Village Zendo Home
July 09 Contents

CommitmentDharma Talk
Soji Zen CenterOur Philadelphia sister zendo
Zen at United ChurchZen Buddhism and Christianity
Zen on MainFour voices from Northampton
Star NurseryPracticing at a distance
On Liturgy:3 pieces on Zen form
Ordinary ZenPhotos
Tao Wu's Condolence CallA koan comic
Duet with DoubtVideo
Slot CanyonPhotos

Actually, my whole talk today is kind of a rant on commitment. Must be some medicine that the sangha needs, I suspect. So, commitment. I first went to our own English base. The word comes from the Latin "to entrust". To commit. You know how you commit a letter to someone to send off? "To entrust." "To join with." "Pledge." I think that these are also qualities that are not particularly valued in our society. Trusting, entrusting ourselves to a community, to others. We all think that we are just an individual. "Just me against the world." Very seldom do we hear "It's just me with the world" or "It's just me as the world", but "It's me against the world." To think of ourselves as entrusting ourselves to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Entrusting ourselves to an ancient tradition that encourages us to free ourselves from our own minds. It's not so easy to do. But consider what else you are committed to. What do you entrust yourself to? What do you commit to?

Housing project

Now there's one Dharma talk that could be given to the people who are not here and there's another Dharma talk that could be given to the people who've shown up. I think I'll give the latter. Although I'm tempted to give the former. So those of us who are here today perhaps were committed to experiencing our Buddha mind, our Way-seeking mind. The mind of enlightenment. To entrust yourself to such a thing. The mind of enlightenment. To entrust yourself to practicing the Way. To commit yourself to the proposition that practice and enlightenment are not two. That we do not practice to attain. We practice to realize and to manifest the enlightenment that we are born with but for some reason have forgotten, like the son in the Lotus Sutra who wanders away from his father and doesn't realize that he is heir to riches. We forget that this wondrous mind, this rebirth as a human, is so extraordinary. This life that we have, though short, is so extraordinary. Why would we not want to live it awake, with wisdom and compassion? Why would we think its more important to do X, Y, and Z?

We say that we should practice as if we are putting out a fire on our head. If you had a fire on your head, believe me, you'd have some energy. Another image I love, is to practice as if you saw someone drop a bag of gold in the market place and you were scrambling to pick up the gold. I think you'd have some energy there.

Brooklyn Bridge

Our great master Dogen said that there are three things that can easily spoil before they ripen. Fish eggs, mangos and the Buddha mind, the Way-seeking mind. I love that. I love that quote. Notice the word 'ripening'. Three things that easily spoil before ripening. He points to the delicacy of our ability to nourish and sustain our Way-seeking mind. It's very delicate. At the beginning we may notice that something is missing in our life and we begin to search what that might be. And if we are lucky we stumble upon the Way. And we enter it and we begin to practice. And that's an exciting time. Things are new. "Oh, this is the Way. OK. Let's practice this." First exploratory steps. They are a little uncomfortable, but a little exciting. They keep our interest for a while. Yet if we are not careful we can either expect something dramatic, expect something to happen that we read about, some fireworks, some extraordinary event and we become disappointed when it doesn't occur, or we can expect some dramatic changes in who we are: how we walk, how we talk, how we experience the world. And those things do happen, but they don't happen in the way that you think they happen. They don't happen in the way that you can notice that they are happening.

With me, I'm very fortunate. I've been so fortunate to be able to practice with some of you for over 20 years and see the changes. And they are extraordinary and they are dramatic. But at any one point could we have pointed to them and said, "There! There! There's the change! Annutara Samyak Sambodhi. Great satori." Or has it not been each step on the way? Each step on the way. We cannot see it because we are it.

Manhattan Bridge

There's also the problem of people getting into a kind of materialism with their practice—trying to use their practice for some kind of self gain. "I'm a practitioner, I'm a Zen person. I'm very holy." This tradition pretty much tries to knock that out of you. And I try at the same time to hold it up and push it down. If we are always trying to attain something out there we are obviously going to miss this very moment of our lives. This experience. And that frustration of trying to get something, I think, is what is at the bottom of our faltering commitment to practice. We want to attain something even though every Dharma talk reminds us that we can't attain anything. Zazen falls off. We stop coming to the zendo. We think that coming to the zendo is only about us. We forget that coming to the zendo is also about the others whom we support by our practice. We stop studying the teachings.

I love the Dharma so very much. I don't talk about that so much. I just assume that every single one of you has a Dharma book at your bedside table. I just assume you take a daily sip of Dharma teaching. And if you don't I encourage you to please resume that practice. And not to think that any one of us, including me, already know. We don't already know. To continue to have an open mind, and to explore and to be curious and to want to hear the teaching from every corner, that's what it means to be alive in the Dharma. We lose confidence. We lose confidence in our teachers. "She's just an ordinary person. She's not a real guru. She even said so herself!" All of these tendencies, this discouragement leaves us a little restless and filled with doubt. We are in danger of rotting our Buddha-seeking mind.


What is this Way, this Buddha Way? How can we enter it? How can we learn about it? How can we experience it? What was the quality of your last period of sitting? Was it blissful? Was it busy-minded? Was it sleepy? Was it bored? Was it painful? That's good. I hope for you all that it was one of the latter. Is that not our life? Is that not what we are practicing? To be completely present to what is arising in the moment?

One day a student, a monk, by the name of Soshin asked his teacher Tenno Dogo: "I've been coming here for so long and still I have not received a teaching from you about the Way." It's very sad when we hear that. "I haven't heard a teaching from you about the Way." And Dogo said, "Since you have come I have done nothing but offer you a teaching of the Way." Soshin said, "How did you offer me a teaching of the Way?" (a church bell is heard ringing from outside, Roshi pauses) Can you hear the bell offering us a teaching of the Way?

Dogo responds, "When you came bringing me tea, I took the tea. When you came bringing me food, I received the food from you. When you bowed, I returned your bow. When did I not offer you the teaching of the Way?"

What did Soshin miss? He was looking for some words. He was looking for some documentation about the Way. Something he could carry around, like a big sign, "This is the Way." As if he was craning his head forward looking for something that he was standing on. It's always that close. It's always right here.

Financial district

There are so many marvelous things about our culture. Otherwise I wouldn't live here in New York. I like our bright, loud, expressive qualities. I like our no bullshit qualities. But I wouldn't say we are so nuanced. I wouldn't say we get the subtle teachings so easily. We want headlines. We want Fox News about enlightenment. That level. But the teachings are taught all the time. Are offered all the time.

We come into the zendo on a Tuesday night and there's not very many people there. We walk through the door and the teachings are there. How are you at that moment? You walk through the door and you've never done some service position and you are thrown into it. "Please do this for us. There is no one to ring the bell." How are you with that? Are you all caught up, "Well, I haven't had my training..." Or are you, "Let me help. Let me support. Let me be part of this"? The teachings are always being offered. They are also being offered in our homes, our families, our work, our school. Every moment is an opportunity to either be awake or to not hear the teaching.

Dogen said about this story, "In bringing tea and making tea the Way is realized and mystical powers are manifested." We all want these mystical powers the ability to read minds, to generate income for ourselves or whatever we think we need. And yet Dogen is saying that every act we do if we are awake, when we are awake, we are realizing the Way. And that realization is mystical power. That realization is entering oneness. And realizing that we have everything we need right now. Nothing else is necessary.

Thursday night we had someone from the Soto School International headquarters who gave a lovely talk. Daigaku-san. He remarked about how he encounters so many American Zen practitioners who feel like there's not enough time for their practice. There's not enough time to practice. But time is our life.

Chinatown lamppost

Is practice in your life or not? That's really the question. We think about fitting it in. Fitting practice into "Well, I got my work, I got my family I got my friends. I've got to fit my spiritual practice in there sometime between the gym and the bar." But all time is right here. It's not yesterday and not tomorrow. It's not even after now. It's right here. Past time and the future time are ideas in our mind. We say, "I'm going to do this after this talk. I'm going meet my friend in such and such a place." It could happen or it might not happen for a million reasons. The only real time is right now. Or as Dogen said in another fascicle, "make each moment the top of your head." What does he mean by that? Make each moment the top of your head. Just as it is no matter how uncomfortable or how blissful, make it the top of your head. Be now.

The other day I was rushing to the zendo. I'm sure if someone saw me, my body would have been in this position, (leans forward) with my head sort of craned forward. I tripped and fell down on my face, right here on Houston Street. Why? Because in my mind I was already opening the door to the zendo. I was so far away from my body and Houston Street at that moment. It was like "CRASH!" What would it have been like to take a breath and not be forced to have breath knocked out of me? What if I had realized that I was exactly on Houston and Mercer? Exactly there. What would that have been like? I probably wouldn't have tripped.

I am not in time. I am time. It's not even about committing to practice. We are practice. And we must manifest and realize our practice in each moment. This is the mystical teaching. It's always right here. And then we are enlightenment. And the enlightenment is traceless. And this traceless enlightenment is realized completely.

Bird prints

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