White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 70: Seeing a Well

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 20, 2010


Well well well. 

Thank you for walking through the snow,
through that frozen water,
lacy water, apparently, every flake is different.

Every one? Hmm... But you know what I mean... 

So you walked through the snow,
you stepped on frozen water
and walked into the front door of the monastery,
in itself, a source of instruction in the Dharma. 

and this is true,
every breath you take is now.
And now.

And now.

It can't be captured but it can be recognized. 

And are YOU making the choice to breathe now?
Hmmm? [students giggle]
Give it up.
You are being breathed. 

Today's verse in "The Practice of Purity": 

Seeing a well,

"May all beings

Have the capacity to clarify
And so elucidate all things." 

Now, as you may have guessed by now, I like looking up words. So, "well": 

-Middle English from Old English,
wellen: to bubble and boil
-High German,
wella: wave (that was in use before the 12th century)
well: an issue of water from the earth

-a pool, fed by a spring

-a pit, shaft, a hole sunk into the earth to reach a supply of water, oil, brine, or gas

-an enclosure in the middle of a ship's hold to protect from damage and facilitate the inspection of pumps
-a compartment in the hold of a fishing boat in which fish are kept alive

-an open space extending vertically through floors of a structure

-a space having a construction or shape suggesting a well for water

-something resembling a well in being damp, deep or dark
-a deep, vertical hole

-a source from which something may be drawn as needed 

So we're sitting in the Hatto of Dainen-ji,
a well of Dharma that has come to this spot
and is occupied and is maintained and is fed,
as is any well,
by many different streams flowing through subterranean channels,
flowing through places that we may never see into.
We do know that wells that are fed by water passing through layers and layers of stone
will be purified as harmful particulates are leeched out.

So the well of Dainen-ji,
a resource of Dharma has been fed for,
in recorded history,
2600 years since Gautama Siddartha sat down under that pipal tree and said:

"Alright, that's it, I am done searching around.
I am done standing on one leg covered in ashes.
I am done starving myself.
I am done staying awake for 48 hours.
I am done being buried in the sand up to my neck.
I'm done with it.
I'm just going to sit here until I know what's going on." 

Now, of course, I'm exaggerating,
I don't know whether he did all those things,
but in my own experience,
I went to a lot of workshops before I ended up in this well.

It's likely Gautama Siddartha encountered many different schools of thought
about what was going on with the bodymind
and what this life was all about.
So he sat,
he woke up, and people came and said:
"Teach us, teach us!" He said: 

"Okay, but you have to leave everything behind,
your usual identifications behind because I know you guys,
you're outta my sight and you're repeating,
you're saying old stuff..." 

First monastic sangha. [O-sensei and students laugh] 

... so ... the Lineage,
this information was passed on and passed on,
all those waters,
all that stream contributing to this well here today.

Even in your own experience, look at you.
Awwww, look at that...[O-sensei laughs]
You've come from different places,
different times,
different backgrounds.
You bring "particulates" with you
in that water that makes up 70, 80, 90 percent of the bodymind,
which of course we never really think about
unless we're crying or having to go to the bathroom,
but we are water. 

Monks: unsui, clouds and water.
There's been that recognition that we are simply a small particulate in this universe.

We're being breathed in and out
and we have choice.
We have choice to make the right choice.
You are developing the skills when you're sitting
to know what's true and what isn't
and to make a choice accordingly. 

Now of course there are always particulates of difference in waters,
and they're still safe.
A little bit extra salt,
a little bit extra calcium,
little bit extra magnesium is not a problem.
It mixes in the well. 

We had, when I was growing up,
a pump in our backyard
that went down through layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and layers of limestone.
To get water, you used the pump.
The water was highly sulfurous.

It was pure, as pure as you can get,
not one hundred percent but pretty close,
but it tasted like rotten eggs.
It wasn't a problem because,
as we human beings know,
we can invent a story about anything.
It would have been very simple,
acting upon the way people responded to the taste of that sulfurous water
and the certificate from Health and Welfare saying it was some of the purest water around,
it would have been really easy to put it in bottles
and sell it as an elixir for curing everything
because that's what people wanted.
They would come up to that well and they would pump a cup and say:

"Oh, I wonder if this is going to make my scrofula go away?"
[students giggle] 

We didn't do that, but after my father died
and I sold the property,
the fellow who took over, who bought it,
painted the pump gold.
[O-sensei and students laugh]
But he didn't make a thing out of it because you don't have to,
people will make things out of things themselves. 

"Why is it gold? Oh my God!" 

"Oh, it tastes like sulfur, oh it's awful! But I bet it's really good for you, it'll probably get rid of my..." 

So this is what people do,
this is what human beings do,
wanting things to be better.
Hoping and dreaming,
they make up stories.

At the flip of a pump handle,
they make up a story,
and nothing really has to be going on but a story will get made up. 

So when people find themselves longing for a drink of truth,
they might set out on their own journey in many different ways,
from many different backgrounds with many different particulates
and they might end up at this well where, for 2600 years,
waters have been mixing and have been clarified and are made available,
freely available to anyone who puts one foot in front of the other and shows up. 

So, the verse again: 

Seeing a well,

"May all beings

Have the capacity to clarify
And so elucidate all things." 

Thank you for listening.