White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 75: Seeing a Forest of "Sorrowless" Trees

Dharma Talk presented by en. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, April 17, 2010

here we have numerous assemblages of disparate cells
moving with the air that is being brought into the lungs
and then expressed,
sitting in front of a white wall. 

A pure white wall? 

Hey, wait a minute,
what are we talking about when we talk about "purity"?
And of course you will all remember,
this series called


which is pointing to the fact that as long as you're breathing
you have an opportunity to practise,
is based on the commentaries,
translations of the Avatamsaka Sutra by Anzan Hoshin roshi and myself,
called "The Practice of Purity". 

Now, the practice of "purity"... "purity"... "purity"... what does that mean?

On a cursory hearing we might think,
"oh that means that we're really good, not contaminated by anything".
Well that's all very vague. 

Is there anything at all that's "pure" Well, no, it's just a word.

"purity", you're looking at the white wall.

Does "white" describe all combinations that end up being called "white"?

No it doesn't.

Look at that white wall
and depending upon where you're standing,
depending upon your point of view,

it can be seen as being golden or blue or grey in the shadows
or purple even,
depending on what's around it.

At certain times of day that "white" looks greenish.


Because there's a red brick wall on the west side and as we all know,
well... anyway... as we know:
[students laugh]
red has a complimentary colour,
has a shadow which is greenish.

So both in the Hatto and in the Zendo downstairs,
the shadows tend to be influenced by that redness and have a lovely,
lovely bluish, greenish quality. 

So "purity",
"The Practice of Purity",
it's talking about what you can do when you notice that the field of experience has shrunk a bit,
that there's a knot in it,
something that has been described as say, "impure",
a contraction.
A moment of noticing it:
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
don't get caught up in and propagate that knot. 

Today's verse: 

Seeing a forest of "sorrowless" trees,
"May all beings

Leave behind greed and lust forever
And not give rise to anxiety and fear."

Hmm. Ok.

Sorrowless... "Sorrowless trees",
what does that mean?
What are they referring to? 

Well, not surprisingly, I'm going to tell you

and this is from the work of an Indian doctor who had a very keen interest in homeopathy.

Now, I want to be very clear, I'm not promoting homeopathy,
I'm just giving you a little insight into her bio.
Her name is Dr. Rupa A. Shaw and she writes about the ashoka tree.
The botanical name is saraca indica ashok.
Ashoka, one of the most legendary and sacred trees of India
and a very fascinating flower in the range of flower essences.
It's a handsome, small, erect, evergreen tree
with deep green foliage and very fragrant, bright orange-yellow flowers. 

"Ashoka" is a Sanskrit word meaning "without grief" or
"that which gives no grief" and there are other translations,
one of which is "the tree of love blossoms"
and it's regarded by the Hindus as sacred,
being dedicated to Kamadiva, the God of Love.

It's a symbol of love.
Its blossoms are used in temple decorations,
and, according to legend,
Gautama Siddartha was born under an ashoka tree,
so in that part of the world it can be found planted around Buddhist monasteries. 

Now, there are stories
that drinking water in which the flowers have been washed
is widely considered a protection against grief.
Now, we're getting close to folk stuff here
about essences of various substances, so
A: there's no advocating here for use of anything else other than
the feeling of the breath,
the sitting up straight,
the opening of the eye gaze when you notice something's contracted. 

A little bit about folklore around what things can do for you:

In the 16th, 17th century,
white, heavy white makeup was said to cover
and perhaps even help skin that had been marked by smallpox.
It contained lead—
guess what?
The lead went through the skin into the bodymind poisoning people. 

Right in the front yard we have a local flower called bloodroot.
Bloodroot had a reputation,
some say Native Indians from this area
(let's blame it on the Indians, huh? that's pretty common...)
said that this particular plant could be used to destroy cancers and so on.

So you know how it goes,
snake oil salesmen,
the people who say:
"here, take this magic essence, you will be healed"
got into it and actually killed quite a lot of people recently,
and people who used it on their skin and so on ended up terribly disfigured. 

So, tales are interesting,
don't base the things that you do on tales,
on fictions.
Check it out because,
here, this sounds good huh?:
"also the ashoka is a healer for deep-seeded sorrow, grief, and disharmony in one's inner being
due to events such as bereavement, failure, suffering, disease, and isolation".

Now, if that would have spread widely,
there would be no ashoka trees on the planet because we would have been in there... 

"Using the essence, a profound inner state of joy, harmony and well-being is produced."

Interesting. It's also seen as a remedy for women.

[O-sensei and students laugh loudly]
There is no remedy for women...
[O-sensei and students laugh again] 
for men,
and "there ain't no cure for love".

It's a remedy for women,
it allows them to be feminine.
So you see,
that little thing:
women and feminine, 
different, huh? 

"A guardian of female chastity." [students laugh again] Fairytales! 

"The Vrikshadevatas, the gods of trees who represent fertility
are known to dance around the tree and are worshipped by childless women."

"Herbally, the bark of this tree is a household remedy for uterine disorders."

Quote: "weeping woman, weeping womb". 

It's interesting, this is ancient Indian,
but when I was in nurse's training in the late 50s,
menses was called by one of the nursing instructors
"the weeping of the disappointed womb".

That's horrible!

And everyone can appreciate the double bind that women are put in,
and have been put in:
If they're menstruating, they're unclean in most cultures.
In some they will be banished.
They're not allowed to cook.
They will "curdle milk"... but yet... but yet...

the glory is to bear children.

We won't go any further with that,
it's just kind of something to think about,
but not while you're sitting here.

If you notice you're thinking about something,
you've noticed something about reality,
that thought is actually present.

What has allowed you to see the thought as a thought
is that the bodymind has opened
and there is actual knowing of
breathing in and out,
and smelling. 

So there are stories,

there are stories

and here is another one about what Ashoka did:

Ashoka the person is said to have helped a young woman monk who would bleed heavily during menstrual periods.
In fact, if she was upset about something,
the bleeding would start at once,
even if it was not time for her regular period.
Her nature was very sensitive and she was easily affected by any small upset.
Because of her suffering,
she was very irritable and had thoughts of suicide.
Being a monk at a very young age had burdened her with great responsibilities
of taking care of others,
learning about religion and teaching also.
It was battle for her to go on.
At this stage,
she was also having high blood pressure and dizziness.

The first essence that helped her was ashoka flower
to overcome the deep-seated grief and sorrow.
Her attacks of dizziness and her suicidal thoughts became much less,
her uterus responded as well with no more excessive bleeding. 

There you go:
successful, done, and as I said,
it's surprising there are any ashoka trees left on the planet. 

So, you see a forest of "sorrowless " trees...

yellow, beautiful yellow flowers,


and the verse is saying that you can use that seeing of the forest of "sorrowless" trees
to have the thought that all beings
"leave behind greed and lust forever and not give rise to anxiety and fear". 

So, the bodymind is walking along,
doing what it does,
it sees that forest of ashoka trees,
or any tree for our usage,
but in the historical context of 1600 years ago,
they were ashoka trees.

There's a contraction into a sense of self that goes:
"Oh! There's an ashoka tree".

So, there's the verse.
We notice that what has happened is,
there has been a process of perception and cognition.

The moment of noticing anything,
the noticing of the trees before words of description come in
is an opportunity to practise.

The noticing of the stories,
about what they mean or what,
most likely, what "I",
what self-image wants to do with that ashoka tree,
there's a moment of noticing it,
that's the moment when you can practise
feeling the breath,
standing up straight,
feeling the feet on the floor. 

We can recognize "greed" and "lust", "anxiety":
They are talk about the experience.

A very simple fact that we ignore over and over again
is that experiencing always comes first,
experiencing occurs before thinking,
it always has,
since the beginning of human beings.

then language was developed,
apparently first to broadcast to a wide number of people,
most probably danger.
So you have like: [O-sensei yells:] 

"Let's get out of here!!"
because it means to the group of primates
there that something is coming that's bigger than us
and will have us for dinner unless we move quickly.

"Don't forget the babies!",
you know, that kind of... [students laugh] 

Then this developed as peoples became peoples
and wandered into different parts of the land,
across water and so on,
they developed different ways of talking about something
because it became talking,
it now had words.

And then we had the people who may have developed and acquired
MORE words than anyone else,
so then they would talk about experiencing and over a couple of thousand years,
who knows how long,
there was a point, and it's not one pivotal point,
but there was a point when logos—
the word—
became more important than experiencing
and the word was in the hands of a very few.

Tales about how we are and how the world is
so we have a proliferation of contraction into a sense of self,
that has caused the most enormous catastrophes that have ever happened on the planet.

The planet,
it shudders and there's a volcano.
It shudders again and something opens up
and cannot be counted,
but the contractions into a sense of self, I
'm willing to hazard a guess,
have destroyed more than volcanoes and floods and so on and so on.

There we go,
we've done it to ourselves and we can stop. 

In today's eMirror, from Anzan Hoshin roshi's "Without Difficulty: Commentaries on Jianzhi Sengcan's Xinxin Ming: Words on Trusting Awareness," 

Focusing and excluding, accepting and rejecting, attachment and avoidance are all the efforts and mechanisms of self-image. From this process of contraction and limitation all of the consequences of self-image unfold: self-pity, a sense of poverty, aggression, and all of the disturbed states that rack the bodymind with tortuous regularity. 

So, 1600 years ago there was talk about leaving behind "greed and lust,
not giving rise to anxiety and fear".
It's talking about how to practise the teachings of reality;
the Dharma. 

If there are words present in your thoughts,
if you notice thoughts,
or you notice that there has been a focusing in on something,
chances are,
there are words there,
so hey good!
You recognized it!
Feel the breath,
practise in that moment,
allow opening further to occur.

Don't be fooled.
I'm not saying that words cannot be useful,
I mean obviously,
there are so many words contained
in the CDs and the texts and the tapes
that to say that words are not useful would be crazy,
don't believe the stories that you're telling yourself.

Don't believe the stories that someone else might be telling you.

Check them out yourself, 
and each time you notice that there's a story present,
you've noticed the reality of experiencing in that moment. 

Feel the breath,

Sit up straight,
Open the eye gaze. 

And if the story is interesting,
or there is an interesting word,
go and google it,
see what you find,
you never know.
Google it on the website of the White Wind Zen Community.
You never know where it will take you
and what you will learn,
and isn't that wonderful? 

Do not get stuck,
there is no need to.

And have fun!

Thank you for listening.