White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 115: Receiving Poor Food

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 15th, 2011

Beautiful autumn day today in this year 2011,
and not only that,

it's this moment,

everywhere, all over the planet, 
it's this moment. 

That's amazing!

And this moment is not isolated from all the other moments that have gone before.
No, because they arise in this moment
as part of this moment as well. 

So when we sit facing the wall,
as you're facing,

what we're doing is taking in information
on how to practise this bodymind that's sitting

right there,

being breathed in and out,

how to practise with this bodymind,

which basically is the same

as every other bodymind that's ever practised,

or not practised, for that matter. 

Isn't that interesting?

The verse, written somewhere around 400, 401 C.E.,
some 1600 years ago, by people whose 
names we don't even know, out of their experiencing,
which we would be surprised to find is remarkably like our own.

Oh sure, the styles may be different,
but on the whole, very little has changed. 

The verse, 

Receiving poor food,
"May all beings
Without fail receive
The taste of practice." 

"What? We're talking about food again?
What is it with food?
People are always talking about food..." 

Well, let's face it, human beings from the beginning,
whenever that was, are born,
they breathe in and out,
they poop,
they reproduce,
each and every human being does these things.
So we put things in our mouth,
we chew on them,
and that allows us to keep on doing whatever it is that we're doing as this human bodymind. 

Zen Master Dogen, who was born in 1200, travelled,
as we've touched on previously, to China,
and why did he go there?
Well, he was already a monk,
he'd been a monk since he was 13,
he was a Tendai monk then,
and what he was experiencing in Japan in that monastery on Mount Hiei,
wasn't cutting it.
I think he may have said to himself: 

"What the?... This can't be all there is to this Dharma...
There's gotta be more. I'm gonna track it down." 

So he travelled to China with his Teacher, Myozan.
And it was in 1225 that he met Rujing who became his Teacher
and with whom he learned this practice, the practice of Reality,
the practice of things as they are.
A major difference to what he had experienced in Japan
was that each and every moment,
whether sitting zazen or not,
was a moment to practise, it was that simple:
realized practice, 
bodying forth the Way,
moment to moment. 

And Zen Master Dogen was incredibly affected by his experience and by the people he met. 

I'm going to read a recounting from a book called
"Dogen's Formative Years in China, an historical study and annotated translation of Hokayoki"
by Takahashi James Kodera.

This one is from Chapter 2: The Chief Cook from A-yu-wang Mountain. 

During his three months aboard ship, an incident occurred that had great significance for Dogen. Dogen describes it at length in the Tenzo kyokun. In the middle of the fifth month of the sixteenth year of Chia-ting, (1223), while Dogen was conversing with the head of the Japanese crew off the coast of Ch'ing-yuan, an old monk appeared aboard ship. He was the chief cook, (tien-tso, Ja. tenzo of A-yu-wang Mountain and he had come to purchase Japanese mushrooms. Originally from Szechuan province, he had been away from home for forty years and was now sixty-one years old. After visiting many monasteries in all corners of China, he eventually came to study under Ku-yun of A-yu-wang mountain. He had been appointed chief cook during the summer of the previous year. He had travelled thirty-four to thirty-five li to purchase mushrooms from the Japanese ship to use in making gruel (mien chih). Dogen was deeply impressed with the devotion of the old monk and asked him to stay the night on the ship. The chief cook declined the offer for fear that it might interfere with the normal procedures at his monastery the following day. Dogen wondered why someone else could not prepare the meal in his place. He asked why a monk as senior as this one remained as chief cook
and did not instead engage in sitting and meditation in pursuit of the Way. The old monk laughed loudly and said to Dogen: 

"My good man from a foreign land, you still do not comprehend discipline (pan-tao; Ja. bendo); you still do not know the words (wen-tzu, Ja. monju)." 

Dogen was startled by the reply and proceeded to ask him the meaning of discipline and of words. The old man said: 

"If you still do not understand them, come to A-yu-wang Mountain some day and study the meaning of the Teachings." 

Having spoken, he stood up promptly and left before dusk. 

The chief cook's reply disturbed Dogen profoundly. This marked a clear division between his earlier quest for the final answer to the Great Doubt and his renewed aspiration for the attainment of the Way. The chief cook opened a wholly new path to enlightenment. It was a radical shift from Dogen's intellectual quest for the recognition of the centrality of singleminded discipline. 

In the seventh month, in early fall, after a three month separation, Dogen went to T'ien-t'ung Mountain to see Myozan. The chief cook of T'ien-t'ung Mountain was a monk named Yung. from Ch'ing-yuan. One day after lunch, Dogen saw him drying mushrooms in front of the Buddha Hall. He was supporting himself with a bamboo staff. Although the sun was hot enough to burn the roof tiles, he wore nothing over his head. Bathed in perspiration, he was exerting himself in drying the mushrooms and seemed to be in pain. His back was arched like a bow and his eyebrows were as white as a crane. 

Dogen approached the old monk and asked his age. 

"Sixty-eight," replied the chief cook. 

"Why don't you use the help of the lay workers?" asked Dogen. 

"Others are not I," said the old monk. 

"You are in accord with the Dharma but the sun is scorching, why do you have to work now?" 

The chief cook answered: "If not now, when can I do it?" 

Dogen stood still and could not utter a word. As he walked down the corridor, he deeply realized the importance of physical work. 

After the intensive summer training session, the chief cook whom Dogen had met on the Japanese ship off the coast of China came to T'ien-tung Mountain to visit Dogen. The old monk had left A-yu-wang Mountain as chief cook and was on the way back to his home in Szechuan. Dogen records how deeply moved he was by his visit. He started talking about the earlier subject of conversation on the ship, namely discipline and words. The chief cook said: 

"To study the words is to know the origin of words; to strive in discipline is to probe the origin of discipline. 

Then Dogen asked, "What are the words?" 

"One, two, three, four, five," replied the chief cook. 

Dogen asked again, "What is the discipline?" 

"The entire universe has never concealed it," the monk replied. 

Dogen was deeply greatly indebted to the chief cook for his understanding of the words and probing the discipline." 

And out of these impressions, out of these encounters that affected Dogen zenji came many essays, many Teachings on how to practise moment to moment and this is what we're doing: practising moment to moment. This is why when students come for retreats to the monastery, things are as they are, so that they can use the totality of this tool which we call a monastery, and the monks, which we might call tools from time to time... [lots of loud laughter from Sensei and students] however, let's face it kids!... 

So each and every thing,
each word,

each piece of artwork,
each chance, 
each tool that rings out to tell you,

each instrument that rings out to tell you what's going on

is something to be used by you

to see more clearly

how the bodymind is

in this moment,

to see what patterns,

what orientations,

what beliefs

coming of the contraction

into a sense of self

are present. 

And, by feeling the whole bodymind wrapped around the breath,
the tendency to get caught up in these things drops away. 

Now, when we read the verse "Receiving Poor Food",
we might hear the word "food"
and just want to isolate the verse and say:
"well, it's just talking about the stuff that we can eat".
Well, yes, it's saying cut through dukkha, basic unsatisfactoriness.

If you have poor food to work with as the tenzo,
or anyone who's preparing food,
you put the same amount of effort that's coming out of your practice
into the preparation of that food.
If it's rich food, fine food, well, good,
same amount of effort going into it,
this non-discrimination that we have talked about,
this equality of experiencing that we've talked about,
this harmony of approach to any situation that we've talked about is present in these verses. 

Now, we don't discriminate, we don't say
"well, this is a poor person, they can't be a student,
this is a fine person, they can be a student"
that doesn't happen.
So there's no discrimination,
no dissatisfaction with individuals who come to practise.

Oh sure, we may have little likes and dislikes but they are patterns,
they have nothing to do with that person,
that person we could say is a tool that allows you
to see the patterns that come up in your experiencing,
providing you an opportunity to work with them. 

So dukkha, basic unsatisfactoriness occurs in all sorts of times and places and has obviously. 

It's mentioned in verses written around 400 or so,
then Dogen zenji's experience in China
when he started to actually look into the importance for practice that every moment offered
and the importance of practising in every moment
as whatever is presented by the bodymind shows itself and is seen by Knowing. 

Starting to recognize that everything that bodymind experiences is a known,
it's a dharma,

a moment of experience,
it is at it is, 
it's neither better nor worse than any other moment of experience,
there is that equality,

that intimacy that we're experiencing that goes beyond description,
because "its meaning is not in words" 
its meaning is in putting your ass down on that cushion

time after time after time

and seeing into experiencing more and more clearly,

using that clear seeing to actually practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

And what are we?

Well, we could say we are all food for the Dharma,

we enter into practice

we don't really understand what's going on,

some of us might go a little further,

we have a hint

we have a taste of practice

and sometimes we like the taste

and sometimes we just want to throw up in our mouth but that's life isn't it? [laughter]

That's life,

so we see it

and with practice we have something that we can do
rather than falling prey to self-image

and its beliefs about how things are. 

And we may look at ourselves

and even though self-image,
that contraction into a sense of self

comes up with all sorts of reasons

why we're not capable of practising,

no matter how much you look on your body,
with no matter what kind of magnifying glass, there is no "use by" date,

there's no little bar code,

so everyone enters into practice


Just a fact.

In the Fukanzazengi, which Dogen wrote as well, in 1227, and you're all familiar with this: 

Practice and realization are the deportment of this very bodymind, beyond sight and sound, before thinking and analyzing. Since this is as it is, it doesn't matter if you're clever or stupid; the distinctions distinguish nothing. Whole-hearted practice is the Way. 

So each and every moment presents itself as it is.
When you notice anything,

you've noticed a moment to practise. 

Feeling the breath,

sitting up straight,

noticing seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
noticing what's already there,

and if you happen to notice yourself scanning around,
checking to see if you're doing it right, 


You've noticed something else!

You've noticed another pattern of self-image. 

You use that:

you feel the breath,
you sit up straight, and over time

they wear out. 

So there you are,

you're just a little niblet for the mouth of the Ancestors
who can gnash their teeth away

on your flesh and bones and marrow

and all the gristly bits,
and you can hear them spitting out some...

oh sorry, won't go there... 

But yeah, we're food for the Dharma.
So have fun with that!

Thank you for listening.