White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 78: Seeing the Unadorned

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, June 5, 2010


"Hey! You're still alive!"
Isn't that great!

We don't know if the next breath will even happen,
so it's risky,
this business of being a human being,
being alive. 

We didn't ask for it. I mean, did any one of you put in your little order saying: 

"I want to be born at one o'clock in the morning February 6th, 1942, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to these people... ?"

I mean it wouldn't be the same as that,
but did anyone put in an order? [students laugh] 

No! It just happened.
Random and chaotic,
in a random and chaotic universe
and here we sit,
being breathed.

The breath,
the activity of the breath surrounded by random and chaotic cells,
most of which, well many of which, some say now—
they used to say 15% was not us,
that it was in fact bacteria,
little things flagellating around, stuff upside down in our pores,
their little tails waving in the air, not even us!
Bacteria in the intestines,
not even us!
But we're so happy to say,
self-image is so happy to say: "This is ME!"

[O-sensei exhales with disgust. Students and O-sensei laugh]

Reality does tend to get covered over.

Today's verse: 

Seeing the unadorned 
"May all beings

Release elaboration 
And practise simplicity." 

Now, of course, as with anything that's spoken or written down and heard,
it can be misunderstood
and it will be misunderstood at some point
by some people
because this is what happens.

"Unadorned" means plain, in fact,
without ornamentation,
without excess that is unnecessary to the functioning
of whatever it is that is being talked about,
be it a piece of clothing,
be it decor,
be it how we ask and answer things,
how we do the forms,
how we understand the forms.

Unadorned, nothing extra,
there's nothing needed. 

Elaboration has many meanings,
but it means to express at greater length or detail.
So let's say for the sake of this verse,
to take something that's very simple
and to add lots of other stuff around it
that's not needed for the expression of the thing that needs to be expressed.

But you know we're used to it because self-image likes to elaborate,
it likes to express things in greater and greater detail
and when we can see it quite clearly,
why is it doing that?

Well, bottom line:
to cover its ass. 

Perhaps, in your own experience,
there has been a question that you wanted to ask.
So, you find yourself in daisan and I might say:
"Is there anything that you would like to talk about? Any question, comment....?"
And the student, not any student in particular,
once again,
this kind of stuff is so common
and I'm sure it's been around since the beginning of practice,
that's a couple of thousand years,
and people have patterns that are remarkably the same,
regardless of where and when... 

So, there can be a tightening [O-sensei makes a laboured inhalation], 

the eyes might open wide

there might be some sort of little movements around the mouth:

"Mmmm... mmm.... mmmm... uh.... well... I'm pretty sure I know the answer to this one..." 
[O-sensei and students laugh loudly] 


"I mean, I've heard it before and I know what you're going to say..." Uh huh.... 

"But, I just want to be sure. I've read a lot about it..." Mmm hmmm... 

So we can start to see this elaborate network,
this tangling of attempts of self-image to present itself as all-knowledgeable. 

So the question then comes:
"Uh.. I've heard it some many times before.
I mean, I know that I know it.
You're going to think I'm stupid... Uh... mmmm..." 

Okay. I might say one of my favourite things:
The only stupid question is the one that doesn't get asked
because then self-image is trying to answer itself
and since that contraction into a sense of a self doesn't know what it is talking about,
that question might fester and fester for years,
causing all sorts of caustic complications...

So if you have a question: ask it!
It's as simple as, in the beginning, when people come to an introductory workshop,
they are told that if they sit, they can request to have an interview.

So the question is: did you sit?
The answer: there is one of two choices,
but often people will...
self-image... okay, patterns,
they're not the person,
they're things that every person has acquired over the years,
will figure that there is a third way of answering that is going to pass
because this will confuse or entrance the person asking the question: 

"Well, I really wanted to..." [O-sensei laughs] Hey, the answer: yes or no. 

So when you have something that you'd like to talk about,
you have an opportunity
just to notice the many ways that self-image has developed to make excuses for itself,
to try and cover every possible view that could be taken of the person asking the question.

Well, it's a shell game,
none of it's really happening,
none of it means anything,
but the fact that you can see it
means it is a part of the reality of that moment
and it gives you the opportunity to practise.

You see it: oh!

And you don't have to shut up and pretend it's not happening.
You can say: "Look at that!"

And I'll go: "Yeah, good for you! You saw it!
You saw this futile attempt of self-image
to make itself bigger, better, grander, smarter than self-image might think it actually is." 

So, keep it simple, down to the basics, the W5:
Who, What, When, Where, and Why?
Good guidelines.
Sometimes too, we'll be given an instruction and self-image will come up with: 

"Okay but... in the such and such of the whatever... this and that was said..."

... but it has nothing to do with the actual carrying out of the instruction.
So then we engage in the futile, ultimately,
exchange of information that just clutters up the space
and uses up time that could be used to do the thing. 

This is just
—it's not a matter of you should and you shouldn't
—just be prepared to see when that kind of thing happens,
you're seeing something very important,
you're seeing a pattern,
a contraction into a sense of self
with a belief of how it should or shouldn't be,
what do you have to do?

Hey! Nothing! Makusa. You just see it,
and the just seeing of it is seeing a portion of reality
and then you are seeing everything else that is going on that is known by the bodymind:
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, breathing in and out... 


Naked knowing. 

Nice, on a hot day. 

And, simplicity, the context of a human lifestyle,
can denote freedom from hardship, effort, or confusion.
You can be simple about seeing confusion. 

Oh look! Confusion! There it is, arising in the reality of the moment, along with everything else.
No big deal. 

As a species, we have spread a lot of elaboration around,
we have spread it so thick that it's toxic.
People get together to "discuss",
but they're not discussing,
they're firing points of view.
There's confrontation.

This is kind of an aside,
but see it when it happens in yourself,
it's not you,
it's patterns,
you're seeing it,
you can practise at that moment
because there has been an opening in that mass and tangle of confusion. 

Have fun with it! 

With every breath you take,
you have the opportunity to see those interesting details of the process of perception and cognition,
and not to be trapped by elaborate schemes
designed to cover up stuff that doesn't need to be covered up. 

The verse again: 

Seeing the unadorned
"May all beings

Release elaboration
And practise simplicity." 

Thank you for listening.