Zendo Lecture

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I vow that today is the day that the Jagat Das works. Good evening. I want to sort of take off on a talk of Suzuki Roshi's in this book, Not Always So, which is a collection of some of the Dharma talks that he gave somewhat later than those that are in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, after we had a residential community and some of the things that come up in living and practicing together were arising. So I think it's very helpful for us to look at some of the things that he brings up for


us to consider there. So I'll start out reading a little, and then I'll make some comments, and we'll see where we go. I don't know how bad the light was in here. It says, In the full lotus position, we cross our right leg over our left leg and the left leg over the right. Symbolically, the right is activity and the left is the opposite, calmness of mind. If the left is wisdom, the right is practice. And when we cross our legs, we don't know which is which. So even though we have two, symbolically, we have oneness. Our posture is vertical without leaning right or left, backward or forward.


This is an expression of perfect understanding of the teaching that is beyond duality. When we extend this, we naturally have precepts and the study of how to observe the precepts. This posture of Zazen is not just a kind of training, but is the actual way of transmitting Buddha's teaching to us. Words by themselves are not good enough to actualize his teaching, so it is transmitted through activity or through human relationship. So, studying the Buddha Dharma and training in a monastery and learning to sit Zazen is not yet a full expression of the Buddha's teaching.


It's in how we actually live our life from moment to moment. How we interact with all of the beings that we come in contact with, those near and dear to us and those just in passing and those with whom we have difficulty. How we actually express this life in our day-to-day interactions is where the Buddha Dharma actually bears fruit. In addition to precepts, we have the relationship between teacher and disciple. The disciple must choose the teacher and then the teacher will accept the disciple, although


sometimes a teacher may recommend another teacher. Between teachers there should not be any conflict. So, if one teacher thinks that another is more qualified, he may recommend him or her. Once you become a disciple, devote yourself to studying the Way. At first, as a disciple, you may want to practice with a teacher not because you want to study Buddhism, but for some other reason. Still, it doesn't matter, you know. If you devote yourself completely to your teacher, you will understand. You will be your teacher's disciple and you can transmit our Way. This relationship between teacher and disciple is very important and at the same time it is difficult for both teacher and disciple to be teacher and disciple in its true sense.


So they should both make their best effort. Suzuki Roshi talked a lot about making our best effort. I mean, as I recall, there were two things that he said that I had some difficulty with. The first thing I heard him say when I came to the first lecture I heard, I think I mentioned this already the other day in class, he said, you're perfect just as you are. And I thought, well, he doesn't know me, I'm new here. But he kept saying things like that, you have everything you need, just to be alive is enough. He kept pointing to something there that I had to realize was about me and about everybody. But on the other hand, he would say Zen is about making your best effort on each moment forever.


And he would also talk about no gaining idea or no goal-seeking mind. And these things, I had a hard time putting them together. I mean, if you're perfect just as you are, what kind of effort do you need to make? You know, if you have no gaining idea. I've never recalled making effort without some goal in mind. But here he is saying, you know, make your best effort on each moment forever. And no gaining idea. So that was a conundrum for me. And he's saying now, teacher and student, teacher and disciple, should make their best effort to find out how to be a true teacher and a true disciple. Teacher and disciple practice various rituals together.


Rituals are more than just training. Through rituals, we communicate and transmit the teaching in a true sense. We put emphasis on selflessness. When we practice together, we forget our own practice. It is each individual's practice, yet it is also others' practice. You know, so we practice selflessness in rituals. Well, it's interesting how our self-centered tenancy will creep in. I heard a story one time about a priest at a family temple in Japan who was on his deathbed and his son, who was his disciple and was going to be the new head of the temple when


he died, was there at his bedside sort of, you know, listening for his father's last words. And his father's last words were, son, have you learned how to offer the incense straight yet? And somehow that sticks in my mind because I'm always trying to offer the incense straight. And particularly here, you know, Greg hands me the incense very precisely. It makes it very easy for me to take it and offer it. And so I was putting the incense in very straight and then I had the thought, I'm putting the incense in very straight. And the next time I could not get the incense to stand up, you know. Somehow I have this built-in, I don't know exactly what to call it because the word that


comes to mind is not polite, but this sort of detector of garbage, you know, like that, you know. When I have this, hmm, I'm pretty cute, immediately something will go awry. And that happened the other day when I was trying to offer the incense straight and I couldn't, I mean, I can't help laughing at myself. I'm just always catching myself at this sort of self-centered or die-cute thing. He's saying here, you know, we practice, do rituals together and our practice is selflessness. Well, maybe so, but I get tripped up every now and then. And the other day I was doing the morning service and again I, you know, I got through all those vows. If you do the Buddhas and Ancestors and the Acharyas, the Doshi does a lot of vows. And I got through all the vows without doing anything awkward like stepping on Mother Hema,


my robe or just getting too tired to do any more vows. And so I was all through and we're doing Ji, Ho, San, Shi. And at a certain point I noticed the, you know, his head jerk around and I noticed the Doan is having a little trouble noticing when to do the roll down because I forgot to go up and offer incense during Ji, Ho, San, Shi. Now I don't know how many people noticed that, I know the Eno noticed it and the Doan surely noticed it. I don't know how many other people noticed it, but I certainly noticed it. I don't know if I've ever done that before in all the, what is it, 26 years since I was Juso. Anyhow, there I was trying, what's this, there's something wrong here, what's wrong? Oh! So when these little self-centered thoughts arise, we can lose track of what it is we're


doing. And so just notice how your self-centered thoughts come in and muddy up a situation. If our practice is selflessness, let's work at that a little bit and see where this self-clinging comes in. When we practice together, we forget our own practice. It is each individual's practice, yet it is the other's practice. For instance, when we practice chanting, we say, recite the Sutra with your ears. Then with our ears, we listen to others, while with our mouths, we practice our own practice. Here we have complete egolessness in its true sense. Egolessness does not mean to give up your own individual practice.


True egolessness has forgotten egolessness. As long as we practice, my practice is egoless. That means we're stuck to ego, because you stick to giving up ego-centered practice. When you practice your own practice together with others, then true egolessness happens. That egolessness is not just egolessness. It also includes ego practice. But at the same time, it is the practice of egolessness that is beyond ego or egolessness. Do you understand? Well, maybe not. What he's pointing out is, when you talk about non-duality, you can't get stuck on... You know, he used to say, not two, not one, a lot.


If you're talking about non-duality, real non-duality is beyond one and two. It's neither completely separate nor completely one. It's both happening at the same time without getting in each other's way. So, we don't want to get stuck on opposites. You know, if you're talking about good and bad, or male and female, each one of these pairs of opposites creates the other. At a certain point in my practice, I had been a pretty fierce feminist.


And I was driving along... Actually, I was driving from Jamesburg to Green Gulch to do a session. And I was in some feminist rant in my head about something not being equal or fair or something. And then I had just this sudden realization out of nowhere that the way I was defining myself as a woman, which was, I am a woman, that is, not a man, that is, defining myself in opposition to something I was setting up as other, was limiting me to less than the totality of whatever this is. I mean, this is a mystery. What is this?


How can I say what this is? Where does it begin and where does it end? Where's the boundary of this that I call me? Is it my skin? I mean, is this just this body? Is what I am or what you are? But anyhow, that kind of definition of this and not that is a very dualistic kind of description of something. And it limits whatever you're talking about to less than the completeness. If I don't define this, it really has no boundaries. It includes everything. But when I make definitions, it squeezes it into that box. So I can say, yes, I'm a woman and, is that all?


Well, no. There's more to this than that. That's just one little facet of what this is. And any description you make of yourself is just one little facet of the totality of what you are. So to make definitions in this dualistic way of this and not that in opposition to something that you define as other is a big mistake. All right. So this is also true in the observation of the precepts. If you try to observe the precepts, that is not true observation of precepts. When you observe the precepts without trying to observe the precepts,


that is true observation of the precepts. Our inmost nature can help us. When we understand the precepts as an expression of our inmost nature, that is the way as it is. Then there are no precepts. When we are expressing our inmost nature, no precepts are necessary. So we are not observing any precepts. On the other hand, we have the opposite nature, so we want to observe our precepts. We feel that the necessity of observing the precepts will help us. And when we understand the precepts in this negative or prohibitory sense, that is also the blossoming of our true nature. So we have a choice of how to observe precepts, one negative and the other positive. Also, when we do not feel that we can observe all the precepts,


then we can choose the ones that we feel we can work with. Precepts are not rules set up by someone. Since our life is the expression of our true nature, if something is wrong with that expression, then Buddha will say that is not the way. Then you will have precepts. The actual event or fact is first, not the rules. So it is the nature of precepts that we have a chance to choose our precepts. If you go one way, you will have these precepts. If you take another way, you will have some other precepts. Whether you go this way or that way is up to you. Either way, you will have some precepts. At first, you should depend on your teacher. This is the best way. And you begin by following the prohibitory precepts.


When you become familiar with our way, you will have a more positive observance of the precepts. How a teacher points out the student's mistakes is very important. If a teacher thinks that what the student did is a mistake, he is not a true teacher. It may be a mistake, but on the other hand, it is an expression of the student's true nature. When we understand this, we have respect for the student, for the student's true nature, and we will be careful how we point out such mistakes. In the scriptures, five points are made about how to be careful. One is that the teacher has to choose the opportunity and not point out the student's mistake in front of many people. If possible, the teacher points out the mistake


personally, in an appropriate time and place. Secondly, the teacher is reminded to be truthful, which means the teacher does not point out his disciple's mistake just because he thinks it's a mistake. When the teacher understands why the disciple did so, then he can be truthful. The third reminder is for the teacher to be gentle and calm and speak in a low voice rather than shouting. This is something very delicate, like truthfulness, but here the scripture puts emphasis on having a calm, gentle attitude when talking about someone's mistake. The fourth one is that the teacher gives advice on points,


gives advice or points out a disciple's mistake solely for the sake of helping the disciple and does not do so just to get something off his chest. Here the teacher is very careful, noticing when the student is making some excuse for what he did, or when the student is not serious enough. Then the teacher should ignore him until he becomes more serious. That's pretty interesting, isn't it? Instead of, then the teacher should really reprimand him, the teacher should just ignore him. When you want to be a serious student, come back and see me again. That to me was very interesting. And I remember someone talking about Suzuki Roshi,


talking about really making a big effort to get Suzuki Roshi's attention, and Suzuki Roshi just treating him like a lamppost, just not giving him any response. It was very interesting. So he's not reprimanding him, he's just giving the message that I'll spend my time with people who really want to practice, and when you really want to practice, come see me. And I remember Roshi talking about Suzuki Roshi in the early years before I was here. And he said, you know, there were all kinds of people around him, and the people he paid attention to were the people who were really serious about Satsang practice.


And he just didn't spend his time with people who were just hanging out, because it was a neat thing to do, because he was a Zen master and they'd read about Zen and that was cool. He just kept giving his attention to the people who were devoted to Satsang. And when the time came that the Japanese-American temple was kind of overrun with all these American Zen students, he had to really choose between staying with the Japanese-American community or going somewhere else with these Americans. He pondered long and hard about it and said, I'll go with the people who are sitting in Zazen. Because that was what was important to him. This practice that we received from Dogen Zenji,


he wanted to bring to us. He wanted us to discover the value of this sitting practice. When he was a young student, he was watching ships being loaded with things manufactured in Japan that were being sent over here. And at that point, there were some wonderful handicrafts from Japan, but this was not handicrafts, this was manufactured stuff. And at that point, back in the 30s, the label made in Japan meant something not manufactured very well. Sort of like 20 years or so ago, things coming from China where the industrial society was just beginning to build up and do exports were not so carefully made.


And he felt bad about these inferior products being sent to America, and he wanted to bring the best that Japan had to offer to America. But for him, the best that Japan had to offer was Zazen and Dogen Zenji's teaching. And I'm forever grateful that he decided he wanted to bring this practice to us. But in the course of it, when people began discovering he was there and wanting to hang out with him, his attention went to the people who were serious about practicing Zazen. And this is what he's saying, when you find out your student is not serious enough, just don't pay him any attention until he decides he wants to be serious. ... ...


... ... Even though we give advice only for the sake of helping the student, still this does not mean to always be easy with the student. Sometimes we should be very tough with the student, or we cannot really help in a true sense. And in a way, most of the teachers I know are toughest with the students that they care most about. ... [...]


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