Practice is Awakening –“ Full Transcript
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Practice is Awakening
Listen to the talk here: practice is awakening – audio
Good morning. A special welcome to the youngest man in the room with a dharma name, Seido, also known as Travis. It’s always lovely to have a little one in the room. I encourage the rest of you to bring your little ones if you have any. Thank you for coming, Amy and Doug.
So where did Seido come to? He came to the Zendo. That’s what we call this place. Sometimes we forget, we think it’s, you know, just that place around the corner. It’s the Zen-do. Zen means meditation or dhyana, absorption, and do is the hall, the room, maybe the funky loft where dhyana takes place. This is the place we come to practice together.
We use that word a lot: to practice. We talk about –œmy practice– and –œyour practice–. Dogen says, –œPractice is Enlightenment. Practice is Awakening.– He takes away the whole kind of instrumental idea that we practice –œin order to–¦– and says, no, no, no, no–”it is it. What we do here is it, and what you do at home is it: is the awakening. We gather together, of course, in order to strengthen our practice.
Over the last week or so I — there’s a researcher who’s doing his dissertation on composers that died from AIDS, on two, and one of the composers is Robert Genjin Savage who was a dear friend of the Zendo and kind of one of the early participants here and helped to found it. And I inherited all of his stuff and so I’ve been reading his journals in order to certify some dates for this doctoral student. And I ran across this date, this entry from 1986 –“ Robert died, Genjin died in 1993 so this was quite a few years earlier, and he was just really getting into Zen at that time, and he wrote this
–œEven if sitting achieves nothing spiritual– and he puts in parentheses –œ(and now that’s a weak and muddled word) the mere taking stock of oneself every morning, putting aside so-called immediate concerns and seeing exactly what’s left, that by itself justifies wasting 40 minutes a day.– I like that description: putting aside immediate concerns and seeing exactly what’s left. Just right now, if you could think: putting aside the demands, the fantasies, the stuff, the duties–”putting all that aside, what’s left? All the kind of machinations of the mind, the recriminations, the conditioning; put all that aside for just a moment or maybe for 20 minutes if not 40 to be present to what’s left. Isn’t that wonderful?
Another way to say that is to drop away–”to let all of that drop away: the ideas that you have about yourself and others, the kind of crazy illusory rules that we make up that we have to follow, like –œdon’t step on a crack.– All these rules that we have, –œhow I should be. How others should be.– To just sit still with my simple self for a few minutes every day.
What would that be like? What happens when we do that? We reenter the depth of our life–the reality of our breath, the meaning of life itself without all the rules and ideas that we put on top of it–the actual experience of your life. These days I’m very struck by how easy it is to slip into this kind of imaginary space, this idea of myself, and you of yourself: who I think I am, and more difficult who I think I should be. It’s not possible to measure up to that idealized version–”it’s not possible. It would be horrible if we did, actually, if you think about it a little bit–”kind of a nightmare: The Perfect Self.
So that’s the reason we come back to what Genjin called –œwhat’s left.– What is what’s left in your life? There’s someone in the room that has the answer. How do we lose it, I wonder? But, since Seido is not going to give us a dharma talk today, I’m going to have to offer you instead a well-known koan to maybe elucidate this point a little bit. It’s Bodhidharma, the koan on his –œpeace of mind.– It appears in several books in the koan tradition.
Bodhidharma, you know, is considered to be the Chinese founder of Zen–”an Indian monk that came to China and brought the teachings there, and he is said to have sat facing the wall for many years. So this scene takes place when he’s in the cave, Bodhidharma’s cave, and he’s facing the wall, sitting zazen. And the Second Ancestor, the person who will succeed him, stands outside begging him to give him the teachings: how to liberate himself. It’s winter and he’s standing in the snow, but Bodhidharma won’t listen to him. He says, –œGo away. I can’t help you.– The Second Ancestor cuts off his arm and says, –œHelp me. My mind is not yet at peace. I beg you my teacher, please give me peace,– or, –œplease give the mind peace.– And Bodhidharma says, –œBring me your mind and I’ll put it at rest.– You know, it’s a pretty gory scene there. I’m very visual and so I can see the blood on the snow. I hope you can too.
So we don’t know what, how long it takes after Bodhidharma says, –œBring the mind to me and I’ll put it at rest– but at some point–”could be an hour, could be a day–”I like to think of it as a night and a day–”the Second Ancestor comes back and he says, –œI have searched for mind and it is finally unattainable.– I have searched for my mind and it is unattainable. And Bodhidharma says, –œThere, I have thoroughly set it at rest for you.–
You know, before I began to practice Zen I read a lot of Zen and when I read this koan I thought it was a really cheap trick! What is this –œThere, I have set it at rest for you– ? But it isn’t. It is the teachings of what’s left. Genjin’s teachings: Facing the wall, the simple practice that –“ you know, inJapanit’s called Bodhidharma’s Zen, it’s a very simple practice, you don’t complicate it at all, you just face the wall. And that’s what we do here; that’s what all of the rigmarole is about. We’re creating a container that will allow us to sit and face the wall. And, of course, no one here comes every day to the Zendo, but this provides a kind of way, a structure for you to then take it home and do that in the morning–”even if it’s not 40 minutes, even if it’s 20 minutes–”that time to be present to your life. It’s so important! Bodhidharma devoted his life to it.
We’re actually a very lively sangha: we like to do things, we like to have parties, we like to have different kinds of teachings here; but all of it is about supporting ourselves so that we can take the moment to drop into real life, who we really are.
That’s what he was doing. He was facing the wall. And what is this standing in the snow that the Second Ancestor–”the back history on the Second Ancestor was that he was very well read, he had been a scholar of all the teachings, but he hadn’t reached the point where he could experience the teachings. It was as if there was a wall, and he had read and studied everything but what he wanted, what he wanted to experience was somewhere else. And so he was willing to stand in the snow, freezing cold, and beg this guy, this reputable old man facing the wall, beg him to give him some teaching. Cutting off his arm, metaphorically cutting off his delusions, cutting off that which reaches for something outside him self–”cutting off his arm. Our image of getting rid of our delusions is Manjusri; that is, the Bodhisattva that carries a sword. He’s always ready to cut, to get rid of those inmost fantasies and ideas that we have–¦that aren’t true. You know, some of them are entertaining and some of them are useful for other aspects about the work that we do–”but they are not helpful in being present to just this moment.
Also, you know, to enter the practice requires a little bit of sacrifice. We find that it’s easy to do it after a while but at the beginning we have to make choices about what we’re doing with our life. Cutting off the arm–”not just the delusions–”but we have to make choices. It’s not easy to practice. It can give us ease but it’s not easy. –œMy mind is not at peace–”give me peace,– as if somebody could give you peace.
How do we find that in our life–”that peace? How can we be free? [During a pause, there were many squeals from young Seido.] The answer’s right here if you can hear it!
So Bodhidharma doesn’t try to fix it, you know. He puts the responsibility back where it belongs. Not –œgo find the contents of your mind– but –œgo find your mind.–
–œDon’t bring me all of your thoughts, your concerns, your formulations of what’s true and what is not–”just bring me your mind! Turn the light around! Shine the light inside. Not on the concepts, but on the mind itself; go directly to your mind.– And then, you know, after thinking about it, trying to follow that instruction–”and I can say that I tried to follow that instruction for quite some time, –œGo and find the mind.– That’s why retreat or the structure of this place is so important because sometimes it takes a little bit longer than we think it’s going to. So maybe our alarm goes off after 25 minutes but maybe five more minutes and the mind will appear. The Second Patriarch says, –œI have searched for my mind and it is finally unattainable.– It is finally ungraspable. You know, that’s instant realization–”it is unattainable.
It’s what the Diamond Sutra says–”we just finished studying that for three months–”the mind is vast and open, clear: things pop up, pop away, but it cannot be grasped–because it’s flowing, through time, right now. It’s always right here. With you right here. And yet it’s so easy to put a wall up and miss it, miss yourself, your life, your very life!
I always think of Blake’s thing about our –œmind-forged manacles.– Mind forged manacles! The mind forges these handcuffs and chains and shackles –“ they hold us it. And the breath of fresh air, the intimacy of meditation, breaks those shackles.
Dogen says that when one first starts seeking the dharma one is very far away from its environs, but when one has transmitted the dharma to oneself, one is one’s original self at that moment. –œI can’t find my mind. It is unattainable.– How could you grasp the mind? So Bodhidharma says, –œI have thoroughly set it at rest for you.–
Once you have had the experience you may not know you’ve had the experience and yet your life is changed. This is really important to realize. You’re not looking for something you’ve read about, but actually it’s an experience that you’ve had, that you now operate from in your life. You don’t have to know that you’ve had the experience. We always think that we have to know it, but we don’t! And delusions still arise but we do know that they’re delusions. [Seido yells.] Ah! What a yell! So we can dance with them for a little bit: a baby crying, a delusion in our minds–”–œOh, yeah, there’s that– –“ but we don’t take it as –œtruth– any more. It is not –œtruth– — it is a wave of the mind. We begin to have a vast field. We exhibit patience with ourself, endurance.
There’s a Zen saying: The sky does not obstruct the white cloud’s flight. [reverb noise] I’m playing with feedback also–”and I keep going back and forth thinking that if I move, if I put my left on my head, we won’t have feedback! So, that’s going on behind the scenes. Thank you Bokushu.
So this idea of the sky not obstructing the cloud’s flight–”so I would say, along with the ancients, that the sky-like mind is the mind that can tolerate the white cloud coming through, the black cloud coming through, the storm–¦ can tolerate all of it with a sky-like mind. There is no obstruction when we’re able to have such a wide and spacious view of our mind.
Dogen again says, in the Genjokoan, –œWhen Buddhas are truly Buddhas one need not be aware of being Buddha. However, one is the realized Buddha.– [sound of fire truck outside] And here’s the siren! This is one of our –“ isn’t that beautiful? If you let go of your idea of it and just enjoy the sound? There’s a fire department right there, so we have this great technique of waking up, here. Comes at any time, it’s completely unpredictable, but it’s a sound, we can drop all our ideas about that sound and just hear that sound. That’s what this whole talk’s about. Just that. Just hear Seido’s gurgling voice.
–œWhen Buddhas are truly Buddhas one need not be aware of being Buddha.– You just go along. Others may notice something, but you just go along, not really very special at all.
So in two weeks we start our summer retreat. It’s a very traditional retreat time and many of us will be going away for five weeks to The Grail. Some of you have been there, and some of you have often come but for whatever reason won’t be coming this year. So I just want to remind you that we have a retreat here in the city going on the whole time and I encourage you to come and support that, to look at Bokushu’s commitment form–”Bokushu is our leader this year, our Shuso, look at the commitment form he’s devised for us, download the text, it’s a wonderful text from Dogen’s Four Methods of a Bodhisattva–”particularly goods for those in the city because for me I think it’s a manual of social justice practice if you look at it carefully. It’s a very important fascicle of Dogen’s. Read that and come and support the people here during the retreat period.
Let me end with an encouraging gatha for you:
There’s sun and wind
And clouds and rain
Facing the wall I hear Seido’s laugh.
Your life, your life moment to moment.