White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 1: Home

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 24th, 2008

is the only moment that you can practise.

Any practice you've done before this breath is gone forever.
And relying on there being another breath
in which you'll actually get around to practising
is a mistake
because you do not know whether you will have another breath. 

And one day there will not be another breath.
So you may as well take the opportunity of the breath that is breathing you right now
to notice reality;
to wake up from the rapture of fabrications,
of dreams,
of conditioned experiencing,
to the reality of this moment of the whole bodymind breathing,
the myriad of dharmas that arise in each moment,
the myriad of experiences that arise in each moment,
the myriad of knowns that arise in each moment of knowing.

And you are Knowing in itself. 

You are not a knower.
There is no knower.
If you notice a knower
you have noticed a contraction into a sense of self
that is knowing something.

So all you have to do at that point
is practise mindfulness of breath,
feeling the breath moving the bodymind in and out,
sitting up straight
which is a short form for noticing the presencing of the whole bodymind,
opening the eyes,
opening the peripheral vision:
practising the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

Now we like to think,
each and every one of us has thought these things,
that we are somehow special.
We really don't need to do this practice as much as the guy or gal beside us
because obviously we are vastly superior. 

Recognize that as a contraction into a sense of self with a habitual storyline.
What you may not have noticed is that in the next moment
you just know
and you are convinced that everyone in the Hatto is better at this than you are.
And it is as if those two opposed points of view can exist in the same moment.
And you start to establish a little bit of mindfulness practice.
You start to be able to sit on the zafu for half an hour.
You start to be able to wake up from time to time
and see that the thought you were following was just that,
it was a thought,
so you woke up for a moment to the reality of the moment.
You saw a thought as a thought.
You remembered to feel the breath
or else you allowed yourself to notice the breath
moving the bodymind in and out.

You noticed seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling.
You sat up straight
and for a moment
that movie you were entertaining yourself with dropped away.
And you could actually experience the clarity of this open moment
free of conditioned experiencing,
free of those little clotted bits with their stories that we call self-image. 

Last week and the week before I read to you from the text
"The Practice of Purity: Verses from the Flower Garland Discourse".
This is a translation which the Roshi,
with a small amount of assistance from myself,
did some 15 years ago.
It is a translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra.
That sutra was written some 1600 years ago
but it was written about and for guys and gals,
and then monastics, who were just like you,
and just like you,
and just like you,
who sat down on a cushion to look into what was going on,
who they really were.

And of course because this is difficult
we like to assume that somehow or other it was easy for those old guys
because they were like bigger and better 
than we could ever be.

But we forget that they were people.
They sat their bums down on cushions,
bunches of straw,
or on a rock,
and they were looking into the actual nature of experiencing which can be rough.

And so stories were written about teachers and about students.
The only object of the story was to point out to a student
something that would be useful to them
in helping them cut through the contractions of self-image
that come up in different situations. 

Now as I said, we like to think we're very special.
No one has experienced our angst.

Well in a way that's true.
Just as each breath that we breathe
can only be breathed by us
so each contraction that you feel,
each fluctuation in temperature,
each rush of feeling tone,
can only be felt by you,
all human beings experience in the same way.
The process is the same.
The content might vary and does vary
but the context is the same.

So when feelings come up of being somehow apart,
removed from,
somehow being self with everything else being other,
you've recognized a moment of reality;
that set of sensations is there.

At the moment of recognition,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
practise basic mindfulness and that will open. 

The Avatamsaka Sutra was put together.
In Book 11 is a story that Manjushri, Wisdom,
was asked a question by a student.
In the "Kigon-gyo, Book Eleven",
Kenju, a Wakeful One, or All Pervasive Knowledge, asks Manjushri,

How should the wakeful ones practise thoroughly unfold activities of body, speech, and mind without fault?

Even 1600 years ago asking
"What can we do to wake up? What can we do to deepen our practice?" 

Manjushri said,
"Good question. You want to practise to benefit all beings."
Well he said it a little bit...
the way it has been translated in The Practice of Purity,
and in other texts, it's a little bit more...
detailed than that.

So out of this question of how people could

unfold excellent, foremost, peerless, immeasurable, incalculable, inconceivable, incomparable, unfathomable and inexpressible investigation

rose these 140 verses. 

Verses are not prayers,
although in some texts,
not published by Great Matter,
they have been referred to as prayers.

Basically in one text it was saying that we are praying that other people will smarten up.
That other people will wake up.
We pray that all beings can wake up.
Well that's not really at all what we are doing here.
It's exactly the opposite. 

You've heard at least one of the verses of the 140 if you've ever been here for closing bells,
that is chanted as well every night during sesshin: 

As we enter into sleep this night,

"May all beings

Calm all things

And uncover the stainless mind of clarity." 

The first verse in "The Practice of Purity" is addressed to Wakeful Ones who are at home. 

Wakeful ones who are at home should raise the aspiration,

"May all beings
Realize the nature of 'home' is empty
And release its limitations." 

As the Roshi has said in the formal student series, "The Anatomy of Awakening",
students are learning to see all of the patterns and
"realms of deep conditioning which human beings call 'home'." 

And when you look into it
you'll find that
each of you most probably have a set of associations that come up with the word 'home'.
You would be quite unique if, in fact, you did not.

A 'home' is not a house.
A 'home' is this moment,
this moment,
displays everything.
It displays the whole universe.
Our set of feeling tones, patterns, associations about 'home'
arise within the moment within which they are arising.

When we believe that our patterns and associations and feeling tones
are definitions of truth
we often find ourselves setting out,
seeking after this fabrication that we have become intoxicated with.

We look for 'home'.
We want to be comfortable.
We want to have a set of associations.
This type of concepts and yearnings often arise for people around holidays.
Around Christmas, for example,
there may be thoughts of reconciliation that will occur,
understandings that will happen that have never happened before
but yet we dream on.

And of course,
economies are driven by these dreams. 

Verses are given and have been given
so that students can give themselves another way of looking at their own experience.
They're not little bits and pieces to be memorized
and then chanted to block what one is actually experiencing
but rather tools that one can use
to look at and open up new understandings. 

Self-image becomes very reactive
because when it hears something that seems different than what it believes
it will often react and perhaps even attack
by saying things about
"the inhuman way" in which the monks may view a student's life
by suggesting to them that their yearnings for 'home'
may be just fabrications,
may be something that never existed ever.

Now this is not talking about abdicating responsibility.
Not at all.
But rather talking about recognizing that in each moment
you have an opportunity to look and see more clearly what is arising for you. 

The text, "The Practice of Purity",
is addressed to monastics in some specific areas.
Monastics are home leavers.
Monastics have recognized that the usual definition of family and home
is too small and it is too isolating
because for 'home' there has to be 'not home'.
There has to be self.
There has to be other.
And practice says there is no self, there is no other.
There is just this moment of experiencing.
There is just the benefit of all beings
and what are you going to do about it?
So verses such as these,
such as The Practice of Purity,
can aid you,
as do all the forms of practice,
in seeing more completely what arises for you in each and every moment. 

Next week we will look into the second verse which is about serving parents. 

You're quite welcome to come forward during daisan
with any questions that you might have
or send an email to me if you do have questions.

The text is available.
You can read it.
See what happens. 

Thank you for listening.