White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 84: Seeing People Who Appear to be Attractive and Seeing People Who Appear to be Unattractive

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, August 21, 2010

Seeing people who appear to be attractive,
"May all beings
Always have unstained confidence
In the Awakened and wakeful ones.

Hmmm... Well well well...

Seeing people who appear to be unattractive,
"May all beings
Be free of attachment
To any unwholesome thing."

My goodness! What are we saying here? Let's look at another translation:

Seeing handsome people,
They should wish that all beings
Always have pure faith
In the enlightened, and enlightening ones.

Are they saying that all enlightened and enlightening ones are handsome? Hmm.

Seeing ugly people

Oh my goodness! [students laugh]

They should wish that all beings
Not become attached
To anything not good.

Well well well.
What is being talked about by these verses in "The Practice of Purity"?

Well, a cursory reading could come up with attractive—good,
Isn't that the basis of all consumer culture?
To be simplistic about it...but yes, hmm,
handsome people are enlightened,
ugly people are not good; cursory reading.
Is that what we're really talking about?

Well no, we can't really be satisfied with that, can we?
Oh, I think through the course of human history, some have been.
Let's bear in mind as well how things shift and change,
how meaning shifts and changes,
how values shift and change.
In certain cultures, even today,
being very, very overweight,
being very shiny with a huge stomach and rings of fat around the neck
is considered to be unbelievably attractive.
Why would that be?
Well, if one wants to track it down, there are answers available.

Yet, on the opposite side of the scale,
to be that way is regarded gross and a default,
a flaw in character no matter what the cause.
We all have examples of the pull of attraction,
and that's what the word means,
attractive, means something that attracts,
something that draws us to it.
And attraction has fallen into basically physical attraction
and it has, I think it's pretty well been proven,
in many instances and to all of us,
that physical attraction can have a significant effect on how people are judged
in terms of employment, social opportunity, friendship, sexual behaviour, and marriage.

Well, in many instances humans attributed positive characteristics
such as intelligence and honesty to attractive people,
and what about the unattractive people?
Well, you got it, everything bad.

Is that a good way to be?
Well, not for the one person that you can actually influence.
When you notice these patterns of pulling towards or attraction,

Practice tells us that we can know our patterns
and know them for what they are
which are patterns that the bodymind has set up.
You did not pick them!
Like Topsy,
they just kind of grew.

One day, you may start to see them.

One thing you can do anyplace, anytime,
anywhere is practise the whole bodymind.
The narrowing of attention into any pattern whatsoever
shows you immediately you notice it,
it's going on,
a small portion of reality is being blown up to be the most significant thing.

Now, it's not that these patterns,
when they are taken to be the whole of the moment,
the major thing going on in the moment,
it is not that these patterns are harmless...
Some have more or less harmless consequences,
like not putting a lid on a jar properly just because it's something you're not used to doing
because you always lived by yourself
so you always knew that the lid wasn't on the jar properly.
It's not something that you want to propagate when you're living in a situation with all kinds of other people.
Why? Well, pickles get dropped and kimchi gets dropped
and glass gets broken
and people get cheesed off and on and on,
so the consequences are there.

Relatively harmless,
a jar of pickles and cutting someone's foot on broken glass is not the end of the world.
There are very few things that are the end of the world,
in fact only the end of the world would be the end of the world...
[students laugh heartily]
would it not?
But we have our little linguistic devices that propagate other patterns,
so in certain contexts, it's not a problem.

In other situations,
there can be problems that flow down through generations.
Now, like all mammals,
humans reproduce.
Somehow or other there have been all sorts of mythologies
that have grown up around this fact of reproduction.
Now I'm not saying it's right and I'm not saying it's wrong,
I'm saying it's a fact.
I'm saying it's something that some of us may choose not to do
and some of us may choose to do.
The key word is choice.
But there's a lot of non-choice that goes on in that particular area
because again of mythologies around cultural, personal, and social patterns.

So I don't know, we will never know,
I've never seen any figures on this but there are a lot of situations that arise
when someone at the advanced of maybe 30, 35, 40
will look at their birth certificate,
look at the date on their parents marriage license and go:
"Whoa!" [O-sensei and students laugh] How come?

"Yes, I know. I was premature...
At eight pounds eleven ounces? I don't think so."

So many children as adults may be faced with the fact that "wow",
they were the reason that their parents,
who now seemingly really hate each other,
got together in the first place.
It's not fun. It's not fun at all.

So when we think about that,
the strong patterns for reproduction come up.

So, something attractive appears on the scene.
Schwing! [giggles]
That could end up being somebody... [more giggles]
if responsibility is not taken
and responsibility recognizes that the brain is the only brain that the body has.
(Despite mythologies that are around that Mr. Dick has a brain of its own).

So, what's the reasonable thing when we're living in a world that's rapidly becoming overpopulated?
Well in any situation,
whenever you're going to do anything,
the reasonable thing is to sit down and say:
"Well, this is what I think I'd like to do.
So I will make all the necessary arrangements and then that is what I'd like to do,
what do you think about it?"
consulting the other partner.
But there seems to be a lot of stuff that happens even now when people go:
"Well, I want this: home, family, that's what I want
and I'm going to get it by any means"
and before you know it, there it is...

"Honey, what are you going to do? Are you going to stick with me?"

Well, anyway, we don't need to say anymore about that
but it does certainly fit in with the idea and the fact that attractiveness, again,
is in the eye of the beholder,
it's been shaped by culture and it can produce responses,
physiological responses that can and must be taken responsibility for.

Seeing people who appear to be attractive,
"May all beings
Always have unstained confidence
In the Awakened and wakeful ones."

So when you've entered through the door
and the gates of practice have swung open,
you have an opportunity to look at patterns that arise
and to do what the instructions tell you to do,
which is:
when you notice anything at all,
feel the breath,
sit or stand up straight,
open the eye gaze.

Take the responsibility for looking at your situation,
what you want to do,
and what is the most appropriate action to take in the circumstances.

Now, "Seeing people who appear to be unattractive",
right there is an interesting field to play around in
because you start to notice what patterns are telling you,
start to question into those patterns.
We "know" certain things,
we take them for granted:
young is attractive, old is unattractive.

On this side of the globe, thin is attractive,
unthin is otherwise. Having lots of hair is attractive,
unless of course you have big muscles and wear a "wife beater",
well, in which case having no hair at all can be attractive.

Look at social trends,
become aware of them because they are patterning you.
Look into this moment,
which is the only one that's going on ever,
and see the pull of patterns.
Question into them.


Now that's the translation that the Roshi and I came up with
"To any unwholesome thing"
and this is based on traditional references to "wholesome" and "unwholesome"
as far as this moment goes. 

When there is contraction,
when there is a contracted state,
it can be referred to as unwholesome.
Why? Because it has affected the wholeness of this empty and open and luminous moment.
This contraction, this knot in space
has taken something that is whole and complete and without edge,
and made it less than wholesome,
made it unwholesome.
So by recognizing that use of the word,
we can understand it's not saying that unattractive people are unwholesome,
it's saying that you have the opportunity to recognize
when the open space of experiencing becomes contracted
because of cause and effect
and a pattern is produced that starts to condition the rest of experiencing.

Now, another way of looking at it is this:
everything we experience is experienced with the whole bodymind.
When we're in a state, it's apparent, everything changes.
The facial muscles change, they distort, they contort,
it's horrible,
it's as if we grow fangs and foam at the mouth.
Well, when you see something like that, when you recognize it,
you might be wise to avoid that situation.
When you see it when looking in the mirror, do everybody a favour,
don't go out in public! [students laugh]

Feel the breath,
feel the whole bodymind,
let that unwholesome state open.

Now fashion, hmm,
fashion doesn't just mean the clothes that we may or may not buy
that we may or may not expect to make us the most attractive person in the neighbourhood.
No, fashion means things that people believe to be true,
things that go on that are things to be achieved,
things to be used to make self-image,
(and that's what it's aimed at),
better and better.

It's interesting, fashion changes like crazy
and that can be fun to notice because
even if you're not a person who notices it,
you are affected by it.
Businesses are built on reducing all to certain types,
to a certain demographic and that can be interesting.

It doesn't mean that one needs to go out on the street with a big placard:
"Down with demographics! Down with demographics!"
because that really is pissing in the wind,
it's not going to do anything for anybody
and you would just be wasting your time,
but what demographics do is reduce us all to types.

It's interesting to note that that happens,
and you know, in magazines,
if you've flipped through them you'll often find there are quizzes
and dammit, we want to fit in.
Sometimes we'll even cheat on the quiz to get the right or desirable answers.
Imagine that! Cheating against ourselves! I know about this,
I've done it.

We like lists, self-image likes to place itself,
and listen, it likes to label.
I've not yet met a student who has read the "Five Styles of Zen"
who has not after reading it said: "Well, I think mostly I'm such and such a type..."
It's good to identify that tendency.
So read it, read "Five Styles of Zen", you'll like it. 

Now, language changes as well.
The meaning we put to it changes
and each and every one of us may put a different meaning to the same word,
which is reasonable to expect
because we've all had different experiences of the word,
maybe even in the same place at the same time,
but the experience is different.
And language is changing really quickly today
which is a neat thing to bear in mind.
If someone calls you a "beast", this is a compliment.
If someone says something you do is "sick", it's the "ultimate sickness",
that means it's really good.
If someone says you're so "bad", that indeed is a rare compliment.

So what you hear and what you think you hear
and what's being said may not ever be the same thing,
just bear that in mind,
it gives lots of possibilities,
lots of room to play.

Know what you're doing.
The way you know what you're doing,
and "doing" being the actions that you take,
is by having considered all possibilities that arise
through the various causes that affect you,
various patterns that are stimulated by various situations.

Make a choice.
Do not be pushed and pulled by your own chemistry or prevailing fads,
unquestioned fairy tales about who you should be and how you should be.
Learn to see how these have affected you because that changes too.

For instance, in 1942 during the war years in North America,
the biggest sex symbol was Betty Grable who was wholesomeness in itself.
This was farm fresh with the little checkered apron and the little pigtails.
But now, today, it's who can put forth the most skin, really.

So things have changed,
perceptions and patterns have changed
and they're changing more and more quickly.
In 1994, "Vamp", a black nail polish that was brought out,
could not be given away and now, 16 years later,
black is one of the top selling nail polishes.
Paleness, bloodlessness is cool,
but so is a deep tan.
So the definitions and examples of what is attractive are many and varied.

Good girls, apparently, were "in" for a long time,
but not really when you study it.
(A recent saying: "Good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere".)
So our perceptions are shaped by people that we don't even know.
It's a fun area to look into.
What's attractive, so-called,
and considered attractive by the general public
and people who are pumping product, changes.
Don't take it for granted,
it's fun to look into.

Oh, another word that's changed: "vixen".
This is a hot word now.
What it really means,
what it meant in the beginning was vixen, a female fox.
A fox in all sorts of mythologies from all sorts of areas of the world
is known to be a shape changer,
something not to be trusted,
something that would seduce you
and take you into realms that you've never experienced before.
Today, that's desirable but yet a few years ago,
vixen also meant quarrelsome, shrewish, and malicious.
But now, apparently it's a desirable quality.

So have fun with all of this.
Start to look into what's going on,
what influences are affecting you.
And remember, the instructions for practice are very simple:

Whenever you notice anything, anything
anything whatsoever
a colour, a sound, a form, a pattern... it's all-inclusive.

You're the Knowing, you're the noticing.
Everything else,
everything that is noticed is a known,
it's known by the bodymind.
The moment of noticing anything is a moment of clear seeing.

You don't have to make a decision:
Feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze.
Practise that moment of clear seeing.

And have fun!

The verses again, oh before I say the verses and close,
I did decide to address these two verses today and I think you may see why,
however, if anyone comes forward with anything that they would like to have addressed
that may have arisen because of these verses,
I'd be delighted to hear what you have to say,
hear what you might like to have answered or explored a
nd to do that in the next Dharma Talk.

That's true for any of the Dharma Talks,
please come forward if you have something that you'd like to inquire about or comment on.
And you don't have to agree, it's more fun that way.

Seeing people who appear to be attractive,
"May all beings
Always have unstained confidence
In the Awakened and wakeful ones."

Seeing people who appear to be unattractive,
"May all beings
Be free of attachment
To any unwholesome thing."

Thank you for listening.