White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 43: Washing Up Afterward

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 7th, 2009


...provides an opportunity to practise the Dharma,
the Teachings of Reality,
by using dharma,
the moments of experience that you as Knowing know,
and using them as a cue to practise basic mindfulness. 

Every breath you take,
whatever you're doing,
provides that opportunity.

The verse from "The Practice of Purity": 

Washing up afterward,
"May all beings

Quickly go past

The edge of the mundane." 

Well, the first step in understanding
is actually knowing what the words mean.
So we know, because we were here last week,
that we're talking about washing up after
[O-sensei stage whispers:]
going to the toilet...
having a poo...
a dump...
going number two...
or whatever other euphemisms we might use to describe this vital activity,
vital to the process of the bodymind.
But that's what we humans like to do,
be obscure,
cover over,
pretend that certain things don't happen and are not happening. 

Questioning into anything is always a good thing.
So we know with the "washing up" what we are referring to.
Now, in this particular place and time,
washing up actually is understood to mean washing the hands.

There are many kinds of washing the hands,
there's the real washing of the hands, done in private,
there's the washing of the hands done in public
which usually is done with great vigor,
especially if there's someone around.
There's the faux washing of the hands,
when we may suspect there's someone lurking outside so we might turn the tap on...
[O-sensei and students giggle] 

Self-image is devious, however,
and that's not all that washing up refers to.
Remember, "The Practice of Purity",
the original verses in the sutra were written somewhere around 400 CE in India.

So the washing up may also and first of all refer to cleaning up after the "work" has been done,
after the product has been left behind.

So one might wash up oneself
and since this was done squatting,
one might use the hand,
or if we had servants,
a servant would take a nice brush out of a container of water and
[O-sensei makes a scrubbing sound]
and that still happens in parts of the world today.
So there are many interesting approaches
other than the destruction of who knows how many trees
to provide those roles of tissue that we consume. 

So, "quickly go past the edge of the mundane",
what are we talking about with the "mundane"?
Well the word means relating to or typical of this world,
relationships to,
characteristics of,
or concern with the commonplace.

We could say "worldly"
because that will come up if you're looking for definitions.
But then the question arises,
what world are we talking about?
We forget that 400 CE was a totally different context than 2008.
Self-image concerns itself with its own narrow circles of concern.

When we open it up a little bit,
when we can see those contractions come up,
contractions into a sense of self with its limited stories,
limited and limiting stories of how you are and how the world is.
When you can see those contractions
and remember to
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
that tendency to describe the world,
the mundane by what is of interest only to self-image,
does open
and there are a lot of very interesting things 
that you may never have noticed before. 

Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
rich no matter where you are,
but when reading or listening to words it is interesting
to see what springs to mind in your understanding of them
and then to have the guts and the small amount of energy it takes
to actually look at the word and say:

"What does this mean?"

If you're practising,
you're gonna have the opportunity
to see more completely associations and so on.

Why is this important?
Because, on the whole,
Western culture is really dumbing down.
We're becoming collectively more and more ignorant.

This is quite different from Europe where it's still accepted,
and in other countries as well,
other than the Americas,
it's quite accepted that if one has spent a number of years studying a particular subject,
that one may have learnt something and that that could be of value. 

In North America—
and you've all experienced it within the last few months—
that knowledge,
that experience has been dumped into a container called "elite".

So you can think about that in your own time,
but we've reached a situation where
we have the pulling down of critical thought.
We have a situation where more and more people are
"going with their gut"
which results in things like, 45% of the population in the US, apparently,
believing in ghosts,
71% in angels, 
45% believing God created all beings in their present form in the last 10 000 years,
40% of the population being functionally illiterate. 

That isn't much fun for the people themselves
and does cause acting out in all sorts of ways
that really are not useful to themselves or the population as a whole.

When you have stances based on beliefs
and beliefs being the expressed stories of self-image,
you have potential and actualization of many many problems. 

So the mundane may not be mundane and boring,
because usually boring will come up quickly
around the use of the word mundane,
but day-to-day activities are very interesting,
they always have been,
when one chooses to look outside of the closed circle of concern
of the image of a self. 

I found this this morning,
it's from an ad in a reputable magazine,
(the name of the nation to the south of us, but we don't want to name names...)
"may eventually find a way to live without oil, water is another story." 

Well, yeah, sure is. Goes on in the article: 

"...it is the one resource that humans can't live without for more than a few days...
looming crisis...
massive proportions...
evidence abounding...
depleting water...
population growth is outrunning water supply...
California will be short on water by 2020...
every newcomer to California adds a 140 gallons of water demand per day..."
and on and on.

We read a little bit further:
"What can we do? The first step is in limiting waste, especially in irrigation."

The second is
"limiting demand by managing a population explosion driven almost totally by immigration." 

[O-sensei tsk tsk tsks.] 

Well, there are two things that are really disturbing about that.
Second is the fact that no matter which way we cut it
and no matter which way we travel to find a better life,
and no matter where we come from,
we're all drinking from this giant container that we call the globe. You can't divide it up. First, setting up a target in a country for hostility: immigrants. We sure need a lot of that, don't we, we sure need a lot of hostility towards "other", no matter where it happens on the globe? 

So, why did that come up? Because of the washing up, of course. When you start to notice many different things, you start to notice that although words are not the experience, it is the describing of experience, that a word is not a solid thing, it changes over time and is particular to context. It's a lot of fun looking into what's actually going on. 

Words shift over time.
What did it mean then?
What does it mean now?
When was then?
When is now?

Well, with this practice,
now is this moment,
right now,

THIS one,

and it is marked by the breath that's moving your bodymind in and out.

You're alive.
You can practise this moment.

Each time bodymind opens past the knots in space of contraction,
it is opening past the edge of the mundane,
the description of a self by what it believes itself to be,
its description of a world based on unquestioned assumptions and beliefs about what's going on.

Might as well do it.
You're here.
Right now.
And right now.

And right now. 

And when you're going about your day-to-day activities, when there's washing up afterwards... 

"May all beings,

Quickly go past

The edge of the mundane." 

Thank you for listening.