White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 49: Setting Out on the Road

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 2nd, 2009


...brings you the sound of bells, of birds, of branches cracking in the wind, laden with fresh buds.

Every breath you take... 

...lets you know that you're alive
and you can make a choice
as to what you're going to do in this moment. 

Now of course because you're sitting here in this bright, luminous Hatto,
studying the Teachings of Reality,
the first choice you're going to make is to practise this moment of clear seeing. 

And obviously, you're all doing it! 

You have done it!
You're getting better at it!
Or how else could you have overcome the pull of self-image and its stories of:
"Maybe I'm feeling too sick to go there today. Yeah..." 

But... you see it for what it is:
[O-sensei claps once]
a contraction,
a storyline.
You remembered to notice the whole bodymind
and here you sit.

Your story might have been:
"Well, this really isn't worth it, I'm so busy!
I'm so busy, I really need my rest.
If I don't get my rest, I'm gonna get sick." 

And then of course, there's the inaccurately named Swine Flu.
Now, apparently, no swine actually have this thing.
Now, I'm sure that the poor swine would feel pretty badly about this.
(Isn't it funny that we human beings like to call things that are unpleasant after someone else?
Small pox was, according to the French, the "English disease", as was syphilis.) 

So, we do have this habit
and it's good to notice our habits and patterns,
be they individual or of a group,
because out of those come the beliefs that we have used,
whether we knew it or not,
to create what seems to be a solid and permanent self.

Well, let me tell you,
it's about as solid and permanent as that other big fairy tale:
the economy.
But, we're not really going to go there. 

So, with every breath you take,
you practise this moment.
The verse, from "The Practice of Purity": 

Setting out on the road,

"May all beings

Go where the Buddhas have gone,
The realm of leaning upon nothing." 

Well, Dharma means (with a big D that is) the Teachings of Reality, little d:
moments of experience,
knowns that you as Knowing can know
and use to practise with.

Reality is that everything that is born is going to die. 

This means you. 

We can fabricate our stories about how we,
like a giant spider can throw out all these little strings,
sticky strings to anchor ourselves into a solid and unmoving place.

We can silicone ourselves,
we can inject ourselves,
we can "fountain of youth" ourselves,
we can try and work our hearts out on something
that we won't even call the same as being a chipmunk in a cage,
you know those treadmills in gyms?...

We can do all of those things,
but we're still going to die,
and this breath could be your last one.

So, if you're noticing it, this means—guess what?
You're alive.
So make a choice to open further,
to open to what the Buddhas have realised.

Buddhas, the Awakened Ones,
they've realised there is only this moment,
this moment is the moment you can make a choice
and recognize that none of those sticky strings,
none of those beliefs you have held about how you are and how the world is
are true. 

Start to look into beliefs.
Self-image has generated beliefs and beliefs and beliefs.
It has accumulated them,
it has taken them on without even knowing that they are fictions. 

You can have a lot of fun looking into fictions.
Some of them are really good,
some of them are really interesting,
some of them are really creative.
Most of them are banal and they are held by many different groups of people. 

The basis is contraction into a sense of self.
"There's me."
As soon as that contraction is there,
everything else is other to that sense of self.
So there's me and everything else.

Then there's "Me and Mine" and everything else.
So there are divisions.
There are beliefs that are commonly held,
strikingly similar,
yet in direct opposition.

Are they useful?
Well, some people say they may help them make it through the night.
But if we look at the world,
we'll find that on the whole,
they're not useful because what they result in is killing each other
and everything else that happens to be around us on a mass scale. 

"god is fine. god is good. god believes in... landmines?"
Come on, wake up people! 

So the fictions about who we are as individuals can be seen as they come up,
they can be opened so that that knot in space that we've identified with can open
and although words may be floating around like pleasing or horrible wallpaper,
we recognize that there's no need to believe them,
they're just descriptions and any word is just that.
It is a description.

So we start to understand that really there is nothing to lean upon. 

The previous two verses to this one about setting out on the road
referenced a walking stick and an almsbowl.
So of course, then we can settle down,
having comfortably distanced ourself from that image created by the words
which may have been of saffron robes,
one shoulder bare, in a dusty land, with a big bowl,
going around begging for the meal. 

But, although that is true in this very day in that it does occur,
what's true about the image that may arise right now is that it's arising right now,
it's a thought that's arising right now.

So you practise the whole bodymind in that moment
and recognize you cannot distance yourself from this Teaching,
from this verse,
because it is also talking about you. 

So, "setting out on the road",
what road?

Well, that's a metaphor because it's not as if that while sitting on your little zafu,
you really are travelling along some mystical road to some mystical destination.
There is just this moment
and this moment
and this moment
and that's what you are practising.
You have taken the risk,
and it is a risk,
you have assumed the willingness to put the effort forth to look into moment to moment experiencing.

And what will it give you? 

Nothing. [students laugh] 

It will take away everything you believed to be true about how you are and how the world is.
And that nothingness,
that "I don't know"
is the most valuable gift you can possibly have.
It is freedom.
It is the freedom to go,
to engage in whatever your choice may be,
unencumbered by the whining, whingeing, cringing self-image
that wants to suck up and please,
that wants to ingratiate itself,
that wants to be anything but honest with what's going on. 

Now, self-image likes to lean upon authorities.
Self-image loves rules.
Well, if it's a rule, I have to carry it out, don't I?
"I was just following orders."

How often in the course of human history has that been the excuse for unimaginable horrors?
And even today,
"Well, so-and-so said this is the way we do it. I'm just following orders. I'm just following the rules". 

Use the forms, which are the tools of practice,
the forms for the way in which you deport the bodymind
so that you have the most opportunity to see moments of experience as they arise
and to practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

Practise the reality of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
the reality of the knowns,
known by the whole bodymind.

You as the Knowing of knowns can do that.
And you are here,
you have waded through all the BS of self-image to sit right here right now today.
Recognize that.
The more you recognize it,
the less recoil,
the less reluctance,
the less gnarly bits,
the less onerous everything becomes. 

Now it is in a way, kind of sad,
to live in the realm,
or to have to leave the realm that we've been living in
which tells us stories about the "if only's": 

"If only I could meet my soulmate, then everything would be alright."

"If only I had a lot of money, then I could do things to really help people and everything would be alright."
"Oh my god, if only I were thinner, then I'd meet "the one", and everything would be alright." 

And the stories go on and on and on.
I'm sure you've identified a few about yourself.

Well, they are not who you are,
no matter what the content may be,
they are just another known,
like the sound of the wind whipping through the trees,
like the sound of a car going by,
like the sound of chimes.
Simply knowns. 

The verse: 

Setting out on the road,

"May all beings

Go where the Buddhas have gone,
The realm of leaning upon nothing." 

Thank you for listening.