White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 41: When Chewing on the Toothstick

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 17th, 2009

When chewing on the toothstick,
"May all beings

Have the eye teeth of wisdom
And bite through all delusion." 

A reminder that "Every Breath You Take" covers many topics
allows the bodymind to do many activities
that are necessary for the maintenance of this thing we call the bodymind.
And people have been taking care of it for a long, long time. 

Dogen zenji went to China to find his teacher and to wake up,
and he brought that back to Japan in the early 1200s.

Not only did he come back with information and instruction,
and the ability to teach others how to wake up,
he came back with practical instruction on how to take care of the bodymind,
and he wrote about this in the "Senmon" chapter of the "Shobogenzo",
and the translation that we use for this verse was based of course on Dogen's translation. 

So, as we go back in our imagination to the early 1200s,
we can understand through what we've read,
or what we've heard,
or what's been told us,
or what we don't even know yet but are starting to get information about,
that the Japanese, apparently, at that time,
were not on the cutting edge of dental hygiene and when Dogen was in China,
he saw that this chewing on a toothstick,
in this case apparently, willow,
was something that was done after the monks had cleaned their mouths.
So they chewed away on this toothstick,
this bit of a tree to clean further the bodymind,
which is always a good thing to do and a note here: when you get older,
your teeth start to go.
The bone recedes and the gum recedes and it's not pleasant. 

So, use the verse as a reminder
to feel the breath,
to stand up straight,
to open the eye gaze,
to actually "participate",
to know what you are doing when you are busy taking care of those teeth. 

So, Dogen zenji was apparently quite thorough in his presentations on "The Practice of Purity" of taking care,
taking care of the bodymind,
finding ways that are more complete
and you can read about these in the "Shobogenzo" and various other texts. 

When chewing on the toothstick,
"May all beings

Have the eye teeth of wisdom
And bite through all delusion." 

So the eye teeth, the dog teeth, the canines, the fangs, the cuspids,
all different names for those pointy teeth,
of which we have four, two in the upper jaw, two in the lower.
And again, we don't really pay much attention to those things just as we don't pay much attention,
often, to much of what we're actually doing.
But those are the teeth that you bite into things with and hang onto, those fangs.
So you're being reminded to use this moment to metaphorically use those sharp fangs to
[O-sensei claps]
cut through all delusion.

And what delusion is that?
Well... a delusion has been defined as a false belief based on incorrect understanding of reality. 

So, we're sitting here
and if there's a thought about something that someone said a while ago,
or something that we're going to say to that someone sometime in the future,
and we're invested in it,
attention has gone into that little play,
that's a delusion because it's not going on.
The fact that the thought is there and it's recognized
is starting to clarify delusion because you're seeing reality,
you're seeing that a thought is present.
You were caught up in it because when you ARE caught up in it,
you're caught up in it,
you're not seeing that you are caught up in it,
you're not seeing that,
that moment of
[O-sensei snaps fingers]
waking up
and recognizing that attention was focused and narrowed and caught up,
is a moment of opening. 

That's the point you practise immediately
by feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
opening the eye gaze,
but noticing the sensations of the bodymind,
you as the Knowing of the bodymind,
use that moment to recognize that a thought's a thought.
It is no more nor is it any less important than
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
breathing in and out.

The reality of the moment is that all of those are going on,
you might as well know them.
You might as well allow the full presencing of the whole bodymind in the moment
because it is going on.
Just because you don't happen to notice it
does not mean that
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, and breathing

Which of course, logically, is a good thing.
Because holy smoke!
If we had to be aware,
if we had to know every breath that had gone in and out of the body
in order for it to go in and out of the body,
not one of us would have lasted very long. 

So you're practising the reality of this moment,
the complete reality of this moment,
the presencing of the whole bodymind in this moment.
You're learning what to do.
The bodymind is learning what to do.
And of course, as that learning occurs,
it becomes embodied and often,
much to your surprise,
you may be caught up in something when all of a sudden
[O-sensei snaps fingers]
there you are,
the whole bodymind in the whole moment is known.

Contraction into a sense of self will often come up very very quickly
and want to label,
want to check things out
and until we learn to recognize that contraction into a sense of self
that wants to organize and control,
it will come up.

And you will learn to see it,
and each time you practise that moment of recognition by
feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
opening the eye gaze,
you're helping,
you're learning,
the bodymind is becoming informed,
and the practice,
which is doing something over and over again,
is becoming more and more embodied. 

So use every moment.
Use everything,
anything that comes up
as a reminder that you can practise in this moment.
When you're standing at the sink,
flossing, rinsing, gargling, sonically cleaning those teeth,
the moment presents itself,
you may notice that you were rushing through things,
that you were already at your next scheduled event,
or you were already cutting short,
cutting off the fullness of the moment
by burdening yourself with thoughts about how you had so much to do
that this is really just an unwelcome intrusion.
(It's interesting, we seem to get really involved in brushing, flossing, cleaning,
just before we're going to the dentist...) 

So for lo these many years,
the Lineage has presented instruction on many aspects of practising in this moment.

You might hear references to the gnashing jaws of the Lineage
[O-sensei makes chomping sound with teeth]
chewing up delusion.

Well you may as well use your eye teeth to cut through delusion,
to wear out the tendency to gnaw away
at old sticks
and bones of old thoughts and feelings
and habits and patterns of attention. 


When chewing on the toothstick,
"May all beings

Have the eye teeth of wisdom
And bite through all delusion." 

Thank you for listening.