White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 44: When Washing the Body

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 28th, 2009

Rub a dub dub.


...is and always was THIS breath.
It can only be that way.
All the breaths that went before are gone,
never to be repeated.

The air that was breathed in has been breathed out
and it mixes with everybody else's breath
and all the old cells and the sands from the desert
and it goes on and on... 

So there's this breath,
the one you're breathing now,
which is... this moment.

You might as well notice this one, without focussing,
but as the Knowing,
know that you're alive in this moment
and are learning to practise the whole bodymind,
which was always the case and is always the case.

And you do it with THIS breath because...
if you're waiting for the next breath to really practise,
there may not and most assuredly, at some point,
WILL NOT be another one. 

So. Rub a dub dub. The verse: 

When washing the body,

"May all beings

Be pure and harmonious,

Ultimately, there are no defilements." 

We wash the bodymind with water.
Depending upon where and in what circumstances we are
will dictate how we access and what quantity of that water we have available to us.

Now, in the Saijo Shingi,
which are the rules of deportment for the Hakukaze Soto Zen Northern Mountain order of monastics,
written by Anzan Hoshin roshi: 

True purification involves not merely washing the bodymind with water, but with washing ki with kokyo, washing the student with the teacher, washing space with space. 

So, as you've learned most probably,
to a certain extent,
what one hears or reads or is spoken of
is not really the way self-image perceives it as something specific to itself.
We may hear "washing the body" and go
"yeah yeah yeah, so now I'll just zone out for a little while because I know how to wash the body." 

That's what self-image does,
the contraction into a sense of a self with a view about how it is,
how the world is,
and what's going on
is a limitation.

It is a defilement of the open space of the experiencing of the open bodymind.

In the Shingi, which came from Dogen zenji who was writing about or presenting these issues in 1223, 24, 25, washing was something that had specifics given to it, the specific sequences to follow while cleansing the bodymind.

Why would that be?

Why not just fill up the bowl and turn on the shower and go splashing away, thinking about if we use the right shower gel, well...?

Who knows what could happen in our next encounter with... a fantasy?

By having specific sequences,
the individual has to maintain some sort of attentiveness
to the actual process of cleaning the bodymind.
So the form in itself is an aid to mindfulness,
is an aid to identifying those contractions
which come up
and defile the open space of experiencing
because of the fabrications
that become more dense
as attention funnels into the particular points
that self-image is nattering away to itself about. 

Now remember, you are the Knowing of the experiences of the bodymind.

So, when you are engaged in the activity of washing that bodymind,
of caring for it,
you have the opportunity to see knowns,
to notice how stories might come up,
to notice how you may not be actually noticing what you are doing.

At that moment of noticing,
there's the opportunity to allow attention to open
and to notice the full experiencing of the whole bodymind in the whole moment.
You start to be able to notice more and more clearly the context within which thoughts arise.

Now in the verse, it says "ultimately, there are no defilements."
There is just the open bodymind.
There is seeing and hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
there is the presencing of all beings and all times
in this moment around the breath as you.

And that is what you are practising. 

Maintaining the teachings,
acting aligned with the dignity of the Shingi,
the monastic Shingi,
purifies bodymind.

Because many opportunities are provided through the rigorous detail
that has evolved
from Dogen
to Hanamatsu Daiji,
to Joshu roshi,
to Anzan roshi,
to myself,
and Jinmyo sensei,
and to you,
these many ways of using each moment to open further to actual experiencing. 

Now, when you're sitting retreat,
or when you're participating in a Sesshin, or O-sesshin,
there are the ups and downs of the cycles of the bodymind.
We do get tired,
we might notice ourselves shutting down a bit.
We might notice the eyelids falling,
crashing into the upper cheek,
at which point the only thing you can do is
to really sit straight,
really feel the breath,
really open the peripheral vision,
practise with an effort that is equal in intensity to the perceived fatigue.

Things get balanced out and then, during kinhin,
you can go to the washroom,
you can fill the wash basin or sink with a small amount of cold water... 

(and that's not something that we do very often,
we tend not to fill the basin,
we tend to let the faucets run
because we tend to be oblivious of the fact
that this resource is valuable and not to be wasted) 

...then you can scoop the water with both hands and using the following sequence:

behind the ears,
put water on the face.

This will help wake you up a bit,
and at the end of it,
you slap both cheeks simultaneously with the cold water [Shikai O-sensei slaps cheeks five times]

and for the next few moments,
you may notice that the bodymind pulls itself up out of its swamp of shamatha.

And you may have to do it again and again and again in the course of a day or in the course of a lifetime. That's how it goes. 

These verses, as I have said,
are simply ways of allowing you opportunities to practise
as you go through the day to day routine
of every person who is fortunate enough to be in the circumstances
where it is possible to do simple things without much thought,
such as showering.

This isn't possible for everyone in the world, 
this is unique to certain parts of the world. 

It may, as we know,
become something very very special as water supplies run out.
So why not take time now?

Pay a little attention to how you actually do things.
Take care as you're taking care of the bodymind.
Use every opportunity,
use the interactions with the teachers to help you purify defilements. 

Now, "defilements" is something that self-image can get quite opinionated about.

The word itself has connotations that are quite nasty and off-putting,
but if say instead of defilements, contractions, knots in the open space of experiencing,
we can perhaps start to understand that no word that is used can describe everything.

There are many words that are used to describe contraction:

Basically, they're all talking about the same thing:
contractions into a sense of self with the stories about how you are and how the world is.

What you're learning to do is to recognize them.
At earlier and earlier stages of the process of perception and cognition,
and at the moment of recognizing anything,
you as the Knowing recognize those,
whatever they are, 
as knowns and moments to practise mindfulness. 

So the verse once again: 

When washing the body,

"May all beings

Be pure and harmonious,

Ultimately, there are no defilements." 

And don't forget to wash between your toes.

Thank you for listening.