White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 32: Practising Insight

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 18th, 2008

Here we are.
wrapped around the breath. 

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE... is this moment. 

Use it to notice the reality of this moment,
the seeing,
the hearing,
the tasting,
the touching,
the feeling,
the smelling,
the thinking,
all of those things that are going on.
All of those things that make up your life in this moment,
wrapped around this breath. 

I've said it before.
And I'll say it again while I still have breath:
one day, there won't be another breath.
One day, you'll be dead,
each and every one of you
and you never know when it's going to happen.
So notice this breath,
that's going on right now.
Do not waste time!
Wake up to the reality of your life the only place it's happening,
which is NOW. 

Now, the great matter of birth and death
is something that Gautama Siddhartha struggled with
and we tend to struggle with it today.
Now, "intellectually", self-image will say,
"intellectually, I understand it."
And we buy into that.
But it's funny,
we say that about so many things,
around practice in particular.
"Intellectually", we understand it,
which means we may have recognized that the words came out in English.
[students laugh] 

But you scratch that little "intellectually I understand it"
and there might be lurking underneath little views
that we didn't even know that we had.
Like, "it's not going to happen to me",
"I know this and well, I'm going to really work my ass off in the gym,
I'm really going to work out,
I'm really going to take this bodymind
and make it immortal." 

We don't even know we hold those views. 

I'm not saying we shouldn't have choice in the ways we exercise,
the way we use the bodymind,
'cause I've looked around, you know,
and the bodymind actually hasn't evolved much in 50 000 years.
It is designed for running like fury to catch something to eat,
and there's not much of that going on today.
It's also designed so that it does well with back-breaking labour.
It does well with digging fields and planting stuff, you know,
and it's exhausted,
it lies down, eats, has a little sleep.
But there's not many big fields around here that need tilling by hand.

So here we are, with this vehicle,
this bodymind,
which is not who we are,
but it is wrapped around the breath. 

Just the last word: you will die...
[students giggle] 

...but you're not dead right now.

So feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
which is short form for saying
"practise the whole bodymind in this whole moment". 

The verse: 

Practising insight,

"May all beings

See Reality as it is,

Always free of the struggle of opposing it." 

So these verses were written some 1600 years ago
and they were said to and said by real people.
People just like you and me.
But they're dead now.
But we have the verses.

Last week's verse was talking about clarity.
This week, we're talking about insight and again, reality. 

So in the Sanskrit, insight: vipassana.
Shamata is focusing, concentration.
Vipassana is openly sitting and seeing clearly your life as it is,
as it unfolds in this moment. 

Now, even sitting in the Hatto,
you may notice yourself trying to oppose the reality of this moment.
You may find yourself arguing with yourself about whether you should or shouldn't be here.
Whether you did something so horribly bad that you deserve this punishment.
[students laugh]
Forgive me, that's a thought I had,
once upon a time.
[more laughter] 

So. This is a quote from "Before Thinking", page 10,
"Shamata and Vipassana" by Anzan Hoshin roshi.
I encourage you to, as soon as you can after the sitting,
except if you're on retreat,
'cause there's no reading on retreat,
look up "Before Thinking"
and read about shamata and vipassana
because you'll find that you have uncovered even more understanding
through your experience of sitting.

And as mentioned,
the Buddha engaged himself in all types of practices in his search for what was really going on.
This young man who had been wrapped in cotton wool,
protected from reality,
one day decided: "Hmm. There's gotta be more."

And I'm sure you've all read the story,
and if you haven't, you should.
Through the little holes in the cotton wool,
in the moments of clarity between the parties and the courtesans,
he saw someone who was ill,
someone who was old,
someone who was dead
and decided to find out what this birth and death was all about.

So he left the cotton wool behind
and went out looking and engaged in various concentration practices.

They weren't the answer.
They may have induced blissful states.
And he noticed a blissful state can go off the rails when one is presented with something unpleasant,
an aspect of reality.

So the quote begins here: 

Abandoning all of these different exercises, all of these gymnastics of the mind, he simply sat and observed what was going on. This observation, this clear seeing we call vipassana. Insight. Vipassana, the act of developing direct insight. Sitting, looking at, knowing your own experiencing in this moment is seeing into the nature of mind. 

Now I'm going to whip you forward in time about 1600 years from the time of the Buddha...

White Wind Zen Community was fledgling and the Sangha,
which was under five people,
sat at Daijozan.
At that time, the Roshi, then Sensei,
was basically funding the whole operation out of his own pocket
and Saturday, he had to go to work.
So after the sitting, the Sangha,
whether it was two or three or four,
would go walking down to the market with the Roshi
and we'd have breakfast together.

This was early on in my practice,
it was a matter of weeks, as a matter of fact.
I have a memory that it was a day like today,
going into autumn, crisp and clear.
So we went, we ate,
and of course the students were all on their best behavior.
And the meal came to an end
and I remember sitting there,
wondering who was going to say what to whom,
what to do?
I might have even remembered to practise mindfulness,
to feel the breath,
to sit up straight,
to open the eye gaze.

All of a sudden, the Roshi said:
"I'll be going now"
and he got up,
put on his cap,
nodded in a public gassho,
and left. 

I was blown away. 

Like leaves in the wind,
I saw all those times when I had stood up and said:

"Well, gee, this has been really great,
you're all great people
[students laugh]
let's do it again sometime,
whaddaya say?
No no no, I really have to go.
I'd kill myself to stay here with you
and waste some more time."
[students laugh]

We've all done it. [students laugh some more]
The social conditioning,
the patterns that we fall into.

Now a caveat here, I'm not talking about being rude,
I'm talking about seeing the ways we have all lied through our teeth.

First of all to ourselves,
and then to those that we might have been comingling with in various ways.

"No no, it's my fault, it's not you, no..." [O-sensei and students laugh heartily] 

So as I said, I was blown away.
That put the capper on it for me,
I had no escape route.
That was it.
I wanted to learn what was so real in that moment.

Saying what you mean,
meaning what you say,
not embroidering,
not weaving a tapestry of acceptability. 

So, here we sit today,
pursuing the matter further
by putting the bottom down on the zafu
is what we do.

This practice is founded on a little shamatha,
that's what got you here this morning if you had even a tiny, little thought,
or even a whiff of
"I don't want to do this, it's a beautiful day, I'd rather..."
Those thoughts come up, they're not a problem,
they're not who you are.
They're just a hangover from self-image's inebriated view of how things are,
which of course is that it is the centre of the world
and it knows everything.
So this practice is shamatha,
that effort,
that will to step past obstructions,
the ones we create ourselves.
the clear seeing,
held together with mindfulness. 

A quote again from "Before Thinking": 

If our practice is founded upon a process of mindfulness and insight, however, then we know that when confusion is present, the only means available to clarify it is to simply watch it, to simply attend to it, to see how it functions, to notice its effect within our entire experience. 

In order to notice, in order to know our experiences,
we need to place ourselves in a situation where there is a framework that will enable us to see clearly.
At this point, we start to understand the necessity of the forms,
basic forms,
forms of deporting the bodymind,
even when it's walking around the monastery,
even when it's eating,
it's still sitting.

So, simple forms:
pay attention,
feet together,
standing up straight,
open eye gaze,
hands in shashu.

That frame enables us to see the machinations of self-image
that wants to fill what it says is empty space with meaningless gesture,
old patterns of verbosity.

Now we may also have ideas that if we're practising,
well, none of this should be going on,
we should feel comfortable all the time.

That simply isn't true
because when we're adjusting the bodymind
so that it is possible for us to see openly what's going on,
there's going to be rushes of remnants of states that come up
and put pressure,
and squeeze us,
and make us feel things like our teeth have grown,
our teeth are huge and our lips are sticking to them
and it's as if someone's holding us by the back of the neck and we can't breathe.

No problem,
none of that's actually going on.

But simply standing, paying open attention does have effects.
What do you do?
Feel the breath,
stand up straight,
or sit up straight,
open the eye gaze.

Practise that moment.

States, patterns, tendencies will wear out. 

All of the forms in use at Dainen-ji
and the forms you use if you are sitting at home,
practising at a distance,
are all there and available
to provide a clear frame to see what's going on in your experience. 

"Before Thinking":
It is to simply notice what our seeing is like,
what the sensations of our body are like. 

We're not used to doing that. We're used to talking about them to ourselves and to anyone around.

Feel the breath,
sit or stand up straight,
open the eye gaze.

Now this may sound perhaps quite distant,
something that we can do in the Hatto,
and if we get really good at doing it in the Hatto,
well, then it's done.

These verses from "The Practice of Purity",
which come from the Flower Garland Sutra,
an old text with valuable information about practice
as practised by people just like us for 1600-some years,
can help us see what's going on right here, right now,
no matter what we're doing.

And, we do things,
we do more things than just sitting.
There's kinhin,
there's oryoki,
there's walking out,
there's what we do for entertainment.
We might like movies,
we might like music,
we might like running marathons. 

Confidentially: tried that, DIDN'T like it.
[students laugh] 

So we recognize,
we have to take care of the bodymind in some way,
give it those little outings where it can stretch,
where it can work the way it was designed to work,
more or less. 

Given there's no barefoot hunting through the grasses,
given there are no large fields to till
and very few large stones to roll out of the way,
well, I decided to take up something that I've always wanted to do: dancing.

So, I was walking down Daly Avenue,
I saw a little poster, bright yellow, it said:
"Beginning Breakdancing".
I tore off the little slip: no telephone number, an email address.
So I emailed, we set it up,
I went to the first lesson,
I was the only person there.
Who was my teacher?
A 26-year-old guy from Slovakia.
Who'd a thought?
But it was wonderful because I was the only student,
which meant of course that I got what I needed and what I was capable of.
So I decided to venture a little further,
when this fellow left town, and I saw "Beginner's Hip Hop". 

So I went to the first class.
Gold mine. 50-year-old, 55-year-old, a couple of others, indeterminate, but you know,
a couple of young people, all ripe.
So we start.
The first class wasn't bad, nobody knew anything.
The second class, I think there was only the 45-year-old left
and there were some younger sprouts there. It was okay.

The next week: young people and a new teacher, 19 years old.
Has a crew that has traveled around to different cities to perform.
The instruction was fast, and then it was faster.
Then I had to skip a week.
And I went back, this week.
More young people.
And, they were shorter than I am,
so I'm three times as old as they are,
I'm about four inches taller than they are,
so obviously I have more to deal with.

And it's not going well.

I'm at the back,
I can't remember stuff.
It's going so fast!

So I see the possibility of uh... disaster.
[students laugh]
And I'm not having a good time.
It does seem self-defeating to engage in something that you want to do,
but you're not having a good time at it. 

So possibilities present themselves.
You can see the whispers of things that could come up
and could sway an intelligent decision about what to do.
You know there's like,
"Okay, the teacher is teaching too fast!"
Hey, but everyone else is getting it,
I can see that with my own eyes.
So self-image,
at the centre of its world can say things like:
"Well that's it, they should change to suit me."
That's not realistic!
That has nothing to do with reality.
I could crawl into my little corner
and bow down my weary old head
and cry the blues about being "just too old" to do this.

But I've done that before,
I did that in the beginning,
with practice.
Confusion would come up and say:
"I'm too old to feel the breath,
to sit up straight [students laugh]
to open the eye gaze". 

So, I thought,
"Well, you know, I'm not having a good time,
and it's not realistic to think that the teacher is going to kick everybody else out
and just teach me because I'm slower."
I mean, I'm sure I could have arranged that,
but at what cost?
It's just not worth it. 

So, I went to the teacher and I said:
"Simply, this is too fast for me, I'll be in touch".
And I will.
And I left, and found that this particular group has another session on Saturday afternoons which is called Fusion.
I've been to one of these and you know,
it's women who work in offices,
they're in their thirties, their forties, their fifties,
and there's actually a 70-year-old there. 

Hey, reality.
The reality of circumstance and condition does present itself
and it can be adapted to.
I'll have fun, I'll work up a sweat.
The bodymind will get exercise,
the joints get lubricated.
You get to bop and bust a few moves.
[students laugh]

So maybe they're moves of the older kind,
but that's reality.
There's the reality of
seeing and hearing and tasting and touching and feeling and smelling,
there's the reality of colour and forms and sounds,
there's the reality of breathing in and out.
But there's also the reality of our personal condition and circumstances,
and we want to be able to make clear decisions,
clear choices. 

No matter what's going on for you,
no matter what you find yourself involved in,
you can start to understand more and more clearly what it is you want,
what it is you like,
what it is you're good at,
what it is you're going to do.
You can make those choices,
you can take actions based on choices,
unfettered by the clutching hands of self-image around your own neck.
You do that by looking into your experiencing,
facing your experiencing as it is.
And you're learning to do that, facing the wall. 

Bodhidharma called Zen:

a special transmission, outside the words, outside the scriptures, a direct pointing to the mind.

So as much as you can see about what is going on,
the more clarity you will have,
the more what you do will be based upon insight into that process of perception and cognition.

You don't have to oppose,
you don't have to change a bad thought into a good thought,
you don't have to sit there wishing, thinking
that if you were twenty years younger,
you'd really be able to nail this dancing thing.

Just see what's going on,
see it clearly
and make the best possible choice in this moment,
for you. 

I'll read the verse again: 

Practising insight,

"May all beings

See Reality as it is,

Always free of the struggle of opposing it." 

Mos' def'! [laughter]

Thank you for listening.