Think Neither Good Nor Bad

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Who is chanting in the microphone? I wondered. And I began with the wrong chant. I began with the English translation. Well, thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here in the Buddha Hall. Is this amplification really necessary? If we turn it up just a little more, then you can hear my thoughts. Oh, can you hear?


Can you hear this? So far, so good. Yeah, I don't get quite as much echo chamber effect. I thought I was in the steam room down at Tassajara. And I'm glad some of you came tonight. This morning, my wife was reading the paper as I was going out the door, and she said, Well, don't be surprised if no one shows up tonight. And I said, What's the deal? And she said, Well, Ellen is coming out. And I haven't seen Ellen, but evidently it's a big event. And if I don't talk too long, what time does it start? Nine o'clock, I think.


So if some of you need to leave early, that's okay. So I wanted to bring a little news from the Dharma Aya Zen Center, which is just a fledgling, a hatchling. For some years, I lived in Mill Valley, and I had a sitting group that met weekly in my living room. And two years ago, a little over two years ago, after some frustration in finding some other places to meet, I had an opportunity to buy a house in Santa Fe, an old fixer-upper, and decided that I could overcome my resistance to ownership of property


if I blamed it on the Dharma. And so the old house had a carport garage in the back corner of the lot, which we, with the help of the sitting group, over the past, well, actually the previous year, 1995, we did a lot of work rebuilding it and turning it into at least a dry room with some lotans and zafus. And so now we have a little zendo. Sixteen seats, and there's usually one available. So you can come and visit. We still have the Monday night sitting group, and we have tea and discussion, 7.30 in the evening.


But I've been able to sit with people every morning now. Some people actually join me at 5.15 in the morning. And it's wonderful for me to start the day with some company sitting zazen together. So this morning in the zendo, I was thinking of transiency. We dedicated the service to the brother of one of my employees. I have a little landscape design gardening business, and one of my employees, he wants to keep it kind of, I won't give his name. I'll call him Jose. Jose's brother was shot. Jose's brother was doing an errand in Richmond for Jose,


and he was shot and died on Sunday. It's one of our teachings that things change, and that life and death is a serious matter, and we need to clarify what that's about. And for Jose, this is, I think, particularly traumatic because this is the second brother that he's lost. I want to just tell you briefly the story of his first brother, because it's an astonishing experience. When he was about 11 years old, or 10 years old, his brother was 2 or 3 years older. They were living in Mexico, and one day they were out playing with a horse, and Jose wanted to ride the horse with his brother,


and his brother at some point was saying, No, no, you're too little. I don't want to have you riding with me. And he saw the horses all nervous and spooky because there's a storm coming. And so Jose was really angry at his brother for not letting him ride. And he watched his brother ride up over a little hill, and then he ran up to him, and his brother circled around back to him. So they were pretty close together. And the next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground. And he got up, and his brother was gone. The horse was gone. He didn't know what happened. And then he started wandering around and discovered that his horse was lying on the ground,


and his brother was lying on the ground, and they were both dead. And they had been hit by a bolt of lightning, and he couldn't talk about that for 15 years. One day he told me this when we were on the job working with some trees around some high-tension wires. And I think he felt guilty because he'd been angry at his brother when his brother died, and he wanted to ride, and he was, you know, could he have possibly caused the lightning bolt with his anger? So now, two days ago, he tells me that he sent his other brother on an errand to Richmond, and somehow his brother got caught in a crossfire


and was shot and killed. So somehow he feels partly responsible for both of these deaths. Why do we come to practice? What brings us here? Why do we come to practice? It's hard to fully experience our life. It's hard to fully come to terms with how wonderful it is and also how fragile it is, how much power there is in it, and how dependent it is on circumstances.


I'd like to take a moment just to remind you to breathe. We have a practice of bringing attention to the breath. So if you would just settle for a moment into your sitting and bring your attention to the breath. With the question, whose breath is this? Whose breath is this? If I say, pay attention to your breath, do you hold it?


Do you possess it? Where does it begin? Where does it end? Is it contained in your body? Where does it begin? So, with just a little reflection on your breath, you quickly see that it's not your breath. That what you may sometimes claim or identify with is something that we all share.


We're all sharing this breath in this room and we're sharing this breath with the leaves on the wisteria and the pittosporum and the maple tree and the grasses and the algae which produces what we need, the nourishment we need in our blood. So, in the moment of recognizing the breath, you have a glimpse of your interconnectedness with all of life. It's as if the breath is this vast stream or vast ocean


and we're just little findles with little sucking mounds drawing tiny drops from this big stream and then we make a big deal out of it, right? It's me! Yeah. Yeah. So, in the midst of this, we, as human beings, we have a wonderful opportunity to actually realize what's going on. What is this life?


We have an opportunity because we seem to be endowed with a capacity to experience a lot of frustration. We know that things could be better. We know that what's happening is not exactly what we wanted. José did not want his brother to die. He may have been angry at his brother. He may have been thinking, I wish you were dead. I wish you were gone. I wish I could have the horse. But really, that's not what he really wanted. That was just a part of his mind. So, Zazen is a wonderful practice because it gives us a chance to see how our mind works like that. I really think that if...


Well, why did I start sitting Zazen? I started sitting Zazen because I realized that I was pretty selfish. And there were various problems I was trying to solve in my own life and in the life of the people I was living with and in the country and in the world. And I was making some sincere and serious efforts to work on these problems, but I kept finding that somehow I was getting in the way. And the people I was working with were getting in their own way. We were trying to create world peace and we were arguing with each other. We'd get in a room and how to create world peace, right? How to end the war. And then we'd be all upset with each other because we have different ideas.


So I feel very lucky to have this... I've actually been offered this path which actually goes to the root of the problem. It goes below the thinking mind. Sitting is more fundamental than the thinking mind. There's a story in the Murmankhan, case 23. The head monk Ming was pursuing Huineng.


This is in the 7th century in China. Why was the head monk Ming pursuing Huineng? Does everyone know? If you do, then I won't have to tell. Not everyone, huh? But he was very upset. Even though he was a head monk, he was capable of being very upset. And his teacher, Hung Jen, had announced that morning that he had given Bodhidharma's bowl and Bodhidharma's robe which had been passed down for five generations to Huineng and told him that he would be the next lineage holder. But Huineng had no rank at all in the sangha.


Huineng wasn't even ordained. He wasn't a monk. He was a lay visitor who had been asked to help out in the rice threshing room. That's what the head monk Ming thought. That's really all he knew. It was outrageous that the abbot of the temple should make such a mistake and give Bodhidharma's robe and bowl to Huineng. So Ming and various other people set out to recapture the Dharma, the bowl and the robe and bring it back where it belonged. He finally caught up with Huineng on a ridge. Huineng turned around and saw him coming and he put down the robe and the bowl on a rock and said,


This is just a robe and bowl. It's not worth fighting for. Take it. And at that point the head monk Ming was frozen in his tracks. He wasn't able to pick up the robe and the bowl. This gesture of Huineng, of just offering it to him had completely dumbfounded him. And in that moment he realized that his life was not about a robe and a bowl. That wasn't why he'd been practicing all those years. And so he said, Well, actually, I came for the Dharma. And Huineng said, If you want the Dharma,


then don't think of good and don't think of bad. Just find your original face. And Ming suddenly realized his whole being, his true nature. And he broke out in a sweat. And for a few moments he couldn't talk and then he said, This is amazing. That's what he said in Chinese. He said, This is amazing. And he said, In addition to this secret teaching, is there anything else I should know? And Huineng said, This is not a secret teaching. You already know it in yourself.


And then Ming said, Well, I've been practicing for many years with the Sangha under Hung Chen and I never understood this. So now you're my teacher. And Huineng said, If that's the way you feel about it, let's both consider Hung Chen our teacher. And I can't continue to teach you. Please go back to the temple and see if you can make some peace with the others. So then Huineng went off and quietly practiced for some years. This was on the advice of Hung Chen.


Hung Chen knew that there would be trouble if he just announced, This lay person is going to be my successor. So he had sent him away for his own protection. Sometimes I've looked at that story and I thought, Well, can that be true? Historically, there are Buddhist scholars arguing about that today. Historically, people can't really say, Is that true? But the value of the story for us, and I consider it more of a legend then, is that the story contains some important information. Part of the information is that with this kind of a story and with the whole story of Huineng, Huineng had come to the monastery a few months earlier


and had an encounter with Hung Chen. And Hung Chen said, Well, where do you come from and what are you here for? And he said, Well, I come from the South, and I'm here not for anything in particular, just the Buddha Dharma. And Hung Chen said, Well, you're from the South. You aren't even a civilized person. What makes you think that you would be qualified for Buddhahood? And Huineng said, Even though I come from the South and my southern body and your northern body are different in the Buddha Dharma, there's no difference. So this was a case of the new arrival, the lay person who just arrived at the temple


telling the teacher what the teacher already knew. But then he had him just take a low position and thrush rice for a few months. I think it's really important that this story is told in our Zen tradition because it indicates that really I think it's the difference between being a cult and being a universal teaching, that it is completely inclusive. It's not dependent on some particular status. It's not dependent upon any kind of distinctions of culture and race, family background. And the Dharma is the Dharma. The truth is the truth


for anyone who wants to see it. Huineng said, It's not a secret teaching. So what is this? Not thinking of good, not thinking of bad. Is this just kind of a wishy-washy ambivalent kind of position? If you pay attention to your thoughts you will find that you very often think a sentence that has a like in it or a dislike in it. If you pay attention you will find that unless you're very unusual that this will happen


before you know it. And as things happen you'll start reacting with a like or a dislike. And that little like or dislike can then build and sometimes it gets the support of a Sangha or a group of friends. So you can all get together and say, It's really bad that Huineng was given the robe and the bowl. And everyone agrees it was really terrible. We're not very far from that at any moment. It was brought to my attention just a couple of days ago that some of the, I think three close associates of the Dalai Lama were murdered in Dharamsala in India.


It was just people who were his assistants and one was an old friend, a 70-year-old monk. And evidently, I read the article, there was an article in Newsweek, this came out yesterday or this week, and I think it was probably some Tibetan Buddhist fanatics who were thinking that the Dalai Lama is violating the Dharma by reaching out to people who are not Buddhists. And it's not so far-fetched to see how people, even under the guise of Buddhism, can get caught in some narrow idea and infuse that narrow idea with a spirit of righteousness and then do dreadful things.


It doesn't happen so often in the history of Buddhism because there's such a strong teaching of peacefulness and not harming and compassion and of not being dogmatic. But still, these tendencies are very strong in the human mind. So, about ten days ago... How long do I talk, by the way? So, 8.30? A few more minutes. Oh, yes. Okay, well, you can move and be comfortable, and if you need to go watch the...


Ellen's coming out, feel free to go. I think it's wonderful that she's coming out. It seems kind of strange to make it such a big deal, but then that's the country that we're in. The next theme that I was going to bring in into this relates to our own Zen Center Sangha and a retreat that we had about ten days ago at a place with a wonderful, appropriate name called The Shadows in Marin County in Nicosia. Norman Fisher, one of our abbots, had put some effort into organizing


some kind of an event which would be an occasion for our ex-abbot Richard Baker to meet with some of the people who had been very involved in Zen Center during the time that he was abbot, particularly during the 70s. So I was invited to participate, and I was very glad that I was there. There were about 35 people, and St. Blanche was there. Anyone else in this room? I think not. There were just about seven people who are now current residents of the various Zen Center practice places. And the rest of us are doing various things and are still practicing in many, many diverse ways. And some people came from long distance. Vanya came from Austria. A couple of people came down from Canada. Several people came from the East Coast.


Frank Phil, Lucy Bennett, John Nelson, Lucy Calhoun now. And anyway, the names probably wouldn't mean that much to many of you. But we had all practiced intensively together and worked very hard at helping to develop Zen Center during a very creative period in the 70s. And then Richard Baker was abbot. He had been named as Suzuki Roshi's successor by Suzuki Roshi. And I'm sure you've all heard various stories about how he left the position of abbot, and he was asked to leave by the board in 1983. Or at least step down for a period of time.


There was a period of confusion of whether we could work out various issues. But the upshot of it was that he left on a permanent basis, and it was a lot of bad feeling. Many people actually left Zen Center. Many people felt that they had been, well, they were very disappointed or that they'd been betrayed at some deep level of trust. And so now it's 97. So 14 years have passed. And this is the first time we've had this kind of an event with Richard Baker present in a whole group of people. And we had facilitator, Gary Friedman. I just want to describe a little bit of how this was set up.


We had group meetings of 35 people, and we had sessions of small groups where we split into groups of 5, and Gary had it all worked out so that each time we met we were in a different group of 5. And then we were asked to reflect on our practice back in the 70s and how that relates to today and what was our intention in coming there. And I won't go through all the details of the ground rules, but we sat Zazen together. Friday night we began, and then Saturday and Sunday. We went all day Saturday into the evening, and then Sunday we ended at 4 in the afternoon. So it was a pretty substantial amount of time. And I was struck by a number of things.


One, that there was a great range of feeling among the people in the room. Some people had never really been bothered much by the events of 1983. Never had much conflict with Richard Baker. Everyone had some conflict with something. Maybe not with Richard Baker, but with maybe the other people in Zen Center. And on the other end of the spectrum there were people who were really holding on to some deep anger and pain and had never had a chance to really express it. And there were many people


who had gone through some process in themselves of reconciling their own feelings and forgiving the people that they felt they had some difficulty with. But I talked to a number of people in between and people who sometimes expressed themselves very dramatically in the meeting, several of them anyway, said they were surprised at what came out of them. Once they started to say something or once they started to express themselves, they didn't really know what they were carrying. One person who was sitting right next to me at one point, I should describe, we had a fishbowl.


Some of you may have been in facilitated groups where you have a fishbowl and there's a big circle and there's a little circle in the middle. And if you want to talk, you get in the little circle. There are six chairs. So there's all this intense dialogue going on in the fishbowl and everyone else is witnessing. And the person who was in the outer circles next to me she suddenly just started weeping and then she started sobbing and then she just started, it was just like a fountain. And I rang the door and I said, do you want to talk? She said, no, I think I come late. And I said, I don't know. Seems like you have something you better say. And she said, yeah, maybe. The fishbowl was all full but we arranged for someone to make a little room and she got into the fishbowl and she said to Richard Baker,


I never trusted you. I never trusted you. And I didn't like not trusting you but I think it was good actually that I didn't trust you but it's been so painful, so painful. And Richard Baker had been, he had tears in his eyes a number of times but at that point he really cried and he apologized for any damage that he may have caused. And I talked to that person a little later and she said, you know, I never trusted my mother either.


And it struck me how the Sangha is a kind of a meta family. I mean, it's a family that's kind of a place that we bring all of our families with us. It's a place in which we can create hopefully a family that has the wisdom that we can create a wisdom culture in which we can heal and forgive and transcend the kind of confusion and the anger and the pain that we learned from our birth families or from the family that we grew up in. And I like when I say meta family, I of course also realize there's meta, which means loving kindness, with two Ts.


So we have meta family with one T and meta family with two Ts. And the meta family with one T I think can really realize itself if we bring plenty of meta with two Ts. So why did we wait 14 years? There are lots of explanations for that. And even at this point, there were a number of people I talked to who didn't come who said they weren't ready. They weren't ready to do something like this. So what interests me now is how easy it is for us to kind of unconsciously fall into a kind of a sangha mind with certain blinders and assumptions. And also for each one of us to kind of take our place quietly.


And if you think that not thinking good and not thinking bad means that you don't express yourself, then you're idealizing not thinking good and not thinking bad as a kind of nirvana state. You're idealizing a kind of a state. Our practice is not to idealize any state. Our practice is not even to particularly be healthy, be happy, be blissful. It's not to live in nirvana. But it's really to bring integrity, to bring some honesty and sincerity to each moment, see what it is, and listen to the moment,


listen to the person who is expressing themselves, and listen to your own static, your own tendency to interfere even with hearing the conversation or hearing what someone is saying. At the end, the facilitator said, it's wonderful working with the Zen Center group because you have the capacity to go deep very fast without a lot of resistance, with some coaching, however. And also you have a kind of, he said, a kind of gritty integrity that you never give up on. And I think that's something I recognize in people who do this practice and I really value.


And I think we need to recognize that value with each other and create occasions, create occasions in which we can bring that forth. I've gone over my time, and I haven't even opened the book yet. So I'll spare you that. Is there a comment or a question or something, two before, if we want to stay another couple of minutes? Yes. First of all, I'd just like to comment and thank you for sharing the information about Richard and getting together. For those of us who hear the stories and feel the ghosts and being human and kind of curious


and really try to understand that are going to evolve whether it's in the sangha or not. It's been important for me to hear this kind of dialogue to try to get some wisdom from other places. So I thank you for that. I appreciate that. The other thing, more of a question, is that I find very curious, and it's certainly my own experience, is that since I've been living here, which has only just been about three months, and I don't know if this is part of the way of teaching people or not coming to shape or whatever it is, but it seems very easy for one to criticize


and correct it for something. And I understand that. You don't like the candlelight or whatever. That's pretty acceptable. But what is more curious to me is that there is this detachment, not in a good sense, from not praising each other and saying, Gee, that was a great job, because the teaching is that we are not to attain anything, we are not to achieve. And for me, what gets lost in that, or what comes up for me in that kind of situation, having been raised a Catholic where everything is good or bad, or whatever, is that it polarizes me in the understanding of the things that


there is no good and there is no bad, because we so willingly seem to see what is not correct, and don't so willingly see what people are achieving. I don't know what other word to use, but the person who exemplifies how to cut carrots in the kitchen, those things, and I have found that when I have tried to appreciate something for someone, they literally turn away as though they have been developed. Thank you, this has really been nice working with you, because I really feel like I've learned something. And the person kind of turns away,


and it's kind of this resistance of being praised. So if I say, thank you for making this point, what do you say? You're welcome. And people don't do that? They turn away, they don't say, oh, well, this is something for the practice leaders here to take a look at. Okay. Anything else? I know there's a lot, but we are out of time. So thank you for listening. Yes. Yeah. Well, we have


some weekend events. We have half-day sittings, and day-and-a-half sittings, and some longer sittings. And if you would like to get a calendar, you can call me up, and I'll send you one. Okay. I don't know. I think I sent one to the windmill at one point, but I don't know. Yeah. Okay.