White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 19: When They Formally Leave Home

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, April 10th, 2008


...is the oxygen that is vital and totally necessary for your life 

...be interested now 

...'cause it doesn't last... 

Practise when there is a noticing of anything at all,
that sense of "me" or "I" that's noticing something,
that sense of contraction into a self
that believes that it is apart and separate and that anything else is "other". 

Feel the breath.
Sit up straight. 
Open the peripheral vision. 

The verse: 

When they formally 'leave home',
"May all beings

'Leave home' with the Awakened One
And liberate self and other." 

The verse states what the "home leaver",
and all others who leave home to practise as monks,
will do to the best of their ever-increasing ability.
The verse reminds them of what they are doing and expresses the wish that all beings "leave home"
by following the example of the Buddha
and following the instructions passed down through the Lineage. 

Now, so as not to exclude anyone in the Hatto right now:
associate students, general students, formal students,
can remember that, in an earlier talk,
"home" was not only describing the physical building and the inhabitants
but was also being used to talk about all the patterns we've accumulated,
that we feel comfortable with, and wrap around ourselves,
to create a sense of "self"
with stories about who we are and how the world is. 

The contraction into a "self", that nesting into the familiar,
and the result that everything else is regarded as "other"
tears the fabric of reality and it causes problems on many levels.

The problems are not just things that "we" experience,
that "we" alone experience,
as that is impossible.
Whether we like it or not,
how we are affects everything else.
Practising mindfulness gives us the way
to open around that sense of "self" and "other"
and thus open to reality. 

The liberation of the contraction into a "self"
is simultaneously the release of that which seems separate from us,
which we regard as "other".
That sense of "self" is a fabrication.
"Other" is a fabrication which we make up and it is often cartoon-like. 

The contraction into a self creates what has been referred to as
a barrier, an obstruction, an obscuration, a wall. 

Recently, a general student mentioned in Daisan that at one moment,
the moment of practising mindfulness,
everything was open,
there was a sense of ease and lightness,
a recognition that there was no problem. 

As soon as attention started to move to a "self"
that was an experiencer of that sense of lightness,
all of sudden,
attention narrowed into a sense of "me",
a sense of a "self",
and there was a "wall" between that student and the teacher.
The student was surprised at how apparent,
how palpable, that was, "I can feel it!" 

A reminder to practise in that moment opened the perceived wall,
and it became a "gate" into reality:
the reality that as well as that sense of a self that was separate in that moment
there was also
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, thinking,
and that there was room for everything
and there was no need to focus attention on any one thing. 

Now, students often express or exhibit impatience with practice.
Self-image wants everything all at once.
Very seldom is it clear what that "everything" is. 

So we need to be reminded that we're learning to do something
and we need reminders of what we are doing
so we can keep on doing it:
That's why verses such as those in "The Practice of Purity" can be very handy. 

The last two lines of the verse; 

'Leave home' with the Awakened One
And liberate self and other. 

When you come to practise
you are given instructions on how to practise
and these instructions have spanned 2600 years.
They were first spoken of by Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, the Awakened One,
and maybe somewhere around 200 years later,
people started to write them down.

But whether one is practising as an associate, a general, a formal student, or as a monk,
the basic instructions are the same. 


Because the process of perception and cognition is the same for all human beings. 

When contraction happens,
it is as if a wall, a barrier has come into being.
That wall or barrier seems to separate the "self", the "me",
from everything else. 

Following the instructions of the lineage of Awakened Ones
opens attention to the context within which the wall or barrier is happening,
the whole bodymind,
and when this is done,
the "barrier" is a "gate" and it opens. 

A moment of experience is called a "dharma" in Sanskrit.
A moment of experience,
something that is known,
a dharma, with a little "d".
If it has a big "D" then it is talking about Reality and the Teachings of Reality. 

When mindfulness is practised and attention opened,
the moment of experience,
the dharma, can be seen to be,
in reality, a gate,
an entrance into further opening. 

Now there's lots of instruction that has been written down,
there are lots of teisho, and Dharma Talks, and chants
that point to the fact of the Dharma and the Dharma gates. 

The third of the Buddha's Four Great Vows also reminds us of what we are doing.
It tells us what the situation is and what to do. 

The Third Great Vow:

Dharma gates beyond measure I vow to penetrate.

And those of you who have come to general sittings will remember that this is chanted,
the Four Great Vows are chanted at the end of the sitting. 

Dharma gates beyond measure I vow to penetrate.

Dharma gates;
experiences arising within experiencing,
arising within awareness,
are beyond measure.
That's a fact. 

We are reminding ourselves that as moments of experience are "beyond measure",
they can't be measured or counted.
We'll need to penetrate them.
We'll need to enter through that dharma gate
by practising basic mindfulness over and over and over again. 

The gate,
the dharma we've noticed,
is only one of many, many experiences in any moment of experiencing. 

The dharma, the dharma gate,
has space around,
lots of space to each side, up and down, and behind.
The gate, which may have been perceived as a barrier,
opens when you practise,
when you feel the whole bodymind in the whole moment by
feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
and opening to the full gaze. 

Now, remember the student who noticed the "wall" that had come up?
Well, the student practised and
that wall, that barrier, that gate,
but, really quickly,
a thought came up again,
there was a congealing into as self. 

What to do? What should any student do in that moment?

Recognize you're learning to practise and that rather than a problem of you
"being a poor student",
"being stupid", or
there is just another dharma gate to be practised, to be penetrated.

Use it.
Do not let it use you. 

If you allow attention to go into those thoughts about,
oh you know,
the favourite ones about being stupid,
not being as good as everyone else,
being better that everybody else but nobody really recognizes it... 

[students laugh loudly in recognition]

Don't be fooled by the content.

Ignore it.

At just that moment of recognition
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze. 

You're practising because you want to learn how to practise.
Practice means to do something over and over again.
And the over and over and over again
[students giggle]
of it means you acquire increasing facility with the activity.
That requires moment-to-moment effort
and we need to learn that. 

Now discipline,
rather than being something that has whips and chains associated with it,
simply means the willingness to learn.
So we make ourselves available
through the discipline of coming to practise
and putting our butt down on the zafu. 

A reminder that the dictionary definition of practice is
"To repeat (an activity) as a way of improving one's skill in that activity." 

The verse again: 

When they formally 'leave home',
"May all beings

'Leave home' with the Awakened One
And liberate self and other." 

Practising, learning how to open,
learning how to penetrate dharma gates,
is what the Buddha taught.

"Buddha" means one who has woken up to reality,
an Awakened One.

Everybody's "Buddha". 

But sometimes,
a lot of the time,
nearly all the time,
when you're not practising,
you don't know it.
That's why you have to practise. 

You believe there is a barrier dividing and obstructing
and you believe the stories of why the barrier is there.
You have a choice to open attention and open the "gate". 

Contraction into self and other limits and causes problems.
In many ways.
It enslaves us.
It kills.
Again, there's no need to go into case and point
because we all have examples that are easily available;
both things that we have experienced individually
and things that are going on in "the world".
None of it is necessary.
These contractions into an image of a self cause suffering for all beings. 


Stop it. 

Those who have formally left home
have vowed to practise and penetrate dharma gates
until there is no more "self" and "other",
until there is the liberation of "self" and "other". 

They wake up and just as did the first Awakened One,
Lineage Ancestor Gautama Siddhartha,
they vow to practise and teach until all beings are liberated. 

Thank you for listening.