White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 31: Practising Clarity

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 11th, 2008


...THIS one
is the only one.

All the others are gone and none of us know if we'll have another one.

It only makes sense to feel the bodymind that is wrapped around this moment,
which is the breath. 

Some time ago,
I was giving a workshop in another country
and some dude said: "Uh, what's uh so important about the breath?"

Like, I was gobsmacked. [students and O-sensei laugh]
And we can laugh about it because it's so obvious.
If it isn't there... hey! [more laughter]

So we might as well notice it. 

Now, if you've ever been in extreme circumstances, such as,
from my own experience for example, at the end of someone else's hands
which are wrapped around your throat and are tightening...
well, you notice it. [students laugh]

And again, from my own experience,
you start to feel,
or I start to feel like I'm drowning inside this bodymind
because the heart has gotten big
and the muscle isn't strong enough to work as it should
so the lungs are filling up with fluid.

Congestive heart failure is what they call it,
but it's like what I imagine drowning would be like except you're drowning,
I was drowning,
in my own body fluids. 

Interesting. Interesting, and it can be worked with. 

... so... the breath.
You can feel it right now.
So while you're feeling that breath that is moving the whole bodymind in and out,
you can let go of any thoughts that might come up about doing anything.
The thing you think of as you can't practise.
However, it can be practised because when you notice this thing you think of as you,
coming out with its little label maker that it wants to put on and say:
"There, breath.
There, fingertips.
There, eyelashes."
[students laugh]
"Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling."
You do not let have to let that mythical,
that self-created and fabricated accountant or librarian or whatever you want to call it,
go on with its business.

It's taking up too much energy. 

Let it go. 

Just allow the clarity and sanity of this moment of sitting,
being breathed in and out to be there.

If something extra comes in,
use that [O-sensei snaps fingers]
as a reminder to practise what's actually going on,
the breathing in and out,
the heart beating.

Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, and smelling. 

The verse: 

Practising clarity,

"May all beings

Settle their minds in clarity
Until nothing is left behind." 

And when there's nothing left behind,
there's nothing to do.
It's only when those extras come up,
that knot experiencing,
and start to dictate or label or fabricate or make movies,
that's the moment to practise. 

In "Begin Here: Five Styles of Zen", Anzan roshi has written and spoken,
actually, spoken and written very clearly
about what clarity is and what this practice is.
Yeah, yeah, you may have read it before,
but did you understand it?
Do you remember it?
So, I'm going to use that text,
which is one of my favourites because it is so clear,
to remind you of what you're actually doing here. 

In the lead-up, the Roshi says:

Our practice is about opening to our life as it is. Opening to the moment as it is and allowing this clear seeing to pervade our life.

Now, at a certain point in practice, there will be that viewer,
that seer up behind the eyes going
"yeah, yeah, I can really see clearly what's going on in my life, I see how everybody else is getting in my way."
Or versions... 

Buddha Dharma means waking up to what is evident when we see clearly,
and what is evident when we see clearly is that there is no one up there behind the eyes,
especially when the eyes are open
(it's easier to see clearly when the eyes are open).
There's no one there,
what there is is a fabrication,
a story that attention is being fed into.

So you're learning to see that process clearly. 

The teachings say that you are Buddha,
it's not a matter of becoming Buddha.
It is a matter of realizing for yourself that you are Buddha,
and that there is a fundamental awakened quality at the core of your experience,
which is most probably what brought you to practice in the first place,
that thing that goes,

"Wait a minute, wait a minute, there's something I don't know about this life." 

And of course, what we don't know about this life
is that it can only happen in this [O-sensei snaps fingers]

So we're learning to see that.

It is a matter of realizing for yourself
that sanity, clarity, wisdom, and compassion
are your basic nature,
that all conditions are inherently unconditioned,
that awareness is all that is ever going on
and is never limited.

Awareness is boundless and always free.

This unconditioned freedom is your own nature
and you can realize this.

Realizing this,
making it real,
is the process of practice.

So any time you notice,
and every time you notice anything else extra coming in,
feel the breath without labeling it.

Sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
and if you're tired,
put a little extra effort in and recognize
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, r
ecognize the aliveness of the bodymind in this moment,
the only moment in which it can happen. 

Now, those inconvenient to self-image monks called teachers and practice advisors
will help you with this.

Now sometimes self-image is reluctant to let go of those hands around the throat
because it fails to recognize that they're actually its own hands.
And it can be somewhat embarrassing,
let's say. [laughter]

So everything in the environment of practice,
everything is there to remind you that you can let it go.
There's nothing that you need to do.
There is no you to do it
and you start to understand that,
you may not be able to express it,
you may want to argue with it,
you may want to say:
"Well, like, who's doing it? How is it happening? Could you draw me a picture?"

But, because we're talking about your own experiencing,
and we're talking about it through our own experiencing,
which is that that experiencing has been passed down from teacher to student,
to teacher to student and students turn into teachers,
and they pass it on.

It is about their own experiencing.
It's not about someone else's experiencing
that is worn on a baseball cap or a t-shirt saying,
"The only thing going on is NOW."


It's direct experiencing.
Its meaning is not in words.
Its meaning is in the clear understanding that there is only this moment
and there's no need for anything extra. 

So we'll whip through "The Five Styles of Zen"
and I encourage you to read it or listen to it today,
just go to the website.
Because your understanding will be clearer.
A little caveat, or a little warning here:
you probably will notice a tendency of self-image
to want to place itself in one of the categories, it'll go,
"Oh yeah, yeah, that's me"
as if we're doing a magazine test.

We want to rank.
So, let it be there, no problem,
use that recognition,
that moment of seeing that that's what's going on
to remind you to
notice the breath,
and get on with it.

You've practised that moment of clear seeing. 

From the text, by Anzan roshi: Saijojo Zen 

The fifth kind of Zen is saijojo zen which means "Great and Perfect Practice." It is great and perfect practice because it is not based on trying to realize anything. It is based on practising practice. It is based on sitting the sitting. It is based on seeing what you see, hearing what you hear, not looking for Buddha in any way but simply realizing one's own looking to be Buddha. 

Shikan-taza is known by many names and many different forms within the Buddhist Transmission:
in the Tibetan schools it is called Mahamudra, Maha-ati or Chagya-chenpo and Dzog-chenpo;
the Theravadin school calls it Mahavipassana;
within Soto Zen it is shikan-taza,
and in Rinzai Zen as well, one practices shikan-taza after finishing koan study.

Since the saijojo is so simple and straight-forward,
it also seems to be quite subtle.
Therefore, many people seem to have become quite confused
about what shikan-taza really is.
Some even consider just sitting quietly like a good little boy or girl
and watching the breath,
or just "being mindful,"
to be shikan-taza.

Dogen zenji exclaimed that shikan-taza is "just sitting,"
it is "dropping the bodymind."

This does not mean sitting in some state of dissociation from body and mind,
nor does it mean that this dropping bodymind only happens when you sit.
It means that when you experience each experience as it is,
when you penetrate into your True Nature,
when you realize that there is no body or mind, time or space,
then your sitting is "just sitting."

Shikan-taza is a wordless release of all gestures of grasping.
It is like opening a fist or opening the eyes.
It is not the closing away of attention from any state of experience.

"Wordless" does not mean that one artificially induces a state of blankness,
is holding one's tongue,
or has gagged the mind.
It is a questioning so subtle and penetrating
that it occurs before and between, around and within
all thoughts, impressions, sensations and differentiations, whatsoever. 

Experiences and states arise freely as the activity of primordial Awareness itself.
Awareness is effulgent with forms but is always formless.
Nothing that arises, dwells or decays can, in itself,
invite or provoke any confusion, or separation, or identification.

In shikan-taza, all worlds and all beings are always sitting as their own True Natures. 

In Soto Zen, shikan-taza is the root of all practice and so,
although we might have to work our way through these other four orientations to some extent,
some realization of shikan-taza is necessary for us to actually begin practising,
if we are going to practise Soto Zen.

This means having some sense of being Buddha,
even if only on a feeling or intellectual level,
a deep sense that no matter how screwed up you can be,
you are basically sane after all.
No matter how you might find yourself getting caught up in things,
there is still a basic clarity that's available to you. 

Opening further and further to that clarity is the basis of saijojo zen practice.
This practice flowers into simply manifesting that clarity in everything that is arising.
We recognize clarity to be all that is ever, in fact, going on, 
that no matter what point of view we might momentarily take,
that all these are just orientations within a greater view of just seeing.

Kensho (seeing into one's own nature) is, in some ways,
actually where practice begins within Soto Zen.
It is not just having some experience of kensho,
some particular experience of kensho,
but the whole orientation of kensho forms the basis of one's practice. 

Within Soto Zen, when one is practising as a formal student,
there is an interaction between Teacher and student
which is based on the Teacher working to show his or her mind to the student
so that the student can recognize the Original or Primordial Nature of his or her own mind.

When these two minds can meet openly,
then there is Transmission.

This is Buddha meeting Buddha.

This is that which is before, within, behind and all around 
all of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
It is that which is giving rise to your thoughts, feelings, and experiences expressing themselves.

The Teacher is always trying to give some taste,
some flavour of this Original Mind to students,
so that the students can then practise that realization to whatever extent they are able.

Through that, the form of practice that student will engage in becomes clear.

Soto Zen might involve koan practice,
anapanasati and many different forms of practice,
but they are all grounded within shikan-taza.
They are grounded in some way within our realization that we are Buddha. 

The verse, again: 

Practising clarity,

"May all beings

Settle their minds in clarity
Until nothing is left behind." 

Gassho to the Lineage of Teachers.

Gassho to you for doing the practice.

Thank you for listening.