White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 8: Ascending a Balcony

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 10th, 2008


When ascending a balcony,

"May all beings

Tower as Reality,

Seeing the panorama of everything." 

When this verse was first written,
the architecture would have been different from the architecture with which we are familiar:
different countries, different materials, different construction, different design.
The same is true for the word "Balcony". 

Each of us when hearing the word
come up with our own thought or picture or image of what that balcony would be. 

But to take the word "balcony" literally is too confining.
'Cause that would mean that the verse would be specific to balconies.
Perhaps a variety of them.
Some on which you could go out on,
some you couldn't,
some with railings some without,
some enclosed,
some wooden,
some made out of iron,
and on and on and on.
But, perhaps the word was used in other places, other times
and "balconies" were what provided the most significant place
where people could easily access a wider view of the environment or context.

Today we have elevators and escalators,
some extreme such as the CN tower in Toronto, the Empire State building in New York,
to whisk us quickly to a wider view of the surroundings. 

But then what about airplanes and hot air balloons?
Well, I don't think we need be too specific.
The intent of the verse is when rising up from our usual location on the ground,
we have an opportunity to "Tower as Reality"
and see the panorama of everything.

Ascending to a higher place provides the opportunity
to raise the verse and practise at the moment of noticing anything,
seeing that which is seen,
hearing that which is heard,
breathing and so on,
rather than settling for the poverty of contraction
and withdrawal into some story or state
which is feeding itself by propagating fear of heights,
or fear of confined spaces and so on. 

When we practise,
whether we do it on the second floor of Dainen-ji, buckled onto our zafu,
or whether we do it rising up in the elevator at the Rideau Centre
or perhaps even sitting in a plane seat flying away to some exotic place,
when we practise,
we are accessing and opening to a wider view. 

We can practise anywhere, anyplace.
Nobody else needs know what we are doing when we notice a contraction,
a dharma,
a moment of experience,
and use it to feel the breath moving the bodymind in and out,
use it to sit up straight and to open the eye gaze
and experience the openness of reality in that moment. 

Poverty mind or stories narrow and seemingly pinch experiencing.
Feeling bad, small, weak, inferior,
or feeling good, strong, superior,
have the same mechanism.
A narrowing of attention into a contraction
and the spinning of explanations or declamations
provides another way for self-image to amuse and distract itself.

When you notice it,
stop it.
No matter where you are.
Stop it.
Look at it.

Feel the breath.
Sit up straight.
Open the eye gaze. 

As you continue to practise mindfulness,
you will see more details more clearly of the process of perception and cognition.
You'll start to see the process of the contraction of self-image into a self,
a "me" which is seemingly apart from everything else,
held by the bonds of fabrication.

Held in place by fantasies. 

As you continue to practise,
there'll be more and more moments of waking up when practising.
Practising reality shows that experiencing is vaster than we could ever imagine.
As the Roshi has said, it is unthinkable.

The more open, the vaster, the more spacious experiencing is seen to be
and the more we can understand,
Reality, as is said in the verse,

When we are mindful of the open expanse of actual experiencing,
we are seeing the panorama of everything that is arising in that moment
be it on the zafu
or be it what we are seeing from the top of the Empire State building.

There is room for everything.

No matter where you are
or what you are doing
there's no need to check and see if this is a moment to practise.
All moments and whatever is noticed arising are cues to practise.
There's no need to pick and choose.
Picking and choosing is making things complex by allowing thoughts to carry on for too long.


As the panorama of actual experiencing opens everything can be seen,
nothing is hidden,
nothing is being conditioned or affected by conditioning.
At that moment, a being or beings were described as "towering as reality". 

If all beings practised Reality
it seems to me that it would be possible and logical
that the devastating actions we commit,
inadvertently or intentionally
would be changed as the panorama,
that vast network of relationships,
is seen.

But we'll never know. That thought was a fabrication... just a story. 

When a panorama, a context, is seen
more information can be used to inform choices.

When going up to a high place... practise with whatever is noticed. 

"Tower as Reality" ...OK...why not? 

When ascending a balcony,

"May all beings

Tower as Reality,

Seeing the panorama of everything." 

Thank you for listening.