White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 57: Seeing a Dangerous Road

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, August 22nd, 2009

August 22nd, 2009.

We can tell by the sound of the air conditioner and by the fans that the hydro is still working.
The brownout
nay, the blackout
hasn't yet happened.
Sometime in the future, it might.

you can accept and realize that right now,
we're sitting pretty.

It may be hot outside,
it may be humid,
but we're cool in here.

In the future, the sound of the air conditioner and the fans on the recording may not be an issue
because maybe there'll be no way to play the recording back. 

But that's in the future
so in order for us even think about that,
to consider it,
we have to make up a story.

Interestingly, that's what we do a lot of the time:
make up stories.

Unfortunately, until we start to recognize that's what we're doing,
we don't know that that is what we're doing. 

Popular culture is such today that even in a magazine called "Fashion Magazine",
this information was given out to the Fashion Magazine reader: 

Thoughts, five percent coming from actual sensory data,
ninety-five percent assumption and misinformation.
Estimates are maybe 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. 

...and that is not just the property or the venue of Fashion Magazine readers, 
they're talking about human beings,
all human beings. 

...and up to two thirds of the thoughts are negative. 

Isn't that interesting? So today's verse: 

Seeing a dangerous road,

"May all beings

Abide in the realm of what is true

And escape the distress of wrong actions." 

"What? Wait a minute. Wait, wait just a minute... That sounds really familiar!
Am I having a moment of déjà vu? Again? Maybe in a previous life...
Maybe I was there 1600 years ago when these verses were being written and read?
Wouldn't it have been in Sanskrit or some other language, then?
It wouldn't have been in English, would it?" 

"What the hell?" [students laugh]

Well, "seeing a dangerous road",
this life is a dangerous road,
believe me.

Danger: exposure, or vulnerability to harm or risk. 

Doesn't that just define life? And guess what the prize is at the end? [O-sensei and students laugh]

Everyone, all equal,
but what we can do is look at how we are living the life that is living as us right now in this moment,
which is the only moment that's going on,
and this moment
is the only thing that's ever been
and always has been
going on. 

Now, some people will say things like:
"I'm really having a hard time wrapping my head around that one."

I say of course you are,
because it's a thought.

Recognize any thought for what it is:
a moment of reality,
a dharma,
a moment of experience arising in this moment
is part of the reality of the life that is living as you in this moment.
And you,
the Knowing of moments of experience,
moments of experience known by the bodymind,
can make the choice to practise at that moment of clear seeing.

[O-sensei snaps fingers] There! 

And, when we practise anything,
we get better at it,
and this practice
of practising the whole bodymind in the whole moment
is the practice that does,
over time,
allow you to live as the freedom
that is experiencing in this moment,
and it does allow you to escape the distress caused by wrong action. 

What is wrong action?

Well, we could simply say it is choosing unwholesome, or contracted conditions
over the open experiencing of the bodymind in this moment.

It's not about eradicating portions of experiencing,
not at all,
that's what the usual mode of living our life
with the usual understanding of who and what we are

We can learn to see that. 

Now, "seeing a dangerous road".
It could be like a dangerous road,
a road with land mines,
but it could be the road in front of your house where there are cars,
many of them being driven by people who are on all sorts of prescription medication,
[O-sensei and students laugh]
which if you have ever taken certain prescription medication,
will let you know that they are whacked out of their gourds.

Run! Get out of the way! [O-sensei and students laugh loudly] 

So, any road can be a dangerous road,
but a very interesting fact,
and I'm sure this has occurred in your experience at one time or another,
when something that is a direct threat to your life is happening, t
here is no time to worry about it.
There is no time to crank up a state of fear or of being afraid.

Because it will paralyze you and you would not be sitting here at this time.

If someone is hanging on your throat,
there's no time to worry whether this guy's going to kill me or not.

What happens is the body,
bodymind responds
because the bodymind is built for survival at a basic level. 

So, worry, fear? Leisure activites my friends.

Now, is that how you want to spend your free time?
Being anxious?

Well, of course the choice is always up to you,
but since you're sitting here facing this wall,
looking into the actual experiencing of the bodymind in this moment,
I'd say that's not what you want,
in fact, quite the opposite.

You're here because something has let you know
that there is more to this life and to the experience of this life
than is commonly known.

When we have lived our life defined by,
imprisoned in the beliefs of the patterns of social culture,
we may have and have had these moments of recognition,
these little holes in the wall where the light comes through,
where we think: 

"Wait... wait... there's more."

(And that was a tiny little tribute to Leonard Cohen, not an exact attribution, perhaps.) 

However, there we are, we said:
"What the hell? Is this really my life? Am I really supposed to be this way?
Well, I've tried that, and it didn't work.
I've tried being a socially acceptable individual and let's say, it may have been slightly flawed." 

So here we are,
we end up sitting on the zafu,
facing the white wall,
looking into this moment of experience as it is,
learning to recognize that it is not only on the zafu,
facing the wall
that we can see the life that is living as us as it really is.

Practice is not confined to what you do in the Hatto,
or in the Zendo,
in the formal practice rooms.

when you notice yourself
being fearful, worried or anxious, guess what?
You've recognized a piece of reality.


And at that moment of recognition,
at that moment of clear seeing,
you can practise that moment of clear seeing,
that moment of waking up to reality.

And, if you keep on practising and practising,
there'll be more moments of waking up to reality,
more moments when the distress of wrong action can disappear. 

Now, there have been many stories in nursery rhymes and in fables
about beings who get anxious,
who worry,
who come up with certainties about what the future will bring,
who can make a meal out of fabricated dangers.

We've all heard about the boy who cried wolf. 

"Wolf! There's a wolf!"

The village comes out to look, there's no wolf.

The next day,
this little attention seeking git comes out:

"Wolf! There's a wolf!"

Everybody comes out, there's no wolf.
This goes on for a few days, and one day, a real wolf shows up and the boy cries: "Wolf! Wolf!" 

Of course, nobody came! [O-sensei and students giggle]

You can only believe certain stories so many times,
then you get a little bored with it.

I had a friend once who was prone to committing suicide. [students laugh]
Yes. And one day, after like numerous attempts,
and the thing is, if she wanted to do it, that was fine,
but one day she showed up in the Royal Ottawa Hospital
and nobody came to visit her because everyone had just become a little "crying wolfish" about it. 

And there's also the story of Chicken Little. 

"The sky is falling!" [O-sensei clucks like a chicken] "The sky is falling!" 

All the chickens in the yard, looking up. [O-sensei clucks some more, students giggle]
Wasn't happening. 

There's another story about a neighborhood where there was a garage and a kid walking past the garage looked in and saw the light reflecting off coils. 

"A snake! It's a snake, it's a big huge snake!" 

Goes running off to tell the other kids about the huge snake.
Then they kind of get close, have a little look at the light reflecting off the coils
and before you know it, the mythology, the urban legend was that
there was a great huge snake in that particular garage.

Now, the idea of something like that could be awfully handy
if you were in a neighborhood that was prone to break-ins. 
But anyway, long story short, one kid was sent into the garage to get something,
wouldn't go and the owner of the garage who may or may not have been one of his parents said: 

"There is no snake in there."

They went in, turned the light on, and there it was:
a coiled hose. 

But as we know, when we fabricate things,
when we get involved with our stories of what could or could not happen,
and don't recognize that that's what we're doing,
not only do we cause ourselves unnecessary distress through falling for these stories,
but we involve all sorts of other beings in it,
setting up limitations,
setting up dis-ease, unease,
inability to make the most fruitful decisions in any situation.

When we're abiding in the realm of what is true,
which does include thoughts,
if they're going on,
they're going on,
they're part of the reality of this moment,
when we can see them for what they are and see the content,
we can often be amused by the content.

When we can recognize that that dharma,
that moment of experience,
that thought,
that content is simply a small percentage of the totality of reality in that moment,
and practise that moment of clear seeing,
we can rest assured that attention will be caught up with something else before we can even notice it,
it happens often that quickly,
but that is another moment to practise. 


Now, the realm of what is true
is not just seeing and hearing and tasting and touching, feeling and smelling
and breathing in and out,
it is also true that stuff happens!

So last week, stuff happened.
Little batteries, little positives and negatives,
little bits of electronices and whatnot and whatnot failed, so there was no recording.
Now, just to get slightly forensic about it,
there could have been a rush of self-image, contraction, beliefs like: 

"This should not have happened to me, my words are so valuable,
they should have been recorded right then and there.
How am I supposed to deal with this?
I don't have anything written down, I can't repeat it.
What will I do? Go back into the room?" 

But that's like the usual mind,
that's the way it functions because it is the centre of the universe.

The fact is, stuff happens.

Now, I'm sure it could have happened in the usual world
that the person or the group responsible for setting up the situation might have had one of those
"Oh, frak!" moments.
But, because that can be recognized as a contraction into a sense of self with a little thought,
and practised,
it doesn't override,
it does not have the opportunity to take over and create a whole situation. As they say, you know, "Shit happens". 

So I don't know. Pretty hard to judge. Can't tell what's going to happen in the next moment, ever.

But we can stick to the facts
of the breath,
of seeing and hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
of the fact that there are patterns and tendencies,
and the fact that we are not those patterns and tendencies,
we're the knowing of them.

As we continue to practise,
that becomes more and more apparent. 

So have fun today!
Have fun every moment as you travel down this dangerous road.

Thank you for listening.