White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 29: Sitting Up Straight

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, July 19th, 2008

You showed up again! 

You saw any thoughts or feelings that came up with information, stories, such as:
"...ooh...no! I don't wanna..."

"I'm too tired."

"This is going to be great." 

Whatever the story was,
you saw it for what it was;
a figment,
a fabrication,
words wrapped around a contraction into a sense of self


you took appropriate action 

which was to

feel the feet, the hands

feel the bodymind

feel the breath

open the eye gaze

one foot in front of the other
and here you are
demonstrating with... 


...your sincerity in wanting to practise.


...every breath that is breathing you
gives you the opportunity to notice it,
to sit up straight,
to open the eye gaze,
to practise whole bodily in the moment,
and you can do it faster
[snaps fingers]
than I can talk about or than you can think about it. 

So you may as well give up talking to yourself about it
and thinking about it
and just do it.
Saves a lot of energy.

The verse, 

Sitting up straight,

"May all beings

Be seated on the throne of Awareness,
Their intelligence disentangled." 

Intelligence disentangles itself
or is disentangled from the contractions that bind it
each time you see experiences arising within experiencing for what they are,
experiences arising within experiencing,
rather than as definitions of a self,
images of a self,
a personality,
or who you are. 

Now, of course, there you are sitting up straight,
"seated on the throne of Awareness".
You are Awareness in itself.
You are experiencing in itself.
You are Knowing in itself.
And as Knowing you cannot be a "knower".
There cannot be a self described as a "knower".
You're learning to see that.
And each time you notice anything [O-sensei snaps fingers]
feel whole bodily,
the whole moment.

Traps and cages spring open

Intelligence is freed. 

We do become entangled.
Human beings become entangled in their stories about what's going on.
And, this has been going on for 2600 years
so it's not surprising that in Teisho and Dharma Talks and Sutra self-image will go,
"Ooh, talking about me..."
because self-image wants to make everything personal
and as has been said by the Roshi,
and all the other Teachers in the Lineage,
in many different ways,
"Practice is too intimate to be personal". 

The process of being a human being is the same for all human beings
and that tendency to hold yourself apart from it,
"because..." is, of course, a definition, a display, of self-image.

You're learning to recognize that. 

A long, long, time ago on the other side of the city,
there was a small temple and sittings were held there,
in the Zendo.
And often there might only be one person other than the teacher at the sittings.
Sometimes there'd be a few more. 

Every student gets entangled in the stories of self-image.
That's why they need to be disentangled. 

Well, one day was a sesshin day
which means
sitting walking sitting walking sitting walking sitting walking sitting walking sitting walking sitting
from 4:30 in the morning when we get up
to 9:30 at night when we go to bed. 

This particular student wasn't so young
as many are when they start sitting.
And, of course, the cries and creaks of joints and tendons
offered a lot of places upon which self-image could focus its attention
to the point where "sensation" became the main focus. 

The gong rang from upstairs and it was time for the student to go for dokusan.
The student walked to the door, 
put out the right hand,
turned the doorknob,
facing into the hall.

How embarrassing is that?
How can it happen that a reasonable human being
with sensations and senses present
could become so entangled in stories about what was going on
that the obvious, a form which had been practised over and over and over again,
became wiped out,
sense of direction became wiped out?

Now this is to show how intelligence becomes compromised
when we get caught up in the tangles of self-image and its stories. 

Practice show us how this can become disentangled.
And the process is
[O-sensei snaps fingers],
that's it:
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
practise the whole body in the whole moment. 

 Forms help us with this process
of learning to disentangle the intelligence of the bodymind from the stories.
We are told simple things.
For example, when in the Hatto at the beginning of sittings,
students take their cues from the seniors.
Don't move until the senior moves.
But self-image says,
"this doesn't apply to me and I see that I'm supposed to be over there
I'm supposed to close the gap between two seats..."
and it becomes so entangled
in the placing of itself in the so-called "favourable light" defined by self-image
that it steps out when no one else is in the room is moving.

How crazy is that?
How well does it demonstrate how entangled we can become in the stories of self-image.
We're learning to see this. 

You can take every opportunity
to see how this process of entangling occurs.
We do or don't do something.
We execute or don't execute a form and a senior or a teacher says,
"What are you doing?"
Self-image's first instinct
and you've all experienced it in one form or another to a greater or lesser degree,
it's first instinct is to blame somebody else,
"If so and so wouldn't have...then...".
Because, of course, self-image sees itself as perfection
and it is only the confluence of myriad events
that prevent it from shining forth as the paragon of perfection which it sees itself as. 

Now, that's bullshit.
And every student since the beginning of students,
and the beginning of practice,
has come across this in one form or another.
That tendency compromises the dignity of the bodymind,
it compromises the integrity of the bodymind in the whole moment
and makes us appear to be whinging, whining, babies.
That's not intelligent. 

Practice is about growing up.
It is about taking responsibility for being a human being,
for being as Joshu roshi said,
"a real human being."
So you've got it.
Use it. 

Now, as far as "the throne of Awareness",
that certainly might throw self-image a little bit,
because it certainly does like to see itself superior to everything,
sitting up there with its subjects at its feet.
But that is not what is being talked about. 

What is meant, is, that a seat or a "throne",
has implicit in the word a sense of dignity,
a sense of control,
a sense of being the final decision maker,
but, we're talking about your own experience.

So when seated on the throne of Awareness
you are not going to be fooled
by the whinging and whining and weedling stories of self-image.
You will not be ruled by them.
The choice you make, as Awareness in itself,
will be the most intelligent possible in that situation. 

Now, if a thought comes up about "always being right"
recognize that is self-image because "always being right" just doesn't happen.
But doing the best that you possibly can,
making the best possible choice that you can,
free of the entanglement of the stories of self-image,
and the contractions into a sense of self,
will free you from the stupidity of, for example,
bowing into the hall. 

Another translation of this verse was, 

Sitting up straight,

"They should wish that all beings
Sit on the seat of enlightenment
Their minds without attachment." 

So we have "the seat of enlightenment". 

Well, what does that mean, this enlightenment business?
Well, clear seeing in the moment,
being Awareness in itself,
expressing moment to moment in the deportment of the bodymind
the dignity of Awareness,
the dignity of being Knowing in itself. 

"Minds without attachment", well, that raises questions.
And you are certainly free, and encouraged,
to follow up on your own,
what these words,
these expressions of practice may mean.

You never know where you'll end up
when you start to look at and follow the trail of words.

Now I prefer, of course, "intelligence disentangled"
because it's more clear
and that's why the Roshi and I chose that particular phrase to describe open Awareness,
the bodymind free of the entanglements that choke us
and make us act in ways that are smaller than we actually are,
make us make decisions that are not as useful and intelligent as they could be. 

So there you are,
sitting up straight on your zafu
seeing clearly the rise and fall of thoughts and feelings,
of seeing hearing tasting touching feeling smelling
breathing in and out.
And using each moment,
of noticing anything whatsoever,
to practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment,
disentangling intelligence. 

The verse again, 

Sitting up straight,

"May all beings

Be seated on the throne of Awareness,
Their intelligence disentangled." 

Thank you for listening.