White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 7: Adornments

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 3rd, 2008


...clearly is the only moment that you can practise. 

The verses from "The Practice of Purity" present reminders to practise
and give examples of the many situations and locations in which we may find ourselves. 

If putting on adornments,
"May all beings

Release false embellishments
And come to abide in Reality." 

a decoration, that which adorns,
from the Latin, ad ornare,
to furnish,
was in original usage referring to furnishing rooms. 

The use of the word has been expanded to include personal use
and means to enhance the appearance of,
especially with beautiful objects;
to enliven or decorate as if with ornaments. 

One example given even uses people as the adornments—
people of fashion who "adorn" the court. 

There's a lot of fun to be had as well
as moments of shock and horror when looking into the topic and history of "adornment".
Gold, for example,
has a long history of use in making ornaments and adornments,
symbols of wealth and power.
The manufacture of those symbols of wealth and power
has been fueled by vast quantities of sweat and blood
from the unfortunates who found the gold through painstaking backbreaking work.
And that doesn't even include all the people who have been killed for their little stashes of gold. 

The same is true for all the ore from which those symbols of wealth and power were created.
Not just the earth but animals and organisms have been exploited and turned into "adornments". 

Coral reefs have been killed and destroyed
so that coral beads could adorn necks and ears and wrists.
Whole species of birds have been decimated if not made extinct,
in the name of fashion.
Birds have been stuffed, whole, to decorate pompadour wigs and hats.
Feathers have been ripped out of a bird's skin to edge a soft evening coat.
Children have been mutilated in the course of the acquiring of diamonds:
The symbol of eternal love.
The love of self-image for its image of a self is,
perhaps, closer to the mark.
We won't get into ivory and pearls and rubies and emeralds and furs and on and on...
Each history appalls. 

An image of ourselves,
of who we are,
is a contraction into a self with a certain established set of patterns.
It is self-describing.
There is no room for a wider view.
The self-descriptions pull tighter and tighter into a solid, locked away, separate self,
which is usually busily describing itself by all the things it is and is not. 

Mostly these tend to be things that are lacking.
This contraction into poverty mind and sense of lack
hurts so the self-described self,
lurking behind the eyes,
gets to looking around for things that could
"fill the emptiness I feel inside of me". 

The objects of craving,
the things it thinks will make it happy, are, in essence,
Symbols prop up an image of a self and broadcast messages to the world.
It's always good to know what's being said.
It's always good to know what one is saying to oneself and to the world. 

And today, the beginning of the 21st century, the first decade,
symbols are being presented and consumed faster and faster,
and are more instantly widespread,
than ever before in human history. 

In the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century,
flesh and bone are being manipulated and used as "adornments" for that sense of a self.
The flesh of the bodymind is a symbol.
We won't go into all the piercings, and tats, and implants, and steroids, and blue pills,
because that would just take too much time
so we'll limit ourselves to "adornments" that are actually placed on the bodymind. 

Also, we could regard the phrase "false embellishments"
as another way of pointing to those stances and patterns that we play out:

having to be better than someone at something,

having to have more of anything than someone,
having to be someone worth something through having certain "things":
talent, knowledge, depth of feeling or understanding and on and on and on. 

It is all so tiring.

But it's not a problem.

When you see any pattern for what it is
and whole bodily mindfulness is practised,
the capacity to use the moment to do something other than to act out the pattern
is strengthened and the pattern is weakened. 

Each time you practise mindfulness
you are practising the reality of this moment of clear seeing.
You can raise the intent of the verse when putting on an earring or a belt buckle,
or a pair of glasses.
Take the time
to feel the breath,
stand up straight,
and open the eyes.
The clear seeing of reality of that moment will present more information,
more background on the action you are taking.
Is the adornment functional?
Is it useful in any way?
What is it saying? 

For example, earrings. 
(Psst! If you notice a movement of attention into making this personal,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
and open the eyes.) 

I'm not talking about you.
I'm talking about patterns and tendencies. 

A hole through the ear is not useful to the bodymind.
However, it can be used to put things through.
It's a convenient hanging place for signposts.
Things are hung from it.
What is hanging from it?
What's the message? Why?

Now let's talk diamond earrings.
A diamond stud.
The bigger the better.
Broadcasting, perhaps, class, money, self-worth, a tool for intimidation,
it goes on and on.
Forget about all those missing hands of children in West Africa
where blood diamonds produced chaos. 

People can hang whatever they want from their ears outside the monastery.
Inside, jewelry and embellishments are too distracting
and too helpful for perpetuating patterns
and thus not useful to the practitioner or the practice environment. 

Now, people can embellish their self-image or their ears any way they want.
Notice what you're doing.
Give yourself the chance to look more clearly
and to be more informed about what is happening in the reality of this moment.

At the moment of noticing anything,
practise that moment of clear seeing. 

With practice there'll be more moments of clear seeing. 

If putting on adornments
"May all beings

Release false embellishments
And come to abide in Reality." 

What you put in, and on, the ear is up to you.

Thank you for listening.