What Is The Ember You Carry With You?

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.


One Day Sit

AI Summary: 



I vow to taste the truth of all totality's words. Good morning. It's wonderful to see us get off to such a good, strong start for our fall practice period. Many of us here today are sitting a one-day sitting to begin a ten-week period of more focused or more committed or particularly committed emphasis on practicing together, which we call a practice period. A time for developing intimacy with ourselves and with each other. And the zen bell is fairly stuffed.


The emailer wisely had very large serving crews so that there would be room for everyone to sit while they were being served without actually having a meal board in front of them. It feels very good to have such a strong beginning. And I hope that it will continue to be strong for you and for all of us. I want us during this practice period to become more and more familiar with some of our predecessors. Some of the men and women who have found themselves drawn to this practice,


who have found themselves walking from mountain to mountain in straw sandals, as the saying goes, wearing out straw sandals, visiting many teachers trying to come to some rest in their lives, trying to grapple with the great matter of birth and death, of this life, of how to live this life. What does it mean to live a life which has a beginning and an ending, where birth and death are all one thing? What does it mean that self and other are not two,


and yet I am distinctly I and you are distinctly you? What is this non-duality that all the teachers have spoken of so strongly, so insistently? What is it that brings us indoors in this crowded room on a beautiful day, to sit cross-legged down in the basement? I hope we will be all down in the basement in ourselves, in our bodies, right here as we sit. Some of our predecessors entrusted their bodies to the foaming sea, as Dogen Zenji said,


and in small boats crossed treacherous waters. And the first such one in the Zen tradition is Bodhidharma, referred to as the first Zen ancestor, or the first ancestor in China. Buddhism had been in China for some time before Bodhidharma came, and it was very popular. There was a lot of deep devotional practice. There was a lot of emphasis on chanting sutras and gaining merit from chanting sutras. You read in the lives of the nuns stories of this great nun who could chant the Avatamsaka Sutra from beginning to end.


How many of you know the Avatamsaka Sutra? About 600 pages of fine print in English. From beginning to end, in four days, they chanted without sleep. This was a great feat. This was the kind of devotional practice that was happening in China in the early years of Buddhism. And even today, at some of the gatherings that we have of practitioners from many different Buddhist traditions, particularly for Bodhi Day, we have a gathering, and the Chinese chanting is beautiful. It's quite wonderful.


You know this little bell we have with a little striker, a bell on a stick? They hold it in one hand, and while they're chanting, every now and then, it's quite nice watching her to see what she's doing. But their chanting is wonderful. But Bodhidharma came and visited the Emperor Wu, who was a great supporter of Buddhism. Somewhere I have here a great discussion. There we go. And he's trying to... This idea of, if I practice, I'll get some merit for it. This sort of dualistic idea of I need to get from here to there, from not enough merit to more merit, or to be born somewhere else.


This dualistic idea of right here is not enough. It was something that Bodhidharma wanted to cut through. So he had this conversation with Emperor Wu. There's a fundamental dilemma here. Things as it is, Suzuki Roshi is always saying, just as it is. Just to be alive is enough. Just this is it. You're perfect just as you are. And yet, at the same time, what you do makes a difference. Every action has a consequence. Every action affects self and other. There is cause and effect, and yet there is non-duality. This dilemma, this difference, was something that Bodhidharma wanted to cut through.


So let me read you... We're familiar with sort of the last part of this in the Blue Cliff Record, Case No. 1, but let me read you a little more of it. This is from the introduction to Kaz Hanahashi's new book. So this is his... him speaking. The experience of non-duality is the basis for the Buddhist teaching of compassion. When one does not abide in the distinction between self and other, between humans and non-humans, and between sentient beings and insentient beings, there is identification with and love for all beings. Thus the wisdom of non-duality, prajna, is inseparable from compassion.


An action that embodies compassion is wholesome, and one that does not is unwholesome. Any action, small or large, affects self and other. Cause brings forth effect. Thus the dualistic perspective of Buddhist ethics, good and bad, right and wrong, is based on non-dualism. And here is a fundamental dilemma of Buddhism. If one focuses merely on prajna, one may say that there is no good and bad and one may become indifferent and possibly destructive. On the other hand, if one thinks of cause and effect, if one only thinks of cause and effect, one may not be able to understand prajna. One may not be able to understand the sameness of self and other.


So the legendary dialogue of Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu of southern China is revered in the Zen tradition exactly because it illustrates this dilemma in a dramatic way. The emperor said, Ever since I ascended the throne, I have built temples, copied sutras, approved the ordination of monks more than I can count. What is the merit of having done all this? Bodhidharma said, There is no merit. The emperor says, Why is this so? Bodhidharma said, These are minor achievements of humans and devas which become the causes of desire. They are like shadows of the forms and are not real. The emperor said, What is real merit? Bodhidharma said, When pure wisdom is complete,


the essence is empty and serene. Such merit cannot be attained through worldly actions. The emperor said, What is the foremost sacred truth? Bodhidharma said, Vast emptiness. Nothing sacred. The emperor said, Who is it that faces me? Bodhidharma says, I don't know. The emperor did not understand. Thus the primary concern of the Zen practitioner, cause goes on to say, has been described as the experience of the pure wisdom that sees reality as empty and serene. This experience was regarded as the source of all scriptural teachings. Often Chinese Zen Buddhists talk about


transmission of teachings outside scripture. Zen are living Buddhas, those who are awakened, free from ethics? Are they not subject to cause and effect? Well, we know the story, or perhaps we know the story, of Baizhang and an earlier teacher on the mountain where he taught. And one day Baizhang was lecturing and there was an old man who was always in the back of the hall when he lectured, but one day the old man stayed after the monks left and he came up to Baizhang and he said, I used to be a teacher on this mountain and a monk asked me, is an arisen being subject to cause and effect? And I said, an arisen being is free from cause and effect. And I've been subject to live in the body of a wild fox ever since


for five hundred lifetimes. Please say a turning word and and release me from this body of a wild fox. Is an arisen being subject to cause and effect or not? And Baizhang said, an arisen being does not ignore cause and effect. And the monk said, oh thank you so much, I've been, I have been freed from the body of a wild fox and the story goes on, we don't have to go, go further with it. So even though we see the world from the side of prajna, from the side of the absolute, from the side of sameness, from the side of non-duality, still we don't ignore cause and effect. There is both difference and sameness and they both,


they both are simultaneously happening. And this is the fundamental teaching that we study and that all of these stories of our predecessors try to point to in one way or another. Cause says, this story clearly illustrates that practitioners of the pure wisdom of non-duality have no license to get away from ethics. It is not a coincidence that Baizhang, a great master of the 8th and 9th century China, was the one who established guidelines for monastic communities. Mahayana Buddhism calls for the six perfections as the essential elements for arriving at peace and tranquility. They are giving,


or generosity, precepts, perseverance, enthusiasm, meditation and prajna. And the first five are elements for sustaining compassion as prajna. Thus keeping and transmitting the precepts are the core of Zen teaching. I want to bring up today another story about the great ancestor Baizhang and one of his disciples, Guishan. Because I want to ask you what it is that brings you here? What is it that motivates you?


I want you to attend to that again and again. What is this one who requires it that I spoke of earlier? This is also Baizhang who says there is someone who requires it. What is this one? What is your ultimate concern? What is your innermost request? What is, what is it that you are investigating? What is it that you care about? Guishan came, was Tenzo in Baizhang's community and he came into the room and Baizhang said Who are you? He said, I'm Guishan. He said, Would you look, you know, would you look in the fire there and see if there's a live coal or not? And Guishan looked in the fire pot


and he didn't see anything. He looked around and says, No, there's no live coal. Baizhang went over and he stirred some more and he pulled out a number and he said, Isn't this a live coal? And at that Guishan was greatly awakened. What is your live coal? I recently, someone gave me a book. I was coming back on a plane and my Jisha handed me a book she'd brought for me to read. And it was a story of two Eskimo women and and their effort, successful effort at survival in the far north. And they were part of a nomadic tribe and what they did as they had to move from place to place looking for sustenance is they would take embers from the fire


where they were and pack them in ash and wrap them in hides and carry them with them to their next camping place. And then they would open it up and put mosses and lichens on it and blow the embers and start a new fire. So this hot ember that they carried with them was extremely precious. Their life depended on it. What is the ember that you carry with you? Where is your live place? During this practice period please investigate what it is that matters to you. Become intimate with what's important to you.


I want to bring up some of the stories from the Blue Cliff Record and I will bring them up throughout this practice period and I think Norman will as well. Some of the stories from the Blue Cliff Record in particular that Suzuki Roshi happened to comment on in the years when he was teaching us. Unfortunately we don't have his commentaries on all of them but we have some. And today I want to bring up the story number three in the Blue Cliff Record. Forget which one it is in Book of Serenity. Master Ma was unwell. Or Baso's sun-faced buddhas moon-faced buddhas. The principal character in this model is Baso Dotsu.


In Japanese. Matsu Daoi. In Chinese. And he was the second generation after the sixth ancestor in China. He was the chief disciple of Nangaku Ejo. And he was, he had many many disciples. He was one of Suzuki Roshi's favorite favorites and masters. And he was sick. And the temple superintendent came to see him


and said Sir, during these recent days how is your health? I was starting to tell this story to someone and they said Boresk. But that isn't actually what Baso said. Baso said sun-faced buddhas moon-faced buddhas. And this is a reference to a collection of names of the buddha in which sun-faced buddhas are said to live for a very long time 1800 years or something. And moon-faced buddhas are said to live for a day and a night. Sir, during these recent days how is your health? Sun-faced buddhas moon-faced buddhas. Suzuki Roshi said Although you are looking forward to the bliss of teaching you do not know


that you are always in the midst of teaching. So your practice does not accord with your teachers. Once you realize Buddha nature within and without there is no special way to follow for a student or any specific suggestion to give for a teacher. When there is a problem there is the way to go. When there is a problem there is the way to go. This is a very rich teaching. You don't look for the easy path. You look for the difficulties. The difficulties are your teacher. If you turn away


from the difficulties you miss the live ember. The difficulties are your live ember. When suffering arises in you turn toward it. With kindness and compassion care for it. Attend to it. Become intimate with it. Understand what is the root of this suffering. This is your teacher and this is where compassion arises. When you really become intimate with your suffering you will see how you are connected with all beings who suffer in this way.


You will begin to experience no difference between self and other or self and other and not two. Suzuki Roshi used to say all the time not one not two. This is sort of the shorthand teaching of non-duality. Not one not two. It isn't that everything is the same and there is no difference and it isn't that we are separate from one another. What does this not one not two mean moment after moment in your life? Investigate it in the actual events of your life and the interactions you have at home


and at work and here and wherever. What is this not one not two? When there is a problem when there is a problem there is the way to go. Actually you continuously go over and over the great path of the Buddha with your teacher who is always with you. Negative and positive methods are the first principle and the second principle are nothing but the great activities of such a character as Matsu. The Buddha nature is quite personal to you and essential to all existence. This again is this not one


not two. It's quite personal to you and essential to all existence. What is this great activity that he refers to? He speaks of great activity later on. Zen may be said to be the practice of complete acceptance and cultivation of our mind to make it deep enough and open enough to accept things as they are. When this perfect acceptance takes place everything will be airing out by itself according to its own nature and circumstances. We call this activity the great activity. The great activity has no regulations and everything is beyond dimensions.


The earth is not great whereas a grain of sand is small. In the realm of great activity picking up a grain of sand is the same as taking up the whole universe. To save one sentient being is to save all sentient beings. So nothing is too long nothing is too small and in whatever you do the true way is there. For a person who wants to understand Buddhism logically it may be difficult to understand why he should study over and over again stories such as are collected in the Blue Cliff Record or Heikigan Roku. Yet when a student realizes how difficult it is to incorporate into her daily life what she learns in these stories she will acknowledge the necessity of practicing Zazen and reading. This practice in reading will in turn encourage


her real study of these stories. To do this over and over means perfect acceptance. Finding out the significance of everyday activity is the great activity. Finding out how all pervasive every action is is the great activity. So as we practice today in the one day sitting and as we practice throughout the practice period please please find the significance of your everyday activity.


Please find out what is the live coal for you? What do you care about? Please become intimate with the difficulties of your life and see how they lead you to understand others with greater compassion. Investigate this not one, not two as it occurs moment after moment in your life. Rumi has a poem which I love. I've shared it with you before but it's been a while. The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.


Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the door sill where the two walls meet. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep. The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. You must find your alive ember. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the door sill where the two worlds touch.


Where the two worlds touch. This duality and non-duality. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep. Today, since there's no question and answer session because of the session, are there a few questions that you would like to bring up? Yes. Is it Buddha Dharma that we see in the Japanese culture sometimes with no eyes painted and sometimes with the eyes painted black?


There are stories about him getting discouraged or upset by falling asleep. So he'd pull off his eyebrows and eyelashes and threw them on the ground and tea plants grew from them. And that's where the monks get tea to keep them awake so they don't go back to sleep. There are various eccentric legends about Bodhidharma. In fact, the historicity of Bodhidharma is not certain. But anyhow. Yes? How shall I live my life? This life which has been given to me? It's such a gift. You know, until I had my heart attack I really didn't recognize that it was a gift. It's always been a gift. And I didn't really recognize it until I survived the heart attack. But it is a gift.


And how shall I live it? This is what I face all the time. What is yours? Do you know? Investigate it. Yes? A little bit louder. I see people in the back trying to hear. You mentioned this koan. Why do you work so hard? There's someone who requires it. But I forget the rest of it. Oh, okay. So, Bai Zhang and Yun Yan were working one day and Yun Yan said to Bai Zhang, Every day there's so much hard work.


Who do you do it for? And Bai Zhang said, There's someone who requires it. And Yun Yan said, Why don't you have that person do it themselves? And Bai Zhang said, He has no tools. So, that's an interesting story to investigate. I found it quite rich. You know, I really responded to there's someone who requires it because I've been trying for years to figure out why I get up every morning and go to Zendo. You know, there's... There's one of the stories in here. It's a monk asked Yun Yan, I think. Oh, no. Yun Yan says to the monks, The world is vast and wide.


When the bell rings, why do you put on your seven-year-old robe and go into the Zendo? And that's been a very live question for me. You know, why do I do this? When I first began, it was very strange. I had no... It was just kind of completely alien activity for me. It's a happenstance that I arrived at the Berkeley Zen Center and had Zazen instruction. But, immediately, I started going every morning, first for one period and then for both periods. And then I arranged to pick somebody up and drive her to the Zendo to be sure that I would get up and get there. And I met, you know, while I was doing that, I was still saying, What am I doing? You know, this is weird. You know, they wear these robes up in that dark attic and they're bowing and they put salt on their ceiling for breakfast. You know, this is... and they chant in Japanese


and all the strange stuff. And still, every morning, I got up and went. And then I started going at night before I went home, too. I mean, I left home about 4.30 in the morning and I got home about 6.30. You know, I went to the Zendo. We had breakfast there. I went to work. I came back. I went to the Zendo. And then I went home and cooked dinner. You know, my daughter said to me, Things changed when you started the Zazen. We'll cook breakfast for the kids. Where's Lou? Thank you, Lou. And I never could really answer that question Who do you do it for? Why are you doing this? But it seemed kind of an irresistible pull. And so when I read that story, there's someone who requires it. I thought, Aha! She has no tools, this one who requires it. I must be her tools.


I don't know. This one who requires it is fast. It's... You can't... You can't name it, this one. You can't grasp it. It's ungraspable. Okay. Yes. Come one, back to the things that images last with two different liquids, partially by or beach and the ocean and the area in between where there is wet sand. As there are people


that are separate by their subject. Is that... Those are all good images I would stay with. Where does it come up moment after moment in your life? When you're interacting with another person, where is their separateness and where is their identity? You know, are you really separate? Particularly like if you're angry, suddenly this person seems very separate. Right? In the in the Abhidharma, the study of Buddhist psychology, it says the function of anger is separation. But how separate are you? Is there even so something that connects you as well? You know. And just in daily life, how does this not one, not two, inform your activities? Can you... I think those are good images that you bring up.


You know, where can you say where does the ocean end and the land begin at the seashore? That's a good question. Where do I end and you begin? And is there some way in which there is some continuity there? That there's no ending and beginning. But just adjoining. Maybe one more and then we'll probably need to get back to the center. I'll make the schedule go funny. What's the relationship between the head and the heart and intuition in this investigation that I'm asking you to undertake? Yeah, this investigation is not a conceptual investigation. This is being willing


to give your attention. You know, when I said go down in the basement, you know, put your attention somewhere other than the kind of endlessly spinning thoughts that we chase around and around. You know, I've brought up this image before, but my favorite image of the thoughts that go through my head is Lawrence Welk's Bubble Machine. I mean, what Jean-Marie says, the mind secretes thoughts the way the way glands secrete hormones. You know, the mind just, it just keeps making thoughts, you know. And if I say, oh, there's a pretty one, wow, and then I'm, you know, I'm off and running and I'm somewhere else, I'm not here anymore. And when that happens, when I notice that I, oh, yeah, I really will come back, come home. So this investigation is investigating. Charlotte Silver sometimes says, what does your inner


say about it? She doesn't say inner something, but just what does your inner say about it? Or Suzuki Roshi said, what is your inmost request? It's more just being willing to come back and give kind attention to your immediate experience of breath, of posture, of tension or tightness or openness or ease or suffering or whatever you find here. Not so much caught up in the stories that we tell ourselves about it as just how do you feel right now? What is your experience of this moment? What is your actual experience of this moment? Suzuki Roshi


said, well, sometimes the most important thing is to find out what's the most important thing. That's the kind of investigation that I'm pointing to. Is that helpful at all?