White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 33: When Uncrossing the Legs

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 25th, 2008

I'm glad to see the back of you.
[students laugh] 

Now, if that were said in another context...
[more laughter]
it means something entirely different.
It means: "I'm really glad to see you going".

That's one of the fun surprises of practice,
we start to see our understanding of language,
as well as everything else,

But of course, everything is changing.
And everything is going,
but you,
sitting there,
facing the wall with your legs crossed
have an opportunity to see that truly,
without you,
without your bodymind going anywhere,
you can clearly see that whatever rises falls,
that everything is really gate gate paragate,
going going, always going.
Gone gone, always gone.

Whatever dharmas arise,
must fall,
nothing can be held onto.
And you're realizing this with every breath you take. 

The breath is this moment.
All the ones before are gate gate paragate,
they're gone,
and there's this one.
And, maybe, there'll be another one,
but there are no guarantees
and no one gets out alive. 

Today's verse, from the Avatamsaka sutra, Flower Garland Sutra and the text "The Practice of Purity",
and remember,
people 1600 years ago heard these verses
just as you are hearing the now
as well as seeing the wall in front of you,
as well as feeling the clothing on your body,
feeling the hands,
feeling the feet,
feeling the spine upright,
feeling the rib cage
and the lungs expand
as you pratise the whole bodymind in this whole moment. 

When uncrossing the legs,

"May all beings observe

That all activities and things

Resolve into falling away, vanishing." 

Every moment is a moment in which you can practise.

When you see anything,
when anything is known,
that's when you can feel the whole bodymind in the whole moment,
by feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
opening the eye gaze.

The forms of practice,
although sometimes self-image may view them as unnecessarily harsh,
or even have other colourful descriptions of the forms,
the forms provide the necessary framework for you so that you can see reality. 

And so there, you have crossed your legs.
If you're sitting in seiza, that is, in a way,
an equivalent of crossing your legs and facing the wall,
but I do encourage people to try and then become better at sitting with crossed legs
because this provides a posture that is more balanced.
But as with everything that the bodymind engages in,
it takes time for muscles and tendons and joints to stretch and open.

So you've been sitting there
and you may have noticed sensations in the knees and hips
and there may be the mutterings of a soloist,
or even a whole choir:
"Please let it be over, let it be over, let it be over,
please ring the gong, ring the gong, ring the gong,
please I can't stand this, can't stand this, oh! Fuck!"
[students laugh]
and then the gong is sounded. 

Now, the tendency of someone who is not familiar with practice
is to take a big sigh and then get busy
[O-sensei makes a rubbing sound]
rub, rub, rubbing the knees as if this does any good at all,
except provide a distraction from what's going on.

So at the end of the sitting round,
when the gong sounds,
it is a moment of change
because you know that you are going to face in the direction of the butsudan,
be on your knees,
take care of your zafu and zabuton
and come to standing for kinhin or to come for Daisan. 

Use the bodymind fully.

Use the form fully.

You may notice yourself collapsing into an old pattern
about how if you were just more flexible,
or if we allowed you to lounge around,
then you'd really be able to practise... 

When you notice anything no matter what content
feel the breath

sit up straight
open the eye gaze.

Practise the whole bodymind.

Take care as you move

and by taking care as you move

I mean to use each moment of noticing


about the bodymind

to allow the bodymind to express itself fully

so that the mutterings of self-image

become only part of the reality of the moment

which is what they are

but we are used to believing that our stories about what's going on
are the most important thing. 

Through showing up at the monastery,
we exhibit by what we have done that we have managed
not to fall for thoughts and feelings,
not to fall for self-image's stories about how,
well, we really deserve to do something else.

Each time you see something as simple as the content of a thought,
you have an opportunity to practise that moment,
and eventually, over time,
you will start to see more clearly the details of that process of perception and cognition.

You will start to see the contraction that comes up that we refer to as self-image,
and remember,
there are many of them,
it is not one thing,
and you, at the moment of recognition,
exert the whole bodymind and experiencing opens. 

Knowns present themselves to you as the knowing of them.
You start to see,
through the simple act of moving the knees,
so that they are on the zabuton,
rather than crossed,
you can recognize that you are no longer sitting with the legs crossed.
That may sound simplistic,
but we tend not to notice things like that
because what we have done in the past,
our habitual patterns
are to never be where we actually are,
even though that's impossible.
We're sitting with the legs crossed and we think:

"Oh, I can hardly wait until I can uncross these legs and stand up,
then everything's going to be great and after I get out of here,
what I'll do is, yeah,
I'll go down to such and such,
or I'll do some deep knee bends and stretches
and everthing'll be great
and I'll be ready for the next time I come for the sitting"
and so on... 

So all of this is going on and we don't notice the details,
we don't notice the simple fact
that the stories we were telling ourselves about how we could not continue sitting past this moment
were totally untrue and have totally fallen away,
as have the sensations that we had honed in on
and used to describe the whole of our experience.
They're all gone.
They're all gone.
This quote is from "Active Recognition: On Work",
given by Anzan Hoshin Roshi in October, 1986
and I encourage you to go to the website and read it. 

We tend to ignore the fine details that compose everything that we do. And only recognize lumps and chunks of them. For example, when we have a task to do, we start the task by thinking about how it will be when it is finished and what we're going to be doing after that. In Zen, we begin a task by noticing the details we are working on at this moment. In the next moment, we're working on another detail and in the next moment, another detail. And, at some point, the task is finished. That means simply that we go on to other details, other moments of seeing, hearing, touching, colours, sounds. The tasks were never really finished, because it was never really there, but it was done completely because each detail was done completely. 

As you sit there,
with legs crossed,
hands in the mudra,
buttocks on the zafu,
I see the back of you,
rising and falling with the breath.

You can sit up straight.
You can feel the breath.
You can feel the whole bodymind in this moment.

That is what you are learning to do,
so when uncrossing the legs on the cue of the gong at the end of the sitting round,
please, take care of each detail,
observe that all activities and things resolve into falling away, vanishing.

This is what you're learning to do.
This is practice.
And practice, of course,
is doing something over and over again
so you get better at it.

It's funny, isn't i?
We tend not to think of that.
We practise the piano,
we may practise our diction,
we may practise basketball,
and somehow, we understand that.
We understand that playing the notes over and over again,
we'll get better at it,
but with Practice practice,
that little part seems to have disappeared,
the fact of doing something over and over and getting better and better at it. 

The verse again: 

When uncrossing the legs,

"May all beings observe

That all activities and things

Resolve into falling away, vanishing." 

And remember, that will happen to you too.
Everything about you will fall away and vanish.
So it is important,
let's say even vital that you notice this breath,
and use it to practise the whole bodymind. 

Thank you for listening.