White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 107: Seeing Those Who Make Offerings

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, July 16th, 2011

Hi! What's your name? Where do you come from? Been here long? Are you having a nice time?


shoulders rising, falling,
heart beating,
maybe you can hear it your ear,
oh and there might be little signals from various parts of the body,
maybe it's being stretched a little bit beyond how it has been stretched,
and you might have noticed,
sometimes there's a tendency to want to focus on it,
you know and self-image will say:
"I'm having the roughest time ever!"
which of course is silly
because one of the things, really, if we scratch the surface of our ideas about who we are,
how the world is,
and what we're doing here,
when we scratch the surface, we kind of uncover something,
perhaps it's not fully fledged,
perhaps it's not fully expressed,
but this idea that, hey,
what's really going on?

Why do we human beings keep doing horrible things to each other?

Why do I sometimes notice that I have these ideas that I'd like to do horrible things to someone else?

And we scratch the surface,
go a little bit deeper,
and there may be this realization,
however momentary,
that the process of being a human being is the same
for every human being who has ever walked on the face of the earth.

And as we practise even more thoroughly,
we start to see that hey,
we're not our thoughts and feelings,
those are things happening that we are aware of.

And wait a minute,
there's just the Awareness,
even of this sense of a "me" and sometimes we might hear a little voice going:

"Sit up straight, feel the breath, open the eye gaze"

and we practise that moment of clear seeing,
that moment of seeing reality.

We were caught up in a thought,
we're not caught up any longer,
that is the moment of clearly seeing what's going on.

You practise it and you get better at it.

Over time, all there is is this clear seeing,
the tendency to be pulled and swayed by random patterns and contractions
drops away,
and what Dogen said about studying the self when we sit in zazen,
studying those moments of contraction
with little beliefs about who we are and how the world is,
drop away
and all there is is this clear seeing.

And we recognize that it's possible for everyone,
in the past,
(and we know about the past because people have written about it,) and now,
we're sitting here right now in this moment,
which is the only thing that's going on,
and we do not know what's going to happen in the next moment to each one of us or to all of us,
but that's life.
No point in worrying about it,
but if you notice a moment of worry,
you've noticed a contraction,
you've noticed a set of dharma or experiences that you have labelled "worry"
or that I've said were "worry" or that were listed under this word "worry"
which of course is just a word to point to experiences.

And so you practise.

And finally, she said, I'll read the verse: [students giggle]

Seeing those who make offerings,
"May all beings
Forever abandon
The three contracted paths and destinies."

We like stuff like this, there's a number: three!
It's a great number, huh? Three.
Two has some kind of an exclusionary sense,
but three, it's balanced, it's like this little tripod.
And "three contracted paths and destinies",
now self-image likes this too,
it's like one of those questionnaires in magazines, so, here we go.

What are the "three contracted paths and destinies" that are referred to here?

"Senso: birth in the hell realm, or states of extreme claustrophobic contraction."
Been there, okay.

"Gaki: states of extreme sense of poverty."
Been there.

"Shikusho: states of dull fixation on eating, excretion and sleeping."

Hey, haven't we all at one time or another
fixated on these three contracted paths and destinies?
Do we have to?


And do they exist somewhere as things that we can capture
and then kill or starve or throw away?

No, not really.

They're ways that people have used to describe contractions that arise
that when followed can lead us to states of, how shall we say this?
States of doing really stupid things,
and often these really stupid things are things that we don't want to do at all,
in fact,
all the time,
let's face it, they're things that we do not want to do.

We don't want to fixate only on eating, excretion and sleeping,
but yet when you look at your own experience, your own patterns,
the content that self-image has filed away as being absolutely essential,
you might find that there are little lists,
little lists about what we should eat to get our desirable result,
how much we should excrete and when,
and then how we'll never get enough sleep,
the old "8-8-8" and we, of course, forget that the old "8-8-8"
which used to be something like 16-6 and 2 for everything else,
in the time of the Industrial Revolution,
when our lives started to be "organized"...

So anyway, we fixate on this and we think:
"Okay, if I can get these all in line and get rid of them,
then I'll really be able to practise."

It is very interesting, very revealing,
and very important to notice, in your own experience,
this statement of "when I get these things over with, then I'll really be able to practise"
because that is a misunderstanding.

These things and variations of them,
claustrophobic contraction,
poverty mind, and the animal realm—
(actually I have a little problem with that because I really like animals you know,
and they do more than just eat, shit, and sleep but anyway,)
this is what's called classically "the animal realm".

If we find that in our experience we have this idea we have to get rid of all of them, we're wrong,
and that, of course,
is a statement of self-image saying we have to get rid of all of these things
and then we'll be able to practise.

You practise with them,
in the midst of them.
When they come up you have an opportunity to see them for what they are,
recognize that they are not exclusive to,
as it were,
your self-image,
but are the stuff that people have dealt with since the beginning of people.

But here you are,
you're sitting in front of a white wall
and have this marvellous opportunity to actually practise very clearly, very simply
with all of this stuff.

So when you notice anything,
(and you do not have to sit there with a little checklist and say:
"Is this one that I should practise with?"...
No, that's the business of self-image, being this accountant.)
...you notice anything,
you don't have to decide bad or good
worthwhile, not worthwhile, just feel the breath,
pull up,
open the peripheral vision.

There, you've practised it,
you've practised mindfulness.

And a little aside:
those of you who are interested in things such as mindfulness
may have noticed that over the past couple of years
there has been an increase in the number of mentions of the word "mindfulness" in popular media.
Science is now saying:
"hey, yeah, what people need to do is notice when they're fixated on something,
then notice other things that are going on,
such as the breath."

So science is finally catching up to 2600 years
of mindfulness practice instruction.
Isn't that wonderful?

So it's very clear here for you,
sitting in front of the wall:
notice anything,

sit up straight,
feel the breath,
open the eye gaze.


I wish I could say: "Done",
I wish I could take this little stick here and go "pft!"
And there would be fairy dust that comes out
and it happens for everybody all at once,

that would be great but that's not possible.

But, what we do have,
and what we can recognize is that those flickering,
what shall I call them...
thoughts that you may have had
about how the world would be a better place
if people did not go around acting out contracted paths and destinies,
acting this sense of poverty by grabbing for everything they can get their hands on
to fill up their bank accounts,
or just becoming so fixated on eating, shitting, and sleeping
that they're ignoring many of the truly heinous things
that are actually going on in the world...

...but, this is not a political movement.

What we're noticing,
and what we may have known,
and what we're getting words for is
the fact that we do not have to act out from any of these contracted states.

And sitting in front of that wall, you see it moment after moment after moment.

And how is this all possible?
Well, it's all possible in the particular instance
of White Wind Zen Community and the Northern Mountain Order
through offerings that have been made to build this room,
this building that is now a monastery,
and the offerings have come in many shapes and forms,
and are freely given.

And why do we do this?

Again because we might have this vague sense that this knowledge,
this process of Waking up to Reality is indeed valuable
and in spite of talk that's gone on in the past about the Dark Age of the Dharma,
that perhaps in spite of the many instances where something
that was called "Dharma"
turned out to be simply another manifestation of social culture with all its tendencies,
but maybe wrapped up in a black or a brown robe,
believing it's "one with everything", with a bunch of like-minded people,
and nice, "so let's have some tea and talk about how we all felt about the sitting."

[O-sensei laughs] I mean really?

So, we think okay,
here it is, it's clear,
and it should be made available.

To whom?
Well, each and every one of us benefit from it.

But, we see in social culture all sorts of pleas for explanation about what's going on...
Questions about how to live a life that will not be based on exclusion.

And then we might have an inkling that "wow,"
there are other people who may not be sitting in this room
who might have vague ideas that the world would be different
if all beings could be happy, peaceful, and free.

Those people might not even be born yet,
but who knows,
they might end up right here in this very room?

But don't cross your fingers,
don't hold your breath,
and there's no point in getting all mawkish and sentimental,

Seeing those who make offerings,
"May all beings
Forever abandon
The three contracted paths and destinies."

So here we sit.
All different...
sizes, shapes, colours, ages...
Some of us have come from halfway around the world to be here in this moment right now.

Sometimes some of us might think that "hey, we're from another planet!"
Some of us might think "hey, they're from another planet!"
Doesn't matter, those are thoughts and feelings and when expressed skillfully can sometimes be kind of funny.
Because let's face it, it's a very peculiar situation we're in, we human beings.
In a way it's kind of absurd.

But here we are, sitting in front of that wall,
and that wall was made possible by many people,
most of whom you've never met.

That's kind of nice.

Thank you for listening.