White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 82: Seeing People Who Suffer

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, July 17, 2010

Seeing people who suffer,
"May all beings

Unfold knowing the essence
And expel all anguish." 

Well... "the essence", "suffering", "anguish": hot button words. 

Okay, "Seeing people who suffer",
now what do we mean by "suffering"?
Well in this case,
let us say we mean anything that is not open and unconditioned.

So let's say we're in an unfamiliar situation
and we have a pattern and the pattern says we don't know what to do,
so there's a contraction into a sense of a self
who doesn't know what to do and that can get bigger,
that sense of inappropriateness,
that sense of not knowing when everyone else does,
that sense of being the only person in the room, really,
because that's what self-image does,
it contracts around itself until it can make itself unable to function,
makes the bodymind unable to function.

We can call that suffering. 

"I pushed the wrong button! OMG!" [students laugh] 

"Ugh! How can I carry on? [O-sensei whispers]
I'm so stupid.
They'll all know, I'm so stupid.
Oh I'll never be able to..."
and it goes on and on from there. 

If anyone in the room has never experienced anything like that,
please raise your hand. [students laugh heartily] 

Okay, the process of being a human being is the same for all human beings,
who have ever walked on the face of the earth
and that covers a lot of territory for sure,

but the process is the same,
the process of perception and cognition is the same. 

Of course there are minor mechanical differences.
What is known, what is meaningful,

and the meaning that is made out of experiencing 
varies wildly according to place and environment and so on, as we know,
that's why we can have such radically different points of view that

on the whole
in a lot of suffering for a lot of people.
But the process is the same. 

So what was discovered 2600 years ago when Gautama Siddartha sat down under the pipal tree and said:
"That's it, I'm not moving until I know what's going on". 

So he figured it out:

he's not any of the knowns,

he's the Knowing

so that applies to all people.

We are the Knowing of knowns.

The bodymind is how Knowing knows. 

We have choice.

The things that attention turns to—

or is drawn to
or is sucked into without us even realizing it—
can get bigger
and condition experiencing
so we end up suffering. 

Now, indeed, there are all sorts of unpleasant and downright atrocious things that happen to human beings
and that human beings do to each other
and anything else around,
because when that sense of a self is propagated in its many forms,
it blinds human beings to the rest of reality. 

So we see "people who suffer",
and it can be any manner of event,
we have this little verse: 

"May all beings

Unfold knowing the essence
And expel all anguish." 

So, the "essence" in the Buddhadharma
is that the essential nature of everything
is that there's nothing behind anything making it what it is.
The idea of some "thing" is a delusion about that thing.
At the very least the idea of something can only highlight particular aspects of that thing,
but cannot present and is not the totality of that thing;
a gong, a glass,
your life,
your suffering is what it is to you
when seen from a certain point of view. 

Now, I recommend that you look up and read "Essentially Real: Commentaries on Eihei Dogen zenji's Hosho Dharmata" by Anzan Hoshin roshi. 

The reality of Reality is that each and every thing transcends ideas and instead is just such, the display of Suchness." 

So, the essence of the reality of something,
of a dharma,
the Dharma about that dharma is that it is sunya; empty. 

So go back to someone walking into a room that they haven't been in before:
a thought comes up, attention goes into it.
Because it's following well-worn pathways in the bodymind
and all of a sudden,
there's someone who doesn't know what to do,
who starts to squirm,
starts to believe the story of self-image that they don't know what to do
and they really shouldn't be here
because soon everyone will start to know they don't know what to do... 

And that gets in the way,
it clouds the ability of the bodymind to function
to the point where many students have experienced forgetting things,

forgetting to ring the densho to enter into the Zendo for daisan,

forgetting to stop, look, and bow when the senior bows, 
forgetting that it is possible to close doors quietly,
and on and on and on... 

We've all experienced it.

Until we start to see that we're the Knowing of that contraction coming up,
we're the Knowing of that thought.

We don't have to follow it.

The instruction is at that moment of seeing, recognize:

moment of clear seeing,

you're seeing it

moment to practise,

to practise that moment of clear seeing. 

And we start to understand that we may have misunderstandings.
We may believe that in order to practise,
we have to have no thoughts.
Well, that's silly.

You'll have no thoughts when you're dead, guaranteed. [students laugh] 

So as long as the breath is moving into and out of the bodymind,
you can practise in the midst of whatever morass of thoughts and feelings are present.
That stuff is the manure that makes the flowers of open experiencing bloom. 

So use it.

Recognize that the essence is that those thoughts—
and we'll talk about just thoughts and feelings right now
because that's the thing that trips us up mostly, thoughts and feelings—
are present,

their presence is not a problem.

They produce effects in the bodymind and the effects can be so strong that the strength makes us believe that the story is real and that is who we are. 

Now, sitting here in the Zendo, think of a lemon.
Okay? Think of a lemon.
Where would you find one?
Where would you find in your home this imaginary lemon?
And for those of you who are "homeless", the monastics,
picture that imaginary lemon.
Picture yourself walking and picking up that imaginary lemon.
Pick up a knife.
Cut that lemon in half.
Careful now! Careful...
Take a half of it, cut it in half again.
Pick up a quarter of the lemon,
put it in your mouth,
bite down on it and suck on it. 

What happens?
The bodymind responds physically to the imaginary lemon.
Even talking about it,
I can feel little bits of saliva coming up.

The bodymind is really intelligent.
It experiences something
and very quickly there is a response
and the response is remembered.
Now that's true, that capacity,
that intelligence of the bodymind
applies to every thought and every feeling that we have.
An effect that is tangible,
that is obviously present in the bodymind occurs. 

You're starting to see things like that,
and interestingly, science is starting to see things like that too.
This is being studied and guess what?
What we think affects how we are!
So this is something that's been done,
that's been practised for 2600 years and you're doing it right now. 

You start to notice that
when you make the choice to practise at the moment of seeing the thought,
whatever it might be
that there is an opening that occurs.
That process of contraction
and the subsequent effect in the bodymind as the bodymind
responds as it has learned to do,
is interrupted,
the pattern is interrupted.

And you may notice when you do practise 
at the moment of noticing thoughts or feelings

that the anguish, that contraction,

that compaction of thoughts,
that increase in uncomfortableness does open. 

You don't have to believe it,
you just have to do it and notice what happens.
You can start to understand now why we do things the way we do them here.
You may start to understand at a deeper level, the use of forms. 

For example, during samu we have the functional talking form.
That can seem harsh, we want to talk,
we want to let other people know all sorts of things,
we want to fill that uncomfortable silence.
Then we start to understand that not only can we do what we're doing,
and practise,
we start to see more patterns about how we are,
previously unquestioned,
and that's excellent. 

We notice that during longer periods of sitting,
when we do a retreat,
when we do a Dharma Assembly,

when we attend sesshin and O-sesshin, 
we have opportunity to see more and more clearly

the process of perception and cognition.

We start to understand that we are the Knowing

and that the essence is that everything is sunya,

That sense of a self is sunya,
it's empty, it always was,

we just didn't notice
except for those moments when we did know it,

but perhaps didn't have words to explain it

or didn't have the knowledge to pursue what we had discovered.

But we did pursue it whether we knew it or not
and then we end up sitting in front of a white wall
on a lovely Saturday morning. 

So, the verse again: 

Seeing people who suffer,
"May all beings

Unfold knowing the essence
And expel all anguish." 

And don't worry about leaving that anguish in little puddles on the floor.
[students laugh]
No problem!
So have fun with it
as you breathe in and out
because one day there'll be just breathing out and it'll be too late. 

So have fun with the aliveness of this moment.

Thank you for listening.