White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 129: Seeing a Memorial Site of the Buddha

Dharma Talk Presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 31st, 2012


reminds you that there's this breath

and that wrapped around this breath 
is the bodymind

that knows the context of its experiencing, and

responds to it,

and that you are really

the Knowing of this bodymind. 

You're not this bodymind.

You're the Knowing of it,

so any time you notice anything at all,
ANY known

or dharma

or moment of experience,

you're reminded: 

Feel the breath
sit up straight... 

which is a long way

of pointing to the fact that there is

this moment

and the bodymind is alive in

this moment. 

Today's verse: 

Seeing a memorial site of the Buddha,

"May all beings

Be as honored as is this shrine,

Receiving the offerings of shining ones and humans." 

Well, what do we make of this? Memorial site? 

Well, when we take "memorial" back to,
as far as people seem to have taken it in meaning,
we come up with the Latin word
"memor": remembering, mindful. 

So, seeing something that can cause you to remember
or be mindful of the fact that actually,
you are a Buddha. 

"Oh no, not me, not me"
"I can't even sit here",

"I keep falling asleep",
"my knees keep hurting",
"my back", 
"oh it's painful."

"Everyone else seems to be doing fine".
"I'm a fraud, I'm a fraud... " 

"If they look into me, they'll see that actually I'm really vastly superior to them."

[students laugh]

"Wait a minute, though, wait a minute, that's a thought!
Ugh. I've done it again. I've done it again....
Okay okay, I'll call it...
what will I call it? I will call it-troublesome! That's it!
So when I'm asked 'How is your practice?'
I'll say 'it's troublesome, it's turbulent today',

so then they will know that I'm really trying,





But there you sit! One could say, a living memorial to the Buddha, to waking up to this moment of experiencing, and when we chant the Samu chant, we're chanting: 

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

... ALL beings... 

But then we think: "alright, alright, so a shrine has to be outside of ourselves, it has to be something that the bodymind can look at and get some feeling about..." 

Shrine is defined as a place of religious devotion or of commemoration,
so there are all sorts of shrines around,

and there are all sorts of Buddhist shrines around,

but what are they really talking about? 


they're talking about,

in some cases,

artifacts, ruins,

that can point us to the fact that a couple of hundred years after Gautama Siddharta,
the historical Buddha,

apparently the first dude to discover the practice of mindfulness,

or if not to actually have discovered it,

to actually teach it to people. 

We might find that say in India, near a place near Sarnath—
sorry the column of Sarnath is now in a museum in India,
but there was a column there which had been put up by a man named Ashoka.
This King Ashoka had been quite the guy, killing a lot of people,
apparently he was kind of nasty and of little patience
and when his father died and he came to power,
he gave tests of loyalty—rumour has it—
to all his ministers, and those who didn't pass the test were killed. 

Nice, very nice. 

But then, Ashoka the Warrior engaged in warfare
and as a result of one particular war, the Kalinga war,
in which he did participate and which helped expand his empire
from Afghanistan, to Pakistan across most of India
and down south to a very small place that was not actually part of his empire,
to Bangladesh.
Huge, this was his empire. 

Well, after the Kalinga war,
rumour has it that Ashoka wandered on the battlefield:
thousands and thousands of dead, stinking and decaying,
vultures overhead waiting to do their job of cleaning up,
and the wailing of the bereaved,
caused him to say to himself: "enough, enough. This is not useful for all beings." 

And it is said that he embraced the Teachings of Buddhism,
or the Teachings of Gautama Siddhartha,
and the Teachings that he did take on as being the main principles of the Dharma in his understanding were: 


.tolerance of all sects and opinions,

.obedience to parents,

.respect for Brahmins and other religious teachers and priests,
.liberality towards friends,

.the humane treatment of servants,

.generosity to all. 

And he had many edicts which were carved on stone pillars and the walls of caves
and they are still around and they contain information
that may be the first written information about the actual Teachings of Gautama Siddhartha.

He also, when he came to power,
or when he had this realization,
in his adaption of non-violence,
included the unnecessary slaughter of animals.
Hunting and branding were made illegal.
He let prisoners leave prison for one day a year.
He built universities, attempting to raise the education and ambition of the commoners.
He built water transit and irrigations systems.
He built hospitals for animals and for people and
he renovated major roads throughout India. 

And again:

equality, regardless of religion, politics and caste.

As I said, the source of much of our knowledge of Ashoka and Buddhism
were in these inscriptions which were carved on pillars and rocks throughout the empire.
He built the Pillar of Ashoka,
which interestingly enough has four lions at the top of it
and the lion is on the flag of the Republic of India today. 

Ashoka helped, as well, neighbouring countries.
He built hospitals, monasteries all over southern and central Asia,
and he helped to organize the Third Buddhist Council in 250 B.C.E. (before common era). 

He helped out the neighbouring countries with
doctors, hospitals, inns, wells, medicinal herbs, engineers.
He planted trees both in his empire and neighbouring countries.
He was the first emperor in history to ban slavery, hunting, fishing, and deforestation.
He banned the death sentence and asked neighbouring countries to do the same. 

Now, many of the pillars of course, promoted Ashoka,
saying how he had conquered these particular countries,
he had spread Buddhism as far away as Greece and Egypt,
and all in all what a wonderful person he, Ashoka, was.
But that's what people do. 

He also claimed that he encouraged the development of herbal medicine
for human and non-human animals in his empire and other territories. 

Here is something that was quoted from Rock Edict 2, of the Edicts of Ashoka: 

Everywhere within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Ashoka's domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochos rules, and among the kings who are neighbours of Antiochos, everywhere has Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Ashoka, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals. 

Now, he was quite a builder as well and the remains of a lot of the buildings,
a lot of canals and irrigation systems can still be seen. 

Ashoka also had constructed 84,000 stupa
and it is said that the reason for the 84,000 is the belief, at that time,
was that that was how many atoms or particles made up a human bodymind. 

Ashoka helped spread Buddhism as far as Sri Lanka, Ceylon,
where there are many temples and monuments and memorials to Buddhism, to Buddha. 

So it's an interesting study
and I hope at the very least you are encouraged to get on that computer
and use that wonderful access to information to uncover some of the stories that have been spread over these thousands of years. 

Imagine, I mean just get a picture of what Ashoka was able to accomplish with certain principles... 

In what I've read, there's not a mention of zazen,
however, in some of the carvings,
some of the depictions of people,
people are actually depicted with their legs crossed, sitting down,
so who knows? 

But all we can do right now,

is notice those legs,

notice those hands in the mudra,

recognize that this is something people have been doing for 25, 26 hundred years. 

When you notice anything at all, any dharma,

any moment of experience:

feel the breath, 
feel the whole bodymind in this moment. 

When you see each other, in a way, we can say,

it's a memorial,

the bodymind, 
yes, the one that you have planted on that cushion,
is a memorial of the Buddha,

a memorial to waking up. 

When you're doing kinhin

and you go past the rupa,

when you go past the Butsudan,

the Platform of Awakening,

that's a memorial site, one could say. 

Now we don't have any relics
like painted fingers, painted finger bones, teeth, hair, and so on...

People accumulate these kinds of things but that's just silly. 

This is a living practice,

it's not a practice that focuses on one person that's going to do it for us. 

Now, I'd love to do it for each and every one of you if I could,

but it doesn't work that way.

There is no little fairy dust wand, 
that I can say 'pfoot'!
There you are! I did it for you!
You've now Woken Up. 

It's not how it works,

you do it yourself,

but you do it in this very moment....
and you too can receive 
"the offerings of shining ones". 

This moment of experiencing,
this very moment

is luminous and shines,

so why not, 

why not? 

If not now, when? 

If not here, where? 


Have fun!

Thank you for listening.

Oh, before I sign off, I'll read the verse again: 

Seeing a memorial site of the Buddha,

"May all beings

Be as honored as is this shrine,

Receiving the offerings of shining ones and humans." 

Have fun, glowing...