White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 116: Receiving Soft Food

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 22nd, 2011

Complexes of cells

sitting on black cushions,

facing the white wall,

being breathed in and out,

the oxygen fuelling and firing that process of digestion and

the ultimate growing of more cells,

little factories. 

Well, if you want to call it "you" or "me", that's fine,

colloquialisms for convenience of communication,
you can say "you" and "me", no problem. 

Today's verse in the Every Breath You Take series: 

Receiving soft food,

"May all beings

Be steeped in compassion,
Their minds becoming gentle." 

"Receiving soft food."
Soft food that travels over the taste buds,
gets swallowed down,
gets digested,
goes into building cells,
creating food for the Dharma from food. 

Soft food. Soft food.
Like congee, for example.
Congee, which is served often in the monastery,
soft and lovely,
which traditionally has been mentioned in a verse that has been chanted sometimes after the morning meal,
this is mentioned in "Cooking Zen: Zen Master Dogen's Instructions to the Kitchen Master and on how to use your Bowls"
by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi, at the time. The verse is this: 

This meal arises from the labour of all beings
Its ten benefits nourish bodymind

And strengthen pure practice. 

From a footnote:

The ten beneficial effects of congee (shuku):

1) healthy colour

2) provides physical strength

3) gives longevity

4) comforts bodymind

5) purifies the tongue

6) helps to detoxify the stomach and bowels
7) helps to prevent colds

8) quenches hunger

9) quenches thirst

10) strengthens excretion and urination.

Soft food that has been passed through the hands of the many to get to your stomach.

"Steeped in compassion." 


We like that, we hear it mentioned, it's mentioned a lot.
What does it mean?
Well, the "com" part is obviously "with".
The "passion" part comes from the same root as words such as
"patient, one who suffers".
So, to suffer together with others,
or to recognize the sufferings of others,
then take action to help. 

So you're sitting on your cushion.

You're noticing that moment of noticing anything at all,

which is the only moment that you can practise the whole bodymind,
wrapped around the breath,

in the whole moment. 

So what about compassion when you're sitting facing that wall?
Well by looking into the process of the bodymind,

the process of perception and cognition,

you see how attention narrows 
into a construct of a self
with a belief about how it is and how the world is.
Over time,

you start to understand that this process of being a human being 
is the same for all human beings and out of that understanding

arises the understanding

that what you're experiencing and how you're experiencing it 
is how everyone experiences,

so we start to understand the root of suffering. 

Now it is said that the Buddha said this,
not in these words of course:

it is possible to travel the whole world in search for one who is more worthy of compassion than oneself. No such person can be found.

So by sitting,

practising your own experiencing

of the Knowing of the experiencing of the bodymind,
you are developing the understanding that

when noticed,

these contractions into a self

that cause dukkha, basic unsatisfactoriness,

which leads to suffering to a varying degree,

by practising at the moment of noticing experiencing open and

patterns that cause you suffering

dissipate over time. 

It is the same for everyone. 

Things that we name "pain", "fear", "sorrow",
other forms of dukkha which have become patterns of dukkha,
can open,
leaving more room to actually know the experiencing of being a real human being,
living in this moment,
knowing in this moment the process of being a human being.
Once the understanding is there that this is the same for everyone,
we may tend,
we do tend to view others and our experiences of others in a different manner. 

A student said to me just this week: 

"You know, relatively, I haven't been doing this for a long time and I don't understand it really, but I've noticed a lot of things. The most important thing to me that I've noticed is that previously I thought issues were black and white, that was it, I was very judgemental. Black and white, and this wasn't useful for me in my work environment. Now I'm seeing that's not the case, that this tendency I had to judge others very quickly wasn't useful. I'm really surprised, I'm finding that I'm different with them and they're different with me, so even for that it's worthwhile carrying on with this practice, even though I don't yet really understand what I'm doing." 

Now, another way of looking at the bodymind is that its experiencing,
its patterns are actually being gnawed away at by the Teachings passed down by the Ancestors.
Sometimes it's been spoken of as those teeth of the Ancestors
chewing up and softening all those gristly bits
so that you do become more gentle with yourself. 

There can be less rushing to judgement of yourself.
You see the pattern.
It takes a while for patterns to wear out, and you know,
why judge yourself?
There are others around—not in this room, not in this monastery—

there are lots of others around who will be quite willing to judge you, if you ask them.
So let others do it, forget about it. 

And bear in mind,
what others think about you is none of your business anyway.
When you notice yourself judging yourself,

and we can call this reactivities, we can call it habits and patterns,

but when you notice it and it comes up: 

"Oh I wish I would have, I should have...
Why didn't I?
Oh I'm such a..."
When you notice anything with that kind of a tone or texture,

feel the breath,

sit up straight, 
feel the whole bodymind,

practise that moment because that's a moment of clear seeing,
part of the process of experiencing in that moment. 

Over time, those things tend to wear out

and you actually have a lot more room to breathe when that happens,
you're a lot lighter.

And that's a good thing! 

So you received soft food,
prepared for you by all sorts of beings,
and it nourished the bodymind,

growing more cells so the bodymind can carry on. 

And from time to time when you're sitting on the zafu,
making yourself available to the Teachings,

you have moments of insight,

of understanding what's actually being spoken of,
what you're actually experiencing. 

You start to notice the wonder of waking up from the contraction of a thought,
and the breath opens,

the bodymind opens,

the ears open, 
all the muscles drop their stress in that moment.
There's a moment of insight. 

Now, during Fusatsu in 1989, or after Fusatsu of 1989,
actually on the 16th of August, the Sensei (at the time)
gave me a book and in the front of it he'd written a verse: 

a thousand hands,
a thousand eyes
one heart

each thing 
all beings. 

insight is just a flash in the

pan unless you turn up the

heat and use it to cook whatever
falls into it to make a meal

for all beings. 

At that time I was the tenzo at Zazen-ji and most likely that morning,
even though I don't remember it,
most likely that morning or the day before we had had congee. 


When you're 

Receiving soft food,

"May all beings

Be steeped in compassion,
Their minds becoming gentle." 

It's a very gentle day.
Gentle wind.
Soft, moist air.
You're being breathed in and out.
Cells are doing what they're doing. 

So enjoy yourself, you're alive!
It won't last... [laughter]

but have fun in the meantime! 

Thank you for listening.