Sesshin Lecture

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Strategies, gaining ideas; "paying it forward"; close investigation of the self; Orpheus and Eurydice; Rilke; hidden anger - staying with the emotion

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It's the fourth day of satsang, and everyone is sitting very well. Congratulations. And I'm a little concerned. Some of you may have some residual desire yet, or some strategy for success, maybe thinking. If you do it in a certain way, or you do it right, then, well, you'll at least survive Seshin, or survive this period of Zazen. So it's good, you know, it's okay to have a strategy.


Just don't be attached to your strategy. It's a little bit like thinking that Zazen is something that you can do, you know, or that you can be in touch with, but it's still not fully accepting the reality of your body sitting. Like Kadagiri Roshi once said, it's like doing Zazen long distance, calling out Zazen. Hello, Zazen! Hello! Hello, breath! Where are you? We're keeping it at arm's length, you know, we have these wonderful arms and hands, and


so we're used to sometimes being able to manipulate, manipulate things. The word manipulate has that word hand in it. And, so how can you manipulate some success in Zazen? It's quite tempting, quite tempting, and so the secret is to know what you're doing and step back. Take a wider view, it says. If you're manipulating something, it's here where you can hold it, but if you step back, you have to let go and you have a wider perspective. So the angle of your practice is wide.


So this is, say, two aspects. One is focus, focusing, being right there with your breath, the precision of the moment. And so that's important, and then letting go of it, having a wide view. So, room to include all the wild monkeys of your mind. When we were studying the Tenzo Kyokan, Dogen has that phrase, you know, that you're carried away by the wild monkeys and wild birds of your thoughts. And so, if you would just step back, rather than being carried away by them, then you'll arrive in your true being, your true nature, your Buddha nature.


So it's particularly hard to resist some of those wild monkeys, ones that are making faces at you, saying, yeah, [...] yeah. Or the ones that are angry, or the ones that are telling you what you should be doing. Some of them are very compelling. They sound like a schoolteacher or your mother. So how to include them in your vow. Last night, Harshu Soh reminded us of vow, and said that you really should recall your


own personal vow, and that when you do live your vow, then you are in touch with your deep happiness. Something like that. So we have personal vow. I think I've talked a little bit about my own personal vow that I made when I was a child and then rediscovered, and keep rediscovering. So it's good for you to know what is your own personal vow, and then how to extend it, how to extend it forward into your life in a way that also includes the whole circle


of your being, the reality around you. I just said, extend it forward, and then I had the thought of, pay it forward. People know the phrase, pay it forward? A few nodding heads. I actually ran out of gas in Lovelock, Nevada some years ago. But then, after that, so that's another story actually. On the west side of Lovelock, Nevada, I ran out of gas, and then after getting gas and driving to the east side of Lovelock, Nevada, heading east, there seemed to be some problem with the transmission. So I thought I had ruined the transmission, pulled over to the side of the road, called Triple A. Triple A started sending a truck from Reno, which is about 160 miles away.


But then somebody actually drove by with a tow truck and took us back into Lovelock, and we checked in. It was getting dark, so we checked into this little motel, and I thought, OK, I'm going to have to deal. This is going to change our whole trip. We may have to rent a car or something. But the owner of the motel said, well, my son's a mechanic, and so I'll call him. So he came over and just fiddled around with a few things and had me push various buttons in certain sequence on the dashboard and move the gearshift around. He said, this is something electronic, actually, and just needs to be reset. And lo and behold, in a few minutes, it worked again. And I felt both relieved and foolish, stupid, and I asked him what I owed him for his professional


assistance, and he said, nothing. I'm just paying it forward. And I didn't know at the time, paying it forward, what did that mean? And he told me there's this movie about paying it forward, where you're actually, it's like building up good karma. You're actually living in a beneficial way with the kind of trust that eventually that will help everyone, including yourself, when you need it. So, paying it forward is part of, say, the goodness or compassionate level. Yesterday, we were talking about when the Tao is lost, then we have virtue, or we have


compassion. So if you are not in touch with suchness, at least you can practice paying it forward. So if you're not in touch with your own practice of zazen, at least you can be kind to yourself, which includes making friends with the wild monkeys in your own mind. So to make friends with the wild monkeys of our mind, we actually need to look at how they arise. So first, they may appear as big monkeys, little monkeys, powerful, compelling entities. But our practice is really to look at the fundamental interdependence of things and see how things arise. So we see how the monkeys of our mind actually come into being.


So this takes a lot of careful, careful study. As Dogen said, to study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the Buddha way is to study the self. And we'd like to leap ahead, I think, to where he says, forget the self and be confirmed by the myriad things, and then the myriad things endlessly convey thusness. Even very experienced practitioners, maybe especially experienced practitioners who feel that they're beyond that learning stage, tend to get past the study of the self, the close, careful investigation of the self.


So this temptation is sometimes expressed in thinking, oh, I understand, I understand Buddhism. Ah, now I understand Buddhism. Just now as I was offering incense at Manjushri's altar here, I thought, oh, this Manjushri is holding a nyoi, not holding a sword and a sutra book. Usually Manjushri is pictured holding a sword and a sutra book, and it just occurred to me now that Manjushri can take the sword and cut away the sutra book, not being dependent on Buddhism, not being dependent on some teaching. Ryokan, one of our Soto Zen ancestors, well, not in our lineage exactly, but one of our


Soto Zen adopted lineage members wrote a poem that goes like this, Buddha is something made up in the mind. The way, the Tao, it doesn't exist either. I'm telling you, believe what I say, don't go off in some wild direction. If you point your cart shafts north and try to get to the tropics, when do you ever hope to arrive? So not going off in some wild direction. Very difficult, always so tempting. So when we're impatient, we want to jump ahead to where there's no trace.


If we're feeling a little lazy, maybe say, please, just give it, give me the secret, give me the teaching. And then think that there's something called Buddhism that is other than your own study. Your own study of the way. Sometimes what is most tantalizing is actually when you have some glimpse of awakening. Some glimpse of body and mind dropping away. Some glimpse of a deep, settled quality of samadhi. As Dogen talks about jijiyo sammai, the samadhi of that self is receiving and generating simultaneously,


in which there's a kind of ease and joy, and you have some glimpse of that and so you want to, you fall in love with it instantly. Fall in love and want to hold it. This kind of yearning and difficulty in accepting the loss of some beautiful moment, I think is epitomized in the story of Orpheus, the Greek god, hero Orpheus, poet and musician, who lost his lover Eurydice when she stepped on a snake and the snake bit her and she suddenly died and he was bereft. Because he was a god and he had special powers that all of us wish we had, right, that he could charm anyone. So he went to Hades and charmed Hades, the god of the underworld, and worked out an agreement


that Eurydice could come back and live with him. His love could return. But there was one condition, that he'd walk out of the underworld with Eurydice following behind him and that he not look back. And so you can picture Orpheus climbing up out of the underworld and Eurydice behind and at some point he can't trust that she's actually there. He steals a glance behind and sees her just dissolving, fading back into the underworld. So this story was very fascinating to the poet, the rainer, Mario Rilke.


And I wanted to read a couple of poems. He wrote a sonnet, a whole series of sonnets to Orpheus. He was working with that quality of love and the tantalizing quality of love and loss. This actually comes up frequently in Zazen. Many moments, moment after moment actually. But especially when there's something that you find so compelling. So in this sonnet, from the second section, number eight, by the way these are translations by Stephen Mitchell, who is also a Zen student and poet. So here he is, Rilke, is calling up an image of joy that arises naturally when you're playing


like a child, free and completely wholeheartedly engaged. You playmates of mine in the scattered parks of the city, small friends from a childhood of long ago, how we found and liked one another hesitantly and like the lamb with the talking scroll, spoke with our silence. When we were filled with joy, it belonged to no one. It was simply there. And how it dissolved among all the adults who passed by and in the fears of the endless year. Wheels rolled past us. We stood and stared at the carriages. Houses surrounded us, solid but untrue. And none of them ever knew us. What in that world


was real? Nothing. Only the balls, their magnificent arches. Not even the children, but sometimes one, oh, a vanishing one, stepped under the plummeting ball. So here he is feeling, has a feeling for that moment, that transient moment. The ball is arching through the air. The playmates are under the ball. There's that moment. And even the child vanishes. So then Rilke, a little later in another one of these sonnets, says,


which are not actually the sonnet form, by the way, but they're called sonnets. He is looking at, I'd say, in a sense, he's trying to help Orpheus, extend from his poet's insight to reach out and help Orpheus. Be ahead of all parting. As though it already were behind you. Like the winter that has just gone by. For among these winters, there is one so endlessly winter, that only by wintering through it, will your heart survive. Be forever dead in Eurydice. More gladly arise into the seamless life proclaimed in your song. Here in the realm of decline, among momentary days, be the crystal cup that


shattered even as it rang. Be, and yet know the great void where all things begin, the infinite source of your own intense vibration, so that this once, you may give it your all to a perfect ascent. To all that is used up, and to all the muffled and dumb creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums, joyfully add yourself and cancel the count. So when he says, here in the realm of decline, among momentary days, be the crystal cup that shatters even as it rang, it's like that phrase from Dogen, the hammer striking emptiness. And so this is, so he first calls up the image of winter, and the winter is


so completely endless, that the only way you can actually survive and enter your life, is by being completely willing to winter through, to completely enter the winter. Like Dong Shan saying, go where there is no heat or cold, how do you do that? You completely die into cold, completely die into heat, completely die into winter, completely die into the experience of Eurydice's being gone. So he says, be forever dead in Eurydice. And then this is where your song arises. So, all human beings have this question, because we have consciousness.


This is a wonderful opportunity. Our great ancestor, Buddha, who was the first human being, Yun-Yan, was very careful in his teaching of Dong Shan. He didn't want to bother, he didn't want to burden the genius of Dong Shan with too much teaching. So one time when Dong Shan said, I want to see my true being, and Yun-Yan simply said, ask the messenger within. And then Dong Shan said, that's what I'm doing. And Yun-Yan said, so, what does he say? And


he said, so, this is a suggestion, I think, in your practice to actually check the messenger within, which may be wild monkey, mean, nasty monkey, naughty monkey, scary monkey. Possibly even a demon. If you can stabilize your mind, then you can meet what arises, knowing that it is already included. So Dong Shan practiced with Yun-Yan. It's not clear how long, but he seemed to know when it was time, when he'd met his teacher, it was time to leave. But


just as he was preparing to leave, he asked Yun-Yan, after your death, after your death, if someone asks me, if I can describe your reality, how should I answer? So remember, this is the teacher who said, when he asked about seeing the true self, which is seeing his own Buddha nature, the teacher said, to ask the messenger within. So now he asks, what about your reality? If someone wants to know about your reality after you die, what should I tell them? And there was this long pause, and then Yun-Yan said, just as


this is it. So Dong Shan then went into silence himself, and Yun-Yan added, you must be most thorough-going in your understanding of this matter. So Dong Shan went into silence, and evidently that was the last word that they exchanged. And then Dong Shan walked away pondering and still considering, he didn't completely understand Yun-Yan's meaning or his teaching for him. And then as he was crossing the river, he looked and saw his


reflection in the water, and understood at that point, understood Yun-Yan's teaching. And then he expressed it poetically like this, don't seek from others, or you'll be estranged from yourself. I now go on alone. Everywhere I encounter it, it, and it. Now is me. I now am not it. One must understand in this way to merge with thusness. So you can picture him seeing his reflection. In this case, he saw his reflection in the


water. But as he goes on alone now, he knows that his reflection is in everything he meets. Saying everywhere I encounter it, it now is me. I now am not it. So it now is me, is this side of complete interrelationship, of complete recognition of connection. Recognizing that you yourself are produced by all the causes and conditions. And anywhere you look, any particular cause, any particular condition, is essential to your being, essential to


your ability to be who you are right now. You can't take anything away. And yet, you are not, you are not, say, defined by that. Even as it produces you, like that real case crystal that breaks, even as you hear the sound of it, and it's gone. And then the song arises again. Orpheus continues to sing once he releases Eurydice, once he releases his grief, once you release the entrancement


that you have with something that you believe, that you depend on. In that moment, then you can say with Dungshan, I am not it. So there's a connection. There's a connection between that side of liberation, of being free. And we cultivate it by taking good care of what's right in front of us, not going off thinking that it's someplace else. And I wanted to read just a little phrase, a few phrases from Suzuki Roshi talking about caring for the soil, saying in Buddhism we're actually taking care of what is, say, the nominal, which is


not only the phenomenal, not only the things. Like in Rilke's poem, when the children are playing and realizing that the houses are unreal, the life of their play is real, the moment of the ball arcing through the air. So Suzuki Roshi says, most of us study Buddhism as though it were something that was already given to us. We think that what we should do is preserve the Buddha's teaching, like putting food in the refrigerator. Then to study Buddhism, we take the food out of the refrigerator. Whenever you want it, it's there in the refrigerator. But instead, Zen students should be interested in how to produce food


from the field, from the garden. We put emphasis on the ground. Mahayana understanding is that the original purpose of Buddha's teaching is to explain the interdependency of different things, of different beings. So our practice is to understand the relationship of the ground and what appears from the ground. So in your practice, you may notice what's in the background of the various emotions and thoughts that arise. You may not pick it up at first by the arising of emotion and thought, but you may pick it up as you see emotion and thought begin to come apart. Any conditioned bundle at some point comes apart. So if you stay with


it, if you bring your awareness to that, sometimes a very intense feeling may be very difficult to stay with. So you're feeling very angry. For years, I myself could not even feel my anger because it was more than I could bear to feel it. So I didn't even know that I was angry. Since I couldn't feel it, I wasn't angry. One time I was walking out in the driveway there and one of my teachers, Harry Roberts, who was a Yurok-trained shaman teacher, was sitting over by near where the stop sign is now in his yellow pickup truck. He saw me walking and he gestured, waved me and called me over. He said, Why are you walking like


you're angry at the earth? The way you put your feet, the way your feet touch the ground like you're angry at the earth. And I said, I don't know. I don't feel angry at the earth. So that took me some time to actually investigate how I was in relation to the earth. And I actually see the beauty. Could I actually walk in beauty? In the process, I had to also feel that this hidden anger was something that I needed to study. As Dogen says, the study of the self. So studying the anger that I didn't see and didn't feel, but someone


else pointed out to me, then became a koan for me. And it's sometimes very intense just to stay with the present experience of some emotion like that until you can actually just penetrate it. See what is there? How does it serve me? How does your belief serve you? How does your emotion serve you? Why are you depending on it? Why are you depending on not seeing it? So exactly how that works then is a kind of allowing the breath actually


to move through it. Because you're staying with the breath as it finds its own way, millisecond by millisecond, it actually takes a long time for the breath to arise and the breath to go. All that time it's finding its way in your body, into every cell of your body. This is happening on a molecular level. Because of the pine tree, you can breathe. And the little molecules leaving the pine needles, finding their way into this room, finding


their way into your lungs. Precious. And then into each cell. So the breath is actually a kind of energy and finding its way through your whole being. And the breath is actually it takes some, say, protected place like the Zendo for you to say, OK, I'll trust that the breath is actually finding its way. I don't have to do it. Doing it is too much. Realizing that you can't do Zazen. That Zazen is actually the Bodhisattva vow which is bigger


than your being. Bigger than your sense of self. Bigger than the whole separation into self and other. So how is this very big thing, the Zazen, such a tiny, tiny movement? So it's very interesting to me how that appreciating vastness comes down to appreciating breath and just minute particle of, say, energy moving through and into this area that I have defined as myself. Breaking through the boundary of what I have defined as myself. Completely dissolving it. Letting it teach me.


So please, take good care of each moment of your life in your Zazen. Recognize your affinity and notice the area where it's hard to trust and see if you can stay right there. Entering the area of your own body-mind that may be unfamiliar. It's already your, say, your true inheritance. It's already your inheritance of Buddha-mind, of true nature. So, see if


you can allow the awareness that you have to not hinder that. Today I had said I would give a short talk. I said to myself. And now the kitchen people are leaving to prepare lunch and I guess that doesn't make it a short talk. So, my intention is to encourage your practice. Thank you for listening. May our intention...