White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 10: In Gatherings or Crowds

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 24th, 2008


...is the moment you can practise. 

When in gatherings or crowds

"May all beings

Release compounded things

And unfold the nature of knowing all knowns." 

Well, here we are.
Are we a gathering?
Are we a crowd?
Is this what we are talking about?

We are a Sangha,
a community of practitioners,
sitting, practising zazen.
Practising, as Knowing, basic mindfulness,
and as a result of practising basic mindfulness,
each thing that is known is released.

You are learning to look into the process of perception and cognition. 

That's what each one of you, as individuals, is here to do. 

However, as with all the verses in "The Practice of Purity",
the reminder is also very useful for when you are not sitting with Sangha.
It is meant to be useful for when you are actually with others in gatherings or crowds
where the purpose is other than to teach you how to practise. 

Now, unless we've been packed in cotton wool for all of our lives
we surely have picked up on that the history of gatherings and crowds is,
on the whole,
not a pretty one.
We've all heard tales of "crowd mentality" and
"mob madness" from many times,
many places,
in so many ways,
with so many excuses along the line of,
"well...everyone else was doing it..."
It plays out over and over again. 

The verse refers to the release of "compounded things".
Compounded things refers to that contraction and intensity
felt when a myriad of dharma,
moments of experience
get lumped together in a density that blocks
and seemingly obliterates the rest of what is actually going on.

As the focusing and narrowing becomes more pronounced,
the state becomes more intense.
Many such states in many gatherings and crowds have produced terrible acts.
That's not good. 

Compounded things, that sense of a me with all of its
"I must do",

"...I should do..."

and "what will people think if I don't..."
and on and on has even, probably,
seduced some of us into staying at gatherings and parties that were really dull and boring. 

It may have encouraged us to engage in activities
that we may not have under ordinary circumstances.
It is a good idea to look into what's really going on.
And we may even save ourselves the agony of sitting through
terrible, terrible, concerts and plays because,
"what will this line of people sitting between us and the escape route think?"
[students laugh.] 

Feeling into the whole bodymind, in the whole moment
shows immediately that any thoughts and feelings
are only part of what is going on.

They're only part of your life,
a very small part.
The tendency to focus on and confuse that small part
with the whole thing
can produce a tide of individuals,
moving in the same direction,
with a singular goal. 

The Roshi has said many times,
and as you have observed,
our first intention is to help,
to make things better.
If you've seen someone slip on the street
you've felt your own movement to respond
and you've seen others do the same.
The first response is easily,
and it would seem increasingly,
overridden by social and cultural pattern,
"Well, I didn't want to get involved",
"I might get sued".
"It's not my business..." and so on. 

Another thing easily observed is that we do what others do.
That's easily demonstrated:
just go and stand in a public place looking up intently.
[students laugh] 

See what happens. 

Little observable bits of how we are affected by
and smelling,
the senses,
have been studied and the conclusions,
simple minded as they may be,
have been used,
and are being used to elicit desired effects.

The desired result can vary from getting us to buy something,
to vote for something,
or to blow up something.

The something we might buy can be a nice, plastic and metal machine,
that will save us the time of slicing or something,
or it can be a belief. 

The knowns may be different
but the process of knowing is the same.
It only "makes sense",
that being the case,
to look more deeply into the process.
The process I'm talking about is the process of perception and cognition.
And this is what you're doing right now.
When you notice a thought,
when you notice a feeling,
when you notice an itch,
when you notice the sound of my voice,
when you notice anything,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze.
You've practised that moment of knowing. 

When a dharma is known,
by Knowing,
that moment is practised,
as you just did,
and the "compounded thing",
whatever was known,
is released
and the process of practice unfolds more and more clearly
the nature of knowing all knowns. 

We affect each other in many ways
most of which we never notice...
until we start to practise.
Looking more deeply into what is going on with your life
in this moment
is wonderful.
It's wonderful to be truly able to experience what's really going on with the bodymind
in whatever context it may find itself. 

It's really interesting to see cause and effect in more detail
as it is being experienced.
It's also important to remember that what is being talked about is experiencing
which can only be experienced by the individual,
by you, by you, by you...

It is difficult to talk about,
"Its meaning is not in words but it answers sincere questioning"
and the sincere questioning is asked by the whole bodymind in the whole moment.
All the words used to talk about experiencing are pointers to you,
for you,
to encourage and prod and nag you into looking into your own experiencing. 

If the verse were
"stay away from crowds and gatherings"
that would be a red flag pointing to an intention
to control what you do,
an intention of controlling your behaviour. 

Now that's not the case.

Let me remind you of the verse: 

When in gatherings or crowds

"May all beings

Release compounded things

And unfold the nature of knowing all knowns." 

The verse is a reminder to you,
that you can practise reality wherever you are.
You are knowing colours and forms and sounds and movements of attention.
You can know them more and more clearly.
You can unfold the nature of knowing all knowns
by over and over and over again

feeling the breath,
sitting or standing up straight,
opening the eye gaze.

You can do that anywhere.
You don't need a special outfit.
You can release compounded things
and you can make whatever choice you want to make. 

[Sotto voce:] A piece of advice,
mundane though it may be:
finding yourself in a gathering or a crowd,
check out where the washrooms are
and the location of the nearest exit and make sure you can get to it... 

Thank you for listening.