A talk by Roshi Enkyo O’Hara
Well, what a full house for such a beautiful day. My intention today is to encourage you to come and practice zazen here at the Village Zendo. That is my sole aim today. I encourage you to really look at your choices and try to find a regular time, whether it’s in the mornings–”you know we have a sweet little group here at 7:30 Monday to Friday mornings; 7:30 to 8:30–”or it’s noontime–”very interesting, unusual people here 12:30 to 1:30, people who work around here and are able to come; some rather nontraditional sitters, we’re open to everyone; and in the evenings we have different opening times, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday evenings. And you can just pick one time, one slot and stick with it. Because this practice opens like a beautiful flower–”if you do it!
Not if you think about it and read about it and talk about it, talk to yourself about it–”you can tell I’ve done all these things, that’s why I’m able to understand how easy it is to become distracted and not really do the practice. It may be that you’re only able to come to Zazenkais–”our once a month Saturday all-day sit; still, do that, make a commitment, “I’m gonna do that.” Or, our retreats when we go away–”we only do that one or two times a year, three times a year. Or like today: can you get here by 9:30 on a Sunday morning so that you can have the luxury of three periods of zazen? I encourage you to consider that. I think it’s the smart thing to do.
I’m talking about the smart thing to do because today my topic is stupidity, also known in the Buddhist tradition as delusions, but today I want to think about it as stupidity; our stupidity to not look at our own lives, our own precious lives. And our stupidity when we look at the world around us–”the stupidity that takes place in our city, in our world, the kind of craziness that you see in the mass media which is the information that we take in.
The stupidity in my own personal life when I run off and become angry about the silliest thing; the stupidness of it; as we say in my family: “It’s just stupid.”
Or in my own mind; there’s a lot of stupidity in my own mind.
So, there’s a wonderful book about this: it’s a retailing of an apocryphal sutra from China called the Hundred Parable Sutra, and the title of the book is Flock of Fools, and it’s translated by Kaz Tanahashi and Peter Levitt. It’s a fun book to read, I recommend it. And all the stories reflect on the foolishness that we humans are heir to–”they’re parables.
And there’s one story I want to tell you, that amused me this week. It’s about a village in China that was blessed with incredible spring water–”kind of like Sarasota–”the most delicious water that you could imagine in the spring in this little village. And the spring was five miles away from the King’s castle. And the King ordered the villagers to every day bring this sweet, fresh spring water to the castle. That was how they had to pay for being in that land; they had to bring fresh spring water every day to this castle that’s five miles away. The villagers did do that, but they complained incessantly about it because it was so far away. It just seemed too much to be walking that far every day.
Actually, I walk five miles every day and that’s 10,000 steps. I have a stepper–”a Fitbit–”that I wear that informs me, “you’ve only walked four and a half miles, can’t you go around the block one more time?” So five miles isn’t really that far for New Yorkers, but it was for these villagers.
So the head of the village went to the King and proposed to him that he decree that the distance from the village to the castle was actually three miles, not five; and the King agreed. The villagers were so happy! They were overjoyed! “It’s only three miles to the castle!” Isn’t that fabulous? One villager said, “You know it’s still five miles,” but everyone ignored him. They paid no attention to him whatsoever. The King had decreed it and thus it was. It was only three miles to the castle.
So the sutra reminds us about being too literal in the words–”being too literal in the belief system–”and thus we’ll be fooled, we’ll be stupid, and we’ll miss the teaching.
You know, these days it’s so easy to–”we’re at a certain peak of popularity of what is being called “mindful” or “meditation”–”in Buddhism there’s kind of like an aura around it now, and it’s really easy to be seduced by these words about practice that really are kind of distant from the reality of practice itself. It really is five miles; it isn’t three.
Those teachings that we’re hearing about I think are often stupid solutions to the real question of who am I, what is this life, and how do I live my life? So, it’s easy to believe it’s only three miles because someone said so. And of course, you know, if you look at some of the fundamentalist beliefs that are all around in this country now–”everywhere, but particularly I notice it here–”it’s an incredible distortion of beautiful wisdom teachings, this kind of literalism, this getting stuck–”and out of that comes some very perverse and deluded actions, political actions. It’s very easy to believe what we’ve been told and not go to the root of our own understanding, the root of our own suffering and our own experience. And, going to exactly where we are, not where we’re told, we’re able to pull ourselves into real life just as it is. Otherwise we’re like the villagers: “Oh, it’s only three miles! Meditate five minutes a day you’ll be fine.”
So the commentary on this by the storyteller points to different dharma teachings and how all of them are just skillful means to encourage people, but they are not the final word. So, too, what we do here are simply skillful means; they’re not the final word.
Where is the final word? Where is the final word?
In the Genjokoan, Dogen says, “When the dharma does not fill your whole body and mind you may assume it is already sufficient. When the dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.”
“When the dharma does not fill your whole body and mind you may assume it is already sufficient. When the dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.”
In the first case, we don’t know. But once you enter the Buddha Way we indeed realize that there’s something missing here and that is why we continue to practice over and over and over again, to come back to the body, to your body, to your mind, to the realization that you are not just this skin-bag but you are a relational whole; a constantly shifting, evolving, changing, interacting energy. “I am all that is, and It is me too.”
So there’s another stupid story I want to tell you. This one is a brief mention in the Surangama Sutra:
“Once, during the time of the Buddha in Varanasi, there was a beautiful woman by the name of Enyadatta. As soon as she woke in the morning this lovely woman liked to gaze at herself in the mirror.” Imagine that; such a thing! “One day she looked in the mirror as usual, but she didn’t see her face.” We always wondered, you know, how could that be? Well, in the old days there were bronze mirrors–”one side was shiny; maybe it got turned over or just tarnished–”she couldn’t see her face. And she panicked. “My head is gone!” She rushed out the door screaming, “I’ve lost my head! I’ve lost my head!” She started looking all over the place for her head–”this is pretty stupid, isn’t it? Her friends told her, “Don’t be silly, your head’s right on top of your shoulders!” But she couldn’t be calm. She was really just hysterical. “I’ve lost my head! I’ve lost my head! A demon has run away with my head! I’ll die without my head!” Her friends grabbed her; she was, you know, flailing about, quite, quite out of control, and they tied her up, tied her up to a pillar to calm her down, to keep her from hurting herself or anyone. And her friends tried to reason with her: “Enyadatta, you’ve always had your head. You’re imagining things. No one has taken her head.” She thought about it. She calmed down a little bit and wondered, “Well, maybe I didn’t lose my head, I’m just not sure.” But then all of a sudden one of her friends, in a brilliant stroke, hit her in the head–”bam!–””Ow! That’s my head!” –¦And she got it: “I have my head! Now I’m so happy! I have my head!”
It took her quite a few days to calm down enough to utterly experience for herself that she had her head. And this story, you know, it’s told so often, it’s kind of a parable about how we enter practice. We begin not knowing anything. We go on as in a dream, we kind of like staring at ourselves in a mirror as if we are in a dream. We gaze at our reflection every day. We don’t even think of ourselves as having a head, or not having a head. We don’t see who we really are, or, as Dogen says, “We assume it’s already sufficient.” We live our lives without realizing our Buddha-nature, without seeing our potential for awakening, without recognizing that we can manifest the Buddha Way and that we can serve all beings just by our own being. We don’t realize that; we just gaze in the mirror, “Oh, that’s me.” We don’t see the Buddha there, we only see our own–”what we may often think is inadequate–”selves. Suddenly we may hear about Buddha-nature, we may hear about Enlightenment. “Where’s mine? I want mine! I want my enlightenment; I want my Buddha-nature. Give it to me!” And we’re just as frantic as she was. She didn’t think she had a head and we don’t think we have Buddha-nature. Then somehow–”maybe we read something, we see a flyer, maybe a friend says something or takes us somewhere–”somehow we manage to get someplace like this; someplace where we can be tied up to a pillar, we can stop our restlessness, our hysteria, our depression. And we can stop and sit and actually manifest that which we search for.
That’s what we’re doing right now on a Sunday morning. We all agree to come here and stop! And what’s there? Breathing in and breathing out; listening to the sounds on Crosby Street and in the Zendo; maybe a koan. Breathing in and breathing out–”maybe there’s a slight shift in our understanding of a problem or a situation in our life. We may not consciously know there’s a shift yet. That so often is true. But just to stop and allow that aspect of your being that we for shorthand sometimes call your Buddha-nature–”your Buddha-nature, awakened nature–”that part of you which can wake up and can actually be present to yourself and to the world. To give that part of you a chance: the space and time.
Maybe we read a dharma talk, or we read a line here or there. “Yeah,” we say, “That makes sense, but what about me?” So then we’re kind of in that space where we’re drawn to the teachings but then we kind of don’t agree with them, or we hear a phrase that we don’t agree with that reminds us of some other spiritual tradition or philosophical point of view. It doesn’t work in accord with our own ideas; our own delusions.
And then what we need is the slap on the head. Just at the right moment, that slap can really be effective. If you’re here it can arise just in zazen, or in community when you’re helping to clean up afterwards and put the cushions back–”maybe, it happens sometimes with me when we’re chanting together and all the voices come together. You hear the sound of all the voices together and your own voice mixed with that, harmonizing, it’s such a beautiful way to understand our interdependence. It’s a simple thing; it’s just a chant. Maybe it’s in interview with the teachers. You go in, you have nothing to say, and something comes out of your mouth wise and beautiful. Or maybe it’s when you step out of the elevator, going or coming. All of it can be an opportunity for that slap on the head; to wake up! Don’t be looking for that Buddha-nature that is always right here!
Dogen says further in that particular fascicle, “That myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening.” That everything comes and serves to wake us up if we can see it that way. And then you’re full of gratitude. And that feeling of gratitude, that feeling of joy, is why some of us keep doing this over and over again, frankly. That’s why we sit: so that we can taste this Buddha nature for ourselves and not be told about it by me or other teachers, but to actually taste it yourself. Because after every first insight, or every insight that we have, we have to do it over and over and over again: it’s not a once-and-done thing. Our life is filled with delusions, with stupidities. Our life is filled with craziness and unskillful actions. And that’s why Dogen says, “When the dharma fills your body and mind you understand that something is missing.” Because now you are awake and you see reality for what it is.
You know, it’s like bowing. When we enter practice we bow because we think it’s polite, you know, “This is what the people do, I guess I’ll do it.” Or maybe, “It’s what I should do. I should bow.” And it feels and looks that way: kind of perfunctory. But with attention, we tie ourselves to that pillar in our heart and listen to the teachings and show up, our bowing becomes a deep and intimate experience, a respecting of ourselves, of our Buddha nature and all of the Buddha nature that exists around us; an offering of vulnerability and strength.
Han Shan, the 9th Century Chinese poet–”you know his name by Cold Mountain–”wrote, “To not know in your heart there is this priceless jewel is like a blind ass going forward just trusting his feet.” Stupid, blind asses. I can be such a stupid, blind ass. It’s possible you could be too, when you don’t see your Buddha-nature.
Dogen says, “Now if a bird or a fish tries to reach the limit of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. Realizing this place, one’s daily life, is the realization of ultimate reality.” So he uses this idea of a bird–”if a bird doesn’t fly in the air it’s not going to reach its reality; and if a fish doesn’t swim in the water, it’s not going to reach its reality. What is your reality? That is where you find your Buddha nature: in your ordinary life, being intimate with just what you face day by day, whatever’s up for you right now. Zazen isn’t a way to run away from it; it’s a way to be awake to it, to be alive to it. We don’t come here to squirm away from our lives but rather to enter them fully.
So let me encourage you with a gatha today, in hopes that you’ll return to the Zendo, just for the simple evenings, mornings ands noontimes where we do the core work of this place.
Stupid, stupid, stupid
How delightful is my stupidity!
Once I recognize it and come back to now–”
The clouds and the buildings
And the funny little humans darting in the streets–”
How marvelous they are!
This one life!
Thank you for coming today.