White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 6: In the Rooms of Palaces

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, December 27th, 2007


...is a sign that you are alive and you have choice.

A choice
to practise
or to propagate thoughts and feelings
and shut down and stain the open expanse of experiencing. 

If in the rooms of palaces,

"May all beings

Enter the highest life,

Always free of the stain of craving." 

Well, we don't, every day, get to see or enter into the rooms of palaces.
You walked up the front walkway into the expanse of Dainen-ji,
not a palace but in this city, in this town,
let us say a modest monastery
which was once a modest merchant mansion in a lumber town.

So when we look at words like "palace"
we have to take into account the culture and the time frame.
In every culture and in every time frame
there have been buildings built that have been bigger and better
than the buildings in which the mass of inhabitants dwelt. 

Someone who had accumulated more stuff than anybody else
could erect an edifice which was, in many cases, very blatantly,
in size and appointments,
to show the wealth and power of the individuals who inhabited that palace. 

So when people entered into the rooms of palaces,
and the ordinary people perhaps got to enter into one room,
the great hall,
they could grovel in front of the lord of the palace or the king of the castle
and feel inferior, feel small, feel overwhelmed, feel awed.
Well, that was what was supposed to happen. 

When contracted we feel smaller than "that which is so much bigger".
We are humbled.
We can be controlled.
We've fallen for the hype
and do what is asked of us by the environment of "the palace". 

That contraction into an image of a self
which has storylines about itself,
feels small, impoverished, lacking.
It wants to satisfy that lack by craving for things
that the other has which it does not have.
We have narrowed attention into our stories
and the reality of the open life,
the luminosity of this moment of being alive,
is stained, covered, hidden, obscured,
but it is still there and it always was. 

The instruction for the practice of mindfulness is
to practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment
whenever any thing,
any knot,
any dharma or moment of experiencing,
is noticed.
When attention is unfolded
through the activity of basic whole bodily mindfulness,
all the information experienced by the senses
with and as the bodymind
is available to Knowing,
which is what you are. 

There's also the palaces of discursiveness;
the way we chat to ourselves
about what it would be like when we are in this dream place
which, of course, has been influenced by all of our experiences,
all of the information we've come across which tells us what we should have
if we want to be respected,
if we want to have power,
if we want to pretend that we are that which we are not.

A mundane example,
or mundane examples, and we've all seen them,
is when people of lesser means try to emulate what they think they have seen in these "palaces"
and what they think it means and then,
wanting to incorporate,
wanting to claim for themselves that perceived status,
objects are acquired.
Now, what often happens is that
rather than objects of beauty or utility,
the things that are acquired have become symbols. 

A chair, ill designed, badly carved,
with picky upholstery, and a shoddy gilding job,
sits proudly covered in plastic in a small living room,
unveiled on holidays.

A copy of a chair seen in a palace where one has actually been,
and seen with one's own eyes,
or something one has seen in a magazine
owned by someone we've never met but may admire,
or seen in a book, or a video,
a copy of that chair (and they are usually bad, bad copies)
has been purchased to make the owner feel better than they feel.
Feel that they have more status.
And hopefully send a message to anyone who comes into that living room
that they are different from what they seem and in an old saying,
"attempt to show a touch of the royal".

Mythologies trying to fill that hole of dissatisfaction. 

Pleasing lines, colour, texture,
even in what may be the tiniest of details,
are perceived by the open bodymind.

When something pleasing is seen
there may a response,
an immediate response,
such as "ah!"
Just without words,
the open experience of the senses
and we can feel open, good, happy for the tiniest moment,
because we have been touched by that experience.
When that "ah!" occurs, we are changed.
Our view is wider.
Open experiencing,
shows us something that the bodymind has resonated with. 

When we notice,
whatever grace or beauty affected us
may be used as a guide to broaden the understanding
of space, art, of design, of history.
When we are contracted into poverty mind,
there are those old stories of resentment,
"How come she has that and I don't? I hate her."
"How come he has so much and I, who am more worthy have nothing?"
"I'll never ever be able to have any of those things those rich ones have, let's kill them."

And on and on.
Not pleasant and not aesthetically pleasing. 

Aesthetics, the science of how things are known through the senses,
was created in 1735.
It means the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values.
Noticing how what is sensed is experienced.
A certain texture of cloth is pleasing.
A certain colour repellent.
The light at a certain time of day soothes and another time of day depresses the system. 

As you are able to practise whole bodily and experience the "rooms of palaces",
be they actual rooms in palaces,
or adobe huts that are the largest in the village,
remnants of past glories,
or simply the largest oldest house in town with its stories,
with the open senses we are able
to see, feel, respond to, be informed by, and learn that experience. 

You can go anywhere.
You can do anything and have it be open and rich and satisfying.
When that feeling of lack comes up,
that resentment,
whatever it may be,
we are diminished.

Why bother following that? 

At the moment of clear seeing into the reality of this moment

and this moment

and this moment,

and the practising of body, breath, speech, and mind
in this moment
and this moment 

and this moment,

all the senses are open and any choice made,

(and of course the only choice when on the zafu is to
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the peripheral vision:
any choice made,

in time,

will be made from the richness of that clear seeing

rather than the contraction and poverty mind of self-image

with its whining about never having such nice stuff,
being unlucky,
and so on. 

The stories block open experiencing and they're not much fun. 

Open experiencing informs choices we may regard as mundane.
You may find yourself decluttering your living space,
washing and then one day even ironing your jubon.

Because you notice differences that the senses perceived and it was nicer.
You may find yourself getting rid of things like horrible patterned carpeting, or wallpaper.
You may find yourself polishing your shoes, placing them carefully.
You may find yourself getting rid of the comb-over and even letting dyed hair fade
as the stories about who you are and how you should be fade and reality is clearly seen. 

When experiencing is unstained,
you can go anywhere, any time, and have fun.
You can see beauty in simple lines that you may never have noticed before.
You have a world opening to you, as Knowing.
Your choices have more information upon which to be based and, really, everything benefits. 

If in the rooms of palaces

"May all beings

Enter the highest life

Always free of the stain of craving." 

Thank you for listening.