White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 2: Serving Parents

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, November 8th, 2007

So it's this moment. 

You're sitting, breathing in and out.
You can feel the posture,

see the seeing,

hear the hearing,
notice thoughts coming and going,
notice sensations coming and going. 

The instruction is really simple: when you notice anything,
anything at all,
any moment of experience,
you practise mindfulness of breath, of body, of mind, 
mindfulness of the whole body in the whole moment. 

Dharma Talks,
interactions with teachers, practice advisors,
exist for only one reason and that is to remind you to practise in this moment. 

Thoughts and feelings arise on their own in response to cues.
In the "Avatamsaka Sutra" and "The Practice of Purity, verses from the Flower Garland Discourse",
which is the "Avatamsaka Sutra",
the question was raised as to how practitioners who had become home leavers,
who had become monastics,
could "unfold the energy of knowing what is true and what is not,
the energy of knowing the consequences of events,
the energy of knowing the inclinations of beings,
the energy of knowing the various styles of beings,
the energy of knowing the capacities of beings,
the energy of knowing the destinations of all paths of practice,
the energy of knowing the obscurations, deviations, and clarification of all practices and meditative states,
the energy of knowing one's own past existences,
the energy of knowing future existences,
and the energy of knowing the ending of all outflows". 

These verses came about as a consequence of practitioners wanting to know some 1600 years ago:
how to practise with this breath,
with each breath in each moment.

Now bear in mind,
these verses were written for people who had established basic mindfulness practice,
who had expressed their intention to practise the Dharma through the taking of vows and so,
as with all of practice,
the more they understood,
the more mature their practice was,
the more deeply they could practise.

However, anyone who has started to practise
can read these verses
and can allow them to throw a slightly different light
on the interactions that we have moment to moment
when we're not sitting on the zafu. 

Last week we looked at: 

Wakeful ones who are at home should raise the aspiration,
"May all beings

Realize the nature of 'home' is empty

And release its limitations." 

The next verse (and watch what happens in your experience,
as you hear certain words and remember to practise when that happens,
to practise with what you have noticed): 

In serving their parents,

"May all beings

Serve the Awakened,

Sheltering and nourishing everyone." 

All manner of pictures, emotions, feelings,
can arise when we think about parents.
It's amazing how we have constructs,
that we've constructed without even knowing about who these people are,
but more importantly, 
how we are, 
what we want from them.

And as we get older,
we start to understand that perhaps we don't know anything about these people,
our parents.
We may know of the role.
We may know of the interaction between ourselves and these people who nurtured us.
We cannot, in most cases, ignore the fact that if it weren't for them,
we wouldn't be here. 

And we don't have to have any certain set of feelings to recognize that.
But we are a feeling based culture and we're always looking around for the "right" set of feelings.
When this was written,
the whole context of families would have been radically different from what we experience.
Most families would live in an extended family situation
with innumerable people perhaps living in a single compound
with birth, old age, sickness, and death, right there, in your face. 

For most of us today it's not like that.
We tend to be, on the whole,
a rather modular society.
So that we have, well, "me" first of all,
then "me" and somebody else,
then "me" and "our" family,
and almost peripheral players in this
would be parents who live out of town, out of country, in totally different circumstances
and we've made up all sorts of different stories about them. 

So how do we practise with this?
Does the fact that we are studying Zen mean that all of a sudden we're going to become 
an incredibly loving and dutiful child?
Not necessarily. 

But what we can do is recognize that the process of being a human being
is the same for every human being who has walked on the face of the earth.
We're born.
A sperm hits an egg and,
bedang, there "you" are nine months later.

Now, there's no lottery where "your" name got picked out as the "special one".
Not at all.
Very, very, random. 

But facts can speak for themselves,
and, on the whole if you're alive,
someone looked after you.

Human babies are notorious for not being able to look after themselves.
The period in which they are apparently unable to look after themselves
seems now to be extending well into the 30's and 40's in some cases,
but yet on the whole
we're playing out roles.

We don't seem to have learned the necessary skills,
communication and otherwise
to interact on any level that is mutually satisfying most of the time
because when we're in a situation,
patterns come up.

And we may find ourselves playing the role
of the dutiful, affectionate daughter
with clenched teeth.
Or we may find ourselves telling ourselves stories
while perhaps one of our parents is going on and on and on
with the same old story. 

So, what to do? 

Well, that choice is up to you.
We can, however, as practitioners studying the Way,
studying reality,
recognize that just as we deal with patterns,
so does everyone else that we interact with.
Every time we come to a general sitting or a formal sitting,
at the end of the sitting we chant The Four Great Vows: 

All beings without number I vow to liberate.
Endless obsessions I vow to release.

Dharma gates beyond measure I vow to penetrate.
Limitless Awakening I vow to unfold. 

Those of you who do samu have chanted the samu chant: 

May all beings be happy,
May they be peaceful,
May they be free. 

Neither of these chants are cute little sayings to get you into the mood to work
but rather are statements of intention.
In another translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra
the question of serving the parents was translated like this: 

While serving their parents they should wish that all beings serve the Buddha, protecting and nourishing everyone. 

With that statement we've released individual responsibility
because a "wish" that someone else should do something is not particularly useful
other than it does, perhaps, give one the sense that they're a good person
and if everyone else would shape up everything would be great. 

The way it has been translated here: "May all beings serve the Awakened" 

And in the statement "serve the Awakened"
we're talking about the reality of Awake Awareness,
the reality of being a human being,
the reality of recognizing that all human beings,
all beings really,
are born, live, die, need shelter, need food, need nourishment in other ways,
and we're making the statement, as with the samu chant,
that we will do what we can. 

So when this verse is raised, when practitioners,
and in this case it was written for those who had deepened their practice,
matured it enough, that they took the responsibility for receiving vows to live as monastics,
perhaps even as lay monks rather than fully ordained monastics,
making the statement that their intention
is to live out as best as they possibly can
what is expressed in the vows and the chants that we chant. 

So we can recognize that our parents are people just as we are,
but that we have learned,
the bodymind has learned,
many patterns of reactivity and feeling tone about everything
not just around this particular situation with parents,
around everything.

We're learning to see them for what they are
as they come up
so that we can cut through reactivity that arises
by feeling the breath,
sitting or standing up straight,
opening the eye gaze,
and take whatever action is the most useful in each particular moment.

The choice of what that is, is, of course, up to the individual.
This can cause problems for students as well
because apparently another thing we human beings like is rules.
We like to have solid guidelines that will dictate actions that we should take.

Practice does not provide that.
Practice provides instruction which,
when you follow the instruction,
will show more and more clearly,
the process of perception and cognition
so that when you do make choices for action in any situation,
it is not propelled by conditioned experiencing.
It is not propelled by old patterns,
but rather comes about because of an open intelligence as to what needs to be done in that moment. 

The verse again: 

In serving their parents,

"May all beings
Serve the Awakened
Sheltering and nourishing everyone." 

An aspiration that is raised every time you chant The Four Great vows,
every time you chant the Samu Chant. 

It's funny too, in this culture,
I recently heard someone say,
"Isn't it sad that we really don't grow up until we're orphans."

The person who said this was, as I am, in their sixties. 

So practice can help you grow up and take responsibility for being a real human being.

Thank you for listening.