White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 37: When Putting on a Belt

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, December 13th, 2008

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE... means you're alive. 

Or another way of putting it is:

every breath that brings oxygen

into this mass of molecules that makes up a diversity of cells
that because we can talk, we like to call


...is the bodymind being the bodymind. 

The thing you think of as "you" can't do any of that.
It can't do what the bodymind does


the thing you think of as "you"
when recognized as Knowing in itself

the Knowing of moments of experience

can loosen the hold of patterns and habits that condition experiencing. 

The verse, from "The Practice of Purity": 

When putting on a belt,

"May all beings

Gather roots of virtue

And not loosen and lose them." 

[O-sensei laughs] 

We tend not to think much about belts
and of course we must obviously recognize the verse as a metaphor.
When wearing the kunsu, as everyone is,
the belt is a long strip of cloth that is wrapped around and tied.

So, perhaps the next time you fold and gather that large piece of fabric,
which is the kunsu, the lower garment for sitting,
when you gather and fold it and tie it by wrapping that strip of fabric around your waist,
you may be reminded that you are gathering roots of virtue and each time you practise,
each time you notice a moment of experience,
you are exhibiting an intention to loosen the grasp of habits and patterns
which we have woven into a self.
And you are practising at that moment of noticing experiencing
so that reality will present itself more and more clearly,
so that you will not follow usual habits and patterns of the contraction into a sense of a self. 

Quite a long time ago,
I spoke of virtue and one of the aspects of the word is courage.
The courage that it takes to look at what's going on moment to moment,
in many situations,
in many different contexts
and recognize patterns as they want to play themselves out. 

Most of us have had a long time,
some of us a very long time,
and some perhaps far too long a time,
to see patterns that have been formed that we believe.
Self-image does believe that it has to protect itself.

That's why we'll find that often when someone say, in authority,
or someone that for some reason or another, some self-protective reason,
we are pandering to (because self-image does pander)
says "black"
and we, if the thing referred to is white, rather than saying "no no, white",
will stand there and nod in agreement.

Because self-image is scared,
or because self-image does not know what it wants.
Many are very unclear about what they want
and when asked that question become very confused. 

When we practise zazen,
when we sit and practise mindfulness at the moment of noticing reality as it is,
we see more and more clearly the many ways in which we act out habitual patterns.
And then we start to see them as habitual patterns.
And then we start to realize that we do not,
and I say "realize" in the sense of making it real,
we do not have to follow them.

This can be uncomfortable,
and it takes courage because we do not know what will happen. 

You've all heard the expression "girding your loins"
which means preparing yourself,
a little courage for some sort of engagement.

So take a risk.
You have a right to an opinion,
if you take the responsibility for recognizing when it's a real opinion
as opposed to a patterned response.

Self-image, when it is presented with something that is the opposite
or is not quite what it wanted to present,
will get very defensive,
and will quickly come up with all sorts of reasons
why it had nothing to do with whatever action or non-action came up.
"The dog ate my homework" and a multitude of variations up to
"I didn't know what was happening in the camps."

You can see it.
You can practise that moment of reality
and those roots of integrity will not loosen and you will not lose them.
With feet firmly planted in the Four Great Vows
and that belt,
which is not decorative, not a fashion item,
but rather, a very practical way of keeping your kunsu from loosening, c
an remind you to practise this moment,
moment to moment. 

Apparently belts have been around since the Bronze age.
One day, someone had wrapped something around themselves,
others had something wrapped around them that were most probably blowing in the wind,
and since there were no tighty-whities or long johns,
a little cool in...
you know the way I mean.
[O-sensei and students laugh]

So someone wrapped something around their waist,
who knows what, who knows why,
and everyone said: "Oh, that's a good idea"
and before you know it,
we had an industry making belt buckles.
Some of which have survived to this day.
Belt buckles indicated status and so on.
For the longest time, basically, the belt was the male domain.
The belt was a military item and still maintains to this day.

The belt was worn with corsets by the military,
so there could be a tiny waist and a great big, puffy pigeon chest that was desirable.
It went to the point of course where it became a subject for cartoons.
Then, belts became more universally worn
and there were variations on the same,
but it wasn't until around the 1920's in the West that belts were worn to keep trousers up. 

Who'd a' thought? 

And now we have a situation where you have sagging as a fashion statement,
with pants being held up basically by some lower protruding bits.
And if belts are worn, they're worn as decorative items.
That fashion statement came from prisons where the overgarments,
the trousers were basically all of one size: too big, and they sagged.
Because belts were taken away because they could be used as weapons,
or as an instrument of suicide,
they became a status symbol on the outside.
And we also have now belts as "big" for demarking the waistline,
which you know, up to six, eight, ten inches of belt—
big fashion statement,
doesn't really hold up anything,
except perhaps breasts—
up and out.
And there's been an increase in this particular fashion as people have become more and more "voluptuous". 

So you'll see more belts, perhaps,
as you go about your day-to-day activity,
that could be kind of fun, I find it fun, I like to notice these things.
Oh, another thing about noticing belts:
if you have a belt that is leather, notice it, of course.
Recognize it came from a being
and it's providing you with a valuable service,
but, no need to say this here,
but for those who may listening in the future: don't wear that being in the Zendo or the Hatto. 

The verse again: 

When putting on a belt,

"May all beings

Gather roots of virtue

And not loosen and lose them." 

Thank you for listening.