Sesshin Lecture

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I just want to say one more thing about hindrances, you know quite literally this sutta says know what brings him about and know what stops him from coming about, it's a pretty formidable task. I think the hindrances are really a subjective way of addressing the full range of our emotional and psychological life, there is a function and a usefulness of relating to them as they prescribe. Usually the story is so utterly intriguing and it creates its own world, it creates its own sense of self that once it starts to take hold it becomes very real. These kind of labels offer us a way to just acknowledge in a more simple, direct way what's

[01:13]

coming up, to know how that comes about and to know how to stop it from coming about, I think that's formidable. As I mentioned in one of the classes quite a while ago, in cognitive therapy I was reading some experiments they've been doing and noticing the therapeutic effects of mindfulness, of being in touch with the arising emotional experience and discovering just being able to notice it, it's therapeutic, in particular in the case of people who had depression.

[02:15]

Personally I think given the premise of dukkha, depression is in some ways part of our response to dukkha and that this is something we can all be healed by, this capacity to just pay attention to what's arising, which of course has degrees to it which I'm not going to get into other than to say we can note the arising experience, then we can start to note the particularity, what way is the world being described, what way is that being felt. Mindfulness practice overall has a stabilizing quality to it and usually the mind creates

[03:30]

a story, the story becomes entrancing, it sets up a world system and then we're inside it, we're spellbound. So very much what the four foundations of mindfulness are about breaking the spell, the different ways to break the spell, the different ways to be grinded in a more immediate experience. When we get into the complexity of our emotional and psychological life, that becomes quite challenging. Actually as you get into the complexities of seeing and just trying to maintain physical energy and physical awareness becomes quite challenging. In terms of Zen practice, to what degree we need to have sorted our emotional, our

[04:48]

psychological and life and somehow unravel it as such a thing as possible, I think it becomes an interesting question. I think where the two practices meet is where the arising experience is met with a direct awareness, it's just experienced as experience, as experience. Drop off body and mind doesn't mean don't have any experience, it means don't turn it into something. And really mindfulness is coming at it from another direction, rather than this radical

[05:55]

dropping off it's saying notice it, attend to it closely and see within it there isn't really a self, there isn't anything substantial within it. So the next section of the sutra is in this section on mind objects, it goes from the hindrances, the skandhas, the sense fields and then the enlightenment factors. Some version of the sutras don't have the skandhas, the aggregates or the sense objects, the sense fields, they just have the enlightenment factors. And since I've been reading all this stuff, immersing myself in it, when I was giving the talk yesterday, I was noticing as I gave the talk that I mentioned all the factors

[06:59]

of enlightenment. And this is really the nature of them, is that they're woven into the practice, they're not something separate. It's not like we practice this, lay it all to rest, and we practice this, and then we practice this, they weave together. Quite naturally, as we sit, we meet agitation with calming breath, we meet grasping mind with renunciation. And quite naturally, in moments of settledness, there's an arising of some sense of well-being. Maybe in the course of mindfulness, there is a sense of laying the ground for concentration

[08:12]

and insight. But there's also a very strong sense that in looking at our human existence, we really see impermanent, conditioned, codependent arising, the absence of self. And that these factors in themselves, seeing these factors, is the path of liberation. It's the realization of the Buddha. So the five factors are form, feeling, perception, intuition, volition, and consciousness. I paused on the fourth one because sometimes it's described as impulses,

[09:15]

sometimes as volition, and then sometimes as mental formations. And really the term in Sanskrit includes all of those. Somehow they're not separate, they all arise as a package. So in a way, we could say that we pay attention to what's going on, and then as Setpo says, the whole world is self. We start to take responsibility for subjective experience, for what is arising here. And then we see within that,

[10:15]

the hindrances. And all this is enabled by the steady, continuous practice of body-breath, mindfulness of body, mindfulness of breath. The grinding practice of being here and now for each activity. And this is the grind of the first aggregate, rupa, the physical world, the here and now of existence. And then the second one, vedana, is noticing, feeling, as closely as we can on that basic modality of like and dislike, of pleasant and unpleasant. And then the third one is, what do we do with it? What do we perceive? Is it a momentary perception? Is it just what we like to call bare attention?

[11:28]

Is it a sign of a blue jet? Or is it more developed? There are a few aggregates in that, the annoying, raucous sign of a blue jet. And then what does that give rise to? It leads to the things in your life that annoy you, that are hard to handle. And that's the mental formation. That's the impulse to action. Close the window, shut out the sign, calm yourself with your breath. Is there some turning away, or turning towards? It's given rise through how the feeling turned into perception and turned into mental formation.

[12:44]

And then the fifth one, consciousness, seems to cover, fundamentally it means mind, what means consciousness, vijnana, but it seems to cover how all those are held. Because they all have consciousness as an ingredient. But also how they all come together and create the sense of being. And one idea is that by being that fundamental with our experience, that it dissipates the sense of self. It starts to loosen it up. Or the super-sense, you know, the purple studied nowhere in the midst of all that is the sense of self. And then the sense bases have a similar primacy to them. The five senses of the body and mind as a sense. So these are the six senses and then the six sense objects.

[14:17]

And we even as Zen students were practicing this all the time. We were using the basic arising experience as a way to grind ourselves, as a way to come back to here and now. You probably all just learned from our own experience how attending to listening affects consciousness. Or how as you're walking around staying attentive to body enables awareness and mindfulness. Maybe many of us are noticing that as we settle into the sheen and the veneer of preoccupation starts to get stripped away, the other senses, the senses become more vivid.

[15:40]

More apparent. To a grinding in the immediate experience. An antidote to running off in the story. In the sutra it picks it apart even further. If you think of this sutra in particular as a detailed meditation prescription. Then it's just inviting closer and closer detailed looks at what this is about.

[16:47]

But noticing where the sign arises. Whether or not it's labelled Guje. Whether or not it brings up a feeling. Whether or not that feeling has a story attached to it. I think these things happen naturally in our Zen practice. In our Zazen practice. And this is just saying make it a little bit more deliberate. Study the territory. And as we study we learn something about the nature of the arising experience.

[17:52]

And we learn something about investigation, about study. You know when I was ending up yesterday I was saying, what is it to learn from the arising experience? And this is a very significant point in the path of practice. Because if you think about it, in a way we're always being requested to discover appropriate response. You know a monk asked a layman, what did you learn from a lifetime of practice? Appropriate response. How do we discover that?

[18:57]

So not simply attending to, but learning from as well. And this is a question we'll look at more closely when we start to explore the factors of awakening. So the aggregates in the sense basis, it's part of a gradual move from looking at the complexities of our own psychological life to moving to something more elemental. Something closer to direct experiencing. And as I say, usually in our practice we get caught up in something and then this is part of the antidote.

[20:08]

Okay, come back to the body, come back to the breath, come back to hearing, seeing, touching. Notice it. Sometimes it's helpful to note this stream of thought. When that thought happened and that thought happened and that thought happened. There's a way in which that kind of noting brightens the mind. Almost as if it helps the mind to stay in close contact. There's also an investigative quality to it that helps to brighten the mind. So the seven factors of awakening. And the first one is mindfulness, the second one investigation, the third one energy, joy, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity.

[21:22]

I'm not sure if there's an implicit progression there, maybe there is. The various commentaries don't make that point. So mindfulness. One of the characteristics of mindfulness is something like big mind. You know, when the mind grasps a particular topic, a particular issue, a particular arising experience. It grasps it, identifies it, turns it into something, has a response to that something, becomes entranced by that something. It's like the possibility of experience collapses into that form-related experience, it's wrapped.

[22:44]

You know, we all know this, we do it all the time. You know, you're walking along, you get caught up in something. All the other experiences, the sights, the sounds, the smells, they disappear. And consciousness is just contained within whatever that injury is. One quality of mindfulness is this kind of like big, spacious mind, this mind of possibility. This mind that doesn't shut out the different sense doors. And as we practice, we start to notice ways that we can enable that.

[23:51]

For myself, I find I can enable that with seeing. If I stay aware of the sense field of seeing in a wide way, somehow it facilitates wide mind. Sometimes I find hearing has that quality too. It's a receptivity in contrast to a strengthening and a grasping. And then mindfulness is both supported by and initiates a kind of a non-grasping contact, just noting the experience.

[25:00]

And this enables a kind of a balanced mind. Don't lean too much this way, don't lean too much that way. It enables a kind of balanced uprightness. Doesn't mean we don't get pushed or pulled by the arising experience. But we don't fall into it and we don't run away from it. So in a way, mindfulness, this capacity of spaciousness, of balance, of openness, enables all the other factors of awakening. There's one feature of mindfulness that's significant to note.

[26:28]

And that is that mindfulness isn't dependent upon concentration. This closer, more basic attendance, like noticing the sense doors, requires a degree of stabilization, a degree of close attentiveness. But mindfulness can be brought to in the being with many more states of mind. There is a sutra saying, maybe the response to the state of mind has a more discursive quality to it. Like when we turn the state of being into a thing and then create an antidote, you know, that's quite a discursive state of being. This is enabled by mindfulness.

[27:37]

So mindfulness covers both a more active mind, a mind that isn't by setting up an objective reality, and a more settled and subtle mind. It's closer to the arising and falling where it's driven. And of course the whole process of mindfulness is supported by a certain kind of giving up. Someone quoted me now last thing, I think it's within the phrases, throw your ego into the heights of Buddha.

[28:49]

And get in some kind of willingness to let go of our cherished sense of self, of our cherished ways of holding the world. You know, right now we're at a very particular point in the practice period, and it's a sheep. We're right in the middle. There's a time in Peru, you know, that the Peruvians crystal, the Peruvians consider it to be the navel of the world.

[29:59]

This time now is the navel of the practice period. And it asks of us a kind of intimate personal engagement. You know, how does each one of us conjure up and sustain our commitment, our intention? You know, how do we say to ourselves, this is not about holding on to your cherished yearnings and your cherished resentments. This is not about holding on to the strategy that's going to keep you comfortable or safe or whatever seems appropriate to your karmic body. This is about anchoring the path of awakening.

[31:09]

This is about seeing the world in existence and itself from the perspective of the practice of liberation. So in some ways, as I was saying before, we nurture that, in that moment of letting go of thought, of letting go of clinging, of letting go of aversion. In that moment of letting the game field soften the body, in that moment of letting everything release with the exhale. We express, we expand, we renew our vow, our intention. But also, in the more discursive moments of mind, we can meet them with a more discursive intentionality.

[32:23]

When we see our mind formulating some kind of definition, oh, this is the last period before lunch, I've just got to hang on. Now this period is the heart of it. This period is completely itself. It is no before or after. So as we enter into the heart, into the navel, into the pivot point of this regime, the practice period, it's very helpful to remind ourselves, Okay, now why am I here? What is this about? What is it to give over?

[33:36]

As the mind and the heart and the body saddle, what is it to let that seep a little deeper? What is it to notice the impulses with some kind of strategy and not go there? Nowhere ever works. Whether it's reminding yourself of the brevity of a human life, whether it's reminding yourself of the futility of basing your life on trying to get what you want or avoid what you don't want.

[34:57]

Whether it's reminding yourself that joy is intimacy with all beings. Whether it's reminding yourself of the compassion and wisdom of the Bodhisattva vow to awaken your thoughts. At this precious time, at this time, we were being warped around by the schedule, by the gift of samsara, even in the midst of our sore knees and aching backs.

[36:08]

Remember, this is the path of liberation, if we make it so. This is the source of joy, if we allow it to be so. Entering, entering, entering more fully, forgetting where we came from, not knowing where we're going. This is the good way. This is how we come to the heart, the center, the navel.

[37:22]

And then life goes with this wherever we go. So please, offer this to yourself and offer it to everyone else around you. You know, the teachings can offer us all sorts of techniques and admonitions and advice, but in the absence of something that arises out of our own being, that's all we are. Techniques, admonitions, advice.

[38:32]

How do we let something come forth? This is the challenge, this alchemy, this transformative alchemy of shifting from what we might call ego, the world created by our own karma, to our life dictated by our likes and dislikes, whatever we want to formulate. The willingness to set that aside, the willingness to see that and turn it, turn it from a fixed reality into an expression of conditioned existence.

[40:03]

And that's what this sutra is trying to do, it's trying to let us shift from fixed reality to conditioned existence. It's a good place to stop. Mindfulness, one last thing on mindfulness. Mindfulness also supports us by asking us to sustain a learning attention to our body, our state of mind.

[41:12]

Don't keep learning from your body as you go through, Sashi. You know, often our body isn't going through changes as we sit. Keep paying close attention. What's arising? What is it to practice with? What happens when you practice with it? This also applies just to the body. How much you eat, how much you rest. Sitting through the pain, moving is a strategy to stop the pain from arising. Notice it all. Does the excruciating pain settle your mind, or does it leave you drained, without energy?

[42:30]

Let it all be the grind of teaching. This is the spirit of this sutra, you know, that we're constantly learning. We don't have a rigid strategy for what we're doing. We're constantly learning and adjusting with appropriate response. So please, take care of your body, sustain your mind. Thank you.

[43:56]

Namaskaram.

[43:57]

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