White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 69: Seeing a Pond

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 6, 2010

 The ponds in the monastery grounds are frozen over
but we can have a memory of how the ponds looked before the freeze. 

stirs memory. 

Awareness is the only condition.

All that is arises as the display of awareness. 

So memories,
thoughts about the past,
thoughts about sensations,
thoughts about the future,
thoughts about what the ponds will look like in the spring
are all arising in this moment.

None of them are a problem,
none need to be eradicated or changed into something else,
they are as they are.

We need do nothing with them
and we also can remember that words are only words,
they are never the experience itself,
they are never the experience that they are describing. 

Now, you have can have, of course, an experience of a word.
If you're listening
the experience of the word starts with the waves that are created between the lungs and the throat
and the voice box
and the tongue
and the teeth of the speaker
and their impact on your bodymind,
the impact on the eardrums,
the impact down the hammer,
the anvil, and stirrups
and then too many details to possibly comprehend
which happens faster than we can even talk about it.

And there's an effect produced by those words,
but that effect produced in the bodymind is not what is being described.
So there's a multiplicity of moments of experience
that we in our feeble way
do the best we can to describe. 

Today's verse from "The Practice of Purity" from the Avatamsaka Sutra: 

Seeing a pond,

"May all beings

Be eloquent in speech
And skillful in teaching." 

Eloquent! Eloquent? Oooh, I like it.

Eloquent... which comes from Middle English which goes back through to the Old French and back to Latin. 

eloquence: to speak out 

So we're talking about speaking out,
we're talking about the formation of words to propel out of the bodymind to suit a purpose.

Now, when we hear the word "eloquent",
well depending upon our experience of reading about speakers,
or our experience of hearing about them,
or our experience of seeing and hearing at the same time,
may cause different meanings
or different senses of what the word is describing
to spring forth. 


Now, we might picture some old Roman dude standing with a toga,
wait is that a purple stripe?
Yes, it's a purple stripe at the edge of the toga
so this is part of the ruling class, someone to be listened to.

Then we might have a memory of oh, who was it who was it who was it....?
Was it Cicero, I think
who put pebbles in his mouth to speak through
so he could train himself to form his words well?
Or "eloquent",
it might bring forth a memory of a writer
that perhaps we've gone to listen to reading from their work
and the words might have sprung forth
and taken to the air like humming birds.
We might have been bored.
But if we were to speak forth such a thought,
well, what would our friends think?

So, let's just sit here with a knowing smile and nod, "yes... yes" 

So we all have our own experience of eloquence and it means:
-vividly or movingly expressive. 

It can mean powerful in the sense of discourse.
Then we have to look at what do we mean by "powerful"?
Well, one definition is the ability to get things done. 

-adapted to express strong emotions or to state facts, arguments with fluency and power.

[O-sensei proclaims dramatically:] 

Seeing a pond,

"May all beings

Be eloquent in speech
And skillful in teaching." 

Well, there we have a little bit of bad acting,
but is that not what self-image does all the time?
Is that not what happens when space becomes knotted
and a little mask comes up,
something that we want the world to see and believe?


Now, back to the face of the pond.
The pond,
a pond can look oh so calm as it dapples in the sunlight,
oh so calm as the scum grows across it,
very very calm,
much like this room appears to be.


If we were to take the top off each and every skull
and if there were indeed visual and audio representations of those thoughts and feelings,
would this be a calm room?

Well speaking only from my own experience,
I don't think so. 

So we deal with this rocketing of thoughts,
of feelings,
of biochemistry
and of course we remember when noticing anything at all,
any condition whatsoever arising
that it's the display of Awareness
and we are Awareness itself,
Knowing in itself
and therefore we can practise that moment of clear seeing. 

Now, the pond, the pond can look very calm.
You may look very calm,
even serene
as you walk into Daisan or a practice interview,
but one or two of you might have experienced what happened
when the stick of the word stirs up that pond:
"How is your practice?" 

All of a sudden there are weeds growing up,
all of a sudden,
there's an old rusty can
and a tire that we trip on
and oh my God what's in that mud,
is it a snake?

No problem,

no problem,

it's the noticing,
it's the knowing that causes you to deepen your practice.

We think that we have to clean,
rather self-image thinks that it has to clean the pond.
"I'm gonna clean all this stuff out of it,
THEN I'll be able to practise."

Well, it's that very interesting mess
of toothless combs, old scarves, a forgotten mitt, a piece of dog bone,
the weeds and the mud that enable you to practise.

That's the fertilizer for waking up.

The moment you see it is a moment of waking up. 

The moment you see any thought,
any contraction,

any attitude,

any feeling of the foot on the floor,
any tightening or knotting of space,
the moment of noticing is a moment of clear seeing,
it's a moment of waking up. 

That's what you're practising
and it makes sense because when we practise something,
we get better at it,
so by getting better at recognizing conditions as they arise within Awareness,
getting better at recognizing anything that is experienced as knowns,
Knowing practises that moment of knowing
until eventually all there is
is the bodying forth of Awake Awareness,

You're practising those moments of clear seeing
and it doesn't matter whether it's a piece of algae,
it doesn't matter if it's a stone reflecting and looking like gold,
it doesn't matter whether it's a dead frog,
what matters is that moment of recognizing a thought,
a feeling,
a moment of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
experienced by the bodymind
wrapped around the breath. 

We look into a pond,
the smooth surface of a pond
and if we don't disturb the pond,
we might see our own face in it,
but hold on,
even this is an illusion
because a reflection is not an accurate representation of our face,
it's a reflection,
it's a reversal. 

We'll never ever see our own face. 

That's reality.

However, as we face the wall in zazen,
we can see more and more clearly these moments of experience that arise,
these tendencies and patterns of contraction into the old familiar way of looking at something
that we wove together into a personality,
we can see it for what it is:
random and chaotic, basically.

At the moment of clear seeing,
we can recognize that as a moment of clear seeing
and practise that moment of clear seeing,
of waking up
and we'll get better at it.
It just happens. 

So, this is what Teachers have been doing since the beginning of the Lineage.
Teachers being people who through their own experience have recognized the truth of the Teachings.
And gee whiz,
you know,
when you find a good thing,
don't you want to tell other people about it,
no matter what that good thing might be? 

Well imagine here you have people who have found unconditional freedom,
freedom from conditioned experiencing
and it feels good! [students giggle]

So come on down!
Teachers have been doing it for 2600 years,
Gautama Siddhartha, although there were Buddhas,
people who had woken up before Gautama Siddhartha,
Gautama Siddhartha for some reason or another,
maybe just because people asked him to
and finally he buckled under and said "Okay, I'll teach you what I know".
Since that time there have been Teacher after Teacher after Teacher
in this transmission of Awake Awareness,
passed on Buddha to Buddha, face to face. 

In the opening comments of the "Eihei gen zenji goroku: The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Dogen"—
Yasuda Joshu roshi and Anzan Hoshin roshi translated this work—
Anzan Hoshin roshi wrote: 

Dogen's words arose through his desire to communicate the actual nature of experiencing to his students so that they might realise the Way of the Buddhas and of the Lineage of Dharma Ancestors in their own lives. While such words can never touch the basic point, they never leave the basic point. Such words point to this moment of present Awareness as the root of the Way, and the root of our lives. The practice, an actualization of our own actual nature, arises through this very bodymind now. 

So hearing the words, recognize:
the only place you're hearing them is now. 

You can feel the clothes on your body
glasses on your face if you have them
hair on your head (if you have it)
body moving in and out with the breath... 

Feel your bum on the zafu.

Feel what it feels like to breathe in deeply for a moment,
to allow the ribcage to open fully.

Smell what you smell.

Feel your teeth and tongue in your mouth. 

This is it!

This is now!

This is the moment to wake up! 

Why not? 

Nothing to lose...
except those contractions that may cause you problems
to a greater or lesser degree.
Use them.

At the moment of recognizing:

feel the breath, sit up straight

open the eye gaze

feel the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

Be before thinking. 

Seeing a pond,

"May all beings

Be eloquent in speech
And skillful in teaching." 

Thank you for listening.