White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 61: Seeing High Mountains

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, November 7, 2009

Here we are,
sitting up straight,
feeling the breath,
moving that mass of bones and cells,
in and out. 

Now, for the sake of convenience,
we can call it "you" and "me",
but we all know that we don't really know what it is.

We don't really know what's going on anywhere except this moment.

This is what you are learning to see.

The verses from "The Practice of Purity",
written some 1600 years ago,
were written to point to the many activities of human experience
and provide pointers to practice. 

Today's verse: 

Seeing high mountains,

"May all beings'

Roots of virtue stand forth,

Their summits above all grasping." 

Now there might have been little slides or movies or stills pop up when you heard "high mountains". If so, they most probably were Mount Everest—29 000 plus feet, Mount Fuji, seen in pictures, maybe even visited—12 389 feet, the Monserrat mountains in Columbia—10 000 feet, the highest mountain in the Rockies, Mount Elbert in Colorado—14 440 feet.

Or, you might not have thought of anything like that at all. 

But here we sit, actually in this building, resting on the earth, which has in it, parts of the Laurentian mountains, parts of the Canadian Shield, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. The rocks were deposited during the Cambrian times, 540 million years ago.

At one time, this might have been a very high mountain, but sometimes when we're sitting on our zafu, we can become dizzy with the height from which it seems we are experiencing.

That can happen when we start to conceptualize about anything. 

Bottom line:
"all is change"
is not just a convenient phrase,
it's a fact. 

Now, do mountains have roots?
Of course, in a way they do,
roots being just a word,
how something is affixed to something else
and how it is informed by that within which it is rooted.

So: mountains, limestone,
which means there were particles that drifted down through a tropical ocean,
covering plants and animals that had died and were lying on the bottom.
They show up here and now as fossils.
That's what this area is:
not only are we sitting on a part of the mountain,
we're also sitting on what once was the bottom of a tropical sea. 

So change.

Each time you notice something about how you are,
you're experiencing a moment of clarity,
a moment of clear seeing,
no matter how confused self-image may want to label that moment,
it's not so.

It's a moment of clarity.

Practise it.

You want to have more of them.

That's what you're doing.

Don't listen to the little voices,
don't believe the stories that you should be experiencing something else...

That's dukkha,
basic unsatisfactoriness. 

So let the breath presence the whole bodymind
and there'll be another moment
and another moment
and another moment,
changing rapidly.

Practise and keep the change. 

[quiet giggle from one student]

[Shikai O-sensei speaks to the student who giggled:]
Thank you.
[more students laugh]

Predictable, but you know... 

Now right now, speaking of change, right now in Ethiopia, there's a rift opening.

It started in 2005, it's now 20 feet wide and the split is growing.
It's now 35 miles long and a lot of that happened in a couple of days.

I looked at photographs and for sure, somewhere in the world, there are some people,
I won't give any genders,
who, informed by the ob-gyn school of feminism
may be looking at those photos and saying:
"Oh my God! Oh my God! Gaia is going to give birth!" [students laugh] 

Of course, a story. 

Now here we sit,
cultivating "roots of virtue".

As has been spoken of in previous Dharma Talks,
that word,
which is just a metaphor for a set of conditions experienced by,
or is a label for or a set of descriptions of a set of actions that we may take,
so we'll just say,
no matter what happens,
our basic understanding,
which is becoming embodied the more we practise,
that all that's going on is this moment
and we need not be carried away by any story that presents itself,
nor can we grasp and hold onto anything that presents itself.

Fortunately, we don't have to. 


And from Jinmyo sensei's Dharma Talk, "Tada",
things as they are,
doing not-doing,
sitting there practising
and how does this get to us?

It comes to us through the roots of the Lineage,
the roots most firmly established in a historical way,
as far as we can tell,
by Dogen zenji in the 1200s.

Before that, of course
there were the cast of characters starting with Gautama Sidharta
who may or may not have said this, that, or the other thing,
but who did wake up
and managed to teach something valuable,
incredibly valuable,
vital to growing up
and taking responsibility for being a human being: 

We're not our thoughts and feelings.

Those are just things going on.

Drop them,
there are far more interesting things to spend your time looking at,
to spend your time doing. 

So with every breath you take,
practise this moment.
Don't waste your time on those same old stories.
They're boring.
They're not even funny anymore. [students laugh]

But, the more they're practised,
the more comic they may seem.
We start to see some facts:
there is no self or other,
each thing does make everything else what it is.

Stone was liquid,
mountains were high
to a child standing across the river in the park looking at the Champlain lookout,
that's a very very very high mountain.

Don't be fooled.

Where you sit,
wrapped around the breath
is the ten directions and the three times. 


Thank you for listening.