Wheel of Birth and Death

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SF-00969
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Sunday Lecture: Children's stories: earth moving around the sun is one year; "stone soup"; thinking and not thinking; Tibetan wheel of birth and death - six realms, twelve-fold chain of causation; Marin organizing committee - Interfaith etc; Metta Sutta

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I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Good morning. Good morning, everybody. How are you? So, down here in front, some of you can't see, there are a number of younger people, and we're very happy you came today. We're going to tell a story to you, well, we, I am going to tell a story to you this morning, and then you're going to go off and do something really fun outside. So, I had two questions first that I wanted to ask you this morning, and one of them was, how old you are? Four? You're four? How many are four? How many are four? Four? There's one, a big four. Four. How about three? Any three? Three? Are you three? A two? Any twos?

[01:01]

We had a two-year-old birthday yesterday here, and our two-year-old hasn't learned how to do this yet, but she can do this. It's really great. Anybody more than, anybody five? Did I say five? Five? You're five? How about six? Seven? Going up? No, they drop off at seven. That's our ceiling. Well, this is great. Now, my next question was, seven what? Six what? What are those numbers? How many, what is three? Three what? Do you know? Old. Three old, but three what old? There's another word that I'm fishing for. Years. Years. And what's a year? Does anybody know what a year, what's a year? It means when someone's like two and someone's one,

[02:04]

two is a year older than one. That's right. That's right. Are there any more questions about that, about a year? Yes. Twelve months. That's right. And what does it have to do with? Do you know where we got the idea of months and years and seasons? The moon. What else? The big guy up there. What's the biggest thing in the sky? Do you know? God. That's wonderful. That's right. God is. And God, sometimes we call the God by another name. We say he's our son. He's our son. And so anyway, I did a drawing in the back of my story

[03:05]

that I don't know if you can see it very well, but in the middle, the yellow circle says son. Son of God. And this sun has something to do with a year. Do you know what it has to do with a year? Where is the sun right now? Yeah, it's over there. Over there somewhere. It's out there right now, huh? So where are we? If the sun's out there, where are we sitting? On the ground. And what's the name of the ground, the big name? Earth. That's right. The Earth. And you know, the Earth is in love with the sun. Did you know that? There's a big attraction. And because of that attraction, that love, the Earth stays really close to the sun, and it dances. All day long. Do you know how it dances? It turns in circles. It spins around.

[04:06]

That's right. Exactly. It spins around. It loves the sun so much, it wants to show it its front, and then it shows its back. Do you do that for your mom sometimes? Here's my front, my new dress, and here's my back. So the Earth does that with the sun. It goes around. It spins around. We call that night and day. When it spins its front, like right now, it's day. And when we turn its back, what time is it? It's nighttime. It gets kind of dark, huh? So not only does the Earth spin around the sun, I mean around, it also goes around the sun too, in a big circle. And how long does that take? A day? How long? A year. That's right. It takes a year. So if we start over here, where we are right now, in the season that we call spring, then the sun's going to spin around and dance around a big circle around the sun, I mean the Earth, sorry. The Earth's going to spin around, and then one year later, it's going to be back where it started,

[05:11]

in the spring. How many days does it take for it to go all the way around? Who knows that big number? Three hundred and sixty-five days to go all the way around. That's kind of a slow trip, isn't it? Okay, so as we go around, this very amazing thing happens. Right now we're in the spring. What happens in the spring? Flowers grow, and do you see a lot of animals? Have you seen any new animals being born? Any lambs or baby chicks? Yeah, did you see some? Lots of animals are born in the spring. Were any of you born in the spring? You have your birthday right now? You do? How about in the summer? In the winter? I was born in the winter. You were born in the spring?

[06:13]

So we live on a farm here at Green Gulch, and in the spring, we've learned something. In the spring, that's when you plant the seeds because the ground is wet and lots of rain comes, and as you know, seeds love the rain. So we plant the seeds, and then what's going to happen next? What's coming next that we're all excited about? The plants start to grow. How come? Summer's coming. Summer's coming. No more school. You're going to have your bathing suits on all the time. Your mom's not going to tell you to put on your coat for a while. When do you have to put your coat on? The winter, when it's cold. So we're leaving winter right now, and we're in the spring, and when summer comes, the seeds that we plant here on the farm are going to turn into your favorite thing. What's that? Well, I'm kind of kidding. Spinach. Vegetables.

[07:18]

Those seeds are going to become vegetables. And do you know some names of vegetables? What's your favorite? Broccoli. Carrot. Brussels sprouts. Good. Sweet corn. Pumpkins. Pineapples. We don't grow pineapples, but... Anyway, all those vegetables grow all summer, and then we harvest them, and we take them to the farmer's market, and we also make nice, delicious soup out of those vegetables. In fact, our cook is sitting right here. He takes those vegetables, and he makes soup for everybody, and he made some for everybody here today, out of our vegetables. Well, somebody's vegetables. Yeah, some of ours. Great. So, after all the vegetables are grown and harvested and made into food, then pretty soon it starts to get cold again.

[08:20]

What's happening then? What's happening? Winter's coming back, and then before that happens, you go to school again, don't you? And you're going to be in the next grade. Are any of you going to start first grade next year? Yeah. Kindergarten? Kindergarten? Second grade? Kindergarten? Oh, lucky you. Eighth grade? Whoa. Whoa. Well, I just want you to know that, personally, I have gone around the sun 57 times. Yeah, that's right. That's right, and I hope all of you get that privilege of going around that many times, and many, many more. Okay, so I want to tell you a story now about vegetable soup. And this story takes place, it was written in 1947, the year before I was born,

[09:23]

1947, and this was a time when there had been a great and terrible war. And I know you know what war is, don't you? You know what war is? Yeah? Yeah, fighting something. And did people get hurt? Terrible, terrible. And killed, and the farmers have a hard time growing vegetables during war because there's tanks, and bombs, and messing up the land, and hurting the farmers, and it's a terrible thing. So there wasn't a lot of food when this story was written. A lot of the food was disturbed, and the farmers were disturbed by the war. So three monks were walking along, they'd been on a pilgrimage, and they had just come from a peace walk. And they were very tired, and they were very hungry. So as they walked down the path, they saw the lights of a village straight ahead, and they said, well, maybe we can get something to eat at the village. And maybe someplace to sleep. Well, it's no harm in asking, the third monk said. Now, the people of the village, because of the war,

[10:29]

were very afraid of strangers. And when they saw the monks coming down the road, they hurried to hide their food. The monks stopped at all of the houses, holding out their begging bowls, but the villagers gave every excuse. I'm so sorry, we just don't have any food left. It's been a very poor harvest. We need all of our seeds for planting next year. And so it went. And the villagers then gathered in the street, looking as hungry as they could. So the three monks sat down under an oak tree in the center of town and meditated. When some time had passed, they arose and quietly talked among themselves. Then the first monk called out for the villagers to come near. Good people, we are three hungry monks in a strange land. Since we have asked you for food and you don't have any, then we're going to have to make some stone soup. The second monk asked for a large iron pot,

[11:32]

water to fill it and a fire to heat it, and three round, smooth stones. You know what stones are? They're rocks. They're going to make soup out of rocks. Well, the curious villagers, for none had ever heard of stone soup, hurriedly went and found the pot and they filled it with water and they set it to boil in the middle of the village square. They watched with wide eyes as the monks dropped the rocks into the pot. And then the first monk said, Stones like these generally make very good soup, but if there were just some carrots, it would be so much better. There was a long silence and then a village woman said, Why, I have a carrot or two, and she came back with her apron full of carrots. You know, a good stone soup should also have a little cabbage, said the second monk as he sliced the carrots into the pot. But, of course, no one's asking for what you don't have. I think I could find some cabbage somewhere,

[12:35]

said the cobbler, and then he came back with three cabbages that he had hidden under his bed. The monks continued to mention ingredients that would make the soup delicious, and the people brought barley and onions, potatoes and milk for the steaming broth. At last the soup was ready. Well, all of you must have a taste, said the monks, but first set a big table up. So great tables were placed in the square with lighted torches all around. One of the villagers cried out, Such a soup requires bread and cider. And with that addition, everyone sat down to eat and to celebrate. They had a party. In the morning, the whole village gathered in the square to give the monks a send-off. Many thanks for what you've taught us. We will never go hungry again now that we know how to make soup out of stones. Well, it's all in the sharing, said the monks, and off they went down the road. Well, thank you all for coming,

[13:38]

and you're going to plant some seeds today, so maybe some vegetables that you can share will come out of those seeds. Okay, we'll see you soon. Bye. Thank you. Bye-bye. Okay? Thank you. Thank you. If anyone would like to move up closer, there are spaces in the front. Thanks.

[15:00]

So I'd like to begin with a poem that was recited during a sermon called Uji. Uji means the time being, and this sermon was given in the 13th century by Master Dogen, the founder of our school of Zen Buddhism. An ancient Buddha said, for the time being, stand on top of the highest peak. For the time being, proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean. For the time being, a wrathful deity with three heads and eight arms. For the time being, an eight or sixteen foot golden Buddha. For the time being, a teacher's staff or whisk. For the time being, a pillar or lantern. For the time being, the sons of commoners, Zhang and Li. For the time being, the earth and sky.

[16:18]

It's my experience that time has a way of moving quite differently from what I ever expect. And then even though hours have been carefully and scientifically marked on my watch and in my calendar, when it comes to the living of those hours, they are always miraculous and defiant of charting. And even though I've noticed this stunning discrepancy between my life and my ideas about my life, year after year and day after day, it's almost impossible for me not to anticipate what my day is going to be like or even what this moment is going to be like, let alone what this moment actually is. As a poet once said, I have never seen a garden.

[17:26]

In other words, what we think of our life, or what we think of anything for that matter, a garden, for example, and what a garden actually is, outside of our thinking about it, are two entirely different beasts. Beasts that conjoin in every moment at this location that I call myself. Master Dogen named these two beasts thinking and not thinking. And he gave his instruction to his students like this, think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking, they cried. Non-thinking, he said. This is the essential art of meditation, of zazen, the essential art of human life.

[18:33]

In the Buddha's teaching, the first beast, the one we call thinking, is considered to be purely imputational, very akin to purely fiction. And what that means is that our thinking, which takes the form of words that are strung together into opinions and judgments and meaning, are things that we put on to the world, we impute to the world, like putting on a costume. And of course we costume ourselves as well, with self-hatred, with self-love, with self-image. But in every case, none of these views or opinions can actually be found in the world itself. They can only be found on the inside of our heads.

[19:39]

They are the products of our thinking. And just like snails laying down slime, we humans lay down an endless trail of thoughts. Now the second beast, reality itself, simply gurgles and plops, oozes, slides, and evaporates before our very eyes, and into our ears, and onto our tongues, through our minds, across the surface of our skin, up our noses, and out the door. This is the other world, the world of our direct experience, just looking, just listening, just hearing, tasting, and just being. There's an old Zen saying that goes,

[20:41]

Words can't ever reach it. Words can't ever reach it. And the it is this fuzzy world of creation, which continuously weaves its loom and shuttle beyond the sanctions of words, customs, or beliefs. Making friends of these two beasts, thinking and not thinking, is the essential art of the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, the poets, the sages, and the saints. So that's what I want to talk about today, is this craft of soothing and taming, loving and employing the beasts. I think you all know this phrase that was made popular back in the 1960s by Ram Dass, Be here now. Be here now. It's a little saying that points to a very profound aspect of human life,

[21:48]

which, for very human reasons, continuously eludes us, you know, to be here now. It's like a mousetrap from which we inevitably try to escape, as though we actually could. So I would like to suggest that this is the very heart of Buddha's practice, a willingness to be caught in the trap of the present moment, with no designs whatsoever on getting away. And I believe with all my heart that this willingness to face the world in its entirety with our eyes wide open against distractions from the present moment is the very doorway to a life of respect and warm regard for all that is. Within the trap of the present moment,

[22:51]

the one true marriage is continuously taking place. Beast into beast, form into emptiness, silence into sound, self into others, sacred into profane, winter into spring. Two into one, one, one, into two. This is another excerpt from Master Dogen, and in a sermon, the same sermon, which he gave in the first half of the 13th century. The way the self arrays itself is the form of the entire world. See each thing in this entire world as a moment of time. The self setting itself out in array sees itself. This is the understanding that the self is time.

[23:53]

Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth. The study of this is the beginning of practice. When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form. There is understanding of form, thinking, and there is no understanding of form, not thinking. There is understanding of grass and no understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time being is all the time there is. Grass being, form being are both time. Each moment is all being, is the entire world.

[24:56]

Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment. So the way that Master Dogen is talking is a poetic exampling of the Buddha's insight and of the Buddha's assertion that our life is a creation of our mind, of our thinking. And as I say to my daughter over and over again, and I've mentioned to you as well, your problem is not in the bag of cookies, it's in your noodle. And it helps me to remember that what the Buddha was studying under the Tree of Awakening during those long days of meditation was his own mind. There was no DVD player or iPod, no New York Sunday Times.

[25:59]

He had none of the entertainments that we fill our minds and our time with. The days were warm, the birds were singing, and no doubt there were bees. And still there appeared before that fine young man armies of demons, rock-throwing hecklers, and the seductive dancing of women and boys. If you covered a planet with such beings as this, caught in persistent delusional states, and therein you would find the prescription for famine, hoarding, holocaust, and mayhem, which generation after generation has nearly exhausted this great green planet. Even the devil himself or herself, known as Mara the Evil One, made an appearance in the clearing on that lovely day, until finally the Buddha, unmoving and unwavering,

[27:05]

and at the end of his trials, saw these things for what they truly are, illusions, phantoms, fantasies, hallucinations, and dreams. They were distortions of his own mind, of his own thinking. And the Buddha said to Mara, his final tormentor, I know now who you really are. And Mara replied, Oh no you don't. And the Buddha said most kindly, Oh yes I do. You are myself. And with those words, Mara vanishes. In such a place as this, at such a time, when the day is warm, the birds are singing, and so too the bees, one's mind turns naturally away from war and into peace. Many centuries later in Japan,

[28:05]

a samurai approached a seated Buddhist master asking to be taught, demanding to be taught. When the master refused to answer, the samurai drew his sword, Don't you know that I'm the one who can kill you? To which the master calmly replied, Don't you know that I'm the one who can be killed? With that, the samurai faced his own shame, threw away his sword, and entered into the courageous path of peace, the path of one who can be killed. The good news is that the human mind can be reformed into a mind of peace and joy, which according to the Buddha is its natural state. The bad news is it happens one person at a time. So I have brought today with me the wonderful wheel of birth and death

[29:10]

that I want to show you, which was done by a Tibetan artist that helps to illustrate the problem with thinking. And I've asked our own Vanna White, Arlene Lueck, to hold it for me, if she would be so kind. And forgive me. Because resemblance is so remarkable. You can sit down. Thank you. Okay. Now let them see your face. Thank you. Okay. So you have to point to the things that I mentioned. I think you... Maybe Al can point. Okay. So on the rim of the wheel... How's that?

[30:14]

Okay. Not enough? You know, if you hold it to your side, I think you could probably point at this stuff too. You can't see? Okay. All right. This may not work is what's going to happen here. Is that better? Okay. On the rims of the wheel, the rim of the wheel, which... You see this character holding the wheel? So on the rim, the outer rim of the wheel, there are little pictures, which... I'll bring this outside later, and you can take a look at it if you like. So this is the 12-linked chain of what's called dependent origination. It's basically... This is a diagram of the workings of thinking, the beast of thinking. And inside of the 12-fold chain are the six destinations. So they're kind of like a pie divided into six. There's a line, a horizontal line, and then three psychological realms, called the six realms, three of them on top and three of them below. These are called the higher realms and the lower realms.

[31:17]

So we know these realms very well. They're realms that we all pass through throughout the day. We pass in and out of them. Some of them are more dramatic than others. At the top... At the top are the gods. This is the realm of the gods. And to the right of the gods are the fighting gods who are trying to take over heaven. Below them are the animals and the hungry ghosts and the kingdom of hell. Now to the left of the gods is the human realm, the world where life is more or less okay. In the Buddhist teaching, this is the most desirable state. It's more so than even heaven because in the human realm, we are motivated to work, to think, and to plan ahead for those rainy days.

[32:20]

And we are also motivated to practice. The gods are much too busy playing or resting, the demons fighting, the animals mating or eating, the ghosts moaning, and the hell beings suffering. Only humans have the time and inclination to carefully consider their lives. Living isn't so easy in the human realm, but it is tremendously gratifying. The fields are plowed with care, the children well-schooled, the medicine is available to everyone and reasonably priced. Wealth and commonwealth are kept conscientiously in balance through a system of just and fair laws. Now it's interesting that even though we must each enter the gateway of liberation one person at a time, no one of us can leave the human realm

[33:24]

according to the Buddha until each person there has an equal opportunity, including the minimum prerequisites of prosperity, to reflect on the limitations of a life based solely on material gain. The mouse gets the cheese, but she's still in the trap. Holding the wheel in his hands and mouth is this hideous demon, which I have been told by a Tibetan sacred dancer, not you, by a Tibetan sacred dancer, is Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. And the story goes that he got tired of liberating people one at a time and decided against good advice to free them all at once. But instead the wheel got stuck in his mouth and therefore the pained grimace on his face.

[34:26]

So the importance of... Are you getting tired? You can... The importance of the wheel is not only to help us to understand how the habit energies of greed, of hatred, and of delusional thinking, which are at the center, at the hub, activate negative elements within human life, such as lying, stealing, killing, sexualizing, intoxicating, the kinds of behaviors that dominate our news day after day. But most importantly, the wheel shows us where its own weaknesses are, where to place the sacred mousetraps. The first of the two weakest links in the chain of ignorance is ignorance itself, which is depicted at the top. You can't see it, I know, but there's a blind man with a cane. This is a drawing of human ignorance. Ignorance in Buddhism is understood as a belief

[35:29]

in an isolated, independent self. Now the fact of the matter is that we are not isolated selves, we are not independent, and we are not separated from the world around us. But rather, as Master Dogen has said to us, we are the world around us, and we depend for our lives on the goodwill of others, on the labor of others, and on the suffering of others. And it is our very good fortune that ignorance itself is vulnerable to the brighter lights of knowledge, of education, and of wisdom. Sophia, the goddess of wisdom. Philosophy, the love of wisdom. I was listening to a discussion on NPR by the organizer of a group, and I'm not sure I have the name right. I think it's called Not in Our Communities, something like that. Not in Our Town, Not in Our Town.

[36:31]

And it's an organization devoted to addressing hate crimes as they occur in local towns, and particularly among children. So a man called into the show, and he said, he reported on himself that he'd been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and he'd thrown rocks at civil rights workers in his town. And then he said that, now I'm grown old, and I have two daughters who are married in interracial marriages, and I have racially mixed-brand children, all of whom I love with all my heart. And the moderator asked him how he had come to change his mind, if there had been an influence on him that had helped him when he was young. And he said, yes, there was. That his minister had taken him aside and told him that how he was thinking and behaving was not at all in keeping with his faith in Jesus Christ.

[37:35]

And that man went on to say that he thought most people were fair-minded, and if given a chance, outside of their connections to bad traditions and family prejudices, that they would be fair-minded and would grow out of these terrible habits. And for him, anyway, ignorance was a weak link that was broken by wisdom, and in doing so opened his own heart to his own family and to his own capacity for love. The second location on the wheel, the second and weakest of the links, is the one called desire. Desire arises after a sequence of mental formations which culminate in the illusion of a fortified and isolated self. And actually, the picture on the wheel is of a fort with a fence all around, a wall. And the fort has eyes, it has ears,

[38:37]

it has a nose and a mouth, and it's defended against attack, by invitation only. So when this fort meets another fort, something happens there, and that's the next link. It's called contact. So fort meets fort. Now, what happens at contact is one of three things. This fort thinks either, I like it, I don't like it, or I'm not yet sure. These are our feelings. We have a feeling when we encounter others. Now, these feelings are extremely powerful, and in this drawing, feelings are shown as someone with an arrow in their eye. We can't avoid our feelings. They're the determining impulses that drive the mouse either to run away

[39:38]

or to go for the cheese. In our practice of seated meditation, this is the very place on the wheel of life that we put a steady gaze, right here at feelings. We welcome our feelings, but we don't move. And for a while, this practice of not moving drives everyone slightly mad. They call it putting the snake in a bamboo tube. The snake writhes and complains and wiggles, but if it relaxes, it just slides right out of the tube. So there's great relief that comes when the mind finally settles and grows cool, and it's so pleasant, in fact, that we grow to prefer it over agitation and heat. And we even willingly submit ourselves to the daily activity of seated meditation.

[40:39]

Around here, we call this activity Zazen, but you can call it anything you want, and you can do it anywhere you are, whenever you like. Just relax, calm down, take a break, whether you're standing in line or talking with a friend. Let go. The influence that your restful mind will have on the world around you is immeasurable. And once you get the hang of it, you can relax yourself into your world, more or less at will. You can relax while you're driving your car, while you're cleaning your house, while you're checking your email, and while you're eating the cheese. I think you all know the story of the man who's being chased by a tiger, and he gets to the edge of a cliff, and his only option is to climb on a vine that's going down. And as he does, he notices there's another tiger

[41:44]

at the base of the cliff. So while he's hanging there, in what may be his last moment, he sees a little strawberry growing on the side of the cliff, and he takes the strawberry, eats it, and says, how delicious. Now it's very tempting, given our inclination, to see life as an entertainment, to end the story right there. It's kind of like ending therapy. We're feeling better, we're less irritable, and we're much nicer to be around. We can see the flowers in the garden, and we are deeply grateful for our lives. And so we live happily ever after, the end. The Buddha himself was tempted by this very option. But fortunately for us, the gods implored the Buddha to go get a job, to get a job teaching.

[42:45]

They said to him that there were others striving to find peace in their own minds, and that he could help them by explaining what he'd learned. And he was reluctant to take that on. He said that he'd worked hard for his liberation, and now that he'd gotten it, he wanted to enjoy himself for a while. It's like most of us considering a move to Baha. But reluctant or not, the Buddha went to find his former companions, the five ascetics, and with utmost patience and persistence, he guided each of them, one by one, to the perfect marriage of the beasts. And as he continued with that work until the end of his days, he balanced a life of active teaching with resting, with walking, with his own meditation, and on occasion, with fundraising. So on that note...

[43:47]

No, not that one. On the note of getting a job, I want to tell you that I attended a meeting this week of a newly forming entity called the Marin Organizing Committee, the MOC. And the membership of this committee includes representatives of institutions in our county that were founded on the noblest of human impulses, primarily compassion for others, public educators, interfaith council members, service and trade unions, health care workers, doctors, environmentalists, farmers, mediators, and meditators, all sat together in one room, a beautiful room at that, at the home of the Dominican Sisters in San Rafael. This meeting is the beginning of a great effort and commitment by our neighbors here in Marin to join hands and stand together

[44:51]

to face those with the power, and to face that power with reason, strength, compassion, and resolve. Just as the Buddha, upright and calm, faced the forces in his own mind until the beast of thinking and the beast of reality had come to peace, this too is our resolve, to make peace with no inside and no outside for the benefit of everyone. So I hope that this quiet little Zen community will also stand together with these fine people, and that any of you who consider yourselves affiliated here or somewhere else in Marin will be there too. There is no agenda as yet, and none will occur without consensus of the whole. Undoubtedly, however, whatever is cultivated by this new organization

[45:51]

will include a deep regard for the poor, for children, for nutrition, for the earth, and for the waging of peace. And if you have any questions about this, I would be happy to talk with you at muffins or during question and answer. From the Metta Sutta, May all beings be happy, may they be joyous and live in safety. All living beings, whether weak or strong, in high or middle or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible, anger, wish harm to another. Even as a mother or a father, at the risk of their life, watches over and protects their only child, so with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things, suffusing love over the entire world, above, below, and all around, without limit.

[46:55]

So let one cultivate an infinite goodwill toward the whole world. Amen. Amen. May our intention... May our intention...

[47:10]

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