Freedom and Tyranny

A Series of Dharma Talks by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Also available as part of the free ebook "Freedom and Tyranny".

1: Overthrowing the Inner Dictator

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, November 24, 2001

Limbs flopping and puppet like in a mockery of life, hundreds of emaciated bodies turn and roll as they are bulldozed into pits. A puppy lies whimpering, abandoned, in a vacant lot, one paw cut off as a gang initiation. The raped and mutilated corpse of a child rots in the wreckage of what once was a church in the Congo . An airplane crashes into a skyscraper.

Events like this have occurred, do occur, and most probably will continue to occur, everywhere and often in our world, even right now. They have one thing in common: They are the end result of contraction. Someone convinced themselves and sometimes others, at some point, that such actions were justified, warranted, and the right thing to do. Actions were dictated.

Overthrowing our inner dictator means we have to look past its propaganda to what is going on for us, really, right now.

Roshi has said that practice is too intimate to be personal. It's not about your experiencing alone; it's not specific to a particular type or group of human beings. This raises a major point: The process of experiencing is the same for every human being who has walked on the face of the planet.

Dictators may be called Il Duce, or General Pinochet, or Idi Amin Dada. The slogans may be from the Bible or the Koran or Mein Kampf or a Constitution. We may call our contracted states fear, anger, irritation, or frustration. The name, the label, the story about the cause, is not the experience being described or what we are actually experiencing.

Another point: The label, what we choose to call this experience we have just noticed, is just a word. It is not the experience. It is a metaphor for the experience. We have become very used to labels. We like them; we even love them; we think they mean something. Slap on a label and we think we know what we are talking about. We nod our collective heads when we hear a label and we say "Yeah, yeah, that's it. Yeah, yeah, I know that one" and then go back to what we are really interested in - our self and how this relates to "me". "How do I feel about it?"

Labels, however, can be more or less useful. When the title for this Dharma Assembly was announced, a student emailed a request for registration. The student liked the idea of "overthrowing the inner dictator" and as well, wanted to know what to do about the "inner judiciary". It can be called the "inner prosecutor", a "material witness", a "bureaucracy", or the "Ministry for Nice Deeds". I don't care what you call it. We've got to stop. The inner judiciary or the inner dictator, of course, doesn't exist in any form anyway. The bodymind doesn't contain a cartoon dictator with a uniform and a peculiar moustache or a figure that looks like our mother, or our father, or a spouse, who is always telling us what to do. There is no dark side or evil twin, no Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.

However, the metaphor of dictator is very accurate because it can seem as if we have no choice but to follow the commands of this tyrant. A dictator is defined as "a tyrant, a leader who rules with absolute power and usually with force; too radical in the exercise of power or authority, dictators can be cruel and irrational in insisting on complete obedience. Tyrants threaten and give harsh punishment for disobedience."

Dictatorships are states ruled by tyrants. When we get into a state about anything, caused by passion, aggression, or stupidity, we are ruled by the contraction, tyrannized and dictated to by the content of the thoughts we have allowed attention to fall into and the patterns we allow to play out.

As Anzan roshi says in "The Straight Path", commenting on the Satipatthana sutta,

A contracted mind is a shriveled mind, a fixated mind. A mind that is limited is a mind that has been overcome. It means literally "underneath," a time when one is falling into despair, or pride or any other such state or mood, without recognizing that fact.

Roshi goes on to say that,

A mind which is "unlimited," or anuttara, is a mind in which no mental state is predominant, a mind which is very open at that time.

Earlier in the commentary he had said that,

The word that we have translated as "open," or mahagatam, also means "greatness." It is a mind which has the quality of not being dominated by any of the states that are arising.

States don't have to be big or forceful to have an impact. They happen to us everyday. We wake up in the morning. That little voice says, "I'm so tired, too tired to sit. Don't get up."And we stay in bed. The dictator has been obeyed. Dictators and tyrants puff up and get more powerful the more they are obeyed. The motto of Mussolini's Italian Fascist Party was "Crederi. Obbedire. Combatterie": "Believe. Obey. Fight."

We believe our story of being too tired. We obey by staying in bed until it is too late and then we start to defend our stance because after all, we should have gotten up. We will likely become defensive and aggressive if a Teacher or a practice advisor questions us. The content and discursiveness are not the state; they are the propaganda of the state. This example is mild and not very sexy and for those reasons may help us see the mechanism more clearly. (We are content junkies and can be very easily distracted.)

Another favourite campaign for the inner dictator is "understanding" or rather, the inability to understand the Teachings. We hear a teisho or a reading and because it is new to us, may have names we are not familiar with, or may speak too directly to how we are, familiar patterns arise: "I don't understand" fires off at the first opportunity and our attention salutes. As attention congeals, the senses contract, and we actually become less capable of understanding. The propaganda machine whirrs into action, stories start to proliferate. The stories usually have a theme of worthlessness and impossibility. More examples that "fit" are dredged up. They reinforce and concretize the state. We believe them. The stories propagate other stories that fit. If they don't fit, the parts that don't match up are simply ignored. We obey the instruction we have given ourselves to not understand and the fight starts.

The nature of the fight varies from force directed at oneself: self-criticism, derogatory comments about oneself; these cause the contraction to tighten. The power and force of the state increases with the fuel of more and more attention; the bodymind becomes more and more uncomfortable and feels more and more pressure. This can escalate into banging a desk or a wall, yelling or crying, or actually to the point of hitting oneself. The force of contraction can also be directed against others. We may start off with criticism of another person; escalate to hurling derogatory, nasty, hurtful comments at someone or something else. The bodymind seems to puff up its chest, breathing becomes difficult, muscles become tight, the face is inflamed, the chin points sharply up and out like that of Mussolini, El Duce.

The momentum of the state builds and contraction continues to that very painful point. Our red, squinty eyes blink or bulge in wonder as they search for a target. We spy something. That something is "other" to our "self", to our "state". It is "other" and therefore, enemy. We lash out and hit someone or break something. A victory for the inner dictator.

"Fascist" comes from "fascio", which means "bundle" or "group" and describes something which is difficult to break if it is bound together or organized: a bundle of firewood, for instance. "Skandha" in Sanskrit, means "piles" or "heaps" or "bundles" or "binding groups". "Skandha" is the word used to describe how experience is displaying itself.

As Anzan roshi states in "The Straight Path",

How a moment of perception and cognition arises in the context of self-image. First there is form, which is a moment of freezing, of knowing that something is being known. This is the process of objectification, which is how knowing occurs within self-image, within a structure of dualism. So there is a moment of crystallization or freezing. Then one begins to check it out with the next skandha of basic reactivity. You check it out to see if you can get something from it, or to see if it's going to threaten you or if you can just ignore it as much as possible. And then it starts to become sharper and clearer through the third skandha of symbolization: what is it? Perhaps a sound; perhaps a feeling-you aren't quite sure yet and then as it builds up, you begin to relate it to previous experiences and to look for something similar to compare it to. With the fourth skandha, habitual patterning, you determine how you will relate to it. And then finally there is the fifth skandha, the moment of becoming 'conscious' of it.

When these five piles, or heaps, or bundles, or binding groups, of perception and cognition are left unquestioned, they produce conditioned experience. Things pile up, unnoticed. Suddenly we may find ourselves laughing or crying for no real reason, but perfectly convinced of what it might be at the time. We may experience great waves of contraction and heat or even nausea. We can slap a label on it and say that we are frustrated, angry, ecstatic, bored, in love, in hate, or sick. We can sob and moan and whine or become aggressive.

In the early stages of this practice, however long that may be, everyone experiences sudden, profound, feelings which are often described as desolation, loneliness, anger, and so forth. If we are not aware of the process and compulsively react, we can cause suffering to ourselves and to others. The dictator rallies an army. Practice is the way to disarm that army and to overthrow the dictator.

The symbol of the Fascists was fasces, bundles of sticks used for flogging, wrapped around an axe for capital punishment. It's quite an accurate and fitting description of the way we beat ourselves up through allowing states to propagate and, in far too many cases, allowing them to propagate to the point of homicide, suicide or genocide. A state can kill.

Other tendencies of historical Fascism also describe the behaviour we can fall into when we are taken over by an inner dictator: attacking others who are different or, in fact, making others different."You people are just too weird" or"Those people from the other village smell funny. Let's kill them";trying to reduce others to impotency:"What do you know? You're stupid, you can't teach me anything. I'm un-teachable";elevating death as the true fulfillment of life:"I'd rather die than give up this view of myself"or "I'll kill myself, I'd be better off dead"; indoctrinating oneself as superior:"I don't need to do this. I'm better than all of you as it is"; keeping everyone else subservient to the state:"If you loved me, you would let me do what I want"or"I know I've been told to be on time and not keep people waiting but I really need this drink of water"; introducing severe censorship and not talking about what is going on in case it will cause you to be viewed badly:"I'm an angry person; I've always been angry"or pitifully,"I don't understand. I don't understand anything. I must be stupid."

In order to maintain a belief in the kind of sweeping statements that a state can and does make, we have to ignore most of our experience. Hand-to-hand with censorship comes the propaganda of the state. In order to have "always" been angry, we have to sift through all of our experiences and ignore the 99% of the time when weren't angry, when we were happy or just in neutral, distracted, or sleeping, or otherwise engaged. The state can and does defend itself as it scans through memory and comes up with distortions of stories to support its chosen slogan. When this is pointed out, the dictator can become irrational, incoherent, mumbling about"not having the words"or"You wouldn't understand" or "Off with their heads! Off with their heads!"But even this is okay in the view of the dictator as the cultivation of irrationality and impulse is viewed as more important than coherency and logical thought which can be, and is seen, as cold, unfeeling, inhuman, and a domain of the intellect.

Fascism is also marked by nostalgia, a longing for a "prior good time". Students often hold this as a story in the early stages of practice, although it may not be spoken about; stories along the line of "Everything was better before I started to practise. I don't want to see things this clearly. I was getting along just fine, now this. I wish things could be like they were before." Or even trying to produce the memory of a good sitting so that it can be re-created; or things standing out so vividly for them and they say,"Wha! This is just like when I was smoking grass!" And we don't see what we are doing; we don't see that inner dictator arranging experiences. We are deluding ourselves. We are ignoring reality.

Being late for a sitting and keeping others waiting; striking the gong too hard because we are angry or distracted, or forgetting to strike the gong because we are busy figuring out what we are going to say when we are asked how our practice is; speaking too quickly or with too much force; writhing in the contractions and contortions of not understanding; wishing we were dead; yelling at someone; hating or loving them to distraction, are all vivid examples of the inner dictatorship. Self-image is tyrannizing us and for a moment has taken over.

We all have recognized, or are in the process of recognizing, more clearly that we can and must practice to stop that cycle of tyranny. Each moment we notice anything at all about how we are and practise mindfulness of breath and the whole body we are making ourselves available to openness. A bodymind which is open cannot be dominated by any of the states that are arising.

A soldier holds a gun to a prisoner's head and fires. We gasp and say, "I don't understand how someone can do that."A naked girl, burning with napalm runs screaming down a road in Asia . We cover our eyes and whisper,"How terrible, how terrible" forgetting that someone just like us pushed the button that sprayed the chemical. We see the endless black and white photographs of the 'disappeared' and the pyramids of skulls from the Killing Fields and we conveniently forget that other human beings just like us were the perpetrators. We like to think we are different but in truth I hope we will never have cause to find out whether we are right about that.

Practising looking into experiencing as it arises is the way to undo these bundles of misunderstandings and contraction. Practising noticing the arising of a state and allowing it to open by feeling the breath, seeing the seeing, hearing the hearing, frees us from conditioned experiencing and allows us to become true human beings. Paying attention to the arising and decaying of moments of experiencing rather than following anything, leaves us open to the richness of our lives in this moment. Seeing the reality of experiencing as it really is frees us from the lies and suffering caused by our own dictators.

After the events of September 11th, Anzan roshi spoke to the community of practitioners at a formal sitting. It was the most truthful and useful statement of all the statements I have heard or read about this event.

Birth and death are happening in each moment. This is always the case. Being mindful of this Great Matter of birth and death is not a matter of telling ourselves stories about it, but of being sensitive to the sheer vulnerability of ourselves and of all beings. The events of Tuesday, September 11th , 2001 are deeply shocking and truly terrible. But events of greater and lesser scale are always occurring everyday. This is the world as it is.
The states of aggression that have led to this violence occurred to people on a greater or lesser scale everyday. This is the world as it is. Passion, aggression and stupidity are the three klesas, the three poisons that arise from the contraction of dividing our lives into self and other. Our practice is to see through the contraction of self-image and release the gestures of attention that arise from it. We do this through the practice of whole-bodily mindfulness, moment-to-moment.

Thank you for listening.

2: Mondo

by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, November 24th, 2001

[O-sensei]: Is there anything that you would like to talk about that has come up during this Dharma Assembly so far?

[Student]: Sensei, may I say something?

[O-sensei]: Yes.

[Student]: Probably the most suspicious little dictator that comes up is the one that says, as you say, there are other things that would be better to do in this time. There's guilt at just sitting when there's so many things to do. I guess…how to stop it…?

[O-sensei]: Hazard a guess.


[O-sensei]: The content doesn't matter. And if it has come up often enough so that you can actually identify it, talk about it, you can reasonably expect that until it's worn out, it is going to come up again. So see it for what it is, which is a habit. It's a pattern. And feel the breath, sit up straight and then you may notice that there can often be an expectation that once it has been dealt with once that it's not going to happen again. That's not true. So each moment you deal with whatever it is that comes up in that moment.
Thank you for the question. Anything else?

[Student]: A comment on what you were saying about the events of September 11th and how they were interpreted by the Roshi. I happen to have been with a group of people who were involved with international development work as that was happening and, by all of those people, I think I can safely say, it was accepted in the way that you described that the Roshi described it: that this is another thing that happens. It wasn't…

I think there are a lot of people who do accept things like that.

[O-sensei]: And recognize that that's one event in the midst of many. Thank you.

Anything else?

Well, I am sure a few will pop up this afternoon. So, time to deal with the process of overthrowing that dictator. So if you would turn and face the wall…

3: Isms and Ists: The Language of Self-image

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 26th, 2002

Solipsism, euphemism, pessimism, nihilism, negativism, positivism, legalism, cynicism, terrorism, imperialism, dogmatism, baptism, conservatism, liberalism, centrism, socialism, communism, Leninism, Marxism, Mao Tzeism, Trotskyism, Fidelism, fascism, synergism, nestorianism, vegetarianism.


Isms, isms, isms; ists, ists, ists. Sometimes, isms and ists can flow off the tongue like a waterfall. Sometimes they bang and clank like airplane baggage on the roundabout. They can be turned into accusations. They can be hurled as invectives. The velocity of accusations and invectives increases and, in the course of human history, words have frequently turned into bullets. Or self-image wears these words on its metaphoric sleeve like scouting badges, declaring to the world that it is a non-racist, non-sexist, non-ageist, masculinist, pugilist, who practises vegetarianism.

We may be at a social event and meet someone who is a stranger. In an attempt to pinpoint us, they may ask us if we are a nationalist, a federalist, a feminist, a capitalist, a Buddhist. Scarily, we may answer yes or no without knowing what we are being asked.

It took me years to figure out that answering what I thought I was being asked without asking what was really being asked was not useful. This was ages ago, in the beginning of the feminist movement. I had my own definition of what this was. My definition, however it was arrived at, was in the nature of "someone who believed that every being has the right to shelter, food, care, and instruction that would allow them to unfold their full potential". I now know that I must have made it up. But I would answer the question, "Are you a feminist?" or "Are you one of those feminists?" with a "Yes." Much to my surprise, the responses to my answer varied. Sometimes I was welcomed into groups that seemed to regard weapons and genitals as the same thing. Sometimes the groups were busy changing "e" to "y" in words so that we wound up with "womyn" and "humyn". Other linguistically focused groups were busy changing "men" into "persons", as in "chairperson". Frighteningly, there were also weird illogical worlds where a "womyn" talked of "peace" and of aborting all male fetuses in the same breath. Charges of being a "ball-breaker", a "hater of males" and a "cold, calculating bitch" were numerous.

One day, and fortunately, a light went on and I heard myself say, "What are you asking me?" I was saved. Funnily enough, most of those who were asking me if I was a feminist or believed in feminism didn't have a definition and the attack or the seduction would mysteriously dissipate. I began to notice that we human beings love "isms" and "ists". Check it out for yourself. Pick up any magazine or newspaper, listen to the news or look at the news. Why do we like them?

In the teisho series, "Questioning the Enigma", which is a SAkN tape for formal students, Anzan Hoshin roshi says,

The flow of reality spills out every where and every when. It flows as the rising and falling moments that are the presencing of this motionless, beginningless and endless moment of experiencing. It is the dirt beneath your fingernails and the wax in your ears. It is the openness of the sky and the complex, interlaced and overlaid currents of air that a bird passes through, rides on, and is carried by in its flight. It is the openness of this moment and it is also the dense overlay of structures of conditioned perception and cognition that self-image rides on, exists on, and propagates itself through.

Isms and ists are part of that "dense overlay of structures of conditioned perception and cognition that self-image rides on, exists on, and propagates itself through." We weave them around ourselves to create a structure we can nest within and we believe that is who we are. We use the structure to define and align ourselves and to deflect information that doesn't fit. This structure can become woven so tightly that it is impenetrable, letting nothing that is not already known through.

Isms and ists, words, words, words. "What's the harm?" you may ask. From childhood rises an echo of a verse:

Sticks and stones
Can break my bones
But words can never hurt me.

Well intended, but not really true. Millions of human beings have been murdered because the isms and ists applied to them were the wrong isms and ists. It's pretty simple. Turn something one way and one person's terrorism is another's patriotism; turn it the other way and it's vice-a-versa. Isms and ists can be useful, for example in libraries they can help us sort things. Isms and ists, when used by individuals or groups as descriptions of who they think they are and what they believe, can be, and usually are, a red flag to contraction. It's often quite flagrant and not particularly useful in clarifying anything.

Now, here's a quote from a recent edition of a well-known Buddhist magazine:

There's a strong streak of anti-essentialism and feminism just as there is in Buddhism.

Say what???


Not once in the article was there a definition of either "feminism" or more importantly, "Buddhism" even though they used a big "B". Now, what are we talking about when we use the word "Buddhism"? Are we talking about and understanding the same thing? What comes to mind? Are we talking about a religion? Sometimes. A Philosophy? Sometimes. A lifestyle? Some people. A way of life? Could be. Saffron robes? Saffron and maroon robes? Black robes? Brown robes? A little bit of coloured string around a wrist? Socially engaged? Celibate? A big gold statue with blue hair?

We could go on and on but I think you're getting the picture and starting to understand why here, we tend not to use the "B" word. We may not know, unless we look critically what it is that is being talked about. To respond to the word, as with other isms with a mere yes or a no is cutting off understanding and being intellectually lazy. It's like taking a shortcut without knowing where we are going. It also describes an attempt to create a self that is defined by a contraction of belief rather than the openness of the practice of experiencing. It doesn't matter what the contraction is called. Just as what we call a "human being" is still the process of being a human, regardless of being labeled as white or black; Asian or Caucasian; French or English; old or young; Brian, Fatima or Lee; so a contraction is a contraction, whether we call it a phobia, an allergy, a judge, a dictator, a fascist, or a humanist. They're all stories, sometimes useful, and sometimes not depending on context.

In our practice, the label doesn't matter except that when we notice that we are using one or one is present and we are taking it seriously, we are presented with yet another opportunity to open to Openness and we do that by feeling the breath, seeing the seeing, hearing the hearing, sitting up straight, opening attention to this moment. The problem is, however, we have become so convinced of our stories that we often think they matter and will fight to the death to defend them sometimes. And the stories are convincing because they are supported by social culture. The stories can be about our health, our family, our beliefs, the world. The stories we make up are not true. The fact that they come up as part of a process that can be known is true. Seeing that and practicing that moment of noticing something about our experience changes, weakens, and eventually wears out our stories and co-incidentally, our ability to believe the stories of others, be they friends, strangers, corporations, or governments. As we learn to notice our experiences and experiencing, we may start to notice interesting and funny, or at least, mildly amusing things.

For example, a major reality hit is that the movement of attention from open to focused is the same regardless of the content. The choice to scratch an itch during this Dharma Assembly and during zazen, while differing in duration or in seriousness of consequence is the same in functioning and mechanism as the choice to lash out at someone or to kick the cat. Learn to recognize that focusing: Learn to recognize that congealing: And learn to mean what you say and say what you mean. That sounds simple and straightforward, but is it? Think about it. How many times have you answered a question such as, "Are you a capitalist, a socialist, a racist, a sexist, a feminist, a humanist, a socialist or a Buddhist" with an immediate yes or no? Did you really know the question you were being asked? What were you being asked, really?

How many times have you nodded wisely when reading or hearing about pacifism, nationalism, communism, terrorism, constitutionalism, or in the first Dharma Talk, fascism? The next time you come across an ism or an ist, stop, look, ask yourself if you know what is being talked about. If you are asked a question as to whether you are or are not an ism or an ist, stop, look, before you cross that gap and give an answer. What you mean and what the other person means could be two entirely different things.

I'm not suggesting that you cease using any and all of the isms and ists; quite the opposite, in fact. Enjoy them. Become curious about them. Remember that they are, as any other words are, merely descriptions of experience and not the experience themselves, and as Roshi says, "Part of the dense overlay of structures of conditioned perception and cognition that self-image rides on, exists on, and propagates itself through". Enjoy them, practise with them, and never, never, never, stake your life on them.

Thank you for listening.

4: The Makeup of Coercion

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 25th, 2003

[Three gong strikes]

Moment after moment we become what we are". That was said by the Roshi in "The Wheel of Becoming" teisho series.

Now, before we go any further I would like to point out that no word is the experience it is describing. We have made up every word we use to describe anything. This does not mean, of course, that we cannot use words. That would be silly. Words are tools; the more of them we have and the more capable we are of using them accurately, and one hopes, with a sense of humor, the more capable we are of making clear to ourselves, and anyone else that we are talking to, or any other being that we are talking to, what we are communicating. The only point of saying words out loud is to communicate something. If at any point in the course of this presentation you have a question, please just raise your hand and ask the question because it is important that we all are on the same page of the Sutra, as it were. Self-image is such, the way it operates is such, that it reaches out with its metaphoric little graspers, grabs onto something that is said or done and before we know it, has constructed a whole story, a whole viewpoint, a whole defense for its very existence using what was said. And each time that happens and goes unnoticed it distances us further and further from our own experience. Open experiencing is coerced when that happens, by habitual patterns.

In the "Wheel of Becoming" teisho series, Zen Master Anzan Hoshin also said,

We have the tendency to only become what we have been; what we already know, the parts we have rehearsed so tirelessly, standing before the mirror in our dressing robe, applying the paint and the makeup of concept and conversation and coercion.

We like to think that we are performing for an audience. We like to think that it is our duty, and even, in some cases, that our very life and wellbeing depends upon how well we can perform for that audience. Well, we can forget that part because as we start to understand when we do start to look into our own experience, there is no audience. Everyone in that presumed audience is so busy with their own stuff, they're not paying any attention to what we are doing.

So we come to practice and we don't know why, often. We just have this vague sense that we are missing something; that there's got to be more, there must be more to our life, to the life that is living as us, than what we are being presented with day-to-day. We feel uncomfortable; perhaps we don't quite know why we feel uncomfortable. So we end up sitting in a situation like this on a Saturday morning, with our legs folded, our arms and hands held up against our body, and the instruction to practise any time we notice anything at all about how we are. Anything. In the beginning of our practice we are so caught up in the "thoughts 'R us" and the "feelings 'R" us" culture, that those are the only things that we are aware of.

So we spend whatever length of time starting to know a thought as a thought, regardless of the content; starting to know a feeling as bodily sensation with thoughts describing what it is. And we are faced with this impossible situation, in a way, of being able to know through our own experience, that which cannot be described by any external "authority". We are used to having external authorities tell us what we are experiencing. The idea that we can sit and know our own experience does seem to be quite foreign.

Your thumbs are touching. The instruction we give is to feel those thumbs. Can anyone else feel those thumbs for you? No. Can anyone else breathe that breath that you are breathing? No. But be there any sort of an aberration, if for example you start to notice that your breath is a "little too short" as it were, you start to describe and judge the breath, the way that the bodymind works. And before you know it you will have really short breath or really deep breath [O-sensei makes a gasping sound] and you can get yourself into a state very quickly about that and…then we can call in the "experts".

When you start to look into your own experience you find that you have far more choice available around everything and this is what practice does start to uncover. We are used to using the word "coerce" to mean something that is external to us, that is inflicted upon us.

It comes from the Latin, the word "coerce", which means the "co" signifies, or is a symbol for, "coming together"; "Coming together to shut up, restrain, keep off or prevent". So we are used to hearing that word, and since we humans think we are sort of the be-all and end-all on the planet, we will think of words like that as things that are being done to us by an external agent because we are in the very strange position of not being willing to take responsibility for ourselves on the whole, because we've never been taught, usually, that we can only take responsibility for ourselves, for our own experience.

So, "Coerced": "to constrain or restrain by the application of superior force or by authority resting on force; to constrain to compliance or obedience by forcible means; to compel or force to do anything; to force into." and as I said, we are used to thinking of coercion by an external agent, by an institution, be it church, military, medical, psychiatric, governments, and these are all "authorities" - (when I was researching the Dharma Assembly I of course went on Google and looked into "coercion" and this is where the word came up, in the context of military, medical, psychiatric, government, church, in the context of institutions) which of course we have constructed, we human beings have constructed. We can look also at the social coercion which can occur; I think it's time to be talked about a little bit - coercion by media, consumerism, families, and peer groups. So bottom line, we can say that coercion is the overwhelming of the will (of another) by force or threat or fraud.

So what I am asking you to do is to look at, in the course of the Dharma Assembly today, how we coerce our self. We coerce our own freedom anytime we let a pattern that has been previously established, previously unquestioned, run on its own. So in the course of our practice, we start to see the many ways that we coerce our own freedom by following patterns that we have put into the vocabulary as being our personality, as being how we have to be to just get along in the world. Practice asks us to, demands us to, actually, notice those things. The whole purpose of the Lineage, which we chanted this morning, has been to help us see the patterns that are established in bodymind that limit who we are, that limit our freedom to actualize who we really are in this moment and this moment and this moment.

So we start small-small, as they say in West Africa , we start small-small by looking into our experience and learning to recognize a thought. By recognizing a thought and using that as a cue to feel the breath rising and falling, moving the body in and out, to straighten the posture, to open the eye gaze, we see over time that any thought whatsoever, any story, will lose its power over us because we are using the very things that can enslave us to open to the freedom of this moment of experiencing. And this can be done regardless of the content that we carry around with us. Any content is basically just more of the same. It's a pattern that has been embodied, it has been running for a long time, and if we don't question into it, it will become the thing that motivates us, as it were, that coerces us, that propels us towards action without question. And with coercion, again the definitions that are in play today, there's talk of compelling someone to perform an action or be harmed in some way. We do that all the time when we do not know the actual nature of our experiencing.

We take our stories to be more true than the rest of what we are experiencing. We fall into states, and they can be triggered by anything, and we use that state as a way of acting in this moment. So when we take that apart it really is pretty silly. There is something that we learnt or the bodymind learnt. We, as the knowing of experiencing, were never consulted as to whether that was useful or not. But that pattern came into being and it became a definer of how we are. So then, depending upon the situations we've encountered in the course of our life, depends very much how we would seek relief from that pattern if we chose to seek relief from the consequences, actually, of the pattern.

We are in a culture right now where the reality of our experience as a human is being coerced as well. We coerce it ourselves; we coerce it through media, through not knowing what we are doing when we are actually engaging in any activity whatsoever.

The Shuso and I were at a High School the other night and someone made the statement that television is evil. So we looked into that a little bit because there are many things interesting that are going on in media right now. One of them is these reality shows. I'm sure you've all come across a reality show, so to speak, where a multitude of cameras and production crews follow along as a couple, say, get together and go out on a date. Now, it's only within the last few days, actually, that there has been writing, media critics have written about these reality shows and pointed out what should be obvious: anything that is watched in such a way and recorded in such a way has nothing to do with the "reality" of "the date". We have a totally fabricated situation.

So, is television evil? No, of course not, it's plastic and it's metal and it's programming and it is a little dot going across a screen. Are movies evil? No, same thing: moving pictures don't move. Right off the top we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what's going on. There's no such thing as a "moving picture" when you go to the moving pictures. They are still frames that travel at a certain speed in front of light. But we like to think that they are up there and it's moving. So it behooves us as human beings to look into, over and over again, the things that we have created and that does include our moment-to-moment experiencing right now because the personality that we like to carry around and say, well, this is who we are, is coerced necessarily because the stronger patterns will overcome something that is just new. And until we are told that no pattern is what we are, that it is just something going on in our experience and can be known and can be practised, it will just bulldoze over everything else. Why? Because it's been at it longer, it's not been questioned, in fact it's probably been supported in many ways by institutions that are around us.

So, any pattern that is unquestioned coerces your experience. Another question that can come up: Do you have the right to sell yourself into slavery, slavery to your own patterns? Well, as long as you are in the monastery, and remember you came here voluntarily, no one went out on the street and dragged you in, so that act of entering into practice, entering through the Gates of Practice, does indicate that you are not content with what was, I think, described quite nicely, in the Matrix, as the"splinter in the brain" that brought you to practice.

So practice has, for 2600 years, presented an opportunity to look into your own experience moment-to-moment. To do something, anytime you notice a focusing on any aspect of that experience, because you only notice the focusing after it has started to open. When we are focused on something we don't notice that that is what is going on. Why? Because we are consumed by it. We have been wrapped up, as it were, chained by that focusing. So then it [O-sensei snaps fingers] starts to open and that's the point when we see it; that's the moment to practise because you are going from a smaller to a larger in your experience and practice is always practising the larger.

Everything in the monastery, everything in the environment of practice, is here for only one reason and that is to show you over and over and over again, the many ways in which you narrow your own experience, the many ways in which you choke yourself. Really, yes, it's like this [O-sensei 'chokes' herself]. We get like this and we are here to say that you don't have to do that. And we go "Ohhh" [sigh of relief].


The Vow we chanted this morning, the Vow of Samantabhadra, talked about compression. A fact about being in a bodymind is that there is energy and because we are alive it's a certain kind of energy. After we're dead, if we are left to our own devices, there will be another kind of energy, and that's the energy of decay. I'm talking about reality here; I am not talking about something "up there" or another sort of "mystical experience", I am talking about the magic of reality. So the bodymind drops, energy transforms itself into little shining beings and gases and things like that. We are talking about the energy of being alive.

We are in a situation. We enter into the monastery for the first time, let's say, and we don't know what to do. We bring with us all these little leeches of our previous experience which, on the whole, has told us that we have to know what to do in every situation, that if we don't know what to do in every situation there's something wrong with us or we will be perceived to be a certain way, and self image does not want to be perceived to be any way other than perfect. It comes to a situation where it can learn things, but often it will try and pretend that it should know what it's going to learn beforehand. Self-image brings into every situation everything that has ever been learnt to try and create a solid, an armoured self. In the environment of practice, over and over, this becomes very evident; this tendency to do that becomes very evident. We can have a perfectly open moment of experiencing and something may happen that we are not expecting. Then self-image will start to look around with shifty eyes and start to look inward with shifty eyes, start to make stories about how it thinks it should be, how it thinks this situation should be and how it thinks the other people in that situation should be. And I think we have all experienced that, maybe today already. This is wonderful because if we are alive, this is what is going to present itself in the atmosphere of practice, in the environment of practice.

All of our patterns will present themselves and that's wonderful because that is an opportunity to practise. You do that by feeling the breath, sitting up straight, opening the peripheral vision and that, over time, becomes embodied. Each moment is allowed, then, to present itself as it is, un-coerced by our ideas about how it should be.

5: Mondo

by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 25th, 2003

Do you have any questions at this point, about anything?

[Student ]: Osho, you say that self-image wants to believe continuously that it is perfect. What about the times that self-image wants to believe that it's worthless, worth nothing?

[Osho]: Content. That's just content, because if it's going to be worthless, it's going to be the most worthless, ever, right? Perfectly worthless. Self-image is the phrase that is used to describe any view whatsoever about how we are and how the world is. That's how we use it in the context of this practice.

Now, this presents interesting possibilities and many little roads to go down that will get us back to the same place, which is: no experience is the words that we use to describe it. But we use words. There are a lot of self-esteem books and courses and so on saying that we should have a "good one" and the reason why we don't have a "good one" is because we have a "bad one" and so then we have to do things with the "bad one" to bring it up so that it's the "good one" and then we can do whatever it is that we need to do.

So, content is not the point with practice. It is noticing the compression or the contraction that "good" or "bad" has and the contraction can be the same, of the same intensity, for either. Does that answer your question?

[Student]: Yes, thank you.

[Osho]: Welcome.

Anything else about anything?

[Student]: I have a question and it comes up all the time and it is related to the noticing…not the content, but the contraction. How do we know contraction please.

[Osho]: Okay. When something happens that we are not expecting or when a situation occurs that we are not expecting, we will notice that the bodymind goes "whoa", it actually contracts like this, okay? We may be in the monastery. We may not know what to do in a situation. We can start to feel that energy of not knowing, the energy of the thought of not knowing. The converse side of that, of course, is that we should know and that itself expresses itself as a movement in the body that is towards being smaller. We, as it were, become smaller. A self is on its way to being created, a being is being created that, really depending upon its story, shouldn't be here because it doesn't know what to do. Or it places blame; "they" shouldn't be this way because can't they see that "I" am really trying to do this thing properly? So any movements like that, which move to create a "self", and with that inherently "other", have a palpable quality to them. We feel them. We feel smaller on the whole.

A way I've found of remembering it quite easily is to make a fist. That's contraction. [O-sensei lets hand fall open] This is open. This can do anything. [O-sensei closes hand into a fist] This can't do anything, except maybe do this [makes punching gesture] or hit the floor. That's it. Extreme way, but it can help to describe it. It is something you feel.

[Student ]: I had a question about the atmosphere of the monastery being designed so that there are cues to remind you to be open rather than closed. Is it a good idea to try to do that in your home or work environment, to have some subtle cues in the environment to remind you?

[Osho]: Sure.

[Student]: Obviously you can't be bowing through the door at work.

[Osho]: But you can always stop. We can take a second when we are moving throughout our day-to-day experience, day-to-day environments, and stop at a door. Some people have done things like put little rock gardens, or a few rocks, on their desks. The bodymind sees it and it is a reminder that there is more going on than that particular context, as you were saying, the context of a work environment. That can be very limited. It is very limited. It's institutionalized. Because we are working in that environment, we have very good reasons for being there, namely, say, a paycheck, that's a good thing, that's useful; then it's pointless to take our energy and try to change that whole environment. But as you pointed out, having a reminder of the potential you have of openness, of open experience, is definitely a good thing.

Now, you've said that the atmosphere of the monastery is to show you openness, as it were, to remind you to be open. That's one way of saying it. Another way of saying it is that everything in the monastery is a tool to show you when contraction is present and to show you how to open it. Humans being the way we are, and the way we latch on to words, can present problems. "Openness" has been misunderstood. There are whole movements towards "openness" that have ended up with people who don't even know each other hugging each other for no reason whatsoever and…


…regurgitating their horrible personal stories, one view of their horrible personal stories. That's not openness, that's just bad manners.


We want to see how this happens in our own experience moment-to-moment and once we've seen that pattern, any pattern, for what it is, as a pattern, regardless of the content, (and again pattern is just a word as is contraction to describe an experience) practise. When we notice the experience, then we can feel the breath, open the eye gaze, sit up straight. That's the whole thing, that's what's been taught for 2600 years, that's the bottom line, saying that no contraction can define you; nothing that is known can describe Knowing in Itself. And that includes a sense of self. Any time that comes up, that's the point where you practise.

Is there anything else?

[Student]: When we are sitting, are we either practising opening, or if we are not doing that then by definition, what you are saying, are we suffering from a contraction? Does it have to be one or the other?

[Osho]: It's not either/or like that, not at all. Again, as I said, none of the words are what the experience is. So when we are sitting and we are lost in whatever, contraction, when we are coerced, when open experiencing is coerced, well we are in the environment of practice so by definition we are practising, is one way of looking at it. We have made ourselves available to looking into how our experiencing is. So a practice advisor or a Dharma Teacher might come around and adjust our posture and at that point of the postural adjustment everything can change. It shifts. No matter how hard we may struggle to get back into whatever story, we recognize that we have to struggle to get back into it. That lets us know that in fact there is choice available that we didn't know that we had because we have on the whole defined ourselves by the patterns of contraction.

Does that answer your question?

[Student]: It's getting there.


[Student]: Does it mean that it's hard to get out of the box as it is to get into the box?

[Osho]: What box?

[Student]: It's as hard to get out of being coerced, and then when we suddenly see it, it's as hard to get back…

[Osho]: No, I wouldn't say that. No, because what you are trying to do there is to come up with a formula.

[Student]: That's probably what I am trying to do.


[Osho]: The formula is this: the longer you put this [O-sensei slaps her backside] on this [slaps zafu], the more patterns will open up and when patterns open, they do become embodied in that sense that a bodymind learns. The bodymind loves sitting. It's very happy sitting. Self-image, the views we have about what we are doing, doesn't like it on the whole at all. That's why we get the natterings and whisperings and yellings that come up during a sitting round, about what we should be doing or how we would be better off if we just got up and left and why doesn't that person shut-the-hrmmph-up.

But once the contractions are opened over and over again, that pattern of contraction, that pattern of coercion is worn out. When that's worn out entirely, then you just are this moment of experiencing; you are Awareness in Itself. Awareness is the only condition. All that is arises as the display of Awareness. You are learning to see that. You are not anything that you are aware of because you are aware of it. Even a sense of some "one" being aware is known.