White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 101: Seeing a Capital

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 19th, 2011

This morning, the sun's up and out. You can feel and smell and see spring after a long winter.

But hey, it wasn't as long as many others and we don't even know whether it's over yet.

But nevertheless,
the squirrels are running around,
the birds are outside singing.
If you look closely at some of the trees, you can see the beginning of buds.
Spring, seasons changing.
You can feel the breath moving your bodymind in and out.

[A student has a series of coughs, tries to stifle them.]
So you've noticed something different occurring.

You might have thoughts about it.

That moment,
that moment of noticing the thought,
the moment of noticing the tickle in your own throat,
is a moment to feel the breath,
to sit up straight
to open the eye gaze, to practise this moment of experiencing.
[O-sensei takes her glass of water to the coughing student]

It is the only thing going on.

We can't know what's going to happen next—
We can't make the assumption that we're going to have another breath.
Why should we?


Seeing a capital,
"May all beings
Gather all qualities of virtue
And always be delighted and joyful."

Well, that sounds good, doesn't it? To wish that all beings be delighted and joyful?

And the "capital", well,
it's "capital" with an "al",
from capitalis - of the head,
from capit - head,
usually meant to refer to an area of a country, province, region or state regarded as enjoying primary status, usually, but not always, the seat of government.

In architecture, "capital" is the crowning member of a column, and in the alphabet
the larger of two typefaces,
uppercase, the larger,
used for emphasis.

Well in the context, say, of the preceding verse which was talking about a castle,
let us assume that the capital they're talking about would be an area that is of importance,
like Ottawa,
the capital which radiates out its influence to the rest of the area, the rest of the country.

So seeing one,

"May all beings
Gather all qualities of virtue
And always be delighted and joyful."

That's certainly a good wish to have, isn't it?
A good reminder.
Now remember, when these verses were written 1600 years ago,
most probably in northern India, there was,
as there is today, a lot of coming and going.
Caravans would go out along the Silk Road.

So they'd be travelling through areas, provinces, states,
and there would be centres of influence.
So this reminder would be handy for travellers.
It has in it, however, the potential for misunderstanding.

"Always be delighted and joyful."

Well, is that even possible?
And this is English, which is a translation of Sanskrit,
which would have been a translation from Pali,
and not being a scholar myself,
I don't know exactly what word was used,
I don't know exactly what was meant...
but we can make an assumption
as it is talking about practice
that through the continued and continuous effort of noticing moments of contraction,
and feeling the breath,
feeling the whole bodymind,
allowing attention to open
as it does when you feel the breath,
sit up straight,
and open the eye gaze,
there is a sense of liveliness and lightness that occurs in the bodymind.

And in a governing situation,
where there are
people who are making decisions to benefit all the people, wouldn't it be nice
if the decisions were made from that sense of lightness, that sense of being a human being,
with the full capacities of the bodymind available,
and to do something that will benefit all beings.
Now, obviously, this hasn't been the case in the course of human history.
We're in a time when most recently, a tremendous geographical event occurred around Japan. Destruction.
We're surprised, and it's not the first, and it's not the last,
but we're surprised that the crust of the earth seems to be in flux,
seems to be shuddering.

Maybe it's trying to shake us off? [giggles]

If we're given a piece of chocolate or a hard candy that has liquid inside,
and if we poke some holes in it
and drain that liquid out,
we're not surprised if over time,
the outer crust dries and breaks,
because the dynamic of that piece of chocolate has been disturbed.

Now, for who knows how many years,
we've been sticking our straws, we've been drilling,
into the earth, sucking out that liquid centre,
and maybe the same kind of result as with the chocolate is occurring.

It just makes sense,
you cannot go on draining liquid out of something that is not replenished and expect it to have no effect on the container.

But that's just a moment in time,
that's just a little bit of imagination.
But maybe people should be thinking about things like that,
and maybe if the moments that people experience when making decisions
were open, delightful and joyful,
different decisions might be made...
but that's all speculation on my part.

But having experienced myself
the difference between making a decision to do something
when the energy of attention is invested in a contraction,
and the difference apparent when there's the open expanse of experiencing and a decision is made to take an action...
there's a vast difference.

Wouldn't surprise me if you've actually experienced it yourself,
each and every one of you.
When we are compelled and controlled by states,
well, we may not make the best possible decision,
we might stand firmly entrenched in our head,
firmly entrenched in the rightness of our view and not see perfectly simple things,
actions that we can take
because ...
after all...
it's somebody else's... responsibility.

So when things are open, action becomes easier.
We decide to do something and it's done.
Whereas when we're caught up in contracted states,
we talk to ourselves about all that we have to do,
and how we'll never be able to get around to doing all of it, and in the course of that...
energy that is coiled in upon itself,
convincing us of the impossibility of what we have to do,
in the course of time and the effort involved in that... generally,
we could have done whatever it was
that we were lamenting to ourselves about.

So lightening up is always a good thing.
Lightening up releases the capacities of the bodymind 
and actually makes it possible
to make choices as to how to use the energy of the living bodymind in this moment
in ways that are useful.

So wishing that
or putting forth the idea that
all beings gather all qualities of virtue and always be delighted and joyful
is a nice little thought.
It can remind you
when you notice anything at all,
any dharma,
any moment of experiencing,
to feel completely
the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

And have some fun!

So the verse again:

Seeing a capital,
"May all beings
Gather all qualities of virtue
And always be delighted and joyful."

But hey,
but hey...
the idea that self-image wants to generate that you're always going to be joyful,
that you're always going to be delighted,
that you're always going to be happy...
may not be the case.
Things happen,
events occur that can make us sad.

There's nothing wrong with being sad.
Seeing something that causes us to have that reaction can often make us
look more completely into our understanding
of the world and
how things are.
A student asked me the other day if they practised more and more completely,
would that mean that they wouldn't have any feelings,
that they would be stoic?

Well, in a word: No.

What it does mean is that the sensitivities of the bodymind are opened,
what the senses experience becomes more and more acute,
more and more subtle,
but because we don't hang onto particular patterns and states
because we see how that happens
and how it can drag down and condition bodymind's experiencing,
what is experienced can be sharper,
it can be more delightful,
it can be more touching.

So don't worry about not feeling things,
you will,
you might even feel more,
no, you will feel more than you actually feel when you're clouded by states,
but it doesn't linger in the same way,
you don't make a meal of it in the same way.

But I'm glad that people are asking these kinds of questions
because it allows us to explore in daisan,
explore more completely what's actually spoken of,
so thank you very much for every question you bring.

Once again:

Seeing a capital,
"May all beings
Gather all qualities of virtue
And always be delighted and joyful."

Thank you for listening.