Sitting Under The Rose-Apple Tree

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Sunday Lecture

AI Summary: 



I vow to taste the truth of Ajatagata's words. Good morning. I hope you can hear. Is that clear? Good. This is a wonderful day because the young people are here. So welcome to Green Belch. Is it a first time for any of you? How about in this hall? Maybe some of you have been here, but you haven't been in here. Yay! And the big people are raising their hands, too. That's good. Well, welcome. Everyone is welcome. I wanted to begin by telling a story. A story of the Buddha when he was a young boy. I wonder if anybody here is five years old. How incredible. Because this story happened when the Buddha was just about Lucas and Indigo's age, and Olivia's age, and a few others of you who are five.


Josh, are you a little older than five? Yeah. Anyway, when the Buddha was about five years old, his father thought, How wonderful. You're old enough to go out with me for the blessing of the fields. Traditionally, in northern India, every spring, the king, and the Buddha's father was the king of a small, mud and waddle kind of small kingdom. I like to say kingdom. It's a little nicer. There's too many kings in the world. So he was the leader of this kingdom. And there were many people who were connected by family connection. Anyway, he took his son, his first and only son, out to the fields with him. And whenever the leader of the community came to celebrate the first plowing of the fields, everybody showed up. Because it was meant to be very good luck, and probably signs of a good harvest if the king were there.


So he came out with his son. And in that part of India, the ground was opened up using oxen. You know what an ox is? What is an ox? It's like a cow. Like a large, male cow. And the ox would pull a plow that would cut into the ground and open it up so that there could be planting afterwards. So the Buddha, actually then he was just a little boy named Siddhartha, he stood next to his dad, and he watched what was happening. And while everyone was cheering and celebrating, he felt terrible. Because as the plow cut into the ground, it cut up worms and some birds were hurt. And he felt so sad that that was happening to the ground. He didn't know what to do. So he watched, and when everything got really exciting, he kind of snuck off by himself. Even though he was five, he thought,


I don't want to stay here, because it makes me sad. Do you know what that feels like? I'm sure you've seen that. Yes? I've been sad and it feels like that. It does. And that's exactly, I'm sorry you were sad, but that's exactly what the Buddha felt. Exactly that. And so he went off by himself. Now many people loved him and were watching over him, so he wasn't lonely, he wasn't going to get lost. And he found a beautiful tree to the corner of the field, a tree called the rose apple tree. Beautiful tree that grows in that part of India. And he took his place underneath that tree, and just leaned back against the tree, and I think he even fell asleep. And I also think, I imagine at least, that he thought about everything he'd seen, and he sent his wishes that all the beings that he'd seen cut up and hurt would be all right,


would be healthy and happy. And when he woke up, the ceremony was over, his father and his special nurse were there, his auntie, and he went home and had dinner. But you know, throughout his entire life, he never forgot that day under the rose apple tree. And later, when he began to teach and to wander and to travel all over northern India, he often remembered what it was like to take his place underneath that tree and feel a kind of relief from what was so frightening and made him so sad. So today, I thought that I would ask you to think about what kinds of places make you feel safe when times are a little uneven or rough, or if you're feeling a little sad or worried. What makes you feel safe?


I'm really interested in this. Yes? When you're home, that's great. Yes? It can be anything at all. It can be home, it can be... Let's hear what you have to say. We'll come back to you when you're ready. Yes? Your family? Lovely. Great. Sometimes it's a pet, or sometimes it's a friend. Sometimes it's a special place, or sometimes it's a plant. Well, we heard from you. Let's wait and see who else we can hear from. Anyone else? You like to pick apples. Well, maybe you have a rose apple tree in your life. That's great. Do you know there's a young woman who lives in this community? And those of us who've practiced here and lived here for a long time have known her since she was a little girl, about this big.


And she's already graduated from high school and college. And she's a very brave person. She's working and living in the country of Colombia, which is a pretty dangerous place. And when she feels afraid and in danger, her real happiness and stability depend on remembering what makes her strong and sure, very much like the Buddha that day. Sometimes it can change. Every single time, you may feel something else that helps you be strong. Anyway, this morning, you have the opportunity to go with Michael and Leslie and the whole family program people here at Green Gulch, and you're going to go up to the yurt, and they're going to give you special bright-colored cloths. And you'll have a chance to either write something on that cloth or draw a picture


or who knows what you'll do exactly. I can't wait to see what you do though. I bet it'll be great. And then we're going to take those bright flags, and either you'll take them home or they'll hang in the garden so that whatever you draw or write that helps make you feel peaceful or strong or solid will show, will be right on the bright flag. So I'm going to be very interested to see what you do. Does that sound like fun? I hope so. I hope it's going to be fun. Before we go, do you know what kind of an animal this is? Josh? You're right. It's a penguin. I have a really good friend who got quite sick. And when he got sick, he sent me his penguin and he said, It's a good idea if the penguin can spend as much time with children as possible. He said, I keep it in my bell


until children come through. I wonder if there's someone who would like to take the penguin up to the yurt. Is there someone who might like to do that? Come on. Come on up and get him. And when he's all finished, and maybe he'd even like to help you paint your sign. And when you're all finished, you can give the penguin to Leslie. Okay? She's Lila's mom and Lucas' mom. Before we go, one more thing. I'm curious, I'm curious to see if you might enjoy sitting completely still. You're doing pretty well already. But sitting completely still for one minute. Do you think a minute is a long time? It can be. It can be really long. But it's a wonderful thing. If you know how long a minute is, then every time you get into a really busy situation and you want to take a little breath,


you can remember how long a minute is and enjoy your breathing for that long. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to ring the penguin's bell. And you can sit and just enjoy your breathing. Pretend like you're sitting underneath the rose apple tree in your own garden or any place that makes you feel safe and secure and happy. And at the end of a minute, I'll ring the bell and it'll be time to get up and go to the yurt. Can you have a bell for the yurt? Great. So you're all set. Okay. So here comes the sound of the bell. And just try to sit as quietly as you can. You don't have to be strange. You can be completely relaxed. And just enjoy. You don't have to pretend to be meditating. You can just sit and enjoy your breathing for one minute. See how long it lasts. You can even listen to the bell. The tone of the bell continues to ring for almost a minute. I'll give you that warning. First I can wake it up. And then all of us


in the hall can do this too. Join the kids. Bell Rings Bell Thank you for sitting so quietly. Did it feel like a long time


or a short time? Short time? How about for you? Yeah. Yeah. That's the way it is. It's both. What a miracle. Yes. Medium. Oh, very, very skillful. Very skillful. So please have a wonderful morning. Enjoy painting and drawing. Thank you for making those flags. If they hang, wherever they hang, your prayer for peace or for remembering what places make us feel solid or what makes us feel strong travels all the way through the airwaves with the wind. So thank you for doing that today. And I know you're going to have a great time. And please come back. Thank you. You are free. Hi. What? A snake. Oh, that's a good idea. There are well-warmed


zafus here in the front for anyone who'd like to come sit, absorb some of the kid energy. Please come in close. I guess it'll make it nicer. Thank you. As a mother


of a 26-year-old and a 15-year-old, I must say I always delight in the little piles of sand that remain on the ever-so-clean zafus of Zen Center after the children leave. It's to me one of the greatest and truest memories of, not memories, but realities of the kind of grit that it takes to really practice meditation, true sandy grit, becoming finer and finer. So welcome to Green Gulch. Thank you for coming today in these dark and essential, consequential times to take the time to come together and to be in this hall together and to examine the mind. To bring up what's deepest in our hearts and minds is a great gift. Goes the last of the gritty ones.


I love the story of the Buddha and the rose apple tree. I think of that child sitting, finding his place, taking his place under that tree so many thousands of years ago as a, not a metaphor, but a reminder of how important it is to find our place, that changeable place that never stays the same. I think Wallace Stevens, poet Wallace Stevens said, if 20 people cross a bridge into a village, 20 people cross 20 bridges into 20 villages. I've always loved that poetic reminder that each person, when he or she, or each being, include the more than human world too, each being, when we find our place where we are, helps practice to occur


in our distinct, unique ways. For the Buddha, under the rose apple tree. For other children, who knows, maybe along a broken, muddy road, just sitting still for one minute, can change the course of the path leading into our practice. And that's very much the simple spirit that I wanted to bring up this morning. I hope we can talk about together what actually helps us, what happens when we meditate. Something that fundamental. Could that be a question that we investigate together. I love, and have been very grateful for the guidance of wonderful teacher, Joseph Goldstein, who teaches in the Vipassana Network. And he says quite simply, meditation practice helps us open what's closed,


balance what's out of balance, or what's reactive, and reveal what's hidden. And it's such simple guidance. And yet how we individually do the work, take up the task, depends on our whole heartedness and our true presence. Today, I want very much to draw from the world of youthful expression, painting and writing, and this in honor of a wonderful friend, Natalie Goldberg, who's here today with her new book, The Great Failure. She's here to sign books, and also to meet with us during question and answer. She'll come into this room and we'll meet together. And I'm thinking that very much the world of art, the wild mind of creative expression, which is not limited


to painting and writing, to any of the creative arts. It depends so much on what's inside of us. Coming out is such an important access for opening what's closed, balancing what's out of whack, and revealing what's hidden, and especially in these times. So let's look a little bit at these three points, and then later this morning we'll bring up our own experience, very much like the rather bold and at ease children did. We can talk, well, how do you actually turn the Dharma and make it sing? When I think about what is closed, and I'm relying on my own body and mind thinking about this, so often my body is closed, although it's not my intention


to be closed. My body, the stiffness of my body, or the achiness in the body, I'm closed off to that and pushed right through. My husband has been for almost a year, he works hard as a farmer working in San Francisco growing food for people who are quite hungry, and he pushes through his physical pain. Right now he's dislocated his shoulder, and he's been continuing to work, but has just begun to notice in the weekends when he has to slow down a little bit, how much pain is actually there, and how closed he's been to that pain so that he can keep working. So I think in investigating meditation, often when we first sit down, what we come into contact with is my knees are killing me, or my back is sore, or what's going on


with my shoulders, how can they be this tense? And just the sheer act of settling ourselves on ourselves brings up what we've been closed to. The door begins to creak open, and you come into contact, or we come into contact, or I come into contact with what is stiff, unyielding, and painful, actually painful. And to open to what's painful can be very difficult. You know, that in itself is reason enough to become familiar and comfortable with one minute of meditation, very much like we just did with the kids. It may be hard to sit still for 40 minutes, but I'll wager that we could do it. We could begin to open our hearts and minds to one minute. A great Sri Lankan


meditation teacher says, Dear Americans, you think so much. Dear Westerners, you think so much. So much is closed to you. It's true, it may be hard to meditate for half an hour a day, but could you imagine breathing one minute every hour? How would it be for one minute every hour to let ourselves open up to what's really going on in our bodies? To sit quietly, to become familiar with how many times we breathe. Like with the kids, I know I'm a reptile and I breathe about six times a minute. Most people breathe 12 times. I'm about six and probably getting slower. So I don't have to time with the watch anymore. I can just follow my breathing for one minute and I try to do that when I remember. Just so that I can open a bit and remember my promise, my pledge to myself


to hold still and open my heart and mind to what's going on. Not be closed. I respect the necessity for closed doors. I'm not saying you should throw open everything. But just to open a little bit and let some light come in to what is actually happening in the body and mind. Meditation begins to offer us access to that world, that secret world, and to learn how to navigate within the openness. I think one of the things that comes up quite quickly in sitting still and opening up to the stiffness is what we call Dharma pain or the pain of unresolved numbness that's in us. It's hard to encounter that. And yet, without beginning to open to it, how does how does light get in?


How does darkness get in? How do we get to know who we really are? So this is quite fundamental and simple. What feelings come up actually talking to other young people? They mentioned a kind of worry about themselves. If I sit still too long, I feel sorry for myself because I might hurt myself if I sit still too long. I thought that was interesting. Others feel uneasiness, a kind of fear when they hold still. But one of the feelings that was the strongest was the feeling of loneliness that comes up. Do I want to open up to a lonely feeling that's in me? All these feelings are welcome in the country of meditation.


But loneliness, in particular with young people, was one that came up that they noticed after sitting. One child, an eight-year-old child, wrote this poem. It's called One. We had a most commonly misspelled word spelling test yesterday in English during the fourth period. I commonly misspelled them all except one. Loneliness was the only one I got right. So, to actually open to loneliness, to that spacious feeling that we're so often close to, has its consequence and rewards. I'm trying to tell something up... I'm going to need some glasses,


I think. Where's my... Saintly. Thank you. It used to be so much lighter in here. I'm not so open to wearing glasses. Oh, yeah, there's the light. I'm trying to tell something almost... I'm trying to tell something about empty farm fields broken by fall and the half-light of sun. I'm trying to say something about the constant loneliness about the crack of pale yellow cornstalks in the middle of September in Minnesota. And to let that lonely voice come up out of the body of your experience takes a willingness to be open, a beginning, and a respect for how important it is


often to be closed. So, kind of, the balance of both of those are essential. Softening the heart, letting the breath begin to open. You know, when you begin... I don't know how it is for you all, but... I think especially because I have the great privilege of working with middle school age children and younger children and watching what happens when they sit down, soften their hearts, open up to the most commonly misspelled word. I... I have come to see that finding some way to track the breath, to be open to the breath is very important. And in sitting meditation, you can do that by noticing the sensation of the air coming in through your nostrils and going out. What Suzuki Roshi called letting the great


outer world come into your inner world. Opening your inner world to the outer world. So you breathe in and all that huge world comes in, stays inside and then breathing out. The inner world, your inner world goes out to the outer world. And maybe you're tracking just through the nostrils. Let's do that just for a few breaths. Really pay attention to the feeling of the air this good clear air coming in from the outer world and then back out. So your commitment to openness may be just as simple as opening your heart and mind and attention


to the sensation of the breath coming into the body and breathing. In-breath everything's possible. Out-breath let me release that. Let me be open to everything possible and then let it go. Like a swinging door between the worlds. So maybe you'll pay attention to the breathing coming in through your nostrils or even the rising and falling of the belly. You can experiment with putting your hand on your belly and just enjoying one or two breaths. So much of our life begins with that basic openness and commitment to knowing what we're made of and who we are. Enjoying the breath settling down. When I think of


balancing what's reactive I think there couldn't be a better season than this season and I mean agriculturally politically climate-wise darkness and light-wise. There couldn't be a better season than this season to look at what's happening balance and reactivity. I feel so strongly the call to be responsive to what's happening in our world and how important it is to respond without reacting and yet at the same time not wanting to be shut down closed off. One of my favorite t-shirts as a gardener I particularly love this t-shirt it says when you grow on a front it says when you grow weary of the world there's always the garden. I saw the first time I saw this t-shirt


a wonderful gardener was wearing it and she was rather dirty and the shirt was properly anointed with soil it was great and I thought that's a wonderful t-shirt she said wait till you see the back she turned around and it said when you grow weary of the garden there's always the world. And I think I feel and my experience is that balancing what what may be extremes or polar extremes is probably the most important and fundamental act of practice and meditation finding some way to balance to balance what's reactive what's reactive in me my mind my senses my ideas my thinking so that it's very difficult to to be in balance and the trick of balance is that you're always falling out of balance you know what it's like if you're walking I mean I still even as a


very old lady like to walk along fence posts and if you walk too slowly you fall off if you walk too fast you fall off finding exactly the right pace is the most dangerous and challenging of experiences to really find that and then each one of us has to find out for ourselves how do we stay in balance and I'm not talking about averaging finding a safe road but staying on that kind of dangerous line between falling off the edge of the world and walking right into cracking open the heart of the world and walking right in so meditation practice getting to know our breathing getting to be comfortable even in difficult and uncomfortable situation finding our balance and then letting it go again and again and again is primary


and necessary in the Zen Hospice program which many of us here at Zen Center have been involved in for quite a number of years this is sitting at the bedside of people who are going on to as Sanro she said join the great majority people at the end of their lives having the privilege of being able to sit by their bedside and watch how everything that's been in balance changes there are some simple precepts that the Zen Hospice volunteers have put together for themselves to remind to remind one another how to stay present number one welcome everything that comes up don't push anything away and bring your whole self to the bedside your whole wild sad nervous self


to the bedside and don't wait don't wait to be to be present don't wait until the situation changes find a place of rest in the middle of activity and last of all cultivate or at least welcome the I don't know what to do with your mind now anyone can be a hospice volunteer they go through a good long period of training a couple of months period of training the only criterion is that you have some meditation practice that grounds you some way to connect with your breath with your body with your mind not numbing it closing it down not being too reactive finding some kind of balance in between


so that so that it's possible to be present and it strikes me that these precepts are good advice for human life especially in these times and it's not it's not easy work to welcome everything push nothing away we say don't wait but also don't hurry so learning how to do this is our work here's another poem this is from


John Muir describing his ascent of Mount Ritter after scanning its face again and again I began to scale it picking my hole with intense caution about halfway to the top I was suddenly brought to a dead stop with arms outspread clinging close to the face of the rock unable to move hand or foot either up or down my doom appeared fixed I must fall there would be a moment of bewilderment and then a lifeless rumble down the cliff to the glacier below my mind seemed to fill with stifling smoke this terrible eclipse lasted only a moment when life blazed forth again with preternatural clearness I seemed suddenly to become possessed of a new sense my trembling muscles became firm again every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as through a microscope


my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do I'm talking about that kind of balance which is I love this teaching from the face of Mount Ritter because actually finding that kind of balance is a matter of life and death my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminded us that in crossing the Gulf of Tonkin from Vietnam to so-called safety on the other side of the waters the presence of one calm person in the little lifeboats made all the difference between a safe passage and death so to be a calm person a settled person not checked out I'm not talking at all about being checked out but fully present


alert and aware of what's going on in the middle of these times right in the heart of these times that means not only sitting still but getting up and functioning and working not only dreaming but waking up finding the balance between holding still and getting up and serving is something we can have a good time talking about in question and answer because it really is the line upon on which we all live and especially now in these times and last of all exploring what's hidden when thinking about what's really hidden and what comes forth in meditation for me the true nature


of my experience is often hidden and sinking down to trust the truth of what is it's very painful very difficult but maybe the explorer or the mad gardener in me wants to know what is the true nature of my experience and it's great to think of the word true it comes from tree and trust it makes me go back and think about the rose apple tree or this piece of wood that a friend just recently gave me he found an old piece of an old limb of a chestnut tree that had died maybe 20 or 30 years before on his land this is in the northeast


where a number of the great chestnuts have died and he watched this piece of wood until it began to get more and more gnarly and decayed and dead and then picked it up and began to riddle and carve and inside I hope you'll come and during question and answer I hope you'll come I'll put it here next to Jizo inside is the most beautiful living core of truth inside of this tree and Tom said I thought that there might be another world inside of the world that I saw on the surface he's a geologist and he said please dear friends we were had the pleasure of working together quite recently and meeting him for the first time and watching him carve this wood and then getting this piece of wood he said please don't make the mistake of thinking that what's hidden that we can't what we can't see


will only be revealed in slow gracial time the movement that you know that crunching along of the eons real change can happen precipitously and instantaneously faster than we know what's hidden can be revealed so it's very important to be ready to be alert to be open balanced and receptive to what we don't see what's hidden exploring what's hidden is a little bit like opening what's closed except a little deeper because going into what's hidden may mean and I don't know how to express this quite I'm thinking of a friend who's a painter


who says when I when I paint dogwood blossoms I don't paint the dogwood blossoms I paint everything else I leave the dogwood blossoms I'm talking about that kind of revelation of what's hidden it's like you have an itch on your left shoulder and you scratch it this way you know instead of just you come around on a path that you don't usually walk we're going to need that kind of capacity in these times and what's endangered are concepts are concepts of what a dogwood is what the blossoms are what color is what paint is what life is what a tree is what to trust is what our nature is utterly endangered and when we make


the determination to cut through and walk in and to tell the truth to speak the truth even though it's difficult there's a shift and it is difficult to get the news from the hidden world but people die every day for lack of what's down there in that hidden world so you come together today to sit to be in this place to turn your bodies and minds toward the essential point to become comfortable with meditation and with the community and friends who share this world and together we practice we find our place so thank you


very much for coming and really the most interesting and important part of our time together today is communicating communicating with one another bringing up our experience sharing that listening to one another so I really invite you to come back into the hall we're going to go outside and get there'll be some wonderful announcements and we'll go outside and get some tea and treats and then come back and please do come back so that we can make these points relevant and true to our own experience and learn from each other and we'll have a chance to meet Natalie and go drop down even deeper so let me close with a poem I love simple poem from a German poetess it's called In Passing


she says how swiftly the strained light excuse me how swiftly the strained honey of afternoon light fades into darkness and the closed bud shrugs off its special mystery to break into blossom as if what exists exists so that it can be lost and become precious thank you very much for coming today and I look forward to being here with you later