White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 117: Receiving Coarse, Hard Food

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 29th, 2011

Boy oh boy, it's autumn for sure now.
The leaves are scattered on the ground.
You walk over them,

they crunch, crunch, crunch. 

Squirrels are running madly back and forth,

trying to find food that they can bury so that when they go back a little while later to check it,
they can move it and bury it somewhere else... [students laugh]

I've seen this! 

But yeah, and those leaves,

once they were just nascent,

when they were buds: potential.

Then they became fully leaves.

At the height of their display, they start to decay

and then eventually,

with a combination of temperature, light,

they fall off the tree and fall to the ground

and there's nothing that can be done to make them be back on the branch.
We can't immerse them in water, hydrating or rehydrating them,

we can't make them a different colour,

we can't do anything to return them to the way they were. 

It's kind of like our life, isn't it? 

Now life, any life,
the life of the leaf requires nourishment,
the life of the squirrel requires nourishment,

the life of each and every one of us requires nourishment,
which segues nicely to today's verse: 

Receiving coarse, hard food,

"May all beings

Be without attachments

And cut through mundane craving." 

Now whatever pops into your mind with the word "food",
maybe it's a nice burger,

maybe a nice piece of fruit,

maybe a nice piece of fresh bread slathered with butter,
but let's look at the word "food" this way, 
as it is used in many cultures,
writing about many things: sense data,


as well as the sustenance of life, 
it can be the experience of life. 

It's interesting, the evening meal, yakuseki, means "medicinal food".
So the bottom line is,
food is the most medicine you'll ever take in in your whole life. 

What do you do when the love of your life
requires more care than can be provided at home and after 61 years of marriage?
You're forced to live apart and you miss her terribly.
My goodness. What do you do when you receive such coarse, hard food? 

Well this one 90-year-old makes the best of each day
and stays as healthy and active as possible. 

There really is not much of a choice,
when life hands you lemons,
the saying is you can make lemonade.
And it is interesting,
there are lots and lots of expressions that use food. 

"She/he is the apple of his/her eye."
"Bring home the bacon."

"This is a bread and butter issue." 

"Ah, it's a piece of cake."

"He's a big cheese."

"They're like chalk and cheese' -
the complete opposites.
"He's a bad egg..."

"...but she's as cool as a cucumber."

"Something fishy here!"

"This is a meat and potatoes issue."

"Nah, it's as easy as pie."

"Look at that, mutton dressed as lamb." 

So these idioms are interesting and fun,
and there are zillions of them, well not really zillions of them,
that would be an exaggeration.
Let's face it, we human beings surely do like to exaggerate,
we surely do like to look at the most everyday, ordinary things,
turn them upside down, and we won't say "lie",
let's just say we say things—to ourselves—
without really thinking about them.
And when we do that, we can reinforce those "mundane cravings",
the mundane cravings that things should be as they are not,
things should be different. 

"There's a basic unsatisfactoriness that needs to be fixed before my life will be complete and happy and it'll be full, I'll be content." 

Well, that doesn't happen
but you can recognize,
that is at the basis of most of the lies we get told. 

Now some of us in this room have grown up with the culture of media and advertising,
which means we've been lied to big time from the get go,
and it can be a little confusing
as we start to sit and face ourselves as we face that wall,
and see some of the stories that we tell ourselves and that we believe. 

A man died recently who was the CEO,
I guess, and founder of a company that made devices with the name of a fruit,
and there's a book out now about this man,
and in describing this man,
the book said that he had magical qualities,
he was able to work with the people and to speak to them
and to bring them along is such a way that they could "do the impossible"... 

There's a lie right there, embedded right there.
If they could do it, was it impossible?
Yes, no? What do you think? 

Student: No.
No! That's right, how could it be impossible if they could do it? [O-sensei and student laugh] 

Yet these kinds of things are accepted unquestioningly.
It goes into the "mutton dressed as lamb syndrome".
We're told that we're supposed to present ourselves
in a way that makes us seem younger than we actually are if we've gone over a certain age,
and this is not limited to one gender, it covers all genders,
and I say "all" because I don't really understand how many there are... [O-sensei and students laugh]
Gender is an artificial role, really, anyway,
that's a whole different issue... but it affects everyone. 

So industries are built on this marketplace,
which is so rich, it sucks so much money out of people's wallets,
selling them tanning and bleaching
and changing the colour of and taking some off,
and putting some in to produce this perfect...
well that's what they say...
this perfect embodiment of a human being. 

It would be kind of funny,
but we really believe it and we end up heartbroken.
It affects all sorts of people. 

There are two recently deceased dictators who hennaed their hair.
When the cap fell off one of them,
his curly locks were revealed to be a giant comb-over
and there was something very sad about that. [laughter] 

So we fool ourselves, we lie to ourselves.
The whole industry of food culture is basically a lie, based on a lie.
There is one pairing of words that I think should be stricken from the language
and it would be of great benefit to many: comfort food. 

Now, what the? [laughter] ...
do we need comfort for?
Our "achey-breaky hearts"?
The fact that after hours at the gym, we weren't like a 14-year-old again? 

But this slide into lying to ourselves is insidious.
We want to lose weight,
and yet we hide our favourite molasses cookies under the bed...
But no, it wasn't us, self-image says:
"I couldn't help myself!"
which of course is bull. 

When we can be more clear about what it is we want to do,
we can start to make choices that are reasonable,
that will actually be the ones that will help us get where we want to go,
and when that is based in reality,
the reality of the bodymind,
life can become more simple
and that can take a lot of weight off the bodymind. 

Another thing I think that needs to be changed,
it gets said a lot,
particularly as you get older, people will say: "How old are you?" 

You say, "well, I'm 70".

They say: "Oh my goodness, you don't look... that old..." 

Now what the.....is that about?
Somehow or other this culture says you can't be who you are,
that it is somehow flawed,
you are somehow deeply flawed. 

Lots of messages like that around.
How many of them do you take to be the truth?
How many of them prop up the image you have of a self,
making your life more difficult? 

If your life could be more easy,
if your life could be lighter,
would you be willing to,
oh just for the fun of it, 
when you notice a thought about how things are,
a thought about how you can't do this anymore,
how would it be if you just felt the breath,

sat up straight, 
and opened the eye gaze,

actually practised mindfulness in the moment?

Bearing in mind,

you do not have to be sitting on a zafu to practise

the moment you notice something about experiencing,
how cool is that? 

You have everything you need to do the practice
no matter where you are,
no matter what you're doing
and it's no big deal. 

Self-image, contraction into a sense of a self,
makes it into a big deal because of its lies and whispers. 

"You can't do it. You can't do it because you're too this, you're too that, you're too the other way..." 

As soon as you notice that,

you've noticed a moment of clear seeing,
you're seeing thoughts,

that's the moment when you practise,

by feeling the breath,

sitting up straight, 
you're practising the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

It's no big deal,

but it can make a significant change in how you are. 

Life presents lots of "coarse, hard food".

Most of the things that we set out to do

don't turn out the way we thought they would because guess what? 

We're not in control of most things.
We can have the best of intentions,
but when we're lying to ourselves, and the lie can be, 

"I'm too old to do this",
I'm too short to do this",
"I'm too impatient to do this" and that takes over... 

Well, you're aiding and abetting in self-assassination,
so give it up!

Feel the breath,

sit up straight, 
open the eye gaze.

Have some fun with

THIS moment

no matter how it is presenting itself
and with what. 

There can be a myriad of sensations,

but in order for there to be

"don't and don't like"

there has to be thought about what is going on. 

Recognize it as thoughts.

Recognize that as a moment of clear seeing.

It doesn't matter what the content is,

you don't need to sit behind the eyes like some little accountant going:
"Good, don't have to practise that one"

"Good, don't have to practise that one."

"Oh, negative, better practise here..."

What you want to do is recognize that the little accountant,

that fantastic fictional contraction into a sense of self

is a place to practise. 

As soon as you notice that happening,
feel the breath,

sit up straight,

open the eye gaze. 

And when you are receiving "coarse, hard food"... 

"May all beings

Be without attachments

And cut through mundane craving." 

Now wasn't that a walk in the park? Wasn't that a piece of cake? 

Thank you for listening.