White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 71: Seeing a Spring

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 6, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, all was frozen.
There was ice on the streets,
ice in the yard,
squirrels were all hidden away in their nests.
But today the front pathway is all clear.
Even since this morning ice on the street has melted
and it springs forward that spring is here! 

Oh sure, chances are there will be some more snow,
there might even be some freezing,
but can't you feel it?
Didn't you notice it in the colour of the light,
the quality of sunlight.
When you got out of bed it was dark,
but it wasn't as dark as it was in February,
the darkest month,
the coldest month,
but everything changes. 

Today's verse from "The Practice of Purity"
and my comments entitled "Every Breath You Take": 

Seeing a spring,

"May all beings'

Skillful means increase

And roots of virtue never wither." 

Now, spring,
well they are not talking about this all encompassing word
that we use to describe the fact that the freezing is dissipating,
the weather is changing,
what was frozen is melting
and that melting produces water,
this very valuable element
that allows things to grow,
keeps our cells puffed up nicely,
enables us to function as an organism
and makes up the vast majority of the elements present
on this blue pearl we call "home". 

Spring can also mean things such as
"moving upward and forward in a single motion".
Those squirrels that are now starting to come out
"spring" from branch to branch.
It means to "move suddenly upon".
If I were to "spring" out from behind the door in the Zendo,
it might surprise you. Which leads to: 

.to appear or come into being quickly
.to issue or emerge suddenly

.to extend or curve upward
.to move out of place 
.to pay another's expenses. 

"Hey, I'll spring for that coffee." 

It also means, and this is the meaning that I'm choosing to use given the context,
"a small stream of water flowing naturally from the earth". 

The verse again:

Seeing a spring,
"May all beings'
Skillful means increase

And roots of virtue never wither." 

Now "roots of virtue",
we've discussed that before.
We've discussed what happens when one takes a risk
and looks at what comes up,
what is seen during the vulnerability of zazen,
and at the moment of seeing anything,
the moment of you as the Knowing noticing any known whatsoever,
that moment of a tiny, tiny, miniscule waking up is what you're practising.

That moment of clear seeing
is what you are practising and as with anything,
the more you practise it,
the better you are going to get at it.

It just makes sense,
the bodymind has an opportunity to reconfigure
however it has stored what we tend to call patterns
and over time, they wear out. 

Now, springs, that water,
that small stream flowing naturally from the earth
can be used in a decorative manner.
They can be harnessed in a way that makes them perhaps more accessible and more useful.

In Japanese temples,
there are many stone basins that have a bamboo spout
and have bamboo cups on long sticks which you can use to drink from
or to wash your face or your hands.
That spring,
that flowing water can become useless if it becomes blocked
with bits of old leaves, acorn shells, moss that's gotten out of control.
It can lose its usefulness. 

Springs, although all from water, can be different.
The water can be different.
When we're talking about—
most accurately, when I was talking about—
pumps and other sources of water,
we recognized that the makeup, the chemical content of a particular area can be seen in the water,
particulates from the surrounding stones and earth and so on
can show up in the water and give it a different taste, give it a different look.
This isn't a problem, it's all the same water,
it's all going to be recycled in this machine that we call the Earth
that's located in this recycling machine that we call the Universe. 

The cycles of this recycling machine we call the Universe are a lot longer than say,
the recycling machines that we use here to press plastic bottles and aluminum tins
to turn them into more plastic bottles or fleeces.
But everything flows and runs. 

Now, with each and every one of us,
there is a flow that can become blocked,
just as a spring springing from the earth can be blocked by unsightly debris
(and there is a lot of unsightly debris around).

You walked here this morning,
isn't it astounding to see how in say the past 20 years
there has been this increase in food left lying on the side of the road:
those triangular slices of pizza boxes, drink containers... it's incredible.
Where does it all come from?
Well, people throw it away.
They're walking down the street,
going about their business,
sucking on their giant slurpee and it gets that final
[O-sensei makes a sucking sound, students giggle]

Then what do you do with it?
Well, obviously you just throw it on the ground.
Why is it obvious?
Because that's what everybody's thinking.
We do, without thinking about it,
mimic or model what others are doing around us. 

I checked out this theory of mine at the bus kiosk at the Rideau Centre.
I was standing outside of it waiting for the bus
and this great, hulking 17-year-old was standing beside me,
sipping on his giant slurpee as he's gobbling down some concoction from MacDonald's,
and then he just let the paper and the container,
just let them, loose from his hand and they fell at my feet.

So I picked them up and said:
"I think you dropped something"
and I put it in the wastebasket.

He looked at me and it was quite funny to see what was going on on his face.
First of all, he couldn't believe anyone had spoken to him,
there's this little old lady standing there saying
"I think you dropped something"
and he knows it's trash and I know it's trash
and he knows that he's fracked up big time. [students laugh] 

We stood staring at each other and he goes:
"Oh my God, I didn't even think about it. I didn't even think about that.
If my mother were here, she'd kill me."
[students and O-sensei laugh]
So we had a little talk
and we picked up a few more things that were lying on the ground around that basket. 

We model, we do what others do without thinking about it,
and so, in the context of practice,
the same thing does apply
and that's why as you move from
introductory workshop
to associate student,
to general student,
to probationary formal student,
to formal student,
to taking monk's vows,
more of course is expected of you in how the bodymind is deported
in the context of practice
because this isn't a game,
it's real.

This is reality, kids,
this is all there is right now.
None of us know if there's going to be another moment.
I hope there is because I'm holding a water glass
and it would go crashing to the floor if all of a sudden
I didn't have another breath,
might cause problems,
someone would have to clean up after me. 

When we're sitting,
let's just say we're this spring
and because many are in training as formal students,
there may be a possibility in the minds of others of at some time taking monk's vows
and becoming this spring for information to people who come from a disposable world,
a careless world,
and want to know what they can do to clarify their life.

So if we're going to do it,
it's not just talking the talk,
you walk the walk and students,
other people see that and respond to it. 

Just as that spring,
that nice spring that we talked about with its bamboo vessel,
falling into a stone basin,
can become clogged up with,
hey, I'll take a risk,
old MacDonald's wrappers,
pieces of string, gum,
well, those kind of objects can represent contractions
that we experience when we're sitting.

Those contractions,
those knots,
those congealings of space that have beliefs about them,
beliefs that seem to define a self with its certain attitudes,
its certain understandings and often
its VERY CERTAIN understandings of how we are and how the world is,
those bits are what are being cleaned up as you're sitting. 

You see it and your job is,
at the moment of recognizing,
the moment of knowing,
the moment of noticing that congealing,
recognizing that's a moment of clear seeing,
you're seeing it and you can do something about it.

Now because it exists not in a way that we're used to,
not as a thing
but as an effect on all the cells of the bodymind,
you can't kind of pick it up and put it in a trash basket.

You can look at it and say yes,
sometimes you'll see it,
sometimes you won't,
that's why we have Teachers,
that's why we have Practice Advisors,
to remind you of the moments when you saw it,
you did something about it,
and you recognized,
you experienced an effect
because that is what is going to teach you.
We can only point and mirror and model. 

One thing that does happen,
just like with trash on the street,
there can be these knots,
these congealings that can get in the way
and we might see the trash on the street,
and there's a lot of it
so no one expects us to go out there with our little trash picker and clean it all up,
but we can do our part.

When you're sitting in the Hatto,
your part is the only part that you can do.
Your job is to see that.
That's what you're doing right now in your job as a student. 

When you see anything,
when you recognize any moment of experience whatsoever,
clear the spring,
clear that stream by feeling the breath,
by sitting up straight,
by opening the eye gaze,
that's your job. No one else can do it for you. 

Once again, the verse: 

Seeing a spring,

"May all beings'

Skillful means increase

And roots of virtue never wither." 

Those "roots of virtue" which have
as was talked about during Dharma Talks on previous verses
been established,
those roots are established,
those roots of basic mindfulness,
those roots of an ever increasing understanding
eventually will turn into an outflow that can nourish,
can water the soil for other beings who want to open their lives
to the unconditioned freedom of experiencing.

First of all, you have to clean up your own shit, right?
Yes. Whose job is it to do that?
It's your job. 

Rather than being heavy-handed and introducing lots of edicts,
lots of "thou shalt not do this that, and the other thing",
there is seeing those patterns,
those knots of contraction,
seeing them as not who you are.

'if you see it, you can't be it'. No t-shirts, please.
[students laugh] 

Seeing it means that it is something that is seen,
it is not the seer, it is a known,
it is not the Knower,
a sense of Knower is another known.
[O-sensei taps hands lightly together]

A moment of reality,
a moment of seeing clearly.
No one else can do it.
It's your job. 

And there's no pay. [O-sensei and students laugh] 

So have fun as the ice melts,
as those contractions into a sense of self cause freezing,
cause the tongue to become a bone,
cause all sorts of things to well up in the bodymind.

They're not who you are.
You are the knowing of them
and the means of clearing them up
do become more skillful,
not edict or verbally bound,
but are sensed,
are known;
and it is your own moments of knowing, 

of dealing with,

of practising at those points of noticing any obstruction whatsoever,
any gob of old wadded up newspaper in the pond,

any piece of old tinsel,

of old Christmas tree
that's blocking that flow of the spring,

maybe even,


a dead animal. 

But you know, you deal with that,
don't stand around waiting for someone else to do it,
there's no big list,
there's no universal list saying which job is yours
and which job is someone else's.

That kind of attitude,
which has increased,
and may now be wearing out in the "gen pop" as they're referred to in prison,
it may be wearing out,
people are taking more responsibility for what they do in everyday situations.

But you have,
by opening the door here,
going through the workshop,
walking up the stairs,
going through the different phases of studentship,
you've kind of cranked it up a bit,
there's no question about that. 

So all you have to do is recognize that there's no need to stop,
you just keep on doing it
and that's the way you can use what you've uncovered,
what you've cleaned up
to increase the capacity to act more skillfully,
to express more skillfully,
and to help liberate all beings.

[a car alarm goes off outside on the street]
On cue! [students laugh]

Yeah! [more laughter] 

Thank you for listening.