Every Breath You Take 35: Raising the Legs

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, November 15th, 2008


Every breath you take...
lets you know you're alive

and you can practise that moment of aliveness...
by feeling the breath

by sitting up straight

by opening the eye gaze... 

...which is a long way of pointing to

the reality of knowing the whole bodymind in the whole moment
the reality of allowing attention to open
so there is not a continuation of the contraction into a being
that is in one way or another

holding one view or another

trying to situate itself, basically,
in safety. 

Self-image, images of a self which we picked up in many places,
is concerned for itself and holds many points of view in captivity
because it becomes convinced of its point of view.
And we may start to find ourselves drowning and fighting,
captured in the bonds of these views of how we are and how the world is.

What to do about it? 

Well, you all know. So you can do it right now. The verse: 

Raising the legs,

"May all beings

Leave the sea of birth and death
And ripen all virtues." 

Raising the legs,

"May all beings

Leave the sea of birth and death
And ripen all virtues." 

Well, that's all open to interpretation, isn't it?
Yet self-image wants to nail something down.
It wants rules.
That contraction into a sense of self that does not want to make a mistake
fails to realize that mistakes are where we learn.

When there's a sense of a self that knows it all,
it does all manner of things to protect itself.
Crazy, stupid things.
Somehow, and yet,
it holds a belief that these crazy, stupid things are not noticed,
even when they are really in your face. 

First off, in examining this verse,
what's the purpose?
Well, the purpose is to give practitioners something they can use in a variety of situations
to remind themselves of what they're doing.
Bear in mind that was this written down some 1600 years ago
in a different context entirely.
So over the years,
the practice of practising the whole bodymind has
in many instances
shifted and changed.
Now there is no expectation that you would memorize these verses
and bring them up like an automaton in every instance where you may be raising the legs. 

Oh yeah, an aside:
it's referring to YOUR legs,
the legs of the individual practitioner.
Because the physical context has changed,
this may have been referring to,
as we learned a talk or two ago,
it may have been referring to sitting on a platform in a large Chan monastery,
or in monasteries in Japan,
sitting on a raised platform
and then bringing the legs up from the floor.
The legs would be dangling over the edge if you were short.
If you were tall, they would actually be on the floor
but you would raise the legs onto the platform where you would sit.
We may raise the legs with our hands when we're putting them into position for the posture of zazen.
So this can remind us that what we're doing
is learning to practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

Nothing gets in the way of this because everything that is known,
everything that is experienced is used with this practice.

Self-image of course has various views,
contractions come up when, for instance,
the posture is adjusted.

"I was sitting straight already. That monk made me crooked."

It can even be tending toward the aggressive.
We snap back like an elastic band into the posture that we were in before.
Those contractions into a sense of self are interesting
and when attention follows the contraction,
the contraction becomes bigger and bigger
and gestates as it were,
but rather quickly until there is the birth of a being.
A being who may be really ticked off
because the monk came around
and RUINED what they were doing.
Ruined it.

That recognition that what is being offered
is a reminder of the capacity inherent in the bodymind
for expressing itself more fully is lost temporarily. 

And so there are wee stories propagated:
"They really hurt me." [O-sensei laughs]
"They don't know what they're doing."
"He, she, or it is better than this one." 

No problem that thoughts come up.
It's a good thing,
it's a good thing to learn that that being with all its dissatisfactions,
with all its problems
need not be carried.

It's a burden.
The information might be useful, usually it's not,
usually it's a fabrication.
You can always talk about it later.
But when there is this arrival of a being that is held onto,
which of course is impossible because there's no way we can hold onto anything at all,
there's birth and death,
the birth and death of moments of experience.

They come,
they go
and as the Roshi has said in the series "Doing Not-Doing":
makusa, there's nothing need be done about that.

You can do the thing that is faster to do than to talk about,
which is allow the bodymind to be free of the contractions into a sense of self
with its storylines. 

Why is that useful?
Because when we are attached to certain stories about how we are and how the world is,
we limit the capacities of the bodymind in very noticeable ways. 

So, from the verse, "leave the sea of birth and death, and ripen all virtues."

Sounds good.

Don't "understand" it,
let it pass by.

As we know, all words are metaphors for experience and experiencing.
The experience and the experiencing always comes first, always has and always will.

The words are pointers that allow us to look in areas that we may not have investigated before.

So this vast sea of birth and death,
of raindrops,
of the sound of raindrops coming and going,
of breathing in and out, of sitting,
of seeing the wall,
of the eyes narrowing perhaps
and then opening as there's a moment of waking up to this moment,
gives us the opportunity to actually practise the whole bodymind
in the whole moment. 

"Leaving the sea of birth and death"
means that we are learning doing not-doing.

We don't have to try and create an absence of thoughts,
an absence of feelings.
Not at all.

Those things are no more no less than any other dharma,
or moment of experience.
They don't have any more value.
They may be more convincing because we're used to them but take a risk:
allow the whole bodymind to express itself in the whole moment
so that Knowing,
which is what you are,
does not become captured by some crazy story. 

Now, about fifteen years ago,
I was in China and I was learning some bodymind work
with a group of people from all over the world in a hospital in Beijing
and we went on an excursion.
You know, you get on a bus
and then you wait in horrible traffic that seems never to move very quickly.
So finally we reached our destination,
the Great Wall and we went up onto the Great Wall. 

I was standing, I was looking out,
I could see the remnants of terraces where people had farmed in those mountains.
I could see this pathway,
the pathway of the wall going on and on an on.
It was all very rich and interesting
and I heard a voice behind me saying: 

"Would you please get out of the way because you just wouldn't find a Zen monk on the Great Wall of China". 

This was one of the mates from the bus.
So of course, what to do?
Well, I moved, because it is important to remember:
person, place, appropriateness, and amount when you're wanting to discuss things.

So I just got out of the way.
And when we were going back on the bus and subsequently having dinner,
the person, who was a well-educated person who taught at a university in the Midwest, US,
suddenly turned to me and said:
"I feel like a real idiot. I've been thinking about what happened.
I just totally got lost in my idea of what was going on."

She says: "I realized I made a fool of myself by saying
'You wouldn't find a Zen monk on the Great Wall'
and I also realized that what I was doing was not taking pictures from my point of view
of what was actually going on in that moment.
What I was doing was taking pictures
that have already been taken
that I thought was how being on the Great Wall was supposed to look." 

And I'm sure if you search through, you'll find,
without putting any effort into it,
many instances of being in situations where the contraction into a sense of self,
a being,
forgets that there is only this moment, t
here is only this breath
and makes decisions as to what to say and do
and how to respond based on experiencing conditioned by previous experiences.

We don't see people that are actually there,
we see who we think should be there.

It's no wonder that in courts witnesses have to be coached. [O-sensei laughs] 

So, when we follow these beings
that are operating on what they think they've experienced sometime other than now,
we're running a good chance of making ourselves seem to be,
let's say, oh,
I'll quote my mother here: "out of it".
And as far as ripening all virtues, well, that comes up all the time.

I'm not going to give you a list of things considered virutuous,
but hey, we're all here because we want to do the right thing.
We're all here because we've seen things,
we perhaps have done things,
we've heard of things that makes us shake our heads and go
"that's just not right". 

So taking care is the base of this practice.
Taking care of what?
Taking care of THIS moment,
the moment wrapped around the breath and doing what needs to be done.

Sitting in the Hatto.
Hearing the rain.
Seeing the white wall.
What needs to be done
is to allow the whole bodymind to express itself fully in this moment.
That's what you're learning to do. 

The verse again: 

Raising the legs,

"May all beings

Leave the sea of birth and death
And ripen all virtues." 

Thank you for listening.