White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 30: Crossing the Legs

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, July 26th, 2008

You can feel the heart beating in your chest.

You can feel the bones moving ever so slightly with the breath that expands the lungs.
With the contraction of the lungs that expels the last breath

you can open the eye gaze

you can sit up straight.

You can use every opportunity to practise the reality of the life that is living as you. 

That's why you're here

in spite of the stories that self-image might have about why you're here and why you're doing this practice. 

All of them are suspect.

lets you know you're alive in this moment.

The verse: 

Crossing the legs,

"May all beings

Have strong roots of virtue
And unfold the immovable." 

You're sitting there with the legs crossed,
where possible,
and those who are sitting in postures other than a posture where the legs are crossed
may or may not have good reason for doing so right now,
but as time unfolds,
the bodymind unfolds and becomes more flexible.

So in spite of what self-image says you can or cannot do,
or are or are not capable of,
the moment of noticing any of those stories, what do you do?
That's right,
you practise because at the moment of noticing that contraction,
with that or any other story, you've noticed reality.
You've woken up from the glazing over and the dream of self-image,
you've woken up to the magic of reality. 

Now the verse speaks of "strong roots of virtue".
Well, as I'm sure you remember,
we looked at virtue,
the word coming from the Latin: virtus,
which means humanness, courage,
the ability to take the risk of seeing the stories of self-image as stories,
and to,
through practising that moment of noticing contraction or the story,
to allow the contraction to unfold. 

"Why does it take courage" one might ask, to practise, to sit zazen?
Well, as we've all experienced,
when we sit with our eyes open and when I say "eyes open" this means you...
[several students have eyes closed and are dozing]

We might notice that
oh, there might be sensations that we are used to classifying as PAIN!
And our tendency is to want to run away from pain
because we have all kinds of associations with the words,
just as we have all kinds of associations with every other word.

"Crossing the legs" means that we're taking the risk of sitting there
and having sensations present themselves.
When we can cease to put meaning to them and drop them into,
drop the sensations into
"good" or "bad",
"liked" or "not liked",
we can just see an experience and feel sensation as sensation
and use that noticing to practise mindfulness of the whole bodymind in the whole moment
and this allows the bodymind to unfold.

So there's that,
there's the physical reality of the bodymind
in that it's not used to being stretched in this way.
But, over time, over the years,
the bodymind will unfold
and what you thought to be impossible when you first came to practise,
you will find,
through your own experience,
is possible. 

But it does take courage,
you take a risk each time you cross the legs and sit down to "unfold the immovable"
(whatever that might be).
Also, there's a risk in crossing the legs and sitting down in zazen
because we do start to see reality as it is.
And we might find that things,
that words that we had taken on to describe who we are,
perhaps were not right on the money,
but were in fact done to prop up an image of a self. 

Now, some of the words, 
(and I'm sure you all rushed home after last week's Dharma Talk and looked up "virtue"
and came up with all those lists of words that stood prior to "heart, humanness, and courage")
okay, compassion comes up. Nice!

We all want to be described,
or to describe ourselves as being compassionate.
But, we sit in front of that cushion,
or rather we sit on that cushion in front of that wall,
and we start to see that this thing called "compassion"
is something that we don't understand at all.

We start to be able to develop compassion and understanding for ourselves as we sit,
facing moment after moment,
the contractions and stories of self-image.

Sometimes we can be surprised at the thoughts that we have,
we don't put them into action on the zafu,
but rather, the energy is used to practise that moment of insight, clarity, or clear seeing,
to practise mindfulness, which has exposed itself in that moment.

So we may start to see that the idea that we are a compassionate person
is just another little accessory that we've picked up,
that self-image has decided to wear.
When that gets exposed, well,
we might not like it but who cares?
Whether we like it or not, it doesn't matter.
As the contraction and the tendency of self-image to dress itself up with accessories drops away,
we start to understand through our own experience
that the process of being a human being is the same for all human beings,
and through our own experience
we can start to perhaps have more tolerance and understanding for what's going on with others. 

We may notice things like truth, now that seems like a virtue, does it not?
And as we sit,
we start to see the many ways in which
a contraction into a sense of self lies to us
and then we might find that our lips are moving and saying,
actually very comedic stories are expressed out loud. 

Let me give you an example,
and it's happened,
I'm sure, to each and every one of us at some point or another.

Something happens,
we do something and information that is not accurate somehow is expressed,
and someone might say to us, or might point it out to us,
"well, actually, it's this".
Self-image swoops in and blatantly lies by saying:
"well, that's what I meant".
Like, go figure.

But we don't see it
until we see it as being a very typical example of a pattern of self-image to cover it's ass,
with the implication that if these external forces,
whatever they might have been,
hadn't interfered,
well then, we would have said what we didn't say,
which, apparently, self-image is saying that we knew
but something came in to interfere, so we didn't know it.

At the very least, it's a waste of energy.
Making a mistake isn't a problem.
Things happen.
But trying to justify in the face of...
well, let's not really get into that, because it's just so silly. 

So, when something happens,
feel the breath,
sit or stand up straight,
open the eye gaze,
and accept the new information that is correct.

So we can go down and it can be a lot of fun to do,
go down and get a list of all these things that are considered "virtues"
and look at how self-image uses them. 

Humility. Hmm? Humility.
Contraction into a sense of self that's humble.
How self-aggrandizing is that?

When you notice that,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze
and it all becomes moot.

You don't even need to talk about it
because there's no point in bragging,
there's no point in hiding,
there just is what is in that moment.
And it's a lot more fun
and it takes up a lot less of everybody's time,
so that what needs to be taken care of can be taken care of. 

Oh, and we get into things like sincerity and all the stories about sincerity,
but as we've already talked about,
sincerity is showing up.
Sincerity is doing what one says one will do.

Then we have love exposed as lust, as following the patterns of biochemistry.
And we could go on and on and on and on.
But I won't. 

You're learning to see, as you cross your legs and sit on that zafu,
the process of perception and cognition
and how contraction comes up and how when stories are told,
they entangle intelligence.

Sitting, and at the moment of noticing anything,
practising mindfulness of the whole bodymind in the whole moment,
unfolds, disentangles that intelligence.

We learn to see how contractions arising within and sometimes obscuring awareness,
can be opened so that awareness itself is present.
Open, luminous.

Practise at the moment of noticing anything
unfolds contraction and opens the clarity of awareness.

The clarity of awareness, the "immovable" of the verse, is revealed.

Here's a quote from Anzan roshi, from "Before Thinking", "The Great Matter": 

All states, all experiences and all ways of experiencing are rising and falling. They are all impermanent. And yet, awareness is not coming or going. So, although all Dharmas are impermanent, perhaps we could say that Awareness itself is permanent, that when we discover Awareness itself, we will discover true permanency and we will be able to abide there free of birth and death. 

However, this isn't quite true either. Awareness cannot be permanent because it is not a thing, it is not an entity, it has no substance. It is indescribable, it is the nature of all our experiences. Awareness is inherently unbound by experiences because what we are aware of cannot describe or designate what Awareness in itself is. Although Awareness presents itself to us as everything that we are aware of, there is nowhere that we can lay a hand upon Awareness itself because Awareness itself is the context in which the contents of consciousness are arising. One could say that it occurs on a completely different level, except that within Awareness there are no levels. Whatever levels there might be simply occur there, within it. It is itself simply indescribable, and so it cannot be described as impermanent or as permanent. It can only be recognized as that which is living each and every one of you now. 

Keep on crossing those legs!
Keep a strong heart, and courage.
Keep on unfolding reality as it really is,
before, prior to,
all the stories that self-image makes up in its version of reality. 

The verse: 

Crossing the legs,

"May all beings

Have strong roots of virtue
And unfold the immovable." 

Thank you for listening.