White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 77: Seeing People Wearing Adornments

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 8th, 2010

Kudos, there you sit

breathing in and out and



to open any dharma gate that presents itself. 

So, no matter what arose,
no matter what reactivities,
no matter what stories and images of a self arose this morning,
you were using every breath you take
to put one foot in front of the other and here you are

unfolding Awake Awareness
because that is what you're doing. 

The verse: 

Seeing people wearing adornments,
"May all beings

Be adorned with the Buddha's
Thirty-two marks of nobility."

Now, that may pass over some heads,
it may arouse shock and even horror in some others
when they think of what they've read of the thirty-two marks of the Buddha's nobility,
which include: 

gait like a swan or a king elephant or a king lion, or a royal ox,
thighs like banana sheaths,
a smile so wide it can be seen from behind, [students laugh]
four canine teeth which are crystal and rounded,
a lion-like jaw to contain those forty teeth that beam out,
a body emanating a halo of light around the person for two metres,
long ears like lotus petals,
flat feet,
marks of thousand-spoked wheels on the soles of the feet,
calves like an antelope,
thighs like a deer,
sexual organs concealed in a sheath,
a protuberance on the head,
high raised ankles like a horse,
projecting heels,
a tongue long and big enough to cover the face,
exceptional taste buds,
elephant trunks (although unwrinkled) for arms... 

So I would say to someone who wished upon me to be adorned with the Budhha's thirty-two marks of nobility:
"Uh, I'll pass." 

This raises questions for us, and the questions are, one question:
is this the description of a real person?

Well, I'll check that "no". 

Is it the description of a mythological creature?
Or, is it the creation of a mythological creature? 

Well, what one must do,
what I must do when I come across something like this
is look at how people are
and how much they could possibly have changed over 2600 years,
and I'd say... not very much, really.

The basic drives are the same,
the basic habits and tendencies are the same.
What happens when there's someone in the neighbourhood, in the country,
someone getting a reputation through people talking one to the other?
Well, of course, attributes, things, do become exaggerated.

I mean, there's the old joke about fishermen,
sport fishermen who may catch a five inch fish.
By the time they come back to shore,
it's an eight inch fish.
When the fish is no longer present at all
and they're talking about it around a table having beers with their buddy,
it's a twelve inch fish.
Twenty years later, talking with their buddies around the table and having a beer,
it could be a two foot long fish.

This is what people do, we exaggerate.
So I think it is safe to assume,
safe to come to the conclusion that in this description
some exaggeration has taken place. 

Now, in researching this,
I read many different sources and many different points of view
as to what may have been described and what may have been meant.

For example,
in some accounts they say "flat feet",
in some accounts they say
"protuberances at the heel",
in another account,
"feet with a level sole",
in another, that's expanded upon saying
"feet with level tread so that he places his foot evenly upon the ground,
lifts it evenly and touches the ground evenly with the entire sole". 

So maybe Gautama Siddhartha did have flat feet,
but we do know from our experience of kinhin,
practising while walking,
that as we become more learned about the actual bodymind,
we start to be able to feel the foot with the foot,
we start to be able to tread more lightly,
we start to be able to tread with the heel,
the outside of the foot,
the inside of the foot,
the toes and we start to notice that this is bendable,
it's flexible,
and we may cease to slam our feet down as some may have been in the habit of doing in the past.
We see people on the street like this all the time. 

"The mark of the thousand-spoked wheel on the soles of the feet"...
Well, when we slam down,
especially in those ancient times,
callouses would have built up,
many people not even having the luxury of sandals.

The poor have been notorious through history for not even having basic garments
and footwear available to the more well-off.

Gautama Siddhartha was one of the more well-off,
so perhaps his feet were cared for
and perhaps rather than thick calloused soles that were just like the leather soles of a shoe,
it was possible to see the myriad of lines
that are on hands and feet,
your own included,

so check it out. 

When we hear things like:
"a gait like a swan, or a king elephant, or a king lion, or a royal ox",
we can look gently,
we can see that what may be being talked about is a graceful deportment of the bodymind,
yet exhibiting strength. 

But as it happens,
people start talking
and they exaggerate the deportment of a five foot ten person
who is walking around with a carriage that holds the skeleton,
holds the bodymind,
straight with an erect demeanour,
with an open presentation,
and it may be described by one person as being really tall,
particularly if that person is say a child who is four foot seven.

"Oh really tall!"

And that can easily turn into: "Oh, eighteen feet" over time and distance.

"He's really tall and he GLOWS!"
which is a metaphoric way of talking about someone who may attract attention
by the difference in their deportment of the bodymind from the mass of people.
And with a background of royalty,
chances are that in the crucial years growing up when nutrition can help determine the height,
there's a good chance that Gautama Siddhartha was fed
well so there's a good chance he may have been taller than the average,
normal mass of a denied population. 

There can be all sorts of reasons
why difference would become exaggerated.
Also, there's the tendency
that the relaying of information from person to person
has to change its content. 

Now, there is a game that people sometimes play at parties.
It's so long ago, I barely remember...
But someone might start the game and whispers something to the person next to them. 

"Milly likes peppermint ice cream." 

The next person is whispered to,
and that person whispers to someone else,
and the last person to receive the information says it out loud to usually great hilarity: 

"I believe the valley is Milly's home."

The message is changed entirely because people relay what they think they heard. 

Have you ever encountered that in your own life?
Indeed we all have
and we do of course any time we watch television news,
it's particularly egregious today
when what you hear is not what happened.

So why would they be different?
Why would people 2600 years ago be any different than we are today?
Why would they not exaggerate and change? 

Now bear in mind,
it is said that the first image which would be statuary or a drawing,
of Gautama Siddhartha,
some experts say was not presented until the first century, Common Era (C.E.),
which would be fifteen, sixteen hundred years old after this miraculous,
now mythological creature walked around.
So, I'm quite content to rest in the idea that this was
in one sense an ordinary man
who became known because he was not part of the usual mass
and that stories were made up that became accepted as a description of a mythological character. 

Anyway, it's a lot of fun. 

Now, "Seeing people wearing adornments."

Adornments, things that we wear or hang on our bodies
to make other people believe
that we are not as plain and simple and unworthy
as a contraction into a sense of a self,
as an image of a self say that we are. 

We're still at it today.
There are vast industries built up around this tendency.
We slap on designer glasses, for example,
where the initials of the designer have become so large
that that's the first thing anyone sees.

What does that mean about us?
Well, of course it means we have the savvy and the bucks
to buy the product of this particular designer.
We do it with t-shirts,
we do it with shoes...
I won't mention any names 
but any of us who've been around in the marketplace will have our own examples. 

I'm kind of of the old school
that believes that if I'm going to advertise for somebody,
I'd better get paid for it.

Instead, we take on these symbols
in the hope that we will be perceived to be worthy
by dressing like someone else,
by adopting the mannerisms of someone else,
by pretending to be anyone other than ourselves,
we want to gain prestige. 

Because these designer things can be very expensive,
an international industry has grown up around the fact
that people want these the things.
So these knockoffs that are found of just about anything, are incredible.
One can walk down the street carrying a knockoff,
carrying a plastic version of a leather bag,
with the same initials—
with slight discrepancies, so perhaps if the "knockoffers" get taken to court,
they can plead that it's not the same thing at all—
with the same gigantic metal letters of the designer clanking away,
and we can believe that we're worth more,
are MORE worthy than we actually are. 

The adornment situation is one that can be fun to look at and to see how it functions.
Of course what happens with practice,
and we must not forget that these verses are reminders to practise,
we can use anything we encounter,
first of all to practise that moment of noticing.

So we may notice on the streets
someone walking down the street
with a hat that has the designer's name in glowing neon across the front.
We might remark on it, go: "Ooh".
The moment of "ooh",
which is what we really are,
is acknowledging that is is knowing a known
and the known in this case has to be the fluorescence of that gigantic hat. 

At that moment feel the breath

feel your feet on the pavement

feel the whole bodymind without making a big deal about it

because the reason why you've noticed in the first place
is that the bodymind is actually there in that moment,
wrapped around the breath. 

So you practise.

What can happen sometimes, the information can be "oh, I want to get one of those..."

Suspect that! [students laugh] Be suspicious! [O-sensei laughs] 

It's something you've noticed about the contemporary environment,
contemporary cultures, habits, patterns,
and you can practise with those
and be reminded by this verse that what you were doing
is practising something that's been around for 2600 years
that speaks to the dignity of the human bodymind and reminds you to... 

stand up a little straighter

to actually feel the breath filling the body

to release shoulders that may have crawled up or become tense
and to be as you really are in that moment

and who you are... 


isn't that the question?

Have fun!

And thank you for listening.