Sunday Lecture

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World's largest ball of twine, snobbery, insight, calming our minds, shamata - tranquility practce, Dhammapada, monuments to warfare, GGF farm and kids, hate crime and Tam High, Harvey Milk, It's Elementary Sutra (?), sew together, look for causes, willingness to be intimate, testing authority, middle way, vow to save all beings, 16 precepts.

AI Summary: 



I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Good morning. What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow. Our life is a creation of our mind. Our life is a creation of our mind. A week or so ago I was listening to NPR and there was an interview with a woman in Cawker City, Kansas. And she was the curator of the town's most prized possession.


Meg, can you turn me down just a little bit? Thanks. And that is a, or rather the, world's largest ball of Cecil Twine. And when I first started to listen to this story, I felt that my attitude wasn't very respectful. However, one of the precepts that I have vowed to uphold is the precept against snobbery, and it's called not praising oneself at the expense of others. So I listened more carefully to this interview, and as I did, I heard in this woman's voice a very warm, kind, and clear human being.


And, you know, I began to actually have a vision of her standing there next to the ball of twine, you know, with a halo of bluish-white hair and a twinkle in her pale green eyes. And it was the twinkle that actually pulled me back from the transgression of snobbery. So I think the interviewer was just as enchanted as I was by the story, so he asked her to please explain how the ball of twine came to be. And what she said was that long ago, about 50 years or so, there was a young farmer named Frank Stober, and Frank was a frugal man. So as he went along feeding his cattle, he would cut the bits of twine off the hay bales, tie them together, and roll them into a ball.


So as the years went by, people heard about what now was Old Frank and his waist-high sphere, so they began to come by with their own bits of twine. And little by little, it grew and grew and grew. So I checked their website, and as of 2004, the ball is 40 feet in circumference and weighs 17,554 pounds, which is nearly nine tons. After Frank died in 1974, the Cocker City Community Club took over care of the ball of twine, and this woman is the chairperson of the community club. So they welcome visitors to come, and in fact, every year since 1974, they have a twine-a-thon,


and people can bring their own contributions, and they wind it around the ball of twine, which is now housed in its own little shed there in the middle of town. But to top this story off, she said that their young art teacher at the local high school, who was quite a talented young lady in her own right, made some replicas of some very famous masterpieces. So they have Whistler's Mother knitting the ball of twine, and they have Rodin's Thinker sitting on the ball of twine, and Mona Lisa smiling at the ball of twine. And these paintings are all around the town, in the pharmacy and the city hall and the school. So again, a warm welcome to us all to come any time we're in Kansas. We can come and join them in their festival.


And they said, as far as directions, it's a very small town, so you can't miss it, because it's a very large ball of twine. So while I was listening to this story, I understood that this story was actually about something a lot deeper and wider than the words themselves. And, you know, the world's largest ball of twine doesn't sound like something good. It may not clearly be bad, but is it good? Is it very good? Or even is it supremely good? Well, that's what I want to talk about today, how that might be so. The mountains, rivers, and earth


are born at the same moment with each and every person. All Buddhas of the three worlds are practicing together with each and every person. During these last few months, most of us here at Green Gulch have been joining together to listen to lectures about teachings such as this one. And one of the things that I think certainly I learned, and maybe some others as well, is that when we try to listen to these teachings with our usual mind or our usual ears, we begin to strain in trying to understand, and we begin to long for some experience of insight, the aha that never seems to come. But I would like to suggest that insight does not come through the front door of our intellectual reasoning, of our rational thought. That insight arises from within,


kind of like the shadow on a sundial or a child's shoelaces coming untied. There is nothing to long for, and there is nothing to dislike. Insight is that things are just the way they are. It's just a ball of twine. In order for us to experience things the way they truly are, it's essential for us to calm our minds. And we must engage in calming practices persistently and continuously, kind of like the repetitive shuttle on a complex weaving, back and forth, back and forth, all through the day, calming our minds, calming our minds. And it is our good fortune,


unlike magnolia trees and rhinoviruses, who perhaps don't need to calm their minds, that we have these rhythmic patterns within our bodies of breath and heartbeat. And if we'll attend to them, slowly and quietly we'll begin to quiet down. My mother used to place a clock in the box with the baby kittens, like a heartbeat. And myself, when I'd hold my daughter when she was little on my chest with her ear against my heart, she would quiet down and go to sleep. So we're like that. This is a natural state, a state of peace. As we practice this mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of our breath,


this practice is called shamatha, which means the practice of tranquility. And tranquility is the foundation for the entirety of the Buddha's teaching. As one of the teachers explained, in order to live in the Buddha's house, which is the house of compassion and loving-kindness, we must wear the Buddha's clothing, which is the robe of patience and calm abiding. And I once, I was kind of irritated, I went into my teacher and I said, how is this robe going to save all sentient beings? And he replied, well, it may save them from you. So practice always begins with this person, right here, right here.


This very person, this universe in the ten directions is the true human body. What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow. Our life is a creation of our mind. If a man or a woman acts with an impure mind, suffering follows them as the wheel of the cart, follows the beast that draws the cart. If a man or a woman acts with a pure mind, joy follows them as their own shadow. He insulted me. She hurt me. They attacked me. He robbed me. Those who think such thoughts will not be free from hate. He insulted me. They hurt me. He attacked me. She robbed me.


Those who think not such thoughts will be free from hate, for hate is not conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love. This is the eternal law. And those who know this do not fight against each other. We are here in this world to live in harmony. This is a teaching from the first verse of the Dhammapada, one of the oldest collections of verses attributed to the Buddha. So allowing that all of us understand that calming the mind is essential, it's the essential element to our mastery of human life, I can only encourage you all to take up the practices of Shambhala. The Samatha of tranquility. And to see for yourselves how those practices might change your own life


and the world around you. To see what a difference our attitude makes. You know, right now we live in a world that is rife with thoughts of hatred. When the mind is calm, we can begin to notice more and more the relationship between ourselves and the objects with which we inhabit our lives. You know, how you pick up a dish, close a door, answer the phone, drive your car. But most importantly, we can begin to study the critical distance that we imagine to exist between ourselves and one another, between our human relationships. This is where the fate of the world hinges. So I went so far as to send an email to Cocker City, Kansas,


because I understand Kansas is right in the bright red heart of the continental United States. And I wanted to say something nice to them, something that I really meant. I told them that I admired their curator and Frank Stober and the young art teacher and the entire community for creating a monument to home and hard work and family instead of the usual monuments to warfare. You know, I often feel this same kind of pride around taking people to show them Green Gulch that I felt in this Cocker City presentation. You know, I'm really proud of this old barn, and I particularly like to bring kids in here when it's empty and there's just rows of little black pillows, you know, and they love to sit on them, which is supremely good because that's what they're for.


And sometimes I say, well, you probably don't want to try to sit for a while, though it's pretty hard. You know, I don't want to ask you to do that. Oh, yeah, please, please, we want to do that. It's the briar patch. I was thinking that maybe if anyone had the talent to do so, they could help us make a picture of our students sitting on balls of twine that we could send off to Cocker City. At least they'd know we're not any more crazy than they are. So I really don't know what else to do about this world of exclusion, which seems to be becoming deeper and wider, and the fear and hatred that appears to be growing in our country and in this world. There was a hate crime in Tam High School a couple of weeks ago. Did you hear about it?


A young lesbian girl, student, one of their best athletes, and very bright student, she's a friend of Davy Weintraub who lives here, someone or several someones wrote very ugly things on her locker and they threw eggs at her and they went to her home. This is not far away. This is our hometown. And can you imagine how frightened you'd be if you were a young kid to be told you don't belong? I have another friend who was born with a face and hands like a porcelain doll. He's a beautiful, beautiful man. And I found out that he has a gun that he keeps under his bed because he's afraid that someone's going to kill him or beat him up because he loves other men or because he looks like he might.


So I think it's really important that all of us speak out and speak up and make sure that we're not contributing in any way to this hatred and ignorance that's infesting our homes, our town, our hearts. We have considerable power, but not if we're silent. I wanted to recommend to you all that you take the time to look again at the film, The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. If you haven't seen it, please do, share it with your family. I also want to recommend another video called, It's elementary. It's a wonderful, award-winning film that's been shown in schools where they will allow. It's talking about gay issues in school, and it's done with wonderful teachers


actually talking to students, little kids, about what two mommies or two daddies might be like. And the kids are extraordinary. It's only the adults who scare the hell out of you. Kids have to be taught who to hate. We know this, but we have to keep teaching love, nonviolence, and inclusion. So this is a film done by two wonderful women, Deborah Chasnoff and Helen Cohn. And I'll have it with me at question and answer if you'd like to find out where to get a hold of it. So the one thing I've been trying to do myself, and why I chose to love the ball of twine, is to try to look for and to find the patterns that connect us to one another. You know, the Buddha's teachings themselves are called sutras. Sutra means to sew together with bits of thread.


So suturing is what we do to bind wounds and to heal ourselves, our fears, and the deep terror that comes when others say we don't belong. Looking for and finding connecting patterns is the workings of the mind at peace, the mind of compassion. When the young Buddha-to-be sat under a tree, upright, calm, and relaxed, he was studying the patterns within his own mind, within our own minds. Breath and heart, warmth and chill, anger, lust, boredom, fear and pleasure, pain and loss, until at last he arrived at a place in himself called the true human body. Zen Master Dogen expresses becoming such a person in this way,


Being unstained is like meeting a person and not considering what they look like. Also, it is like not wishing for more color or brightness when viewing flowers or the moon. Following his enlightenment, the Buddha went forth to teach and he was asked as he went along his way, Who are you? Are you a god? He said, No. Are you a spirit? No. Are you a human being? No. Are you a demon? No. Well then, what are you? And he said, I am awake. Being awake, the Buddha accepted his assignment of showing others the passageways to liberation


and he began by lecturing on causality. As the Dalai Lama said after 9-11, Don't look for blame, look for causes. Suffering is caused by ignorance and self-centered grasping. Liberation from suffering is caused by awakening from ignorance and by renouncing self-centered grasping. In other words, not wishing for more color or brightness when viewing flowers or the moon. You know, it's pretty easy for me to say those words and maybe it's even not so hard for us to see it, to know it. But doing it is very difficult. We need to spend a lot of time and much hard work in overcoming our long-standing habits of body, speech and thought.


But as we do so, there will become more room inside for good habits to grow. Habits like patience and tranquility, generosity, morality, effort, concentration, wisdom. These are the paramitas, the six transcendent practices of the Bodhisattva. This kind of work requires tremendous courage and a willingness to be seen, to be heard and to be touched. The work of healing our lives can only be done through intimacy with our most vulnerable and tender parts. Intimacy with ourselves and with other people, the very place where the wounding began. When we begin a life of practice,


at first I think most of us start off trying to be very, very good and we call it wholehearted practice. You know, we come on time with our homework done, our hair neatly combed and our shoes brightly shined. But if you are anything like the rest of us, that kind of practice starts to thin. And pretty soon we find ourselves testing the boundaries between ourselves and, in particular, the authorities. So whether it's your therapist or your Zen teacher, pretty soon you start to push back. I think we have to find out ourselves whether anyone really cares or is even looking. You know, perhaps it is a cold, cruel world after all. The two approaches to practice that I just mentioned,


the trying very, very hard or not trying at all, are called the two extremes. And the Buddha very kindly recommended that we avoid them both. Do not practice the extremes. Not too loose, not too tight. And he called this the middle way. The one side, the extreme view of being very, very good, is called eternalism, where the very good girl is loved by the very good father forever. The other side, the view, is called nihilism, where the very bad girl isn't loved by anybody and isn't even sure she wants to stay around. So no matter what your inclinations might be, too loose or too tight, the Buddha suggests that we practice neither attaching nor detaching, but that we focus our sincere intention on being upright,


gentle, light-hearted, and clear. Clear with ourselves and clear with all of the things we meet. He called this way, this path, taking refuge in reality. The Buddha spent his entire lifetime walking together with those who had been terribly wounded and who had come to him for help. And the medicine that he dispensed was a daily dosage of calm, friendship, and wisdom. From within the safety of such a supportive environment, his disciples began to peek out from behind the conjurations of their isolated and well-defended selves. Little by little, the light of wisdom illuminates both the sorcerer and the sorcerer's spell.


Until there comes a day when, as Glenda the Good said to the wicked witch of the north, be gone, you have no power here. Once we can see and be relieved from the boundless suffering that has arisen from our own ignorance and our own selfishness, there grows in us, organically, a wondrous vow to share this relief with everyone. And in this way, we add our own bits of twine to the ever-growing ball of connection between ourselves and the rest of the world. That wondrous vow goes like this. Beings are numberless. I vow to save them. It's pretty big. Beings are numberless. I vow to save them. That I in I vow is the I of a Buddha.


And in the Buddha's I, the entire universe in the ten directions is the true human body. And the task is not too great. And the Buddha's I will never sleep until all beings have awakened from their dream of an isolated, lustful, and hateful separate self. So I would like to end today with a reading from the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts that we recite during wedding ceremonies here at Zen Center. I was imagining most of you had not been to a Zen Center wedding, and perhaps not to a precept ceremony either, so I wanted to offer you this recitation from inside the house of our ritual practice. And maybe it can give you some feeling for the kinds of threads that we use to bind this community together.


So as the introduction to the vows, we recite with the couple, the bride and the groom, or the bride and the bride, or the groom and the groom. Vowing and precepts are expressions from the great heart of our human life. Through our words and by our actions, we may enter into the goodness at the core of our being. In the Buddhist tradition, the precepts serve as our guide. Like the North Star, as we journey through the uncharted waters of our existence. Of course you'll make mistakes. We all do. But digest the mistakes and never stop trying to take care of each other and all those who depend on you, calling forth all you can of courage, love, and faith. This is the true spirit with which we undertake these vows. In the presence of your family and friends, and with the invisible breath of your wedding vow,


I will now recite with you the three refuges, the three pure precepts, and the ten clear-mind precepts. The three refuges. I take refuge in Buddha. This is the enlightened nature of all being. I take refuge in Dharma. This is the truth of all existence. I take refuge in Sangha. This is the community of all beings. The three pure precepts. I vow to embrace and sustain right conduct. This is the intention always to practice with awareness and restraint. I vow to embrace and sustain all good. This is the intention to make every effort to act with kindness and compassion. I vow to embrace and sustain all being. This is the intention to act unselfishly and to serve others whenever possible.


The ten clear-mind precepts. Not killing. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow to cultivate and encourage life. Not stealing. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow to be generous and respectful of others' property. Not abusing sexuality. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow to remain faithful in our relationship. Not lying. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow to tell the truth. Not intoxicating self or others. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow not to harm myself or others with intoxicants and to maintain a clear mind and body. Not slandering others. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine,


I vow not to dwell on the faults of others. Not praising self at the expense of others. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow to speak of the virtues of others and our interdependence with them. Not possessive of anything, even the teachings. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow to be generous in all material and spiritual matters. Not to harbor ill will. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow to practice loving kindness and nonviolence. And finally, not to abuse the three treasures. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow to honor, respect, and protect the triple treasure, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. So I want to thank all of you for coming here today,


for bringing your small bits of twine to our community and to our connection to the world and to all things. And I hope when Cocker City finds out about our get-together that they won't mind a little friendly competition. Thank you very much. May our intention