White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 135: Washing Their Feet

Dharma Talk Presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, June 2nd, 2012

To quote the Roshi:
"Without hesitation, each drop of rain."

You can hear raindrops hitting leaves,

cleaning them of dust.

We can hear the falling rain splashing from the car tires...
We can hear raindrops hitting plastic covering wood. 

Those raindrops at some point in time,
some point in history,

were and will be at some point in the future part of the breath 
that is breathed in and out air-breathers

including humans. 

Today's verse: 

Washing their feet,

"May all beings

Fulfill the bases of subtle perceptions,
Moving as unobstructedness everywhere." 

And there is a footnote in the text on subtle perceptions:
"the four bases of subtle perception"
as written of in the Shinyoisoku (rddhipada) are:
"determination, consciousness, effort, investigation". 

So, absolutely necessary to mature practice,
these subtle perceptions

when applied,

when understood moment to moment, 
will mature practice

and will inevitably result in obstructed Knowing,
all the time,

enabling you,

each one of you,

to move as unubstructedness everywhere,

to do what needs to be done. 

"Unbelievable!" self-image might say...
self-image: a contraction into a sense of self
with its problem orientation

with its stance of basic unsatisfactoriness.
Nothing's ever good enough,

and by this time you've probably noticed
that the thing that says there's a problem

is the problem. 

What to do?



Feel the breath,

feel the whole bodymind,
allow the rib cage to open 
and the lungs to expand

see the seeing

hear the hearing

and all this has happened several times since I've been talking about it. 

It's faster to do it than to talk about it

so why waste any time thinking about it?
Allow the bodymind to be itself,

to be unobstructed.



Now, "washing their feet"
Well, we've washed our feet this morning.

Have we washed anyone else's feet?

Well, not really. Not really,

but we can look into this foot washing business

and it does seem to be a trans-cultural thing

that washing someone else's feet

is not only being of service

but in many instances has moved into the desolate marketplace
of acquiring something for doing something,

acquiring merit for splashing water on a child monk's feet

as they are returning from their begging rounds,

which goes on today, apparently.

I myself have not seen it but I've seen pictures. 

Remember, when these verses were written, some 1600 years ago,
they were written in an area of the globe that was let's say,
dustier most probably than we are familiar with today.
So when people would come to another person's house,
they would take care of their feet,
clean them off before entering barefoot.
And if the person was someone that the householder considered worthy of more merit than they were,
they would wash the feet of that person. 

When you think that most households at that time would not have had running water,
indeed this service involved a lot of determination on the part of the person washing the feet
and this of course became ritualized. 

In many monasteries, for example,
in that part of the world,
you would and will wash your feet before entering
so as not to dust up the place. 

So there were stories told of course,
because we human beings like to tell stories,
and whether this actually happened or not, we will never know,
but there is a story involving the Buddha and Rahula,
who was his son and who became a monk,
who eventually in the course of his practice
was known for his knowledge and precision in esoteric practices
and his desire for instruction in the Dharma
and this was apparently a bit of a switch about because when he was a kid,
he used to lie just for fun,
at least that's what the story says,
just for fun.
One day the Buddha was coming to visit Rahula in the monastery.
Out of respect and because it was what people do,
Rahula prepared a bucket of water to wash the Buddhas feet. 

After his feet had been washed
and the dust of the road had been removed and lay in the bucket,
the Buddha said: "Rahula, drink this water, son."
And Rahula said: "No! The water is dirty therefor it cannot be drunk." 

And the Buddha said:
"Similarly, you don't put hard effort into your practice,
you don't purify your deeds,
and you don't speak the truth.
Your head is full of poisons.
And that, dear boy, is the same as the dirty water." 

So the Buddha said: "Pour the water away." 

Then he said:
"Rahula, now that that bucket is empty,
let's put some rice in it, rice for eating."
"OH! No! We can't do that Buddha,
it's dirty, it can't be used for food." 

And the Buddha said:
"Similarly, you don't practise the precepts.
Your heart is full of dirt.
How can your heart contain the food of the Dharma?" 

Then the Buddha lightly kicked the bucket over.
Rahula was startled.

The Buddha said:
"Rahula, are you afraid the bucket is broken?"

"No, the bucket is for washing feet, it's for rough use,
so it doesn't matter if it's broken." 

The Buddha said:
"Similarly Rahula,
a monk who doesn't practise the precepts won't be loved or respected by others.
You'll not attain enlightenment if you don't smarten up
and do what you have vowed to do." 

And it is said that over time Rahula was a changed person. 

And it is said that later the same day
the Buddha told Rahula a parable
about how a war elephant protects his trunk
because it is the weakest part of the elephant. 

"Similarly Rahula, you should take care of your speech
because you are vulnerable to bad karma
if you continue to lie and continue to practise bad speech." 

Mean what you say and say what you mean. 

Rahula became a changed person.
It is said he woke up and was foremost in esoteric practices and diligence
in studying in the Dharma. 

This little story is from a translation by a Mr. Lee
done in 2002 from "Ten Imminent Disciples of the Buddha" by the Reverend Ching Yun. 

So there are many variations on this particular teaching story. 

So wash your feet,
don't lie. 

In Thai society and many others,
the head is considered to be clean and sacred
whereas the feet are dirty
and it's an insult to wave your feet at someone while you're sitting down,
or to use your feet to push something aside. 

There are still vestiges of this
that it is disrespectful when we situations with our elders
and have our feet pointing at them. 

As I said before,
many devout Buddhists feel honoured to wash the feet of monks
who are returning to the monastery after receiving alms. 

There are vestiges of the fact of water
and the fact of drinking and washing in two little bowls,
two little water offerings which in some places are said to be symbolic
of one for drinking and one for foot washing.
And again, remember the importance of this
because people did walk around in very dusty situations,
far dustier than most of us would experience,
so washing the feet before entering a building,
and before engaging in certain activities would be very important. 

Clear water is mixed with sandalwood or incense
when the feet are being washed in the form of an offering to an Enlightened or Awakened being,
and the symbolic meaning of water has always been purification. 

By cleaning the feet of the Awakened Ones, the Buddhas,
we are cleansing ourselves of our negative karma.
Self-image always gets in there,
bartering in the desolate marketplace:
"I'll wash your feet, for that I'll get good karma". 

By making offerings to clean the Buddhas feet,
we are really cleaning the feet of our own mind. 

Well, I really don't know exactly what they're talking about by
"the feet of the mind" but 
your guess is just as good as mine,
so perhaps that will help you remember the verse: 

Washing their feet,

"May all beings

Fulfill the bases of subtle perceptions,
Moving as unobstructedness everywhere." 

I think it's worth repeating the four bases of subtle perception:
determination, consciousness, effort, and investigation. 

Now, investigation is something that can only be done by you.
You look into your own experiencing. 

The determination to put forth the effort when you know a known,

to actually practise,

to feel the breath, 
to feel the whole bodymind,
to wake up to Reality. 

Oh, just for fun, once again: 

Washing their feet,

"May all beings

Fulfill the bases of subtle perceptions,
Moving as unobstructedness everywhere." 

Thank you for listening. 

And the drops of water are still at it unobstructed.