White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 34: Lowering the Feet and Resting

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 18th, 2008

And a very good moment to you.

Feel the breath,
feel that spine,
feel the lungs expand.

Feel this whole moment with the whole bodymind. 

Here we are,
twentieth century kids,
facing a wall.
Practising, as other kids who grew up did,
in India, China, Japan, North America.

Here we are, doing the same practice.
And we are looking at "The Practice of Purity",
verses which were translated from the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Flower Garland Sutra. 

Today's verse: 

Lowering the feet and resting,
"May all beings

Unfold freedom of attention
And rest at ease, unstirred." 

Each time you notice attention narrowing or narrowed,
is noticing a moment of the reality of your life,
in that moment.

At that moment,
you practise the reality of your life by reminding yourself of
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
breathing in and out,
the clothes on the body,
colours, light, form.
Everything that the bodymind is experiencing in this moment.

You are the Knowing of this moment
and all of us owe a debt to all of us who are no longer breathing
in Japan, China, India,
but who practised.
Some woke up.
Some carried the transmission,
the vital transmission of your life as it is in this moment
so that we here in the twenty first century can access our life in this moment.

That indeed is a true treasure,
a Dharma treasure,
the treasure of Reality. 

Now, ears might have perked up around the phrase "lowering the feet and resting".
Lowering the feet?
Lowering the feet, what is being talked about?

Well, the Avatamsaka Sutra was written some 1600 years ago
and these verses were written for practitioners.
And of course the text was carried to China and to Japan
and as we know, current or contemporary situations will be reflected in verses.
And the current or contemporary situation may have been
in the twentieth century, the nineteenth century, the eighteenth century, seventeenth century. 

We're sitting in Dainen-ji, in the Hatto.

For a moment, picture a Hatto,
picture a Dharma room that is five times as long and five times as wide as the Hatto.
Of course, there wouldn't be an electric light,
as there is Tiantong-si in Ningbo where Dogen zenji sat and woke up.
It wasn't there when he was there, of course.
It would have been lit by candles.

So the Dharma Hall is lit by natural light, candles or lanterns.
Is there central heating?
No way.
Is it fans that you're feeling?
No way,
it's the wind announcing the coming of winter,
rustling through the Dharma Hall,
biting your little noses and ears.

But they sit on a platform which is raised from the floor two and half feet, maybe.
And as a monastic, practising your life in this temple, this is where you live.
This three foot by six foot space, elevated from the floor
is where you sit, where you eat, where you sleep.
Underneath there's a space for your clothing and your toiletries.
This is your life.

There would be a curtain on one doorway of the hall.
Up, it would mean, and I'm quoting from "The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 1900 to 1950": "recess". 

Well, we don't have recess.
It might be an indicator that the monks are not sitting in the Dharma Hall at that moment.
When the curtain comes down, there's a sign saying "Meditation under way".
In the middle of this vast hall,
there would be a butsudan,
a platform of waking up which reminds monastics what they are doing there.

In China, in this meditation hall that we're talking about now,
there would be a statue of Bodidharma,
a very important lineage ancestor
who stares at you as you circumabulate in kinhin,
he stares at you from the wall from a zenga by Anzan Hoshin roshi,
right across from the painting of Dogen zenji.

Why Bodidharma?
Because in this Dharma Hall,
Ch'an, Chinese for Zen,
was what was taught
and this is what has been passed on to us as well.
The wordless teaching.
And you've come across references to that in chanting texts,
other texts you may have read,
or from the gaping maw of Dharma teachers as they say over and over again:
"its meaning is not in words",
as students try to come up with a clever turn of phrase. 

Its meaning is not in words,
the opening of attention is not about words,
it is about noticing what happens when you notice experiencing.
It is about you as the Knowing,
knowing reality
and allowing the presencing of the whole bodymind to be known.

The wordless teaching. 

Now, there have been a lot of words written about this wordless teaching,
have there not?
And that's because words are tools,
very important tools,
tools that can point to your experiencing.

Interestingly, in the Dharma Hall that's talked about in the text,
there was a large sign hung outside the meditation hall.
The character for "hall" was written without the usual element meaning "mouth"
and you remember or may remember or may come across phrases such as 
"white moss growing over your mouth", 
"sitting like a withered tree". 

Now, we don't talk in the Hatto when we're sitting zazen.
When we're sitting retreats,
functional talking allows us to see the many impulses of self-image to focus in
and play out its various habits and patterns.

No problem that those things come up,
it's a moment to practise,
it is a moment to allow attention to unfold the freedom that is always present. 

In Tiantong-si, in Ningbo, China, where Dogen sat,
the sitting hall was slightly smaller than the one referenced in the text on Chinese Buddhism.
I remember walking in there,
and of course the first thing I noticed was that light bulb
hanging from a cord in the middle of the hall,
a recent addition.

Under my feet,
I could feel stone steps curve by who knows how many monks coming and going.
The floor,
the stone floor was worn with who knows how many monks
setting one foot in front of the other during kinhin.

The platform was in place on three sides of the room
where those who came for whatever period of time to practise as monastics,
would sit, would sleep, would eat.
So the practitioners would sit
after having lifted the legs up onto the platform
and turned to face the wall.
They would sit just as you are sitting,
noticing reality as moment after moment unfolds,
moment after moment of your life
with the recognition that what has gone on before is gone
and nobody knows what's coming next. 

This has been the case in the 2600 years since people started to practise. 

Self-image would like to distance itself.
It has a very difficult time,
this contraction into a sense of a self that believes it's the centre of the universe,
it has a very difficult time recognizing that thousands and thousands of others
have done just this so that you could sit here in this hall doing just this.

At the end of the practice round,
the gong would be struck
and the practitioners would bow forward,
rotate the knees onto the cushion
and make motions to begin kinhin.
In the case of those practising in the Dharma Halls with platforms,
they would lower their feet and rest for a moment before starting kinhin. 

It is quite amazing, really, for a moment to think of those people,
human beings just like you and I,
mostly nameless except for the teachers,
whose words have come down in texts, in koan...
but for a moment, all those nameless, faceless people,
people we'll never know,
people who did just what you're doing right now... 

The verse again: 

Lowering the feet and resting,
"May all beings

Unfold freedom of attention
And rest at ease, unstirred." 

Thank you for listening.