White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 14: Going to Advisors and Teachers

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 6th, 2008


...is the opportunity to practise presenting itself
no matter where you are no matter what you are doing.
You're learning to notice that opportunity. 

Going to advisors and teachers,
"May all beings

Skillfully attend to their teachers
And practise the ways of virtue." 

"Skillfully attending" to the teachers means,
at this stage of your practice,
that you,
by using the forms,
give yourself the best possible chance to receive and practise the teachings.

Remember that the transmission of the teachings of reality
is not just or only in what is "said" during any exchange. 

The meaning of "skillfully attending" changes
as our understanding and ability to practise matures.
Formal students are starting to understand "sendaba",
the wordless understanding of what is needed and called for moment-to-moment
by the Dharma through the Lineage and the Teachers.
Monks have vowed to practise sendaba. 

You are learning to skillfully attend to your own experiencing
and to apply the instructions for mindfulness practice anytime you notice anything.

Through attending, knowing, and practising,
you are maturing practice.
The forms are tools to help you see into experiencing more clearly.
The forms use the whole bodymind.
The more completely you are able to practise the forms,
the more your understanding will deepen. 

As an associate or general student
most of the face-to-face "attending to the teacher" will occur during Daisan or practice interviews.
Put effort into practising the forms. 

When you are going to see teachers and advisors,
there are a number of forms to be used.
All of the forms are there to help you
see and practise with the thoughts and feelings that
"the dreaded" or "the anticipated" Daisan or practice interview has stirred. 

The forms include,
taking care of the zafu and zabuton when it is time for you to leave the Hatto,
bowing at the door,
walking down the hallway or stairs with hands in shashu,
ringing the densho,
replacing the striker,
and upon hearing the gong,
the response to your strike on the densho requesting entry,
opening the door,
and walking to the seat in front of the teacher or practice advisor,
and then, taking your seat on the zafu.

There are myriads of moments of experience to be known and practised.
But many are missed. 

Sometimes we are so obsessed with our particular pattern of
"scripting", or "anxiety", or "fear" or "anticipation",
that major actions, say, ringing the densho, are overlooked.

This isn't a problem. 

After your name is announced for Daisan,
there may be a strong tendency to prepare yourself,
to come up with something to say that self-image believes will
"satisfy" or "impress" the teacher or the practice advisor.
We're used to doing that.
In fact when we look at our previous experiences with learning almost anything
we can recognize that we've been trained
to try and come up with answers that will get us "the gold star"
[snickers from students].

Keep things simple and recognize that attention is narrowing into thoughts.

Practise at that moment of recognition. 

Self-image has many vague and muddled and confused ideas
about what a "good" Zen student should be like.
We will try and arrange ourselves so as to present a close approximation of what that fabricated ideal should be.

(This is really quite silly when looked at logically:
if self-image, the very process that causes us to seek out practice,
knew what it was talking about when it was talking about practice,
then it wouldn't be there.) 

You have recognized that you don't know what's really going on with the life that is living as you.

So here you are sitting in the Hatto, the Dharma Hall,
learning to practise Reality as it is
by noticing experiencing more completely
and actually practising mindfulness of the whole bodymind
through feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
and opening the eye gaze:
practising the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

The moments of experiencing that you do notice and practise
provide the gateway to noticing the process of perception and cognition more clearly.
You are also learning a new language with which to talk about what you have noticed.
And meanings are shifting. 

When you finally take your seat in front of the teacher or practice advisor
[students laugh]
"how's your practice?" is asked
even the best laid plans for responding
[more laughter]
as "someone who knows"
become all knotted, and contracted
and our memory may even seem to have been wiped clean.

That's not a problem.
That's just something going on.
Self-image will try and make it a problem.
All you need do is
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
and open peripheral vision. 

Over and over again
you hear the instruction to practise when you notice
ANYTHING at all.
Self-image, those contracted ideas about how you are and how the world is,
seems to have a hard time understanding the word "anything".
It has favourite things that it likes to recognize,
favourite moments to practise,
self-image may make decisions that the light coming in the window,
the sound of the fan or of birds outside,
the feeling of your knee on the zabuton,
are all just too trivial and need not be mentioned as it might make us seem silly.
We want something more profound.
Self-image wants to be profound
and so will gloss over many moments of experiencing
trying to get to the "golden nugget";
the sign of what it has achieved,
what it knows,
how good it is,
and how it will impress the teacher.

None of this is a problem.
It's the stuff of practice. 

The form for Daisan is to take your seat in front of the teacher or advisor,
arrange the bodymind in the posture of zazen,
practise basic mindfulness of the whole bodymind,
and notice what happens.

Anytime you notice anything,
practise basic mindfulness. 

How easy is that?

Well it may not be easy but it's simple. 

Hands may start to move out of the mudra.
If you don't notice this it will be pointed out to you.
It's not that you have done a "bad" thing
but rather that you have noticed some rather major movements of bones, meat, tendon,
only after the major movement is underway
and it has been pointed out to you.
Isn't it amazing that such major movements aren't noticed,
often, by the person moving? 

By maintaining the form, by practising,
you will see more clearly into the details of such habits and patterns.
Eyes are another major indicator of the activity of perception and cognition. 

When you are in front of the teacher or practice advisor
the eye gaze should be kept open to the peripheral vision.
As you do that you'll start to notice strong tendencies for the eyes to dart around
or for the gaze to become strained with the eyes forced open
as if toothpicks were propping up the eyelids
[laughter of recognition].

This will be pointed out to you.
Once again, it is not that this tendency to dart or stare is "wrong".
It is something that goes on with human beings.
You might as well notice it.
By using the form for Daisan or practice interviews,
you will see more clearly into this process as well.

It may be uncomfortable but so what?
You are in a safe place.

Feel the breath,
sit up straight,
and open the peripheral vision.

Actually practise in that moment of noticing. 

Learning anything new can be "uncomfortable".
Recognize that the teacher or practice advisor
is not "judging" you
or trying "to best you"
or "compete" with you.
The monk is rather using every opportunity to show you,
in this moment,
how to mature your practice.

We're not used to this kind of generosity.
We are used to being looked at, judged, embraced, or discarded;
used in one way or another.

Reality, the Dharma,
and the teaching and teachers of reality
are not using you for anything
nor are they interested in you as a "social" being.
It makes no difference to them whether you are
old, young, rich, poor, straight, gay, male, or female. 

In this lineage,
definitions of male and female,
definitions of sex and gender, 
are not used to discriminate,
as they are in social culture.
This freedom from the bias of socially defined roles and labels
affords an opportunity to see the many ways our sense of who we are
has been shaped by these unquestioned patterns and assumptions. 

Using the forms allows us to see the habits, and patterns, and stances,
that have developed based on these definitions.
Dogen zenji wrote about this in the 13th century. 

If you want to study the Dharma and end contraction and struggle, forget such things as male and female. As long as all delusions have not yet been clarified, then neither men nor women have clarified them. When all delusions are clarified and True Reality is known, then there is no "male" and "female". 

This is from the "Rahai Tokuzui: Bowing and Acquiring the Essence" by Eihei Dogen zenji, translated by Yasuda Joshu Dainen roshi and Anzan Hoshin roshi. 

Today, practice advisors and teachers, in this lineage, are all "monks".
There is no division into "monks" and "nuns".
In Dogen's time social culture was stringently defined by sex and gender
and there are references to nuns and monks.

The word "nuns" is loaded because it reflects a social culture which universally puts a lower value on females, "nuns", than males, "monks". 

The Roshi has spent considerable time addressing questions of gender that come up in language.
In the front of publications it is written that, "the Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi and Great Matter Publications use non-gender specific language in order to clarify and make the teachings accessible to all practitioners." 

And guess what? We mean it.

The "Rahai Tokuzui" goes on to say, 

The five aggregates of form, reactivity, symbolization, patterning, and consciousness, are just the five aggregates, however they might appear; as a woman or a man makes no difference. Women and men can both receive the Dharma. If you are serious about the Buddha Way, you cannot make such distinctions about "male" or "female". This is fundamental to the Way of Awake Awareness. 

You might also noticed a lack of other widely accepted forms of social interaction
such as shaking hands, hugging,
filling up gaps of silence with chit chat,
everybody talking at once,
yelling at each other just to be heard,
and on and on and on. 

The forms provide the ways and the means for seeing clearly
during any interaction
how you are.
And through practising mindfulness when you notice anything,
uncovering who you are. 

Any interaction with a teacher or practice advisor
is based only in your desire to practice
and your demonstrated willingness to use the instructions and the forms
for looking into how you are as completely as you are able. 

Encountering a teacher or practice advisor in the halls of the monastery
or in the monastery grounds
provides opportunity for receiving verbal or non-verbal instruction
outside the formal area of Daisan and practice interviews. 

The basic instruction is the same no matter where you are:
allow attention to open,
and wait to follow the lead of the monk.

A tendency when we're not actually sitting in the Hatto
or in the room for Daisan
or practice interviews,
is to drop the forms of interaction and lapse into social mode.

By using the forms,
which include functional talking,
you can get to see those patterns based on self-image
and its "me, me, me, me, me, me, me" contractions
into those ideas of an image of a self.
You start to see whatever is coming up
as simply something going on
rather than a definition of who you are.

Practise at the moment of noticing anything. 

Remember, you can ask anything.
The form is simple,
"Gassho Osho" or
"Gassho Ino" or
"Gassho Tando" or
"Gassho Chiden"
and when you have the monk's attention,
when you are standing facing each other,
ask or say whatever you wanted to ask or say.
If you desire to communicate about something,
it is worthwhile and appropriate
to use that moment fully and completely by attending fully and completely. 

When you encounter monks outside the monastery,
the same instruction holds:
wait for the monk to lead.
If they bow you bow.
If they nod because bowing may cause confusion for others,
non-students, who are in the grocery store, or on the street, wherever you may be,
you nod. 

Now there is nothing stopping you from extending invitations to social events to monks
but don't be surprised if they decline.
After all, the monks have made the choice
to live their lives for the liberation of all beings
rather than to become involved in the secular world. 

If a monk accepts your invitation to attend a function,
recognize that there may be a great deal of uncertainty on your part
as to how you should act,
what you should do,
what will they think of you
and on and on and on.

The usual stuff of self-image that comes up
is no different whether you're going to the movies or going to Daisan.
Use the forms of interaction to see how you are in a different context.
This can be invaluable in maturing practice
and uncovering who you really are.

If you have questions, ask them.
Ask a practice advisor or a teacher.

When you have self-image asking self-image,
when you engage in discursiveness about the question about practice, 
recognize you're asking an idiot the question [louder laughter]. 

Going to advisors and teachers,
"May all beings

Skillfully attend to their teachers
And practise the ways of virtue."

Thank you for listening.