White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 103: Entering a Village to Beg for Alms

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, June 4th, 2011

The Flower Garland Sutra, from which the Every Breath You Take verses were extrapolated,
was written some 1600 years ago in a totally different part of the world,
but the bottom line:
we're talking about human beings,
and the process of being a human being is the same
for every human who has ever walked on the face of the earth.

Now, the distinction of course between other primates and humans
is one which is very human-centric,
because "we are the deciders, we decide what's what. This whole universe was put here for US, was it not?"

At least, that seems to be the basis of our general attitude towards what's going on.

When we sit,
we're looking into the actual process of being a human being moment to moment,
we're getting a chance to see all sorts of things:
patterns, movements of attention, and projected on that white wall,
how we view ourselves and how we view everyone else around us.

Now remember, the process of being a human being is the same for all human beings.
The content, the meaning we make out of things we have experienced
varies according to place in history, time in history, geographical location and so on,
so the meaning we make depends upon the various mythologies of the particular tribe or group that we happen to have been born into.

You're sitting there on those zafu,
where did those zafu come from?
Well, they came from the generosity of others,
people that you may never have met
contributed to the fact that there's a wall in front of you,
that there's a whole building,
some 10,000 square feet of building and in the Canadian context,
we can say in a very old part of Ottawa.

Gee whiz. It's almost, well, under 150 years old.
How ancient is that?
Not very when we compare it to what was going on in the part of the country,
the part of the world where these verses were written,
which would have been in the East.

Today's verse:

Entering a village to beg for alms, "
May all beings
Enter the profound realm of Reality,
Without obstructions of attention."

The profound realm of Reality, which is of course
this very moment
free from your stories about what's going on
free from your little pictures caused by the sound of that airplane going by.
The room is filled with sounds,
you're in this room
that was provided through generosity.

Now, "alms" have an interesting,
the word has an interesting background and interesting usage.
It evolved from the Greek and what it does in fact mean is "charity",
which can have a downside
because out of it can develop attitudes of being charitable,
giving things to others,
so of course we enter into, with just the slightest little twist,
the desolate marketplace because after all,
if we gave, well then aren't we owed something?

And in contemplating this particular verse,
it occurred to me that alms or charity,
when viewed in that light could possibly be the reason why
there aren't all that many people practising anymore,
particularly in certain areas of the world where practice apparently started,
because listen, hey, if you can pay,
you can rent somebody else to do it for you.

"I'm gonna give that monk his dinner. I'll get merit, I'll get to go to the Pure Land and I won't have to sit zazen."

Well, isn't that just the attitude of commerce that controls many interactions?

When you're sitting in zazen,
you're learning to see self-image and its little deals in its own little desolate marketplace.

"Now, if I do this for so-and-so,
that's really going to reflect well on me
and if it reflects well on me, well, okay,
we don't believe in like "merit" or like "the Pure Land" here,
but you know, I might get a nod from someone influential..."

That just doesn't happen at random to other people in some sort of isolation,
it happens all the time.
Fortunately when we're sitting,
we get to see how we've taken on certain attributes of the culture without realizing it.

We get a chance to see subtle aspects,
and then we start to realize as we've been practising
how to free ourselves from these obstructions,
that we don't have to do that.
Any pattern can be present, any pattern,
any strategy,
any attitude can present itself freely when you're sitting on the cushion.

Fortunately, you are the Knowing of it,
you are not that pattern.
You don't even have to feel embarrassed about it,
and trust me, we all have moments when we can feel chemicals racing through the bodymind,
turning our faces violently red.
Do we want that to happen?
It'll wear out too, as you practise,
as you start to see that many of those patterns that capture your attention
are really and truly not who you are,
they're just something going on.

When you take them less seriously,
they will, as it were,
take you less seriously
and the mechanisms that release those powerful chemicals into your system
that can cause you to sweat and turn purple,
will lessen.

This is an easing of stress on the bodymind, so have some fun with it.

Those are knowns,
all of them,
any pattern,
anything that is experienced by the the bodymind 
is a dharma, a known, a moment of experience:

You're not it.
You are the Knowing of it.

At the moment of recognizing that, you practise because
you've experienced a moment o waking up to Reality.

Isn't that terrific?

Little moments all get strung together eventually until there is just this profound realm of Reality
and there the bodymind is
and there Knowing is,
the only place where it can actually be,
which is

Right Here
Right Now.

And it's always Right Here and Right Now.

We can't put a little fence up and say: "There, that's it, I've nailed this moment, I've nailed Now, I've nailed Right Here."

Can't be done kids.
Doesn't work.
We've all tried it.
We've all tried on our little attitudes of being wise,
of being tolerant, of being understanding,
of being this way and that way: a "good Zen person"...

Well forget it, throw it all away.

Doesn't matter what comes up in this moment, welcome it,
you're seeing it,
you are the Seeing of that moment of Reality.
You don't have to act it out in any way, shape, or form.

So there we go: alms.
Alms: you cannot buy it with any money, any foodstuffs, any services, any little gifts.
Can't be bought, you have to do it in this practice,

You are the only one who can do it,
only your ass can sit on that zafu,
only your breath can be noticed by Knowing,
so there's no way to engage in deals in the desolate marketplace,
so give that up.

Now, recognize that generosity or dana is a completely different thing.
It's a nicer word, for one thing, dana or alms...
Well, I have a little trouble with the "al" part,
other people do too, we could end up with "arms". [O-sensei and students laugh]

But okay dana, what is dana?
Who asked?
And there you are, did you ask for that bodymind?
Did you ask for that Knowing?
Did you put in your little orders saying:
"Well look, I'd like some patterns which make me a real asshole in certain situations..."
Did any of you do that?
I didn't but yet, sometimes I have been and it's nice to be able to see when that happens,
particularly when you are facing that wall
because then you're not going to drip it all over somebody else.

That moment of seeing whatever pattern is present
is a moment of clear seeing
is a moment of engaging in reality
and you didn't do anything in that moment to have it happen because when you're lost in something,
guess what?
You're lost in something,
then for no reason whatsoever - bedang!
You're seeing it.

Feel the breath,
sit up straight.

Don't hold onto anything,
you don't have to,
and it's impossible,
there is nothing that can be held onto.

How neat is that?
Then what you can do is learn through your own experience
that you can respond honestly to what presents itself in any situation.

You don't have to pander
you don't have to shape what you say,
you don't have to present things in a way that
you think is politically correct
or very Zen-like
because there is no such thing.

We've never been presented with this moment before,
we've never been presented with this life in this moment before,
so all we can do is kind of bumble along
and do our very best.
And that can be kind of fun.

Now in certain areas of the world, alms are how monks actually survive.
They'll go around once a day and collect food or food is given to them,
and of course the people who give reap benefits.
There must be some giant book somewhere, some giant akashic record saying:

"Oh yeah, gave this much rice over the course of their lifetime,
so you're going to be up there behind those shining beings.
No, I'm sorry you can't be in the first row,
the first row is for the people who gave millions. You understand, don't you?"

Well, it doesn't work like that apparently.

So in our situation, what can we do?
Well, it's a good thing to wish that all beings enter the profound realm of Reality without obstructions of attention
because then we might have a chance of being somewhat, at least,
honest moment to moment,
because we're not captured by our fears about what's going on because we've seen them as patterns.

We get asked a question,
we can answer honestly.
Someone doesn't have to agree with us, we don't have to agree with them,
but as we learn,
we don't have to take it personally either.
That can be a tough one, trust me.

The verse again:

Entering a village to beg for alms,
"May all beings
Enter the profound realm of Reality,
Without obstructions of attention."

Anytime any obstruction is noticed...

"What did she say an 'obstruction' was? What's under 'obstruction' in the dictionary?"

Anything that is known,
anything that presents itself to Knowing is,
when there is the slightest movement of attention towards it,
an obstruction.
It doesn't have to be really big,
it doesn't have to be really awful,
we don't even know that we have these more subtle ways of judging what should be practised
and what shouldn't be practised.

Sometimes people even think they're practising only when they're in the Hatto
or only when they're in the Zendo,
only when they've got that zafu.

Well, we start to see that's not really true,
because again,
thanks to the generosity of many,
we have the opportunity to learn that:
hey this is 
we could say,
"whole body learning",
we don't really want to say that
because then it could be perceived as being in the realm of self-help, so that is not what I'm saying, but...
the whole bodymind learns
and unless you're some creature out of the Wizard of Oz who changes bodyminds or heads to go to work, to go to the dentist, to go to the library, to interact with relatives,
unless you're one of those,
it's this bodymind that is trotting out to do all those different things with all those different people.
So what you learn here through the generosity of others is what goes with you when you go out to do these other things.

It can be interesting to notice the switching point and it itself is a known,
and at the moment of noticing,
what do you do?
Well you practise that moment of noticing,
of clear seeing
that hint,
that moment of the profound realm of Reality.

And have some fun with it!

I think I'll just read it once more before we close:

Entering a village to beg for alms,
"May all beings
Enter the profound realm of Reality,
Without obstructions of attention."

And, may all beings have fun!

Thank you for listening.