White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 24: Receiving Guidance from a Practice Advisor

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 31st, 2008

...and a very good moment to you. 

Use the moment. 

Notice what else is going on. 

It's raining this morning.
It's almost a tropical rain.
Big, juicy, fat, raindrops,
and the air is moist,
it's humid. 

Did you notice that when you bowed to begin the sitting round,
that the volume, what you were perceiving of the sound of the raindrops,

Now, that type of sound was something that was familiar to the people who wrote and listened to these verses some 1600 years ago. 


...is the only moment that you can practise. 

Every breath you take is now,
is this moment,
and so it was when the text from which these verses have been translated was put together, in India. 

Then it was called the "Avatamsaka Sutra",
but not, of course, in English.
That is a translation.
But it was composed some 1600 years ago,
in a different language,
in a different part of the world.
This text, sometimes called "The Flower Garland Sutra",
ancient and classical, was of influence to all of East Asian Dharma. 

And it can be useful to each and every practitioner, now,
because it's talking about human beings.

People are people
and the process of being human hasn't changed.
Evolutionary change takes a long, long, time.
The verses, presenting the reality of the interpenetration of all things,
show how everything we do,
however mundane,
affects all beings. 

The verse: 

Receiving guidance from an advisor,
"May all beings

Deport themselves with dignity

And their actions be truthful." 

So if there is a little thought coming in about what truthful means,
or how "truthful" you may or may not have been,
use that as a cue to practise the whole bodymind in this moment.

Feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze
and recognize it takes longer to talk about it
than it does to do it. 

But we will burden ourselves with lots of words
and if they're coming from us to us,
if we're talking to ourselves, i
t can create a massive burden.
That's why we need advisors. 

Receiving guidance from an advisor

Well, it's not so very complicated.
A guide is someone who has been somewhere,
knows the territory,
and can take other people through it.

Often we would like to make ourselves quite distant from a practice advisor,
because, "after all, they're not like us".
"Look at them with their bald heads."
"Look at them with the little patches of stubble that they've missed."
[students laugh]
"Look at them in their black robes."
And sometimes,
without even knowing it,
what we will do is have an idea that they sprang, full blown, this way,
from some alien place that has really nothing to do with us. 

But, they've been there.
They've had their butt on the zafu for many, many, hours more than you have.
They've come across, they've experienced,
they've practised, through myriads of states,
myriads of obstacles,
but the determination was there to continue,
even when self-image might have been saying,
"Run! Get out of here!"
But it is the recognition that
thoughts are thoughts,
feelings are feelings,
and they need not propel us into action.
They need not be the factor that determines the choice we will make. 

So, the practice advisors that you find yourself sitting in front of have made choices,
over and over and over again,
to persevere.

And there is a dignity every time any one pulls themselves up,
feels the breath,
opens the eye gaze,
practises the whole bodymind,
and makes a decision not to follow the whimsical,
or serendipitous, or seductive,
song of self-image.

It isn't necessary. 

So, your name is called.
Here is a clue:
when your name is called for a practice interview
there will be a flurry of activity,
of experiences arising within experiencing,
"Oh no. Not her." [students laught].
"Shi...[O-sensei snaps fingers]
why me? Why me?" 

Now the form for zazen is to sit, legs neatly folded,
hands neatly folded in the mudra,
spine straight.
So rather than following a usual view, a usual reaction,
of say,
putting our hands up to our head while we go,
"Oh no,"
collapsing into a little heap,
we sit up straight.

And before you can talk to yourselves about it,
the bodymind presents itself as open
and you practise that openness in that moment.
Out of the dignity of the form of zazen
you're given the opportunity to notice more of the details. 

And when you leave the Hatto,
to make your way to the designated rendezvous,
you have ample opportunity to practise moments of experience,
or dharmas,
as they present themselves.
You can feel the feet on the floor going over different surfaces.
You can feel the space around.
You can see the changes in the light.
You can "see" innumerable,
(see as in "know"),
innumerable sensations that the bodymind is experiencing. 

Often, however, and I don't think I'm giving away a secret here,
often, we'll be so busy figuring out what we're going to say
that we don't notice the reality of the experience of the bodymind in the moment. 

The use of the forms,
the hands in shashu at the diaphragm,
the eye gaze open,
all aid you in seeing what's really going on in that moment. 

There's no problem if a thought is present.
It's one thing amongst a myriad of knowns.
If you notice it that means for the merest fraction of a second
you have not been totally involved in it.
So there's been this waking up,
this moment of mindfulness,
this moment of recognition of the reality of the moment.

Use it.

Feel the breath.

Feel the whole bodymind.

Allow the bodymind to express its full dignity. 

Now, dignity is an interesting word.

There're all sorts of things,
different definitions that will come up for us,
and some of them are rather... stiff.
Some of them present images, perhaps,
of uniforms, and crowns, and resplendent robes,
and so on, 
but that's not what we're talking about. 
Those are interpretations that peoples of different cultures and languages have made. 

So I spent some time looking up "dignity" and...
it comes from the Latin "dignus"; worthy.
So now there's a choice point,
there's a moment where we can say,
"well, what's 'worthy'?"
And we can pick a way to follow.

So if we take it "outside" of the bodymind,
then we have the self that is looking to be seen,
or may be seen,
in a certain way by others.

But if we look at it from the sense of the bodymind being "worthy" of full expression,
"worthy" of being allowed to function fully and completely and openly
with access to all the intelligences of the bodymind,
it can take on another meaning. 

In Farsi "dignity",
another word for "dignity", is "grace".

Now we all know we're not talking about what we're going to say before we eat
but "grace" as in fluidity of movement,
"grace" again as unimpeded by whatever is arising in the moment. 

Also in Farsi; "capacity".

The bodymind has untapped capacity.
What impedes it is contractions into a sense of "self" with story lines.

We've all experienced what it is like to be overcome by a contraction,
to be overcome by self-image,
to have the open experiencing of the bodymind twisted and gnarled.

What we call the state, of course,
will influence our interpretation.

If we take away calling it anything,
if we take away the possibility of interpreting it as anything,
we can just "know" it.

There's this moment of knowing the gnarling that can occur,
that makes us smaller than we actually are, smaller than the bodymind,
and the capacities of the bodymind,

The verse again: 

Receiving guidance from an advisor,
"May all beings

Deport themselves with dignity

And their actions be truthful." 

"Deport" means carrying,
how we "carry" the bodymind.

And when we start to understand that we are not the bodymind,
that we are the Knowing of the bodymind,
we can start to appreciate that we have far more choice than we previously thought. 

We can see the gnarls that come up,
and gnarls don't just have to be so-called "bad" things.
We can get all gnarly when we're very happy
because the contraction can come up and we can get all carried away,
jumping around,
and doing things that are extraneous to the actual experience
of what is happening in the bodymind. 

Because we're learning how to practise,
we simply don't know a lot of these things yet. 

All of the forms,
everything in the monastery,
every word that is said to you by a practice advisor,
or a teacher,
or texts,
are resources for you
to help you see more clearly into each and every moment of experiencing. 

In "Completely It",
from the teisho series "Five Fingers, Ten Directions: Commentaries on Eihei Dogen zenji's text 'Jippo'"
there is a quote, by the Roshi, from Dogen zenji, 

To go further, calling someone to come to us is easy but getting them to leave is difficult. 

The Roshi goes on to say, 

It is not so difficult really to bring out the original you; it is much more difficult not to make it into merely another limited reference point and objectify it. The old habits, the old perspectives, our usual dependence upon using verbalized thoughts and the categories of self and other can begin to creep in. 

So, when you have entered the space where the practice interview is being conducted
the form is to use the bodymind as completely and as openly as possible.
To take your seat,
to sit in the posture of zazen,
and to use the dignity of that posture
to help you see more clearly the details of experiencing. 

Self-image has many, many views about the moment the question,
"How's your practice?" is asked. 

Various stances and strategies will come up,
and, if my own experience has any validity whatsoever,
there will be or there may be a tendency to take it personally
when we're told that,
what we were saying or doing was not complete. 

Self-image does tend to view instruction and correction as criticism
but as has been said by the Roshi,
"Practice is too intimate for it to be personal." 

So, the posture,
and maintaining the posture,
will help you see those contractions that come up
into a sense of a self
that wants to personalize what's going on. 

What can you do? 


You know what to do


It does take longer to talk about it

To actually do it. 

The verse again: 

Receiving guidance from an advisor,
"May all beings

Deport themselves with dignity

And their actions be truthful." 

Thank you for listening.