White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 11: If in Danger and Difficulty

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 31st, 2008

If in danger and difficulty,
"May all beings

Have freedom,

And be always unobstructed." 

Pretty well an all-purpose verse. Appropriate on many occasions and even moment to moment. 

What kind of danger or difficulty is being talked about?
Whatever is going on, for any being, for you.
There's no danger or difficulty for which the verse is not to be used. 

Remember the original verse was written
and ended up in Chapter 11 in the Avatamsaka sutra,
and it was written sometime during the first and second century C.E. (A.D.),
it is thought to have originated in India,
and most likely was written by different people.
A product of Buddhism and in an Indian setting,
it contains the symbols, mythologies, figures and stories standard to Buddhism,
used in other contexts as well,
although based in Indian culture there is such a wealth of information,
the Sutra is regarded as a compendium of Buddhist teachings. 

Yet it is fresh today. 

Were dangers and difficulties different 2000 or so years ago?
Yes and no.

In a mundane way,
everything was very different.
Climate, technology, design, and on and on. 

You are unlikely to be trapped in a dusty side street
with a dusty steer whose horns loom large silhouetted against the sun.
Probably a danger or a difficulty 2000 years ago
and it could be a danger in some parts of the planet today.
Not here. 

If I were a little slow in crossing an icy slushy street
and slipped as a bus is moving towards me,
I would consider myself in danger or difficulty.
If I froze, obstructed by a stream of limitations,
I wouldn't be as likely to get out of the way as I might
if free from conditioned experiencing.
A good time to practise. 

Icy streets and motorized traffic would not have been a danger or difficulty 2000 years ago.
It is now, here. Contexts change.
The situations bodyminds find themselves in are different for each,
but the process of experiencing,
the process of being a human bodymind,
is the same for all humans.

The process of being born,
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, breathing, thinking,
is the same.
It always has been.
Those people are us, we are them. 

Today, more than any other time in history,
we have knowledge of the terrible things that happen in every moment,
there is danger and difficulty all the time,
further away from or closer to us
and often traceable to choices each and every one has made.

Species are becoming extinct.
Some young birds have been found with stomachs full of our discarded plastic.
The hormones injected into farmed animals are producing who knows what effects on other species,
us, for example.
It would be really easy to go on about the horrors we've heard about
but we don't need to do that.
What we need to do
is recognize that in this moment,
we can practise and make a better choice
than following an old unquestioned pattern
which obstructs and conditions experiencing. 

When experiencing is unobstructed,
the seeing,
are unobstructed
and the colours,
of this moment stand forth free and vivid. 

The instructions for basic mindfulness are the same here, now, and then:

when anything is noticed,
feel the breath,
sit or stand up straight,
open the gaze.
Open to the vastness of this moment free of obstruction. 

The verse: 

When in danger and difficulty
"May all beings

Have freedom,

And be always unobstructed." 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all beings had freedom right now?
Who wouldn't want that? 

"And be always unobstructed."
Who wouldn't want that? 

Right now? 

Here's what you do right now.

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

Practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

Each time you notice a contraction,
and practise basic mindfulness
the "obstruction"
or "covering"
or "curtain",
the contraction
is opened
instead of contracting further and obstructing further. 


Wonderful. Nice. Available right now.

Thank you for listening.