White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 100: Seeing a Castle

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 5th, 2011

There's one thing that you can be sure of
is that if you're feeling the breath right now,
you're feeling the breath right now.


That's about it. [students laugh]

Well, actually no,
there's another thing you can be sure of:
At some time, there will be a last out breath,
and it will happen to you too, 
no matter how you try to avoid it.

That's a fact.

Now, yesterday was an interesting kind of day,
there was a lot of sunlight,
there had been a snowstorm the day before,
yesterday a lot of sunlight and all that snow was melting
and you could kind of smell the spring,
and kind of see spring in the colour of that sunlight...

but today: more snow.

we can't even tell what the weather is going to be,
so may as well give up that kind of effort
and just realize that as long as we're feeling the breath,
when we are feeling the breath,
if the breath is present
and the bodymind is wrapped around that breath
and it's breathing in and out:
you're alive, you can practise.

So anything that you notice,
and that means anything, there's no exclusions,
you don't have to engage in a lot of discussion with yourself
about this being a place to practise and this not being a place to practise,
this dharma or thought being okay to indulge in
because after all, it is about practice,
it's about self-image glorying in how wonderful it will be when it wakes up
and it can glow over the rest of the universe,
basking in its wonderfulness.

But that's a thought.
The moment you see it, (it doesn't matter that it's there,
it doesn't make you this kind of person or that kind of person,
there's nothing that does that in the realm of thoughts and feelings,
or seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling...)

So whenever you notice anything, like it, don't like it:
Doesn't matter,
hope and fear:
Doesn't matter.

Feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
while you're alive
because no corpse can practise.

Today is in a way kind of a historic occasion, this is verse 100 in the "Every Breath You Take" series.


So the next time you see a castle, raise that verse!

Now, just kidding, but remember,
1600 years ago when these verses were written,
there were large buildings built to surround the treasure that belonged to the king or the leader,
or whomever could grab the most stuff.
They would put it somewhere,
build a fortress around it to protect it from those outside who might want to grab it,
and to provide a place where people could hide out in bad times.

Well, 1600 years ago,
people didn't know that that castle,
however strong it may have looked
would crumble.

King Ashoka, apparently, built a vast complex with lots of figures around it,
lots of turrets, lots of walls, lots of fountains and ponds,
and although bits and pieces can still be seen today,
the rest has crumbled.

We know, the way these people 1600 years ago didn't know,
that if you dig down underneath some ruins,
particularly in places that have a longer history of habitation than our fair land,
you'll come across bits and pieces from the last building or castle or fortress or fort that was built there.

So something in Victorian times was being built,
they dig looking for what was there before,
they use the bricks and stones that they find to help in building the new thing.

Digging a little deeper over time,
you find that that Victorian thing had been built on a 16th century impregnable fortress or castle
that would stand inviolable for centuries.

What is it? It's bits and pieces of rocks and mortar.
Dig down beneath that and there's something from the 1300s.
And so it goes until we're back to the iron age,
these things that human beings built to last forever just don't.

Seeing a castle,
"May all beings
Be strong and firm in body
And tireless in mind."

Well, okay, we can spend many hours at the gym encased in shiny spandex,
clutching giant bottles of water as we—
(we don't drink, have you noticed that? We don't drink water, we re-hydrate.
It just sounds so much more important!)
[O-sensei and students laugh]

But, no matter how shiny the spandex, no matter how buff the body gets,

Seeing a castle,
"May all beings
Be strong and firm in body
And tireless in mind."

no matter how many miles are pumped out on that bicycle,
there is no way that the ravages of time and the inevitability of dropping—
and you never know when—
can be held at bay.

But we like to live in a fantasy world.
We like to believe our stories that if we just get it right,
if we can get the right combination of goji berries, raisins and walnuts,
which are really really good for us, 
and antioxidants...
that somehow or other the process is going to stop.

Let me be very clear,
I am not saying that a person cannot go to the gym,
or should not go to the gym,
or take a class in some sort of stretching to keep those joints and tendons and muscles flexible,
I'm not saying that at all.

I'm not saying that you can't eat goji berries
but what we can do is look into—
and this is what you're learning to do—
look into the reality of the thoughts that arise.
And as we sit,
endlessly bored,
in front of that white wall,
some of the stories that we uncover in those thoughts might surprise us.

Did I really believe that if I had a pedicure every three weeks that me feet were going to stay 22 years old?
Apparently, but it doesn't happen.
You cannot hold it at bay.

It's fun to see these things!
It's amusing,
it can help you navigate a social culture that is demonstrably insane.
It's getting crazier and crazier which is a lot of fun as well.

But, we can wish that we have strong and firm bodies and that they are always going to stay that way,
but it's foolish.
We can wish that if we can just get enough sleep, we'll never be tired again.
We can wish that we are not going to get sick, but the funny thing is, you never know.
You can do "all the right things" and then out of the blue: There you are, it's confirmed.

"Well, what it is...you have congestive heart failure. Five to ten for you."

Fuck. [O-sensei and students laugh]

So, what can you do?
Well, you recognize that these are little signposts.
You know, you can get treatment for aspects of congestive heart failure,
but it simply means that the pump's wearing out.
So because the pump's wearing out,
it's not working as well as it used to
and fluid follows gravity and accumulates in the lower limbs.

They have drugs for that.
That's great.
That's wonderful,
but it doesn't mean that the pump has been revitalized, not at all.

So as we sit and see how thoughts come up,
how feelings come up as we look into this process of perception and cognition,
we can be more reasonable about our expectations around the activities that we choose to spend our time on.

You can't outrace the grim reaper.
You never know what's going to happen.
But, you can develop an equanimity,
you can develop the capacity to see how,
as this moment is the only one going on,
whatever you have to deal with can be dealt with in a non-hysterical fashion.

"Oh no! Not me! Why me? Aaaaaaarg!" Well, because you're a human being.

You were born, that means it's inevitable.

But you can enjoy this moment,
no matter what's going on because you start to understand
that when attention goes into a story about what's going to happen,
you can make yourself feel unhappy about something that's not even going on in this moment.

This becomes very obvious when we put one foot in front of the other,
when we recognize that wanting or not wanting to sit,
liking or not liking sitting
means nothing other than they're dharma,
moments of experience,
a moment to practise mindfulness, to feel the breath,
to sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
if you're walking to feel those feet walking,
on the snow or on the pavement,
getting in and out of the car.
What does liking or not liking have to do with it? Nada.


Moment of practice.

So we start to see as we sit in the formal environment of practice that really,
in this moment, there is no problem.

In this moment, there is no problem.

So we're tired. So what?

You feel the breath,
you sit up straight, 
you open the eye gaze,
this may uncover an unquestioned assumption that if you just practise thoroughly enough,
you won't be tired.

Well, that's a piece of nonsense.
Tiredness comes up. It's not a problem.
When you notice it,
feel the breath, sit up straight, open the eye gaze
and you can even be kind of pissed off
at someone like me who's saying these things in this moment,
that's okay, that's not who you are, it's a moment of experience,
you can practise with it.

So even though all castles fall eventually,
this little verse has been around for 1600 years,
it's Saturday morning, you're here, I'm here, we're all here together.

Imagine that!

We're all alive in this moment 
and we can practise basic mindfulness
and through that practice
uncover the truth of experiencing,
which is that this moment is the only thing that's going on.

What's the problem?

The verse:

Seeing a castle,
"May all beings
Be strong and firm in body
And tireless in mind."

Thank you for listening.