White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 28: When Setting Out a Place to Sit

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, July 12th, 2007

You can't buy it, barter for it, you can't fake it,
but you can,


practise the clarity,
the Awake Awareness,

the Knowing that is who you really are. 

When setting out a place to sit,
"May all beings

Unfold the flower of virtues

And understand their own clarity." 

With every breath you take you can practise mindfulness.
Your heart is still beating.

You're alive.

You don't know whether you're going to have another breath.
So you might as well take a risk.
Feel the one that's moving the bodymind in and out.

Sit up straight and open to the reality of this whole moment with the whole bodymind. 

Now, when you heard the word "virtues" perhaps there was a cascading of thoughts,
which, of course, you did not follow.
Which, of course,
you used to feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
and to practise that moment of mindfulness,
that moment of waking up to reality. 

But there are all sorts of words that we may associate with the word "virtue".
And they come up in all traditions.
I'll leave the looking up of those words,
the looking up of "virtue" and "virtues",
to you
so that you can have that list,
of things, qualities,
that self-image may think it has or does not have. 

If it thinks it "has" them,
it contracts around them and bodies itself forth
in a snappy little way, perhaps,
or in a self-satisfied waddle, or in an overbearing posture of body and mind. 

If it thinks it doesn't "have" them,
it may winge and wheedle and barter,
clasping and rubbing its greedy little grasping little hands,
looking for more of that which it does not have. 

Of course, you all see that contraction when it comes up
and feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze.
You practise that moment of awake awareness,
of mindfulness,
rather than falling for the stories. 

The origin of the word "virtue" is Latin.
It comes from "virtus".
In the dictionary I was using,
the word "manliness" was used
but because we do not reside in the gender ghetto
[students laugh]
we will substitute "humanness";
taking full responsibility for being a human being,
and the word "courage",
which was also used. 

"Courage" is an interesting word.
It comes from, again, originally, the Latin "cor",
which means "heart".
Now from what I've and read and experienced of many cultures
"heart" or "courage" is esteemed.
To the point where, sometimes,
certain peoples were known to have eaten the heart of enemies
which they considered to be brave
(but that's a kind of a little National Enquirer factoid to get your attention). 

But, heart, the heart,
has been recognized as being the beating at the centre of our life.

To have courage is to,
in practice,
step past the views of self-image and learn to recognize contraction. 

Now, the list of words of virtues are valued as being good.
Contraction, is, in a sense, value free;
just as the feeling of your thumb against the other thumb is value free.
It's a sensation.
To put value on it means to travel into the area of thoughts about that sensation.
So it's not necessary. 

Contraction comes up and,
because contraction may be something that we've experienced many times,
we may have the recognition or the expectation,
expectation is more correct actually,
the expectation that a certain type of contraction
brings with it a certain type of explanation or story. 

Contraction breeds contraction.

In the Forty-eight Supporting Precepts for monastics there's a precept, which says,

I vow to request Dharma.

That means to request clarification,
from one's teacher,
regardless of the story that one has anticipated.

Asking for clarification, for elucidation,
on contraction, can be scary,
it can produce fear,
because most of us don't realize that the stories that we get busy telling ourselves,
the stories that self-image gets busy telling itself
about how we are and how the world is,
are stories.

Self-image is self-serving. 

Practice helps us see the process of contraction.
It helps us see the process of perception and cognition.
It can take courage to talk about certain contractions which we may have imbued with meaning.

Now, we're not too reticent about the ones that we think are "good".
We can get all contracted,
but happy,
because we think we've realized something.
We're bringing it forth to get the gold star
or to get, "Roshi, Roshi, come down here. This student...."
[students laugh loudly] 

So, we'll kind of... not talk about that part of it.
[students laugh] 

There are other contractions,
other stories,
that are brought up that we may feel "shame" or "guilt" about.
I mean no one really wants to admit that they might have had a thought about,
[students laugh]

We tend not to talk about that
because that makes us believe,
because we think we are our thoughts,
that we are a person who, maybe, almost did that thing.
So that reveals something to us:
A thought is not the same as an action. 

One learns that through taking a risk,
through doing our best to talk about what we noticed going on, contraction can be opened further and we can start to understand that we are actually the Knowing of those things rather than the person who "almost" did that action. 

It can be a slippery slope,
this listening to the stories of self-image.
But anything can be talked about.
We won't get forensic and analyze you because of a thought that you might have had.
We've all had thoughts.
We've all had thought.
We've all had thoughts that maybe weren't...

the nicest. 

We've all had thoughts that have been self-aggrandizing.
But since we've all had varieties of these thoughts,
and they come up for everyone, well,
we can all start to realize that all human beings are pretty much the same
and the act of trying to cover contraction
and story and action
is like putting a stone on a plant.
And when we see the stone rather than removing it
or calling out to some one to help us to do this
we put another rock on it and maybe another one just to be sure,
just to, in truth,
make things more difficult for ourselves. 

It does, in fact, take courage to lift up this rock and say,
"look it's here, it got put here because..."
and then to receive instruction as to how to deal with that next rock,
that next contraction that comes up.
And you will find that the stories you make up are far heavier
and far more damaging
and far more to be feared than the reality that,
a contraction is a contraction,
a thought is a thought it's not an action.
You have free will.
You can do whatever you want.
You can make whatever choices you want
and if you want to practise
then you follow instructions to the best of your ability. 

When all those rocks of contraction are removed,
when we know what to do when we see contraction,
which is to practise whole bodily in the whole moment,
we find that the choices for action that we do make
can be classified according to those great long lists
that every tradition seems to like to make up
of qualities that we should or shouldn't have.

But really it's very simple:
You notice something,
there's a contraction.

Have the heart to do what you know to be true.

Take a risk,
which is really a non-risk,
and those flowers will bloom. 

The verse.

When setting out a place to sit,
"May all beings

Unfold the flower of virtues

And understand their own clarity." 

As you all know clarity comes through your own experiencing.
It's not someone else's experiencing.
All anyone can do is use their own experiencing to point to yours.
That's what teachers do. 

Through the placing of your bodymind on the zafu that you are setting out,
(or that some one else has taken care of for you),
you're learning to see reality as it really is,
where a thought is just a thought,
a thought is different from an action,
a contraction is a contraction,
there is no value on it,
it's just something to be noticed. 

If you're breathing in and out,
if your heart is still beating, 

you have time to 

wake up.

Thank you for listening.