Wednesday Lecture

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Linda Ruth with her sick mother. The mountain lion. The bobcat. The rat. New film, "The Passion of Christ". Self-restraint. Mindfulness of the body. Angulimala.

AI Summary: 



I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Good evening. It's amazing that I recognize all of you. I forget that sometimes. Several weeks ago, our abbess asked if I would give the talk tonight, and I said I would, so I thought a little bit about what I might talk about. And then, as I think we all know, that Linda needed to go home to Chicago because her mother is quite ill,


and from what I just heard, it's not going, well, it's going toward her mother dying. And so Linda will be there with her mother through this last part of her life. So we'll just all please continue to hold her and her mom in our hearts, as we have been. And it's not clear when she'll be able to return. So, when I understood that Linda was going to be needing to go, I wanted very much to support her in any way I could. So I offered to take her responsibilities here at Green Gulch. And even though I offered to do that right away, like our dear Chuzo, I felt that this responsibility is too great for me.


And along with that thought and those fears, I also experienced a realization that none of us is being asked to do this work alone. That we do indeed have the support of one another. All of you in this room, the old students, the new students, the monks, the families, and those at home that we love, our children, our pets, the dog. We all support each other completely. And so I'm very grateful and I want to thank you for your support. So what I had thought to share with you tonight were some of the things that have been running through my mind lately,


like these little currents of events that flow along in this stream of our life together here. And in particular, I wanted to share with you my continuing search for the mountain lion. For those of you who were in the precept class with me on Sunday, you already know about the whistle and the pocket knife. And right now in that class we're studying the ten great precepts, the first of which is not to kill. So I did some research on mountain lions on Google. And I read a lot about their habits before I went to REI. And what I learned is that it's very likely that they will cough before they jump on you.


So I thought a whistle would be good, and a pocket knife, and that I might have time to blow the whistle and to unsheathe the knife. And part of my vision of this event includes not really hurting the animal very much, but just poking it away from me. That's what I want to accomplish. So, several years ago when my daughter Sabrina was really young and just beginning to walk, this lion was, I don't know if it's the same lion, but there was a lion in the neighborhood at that time during one of the seasons. When do they come? In the spring? Winter? You never know. So the lion was around and he'd been seen, and I got scared for my child who liked to play outside.


So I called the National Park Service to ask how to protect our children and myself. And this very stern lady, ranger, said to me, Under no circumstances must you hurt that animal. What you need to do is to call us and let us know where you saw the lion, and we'll come and take measurements of its paw prints. So, I don't think I was able to convey to her my concern for my safety and the safety of my child in the face of this athletically superior predator. So, a few days ago I went up on the mountain, as I had been doing almost every day for several months,


mostly for exercise, but also to look at this beautiful valley and the ocean that lies just beyond. And as I got to the top of the ridge of this little trail that I think of as Cardiac Hill, it's quite steep and it connects the main path with the ridge. Right there in front of me was an enormous bobcat. And the bobcat was standing in the middle of the trail where I wanted to go. So, I didn't feel afraid of the bobcat because I've seen them before. And I just kind of thought of it as a very large housecat, really. So, I thought, well, this is my chance to try my whistle.


And so, I blew the whistle and I clacked my poles together and I made very loud noises at this animal, which, to my great surprise, let me do this, it unfurled its tail and hissed. And then it began walking very confidently toward me. So, I'm not ashamed to say that I ran away. And by the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I was feeling very giddy and very silly. And I thought, you know, well, I thought many things, but I was close to the farm gate and I felt safe,


like I'm home now, and as I turned the corner, there was either a second or the same very large bobcat right in front of me. And I thought, OK, you get another chance. So, this time, and actually, I remembered the story of the Buddha and the rampaging wild elephant. And the Buddha calmed the elephant. So, I thought, OK, let's just make nice sounds. So, I made nice sounds at the bobcat, you know, hiss, mew, mew, things like that. And it looked at me for a while and then it walked away. So, the reason I'm bringing this up is that it's been incredibly helpful to me


to have these wildlife encounters in the hills around Green Gulch, because it has really tested what I have always professed to be a Gandhi-like passivism. You know, I really think I don't hurt things, or I wouldn't hurt things, but, you know, that resolve is being tested. So, on the full moon night, when I recite, Do Not Kill, you know, what do I really mean? It's one thing to say these words inside the sturdy compound of this building with all of you as company. And what do I mean by not to kill when a large rodent is chewing its way into my house through the ceiling night after night?


While my daughter and our house cats are sleeping down below. So, what I did was to write the word rat on a small piece of paper and then I called the maintenance department and I told them that something maybe needed to be done. And what I understand they call that something is bait, but actually it's poison. And the animal who is trying to find shelter in my ceiling, and maybe to give birth to its young, is going to die a very horrible death. And first of all, it's going to walk away from my house with a terrible thirst, looking for water. I once had a very first-hand experience with a rodent in the city center.


It was early morning before Zazen and I went to get my cup of tea and as I reached to get my cup, this large shape jumped on my chest and then ran down my robes and leapt off my right big toe onto the floor. And I can still remember that full-bodied instinctual horror of being touched by a rat. Turning away and touching are both wrong, for it is like a mass of fire. Just to depict it in literary form is to relegate it to defilement. So about a month ago I was invited by the Marin Interfaith Council to participate in a panel to discuss the film The Passion of the Christ.


This is the announcement that came in the mail. Please join us for our business meeting and a respectful discussion of the movie The Passion of the Christ. Father Paul Rossi, Rabbi Stacey Friedman, and Fu Schrader will present reflections from their faith traditions. You are welcome to bring your lunch with you. So I know that most of you who haven't left the Valley have not yet seen this film and I also appreciate that many of you may not choose to see this film. And I deeply respect that. But I wanted to be on the panel so I knew I would need to see the film. And I did. And there's certainly already been a lot written about this film and about the relentless and sadistic violence that's depicted in Mel Gibson's vision of what he believes to have been the last twelve hours of Jesus' life.


And there is no doubt that to be flayed and crowned with thorns and nailed to a wooden cross would be an unspeakable suffering. And for many centuries the citizens of Rome subjected thousands of people to this very treatment and to many other savage treatments as well. And during my own lifetime in Vietnam, children and plants and farmers were sprayed with flaming napalm designed by American laboratories to stick to the skin while burning. And no doubt this inflicted unspeakable suffering. So I asked myself after viewing this film depicting real life horrors, what is the point of all of this?


Do we truly not know what we do? Or do we do what we do and then hide our eyes like children, frightened by the darkness of our own avarice, our own brutality and our own ignorance? And all of this based on an indelible belief that we share of a separate self. I once asked my teacher, Rem Anderson, how is my wearing these robes and taking these precepts going to save the world? And he said, well at least perhaps the world would be saved from me. Our practice is not to tame the wild lions in the mountains.


It is to tame the wild lion in the dark cavern of our hearts. And we begin this taming in our very own, large, have a heart, Zen realm. There are very nice people who come here to Green Gulch all the time because they feel so peaceful being around the Zen students. But as we all know, inside of us there is tremendous disturbance. Disturbances of lust, of food preferences, of fears, of authority, our job rotations. But most of all of our own imaginations, which are filled to the brim with judgments and opinions and suspicions.


At least I can speak for my own. So as we know, what the Buddha taught and what he realized is that our problems are all in our minds. And until and before we locate the source of our problems, we will continue seeking and blaming outside of ourselves. As the Dalai Lama said after the 9-11 attacks, don't look for blame, look for causes. How did this come to be, not who did this to me. These are very wonderful verses from the Dhammapada, one of the oldest texts in the Buddhist canon. 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 speaks or 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 speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows them as their own shadow. He insulted me, she hurt me, they defeated me, he robbed me. Those who think such thoughts will not be free from hate. He insulted me, she hurt me, they defeated me, he 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. Many do not know that we are here in this world to live in harmony.


Those who know this do not fight against each other. So, our training begins by our own willingness to engage in the practices of restraint. And around our training center, that restraint comes in the form of a schedule, which includes our beloved practice of zazen. Straighten your body and sit upright. Lean neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Rest your tongue against the front roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips together, both shut. Always keep your eyes open and breathe softly through your nose.


Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully. Rock your body right and left and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking. Not thinking. First principle, chapter 1, Lotus Sutra. What kind of thinking is that? Second principle, chapter 2, Lotus Sutra. Non-thinking. One bright pearl rolling merrily in a silver bowl. This is the essential art of zazen. So, all of us in this room by now have been, the word indoctrinated came to mind, what I meant to say was initiated in this practice of self-restraint.


We've all tried it once and then we've tried it again and by now we've lost count. And I was thinking that this is not unlike that first breath that we took as infants. And in that moment of inhalation we accepted the offering of life here on this earth. And whether we know it or not, we also accepted all of the responsibilities that are inherent in this gift. According to the Buddha, those responsibilities are written in very fine print. In the uprightness of the spine. For my last birthday, well I hope it's not my last birthday, but anyway, for my most recent birthday, I asked for a gift from my family.


I saw this wonderful thing in one of Grace's medical supply house catalogs. A lot of the things in the catalogs are not so wonderful, but they have these perfect replicas of the human skeleton and I really wanted one. I wanted to study the bones of my sitting practice. So two days after my birthday, the box came and I've named her Oscar. Because Sabrina wants to be a movie star. Mindfulness of the body is the first foundation for entering into the intimate relationship of training in the Buddha's teaching.


And there is an apparent lawfulness to this form that we call human life. There is an inherent lawfulness of the body. There is an intricate balance of scenes, of organs, of liquids, and of thoughts. The four great elements return to their natures just as a child turns to its mother. Fire heats, wind moves, water wets, earth is solid, I am sight, hearing, sounds, nose and smells, tongue and taste. Thus with each and everything, depending on these roots, the leaves spread forth. So in this telling of a story that I'm giving you tonight, the leaves spread forth are the karmic actions of our body, speech and mind. And once the bell has rung, ending the period of zazen,


we are asked to rise slowly and deliberately, and to enjoy the perfect freedom from all that has gone before. For in the uncharted period of time, we have uncoupled the compulsive habits of our personhood. And then very slowly, and very slowly, we allow the train to roll forward once again. The engine, the baggage car, and the tail. But if we really try, we can remember what it is that we learned while we sat there, immobile. And we can remember what we saw while we were stopped.


Ahimsa, do no harm, who came to be called Angulimala, necklace of a thousand fingers. This sincere student of the Way became caught in a web of gullibility, deception, and lies, including his own. And he was led to acquire this terrible necklace of fingers through the instructions of his teacher, who had gone mad himself through the jealous murmurings of fellow students. So he instructed his disciple, Ahimsa, to engage in the path of murder. And he promised his student that when he had accumulated one thousand fingers,


he would become enlightened. So the Buddha came to the place where Angulimala was hiding, and when Angulimala saw the Buddha, he was overjoyed. His last finger, his one thousandth finger, was walking toward him. So he began to run toward the Buddha, and the faster he ran, he got no closer. And so he ran faster and faster, but still he got no closer. And finally, in exhaustion, he collapsed on the ground and he yelled out, Stop! Stop! At your death I will be free. But again and again, the Buddha turns toward Angulimala and says to all of us, No, it's you who has to stop.


So how do we stop? How do we stop? The best I can say is that we have to make a habit of stopping. And we also have to make habits of kindness, and habits of generosity, habits of patience, concentration, and of wisdom. These are the perfections of the Bodhisattva. And the rails of this practice run for ten thousand miles. In other words, they begin with us, but they have no end. I have a feeling that the mountain lion will be very grateful when it has finally eaten me, at last.


When those last gestures of resistance have given way to the perfect offering of life-affirming nourishment. And I would like to ask all of you to please let the park service know that I intended no harm to this animal. The realization of my own vows depends entirely on this. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.