White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 110: If Treated Respectfully

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, August 6th, 2011


allows you to practise because
you're alive.

Every breath people take allows them to walk and talk and sing
and yell
and give instruction
and explain themselves.

So every breath,
let's face it
as we face the wall
where these things can become more and more apparent, every breath is important,
every breath is a touchstone
to this moment
which is always and ever was and ever will be the only thing going on.

So use it and use it well.

Use it to open your understanding of this moment and what it means to be 
a human being
in this moment.

The verse:

If treated respectfully,
"May all beings
Respectfully practise
All the Teachings of the Buddhas."

Well, that reminds me of a song.
I'm not going to use my breath to assault you or offend you in any way,
but some of us may remember:
"R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me."

In the case of Otis Redding, who wrote that song in 1965, it was followed by:

"Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me."

Or maybe that was Aretha Franklin in 1967 who,
through the singing of that song written by Otis Redding,
a man,
turned it into what became an anthem of the feminist movement.

The song "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." became one of the best songs of the Rhythm and Blues era.
It was on a list, it was number 5 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Wow. It was on a list of Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment of the Arts.

Well why was that?
It was a great song,
you could really rock out to that song on the dance floor,
and I remember hearing people of all shapes and sizes and hues and predilections
yelling out: "R.E.S.P.E.C.T", hands in the air pumping.


Was it that the song itself,
that the music was so much better than or vastly superior to other songs written by other people?
Or other songs written by Otis Redding?
(Who, by the way, if you haven't listened to him, was fantastic! And as every mention of him said, died very young.)

There we are, what was it about that song?
I think, and this is just my own opinion,
I think it was because of the "R.E.S.P.E.C.T".
I think that's something that everyone wants
even though they may not know exactly what it is.

And in the case of the particular song by the artists who sang it,
Redding, Aretha Franklin and many others,
the presentation of the song by the writer,
it was sort of: "be nice to me, Honey, when I get home after I've brought you the bacon"
and so on,
"be nice to me by giving me a little something something" [giggles]
and the same message was embedded in the Aretha Franklin song.


Because "words",
the meaning depends upon the understanding of the people who say it and hear it.
The word itself "respect" comes from the Latin,
as many do,
and it does tend to mean and it means from the Latin
that there's a looking back, the "re", looking back.

Specere: look back at, regard, consider.

So inherent in the meaning of that word is context,
looking back,
seeing some of the history,
seeing some of the context from which the individual came,
and recognizing that beings,
human beings do go through a lot.

They acquire information,
they make decisions,
they make choices and in this case,
which ends them up on that funny little round cushion in front of a white wall
that isn't really white,
because there's no such thing as white,
there's no such thing as black,
there's no such thing as absolutes for these things that we tend to throw around.

It's nice that we do because the use of the word "white" brings up a certain sense,
a certain aesthetic,
the use of the word "black", a certain aesthetic,
the use of the word "blue", again a certain aesthetic
based upon our own individual experiences of that particular word.


If treated respectfully,
"May all beings
Respectfully practise
All the Teachings of the Buddhas."

And Buddhas, plural, wow, wait a minute!
Wasn't there just one?
What is this "Buddhas"?

Well, if we've attended the early morning formal sitting,
if we've done any chants, participated in any chanting,
we've heard of the Buddhas before Buddha.


So what does it actually mean, the word "Buddha"?

Well here's a chance to respectfully look into that question by questioning into the origin and the meaning.

"Buddha" means one who has woken up,
not just bleary-eyed from a sleep,
but metaphorically
and here it gets interesting because all words are metaphors really,
they're not the experience,
so we have metaphors about metaphors about metaphors,
but we need these things, we need these words.

These words can confuse us
which is always good because when we're confused
we've dropped a certain set of assumptions and beliefs we might have,
something's happened,
we can no longer hang onto:
"Well this is the way it is because I believe it"
because something has started to open that
and we're left with nothing to hang on to.


There was nothing to hang onto anyway,
but we may not have known that.


We look: Buddha, Buddhas.

So the Buddhas before Buddha,
all those people who woke up to the nature of Reality,
through their experiencing of it.

Then Gautama Siddhartha, who one day said:
"That's it, I'm done with all these crazy practices,
I'm gonna just sit right here.
I'm not chasing around anymore,
searching other beliefs about how things are to replace the ones that I might have had.
It's obvious to me that none of those things have any substance.
Not only that, but they get in the way."

So he sat and he sat,
nobody knows exactly how long,
and he realized he was none of his thoughts and feelings about how things are.

Thoughts and feelings: dharma,
moments of experience: dharma,
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling
that was, is, seen and heard and tasted and felt and smelled...


Experienced by the senses.
Experienced by the bodymind.
And what I really am is the Knowing of those, I am not those.


So, having realized that completely,
no longer fooled by any storylines about who he was and what's going on,
dude started to walk around, have a look at things,
and knowing that he was not any of his stories about who he was and how the world is,
he was, I can only speculate here really,
but he probably was smiling,
because he wasn't assaulted by all those vagaries of thoughts about who he was and how the world was,
he saw them for what they were.
So he probably was walking around light of step,
sunny of countenance,
and looking pretty damn good.

So people would come up and say:
"Wow, you look different than I.
Here I am, with my rags and tatters,
even though I have some money and food and so on,
I still feel as if I'm clothed in rags and tatters and life isn't all that good.
What are you carrying and can I have some?"

He says: "No no no no no. I have uncovered the nature of Reality."
And people were saying: "Give me some, give me some."

And he said: "No."

And I'm sure there were a few instances when he said:
"Okay, I'll take you as a student, I'll teach you"
but of course, people were still living at home.

So they'd come for a couple of hours,
he'd teach them a few things,
and then they'd go back and fall into their old ways,
seduced by convenience.

So eventually, Gautama Siddhartha said:
"Look, that's it, I'm not taking anybody as a day tripper.
So if you want to know what I know,
if you want me to teach what I know,
you are going to have to leave your comfy little home behind."

And even if it was a hovel,
it might still have been more comfortable than sleeping out under the stars.
But then again, maybe not.

So that was how the first monastic sangha came about.
They left home and Gautama Siddhartha was able to teach people what he had uncovered,
the process of waking up to the nature of Reality.
And because he came from the same background as these people,
we can assume he knew what they were dealing with,
he could respect what they were going through through looking at and looking back onto his own experience.

And so out of that,
over a couple thousand years,
through thousands and thousands of people who practised this waking up,
we end up with a Lineage,
a line of people who,
through face to face encounter,
discovered this waking up to Reality,
through doing something really simple, actually, which is:

when you notice anything,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
that's it,

pull yourself up through that sternum,
allow the bones to align,
allow peripheral vision to open,
and you notice that
whatever little, funny, sordid, depressing, scintillating, story you were engaged in,
just drops away.

Thoughts can still be there,
they come and they go,
human beings have thoughts human beings have feelings but none of them are,
none of them have the power
to be the definer or define who you are.

You're the Awareness of them.

You are the Knowing of the experiencing of the knowns by and as the bodymind.

Hey, how easy is that?
But we see through the process of practice how we get in our own way, with our stories of impossibility.

Self-image: contraction, not one, many,
into a sense of a self,
that whines away usually, it whines or it aggrandizes
and then there's this full spectrum in between.

But as Dorothy Parker said when giving a review of a play:
"It ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." [laughter]
Well pretty well, that's what self-image does.
It's predictable.

So we sit and we start to see our stories,
and we start to see there's a remarkable similarity.
They do run the gamut of emotions from A to B,
and you just get bored with them after a while,
and it just gets easier and easier through the experience of having the contraction of self open,
the experience of seeing how these random thoughts had congealed
into sometimes very rigid belief systems about who we are and how the world is.
All of that starts to drop away.

So, through our own experience,
and that is what our understanding must be based on, through our own experience,
we start to actually develop a respect for the practice and for all those who have come before us,
and who teach us the practice,
and for our fellow students
because we start to realize
that yeah,
everyone pretty well goes through the same stuff,
is afflicted by the same stuff
to a greater or lesser degree,
and somehow or other when we can get past the
oh, let's say... oh... the defeat, the humiliation of
not being unique...
we can see that this is a good thing.

That allows,
when the contractions of self-image drop away,
it allows more and more clearly
the expression of
who we really are and
what we're actually really interested in,
what skills we might have.

When we drop the "BS" of say,
being "humble", which is another pattern we may develop or may have developed,
when we get over the idea of the dropping of self by refusing to use a capital "I",
using a little i with a dot on it,

I mean come on folks...

But people do things like that,
so we drop that one too,
but we do start to see and understand
through our own experience
that there's something very valuable,
and some of us, and some of you—
us meaning all of us so you are included in that—
some of us may decide
that this is so valuable,
that this information is so valuable
that we will follow along that path
and do our best to pass this information on
to others who show up at the door
asking to be taught.


The verse:

If treated respectfully,
"May all beings
Respectfully practise
All the Teachings of the Buddhas."

Thank you for listening.