White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 45: Washing the Hands in Water

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 7th, 2009

Walking up the front path of the monastery this morning,
breathing in the air,
you may have noticed there's a quality to the air that happens in the spring.

There's just a bit of that quality,
it's softer,
a bit more gentle than the biting cold of winter.
Icicles are melting,
snow is melting,
there's water on the street.

The cycle,
the inevitable cycle of the seasons
continues on this planet,
floating in space,
covered with all sorts of different beings and life forms
and if we could go way way way up in space,
we could look down and say:
"Look at that! Everything's happening at the same time, which is now!" 

So this moment of the breath
that is breathing you in and out
is NOW,
and you can practise the only time you can practise the reality of this moment,
which is NOW. With


the process of looking into your life as it really is,
when it's really happening,

The verse, from "The Practice of Purity": 

Washing the hands in water,

"May all beings

Have pure and clean hands

To receive and hold the Teachings of Awakening." 

that contraction into a sense of a self
that ties a knot in space and pulls through it
or attempts to pull through this knotting,
this congealing,
all other experiences,
has views about how it is and how the world is
and it may hear words in Dharma Talks or teisho that may cause it go to:
"Oh well, let's just have a little snooze now,
it'll be more of the same,
and I of course,
the All-Knowing, All-Seeing,
know all of this already" or,
contraction into a sense of self that goes:
"I won't be able to understand it anyway, so I'll just have a nap..." 

Now, in this, "washing the hands in water",
we could actually understand it as being about washing the hands in water,
from a very practical everyday point of view.
It is, after all, the season of cold and flus.

So, on a very practical, everyday plane, we can see that yes,
it's a good thing because given that,
some sources say now,
there are ten times as many bacteria in the bodymind as there are human cells
[O-sensei laughs]...
and you thought you were YOU!
This MOUND of bacteria just proliferating like crazy...
what with all the other stuff that gets picked up too,
and given that it is true,
it's not just a nice slogo—
slogan for a t-shirt...
("slogo", that's between "slogan" and "logo"
[O-sensei and students laugh],
new word.)
...each thing DOES make everything what it is.
That's nice.
And that's actually becoming kind of a little slogan in this world of multimedia advertising. 

There have been, and there are, increasing mentions of
"if the butterfly in the forests of southeast Asia flaps its wings,
the ramifications travel the globe."

And actually some connections are made
saying that one could and perhaps some do,
that that butterfly is the cause of things like Katrina, and so on,
because the understanding of the usual mind is often very simplistic
because it would seem that it knows less and less every day,
but that's a whole different bag of butterflies... 

But yes, each thing does make everything else what it is. 

So, you've been out in the street,
you've been handling money,
you've been shaking hands perhaps with people who've been doing heaven knows what...
So, it could be a good thing just to wash the hands,
and it could slow down the transmission of who knows what type of virulent organisms.
So washing the hands is a good idea. 

Now, we do wash hands and feet on ceremonial occasions,
when one is receiving vows, for example.
There is a danger that self-image perpetuates,
and the danger is that of turning even the most simple things,
simple, very practical things into rituals and it becomes
"we purify by washing the hands and feet"
and the rest of the time, well...
frak, who has the time to take care of these things?
So as with everything in practice,
which is the activity of expressing this moment so that the bodymind
and the Knowing that knows the activity of the bodymind
becomes more adept at actually recognizing
THIS moment and THIS moment and
THIS moment and using the instructions,
the Teachings of Awakening,
to practise
(which is to do something over and over and over again
so that one becomes more adept at it).
Doing this, the tendency for knotting of space
and congealing
and the distortion of experiencing by previously held views
which narrow intelligence
wears out and it is indeed a good thing. 

So, washing the hands in water, one is reminded with the verse: 

"May all beings

Have pure and clean hands

To receive and hold the Teachings of Awakening." 

Now of course,
the Teachings of Awakening are not something that can be received and held.
They're instructions.
We can hold a book,
but the activity of expressing the instructions
is something that cannot be held onto,
it cannot be grasped.

When that happens, we can,
in the feeble attempts of self-image to control its experiencing
and a world that is quite chaotic,
self-image can come up with rules.
Self-image loves RULES,
because then if it knows the rules,
not only does it believe it knows what to do in situations,
it also believes that it has a valid argument
should something else occur outside of the RULE.

And we've all experienced that in the course of activity in the monastery:
we are deporting the bodymind,
we might be in a hurry,
self-image is going:
"natter, natter, you have this that and the other thing to do..."
and so a cursory glance around,
it might be noted that there's no one,
especially no one in black in the vicinity,
so we may find ourselves sliding through the doorway after having kind of bent the body forward,
but with feet not really stopping...
BUT should someone in black come along
(and I won't tell you my own experience), and say:
"You call that a bow?" Self-image goes
"Well, I stopped, I stopped in the doorway, I bowed!" 

"Were you feeling the whole bodymind?
Were you feeling the feet on the floor?
Were you feeling the hands in shashu?"

"Well of course I was. I was following the rules.
I was doing what I was supposed to do." 

So that tendency to search for rules is just a tendency,
and when you notice it coming up
and it could be something as simple as,
and I've said it before so I don't want to turn into a nagger,
but you know, you go to the bathroom,
you finish going to the bathroom,
wash the hands!

It's not a rule,
it's just a very practical thing to do,
and if we were to say have rules about everything,
we wouldn't have any wall space free and clear
to actually sit with eyes open,
peripheral vision open
and look at the wall because the rules would be everywhere. 

When you open the basic intelligence of the bodymind
by noting in more and more detail moments of contraction,
moments of thought...
well, they're really going on,
it's not that they're not going on,
they are part of the reality of that moment
and you noticed them,
you noticed the reality of that moment,
THAT's the moment you practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment
so you become more adept.
So the bodymind learns to do that. 

In the Shingi, there's a paragraph written by the Roshi: 

Take care, give care. See, know, practise and manifest the mutuality of things as they are. Each thing makes everything else what each thing is. This is the relative truth of the Total Field. All things arise as the Display of Awareness, this is the ultimate truth. Use the ultimate to understand the relative. 

So... recognize that each thing,
from the smallest little bacteria to the largest beings,
to rocks and plants and goldfish and cats and other people and smells...
affect everything.

Take the time,
do wash your hands.
You don't need to get all Lady MacBeth about it,
and should you notice that,
you can recognize perhaps,
the building of an obsession,
but that's another matter.

We've covered that and we will again, I'm sure. 

So as you're breathing in and out, have fun with it.

Have fun with your life as it really is, where it's really happening.


Thank you for listening.