White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 13: Being Without Struggle

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 28th, 2008


Is the only moment you can practise.

So feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze.

Practise this moment. 

Entering the monastery,
"May all beings

Display the various standards
Of being without struggle." 

"Being without struggle?"
"But this is tough."
"What do they mean, 'Being without struggle'?"
"Various standards?"
"What do they mean, 'Various standards'?"

So let's look at this from who, what, where, and when? 

You and all beings.

Embodying practice.



"May all beings display the various standards of being without struggle." 

What's being talked about, and pointed to,
is how you are right now and a wish,
an expressed intention,
that practice will mature and open
so that no matter what the situation,
there will be just the display of reality moment-to-moment,
free from struggle. 

How is this done?
It is done moment-to-moment,
using the forms, the standards, of the monastery
to practise moment-to-moment,
while you are in the monastery.
The only reason the monastery is here at all
is so that you can learn to practise. 

You are starting to recognize the ways in which
you cause a sense of a self to struggle
by taking part of your experience
and feeding attention into it
so that it comes foreground,
obscuring vast amounts of reality and, often,
defining what you do. 

Reactivity comes up in many situations.
It comes up during teisho and Dharma Talks.
This is what Anzan roshi had to say in teisho 5:
"Sun and Moon, Hands and Eyes" in the series
"Five Fingers, Ten Directions: Commentaries on Eihei Dogen zenji's text 'Jippo'". 

...But when something is said about this luminosity it can be as if weeds fill the Hatto, the Dharma Hall, as students become entangled in thinking about luminosity, telling themselves stories about luminosity, instead of opening into what recognition might have stirred within them... 

You can expect to have thoughts fly up like hornets
in response to something that may be heard or experienced.
It's not that it's "wrong". 

It is what is going on.
See it as such.
Recognize there is no need to follow
or act out any of these thoughts and feelings in any way.
Use the forms of deportment of the bodymind
to deepen your ability to see more clearly the process of perception and cognition.

Each time you notice anything,
practise basic mindfulness. 

This is simple but it isn't "easy".
We are used to taking our self-descriptions very seriously. 

We don't need to take our self-descriptions seriously at all.

All of practice points to the many ways we do take things very seriously.
And when you notice anything, no matter what the content,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the peripheral vision. 

Open to this moment.

Practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

Notice how you are right now.

Feel the breath,

sit up straight,

and open the peripheral vision. 

You know what you noticed.

You just proved it.

You're not any of those thoughts.

You're not any of those feelings.

You're not any of those reactivities.

If you were, you would not be able to know them. 

There was a flurry of thoughts fueled by patterns.

So you feel the breath.

So you sit up straight.

So you open the eye gaze. 

The only moment you can practise the life that is living as you,
the skin, meat, bone, and marrow

of the whole bodymind in the whole moment,


There will be many more moments of reactivity that are known, increasingly,
to be just that:

Reactivity is not who you are.

The word "reactivity" is being used to describe a process that can be known.
We are used to defining ourselves by our reactivities.
We like this. We don't like that.
We feel good about this. We don't feel good about that.
We feel good about this person. We don't feel good about that person.
And on and on and on.

And we are just now learning to see those things for what they are
rather than as descriptions of a self, personality.
What do we do in situations where reactivities occur and old patterns start to run their stories? 

Well, you can take it seriously
as something that can define how you are
and let it define who you are.
You can follow the pattern, feeding attention into it,
and then try to hide it by glossing over the fact that it is there and pretend that it is not happening.
You can "dissociate" from it.
You can become the thing that makes the decision to keep or hide or develop a strategy.

But all of that requires struggle.
That's what you've already done over and over and over again in your lifetime and it doesn't work.

Time to try something else. After all that's what brought you here. 

The forms provide the tools you need for cutting through that sense of "struggle". 

The forms afford endless opportunities for feeling more completely,
and becoming more intimate with the bodymind.

When you raise the arms,
align body and breath,
feel the feet on the floor,
and come to gassho,
the capacity to know,
to feel more completely
the skin, meat, bone, and marrow,
Bodymind is learning. 

In the course of our lifetimes we have been "looked at"
and we've looked at others
and we have learned to define ourselves by what we think is seen of us
and what we see of others.
We develop mannerisms,
ways of carrying the bodymind,
that we hope will make us seem more
girly, womanly, manly, boyish, young, or older,
and on and on and on. 

Well, as you've probably figured out by now,
those roles don't "play" in the monastery. 

The forms give us a means of paying more attention to the whole bodymind in the moment,
to notice more completely what is going on.

The practice, the instruction to practise
tells us to practise anytime we notice anything at all about experiencing.

The forms provide the optimum opportunity for seeing what's going on
in that process of perception and cognition
that is occurring wrapped around the breath;
your life,
the bodymind,
the skin, meat, bones, and marrow,
of and in this moment. 

You are asked to leave the more obvious adornments,
jewelry, cosmetics, clothing with labels and cartoons on it,
at the door.

Now, people have many reactivities, many thoughts about why this is so
and why it should or should not be so.

It must be so
in order that the more obvious and coarse ways adopted to prop up a sense of "self"
can be "left at the door".
You can then use the forms for practising with the whole bodymind
to see the more subtle "adornments" of habits and patterns. 

You can ask any question you want to ask.
As you are asking practice advisors or a teacher to answer a question for you,
there is a form for the interaction
which gives you the best possible chance of seeing more of the reality of the situation.

Next week's verse speaks explicitly of the interaction between students, teachers, and practice advisors,
so there's more to come.
Stay tuned. 

Briefly, in any situation when interacting with a monastic, your senior,
practise the whole bodymind: 
stand up straight,
even if you have been sitting down,
hold the hands in shashu,
feel the breath,
feel the skin,
and marrow,
see the patterns of reactivity that come up
and practise basic mindfulness. 

Now if you have a tendency to want to be
charming, social, to comment on the weather,
to engage in meaningless chit chat just because you feel uncomfortable,
by using the form of feeling into the space of the moment with the whole bodymind,
you can afford yourself the chance to actually practise
rather than to act out the tendency to want to fill what may be uncomfortable space
with the detritus of usual social interaction.

Wait to follow the lead of the monastic.
You don't have to do anything.
The more fully attention is open,
the more completely the bodymind can rest calmly, eventually, in the form. 

I'm not talking about any state of "calm" or "bliss" or "serenity".
In fact, sometimes the simple act of standing in shashu
when facing a senior or a teacher
can produce reactivities that are strong and that can be uncomfortable, really uncomfortable.

Sometimes we might feel totally exposed.
Sometimes we might want to just slide away from the interaction
without having anything uncovered.

That's not a problem.
That's what people have been doing since the beginning of people.

Practice gives us the way and the means for seeing these habitual patterns and reactivities. 

Now, there may be things like dryness of the mouth,
the eyes dilating like those of a deer frozen in headlights.
There might be squeezing or pinching in the muscles.
The heartbeat might go up.
We might perspire.
And on and on and on.

I don't want to give you ideas [wave of laughter from students]
but I do want to let you know that any and all of that stuff
has been happening to human beings since the beginning of practice.
That's the kind of stuff you will notice more and more clearly.
It will have less and less tendency to come foreground
as you learn to practise mindfulness at the moment of noticing.

As soon as you notice a label or a story or anything coming up about what's going on,
you feel the breath,
you stand up straight,
you open the peripheral vision.

You actually practise the whole bodymind. 

And there might be, from time-to-time,
gentle, kindly, grandmotherly pointing to what you are doing by the senior,
the practice advisor,
or the teacher.
This in itself may be uncomfortable and may produce another flurry of reactivities.

They are not the problem.

The problem is believing that they are who you are
and that you must defend these strategies and stances.

All you need to do is see them.
They are what is being pointed to by all the instruction.

And then
you feel the breath,
you sit or stand up straight,
you open the eye gaze.

You practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

Be without struggle. 

Entering the monastery,

"May all beings

Display the various standards,
Of being without struggle." 

Thank you for listening.