White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 52: Seeing a Downhill Road

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, June 27th, 2009

this late June morning
is laden with moisture.

It's humid and it's hot,
but every breath you take is your life.

No breath... no life. 

A long time ago in a workshop,
in North Carolina when I was instructing people in how to practise mindfulness
through feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
opening the eye gaze,
noticing hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
noticing reality,
noticing this moment as it is,
a wisened old guy who'd been doing some form of meditation for many years said:
"And uh, like, what's the importance of the breath?" 

[O-sensei laughs] 

Now, fortunately, I didn't have to answer that question
because someone piped up and said:
"Well, dude if you're not breathing, you're like... dead." 

So here we are,
we're breathing in this humid air on this June Saturday morning.

Kudos for showing up on a Saturday morning. 

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

Seeing a downhill road,

"May all beings

Be unassuming in intention

And establish foundations of virtue." 

Now, as we all know, everything rolls downhill
and gets bigger as it rolls downhill in many cases,
and there are many little folk verses and marine sayings about what rolls downhill.

And by marine, I mean soldiers, they do tend to have a unique way of expressing things. 

So stuff rolls downhill.

It could be said that when we fall into states of belief about how we are and how the world is,
they get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger
and impact on those around us.

So, we're learning to nip that,
to cut it off,
to see it for what it is,
to see a state,
to see a a sense of self,
a self-image for what it really is:
a contraction,
a congealing of attention in that field of reality
that when fed with the tit of attention
gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

It grows and seemingly obstructs everything else.

Fortunately, that's not true,
it just seems that way
because attention has been narrowed into this one thing.

So when we see it and recognize it for what it is,
when there is this moment of waking up to reality.
Waking up to the reality of the moment is that there's that "thing",
there's also everything that is known by the bodymind
that may have been obscured by that artificial growth,
that delusion that the "thing" focussed on, the "thing" that attention had narrowed into,
was the only thing going on. 

So there's a popping
[O-sensei snaps fingers]
of the bubble of delusion,
waking up to this moment as it really is.

And remember,
the only thing that is ever going on is this moment
and also remember that any words about anything
are only metaphors for experience,
so have some fun with words. 

Now what does "unassuming" bring to mind? Well, you google it: 

.exhibiting no pretensions

.exhibiting no boastfulness or ostentation

.acting in a way that does not assume superiority
.not bold or forward


So of course we can look at it on the one hand
and those are little beliefs that self-image can come up with and play out.
So that would be more of the same.
We may notice that for that moment,
images of other people pop up in our mind and we go:
"Oh, they are that way."

THAT's self-image.

That's a moment to be practised as soon as you see it. 

Now, is that what "unassuming" means in the context of the verse? Be unassuming in intention. 

Be unassuming in our anticipated outcomes?
Be unassuming in what is intended?
Or what guides planned action?
An intention, an aim that guides action.
Well, well, well... it certainly does seem to indicate
that the meaning you take out of it is whatever you have experienced of that particular word.
Hmmm. Hm Hmmm. 

Now "intention" comes from Middle English,
which comes from the old French,
which comes from the Latin "intendus",
so you see, words travel a lot and they pick up a lot of stuff.
That can make them a lot of fun.
So "intendus" means to direct attention.
Aha! So, we want attention open.
Attention is attending to what is going on in this moment. 

And "establishing foundations of virtue".
A foundation holds up and is that upon which we build,
the basis upon which something is grounded.
Hmmm. Hmmm. Well, uh, there's the feet,
and if you're not feeling the feet,
as the Roshi has said "you can't stand your ground".
So, yes, feel the whole bodymind in the whole moment,
feel the feet,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
pay attention,
notice what's going on REALLY.
In THIS moment. 

Where does the past arise?
Anyone have an answer?
Oh come on, go ahead. Where does the past arise?
[silence. O-sensei sighs]
Oh well. 

Where does the future arise? Come on, join me...

That's the only place it CAN arise.
Isn't that interesting?
The three times: the past, the present and the future
arise right here right now as you. 

Wow. Hmm. Okay. 

Now, the foundation, another foundation is the Four Great Vows,
the basis of practice,
that upon which we call for instruction,
for elucidation,
for an expression of intention.

I'll remind you of the Four Great Vows: 

All beings without number I vow to liberate
Endless obsessions I vow to release

Dharma gates beyond measure I vow to penetrate
Limitless awakening I vow to unfold 

And when do we vow to do this?

Right NOW,
that's the only place
we can do anything about any of this.

So you're learning to look into the reality of experiencing which is:
there's breathing in and out,
there's hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
the feeling of the clothes on your body,
perhaps a tiny rivulet of sweat running out from under your hairline...
(if you have one),
there's the taste of your own mouth,
the feeling of your thumbs,
one against the other.

The only thing that is ever going on,
this moment. 

So "virtue".
Early on in this series, we explored virtue,
we went through a list of what is and has been considered to be a virtue,
through different cultures and got down to the root,
which of course is Latin,
which means courage and valour.

Well that's a good place to start: courage.

Why would practice take courage?
Well, let's look at it from the point of view of a Saturday morning.
It might take a little courage on your part
to face all the little beliefs that come
that self-image has about how you are and what you should be doing and how the world is.
You might, one foot after another,
feeling that foot as it strikes the ground,
have to pull yourself up straight
and perhaps risk criticism from those around you
who really cannot understand what the h--- you're doing on a Saturday morning
when you could be sleeping in a sweaty bed,
when you could be taking a nice drive to the country,
perhaps to arrive and be faced with a "This beach polluted" sign.
There are all sorts of delightful things that you could be doing 
and you could even be heading out to some of the suburban cinemas to catch a flick at 10:30 in the morning, who knows? 

But you took the risk.

You pulled yourself up and
courageously took a step beyond the usual social and cultural assumptions
about what you should be doing on a Saturday morning.
Again, kudos, guys!

It's always taken courage to practise,
and out of that courage,
out of the willingness to sit and look at the display of self-image
and to cut through that by,
at the moment of waking up to the fact of seeing it,
noticing what else is going on,
which of course has already presented itself to you,
and by the time you start to put words to it... ha!

That's another display of Knowing, or display of Awareness,
to practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

If you keep on doing this,
you will find that you are are not fooled quite as much
and quite so often by the stories generated by self-image
about how you are and how the world is,
and sometimes you'll notice that despite the stories
of being too sick, too tired, too bored, too disinterested,
very keen, very much loving this practice, very much wanting to impress,
very much falling for how you should be bustling around like a good student... 

So all there is is this moment,
and really,
there's nothing going on.

You're alive,
you can notice it.

It's Knowing, really, that notices it.

Remember, all words are metaphors,
they are not the experience.
But, because human beings could,
it would seem,
language was developed to talk about experiencing.

And often what will happen is we fall for the words
and we take them to be more important than the experience.
You'll notice that more and more as you continue to practise as well,
which simply means that you will then find yourself free of the tyranny of words
and find yourself less and less inclined to grab onto one and say:
"THIS is the word."

Sounds evocative, doesn't it, of, oh well... beliefs. 

So have some fun this muggy morning,
where you are in the Hatto,
the Dharma Hall at Dainen-ji,
feeling that humid air,
which is cooling a bit now,
it's a bit more cool than it was when we first stepped into the Hatto.

Well, everything changes, doesn't it? 

The verse: 

Seeing the downhill road,

"May all beings

Be unassuming in intention

And establish foundations of virtue." 

We'd all have a lot more fun,
I mean like all, not just the people in this room,
all beings.

Oh well...

Thank you for listening.