Sunday Lecture

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I was just sitting Zazen here in just the previous period and I want to thank you all for your sitting and for your sincerity. It's been a while since I've been here at Green Gulch and I'm not used to this echo. But it's a very powerful thing that we're doing actually, just sitting together. And I found it to be a very moving experience. I could feel the deep soundless tone of everyone sitting with great sincerity. I was sitting on some boards that I remember nailing down back in 1973, I believe, and


we built the tan in the back. And I was happy that although I didn't really know at the time what I was doing because I didn't know that everyone would be sitting here today, I thought it was a pretty good thing to have done. Then I felt something else. I felt some ache in my heart and I felt some sense of suffering. And, of course, when you're sitting with other people you don't know exactly whether the ache in your heart is the ache in your own heart, your own individual heart, or whether


the ache in your heart is the person next to you, or whether the ache in your heart is a suffering of all beings. Without knowing this you still have the ache in your heart, you still have that problem or that pleasure, you have that sensation. And what I remembered as I was feeling the ache was that this is the basic point of origin for all of Buddhism, that you really don't understand Buddhism, you don't understand the way of Buddha's teaching and the Dharma without that basic experience of your aching


heart. I felt that perhaps the sitting before lecture is the high point of the day here and that I hope in my words this morning that I don't do anything to diminish the experience of sitting in the room with a great intention, with great calmness of mind, and with the willingness to be open to the ache in the heart. Earlier this morning when I was sitting at home I heard a frog sing and that's unusual, I live in Mill Valley, for those of you who don't know my name is Steve Stuckey, I lived


here at Green Gulch for some years and about ten years ago I moved over the hill. Now I live in Mill Valley and sometimes people come and sit at my house. But I thought well it's a wonderful thing to hear the song of the frog and I heard it as the koan about being and doing. And I'd like to read a section from Thomas Cleary's translation, now this isn't one of the cases of the Hekigan Roku, this is, which is the Blue Cliff Records, but this is found in the biographical material and it's the story of attainment, it's the story of looking


for a jewel. Actually as I was standing out waiting for the bathroom this morning I heard Lou giving a Zazen instruction, he was talking about the location of the jewel and whether the jewel is out there someplace, the jewel being wisdom, or whether the jewel is maybe hidden within you somewhere. So this story came from 8th century China, I'm not going to read it literally, I'm going to make a few changes, those of you who want to check back later it's on page 229. This is about Matsu, Matsu was a big fellow, he was very serious about his Zazen and he


went to a small temple and took up residence in a little hermitage beside the temple and was sitting in Zazen with all of his tremendous energy and Nangaku or Huai Zhang, Nangaku is Japanese, Huai Zhang is Chinese, Huai Zhang heard about him sitting there and thought he should go and see what he's up to and so this is an example of a friendly gesture from one Dharma student to another. So he comes up and Matsu is sitting there and he says, great one, what are you aiming at by sitting meditation?


And Matsu replied, I aim to become a Buddha. So see he was, what do we say, going for it. Then Huai Zhang didn't say anything but he picked up a piece of broken roof tile that was lying beside the temple and he started rubbing it on a rock and Matsu, I don't know, maybe he became irritated or curious, he said, what are you doing? And Huai Zhang said, I'm rubbing this tile to turn it into a jewel. So Matsu had to ask, well, how are you going to make a jewel out of a piece of tile?


And Huai Zhang said, granted, how are you going to become a Buddha by sitting meditation? So then Matsu said, well, what would be right? And Huai Zhang responded, it's like the case of an ox pulling a cart. If the cart doesn't go, which do you hit, the ox or the cart? Matsu didn't know what to say and Huai Zhang went on. Do you think you are practicing sitting meditation or do you think you are practicing sitting Buddhahood? If you are practicing sitting meditation, meditation is not sitting.


If you think you are practicing sitting Buddhahood, Buddha or awakening is not a fixed form. You should neither grasp nor reject. Now Matsu listened carefully. It says here that he heard this teaching as if he was drinking ambrosia. Maybe that's like Perrier when you're very thirsty. He bowed and asked, how shall I meditate so as to merge with the formless absorption? More of a technical question. Huai Zhang said, your study of the teaching of the mind ground or your meditation practice is like planting seeds.


My talking about the essence of reality may be likened to moisture falling from the sky. So it took two of them. One was the seeds and one was the rain. Now part of the context for me today for feeling this suffering is my reading of the newspaper. And many people are experiencing some difficulty these days. Some of the things that have come up in the last few weeks are of course the situation in China where this story originated about 1100 years ago.


I thought, boy, they had such a good story and now look at the mess. Also Tibet, China and Tibet. And I know a number of people are down at the Dalai Lama's meeting beginning today, I believe. Where he is meeting the press but primarily giving an initiation harmonizing the inner and outer realms. Also there was the Supreme Court decision which effect having to do with abortion. And I know many people are upset, frightened, angry. There are 74,000 acres of trees, of rainforest, forest being destroyed every day.


I'm just saying these things, my heart aches. So I want to talk about practice in the sense of Zen practice being a kind of a lens or crystal between being and doing. And being we say is prajna. In our chants the prajna paramita refers to the mother of the Buddhas or the ground which is our fundamental basis for our life and for our awakening, for our consciousness.


And doing actually refers to ethics or shila in Sanskrit. And our zazen in the middle is concentration or samadhi. So shila, samadhi and prajna are three fundamentals of our life as practitioners of the way of liberation. Now sometimes I think we don't put enough emphasis on the skill of doing. We come from suffering to zazen, meditation, looking towards the jewel of prajna.


And sometimes we want to jump over all the messy business of the details of our suffering and of the problem of what to do. I think that's partly a particular problem of the Zen approach, of the Zen school, which emphasizes sitting and traditionally doesn't really say so much about what you should do. And I think it's also partly a problem of our Western culture and how we receive Buddha's teaching. In fact, Don Lattin interviewed the Dalai Lama for the Chronicle and he asked about some of the problems that Buddhist communities are having around ethical issues.


And the Dalai Lama said, well, this is paraphrasing him, but he's saying that many people in the West take up a spiritual practice rather quickly and focus on the knowledge. And they choose their teacher according to his or her knowledge. But what they should be looking for is, what is the day-to-day action? So I think it's a time for some reflection on day-to-day action. An action that you take has long, far-reaching consequences.


It's like planting a tree. And this morning I walked down to the end of the third field and I visited a pine tree that I planted or transplanted there about 15 years ago. And it was just a little tiny guy. And now it towers way above me. Because of the way the world works, everything touches everything else. And your action has, although it may seem insignificant, it has consequences. Far beyond what you may imagine or intend. So that's why it's important to pay careful attention to what you do. I want to think of this in terms of communication.


When you're dealing with an issue like abortion, or the destruction of rainforests, or someone's rights, their interest in their own personal liberty, pay attention to the tone of the communication. The action that you take, and speaking as an action, the words that you express, have consequences. And the consequences can either be in the direction of healing, or they can be in the direction of division. Now this doesn't mean that we have to gloss over distinctions. If you have a different point of view than I have, it doesn't mean we should pretend that we have the same point of view.


It simply means that we should recognize that our different points of view are possible because we share the ground of being. We share prajna. We share Buddha nature. So when your heart aches, be careful that you don't blame someone else, or that you don't just act to avoid the feeling. As Huai Jiang says, don't grasp it, don't reject it. He's talking about any experience you have. Don't grasp it, don't reject it. So your feeling of pain is something that you can either grasp and define completely, or push away from yourself. Grasping and rejecting are actions that cause trouble.


Also in this context I have a personal experience of dialogue with a friend who has also been practicing many years. This is not about the people personally, and also I come out kind of looking good in the story, and I hesitate to tell it because I feel like I don't want to toot my own horn too much. But in this case I want to present it as an example of possibly the right thing to do, and you can tell me about it afterwards if you think I didn't do the right thing. But I heard a rumor that a friend of mine was having an affair, and he's married, and I know over the course of their marriage they have experimented with having a sexually open marriage at times,


and that didn't work out too well, so as far as I knew they were having a monogamous marriage. And when I heard that my friend was having an affair I thought, I feel a little sick. And then I felt angry. I had a whole series of things that happened to me, and then I felt angry that I even had to hear about it because it affected my whole day. It kept coming up for me through the day. And so I had to over and over again just accept this information. And then I wondered, you know, what's going on? And I knew that a number of people had been telling each other about this, and as far as I knew my friend's wife didn't know, so I thought, boy, this could really have damaging impact when it gets around.


And so I didn't tell anyone else, but I thought I should talk to my friend. And it actually took me several days in order to get through. The phone was always busy, and so finally when I did talk to my friend I found out that it was not true. But something had happened. He had had an interest in another person, and he felt, well, he'd drawn the line, he hadn't acted on it, but he hadn't told his wife about it. So it was one of those things where it's possible to understand how the person who was telling about it really believed that it was true. So when I talked to my friend and his wife,


after they had had a chance to hash it out, they thanked me because, as one of them said, it's like starting a backfire and fighting a big fire. Rather than fueling the big fire, you start a big fire. Or a backfire, a small fire. In this case, my small fire was simply the question, well, what actually was going on? And going directly to the people who would know. Now, much of the communication that we have is at the level of rumor. Much of what we talk about and are upset about is at the level of just stray impressions. We're not really sure what the information is behind it.


And we're not really sure what's behind it. Last night I saw the film Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. And there's so many issues that come up within that film. But I actually thought that a major contribution of the film is that it presents a communication breakdown. It presents very clearly how people are polarized and are not actually able to even come close to understanding each other. And in the context of racism in this country, or in the context of any kind of long-held prejudice, it's a lot of work.


It's a lot of work to find out what is the truth. What is actually happening? Where does this aching heart come from? Now, we often look at the world through a kind of periscope. Periscope. Where we think whatever is in the viewfinder,


in that particular view, we think that's what's happening. This morning a very small thing happened, where I recognized how I didn't know what was happening. I went into the bathroom here, in the men's bathroom here in the Gaitan, and I reached for the light switch in one of the stalls, which is a little string, but it wasn't there. Hey, there's no little string there. I remembered my teacher Harry Roberts saying, don't assume, ask. Well, I was assuming there was a string there. I reached for it, it wasn't there.


I felt around, it was a little bit dark. It was gone. I said something about it to Brian, who was also in the bathroom. And then I backed out of that stall and went over to the next one, where I could see there was a string to pull. Now later I thought, isn't that very strange? There are all kinds of things I could have done, but instead I backed out and went over to the next one. I could have sat in the dark. Why did I have to have the light on? Then to make matters worse, Brian came into the stall after I'd left it, and he simply reached up there and turned the light bulb.


And on it went. Sometimes I think our waking up is just like that. We're always thinking, if only I could really hang on to this string, then I can wake up. And it's actually right there, off to the side. Right at hand, but a little different way of approach. And that's such a small thing. It happened in two or three seconds. Reach for it. No, no, no. Okay, and do something else. And I may not have even thought about it if Brian hadn't come and turned the bulb. So I want to thank you, Brian, for your teaching this morning. But if you can see that that happens in two seconds


over some issue that I'm relatively uninvested in, I mean, yeah, I wanted to turn on the light, but I didn't get furious, you know. It didn't deeply hurt me that there wasn't a string to pull. You have some sense of how far off we can get very quickly when we do have an investment, when it does seemingly make a big difference to us. Suddenly we can spend whole days missing the skillful response. We can spend whole lifetimes. And part of it is, part of our practice is accepting that. That's going to happen no matter what we do. Part of our practice is recognizing that someone else can help.


And sometimes we're the person that can help. So in addition to sitting still, we really need the practice of dialogue. We need the practice of checking on each other. Sometimes someone just needs a little nudge and they can turn on the light bulb. It doesn't have to be a big project, and often it's more helpful to think in terms of what you can do to assist your friend than thinking in terms of what you can do to help yourself. Although you may need to help yourself, and that's important too. I was at a conference a couple of months ago.


It was on Buddhism and psychotherapy. It was sponsored by a Tibetan organization on wellness. Actually, Dr. Ropge, I noticed, is going to be teaching some courses at Zen Center in the city. He's one of the organizers of it. But the conference was very intellectual for the most part. Partly that's the style of the Tibetan Gelugka school, but partly it was because almost everyone on the program had a Ph.D. And of course they felt, well, that was why they were there. So they had to look and sound intelligent and have something to say. So when one of our Zen Center priests, Isan, came on to the panel discussion,


he brought a little different flavor. And Isan, many of you may know, is involved in working with a hospice program for AIDS people in the Hartford Street Zen Do, just one block off Castro Street in San Francisco. And at one point after Isan had talked, some questioner arose and said he would like Isan to make some comments about the value of altruism as an adjunct to meditation practice. And Isan said, what's altruism? And I thought, wow, the irony of this. Here's the most selfless person I know saying, what's altruism?


And so the person said, well, the questioner could not believe. So she hesitated. Well, altruism, of course, is doing something for someone else without thinking of reward for yourself. And Isan said, well, why would anyone think about that? He just didn't get it. So Isan is an example of someone whose heart is open, his door is open, his Zen Do is open, and it doesn't occur to him, oh, maybe I'm getting something out of this. Or maybe other people will think, wow, he's an amazing and wonderful person.


So when you find yourself with a periscope, how do you... Well, I have a friend who says she has a periscope, comes out here like this and looks around and then she tries to meditate and then she has another part of herself that comes up here and tries to push the periscope back in so that she can be centered. But that doesn't work because it just starts a fight between the periscope and her effort to put the periscope in. So the secret is inside. We say, take the backward step. I understand Suzuki Roshi used to like the frog. And I heard the frog this morning. So the frog has kind of a periscope tongue. And when the fly comes by, the frog goes...


and immediately returns. So the periscope is fine. If you have a periscope vision, you need that. We need all the help we can get. But don't forget to bring it back. So the frog may sit and have a momentary... focus, action, and return to sitting. Now, on a day-to-day basis, I think it's pretty hard for most of us to have any sense of the continuity that we're talking about in the story with Baso Matsu. Zazen is a good way


to begin to find access to that continuity. And by continuity I mean that when you get up from sitting, that you continue sitting. That when you walk out of this room after the talk, you continue sitting. That when you have a cup of tea, you continue sitting. When you hear some rumor about your friend, you continue sitting. When you struggle to decide what to do,


you continue sitting. In this way, your sitting is right in the middle always, joining wisdom, prajna, and your ethical activity. It may seem like something extra to say ethical. Activity is simply activity. But if you forget that activity has consequences, you need to say, all activity is ethical. I don't mean ethical in the sense of good. I mean all activity involves ethical issues. And if you act


in the spirit of connection, connectedness, so that wisdom is reflected through the action, and the action is manifesting wisdom, then you're no longer causing trouble. You're no longer causing trouble. You're no longer clouding the waters. At that point, you are on the path creating liberation, creating enlightenment for yourself and for all of your friends. So find the place inside where you're no longer thinking about


zazen, but you're feeling it. You're no longer thinking about your breath. You're experiencing your breath directly. It may take a while. You're no longer thinking about how angry someone else is making you, but you're feeling the ache in your heart.