White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 47: Picking Up a Walking Staff

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, April 4th, 2009

[O-sensei walks around the Hatto, shaking a shakujo, then sits at the teacher's seat.]


... provides the opportunity for you as the Knowing of knowns to actually
see seeing and hearing and tasting and touching and feeling and smelling,
to see thoughts that arise and fall,

to see the process of perception and cognition
and to use each moment of Knowing,
or clear seeing,
or insight,
to practise that moment of clear seeing,

to practise that moment of the clear seeing of reality. 

Now why would we want to do that? 

Well, let me think... Why do we practise anything?
Why do we practise the trombone?
Why do we practise skateboarding?
Why do we practise drawing or playing the piano?
Because, when we practise it, guess what happens?

Right! We get better at it.

Isn't that interesting? 

So, we're practising those moments when we see reality,
when we wake up to what's actually going on
and why do we do that?

And what happens when we do that over and over and over again? ...
Yes! You're right! 

People have been doing this,
the practice of Reality,
the practice of Things As They Are,
the practice of Waking Up,
that was taught by the Buddha, one who woke up.

People have been doing it for a long time,
2600 years for example.
Maybe some before,
because there is talk of the Buddhas before Buddha,
so obviously people had moments of waking up,
but Gautama Siddartha taught how to do that.
And this is what we're doing,
and this is what people have been doing in many different locations,
many different times.

And there are many ways of finding out more about the history,
about the tradition,
about what was going on. 

Now this sound [O-sensei shakes the shakujo] some of you may have heard before, in this very room.

So, the verse: 

Picking up a walking staff,
"May all beings

Raise the great work of benefit
And point out the true path." 

The sound you heard was from the rings of the shakujo,
literal translation: tin stick.
This was one of the few material possessions that monks were allowed
and the purpose of this stick was manifold,
depending upon context.

Now, this morning, the little dew drops,
drops of rain were accumulating like little jewels,
like strange mystical crystal flowers on branches that are on the whole as yet bare.

That same phenomena would of course have presented itself to many different eyes
in many different places and times,
so perhaps, in Japan, perhaps in China, on a mountain,
this sound would be heard [O-sensei shakes the shakujo]
and perhaps crystal drops would have fallen and splatted on the ground
as a mendicant monk put one foot after the other,
using the sound of the metal rings to let little animals know that someone was coming through,
and perhaps even to send out a message to bigger animals [O-sensei roars]
that there was a stick! [students laugh]
with a person at the end and if needed...
well, we'll leave it at that.
And also, to defend from bandit attacks, which were very frequent. 

Interesting, letting little animals know that the monk was coming by,
giving them time to get out of the way,
was probably something picked up from the Jains,
who were around at the time of Siddartha Gautama,
and the Jains would do things,
and still do in many instances,
like sweep the ground before them so they wouldn't trample on bugs,
and wear face masks over the nose so they wouldn't breathe in bugs, and so on.

Well, I say good luck, you know,
what are you going to do about that thirty percent of your body that's made up of all these bugs?
Anyway, that's an aside, no offense intended to anyone.

So the shakujo was a monastic accoutrement,
it would let people know as well,
if it were sounded out during the later mornings,
that the mendicant monk was coming by and if there were food available,
they would be more than willing to have it placed in their begging bowls
because mendicant means that of course they had nothing.
And the sound also would ring out
and has rung out through numerous villages in numerous locations
so that those people who want blessings can run and get some.
[O-sensei and students laugh] 

So many uses, and it's interesting,
really to actually follow up little clues that you might come across
in the texts and the verses of practice, just to see where it leads you. 

Now, self-image, that contraction,
that image of a self,
is loathe to do anything really.
What it wants is the key,
the magic phrase,
the magic moment,
spoon fed to it so it won't have to do anything.

Because as we know,
even putting your butt down on the zafu involves,
on some days,
what seems to be a terrible amount of effort
because we're dragging the ball and chain
of reluctance and recoil, whinging, whining: 

"Why do I have to? Other people are safe in their beds" [students laugh]

"I never did anything so bad that I have to be punished like this."

"Oh, I know, it'll be alright, I can feel a golden light coming down from the..." [students laugh] 

It all depends what we've been exposed to,
but you can rest assured that your thoughts,
the content of your thoughts about what's going on
are mostly wrong and can cause you all sorts of problems.

The sound of the rings
[O-sensei shakes shakujo]
is very direct when we just keep it to the sound,
occurring in this moment,
being sensed by the bodymind in this moment,
and use that moment of recognition to practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

But of course, we human beings will make up stories
and do make up stories,
some which are really interesting,
some of which are, oh, I'll be kind here, "same old, same old". Boring. 

Now, in 713, a monk teacher named Yoka Daishi wrote verses which mention the bowl of the monk and the stick, the rings. He says: 

The bowl of the monk to call the dragon, and the stick to separate the tiger.

The metal rings at the end of the stick jingle clearly.

Bowl and stick should not to be considered under their simple material form.

They mean to intimately follow in the Buddha's footsteps and symbolize his precious stick. 

That's from the Shodoka, written in 713.
Isn't that interesting?
You think, 713, that was over 1300 years ago,
and someone was writing about basically what you have experienced just now in the Hatto, in Dainen-ji.
The rings are struck sometimes when a new monk is "born" as it were,
that's where you would have heard it,
had you heard it in this context. 

On the whole, the interpretations of self-image,
of anything,
are necessarily limited and most probably wrong.
Why believe them?
When they come up,
when you notice anything,
particularly content,
recognize that's a thought.

Feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze
and allow the whole bodymind
in the whole moment
to be present to Knowing.
It already is and to believe or act as if it is not
is delusion.

But we have these little habits and patterns, oh my!
And we're trying to,
as we sit,
exercise our intention of practising
so that we can wake up completely to unconditioned freedom. 

Now, here is the verse that I spoke
that was written by Yoka Daishi in 713,
here it is translated by Yasuda Joshu roshi and Anzan Hoshin roshi.
It's the "Shodoka: The Song of Freedom",
that's S-h-o-d-o-k-a,
I recommend it, it's on the website, you'll have fun with it, you might learn something. 

Dew, fog, clouds, mists

are the true robes of our bodies. 

The monk's bowl that subdued dragons,
the staff that calmed fighting tigers

with the sound of its hanging rings 

are not just relics from some old fable

but symbols of the Thus Come One's precious Teachings. 

So that's in the "Treasury of Luminosity", it's the "Shodoka: The Song of Freedom".

Now remember that you have been told,
I'm sure you have been told that if you have a question,
feel free to write it down.
But it's the writing down part that people seem to have a problem with
because they fall for the old story that "Yeah yeah yeah, I'll remember..." 

Well, trust me...
[O-sensei and students laugh] 

Take advantage of it because when a teacher or a monk says something to you,
it's actually true.
So you're invited to, if a thought comes up saying:
"Oh, I don't want to bother them",
recognize that's self-image generating its usual social crap
disguised as being considerate,
which sounds somewhat okay,
but what is actually going on when you look at it is that self-image is saying:
"Don't believe what they're saying because they don't know what they're talking about." 

So wake up people,
wake up!

Today's verse again, from "The Practice of Purity": 

Picking up a walking staff,
"May all beings

Raise the great work of benefit
And point out the true path." 

...which is this moment...

Right now.

Thank you for listening.