White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 132: Circumambulating the Shrine and Circling the Shrine Three Times

Dharma Talk Presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 5th, 2012

Still breathing? Good. 

Notice it,

and while you're at it,

notice the whole bodymind:

seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
THIS moment

wrapped around the breath

and you are the Knowing

of the experiencing

of that bodymind. 

As long as there is still breath whistling through cavities,

you have a chance to practise. 

For 2600 years people have been doing this practice,
bare bones as it may be. 

Two verses today, a "twofer": 

Circumambulating the shrine,

"May all beings

Act always without bias

And unfold knowing the nature of all knowns." 

...and you ARE the Knowing, 

the bodymind is how anything at all is known,
the nature of all knowns:

that interaction 
between bodymind and context, 
and being the Knowing,

looking into this matter of your life

can show you all sorts of habits and patterns and tendencies... 

Oh my! 

And seeing them, you do have a choice to be without bias. 

Thoughts come up! 

Well, bodyminds experience thoughts,

but no matter what the content of that thought is,

we do not have to act it out,

we can see it in this moment,

we can see the nature of that known,

and since obviously

your first choice of action is to

feel the breath

to feel the skeleton sitting up straight,

to notice

seeing hearing tasting touching feeling smelling

and all the experiences,

all the knowns of the bodymind,

your choices as to what to do with content and situations are many,

and the tendency for patterns to drop away happens

and more and more you will find yourself without bias because bias,
after all,
 when we look at it,

is believing one story only

and making our choice of action

be driven by that one story or perspective. 

And as we know,

one perspective means that you're leaving out all the rest,
and it is the cause of social ills

which we experience day to day. 

Circling the shrine three times,

"May all beings

Constantly see the path of Awakening as Awareness
With attention unobscured by recoil." 

So, to see, understand, that this Straight Path,
which is always right here,
a pointless point, 
waking up to that fact

each time anything at all is known by Knowing
increases the fact of awakening,

increases the opportunities for seeing that fact of waking up clearly

so that over time,

all that there is
 as Awareness

without any obscuration whatsoever. 

Interestingly enough, self-image—

that being a phrase used to describe a contraction in the space of experiencing
with a belief about how you are and how the world is—

is often a recoil from this moment.

There can be a moment of experiencing,

and you've all experienced them,

when there is simply openness and lightness 
and then self-image gets in there going: "Yowza! This is it!" 

And we focus on that,

attention moves to that statement,

that thought,

which is trying to grab onto what it has experienced

and is following a really limiting tendency

that human beings have

which is to believe that

only when we've talked about something is it actually happening. 

Now, it doesn't really matter whether there is anyone else around to hear it,
we will talk to ourselves.

Now, those are

A moment of lightness and brightness,
a moment of openness

can literally,
for a moment,

take our breath away. 

We don't have the breath in mind,

we can feel it,

but we're not talking to ourselves about it,

things seem open and light

but that makes us experience something

that self-image is more that willing to hop forward and describe as


"I'm so afraid... What will happen? If I'm not who I think I am, who am I? Oh oh..." 

And contraction can get tighter and tighter
and we wrap it around our neck like a scarf obscuring that freedom. 

So recoil from THIS moment of experiencing is what's being talked about. 

Free from recoil,

all there is
is open experiencing, all there is

is Awake Awareness. 

So each time you notice anything at all, recognize,

it's a moment of waking up

practise at that moment 
and you will practise faster than you can talk to yourself about it,
faster than I can talk about it,

and over time,

all there is is that freedom 
and clarity and lightness. 

So back to the shrines,
we've been talking about shrines for some time.
Now it does seem that this process of being a human being
is very very similar for human beings all over the world at all points in history.
It would seem that whether we are in
India, Tibet, China, South America, Australia, United States, Britain, all over Europe,
no matter where we are and no matter what century we might be living in,
we will get together and we will come up with rituals.
It could be we come up with them because
then we really don't have to talk to each other about anything [students laugh]
we're just doing this thing and this thing of course
is centred around some object from which we expect to GET something. 

The circumambulating,
and we all know what that means...
"Ambulating": walking, right?
"Circum": around.
Circumambulating around the shrine... 

Now, there's a story, the Hindus circumambulated.
Parikrama: the path surrounding something.
And there's a legend about that of course.
Lord Shiva asked his two sons to circumambulate the universe to gain worldly knowledge.
One of the sons spent decades going around the world on his peacock.
Ganesha walked around his father, a full circle three times. 

The Lord Shiva said: "What are you doing?"

He said: "Ah, father the world contains within you, Lord Shiva, my father".
So of course he, suck up that he was, won. 

So there's a long history of circumambulating various structures, various symbols,
and it's pretty hard to take things apart and say this point, this day, at this time,
was when the Buddhists decided that they were going to circumambulate,
but it would seem that they picked it up from people who were already doing it. 

They would circumambulate around sacred structures, shrines, stupa or images,
and in some of these areas that were set up for circumambulating,
it was said that the whole structure grew outwards from where the shrine was
to become a three-dimensional mandala
which represented Mount Meru or Sumeru,
which was a sacred mountain in Jain cosmology. 

The Jains were around at about the same time as the beginning of Buddhism.
So it would seem perhaps logical that the Buddhists were informed by the Jains
of circumambulating and creating structures that represented Mount Meru,
the centre of the physical, metaphysical, and spiritual universe. 

There are circular routes around the Tibetan holy city of Lhasa;
one of these was 9km long.
In India, there is another one,
circumambulating 108 times in the Hindu Pancha Kruchi.

In Nepal, pilgrims circle the Kathmandu Valley to visit four Ganesha shrines.

In Australia, Aborigines circle their holy mountain of Uluru. 
In Machu Pichu, people circumambulated. 

Amongst the longest circumambulation is one in Japan
where an island is circumambulated for 1600km.
Now of course, some people were saying, "Well this is just a little too far..." [laughter]
and this circumambulation was miniaturized so that it became a lot easier. 

The circumambulation of three times around a structure
was considered in Buddhism to be a gesture of faith and respect to the Three Jewels:

This is Buddha.

This is Dharma. 
This is Sangha.

or, as we say it: 

Awareness is the Only Condition.

All that is arises as the Display of Awareness.
This is the Seamless Expanse of all that is. 

Another place where there was circumambulating going on
was in the caves of Dunhuang in China,
the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.
Now, between 336 and 1400 C.E.,
this area of caves was a major stopping point on the Silk Road,
and the Silk Road was a major trading road,
and people traded not only goods but information,
just like they do now. 

You're in a place,
you're with strangers,
people talk,
and maybe it was a case of
"what happens in Dunhuang, stays in Dunhuang"
we don't quite know. 

And this sacred portal, as it came to be regarded,
was seen to be the portal through which Buddhism entered China.
Travellers along that Silk Road,
along that trading route would donate money
to have their safe journey to or from China immortalized or celebrated,
or remarked upon by having a painting,
by donating money to have a painting made.
So there were thousands of paintings
displaying all sorts of situations and deities. 

We have here, of course,
a deity from which women in particular, wanted favours,
so you circumambulate three times around Kuan Yin, or Guan Yin.
These were women who wanted to conceive,
so this deity or representation was seen to be the giver of family,
and I wonder what happened if they walked around backwards?
Was that some form of birth control? [laughter] 

And at Dunhuang was found the first printed book in the world,
and apparently it was produced there as well, around 868 C.E.,
and this would be the Diamond Sutra,
so the caves at Dunhuang are rich in visual representations
of various and sundry Buddhist iconography. 

The pilgrims who donated money also apparently had the belief
that the commissions for paintings that they were buying
would help guarantee their rebirth in paradise.
Of course it was a trading route
so it's not surprising that a merchant mentality seemed to have been going on at Dunhuang,
big time. 

So we walk in kinhin.
We could say we're circumambulating the room,
but that might be a little heavy duty,
it might bring in certain aspects that are not applicable here. 

An interesting fact;
in Islam there is also circumambulating around the big black shrine at Mecca,
but whereas it would seem most circumambulation is done in a clockwise direction,
there it is counterclockwise. 

So we are not in the habit of circumambulating,
but should we,

as we are walking in kinhin

happen to remember that feet upon floors, 
feet upon the ground,

feet walking one in front of the other
has happened
and is happening even as I speak,
we may remember this verse: 

Circumambulating the shrine,

"May all beings

Act always without bias

And unfold knowing the nature of all knowns." 

You can recognize that what you are doing in this moment
and in a moment of walking one foot in front of the other
is actualizing the Knowing
 of the nature of all knowns. 

The second verse: 

Circling the shrine three times,

"May all beings

Constantly see the path of Awakening as Awareness
With attention unobscured by recoil." 

A reminder:

when you notice anything whatsoever,
the flickering of a light 
the flickering of a thought

the flickering of attention

the flickering of an eyelid

the flickering of an eyelash

the flickering of understanding... 

feel the breath

feel the whole bodymind

and practise as what you really are. 

Have fun with it! 

Thank you for putting one little foot in front of the other little foot this morning,
and arriving at this moment
right here
right now. 

Thank you for listening.