Every Breath You Take 65: Seeing Trees in Bloom

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, December 29, 2009

moves that meat machine that you call "you"
but you're starting to recognize that you're not that,
that is how Knowing knows
and you are the Knowing.

That is what enables you to practise.

Bodymind is how Knowing knows. 

moments of experience
surround the breath that's moving in and out.

Any moment at the moment of noticing anything at all,
practise the whole bodymind
or notice that you have been practised.

It wasn't the thing that you think of as you that did something,
there is no controller,
no director,
no watcher,
there's Knowing,
and there are moments of contracting into a knower, a watcher... a dictator. 

So at the moment of noticing anything at all,
open to the rest of the reality of that moment. 

Now some 1600 years ago,
some people got together and over time,
nobody knows how much time,
nobody knows how many people or what their names were,
they got together and what came out of it
were the verses that are recorded in the "Avatamsaka Sutra"
which Anzan Hoshin roshi and I translated as "The Practice of Purity".

These give reminders of things that can be noticed and things that can be practised. 

Now I've been thinking over the past some time,
quite a long time actually,
of how what we human beings do is distance ourselves from people who lived in times far before our time.
It's as if they're not real people,
somehow or other that they are these cardboard cutouts,
collages made out of our experience of having read something or been told something.

In this season, I noticed a Christmas crèche
with what are apparently Far Easterners or Middle Easterners
in a manger and those kings who brought gifts,
and this may have in fact been our only exposure
to people who lived before we did
and in places different from the place in which we were living and are living right now. 

So how to overcome that misunderstanding?

Well, in this day and age
it is easier to overcome
because we have access in ways that have never been possible in human history
of knowing what's going on with people who speak differently,
speak a different language than we do,
and even though this is decreasing,
may dress differently than we do.
Our understanding is that "hey, guess what?"

People are the same:
the process of being a person,
of being a human being is the same for every human being. 


Could that be possible for people who lived 1600 years ago?
Or 2500 years ago?
Well indeed.

Now, the context within which people were living was different,
for better or for worse,
it was different.
There weren't the "mod cons" (modern conveniences) that we enjoy,
although we find that in fact,
as there are more and more discoveries being made about artifacts left behind by peoples,
that many cultures were quite different than we have imagined them to be. 

So, the verses were written for people just like you and me,
breathing in and out,
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling

The sun came up.

They said: "Ah fu— [students laugh] time to get up."

Or: "Wow! Time to get up!"

The sun went down.
"Let's party!"

And that happens to be true in many cultures.
Roman culture had more wine bars per city block than, I think, any modern city.

So the similarities are widespread.
The context may be different,
the climate may be different,
the foliage may be different,
but the encouragement to look further than one's habitual experience is what the verses are providing. 

Today's verse: 

Seeing trees in bloom,

"May all beings

Have flower-like features,
And be marked with nobility." 

Well, I guess we can just dismiss this, huh, 'cause there's no trees in bloom right now.

Look at what it's like out there.
It's raining, we've got freezing rain,
"slippy slidey, won't even be able to walk to my car..."

But, all words are metaphors anyway, they are not the thing that is being talked about, they are not the experience.

So, "Seeing trees in bloom",
well, trees are in bloom with little twinkly lights all over the neighborhood,
or they're in bloom with tufts of snow,
or they're in bloom with frozen streams of water, icicles.
I think for the sake of expression, we could say
"yeah, of course we can when seeing trees in bloom
wish that all beings have "flower-like features and be marked with nobility".

We don't have to wait until the sandcherry in the yard unfolds into its little pink flowers.
We don't have to wait until the dogwood unfolds and blooms into bigger flowers
to notice more about our experience in this moment. 

What's being talked about here: 

"May all beings

Have flower-like features"? 

Wouldn't that be surprising? Hmm?

"Looks like an English rose"
and actually looked like that?
Would we not be surprised?
Would we not recognize that the metaphor has somehow magically turned into the reality
and it is in fact I'd say could be quite surprising
if not horrifying to look at someone
and find that they have petals all over their face
that were not glued there for a photo shoot?

When we read "flower-like features",
we can take the word "flower-like" and recognize there is this unfolding to the full potential,
there is this opening that occurs.

Flowers are indeed romanticized,
but many do have a delicacy and an appeal and are associated with what we in every culture call "beauty",
perhaps because of the colour,
perhaps because of the transient experience of a flower
which makes it apparent that that which is born will die.

We can take from the verse the "flower-like features"
to mean fresh, although fading,
vain although vanished,
but in this moment:

"And be marked with nobility" is the last line of the verse.
We could do a whole Dharma Talk on the marks of nobility of the Buddha,
which developed in cultures when people told stories
and things became misunderstood
and became solidified into the idea that it was a good thing to have a big bump on top of your head,
it was a good thing to have arms like elephant trunks that hung down by your knees,
and it was a good thing to have—
well I won't go there, we're talking about the naughty parts now.

There were many other signs of a Buddha
and you can certainly run a search on the White Wind Zen Community website to get more information about that.
But let's make it a little bit more personal
because although we have certain lumpy heads here and there,
although we might have arms that vary proportionately,
we have no one in the monastic sangha whose arms reach down to the ground yet.

(But given how primates are progressing,
how much they're learning to do,
it wouldn't surprise me one day to see Koko sitting there
[O-sensei and students laugh]
Koko being a famous gorilla with a vocabulary.
In fact, that would be neat. Wouldn't that be neat?
[O-sensei and students laugh]) 

we do know and we know this from what our very eyes see moment to moment,
what our bones experience moment to moment,
that when the bodymind is open,
it expresses a quality of dignity,
it is not being at that moment warped and distorted and gnarled by contractions,
it is open,
expressing its full intelligence and functioning as it should,
unobstructed by the gnarls of delusion.

You've seen it,
each and every one of you.
You had seen it probably before you started to practise
when someone said "stand up straight"
and they did and it was obvious something dropped away from them
and the bodymind was more dignified, more graceful, more present.

To that there is a noble quality,
there is a quality of presence,
a quality of allowing this moment to be experienced fully
rather than falling for a fabrication,
a story,
a made up bit of business about what's going on in this moment.

That warps us,
it denies and distorts the bodymind's intelligence. 


Thank you for listening.