realm of Dharmakaya. There are no beings. There are no beings that can come into existence or go out of existence. It's a complete luminous realm, exemplified by Vairochana Buddha, which is sometimes, Vairochana Buddha is sometimes just described as pure luminescence, pure luminous quality, which is only a very partial description because it just applies to our visual experience. But of course our visual experience is pure light. Everything that we actually experience


is just light hitting the receptive cells in the retina of our eyes. So scientifically we can understand, okay this is just light hitting these cells. So everything that we see is simply light itself. And then with our marvelous capacity of interpretation we are able to turn it into shapes, forms, beings, seeing other people, seeing our own reflection as Dongshan did in the river, and realizing that this is me I'm seeing. But what is me? Pure light. Nothing but pure luminous quality. So this is a way we have of describing our experiences as Dharmakaya, but you could also say pure sound. When you eat that tea treat


you know that the absolute taste is pure taste, Dharmakaya Buddha. Naturally we want to hold on to the absolute and be completely satisfied with that tea treat. And so the body that we actually cultivate in our practice, the body which sometimes experiences satisfaction or a quality of blissfulness, a quality of non-dual completely being harmoniously engaged in this interconnected experience. Sometimes we say, well this is the bliss body,


the bliss body, the Sambhogakaya. So this is actually the experience of yourself as Buddha. As Dogen talks about body and mind dropped off. And so we can take that and put it up as Sambhogakaya, Luchana Buddha. And of course all the other then Buddhas that are identified such as Amitabha or Amida Buddha living in the pure land is the recognition that we are already completely perfect. We are completely perfect and when we make that leap, that perception of ourselves as completely perfect, then we are actually living with Amida Buddha in the pure land.


There's always been in China and Japan a close relationship between Zen, Chan and pure land. And from the pure land point of view, because we are already perfect, it's really a mistake to do any form of practice at all because that would be a kind of an insult as if a denial of your perfection. There's a story of Reverend Ogui who was the pure land clergyman in Japan town at the same time Suzuki Roshi was the Zen teacher at Sokoji temple in Japan town, meeting in the bookstore.


Ogui was quite a bit younger than Suzuki and they had a little conversation and he said, I'm having a hard time, I'm feeling, I really don't have my place here, I don't speak English well, and I feel kind of lonely, I don't have any practice, which Zen people have a practice. Suzuki Roshi said, well, you could come and sit Zazen, I think that would be okay. So they had a little conversation about it in which Suzuki Roshi communicated that actually doing Zazen is actually not any practice. It's actually not doing anything. So if you're not doing anything, then it's okay to do that. So then Reverend Ogui felt that it was okay for him to come and join and sit Zazen sometimes.


And we know that our practice of Zazen is a great effort in the direction of not doing anything. And during the course of this seven days, I know people have refined your practice, noticing more and more ways in which you're doing things that you didn't even realize. Layers of conscious and then unconscious or subconscious doing. Tiny desires that begin to take over and lead to a whole train of thoughts. Just a little discomfort in sitting can lead to wanting to escape that turns into a whole scenario of your whole future life that you can imagine playing out next year and years beyond. So you may have a whole vision of possibilities that unfolds in a few minutes of sitting.


And then if you pay close attention to that, you may notice that actually it just started with a slight wiggle. Just the slightest wiggle. I actually squirmed just a little bit in my mind and then took off. Like on a spaceship into the future. Time traveling. People do time traveling in Zazen. And sometimes traveling back into the past. And seeing something very clearly that has always been confusing and maybe bothersome, and now you can see it. So you may need to do... And then you come out of Zazen, or you sit there and you think, well, I need to do something about that. And so then you think about what to do about that. And sometimes you do need to do something about it. So we're always working within, okay, just to do what's absolutely necessary.


If you need to, remember to make a phone call to somebody. Because you suddenly realized in the middle of Sashin that the last conversation you had with him really had some problem you didn't even notice at the time. And now you've realized that you feel badly about it and you want to pick it up. And so you want to at least contact that person. So you could spend the whole day thinking about possible conversations. But actually all you really need to do is remember to make a note to make that phone call. Because you don't know what the conversation will be. So it's just like sorting out the things that you can actually, actually let go of. Until you become very still. And so this is the process of working with the nirmanakaya,


the body that you have, which is the Buddha body. And at the same time it's the Buddha body in a form that's separate from the rest of reality. In that it is identifiable as one of the myriad things, as a phenomenal, phenomenal being. Phenomenal! Quite amazing! So among the myriad, myriad things, we discover again and again that we actually have a physical, there's a physical body, a physical reality, a world of form. And so in the chant that we just did introducing the Dharma talk, it talks about this, the body. This body being supported by all the other bodies, by Buddha bodies.


But that this body is the same as the body of Shakyamuni Buddha. Same kind of body, no different. So this is actually a reminder that with this human body, you have the wonderful and rare capacity to wake up, to actually realize your Buddha nature. So, in thinking about birth and death, I was reminded of this poem of Mary Oliver's, the Buddha's last instructions. And so she's looking at, well, how to go forward.


And it is a poem based on the dawn, the light. The light is coming up, so in this poem she has an interplay in her experience of the dawn and of Buddha's dying. Dying into the light. Make of yourself a light, said the Buddha, before he died. I think of this every morning as the east begins to tear off its many clouds of darkness, to send up the first signal, a white fan streaked with pink and violet, even green. An old man, he lay down between two solid trees and he might have said anything, knowing it was his final hour. The light burns upward, it thickens and settles over the fields. Around him, the villagers gathered and stretched forward to listen.


Even before the sun itself hangs disattached in the blue air, I am touched everywhere by its ocean of yellow waves. No doubt he thought of everything that had happened in his difficult life. And then I feel the sun itself as it blazes over the hills, like a million flowers on fire. Clearly I'm not needed, yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value. Slowly, beneath the branches, he raised his head. He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd. And then what did Buddha say? Various messages, but particularly via lamp.


I recognize that I've given the Dharma, I've given the teaching, you have it, but it's up to you to do the practice. And it's up to you to do the practice of making your life into a luminous life. So this is the challenge that faces us as we end Sashin, and then we're going to end practice period, and we move out from this incubator, this very protective environment, very vulnerably and tenderly, and still with a tremendous strength and resilience that comes


when your mind is not fixed and limited, when your mind is open, when your heart is soft. There are many possibilities, and so how do you meet the complications? I didn't look at any newspapers this week, but then there is this tradition I know that Norman used to do, reading some of the clippings from the headlines from the week, and I'm sorry that I don't have newspapers. I did, however, go online for a couple of minutes, surprised to find a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle that bedbugs are returning. There's a picture of a beagle dog that they named Ladybug,


and Ladybug has been trained to sniff out bedbugs, and they're taking Ladybug into the hotels of San Francisco to clean up the problem of bedbugs. So it's terrible that people, tourists come from all over the world to San Francisco and discover that they're picking up bedbugs in San Francisco. So this has become something of great local concern. So that actually took second billing to the Pope's Easter morning service, in which he addressed the pain and suffering of the war in Iraq, which continues. And it's very strange to me, actually, the thought that


sending in a surge of more troops and weapons can bring peace. Very strange kind of thinking to me. I mean, I do understand it. I understand how people can come to that kind of conclusion. But again and again, we haven't proved that that kind of thinking doesn't work. So it's some sadness that you step out and read the paper. And are faced with the trouble that human beings cause each other. The feeling that, well, part of being human is to cause some problem. But then part of being human is to also understand how to simplify your life


and to minimize the problem that we cause. But as long as we're caught up in our own fear, as I was talking about yesterday, we don't seem to see that there's a way beyond reacting out of fear. So this happens on a national level, and it also, of course, happens on a very personal level. Can you relate to the people in your everyday life as you go forth from Sashin and from practice period? Can you relate to them? Now knowing as much as you know about your own fear and the tendencies that arise from that, can you release that and be kind? Bring kindness to your every meeting, every encounter.


So it helps for us to have reminders because we quickly forget. Just as you noticed in your sitting that just one selfish thought can take you completely out of your settled state. And you have to find your way back to it. And so then remember the teaching. Oh yes, the teaching. The vow to be present. The vow to be present with all beings. The vow to be kind with myself. And the teaching that really your life is in the present moment. And so how to find that? By reminding. Oh yes, recalling the touchstone of the breath. And finding the breath again. And then settling yourself on the Buddha, the Buddha nature. That is your deeper capacity.


So all that recollection, that practice of recollection, of coming back to yourself. That practice is something that you can take with you. And it does help to have support. It does help to have Dharma friends. It does help to have reminders. It does help to have an altar in your house. And to let that call you back from time to time. It does help to take some conscious moments that you actually schedule into your day. Here, of course, at Green Gulch and Zen Center, we build that into the day for the whole community.


But if you're going out from here and you're on your own, you need to, in order to find that again, you need to consciously set aside some time to do this practice of recalling your vow. And returning to yourself in the present moment. And when you go through transitions in the day, you can actually make a practice of noting the transition and saying, ah, before I cross the bridge into this transition, can I return to myself and straighten up and stand up and find my center in now? Sometimes it's just entering a new room. When you are visiting someone, when you knock on the door, do you stop and find that you're fully present before you greet them? Or on the other side of the door, when the doorbell rings?


All these moments are opportunities to recognize, here, I'm entering the unknown with an open heart. And if my heart's not open, okay, well, can I see what it is that's hindering me? And acknowledge that at least. So by working with this over time, you can live more of your life as Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, as a compassionate one, one who can actually hear and see what's right in front of you. So you take in your body with you the practice of Jijiyu Samadhi, the samadhi of self-fulfilling and receiving enlightenment.


And you can't actually hold that in your head, but you're actually carrying that in your Seshin bliss body. But then you consciously can also do the samadhi practice of Ichigyo Samadhi, one-act samadhi, which is mindfulness practice, accessible at any moment, to simply bring your mind to what you're doing, what you're touching, what is the experience arising in whatever sense field is activated. So we actually can take this practice. Sometimes I've talked about when I was, when my children were young, and I had been living at Green Gulch,


moved over to Mill Valley, and I was faced with doing everything, even having to cook breakfast. Here, most people don't have to cook breakfast. A few people cook breakfast for everyone. But when you're living in an individual household, you have to do that. So I'm cooking breakfast. I'm trying to make pancakes. I'm mixing up some batter, and my daughter Hannah runs in and says, Daddy, Daddy, I'm busy. I'm trying to make pancakes here. Daddy, Daddy. So it can be confusing. And I'm saying, I don't have time for you. I'm making pancakes for you. So working with that, I discovered that actually, I could take a moment to actually turn and give her attention.


So I was taking the Ichigo Samurai practice to responding to the cries of the world. The cry of my daughter. So I would put down what I was doing and just turn toward her and say, Yes. Amazingly enough, a lot of times, she would just do something like say, Hi, Daddy, and run off. It's like that's all she needed was one second of full attention. Or sometimes it was like, I have an owie. I hurt myself. I need a band-aid. Or she would have something to show me. I made you this picture. I just suggest that because sometimes what seems impossible,


I can't deal with it. It's impossible. I'm already doing something. If you can find a little bit of space, stop and say, respond. What seemed impossible and seemed as an intrusion actually opens up into your life. Oh, this is your life. And your life is expanded. It's more inclusive. And what you thought was important because you planned it out and you knew this is what you're going to do is actually not as important as your life. So your life, is it possible that your life actually emerges from the unknown? Your life isn't what you have planned out and think you're going to do. The plans that we make


are useful to a certain extent, some limited extent, and it does help us cope with the phenomenal world. And some of the things that we plan actually do happen. But whether they happen in some narrow sense or happen in the sense of a broad, open Buddha field is quite different. You can live a very cramped and narrow life and accomplish your plan or you can live an expanded, wide open life frolicking in the Buddha fields that keep emerging that you can't control but that you can meet. So part of that world


is distressing too and that's important to see that. And I wanted to read another poem of Mary Oliver's which brings it home. Her feeling of wanting to have a particular kind of world is very important. And then being confronted with a world that's not quite that world. In Singapore, in the airport, a darkness was ripped from my eyes. In the women's restroom one compartment stood open. A woman knelt there washing something in the white bowl. Disgust argued in my stomach and I felt in my pocket for my ticket. A poem


should always have birds in it. Kingfishers say with their bold eyes and gaudy wings. Rivers are pleasant and of course trees. A waterfall or if that's not possible a fountain rising and falling. A person wants to stand in a happy place in a poem. When the woman turned I could not answer her face. Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together and neither could win. She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this? Everybody needs a job. Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place in a poem but first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor which is dull enough. She is washing the tops


of the airport ashtrays as big as hubcaps with a blue rag. Her small hands turn the metal scrubbing and rinsing she does not work slowly nor quickly but like a river. Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird. I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life and I want her to rise up from the crust and slop and fly down to the river. This probably won't happen but maybe it will if the world were only pain and logic who would want it? Of course it isn't. Neither do I mean anything miraculous but only the light that can shine out of a life.


I mean the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth. The way her smile was only for my sake I mean the way this poem is filled with trees and birds. So, going forth into the world in which people are struggling and suffering in a world in which people have made rules that are completely unfair. And so one more poem from Naomi Naomi Nye I read one of her poems one of those other days. But this one is


her confrontation with this world in which others have made rules. I miss the day on which it was said others should not have certain weapons but we could not only could but should and do. I miss that day. Was I sleeping? I might have been digging in the yard doing something small and slow as usual. Or maybe I wasn't born yet. What about all the other people who aren't born? Who will tell them? So, sometimes it comes down to your responsibility to tell others what kind of a world what kind of a world it is that you live in and what kind of a world


that you see that they are living in. And you have this choice of living in a Buddha land or living in samsara. But then you don't have the choice, right? Because you have to live in samsara. You have to be a human being. So you have to do some practices to fully realize what it is to be a human being. If you don't do these practices these spiritual practices if you don't have these carefully worked out forms in your life then you actually don't understand your whole life. You can't experience your whole life. You only experience


the part of it that is constructed and purposeful. You don't experience the river and you don't experience the luminous Vairajana Buddha that's waiting right in your eyes I wanted to end this talk with some words from Yokan maybe a poem and then some admonitions. I have too many poems marked here to find the one that I wanted This one is reminiscent


of bed bugs. Fleas, lice, any autumn bug that wants to sing. The breast of my robe is the Musashino moor. He'll be warmed in the sun and then he puts him back very carefully This is Yokan's famous compassion for those small creatures that he's supporting. And then he lives in this little hut. Last night Eva talked about a hut where the roof is caved in and the rain is coming in and you can see the moon and the raindrops on the sleeve of the robe. I thought that was


a Yokan poem I'm not sure but here's one where he is also in this little hut and thieves break in. It's amazing there's so much poverty around and this is in early 19th century in Japan. My Zazen platform my cushion they made off with both. Thieves break into my grass hut. Who dares stop them? All night I sit alone by the dark window soft rain pattering on the bamboo grove. So there's a story of Ryokan with a thief who who came and Ryokan gave him his robe


and sat shivering. It was really all he had left was his robe and he gave it away. And then this person who was the thief went around and was of course robbing other people who had more and was brought into court and they called Ryokan in as a witness against the thief and Ryokan went to court and said that this man never stole anything from me. I offered him my robe and he took it. He accepted it. So then in some stories later the thief when he got out of prison came and spent some time studying Dharma with Ryokan


because he was so impressed and it actually he recognized this was a transformative turning of the usual way of relating to him and he could see that there was some Buddha potential in himself. And evidently Ryokan talked a lot. He wrote quite a few poems. Maybe he didn't talk a lot but he just thought that he talked a lot because these admonitions that he wrote for himself this is just a few but to keep himself after he had finished his training in the monastery and he was living alone he wanted to keep reminding himself how to practice. And so here's a series of admonitions about speech. Beware


of talking a great deal talking too fast volunteering information when not asked giving gratuitous advice talking up your own accomplishments breaking in before others have finished speaking trying to explain to others something you don't understand yourself insisting on getting the last word making glib promises repeating yourself as old people will do speaking in an effectively offhand manner reporting in detail on affairs that have nothing to do with anything reporting on every single thing you see or hear making a point


of using Chinese words and expressions learning Kyoto speech and using it as though you'd known it all your life that would be like someone speaking with an English accent or something or speaking Edo dialect like a country hick talk that smacks of the esthete talk that smacks of Satori talk that smacks of the tea master so all these reminders for Ryokan to just keep it simple and and then he noted that there were three things that he really disliked he disliked poets poetry calligraphers calligraphy and chefs


cooking not an ounce of pretension he really wanted to wean himself from any ounce of pretension so I wanted to leave you with those thoughtful words about Ryokan and again thank you for your sitting your wonderful practice this is a shame are there any other comments anything that needs to be said hmm


well it's a great joy to see you there thank you for making the trip all the way down the coast from Point Arena and taking time out from farming yeah I just wanted to in case people didn't know this is Meg's last session in Vienna and she is such a what can you say so sweet and kind and present and competent and takes care of a million things over the years so I just wanted to thank her for all her years of service it's been a really lovely way to have a last session thank you all so much yeah


what oh yes yeah thank you for bringing broad into the session yeah I didn't think I did that did I they were they really offered themselves well maybe we should sing relax your mind one last time so many people know it so I'll just start and people can join in ok relax your mind relax your mind helps you live


a great long time sometime you've got to relax your mind well actually I should I can see that not everyone knows it I can hear that not everyone knows it and so I should at least tell you that the song comes from Hootie Ledbetter better known as Led Belly a sweet singer from the deep south swamp land on the Library of Congress recordings he introduces this song by saying he composed this song for safety on the roads of America and that he himself was a very careful driver and when he drives he said when I drive I look right through that windshield if you're sitting there


you're talking to me I don't look at you so he's he's got this Ichigo Zanmai practice I look right through the windshield he said I've driven all over this country and never even hit a chicken you can picture in the in the 30s or 40s driving through little towns farm towns and chickens are out in the road in all directions so anyway that's where that song came the song comes from relax your mind relax your mind helps you live


a great long time sometimes you've got to relax your mind oh when the light turns green put your foot on that gasoline that's the time you've got to relax your mind relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometimes you've got to relax your mind and when the light turns red push that brake down to the bed that's the time you've got to relax your mind relax your mind relax your mind


helps you live a great long time sometimes you've got to relax your mind I had a friend across the railroad track oh lord he forgot to relax he lost his life he forgot to relax his mind relax your mind relax your mind helps you live a great long time sometimes you've got to relax your mind pum [...] thank you for your singing they are in attention equally