White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 53: Seeing a Twisting Road

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, July 4th, 2009

The wind,
air in movement,
air that has passed in and out of the noses,
the lungs of countless air breathers since...
the beginning,
whenever that was,
of this recycling machine which we call the Universe,
is rustling the trees,
undoubtedly making and rippling waves
into the water of the pond where the koi,
Barry, Doug, and Nigel,
having just celebrated their third birthday,
are busy growing,

Life goes on and with
you can know you ARE alive.

The breath lets you know that.
That can be the cue to notice whatever else is going on.
After all, as you chanted a few minutes ago in The Three Jewels, 

Awareness is the only condition, 

and you ARE Awareness in itself,
you ARE Knowing.

You are not anything that Awareness is aware of,
including the bodymind.
The bodymind is how Knowing knows.
The bodymind is how Awareness is aware of anything at all. 

All that is arises as the display of awareness. 

Everything, the wind, the koi, waves on water, the fan striking your...
sorry, the AIR from the fan striking your head,
as opposed to the FAN striking your head,
excuse me. [students laugh]
This is not about being perfect
but recognizing that inherent in this moment is the perfection,
the completeness of this moment of knowing,
this moment of recognizing that you are Awareness in itself
and practising that moment of realization. 

This is the seamless expanse of all that is. 

There's nothing missing.

When we start to contract into a sense of a self,
self-image and start to think:
"Well, this would be perfect if only..."
you have dukkha,
basic unsatisfactoriness,
the mumbling of the thoughts generated by self-image,
which are, if we look at them from one way, in one light,
are little belief systems. 

"This is great, but... if the sun were shining..." 

So, a little belief that if the sun were shining,
then this moment, which of course would be gone,
'cause it wouldn't be this moment any longer,
it would be that moment which can't be grasped or held onto or put into a scrapbook... 

So, dukkha, basic unsatisfactoriness—
it's gotta be words!

It's gotta be words.

Now, when questioned in daisan or in a practice interview,
we might say:
"No, well it's not really a thought, I just have this FEELing that..." 

Well, when you start to say
"I just have this feeling that",
you're using words,
you're talking about a little belief system.

So, we could say, or I could say:
beliefs have to have words.

There you have a pointer, something you can look at.
Self-image has all these little beliefs so if a word comes up,
or words come up when you're sitting, hey!
That's pointing directly to the fact
that you've noticed something that's actually true about that moment of experiencing.

There IS a thought.
There ARE words,
you've recognized it,
you practise at that moment by allowing the whole bodymind,
which is already there,
to be known by Knowing in its completeness,
and you've practised that moment of realization. 

And, as the Roshi said over and over and over again in many different teisho,
you don't really need to do anything,
you just allow,
you just notice that what is present is complete,
you don't have to change the content of the thought,
you don't have to suppress it,
you don't have to push it away,
but you can notice the tendency to want to do any of those things
because if they're there presenting themselves,
they are there to be noticed. 

So, finally, the verse: 

Seeing a twisting road,

"May all beings

Abandon false paths

And always clarify narrow views." 

So, as you know, a metaphor for this practice is The Straight Path, radical and direct.

So if you should happen to see a twisting road,
the twisting and the turning of that road
can cause you to remember that when you stand back,
as it were,
and allow self-image to make choices between this and that,
you're following a false path
because that thing that thinks it's making the right choice,
that contraction into a sense of self that says:
"Oh, I understand and I know what to do"
is more of the same.

It is self-image giving directions,
when it has no idea what it's doing. 

So you feel the breath,
you sit up straight,
you notice the presencing of the whole bodymind in the whole moment,
a gift given for no reason whatsoever
that you can notice when you are sitting,
allowing yourself the opportunity
to recognize the actual experiencing of the bodymind
and the process of perception and cognition in this moment. 

Now, in "Turning the Wheel of the Way: Teisho 3",
the Roshi spoke about something that we're all familiar with.
Students are learning how to practise.
And students have misconceptions,
they have views about what practice advisors and Dharma Teachers are actually doing. 

"They keep asking us to go back to the doorway
and repeat gassho monjin
and take our time when what we want to talk to them about is reincarnation." 

So self-image wants stories.
It wants to tell them and it wants to hear them.

"Please please please, tell me a story! Tell me what I'm going to get...
Tell me what my karma is.
Will I come back as a bug?
If I get everything right, maybe I'll come back as a beautiful princess.
Yes. Yes, that'll be great." 

Back in the meat again,
that's what reincarnation means,
I mean it's obvious, carne?
[O-sensei laughs]
Chile con carne?
Chili with meat?

So there we go,
back in the meat again.
We want to believe that story.
We want to believe and not just we,
sitting in this room,
but we human beings.

When you start to read about the different folk tales of various cultures,
there's always stories about how
if you're a good little girl or a good little boy and follow the rules,
you will get this prize after you're dead.
You will come back,
YOU, but like,
really better... [students laugh] 

Now, as the Roshi said,
practice is not about proving or disproving the existence of,
in that quote he had used "god",
practice is not about proving or disproving things such as
reincarnation or karma, cause and effect,
or proving or disproving the stories of different cultures,
including so-called Buddhist culture. 

Practice is about recognizing what is going on



... and using this moment of clear seeing
to practise
so that clear seeing becomes more and more how you are,
and with that clear seeing,
your capacity to recognize what's going on in this moment increases.

So it doesn't mean not having thoughts,
not having feelings,
not having stories,
it means seeing them for what they are.
Knowns, arising within Knowing.

Now what does happen inevitably with practice
is that the strength,
the pulling power of habits, patterns, tendencies
dissipates over time when you don't feed them,
they get weaker
and eventually they will wear away. 

Having said that, you can recognize when a thought comes up:
"I wonder how much time I'll have to sit on this cushion before I get the prize?"
...whatever that prize may be.
Self-image does have its ideas of what the prize would be,
howsoever vague they might be,
but they're all kind of around the theme of "It'll be ME, but BETTER!" [students laugh] 

So recognize those stories for what they are and be amused by them.

This idea of being a good boy or a good girl is pretty pervasive, let's face it.

From the belief that if we're a good boy or girl,
some red-cheeked dude in a red fat suit with white trim, invented, by the way, in the 20th century,
will leave us what we want under a dead tree in our living room...
there are all kinds of beliefs
that we swallow without knowing that that's what we actually are doing.

There's the swallowing of the Real Thing,
which is going to make us all happy and peaceful, worldwide,
well... sweet black water that is expensive is not a panacea,
it's not going to cause happiness and peace to break out,
that should be obvious.

Have some fun identifying personal mythologies, cultural mythologies.
Recognize that self-image,
that contraction into a sense of a self with a reason for being
and a description of how it is and how the world is,
is not a real thing,
it's a fiction,
it's a delusion,
it's actually going on
in the sense that it is part of that process of perception and cognition
and you're seeing it,
which is great,
that's the clear seeing that you want to have more of. 

Now sometimes, sometimes we become very convinced,
self-image becomes very convinced of its own stories
about how it is and how the world is.

Self-image never never never wants to be wrong
and it has a remarkable capacity for shifting what's available,
people, places, things, words,
so that it can appear not to be wrong,
it can get itself very very busy.

Learn to see it in yourself,
learn to see how these contractions come up,
how they have a story,
how they will try and strategize
so that they will never have to be wrong.

The funny thing about this,
and it is funny,
is that the fact that the contraction's there,
the fact that whatever story,
whatever set of words is there is there,
is not a problem.
In fact,
it's pointing to the fact that you're knowing it,
you're seeing it,
it's a moment to practise.

And practice is not arduous,
it's just dropping whatever it is that's going on
and recognizing the totality of the whole bodymind
in the whole moment. 

Self-image is an activity, it's not an object. 

Now, it might be helpful, as we seem to like jingles, if I jingle you a little song, "The Ballad of Self-Image".

[O-sensei sings, to the tune of "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain":] 

Self-image is a nasty little thing

O self-image is a nasty little thing
In the midst of contraction

You forget complete action

O self-image is a nasty little thing. 

Self-image is a stupid little thing
O self-image is a stupid little thing
Trying to become a being

There's no complete seeing

O self-image is a stupid little thing 

Self-image is a petty little thing
O self-image is a petty little thing
Peering here and peering there
Thinks it's safe within its lair

O self-image is a petty little thing 

Self-image tells crazy little lies

O self-image tells crazy little lies
It was born to deceive

And it wants you to believe

All its crazy little stories to be true 

Self-image is a generous little thing. Mmm hmm!
O self-image is a generous little thing

Looking round it we can see

It isn't you it isn't me
But a pointer to the vast reality

Self-image ain't a being or a thing
O self-image ain't a being or a thing

An attempt to locate Knowing

Arising it is showing

The Knowing which is really everyyyyythiiiiiing. 

[students giggle as O-sensei draws out the last notes of the song]

The verse: 

Seeing a twisting road,

"May all beings

Abandon false paths

And always clarify narrow views." 

Clarifying narrow views
means that you can bring them up in daisan or practice interviews
and maybe,
maybe we'll both have a little laugh. 

Thank you for listening.