White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 74: Seeing a Garden

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, April 3, 2010

The birds greeted us this morning
gently tweeting,
and squawking,
seducing in their little avian ways.

Yesterday was April 2nd and it was an April 2nd that I don't think we've seen for a long time, if ever.
It was a beautiful day.
It was a confusing day
because anything from the skimpiest of shorts and tops to parkas with mittens...
[O-sensei and students laugh]

If you look at trees in the distance marking the skyline,
there's a haze,
almost mist-like around them
and if you look a little closer
you'll find that that haze is in fact the radiance of potential leaves,
it's buds that are pushing their way out,
some of them are different shades of green,
some of them are burgundy and red, violet even,
with the potential of budding into the full leaves of that particular tree. 

In our garden in the monastery grounds,
should you look around,
should you look beyond the thin layer of leaves from last season,
you'll find all sorts of activity.

There are little snowbells:
one tiny white flower hanging down like a bell from a green stalk.
There is the potential of ferns,
like little little worms you can see them starting to push through the earth,
green with little brown hairs.
There's budding in the rectangular bed on the west side
and even though it's used as a kitty litter box
that use seems to provide fertilizer
because the black currents are going crazy.
The blackberries are going crazy.
There they have the little buds ready to burst forth with leaves,
then flowers, then fruit.
It's a very rich time but yet it's a very gentle time. 

The air is gentle on your skin.

Bodymind seems to respond well,
seems to enjoy that softness.
But don't get caught up in it 'cause it'll change.

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

Seeing a garden
"May all beings

Clear away the weeds of fixation
From the garden of the senses." 

Coincidence... that we're talking about gardens today?
Seeing gardens?
Nah, things just happen that way.
That's just how it is. 

Do we need to categorize it?
No! No...

But we humans have developed,
it would seem,
a passion for categorizing,
a passion for labelling,
a passion for making that which is only temporary, solid or seemingly solid...
an impossible task.

But we will pick up on things
and develop patterns of contraction around that thing,
allowing attention to focus,
and we don't even know that we have the choice,
at any point,
to stop that seemingly automatic pattern from kicking in.
Then we sit down in front of a white wall
and we learn to see more of the process of fixation. 

So, what we're doing, according to this verse,
this metaphor,
is clearing away the "weeds of fixation".

Well, that's nice, isn't it?
You think: yeah weeds,
they can grow quickly,
they can obliterate that which is fresh and new and growing.
They can seemingly obliterate the rest of the reality of,
in this case, the garden. 

When we allow patterns of labelling to define who we are,
leaving them unquestioned,
we end up with these little beliefs about who we are and how the world is.
And allowing that to define who we are
limits the ability of the bodymind
to experience fully this moment
because this moment is obscured,
portions of it seemingly obliterated. 

Well, just because we can't see the fern
doesn't mean that the potential of the fern isn't there,
it's just hidden away temporarily behind those leaves.

So you as the Knowing of knowns,

from time to time,

even if you cannot yet express it completely yourself,


that the bodymind is how Knowing knows,

the bodymind has all these senses:

the seeing and hearing and tasting and touching, feeling, smelling...

some of which can seemingly become obliterated
when attention is fixated or congealed
or pointed towards,

or totally caught up in

any one thing. 

So with your indulgence, let's have a little fun here:
Are you breathing?

A pin could drop. 

Well, I'm going to take a leap and say yes you are.

Was the capacity to express an answer obliterated?

Yes it was! [O-sensei and students laugh]


Well, if you look into something like that, ah,
it could be any number of reasons,
but there could have been this contraction into a sense of self that doesn't want to stand out,

that doesn't want to make a mistake,

that doesn't want to get picked on,

that just wants to be safe and slide through.


I don't know, I'm only speaking from my own experience
in the past but something like that was present,
otherwise how would you answer the question?

Are you breathing?

How would you answer the question?

ARE you breathing? 

I don't hear anything yet...
Are you breathing? [some students say "yes"] 

Whoa!!! [O-sensei claps and students laugh.]

There's life in the corpus,
there's life in the body of students.
This gives you an opportunity to see that indeed,
when there's fixation,
even if we haven't recognized it,
and identified it,
there can be,
I don't want to offend anyone,
a dumbing down of how we interact with what's going on around us. 

So, please,
notice the breath now. 

This is going to be,

no surprises,

a deliberate and intentional state of fixation. 

So, feel that nose,

feel the breath going in and out of the nose.

Notice thoughts about the breath that might be coming up.

Direct the eye gaze to the end of the nose.

Really get into that breathing.

Put all of your attention on that activity,
and that itself is an impossible task,
it's difficult for us to put our attention on any one thing for any length of time... 

But really, feel the belly moving in and out with that breath.

All you want to attend to,
all you want to pay attention to is that breath. 

Now there might be a thought saying
"Yeah, I'm gonna pay attention to the breath
but I don't want to be caught out like I think I was a few minutes ago,
so I'll recognize that I'm too smart to put
ALL of my attention into this,
could be a silly exercise."

So if that's there,
that's not a problem,
that's part of what's going on,
so just let it be there,
you don't have to do anything,
you don't have to get rid of it.

The breath is what we want to fixate on
and this won't be permanent,
of course.

I'm not inducing you into some sort of trance
that you will carry forever with you,
this is just a way of looking at experiencing of the bodymind. 

So just the breath,
concentrate just on the breath,
just on the end of the nose.

Now prepare to notice the difference: 


lift the head slightly.

Open the eyes.

Open fully to peripheral vision.

Feel the back.

Feel the back of the neck,

feel the skull

the ears,
hearing fully the birds chirping and tweeting
again the feet,
the knees, 

noticing the full, sensual activity of the bodymind.

Today's verse again: 

Seeing a garden,

"May all beings

Clear away the weeds of fixation
From the garden of the senses."

Now, your weed-clearing device?

Practising at the moment of noticing anything at all by simply feeling the breath,
opening peripheral vision,
feeling the whole body in the whole moment,
opening past any sort of fixation whatsoever. 

The world is a garden.

Thank you for listening.