White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 76: Seeing a Park

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 1, 2010


allows you to practise

the energies of the whole bodymind are dedicated,

as you sit there,

to practising the whole bodymind in the whole moment,
and every breath you've ever taken,

from that first [O-sensei gasps like a newborn]

has ended up,
has led

to this moment.


You can't fault the logic, that's the way it is.

Today's verse: 

Seeing a park,

"May all beings

Follow the ways of practice

Which move into unfolding as Awake Awareness." 

A park:
"a protected area in its natural or semi-natural state,
or planted and set aside for human recreation,
or for the protection of wildlife or natural habitat, or endangered species". 

Well, I do think it's not too big of a leap to consider ourselves an endangered species... 

As you step past the dharma gate, past the Mountain Gate, 

(and you have passed through many dharma gates getting yourself right here to this cushion today)
so you've passed through those dharma gates,

those gates that have written on them: 



"Don't want to"
"Don't go here"
"Would rather..."
"Oh, I feel..."
"What the hell?" 

[students laugh] 

You saw them for what they were,
either a barrier or an invitation,
the choice was up to you
and obviously you made the choice with that breath
to practise and step through that dharma gate. 

The Mountain Gate you encounter as you enter into the grounds of the monastery,
and for the sake of this metaphor,
you entered into this "park",
a protected area in its natural or semi-natural state.

When first we bought Dainen-ji,
we had a lawn out front.
Imagine, a lawn!?

So a decision was taken that the grounds of this particular—
for the sake of the metaphor this particular "park"—
would be as much as possible returned to
or turned into a natural state appropriate to this part of the country that we live in
and that, as you can see, is ongoing.
Plants have been planted that may have disappeared from this area
but that were originally indigenous to this area,
plants and bushes and shrubs that do what plants and bushes and shrubs do
which is make seeds, and the seeds, sometimes surrounded by fleshy fruits,
if they were meant to be eaten by other beings
were then carried to other areas and dropped,
not from little burlap sacks like Johnny Appleseed
but we won't go into that,
you all remember the worm...
gnashing away and then dropping behind it... 

So in this natural habitat,
this endangered species can
for whatever lengths of time it chooses,
for some it's 30 minutes a week,
no it's never 30 minutes a week,
it's actually what, let's see...
7:30 to 9... an hour and a half, an hour 45 minutes... 

Okay. They come here once a week and in this planted park
can look at and see more and more clearly the impediments to Awake Awareness,
those contractions that come up,
greater or lesser,
that tie knots in space
and seemingly inhibit the freedom and openness of the whole bodymind. 

So in this Awake Awareness theme park [students laugh]
we have the opportunity,
not just in the Hatto,
and not just in the Zendo
when we put on our robes
(and in some cases they can seem to be "the robes of a good practitioner")

Well, that doesn't really wash
because as you start to mature your practice,
you start to understand with the whole bodymind
that practice is not something that you are doing just in the Hatto or in the Zendo.

Practice is something that you've discovered,
you've come upon,
something precious that has been handed down person to person for 2600 years,
free of beliefs and provably true in your own experience
each time you choose to,
as the verse says,
"follow the ways of practice". 

The simplicity is to feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze;
which is a long way of describing that moment
when the whole bodymind is experienced fully and completely
in the whole moment,

All the little weeds have been cleaned up.
Oh, a little one might surface from time to time
but you see it very quickly
and use it to practise with
and as that knot in space unfolds,
Awake Awareness is present,
as it always was,

Now, practice is not confined to the Hatto and the Zendo,
the formal practice spaces,
you practise going down the stairs,
hands in shashu.
(Although sometimes there can be a big sigh of relief that you've left the formal practice space),
and the hands come down
and you pitty-pat down the stairs because after all,
"we're free, free!"
[students laugh]
Just like the end of school! 

But when you notice you're doing that,
(and this one is very obvious isn't it?)
you're acting out a usual social pattern;
church is out, or school is out,
or some arduous and unwelcome activity is over.
You practise at that moment
and use the forms that you have been presented with,
(and as with all sorts of tools,
the more you use them,
the sharper they get!).

And what are they used for?

For seeing, feeling,
knowing the whole bodymind in the whole moment. 

If thoughts come up about what self-image says they are,
recognize it's there.
That contraction,
that thought,
is part of the reality of the moment.

How could it be separate from it? It's there.

So you see it,
so you use it,

so you feel your feet on the floor,

you take a moment

you feel the whole bodymind,

you feel that breath that is expanding the lungs

expanding the rib cage,

and thereby,

the very fact of doing that

straightens all the vertebrae in the spine

then the head is placed correctly as in balanced at the top of the spine,
rather than falling down the front of the body like a bowling ball. 

So you can do that any place,
anywhere, any time,
particularly in this "park" which is here
so that you can experience how you are moment to moment. 

Teaching and learning is not confined to the Hatto or the Zendo or the Shuryo.
It's everywhere.
If something puzzles you,
all you have to do is ask.

Now that's easy to say, isn't it?

"All you have to do is ask.
But, you think,
"I'd like to know"—
(and this is from a student during a recent meeting in the grounds)
this was the student's question—

"Well I'd like to ask about,
I know I should know,
and I'm pretty sure that somewhere there I do know,
maybe I won't, you might think I'm stupid..."

[O-sensei and students laugh] 

Please notice how there's this whole little chorus of voices.

That's the most important thing;
to notice that.

Recognize; it's not you.

You are the Knowing of that;
those are knowns
and they are hangovers from what bodymind has learned in usual social encounters. 

We really want to cover our ass;

so we can spend an inordinate amount of time
explaining how we really know what we don't know.

You can cut through that,

you can let yourself know that there is no question more stupid than the one that isn't asked.

That question that isn't asked can fester like a splinter
and stuff forms around it and depending upon the nature of the splinter,
different sort of stuff forms around it
and some of it can be very toxic.
If there is something you want to talk about,
a question you want to ask, clarification required:


So this student, this student did get past all the barriers,
all the dharma gates that came up in asking the question 

(this happened sitting in the rain shelter out in the "park")

the rain shelter which thanks to the efforts of many is complete,
with cedar shakes on the roof and it's a lovely place to sit.

So we're sitting there looking out over the park and we clarified dharma gates through experience,

the experience of a few moments ago,
his became more clear to the student who actually showed up with the book he was reading
with little questions written in it and a list of questions,
(which is just wonderful because then it's much easier to address concerns or interests)
and when
"I think I read something,
I'm not sure,
maybe I heard it in a teisho,
but it was something along the lines of...
What to do but point out how the student has confused themselves at that moment
and how that type of confusion can be practised with
and how the experience of that type of confusion can lead to clarity

that writing down the question might be a good thing to do. 

Something else the student wanted to talk about was
how conditioned experiencing causes suffering
and what that actually means.

Well, my glance landed on the pump in the pond
(and as pumps do... it accumulated stuff... and fortunately
I hadn't yet had time to remove some sticks
and a couple of pieces of bread
and some leaves
and things that accumulated on that pump)... 

So I asked the student to focus on that pump
and to say what would have been said
had that been his singular focus,
had that been the only thing he noticed going on in the park:
What would he think of people who were tending the park?

Well, picture it yourself, this morass; twigs, bread, leaves, pollen.

Well, descriptions come up that might include the words
"not caring",
and would that be true of the grounds of the park?
Of the care that was given to the rest of the park?

Not at all.

And as we straightened and "zoomed out",
the student said "I get it! I get it!" [O-sensei and students laugh] 

We can see how the experiencing of whatever is being experienced
can and does become distorted when it's pulled through a knot in space,
when it's pulled through contraction (the morass) that,
at the very least,
distorts the situation slightly and,
at the very most,
distorts completely
so that the end result becomes the inevitable historical carnage
that the species of which we are a part has produced.

Who wants that? 

So. As you're sitting there,
when you notice anything whatsoever,
which means that attention has for a moment started to bring whatever is noticed,
whatever known,
whatever dharma gate,
whatever dharma is there,
attention has begun to move towards it
and if it's followed,
it will make it bigger and bigger
and will distort the rest of the experiencing in that moment. 

Isn't it simple?
Isn't it like that taste of water?
That's all that you have to do
as you sit there following the ways of practice,
unfolding into Awake Awareness. 

Another example:

I wasn't sure whether to mention this or not, but I will.

Experiencing that is conditioned causes suffering.

Well, for a number of years I have raised questions,
sometimes not particularly skillfully
about the yellow light in the Zendo and in the Hatto.

"Why can't we buy light that's bright instead of this yellow?"

Then in November, I had a cataract operation on my right eye
and I looked around
and when I was looking at the light with my right eye,
it wasn't yellow.
When I cover my right eye, it was yellow.
So, my experience of the quality of the light,
not just in the Zendo and the Hatto,
was conditioned by the yellowing of the fluid in an old eye!

But knowing that is a good thing
because I now have all sort of movies and art that I can look at,
now that I have the left eye with its bionic lens,
and can see the colour more truly.

So when the scratching and itching of the operation was gentled out,
Friday morning I woke up and I looked,
I could not believe it: no yellow.
It was fantastic, it was bright, it was luminous. [O-sensei and students laugh] 

So beware of saying you know it's such and such a way
because you can "see it with your own eyes". [more laughter]

So I apologize to anyone that I caused to suffer in any way whatsoever
complaining about yellow light.

How could I know? 

The verse again: 

Seeing a park,

"May all beings

Follow the ways of practice

Which move into unfolding as Awake Awareness." 

Enjoy your time here.

Thank you for listening.