White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 72: Seeing a Bridge

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 27, 2010

Here you are. It's obvious, isn't it? Indeed, in fact, here you are! 

lets you know that.

By noticing every breath and what surrounds that breath,
which is the bodymind,
which is how you as the Knowing of knowns know anything at all,
the bodymind experiences the world.

The world experiences the bodymind and as you are practising,
sitting zazen,
practising anapanasati,
mindfulness of breath,
mindfulness of this moment,
you are waking up to the fact that you are not who you thought you were
and that's a good thing, isn't it?

Because self-image does tend to experience a rather limited gamut of emotions... 

"I'm the best! I AM THE BEST!" 

"Fuck, I hope that nobody uncovers the fact that I'm such a shit.
How come I am such a little turd?
Everyone else is so wonderful." 

... and variations on that theme... 

"I can fool them all.
I'll memorize a few good phrases about practice." 

"I can't fool anyone. I can't even remember what she said in the last sentence." 

That's how it goes, folks, that's how it goes.
Now, we do not have to fall for any of those storylines.
That's what we're starting to see.

And the breath is a bridge,
metaphorically, of course,
from this moment to this moment to this moment.

So every breath you take,
every breath that sets the jellies and bones
and hair and eyelids and fingernails
moving ever so slightly
is a reminder that 

This is your life.
This is it.

This is freedom. 

The verse: 

Seeing a bridge,

"May all beings

Be like a bridge

And bear all across to freedom." 

Now words can present certain problems because they're not true,
they're not absolutes.
No thing is the word that is used to describe it
because how could it be?
Because you call it something different in a different language,
does the thing change?
No, but we're so used to words that we make assumptions,
we make assumptions that we're all talking about the same thing,
or we make the assumption that the word IS the thing
and therefore we can nod our head,
raise our eyebrows and go
"yes, um hmm, that's right, that's right". 

We can play with words.
Words are great fun.
I would never, never for a moment suggest that we give up words,
we should all have words, lots of words, better words,
and learn to use them appropriately
which is to inform,
throw a light on,
and if we're really lucky,
make us laugh. 

So, a bridge, something we can go across.
Now, in "Freedom and Tyranny" there's a whole Dharma Talk on 'bridge',
so I won't go where that one went,
but if you're interested,
you could always have a read of it later.
You might find it amusing. 

As we sit,
as we engage in zazen,
as we engage in kinhin,
as we engage in practice interviews,
and daisan,
and dokusan,
what we're doing is crossing that bridge
from a previously held understanding of who we are
to the experience of the freedom of who we really are.

Sometimes we can get stuck running in place on that bridge
or sometimes so many people can start running at the same time
with the same rhythm
with the same cadence
that the bridge collapses
and this has happened innumerable times in the course of human history. 

The bridge,
the breath from this moment to this moment to this moment.

We sit in daisan and in practice interviews
in front of someone else who is sitting across from us
and that space between can sometimes seem to be uncrossable, uncomfortable.

We can perceive it as a ritual.
We can perceive it as a chance to allow self-image to act out its little moments of understanding,
or it can be seen for what it really is:
a bridge.
The person sitting on the other side of that space,
on the other side of that—
and here O-sensei holds up her hands in quotation marks—
as an opportunity to have clarified the misunderstandings that we have,
but we're not used to that.
Something that could help us clarify our understanding
may be addressed
and self-image gets very reactive
because it's not used to being given information in this way.
It feels criticized. 

"Oh, I can never do anything right." 

"Oh, I spend all this time preparing..." 

Yes! Yes! You saw it! You were preparing weren't you?
Did you see that for what it really is?
It was a thought.
Did you remember to practise at that moment? 

"Pardon?" [students laugh] 

So this process of learning to practise,
learning to experience the freedom of the open bodymind,
to experience the openness of each and every moment,
unclouded by the contractions of self-image,
of patterns... 

Now, what's a pattern?
Why do we call it a pattern?
Well, a pattern is something that gets repeated over and over and over again.
Although it is not the same old pattern
(it can't be because it's happening new in the moment)
it bears similarities,
so that can often give us a heads up as to what we could expect in certain situations
such as sitting across from the Teacher
or the monk who is there for a practice interview,
it gives us an opportunity to see how that pattern performs.

We start to see more and more of the details of it
and you can practise each time you notice a detail.
The form,
the deportment of the bodymind for daisan and practice interviews
is that the student sits perfectly still.
This can be perceived as being troublesome
because we can be uncomfortable.

Well, whoever said practice was going to be comfortable? 

Those moments of reactivity of contraction into a sense of self
pulling a pattern that says things like:
"Oh no, not again, I thought that was really good,
I guess she just doesn't understand,
she's an authoritarian bitch..." 

Sometimes this is said out loud...
[students laugh]
which is good because there's nothing wrong with having a thought,
you're not your thoughts.

None of us are or ever were our thoughts.
Nothing has ever been accomplished by a thought.
We are what we do or say so when we do or say something,
that gives us the opportunity,
those who have crossed over the bridge,
to point out to you what's going on in your experience
so that you can see more and more clearly
at an earlier and earlier point in the process of perception and cognition
the details of experiencing.
Each moment of noticing a detail is a moment of clear seeing.

You're practising that moment of clear seeing. 

Makes sense doesn't it?
You practise a moment of clear seeing
and guess what happens?
You start to see things more clearly more of the time.
You start to see what's actually going on
in that process of perception and cognition.
You start to see the impossibility of being two things at once,
or a multitude of things at once such as:
"I'm such a good student. I'm such a bad student."

Those are just thoughts.
You are neither of those things so why believe them? 

Practise at the moment of seeing them,
you will then see them more and more clearly,
more and more often,
until you will actually be sitting in the freedom of shikan taza:
just sitting: 

Just sitting whether you're walking,
at the movies,

whatever you're doing,

pulling that long hair that persists in growing in the middle of your cheek,
whatever you're doing,

there's just the activity of that moment
and then whoops!

What's that?

There it is!

"I'm so ugly.

This hair growing in the middle of my cheek.

Oh my God..."

[students laugh]

...it pulls the space of experiencing, i
t ties it up,
it can make (air quotations) "us ugly". 

Moment of seeing it:
it's just a known,
you are the Knowing of it.

Practise that moment of knowing,
that moment of clear seeing.
There it is.
Shikan taza.
Just sitting.
Nothing to do.
Gong goes.
Stand up.
Sit down.
Do the dishes.
Get on with whatever it is that is to be done
in the freedom of open experiencing. 

As this becomes more and more prevalent,
a thought might creep in that really,
one of the best things you can possibly do
is show other people that bridge.
That bridge to freedom. 

Now sometimes this journey has us crossing bridges.
Sometimes we have to make decisions as to whether to burn one
or to cross it,
but we in the land of metaphor,
burning bridges is a metaphor. 

So the verse again: 

Seeing a bridge,

"May all beings

Be like a bridge

And bear all across to freedom." 

Feel the breath.

Sit up straight.

Notice seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling
free from labels about them

because they are experienced.

Thank you for listening.