White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 113: Seeing the Shameless

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei


can be used,
you're in the perfect position to use
every breath you take
to blow away some of the cobwebs
some of the dustballs
that have accumulated around your little nest of beliefs
about who you are and how the world is,
those little moments of contraction
that sometimes we just want to hold onto,
describing our understanding of who we are,
our understanding of how the world is;
it's old news.

So let the breath that's moving you in and out blow them all away.

Today's verse:

Seeing the shameless,
"May all beings
Go past shamelessness
And live with care for all."

Shame. Shame. Pretty old word.
Came from the Greek: "to cover".
That's come up in almost all of the Germanic languages,
covering one's self, this common expression of shame...
But guess what?
That's not what we're going to talk about.

"Seeing the shameless",
now what does that mean?
Well that word brings forth our own particular point of view,
so what is "shameless"?
What does it mean?

Someone is shameless because there's this pair of low-riding jeans that exposes their underwear?
Is that an expression of shamelessness?
Is that a person being shameless?
Or is it maybe just a misguided sense of fashion?
[O-sensei and students laugh]

And I must tell you every time I see these belts going around someone's upper thighs
holding up someone's pair of jeans,
I know I'd get arrested, but...

There used to be something called in the British public schools, debagging.
Which is going up to someone and going fffft!
[sound like pulling down someone's pants]

But we don't do that and I don't want you ever to think about that again.
[more laughter]

So shamelessness,
being without this contraction into a sense of a self, self-image,
that has a story about what's going on.

The other night, a long, long time ago,
someone was called for daisan
and they pitty patted downstairs and opened the door to the Zendo
and stuck their head around.
I raised my hand and said:
"Go and ring the bell".
So they went back out in the hall,
rang the densho and came back in.

I said: "What happened?"

"Well, I was so busy thinking about how I was going to tell you that I was so mindful for the past two weeks that I forgot..." [O-sensei and students laugh]

Now this is what forms are for,
they are ways of doing things,
they are tools that can allow us to see these things.

So we looked into it a little bit
and we had laughed just like you laughed
when the student so seriously made the statement
and then saw how ridiculous it was, and then said:

"You know, as soon as I stuck my head in the door and you pointed,
I knew exactly what had happened and I wanted to laugh,
but I thought if I laugh, that's somehow shameful.
I'm supposed to be taking this very seriously.
Wait, maybe that's a problem!" [O-sensei laughs]

So we carried on a bit looking at the very recent events from a "forensic" point of view,
what had happened and what did this person think had caused it,
and they were right on when they could look at it, when they could see it.

So there was a sense of shame,
this was the word that the student chose to use,
a sense of shame about having fucked up by not ringing the densho,
of being seen and pointed to and having to go back and do it again.
Still, self-image had this story going that perhaps no one had noticed
because self-image is crazy.

How many times in your own experience
has there been a sense of shame about something,
a story about how you should have been other than you were,
and that this was something to manufacture a whole pile of feelings about?

Now these feelings that become manufactured by the bodymind are there,
there's no question about it because the bodymind learns things,
it learns patterns and
a pattern is something that's repeated so something happens,
a myriad of activities of the bodymind go into play and an effect is produced.
Depending of course on circumstance,
it may be repeated,
the same effect may come into play and
we may start labelling it as "shame".

In fact, there was an industry for a while, it may have—
I hope it's kind of worn out—
built on toxic shame in the Self-Help sections of your local bookstore.
Sure, yeah when biochemistry is put into effect that produces a pattern,
there are all sorts of ramifications, but we won't go there.

So imagine what it would be like if you,
and that student who felt shame for wanting to laugh,
imagine if the shame never arose...
Imagine how with the recognition that any pattern that comes up and is seen 
is a good thing,
you don't have to take a position pro or con,
bad or good about it,
but yet you can see when this happens... another good thing.

But we do spend a lot of time and
have spent a lot of time trying to cover up how we are
so that we can present some mythological self
that is different than it is in that moment.

What a waste of time!
And how injurious that can be.

So by recognizing that each time we notice anything
is a moment when we can practise that moment of noticing,
that moment of knowing,
that moment of clear seeing,
and this will enable us to see more.

So we start to see more clearly the mechanisms that come into effect.
In a sense,
it starts to seem as if time slows down.
Something occurs, we make a mistake.

Did we make a mistake
or did a myriad of details or dharma come into play all at once
and obscure our sense of what was going on?

We can learn to see that.
It does not mean that we are not experiencing the sweaty armpit,
perhaps, for those who sweat only in one armpit [laughter],
the change in colour and temperature of the visage as blood vessels dilate and we blush...
those things can still be going on because the bodymind has learned to do something.

It's very intelligent.
But as we start to notice
and as we start to notice
and as we start to practise with those myriad of details,

rather than identifying with them,
we will find over time
that being described by or describing ourselves by those events ceases.

Here's another thing that's really interesting:
you may not notice that something is not happening for quite a while.
It may have not happened for some time.
We're not really good at noticing things that are not happening.

So you sit,
you walk,
you're feeling the whole bodymind, something occurs,
it produces an effect in the bodymind, you notice it,
you start noticing more of the details of it.
With each moment of noticing,
you feel the whole bodymind
wrapped around that breath
in the whole moment.

Over time,
patterns wear out
because they have to be repeated in order for them to sustain themselves.

But the bodymind has a way of learning things very vividly.
Now some of you may have done this before,
but imagine right now,
imagine a lemon.
A lemon.
Imagine that colour, that wrinkly skin, that shape. 
Imagine yourself walking over to that lemon, reaching out,
picking it up.
The closer you bring it to you,
the more you can notice the scent of that lemon.

Now, very carefully pick up an extremely sharp knife.
Cut that lemon in half.
Put one half down, pick up the other half.

Cut it in half.
Bring one half, which is now one quarter of the lemon, put it in your mouth,
bite down on it and suck.
[O-sensei and students laugh]

Now, where's the lemon?
What provoked that response,
that little response in your mouth?
Something the bodymind learned.

Every thought,
every moment of experience the bodymind experiences produces an effect,
so it's not surprising that when we find ourselves in a situation
where we may have experienced what we call a sense of shame,
that biochemistry is released,
little guys get busy with their wires and pulleys and say:

"Okay, okay, here we go now,
we're going to produce those pyrotechnics!
You guys over there responsible for the reddening face, get to it!
You guys that are headed to the armpits with those buckets, get to it!"
[O-sensei and students laugh]

And this effect is produced and if we've called it "shame", that label can be slapped on,
but Knowing,
which is what each and every one of us really is,
can recognize all of that as knowns, dharma,
moments of experience,
and feel the effect in the bodymind.

We're learning to practise with what's actually going on because to say that this should not be happening
is insane.

If something is happening,
it's happening,
it's part of the reality of the moment.
Use the noticing of it to notice what else is going on.
That's what you're learning to do.

Over time, you will not be trapped by labels for biological events.
"Shame" will cease to be part of how you describe yourself.
And over time, the effect will not be produced,
it will be worn out.
So recognize that you can talk about anything in daisan,
that the fact that a thought comes up does not mean that you are that thought, not at all. 

The sciences are starting to recognize that this is true, big news now.
People have been working to design headbands and whatnot
so that things can be put on the head so that with thoughts,
things can move,
choices can be made.

This is good news for quadriplegics and other disabled people.
We're fortunate that we can recognize,
we're recognizing that thoughts have an effect,
and when we see it we can practise in that moment
so that we do not need to be pushed and pulled around by patterns
that have been formed by random and chaotic events.

This is good news!
So when you see something in your own experience,
no matter what you call it,
recognize there's the little contraction into a sense of a self, with its electronic labeller,
it's going rat-a-tat, typey tap, "SHAME" - slap!
"GUILT" - slap!

So as soon as you see that, you just say:
"Look at that!
Wow, I've recognized something about experiencing.
Oh yeah,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze."

You practise that moment of recognition
and over time that tendency wears out,
and wouldn't it be nice if everyone could go past shameless into shamelessness?
By flipping their understanding of the word,
by flipping and recognizing that our usual descriptions of shameless and shamelessness tend to be outward oriented,
formed by—no one knows who or what really really—
and lost in the vast vat of time.

The verse again:

Seeing the shameless,
"May all beings
Go past shamelessness
And live with care for all."

May all beings be happy, May they be peaceful, May they be free.

And you know what? That means you too. 

Thank you for listening.