White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 21: Taking Refuge in the Teachings

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 1, 2008


...lets you know you're alive
and is your only chance to practise the Dharma;
The Teachings of Reality.

All the past breaths are gone
and none of us know if we're going to have another one.
With this breath you can make a choice.
You can choose between contraction and the open space of reality. 

What ARE you going to do? 

The verse from "The Practice of Purity",
which can be said informally after receiving the Three Jewels,
addresses the second precept: 

The verse: 

Taking refuge in the Teachings,

"May all beings

Enter fully into the Discourses

And their perfect knowing be as deep as the sea." 

"Taking refuge in the Teachings",
the second of the Precepts of the Three Jewels,
was translated by the Roshi as,

All that is arises as the display of Awareness.

The second precept expands on the first,

Awareness is the Only Condition.

You are Buddha.

You are awake
but most of the time you don't know this
because it is clouded with habitual patterning and contraction
and congealing into a sense of a self.
The reality of the open space of experiencing is obstructed
and often seems to have disappeared.
But it is not gone.

How to uncover this reality? 

Well, I'm glad you asked. 

The Teachings of Reality,
the Dharma,
give you the tools and instruction necessary for you to realize
that you are Awareness in itself
and that this was and is always the case.
You just don't know it all the time.
Practising the fact of the open space of experiencing
opens the congealing caused by the feeding of attention into habitual patterns
which create density and the sense of a self, an image of a self,
which stands apart and propagates the belief
that it is separate from everything else. 

This is a fiction. 

A formal student receiving the Precepts of the Three Jewels
is stating their understanding that reality is vast, open space, daiku, Awareness.
They are vowing,
out loud to the teacher,
that they will exert every effort to realize,
to make real,
this understanding in every moment. 

As understanding is not present all the time,
the student is vowing to practise with any obscuration, obstructions, Dharma gates.
They are vowing to practise with whatever arises within Awareness.

All that is arises as the display of Awareness.

The student is expressing their recognition,
however rudimentary and partial it may be,
that all moments of experience,
all dharmas,
are arising within Awareness.

The second precept, sometimes expressed as

This is Dharma

and translated by the Roshi as

All that is arises as the display of Awareness

also points to the wealth of material and resources on the Teachings of Reality, 
the Dharma,
that are available to guide them to realize their understanding fully and completely. 

This fact of experiencing,
the fact that

All that is arises as the display of Awareness

is the base of practice
and it isn't necessary for a person to have formally taken the precepts for this to be a useful reminder.

Any time you chant it or hear it or read it or have a thought arising about it,
you are presented with the chance to practise this fact,
this reality,
this moment of mindfulness. 

Taking refuge in the Teachings of Reality is recognizing
that there is no "safe"
as self-image would have us believe.
There is birth, old age, sickness, and death.
That's reality.
Nobody gets out alive.
Reality is unpredictable and there is no place to hide nor is hiding necessary.
There is nothing to hide from.
There's simply the display of Awareness presenting itself as experiences. 

Taking refuge is also recognizing that the Dharma, the Teachings of Reality,
give you the means to extinguish the burning flames of passion, aggression, and stupidity,
sort of like a fire extinguisher for the three klesa. 

The Teachings of Reality, the Dharma,
show us over and over and over again
that this is true
and provides us with the tools and instruction
that we need to open around anything that comes up. 

By using these tools and instruction
and through practice and study of shastra, sutras, suttas, teisho, Dharma Talks,
students can "enter fully into the Discourses",
enter fully with the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

The Teachings point to,
through the experience of many other human beings just like you,
the pitfalls,
the habitual patterns and tendencies of your own experiencing.

This process of pointing and recognition,
however momentary,
starts the instant you make contact with the Teachings.

What is always being pointed to is your own experiencing in this moment.
You just need to be open to see what is being shown. 

The forms of teaching are not just zazen.
Zazen is the base practice.
But we can't always be sitting.
We walk. We talk. We move around. We do things.
The other forms, all making it possible for you to
stop and look
more and more clearly into your experiencing,
include bowing, kinhin, chanting, dokusan, daisan, practice interviews, oryoki, samu.

The Teachings are presented in many other ways;
the written word, the spoken word, the sho, the zenga, the ikebana. 

Everything is here for you. 

All the forms, all the presentations of the Dharma,
point to your experiencing in the moment.
Self-image is not used to this kind of generosity.
Often when instruction is given to show how you can see more clearly
through the use of the forms,
there is a flurry of reactivity.
There is a tendency to regard instruction as criticism
and self-image will try its damndest to defend itself and its position.

Fortunately, this is not who you are.
This like anything else is something arising within your experiencing. 

You just have to see it. 

That moment of seeing is a moment of mindfulness.
You "top it up" by
feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
opening the eye gaze,
by practising and deepening that moment of clear seeing,
that moment of seeing a display of Awareness,
(and sometimes, believe me, that display can be like fireworks.
It may not be comfortable
but I can't recall anyone ever saying to me that I would be comfortable all the time.
Take a risk.) 

The moment of clear seeing, of insight, is a moment of mindfulness.
When you practise that moment, you are building upon, and stabilizing, mindfulness.
You are learning what the Teachings of Reality are
and you are learning how to use the Teachings
with the whole bodymind. 

There are many moments of reactivity when one enters into practice and many things seem to be the cause of it.

For example, during teisho with a lot of "strange" sounding "foreign" names,
there can often be a flurry of comments,
to oneself,
comments exchanged between self-image and self-image,
and questions, around the idea of,
"Oh, what possible use could these foreign guys and gals be?"
"Why do we have to listen to this? It's just boring."
"How come there aren't many women in the Lineage?"

Blah blah blah.
You name it, we've heard it. [student laughter]. 

Now, of course, it's simple.
These discourses present the history of the Dharma.
They are the records of practice from other places, other times.

Entering fully into these discourses can mean seeing the reactivity as reactivity
rather than as an expression of who you are,
rather than the expression from a self. 

Now, you may have noticed we don't have "exams"
although each moment can be examined,
so whether you remember the names or not will not give you a better or a worse mark
because there are no marks.

All you need to do is sit there,
do nothing,
except see,
except breathe,
except sit up straight,
except open the eye gaze,
which the bodymind wants to do anyway.
It "likes" it. 

Now, reactivities are neither right or wrong,
they're neither good nor bad.
They are not who you are.
They're simply something going on.
And you can use them;
you should use them as a cue to practise. 

Some one or some thing in the Teachings,
in the discourses presented, may interest you
There may be a flash of something, of curiosity,
a flash of, "I want to know more about that!"

When you recognize a moment of interest
you can research whatever caused that moment of interest.
A treasure house of resources is available to you. 

Here's the snag.
You have to do it.
No one else can do it for you. 

The Lineage, the teachers, the practice advisors, can only point.
Only you can do the "footwork". 

There's zazen.
There's the monastery.
There is the Dharma: The Teachings of Reality. 

The forms are tools to help you see "how you are". 

The question, "How's your practice?"
is asking you what you are noticing about experiencing in that moment. 

The reality of the moment is that your life,
your patterns, your tendencies arise
as well as
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, breathing in and out.
This is true for all beings. 

Patterns come up during daisan and can be seen.
The teacher sees them first
and that pattern is then pointed out
so that you can see it for what it is.
Now, the aspect of daisan and practice interviews is covered in another verse.
Stay tuned. 

Interesting things can happen during daisan and practice interviews.
We can be constantly surprised
at how patterns and orientations that we did not know about
come up.
Really interesting. 

From "Cutting the Cat" by the Roshi, 

...receiving the Three Jewels, the student is expressing and recognizing his or her own nature as a Buddha, as an Awakened one; recognizing that, in this waking up, there is a freshness, a sense of possibility. If one can see this nature exactly as it is, then, this possibility would be complete in itself and unfold itself in actualizing Buddhanature as one's life. But since there is a gap between the possibility and the way that we tend to live our usual moments, there is a need for the Dharma, the teaching and practice which exposes this gap completely to us and allows us to transform it into spaciousness, into further Awakening. In order to expose our little charade of self-image fully we have to recognize that there are others who have been through this and can guide us, who will practice alongside us, who will feed us, who will fight with us, who give birth to us, who bury us, who fill the ten directions. 

The verse: 

Taking refuge in the Teachings,

"May all beings

Enter fully into the Discourses

And their perfect knowing be as deep as the sea." 

In the next verse we'll look at the third precept,
"Taking refuge in the harmonious community",
the Sangha.

Thank you for listening.