White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 102: Seeing People in a Forest

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 21st, 2011


has the oxygen in it that you need for the bodymind to maintain itself.
Trees, forests, woods are essential to the ongoing quality of air.
We don't often think about that, really.

Oh well, we might get a little excited and say: "Save the rain woods" —
we don't say that, do we,
we say "Save the rainforests",
woods just doesn't seem right.

We forget things like where we sit right now was once woods,
a forest, giant pine trees,
then settlements started to occur because of the woods, because of the forests,
and as recently, for example, as 1996,
when we first came to what is now Dainen-ji,
what we had surrounding the building, the grounds had a... lawn.

A lawn!
So, very quickly, knowing the history of lawns because they are associated, always have been,
with conspicuous consumption,
and an overt display of incredible wealth
because people could throw up their hands
and say: "Look, we don't need our land to grow things to support us, so we'll have a LAWN!
Never mind those peasants over there starving,
they can work on the lawn."

So today's verse, what does this have to do with today's verse? Well...

Seeing someone in a forest,
"May all beings
Be worthy of the honor and acclaim
Of shining beings and of humans."

So how often do we see a forest?
How often do we wander in a forest or in a wood?
Well we're really lucky because thanks to
the ongoing efforts of students supervised by
the shissui, Saigyo ino at this point,
we are building our very own, basically, forest or woods.

Now what's the difference between a wood and a forest?
Well we tend to think of a forest as being bigger,
but actually they're kind of interchangeable,
a forest being defined as an expanse of woodland,
woods being defined in certain dictionaries as a small forest.
So, the verse says "forest"
and probably because this was written 1600 years ago, in India, at that time,
I think forest was where a lot of people,
a lot of monks went to practise.

We hear of forest monks,
people who would go off into the bush,
find a tree trunk,
sit in it when it was raining and then sit out,
consumed by bugs while it wasn't raining...
I don't know about you
but I never would have made it in that kind of a situation, quite frankly,
just between you and I,
it can get bad enough in here! [students laugh]

And here we are protected
and we have the soft zephyrs of the woods, let's say,
and we have outside the windows
green, and there are only a few bugs,
and they're actually practising,
those daddy long-legs,
they're quite funny. [O-sensei and students laugh] 

You see them with their four pairs of legs all crossed, sitting on the wall,
it's so cute.

So a forest.
If we're wandering in a forest,
well we never know what we're going to meet, do we?
All kinds of things can present themselves.

In our very own little woods and forest area,
if you're up early in the morning, you might meet a raccoon family.
They come parading across,
the big fat mama with the fluffy fur,
little babies with their little bandit masks on,
they go over to the water and rub their little hands in it
and they swim around.
They even did that when the koi were in the pond, and they never bothered them.

We kind of figured out the reason for that was that these are urban raccoons,
what do they know about fishing? [students laugh]

How many ponds are there in their environment?
Not very many.
And if you happen to hang around,
you might be lucky enough to see a skunk
or a parade of skunks.
You've probably smelled their offerings,
but they'll come, wandering their little pathways, dressed in their very best,
appropriately it's black and white, go figure.
It's so cute!

And then there are the cats.
This is a recreational park for cats.
Cats love wild water.
It doesn't matter, they don't know
that the water is going round and round
to them it's wild water and
they much prefer that to any water in a bowl.
Now, Shiro, the big white cat,
the protector of the monastery grounds and he runs a tight ship...[students laugh]
with a kind of live and let live policy
There are certain times when those other
neighbourhood cats, the big maned coon cat,
the grey fluffy one with the white moustache,
the very thin black one,
the kind of trout/mackerel patterned elegant skinny cat,
they can come in for a few drinks of water,
but it seems they have very defined areas where they can go and how long they can stay.

That's all pretty interesting.
So here we are,
we're in our forest and
we never know who we're going to meet.
It could be a shining being.

Now what's a shining being?
We've heard of these shining beings.
They crop up in the mythology of Buddhism.

They're so perfect,
they're so perfect they just shine
and the fact of their belief in their own perfection kind of gets in the way
of their realized practice
but that's okay.

So when you're out wandering through whatever woods or forest or urban jungle,
you never know who or what you're going to meet, but maintaining your practice—
and this is not being all stiff and "Zen studenty" about because that's a pain, really,
it's a pain in your muscles and
it's a pain in everybody else's you know what...
people going on about how they are a Zen student,
so perfect!

So drop that part
if you ever happen to notice it comes up. And how do you drop it?

You drop it
by feeling your feet on the forest floor,
in this case,
in the metaphor,
standing up straight,
feeling the breath,
opening the eye gaze,
practise that moment.

Then you are as you are,
and whatever you are meeting,
whatever type of being it may be:
a little raccoon, a skunk, some random person on the street...
the fact of the matter is: it's fresh
it IS that moment,
and it is the only thing that's going on
and it is the only moment that you can practise.

Here's a little interesting fact:
when I was working in West Africa,
we'd trek off through big trees with big leaves, and one day I said:
"Oh, this jungle, I'd always dreamed of being in a jungle"
and people thought I was crazy because they referred to is as a forest.
So regional differences in the understanding of words and what's being talked about crop up all the time.

Forests are rich with mythologies.
Nearly every culture has all sorts of deities and monsters and just interesting "hanger abouts" in forests
and we see them portrayed.
A very famous one from Britain is the so-called Green Man. You'll see a lot of that in architecture,
it's a vegetative display with the face of a human.
The Celts have all sorts of goddesses of the forest and so on.

From the earliest times there has been this recognition that forests or woods or jungles,
whatever we want to call them, are terribly important to human beings and that it is an interactive situation.

When we get a chance in modern urban culture,
we will on holidays, such as this weekend is,
pack up our food and our kids into our SUVs and take off to find a forest,
hopefully near a lake, so we can celebrate the holiday.

So for those of you who are going to any sort of wooded area,
even outside the door of the monastery, I'll remind you of the verse again:

Seeing someone in a forest,
"May all beings
Be worthy of the honor and acclaim
Of shining beings and of humans."

So the birds are chirping away. The zephyr-like wind is cooling us. Oh yes, one more thing: [singing}

If you go out in the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise
If you go out in the woods today
You'd better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

Picnic time for teddy bears!
The little teddy bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares
And see them picnic on their holiday

See them gaily dance about
They love to play and love to shout
And never have any cares
At six o'clock their mummies and daddies
Will take them home to bed
Because they're tired little teddy bears.

Have fun in the forest!

Thank you for listening.