White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 119: When Tasting

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, November 26th, 2011


brings with it all manner of sensations

that are felt,




and they're all happening right now in this moment,
which is the breath that's breathing you in and out. 

We do have a habit,

a tendency,

a pattern, 
of dividing things up,

dividing up the bodymind into

this part and that part

as if somehow they were all separate,

rather than being one interactive whole

that is affected by anything that's experienced. 

When tasting,

"May all beings

Taste utter Awake Awareness,

Filled with the ambrosia of the deathless." 

Well, "the ambrosia of the deathless",

how appealing is that?

And how has that been understood and misunderstood?
Many ways, I'm sure. 

Another translation of this verse from "The Practice of Purity" reads: 

When tasting flavour,

"They should wish that all beings

Attain the supreme savour of Buddhahood,
and be filled with the elixir of immortality." 

Pull me one of those elixirs! [students laugh]
So we can see how misunderstandings might arise. 

Now, taste, also known as "smatch" in Middle English,
(from which comes, by way of the Proto-Indo-European languages: shmeck, gustation, gustatory). 

Well, usually what we're talking about:
the traditional five senses,
and one of them is taste,
which is on the whole experienced most immediately by the taste buds on the tongue.

Probably because of the tendency we have to want to label things,
we say "well this is where it happens,
this the only place where it possibly could happen,
and not only that, there's a place on the tongue that tastes sweet,
another one that tastes bitter, another one that tastes sour, another one that tastes salty..."
and recently in the West, another: umami. 

Well, we can throw that division out
because now it is being said by scientists that we taste all of these over the whole tongue.
That's nice. 

Scientists have also thrown out another popular belief fairly recently,
that belief being that at birth we have all of the brain cells we'll ever have,
so if we overindulge in various ways and kill them off,
they will never be replaced.
Not true.
Brain cells are just like any other cells,
they do reproduce,
they replace themselves. 

So there we have it: we eat,

and it's not just food that we taste,

we can pick up tastes that are in the air,

we can pick of the taste of smoke,

leaf fires burning this time of year.

If we pass by a garbage bin
and it's,

you know, "buzzing" a bit,

you can taste it a little bit,

it's not that you pick up some of it and put it in your mouth,

but reality is such that everything that is experienced,
everything that the bodymind comes in contact with is experienced by the bodymind. 

Now this morning,
I stubbed my toe big time and there was a metallic taste in my mouth the moment it happened.
Why is that? I don't know, it just was there.
Obviously something had happened and the bodymind had responded in the ways it responds
and so I noticed it. 

When you are actually practising mindfulness,

when you've actually practised moment to moment,
at the moment that you notice anything at all,

you start to notice that indeed,

there is a taste of Awake Awareness,

it is the taste of the Reality of that moment,

which is experienced by the whole bodymind. 

There's another verse which comes from the Dhammapadda, an ancient text, it says: 

Mindfulness is the path to the deathless,
Heedlessness is the path to death.

The mindful do not die,

But the heedless are as if dead already. 

So we'll allow a little literary license here
because we can not possibly know what mindbodies have experienced those words,
how they translated them,
how they've understood them and
how they end up with "the mindful do not die",
but let us just say,
actually I'll say it for us because I'm the one who's talking,
let's just say: "the mindful do not die"
should not be taken literally. 

But "mindfulness is the path to the deathless"

it is the path that leads to this moment,

which is a path, really, without beginning, without end,
it's a metaphor. 

Here we are,

there is only this moment,

that's all there ever was,
that's all there ever will be
and because that breath is flowing into the lungs, 
because that breath is expanding the ribs,
because that breath is doing what it needs to do,
the bodymind is still alive

and you can still practise. 

You are the Knowing of the knowns

of the moments of experience of the bodymind,
and that is what allows you to practise. 

You as Knowing,

the Knowing of dharma or knowns,

can, at the moment of noticing anything:
feel the breath,

feel the whole bodymind. 

In an instant [O-sensei snaps fingers]
like that,

sixty mind moments have gone by in the space of that snap of a finger,
and so you are practising Awake Awareness,

you are practising the "ambrosia" of this moment,

you are opening to,

you are allowing the bodymind to open to,

(also because "you" being a linguistic term,

there's no one in there that is YOU,

but we can for the sake of ease say "you")

you are experiencing knowns of the bodymind in this moment,

you are the Knowing of that.

And so you can bust some other myths

each time you feel the breath and feel the whole bodymind,

you are busting the myth that there's a "you" sitting up behind the eyes,
looking at this and that and the other thing,

that there's a "you" that is chewing away on this moment,

and if it contains food,

that you are tasting,
that you are tasting. 

You're not tasting, the bodymind,
the taste buds are receiving information
and the fact that you have language means that you can decode those tastes
and put them into language that may or not be universally accepted as being a description.

But bear in mind, there's not one description that will fit everybody
because we don't taste the same things,
we do not have the same responses as the guy next to us.
Some of us may go "mmm!" and another one may go "ick"
with the same experience.
That's very important to remember, 
otherwise we can make assumptions that simply are not true. 

So, enjoy the fact,

enter into the fact as completely as you can,
that if you're breathing, you're alive,

you can taste the Reality of this moment. 

If you're a formal student,
you can listen to teisho that address this topic in more detail,
teisho by the Roshi in "The Anatomy of Awakening" series,
so I'm not going to go into a great deal of anatomy in this moment
because then I would be doing something that you can do for yourselves.
If you're really interested,
all you have to do is go to your computer and google
and you can read up and find all sorts of interesting things
that can enhance your experiencing and understanding of what's going on with the bodymind. 

What I can wish for you is that you and all beings wake up,
filled up with the ambrosia of the deathless. 

The verse again: 

When tasting,

"May all beings

Taste utter Awake Awareness,
Filled with the ambrosia of the deathless." 

Taste this moment, right here, right now.
Take a big bite out of it. 

Thank you for listening.