Every Breath You Take 122: When Leaving a Place

Dharma Talk Presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji December 24, 2011

G'day! [students laugh] 

So, here we are,
the capital of Canada,
heart of the Ottawa Valley and it's COLD!
So if you were outside and walking here, or bicycling—
can you believe that? Bicycling here!—
well the >little nose hairs would become icicles...
But we're Canadians, aren't we, most of us?
Canadians seem to pride themselves on being able to put up with the cold. 

It's also surprising that you're here.
Who would've thought?
Go back in time 20 years...
Do you think on a very cold morning,
Christmas Eve day
that you'd be sitting in a Zen monastery,
looking at a white wall,
looking into the process of perception and cognition of a bodymind,
and 20, 30 years ago,
we would not have known what the word
"bodymind" or "mindbody" actually meant
because it wasn't common parlance.

But here you are, and disciplined:
willing to learn. 

When grumblings came up, if they came up,

about what you'd rather do,
you saw it for what it was: a thought. 

One foot in front of the other

and here you are!

And you might have even remembered to feel the breath
and feel the whole bodymind. 

Now this has been going on for 2600 years.
Not here because probably 2600 years ago,
this still might have been part of that inland sea,
I'm not sure,
but there wasn't much happening in this part of the world with human beings,
this particular part of the world.
In other parts of the world there were all sorts of trade routes
with all sorts of exotic items being trekked back and forth across Asia from Africa,
so things were quite busy. 

2600 years ago, Gautama Siddhartha sat down and said:
"What the... is going on?
I'm going to find out." 

He did all sorts of strange things,
most of which we will probably never know exactly,
until one day he said:
"That's it, I'm not doing any more things,
I'm just going to sit here".
And then he discovered that he was not his thoughts and feelings,
those were just thing going on,
and the process of mindfulness practice was transmitted from person to person. 

1600 years ago, in northern India,
the verses were written that we're looking at in
"Every Breath You Take",
a portion of the Flower Garland Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra. 

Today's verse: 

When leaving a place,

"May all beings

Penetrate Awakened experience
nd move past the three conditional realms." 

Eh? Hmm. Well. 

Now, remember, we're talking 1600 years ago, we're talking about words and understandings of a practice that were written and spoken about in Pali, and in Sanskrit, and in Chinese, and in Japanese, and here we are today, and I'm reading you the English verse, which was translated basically by Anzan Hoshin roshi with a little help from me, and was translated by someone else, by many others, I'm sure. The one I'm going to recite today was from "Flower Ornament Scripture" as it was called, "A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra by Thomas Cleary". 

When they leave a place,
"They should wish that all beings Deeply enter enlightened knowledge Forever leaving the Triple World." 

Eh? [O-sensei and students laugh] 

Now it's really a wonder, isn't it, that anything got passed along that made any sort of sense because there are so many meanings that can be put to almost anything. So when we talk about the "three conditioned realms", and "the Triple World", what's being talked about is the triloca, three worlds. 

Now, these were realms of existence as understood and expressed at least 1600 years ago. As we know, people will develop ways of expressing their understanding of what they uncover when they're actually sitting and then some will go on to paint a larger picture, which may be somewhat fanciful, but isn't that just what human beings do? 

So the triloka, the Three Worlds: the bottom one, the lowest one was called the kamaloka, the sensuous world, the realm of desire is how we chose to express it when writing out these verses, and it is said to be, and was said to be, the least refined of these worlds. In the kamaloka, there is said to be eleven realms in which experience, pleasurable or not, is dominated by the five senses. Seven realms are favourable destinations and include the human realm and some realms are occupied by devas. Four are bad destinations, which include animal and hell realms, the lowest realms. 

So if you're going to google "loka.com destinations", you don't want to fill out that application. Feel the breath, sit up straight and pass on that one. 

The next one is the rupaloka, the shikikai,
which is the realm of form as we translated it,
or also known as the fine material world
and here there are 16 realms inhabited by divas—
devas! Devas, sorry! [O-sensei and students laugh]
who experience extremely refined degrees of mental pleasure.
These realms are accessible to those who have attained some level of dhyana.

Aha! Mark that word, highlight it. Dhyana. It's a key...
manage to temporarily suppress hatred and ill will—
said to possess refined bodies of pure light.
The highest of these realms in the rupaloka,
the pure abodes,
are accessible only to those who have attained non-returning,
the third stage of awakening.
This, and the immaterial world, rupaloka, make up heavens or sada. 

And number three, arupaloka, which is the highest realm,
the immaterial world, or as we translated it,
the realm of nothingness,
there are four realms within this,
accessible to those who pass away while meditating in the formless dhyana.
There's that word again: dhyana. 

"Dhyana" is an interesting word because it can refer either to meditation or meditative states and in early texts, it was spoken of as a state of full body awareness in which mind becomes very powerful and still but not frozen. So in a way they're still talking of a separation, but let's put that aside and say: okay, dhyana, sitting, feeling the breath, sitting up straight, awareness of the whole bodymind. This, dhyana, the word, in Sanskrit, travelled to China, where it became "Chan" which in turn became "Zen". 

So, what you're doing, sitting up straight, feeling the breath, feeling the whole bodymind, is something that's been done basically for 2600 years, but there have been lots of sidebars because we human beings want to get stuff. So, if we can "attain", we want to attain, we want to move from the kamaloka to the rupaloka, then to the highest realm, so things were devised, ways of speaking were devised, to explain to people what was going on in these different realms and how they could get there. 

Now, at a certain point in history, whenever that may have been, "dhyana in Theravadin literature is starting to mean an abiding in which the mind becomes fully immersed or absorbed in the chosen object of attention.
Now of course you have immediately recognized that that is not this practice. 

When we notice that we were absorbed in an object of attention, whatever it might be,
that moment of clear seeing is the exact moment when we practise. 

So we can see how cosmologies start, and of course we have no,
I have no reams and reams of paper with things written on them
that I can track down and say: "Hmm, this is where it started,
this is the guy who came up with this particular story".

Nobody has that. What we have is understandings,
ways of expressing that change over the years.
In our own experience, when we think about that 20 or 30 or 40 years ago,
we go: well, 20, or 30, or 40 years ago,
there was no talk about—
at least in the Ottawa Valley among any of the people that I knew—
of meditation or meditating or mindfulness.
But hey, now, it's everywhere! Really interesting. 

Certain people in the medical community are saying that certain ills are best treated by,
as a colleague said to me:
just getting on with it.
So that sounds a bit like what happens when you're practising.
Thoughts and feelings come up—
don't even bother labelling them because the labelling of them often produces effects in the bodymind
that perpetuate whatever that unease,
that anxiety or that stress was. 

The moment you notice whatever it is:
feel the breath,

sit up straight,

actually practise in that moment. 

So, over 2600 years,

an approach,
a way of looking into what it means to be a human being
has been passed from Teacher to student,

Teacher to student as students become Teachers,

until here we sit with a very radical approach to practice
without frills,

without cosmologies.

There you sit,

in this moment. 

Feel the breath,

feel the whole bodymind,
sit up straight. 

And that's what we're doing, however,
there are many descriptions
and it's fortunate that there are
and it's interesting because if we're a person who likes to understand what it is that we're doing,
we want to look into the roots of it,
we want to look into different facets of what it is that's going on,
we start to discover how things change,
how meanings change. 

When we hear someone say:
"Well, you Buddhists, you believe in reincarnation don't you?"
Well, should that happen to you, a good response can be: 

"Could you tell me more of what you're talking about?"
because you might quickly discover it's all about what they're talking about,
that's it, so there's really no need for you to enter into any discussions about anything. 

Smile and get on with it. 

Now there are lots of books around,
one of which I did read to get a nice description from one point of view about Buddhist cosmology.
It's called "Thirty-One Planes of Existence"
edited by John T. Bullet and it was part of a series: "Access to Insight". 


In Buddhist cosmology, there is no eternal heaven and hell. Born into a particular realm according to past kamma, and at the moment of death, when kammic force is worn out, they die, taking rebirth elsewhere, according to their kamma, and so the wearisome cycle continues. 

These cosmologies started a long time ago, some say the Buddha taught them,
and we don't really know that because he didn't write anything down,
and apparently no one wrote anything down until some 200 years later.

So there were lots of little brains and fingers cooking the words,
cooking the understanding before it was put on a plate for us,
so we don't really know what was said at the time. 

But the idea of kamma was that each action has consequences extending beyond our present life.
Act in skillful ways and there will be a favourable rebirth.
Act in unwholesome, unskillful ways and there will be an unpleasant rebirth.
One wanders through samsara, the round of birth and death,
propelled from one birth to the next by the quality of our choices and our actions. 

So it's not a big stretch of the imagination
that perhaps this approach or cosmology
really did get people to think a little bit about what it was
that they were doing because who wants to come back in a hell realm, as it were? 

Now, I very carefully want to say;
I am not saying that inherent in the practice that we do
there is the idea that if you do your practice,
if you don't act out your states,
there will be a nice rebirth for you.

I'm not saying that at all.
I'm introducing to those of you who may not have spent time on their own
looking into the different aspects,
the different ways of presenting the understanding of the world
and human beings' place in it, an entry point. 

So if you choose,
you will find there are all sorts of ways that you can look into historical background,
you can look into how stories of beliefs evolve,
and you can have fun with it. 

I'll go out on a limb and say:
just don't believe it to be the truth, it's fanciful. 

If you find yourself sitting on the cushion,
sitting on the zafu wondering if there is reincarnation for you,

recognize: that's a thought.

That's what you have to know, 

you've recognized a thought.
That is a dharma,

a moment of experience. 


Feel the breath, sit up straight. 

That's what you do when you notice anything at all. 

Now "dharma", more language,
forgive me those of you who have heard this before,
dharma in Japanese is "ho".
So when you see pictures and cards,
and when you hear the music,
and when there's Santa going: "Ho ho ho!"... 


Moment of experience
Moment of experience
Moment of experience 

with a big R: 

Teachings of Reality
Teachings of Reality
Teachings of Reality 


Have a good time! 

Thank you very much for listening.
Thank you very much for showing up.
I was surprised because really I thought there would only be the monks and a couple of formal students here.

Yeah! Happy Holidays!