White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 73: Seeing Flowing Water

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 27, 2010

Today's verse, from "The Practice of Purity", comments on the Flower Garland or Avatamsaka Sutra: 

Seeing flowing water,

"May all beings

Unfold clear determination

To wash away delusory stains." 

It is that time of year when nature presents opportunities itself
for water that may have been frozen to start to crack.
As the air heats,
ice does start to crack and it starts to flow,
particularly on our Ottawa river.

Now it has changed over the years,
but say 50 or 60 years ago,
when this was a logging town,
there were great rafts of logs on the river.
The ice would keep them bound in place
then the ice would start to crack and they would start to flow down the river. 

Now, when we first come to practice,
we may have a perhaps "icy" exterior,
not icy in the sense of cold,
but icy in the sense of only temporary,
but we often try to maintain and to keep in place these aspects of what we call our

In the forge of the master,
the Hatto
(and the forge of the master is actually a traditional way of talking about,
for example,
the dokusan room
or having daisan,
or in the Hatto where the Teachings of Reality are presented)
the heat of that starts to melt those icy masks,
those "delusory stains" about how we are and how the world is. 

At this time of year water is starting to flow more often,
it will start to flow in our own ponds in the monastery grounds,
it will flow in the river,
it will flow on rivers that you may see when you go traveling.

On seeing that, perhaps the verse: 

"May all beings

Unfold clear determination

To wash away delusory stains." 

...may resonate for you. 

Now, determination.

What does that mean?

Of course we all go: Aha!
We know what that means,
that's to determine something.

But what does that mean?
Well, one way of looking at it is the direction or tendency toward a certain end.
The certain end...
well the certain end is we know what,
that last breath is the certain end, as the Great Matter says: 

The Great Matter is birth and death
Life slips past and time is gone,
Right now, wake up! wake up!

Do not waste time. 

That contraction into a sense of self wants to go:
"yeah, but not me, I've got time, I'm going to wait until everything is in place
and then I will wake up,
after I've lost 30 pounds,
after I've determined the right colour hair,
the right shape of glasses,
and when I finally find those shoes,
THEN I'm going to wake up!" 

Well, that is delusory.
It doesn't mean you can't have the right pair of shoes,
it doesn't mean you can't play around with hair colour,
but recognize why you're doing it.

It's very interesting,
we often start to play around with hair colour and hair styles when we're in our 40s.
I spent my quarter of a million dollars on hair products,
so I know whereof I speak.

So we change colour, we change cuts,
we change the way we present facial hair if we're a male,
but if we're older,
even as a woman [O-sensei giggles]
that facial hair starts to come up.
It does, it does, that's life.
[O-sensei and students laugh] 

So, the idea that there is anything that can stem this inevitable flow towards the inevitable,
uh, it's delusory,
but you can still have fun. 

Now, this moment,
yes, this moment right now,
this breath right NOW
is the only one that's going on. 

Now, sometimes when I've asked people what is significant about the breath,
when does it happen?
They say things like: "Always".
When we look into that a little bit,
it's not long before the obvious fallacy of that statement presents itself.

Of course it's not always,
otherwise there would be so many people on earth
it probably would have fallen down somehow
because it would be just too heavy with all those people.

So it's not always,
it's now and we never know... 

We can fill ourselves up with vitamins,
we can go to bed early,
we can sanitize our hands and everything else,

but that is not going to prevent the inevitable 

and we never know when that inevitable moment of the last
[O-sensei exhales a long raspy breath]

will present itself. 

Surely you don't want to have,
when there is a recognition of the fact that that is the last one,
who wants to have an "Oh shit!" moment? [students laugh] 

Notice the breath that is this moment.
Notice the bodymind wrapped around that breath,
the seeing, the hearing, the tasting, the touching, the feeling, the smelling,
all the knowns which you as the Knowing of this moment can open to. 

So, "determination", you recognize that there is a possibility of waking up.

In fact, there have been many moments of waking up to reality.
When you wake up from a thought,
when you see that you were caught up in a thought,
you're no longer caught up in it.
I mean that's just true because if you're caught up in a thought,
you're not seeing you're caught up in a thought,
how could you? You're caught up.
The moment that you know that there was a thought
that you got caught up in
and now you're no longer caught up,
that's a mini mini mini moment of waking up to Reality.

The instruction is
sit up straight,
feel the breath,
open the eye gaze,
which is a very long way of saying:
feel the moment,
see the moment,
know the moment as it actually is,
all of these things are present. 

Now, "delusory",

washing away those delusory stains,
the laundry of birth and death. 


.a tendency to deceive

.of the nature of an illusion
.lacking reality

.tending to lead one into error 

Piece of advice, the Roshi gave me this piece of advice when I first started to practise:
don't decide anything when you're in a state, any sort of state,
don't make any big decisions, or even small decisions.

Practise first.

You notice a state,
you've noticed you were caught up in a delusory stain,
a belief about how you are and how the world is,
which if not totally skewing,
is at least partially conditioning what you are understanding in that moment. 

So you notice it.

Feel the breath of this moment.

Feel the breath that is this moment,

the breath as a touchstone to this moment.

See the seeing

hear the hearing

feel the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

Let whatever state pass,

then make whatever decision you need to make. 

I'm certainly not saying that your decisions are going to be perfect,
but they will still be more clear-headed than they may have been
if they were pushed and fueled by
passion, aggression, and stupidity. 

The beauty of this practice is that the instructions are always the same.
We don't believe that at first because what we're used to is lots of stages. 

"Right, okay, so I feel the breath,
that means the next time around,
I'm going to do something else."
And sometimes we'll even make up things that we're doing,
but it's always the same,
the instruction is to open to this moment as it is.

And how do you do that? 

Feel the breath

sit up straight

open the eye gaze

feel the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

Use that washboard of the ribs to wash away those delusory stains
that are on the laundry of birth and death. [students laugh] 

So remember, spring, it's springtime now.
Just as the ice is breaking up,
so previous conceptions about how we are and how the world is
are breaking up when we start to see them for what they are:
contraction into a sense of self with a belief,
a belief about ourselves,
a belief about how the world is.
These condition the basic intelligence of the bodymind,
making it less than it really is. 

Who needs that? I for one, do not need to be
more stupid.

You can make your own choice of course, and obviously,
but I don't think any of us want that. 

So, with the flowing water,
with the currents,
with the flotsam and jetsam that comes up as you sit right there,
you have the opportunity to wash away those delusory stains.

Now, obviously, your determination is present because you showed up today
and anyone who is listening to this recording or reading the Dharma Talk showed up
and indicated quite clearly and self-evidently that there is a determination.

Sometimes we're not exactly sure what our determination is about.
Sometimes it's about pleasing the teacher,
sometimes it's about getting a good mark and since we don't give marks,
that's pretty vain isn't it?

But we have these things,
they're carryovers,
they're patterns,
they're stuff we've picked up.
Sometimes we just want to be a good boy or a good girl,
sometimes we want to really put on that good boy or good girl face
so that nobody can see what's underneath,
but you see it's transparent
because the fact of being a human being is the same,
for all human beings. 

So whatever malicious, corrupt, devious, overbearing, insensitive, too sensitive facets
might come up as patterns come up,
relax, they're not you,
you're the Knowing of them,
you don't have to act them out.

Brilliant in its simplicity, that's reality. 

Once again, the verse: 

Seeing flowing water,

"May all beings

Unfold clear determination

To wash away delusory stains." 

Thank you for listening... and rub a dub dub! [students laugh]