White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 87: Seeing Mendicants

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 2nd, 2010

Well, up to this point the breath has been rattling the bones in each and every one of you,
so you are alive.

"Eh... who cares?"

"Yeah. Hrmph. But there's so much that I have to do..."

"Oh my goodness, here I am, I'm sitting on a beautiful, beautiful October morning and I have to write that letter..." or

"I have to take care of this thing, what am I doing?"

And then there's a moment, you go: "Oh!" and Knowing, which is what you really are, says:

"Dude! [students laugh] Wait a minute. Remember the instruction."

And so at that point
you've noticed that what has happened is the bodymind
has released itself somewhat
and that releasing that the bodymind is learning to do is in fact what enables Knowing—
to notice that you were caught up in the mumblings and grumblings and dissatisfactions of self-image:
a contraction into a sense of self with stories about how it is and how the world is.

And here you are, you're sitting in Dainen-ji,
240 Daly Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, North America, the World... the Universe
and it's ever so tiny, really, were we able to look down from way up there.

But regardless of the facts,
self-image will say it is front and centre
and it is the only thing that's going on.
Well obviously that's not true
but yet we fall for its stories over and over again,
and not only do we fall for its stories,
we propagate them,
stories of basic unsatisfactoriness...
"When you notice a story of basic unsatisfactoriness,
and we are RICH with them,
if we had a penny for every little thought of basic unsatisfactoriness,
we'd have one large piggy bank...
but we don't,
we fall for it
and guess what we do in our infinite generosity?

We pass it on to others by whining and complaining,
and they pick up on it like a virus
and so it spreads,
basic dissatisfaction

But here you are,
sitting in Dainen-ji
and you have the opportunity while facing that white wall
to look into things that science is now saying are actually true about being a human being.

It's only taken science 2600 years to catch up.

That's a good thing! It's a good thing they're catching up,
it's a good thing that popular culture has access to findings and practices
that came about through mindfulness as we know it.

The verse today:

Seeing mendicants,
"May all beings
Be harmonious and serene,
Training themselves thoroughly."

So "mendicant", from the Latin of course

.mendicant: begging

.mendicant: one who relies on charitable donations,
relying exclusively on charity to survive.

It's funny how we don't really think about things,
what they mean,
how they impact our lives and so on.
Now a mendicant order,
there are a number of Christian mendicant orders that take vows of poverty
and vow to expend all their time and energy on practising
or preaching their religion or way of life
and serving the poor and they make do with what is given to them.

We have all seen or seen pictures of the mendicants in Theravadin orders
who go around with their big bowl collecting food from people
and that's their main meal of the day,
and they don't touch money, they're not allowed to touch money,
they survive because of the generosity of lay people.

In Kyoto, all over Japan
in fact, I said "Kyoto" because that's where I first saw it,
you'll see monks wearing robes that are somewhat similar to what we wear,
although shorter in a very unsettling way [students and O-sensei laugh]
just above the ankle, and huge hats which cover their eyes.
People give alms to the mendicant monks, this is done once a day.

Now, in this situation, the situation of Northern Mountain Order,
we find that right from the beginning it was exactly the opposite.

In the beginning when the Roshi first started teaching,
he would go around to places provided by students to give instruction,
to lead sittings and then at a certain point,
he rented accommodation over on Somerset Street East, which he paid for.

When I came along, a year or so after that,
it didn't occur to me to ask how this was all happening
because it just doesn't occur to us,
so I started practising there and never once did the Roshi ask for anything from his students.
For instance, during Sesshin,
as he had to work to pay the rent and buy the food,
sometimes he'd fix the morning meal and then leave, and we—
sometimes there was one, two or three people, and often it was just me—
we were sitting there until he came rushing back at lunchtime to make the noon meal.

And one day I thought:
"Wow, what he's doing is really amazing so I should contribute."
So even though I had not been asked for a thing, not a fee, nothing,
I raised the question of a monthly contribution.

Then after taking monk's vows,
it came about that more students were coming
so we needed larger accommodations,
so he and I went walking around all over Sandy Hill, Centretown and so on,
looking for a place
and we didn't have any Sangha funds,
and the accounting system was this ball of wrinkled bills and whatnot
at the bottom of the Roshi's monk's bag. [O-sensei and students laugh]

So we found a place and there was no question,
at that point I was the one who had more money,
so pay the first month's rent, last month's rent and keep things going in between.
People came along and contributed
and it went along that way for the first three or four years.
There were a couple of lay monks who were contributing,
then Jinmyo sensei came along and she took monk's vows,
there were people staying in residence who when they did stay and do residential training
would contribute and so on.
At a certain point it became formalized.

The point I'm making is that in the beginning,
one hundred percent of the practice of anyone who wanted to practise was supported by the monks.
Over the years thanks to the contributions of many, contributions of effort,
(I think it's called in the popular domain "sweat equity"),
contributions of effort,
we're in a position where only about a third of the upkeep of the monastery and the practice environment
is paid for by the monks and those in residence. ?
So people have come forward and ways have been put in place and so forth.

So "seeing mendicants" is something that doesn't really in that sense apply to this situation, but the wish that all beings...

Be harmonious and serene,
Training themselves thoroughly

...is something that we all can identify with,
especially monks
because that is the reason why each and every one of us
who has contributed to the practice environment
because we can see the possibility,
by practising with their own patterns
and with a vision in mind that is in fact a unified one,
being the recognition that when beings do not act out their patterns of poverty,
in the sense that people are in the same room with each other
and doing tasks that are useful for the common good,
produce a sense of balance,
a sense of harmony
and that this is worthwhile,
but in order to do that training is necessary
because we have grown up,
ll of us,
each one in the room,
in a culture that says as individuals we have a right to do whatever the hell we want.

And that really hasn't worked out too well...

All we have to do is look around,
see what's happening to recognize that there has to be a certain mutually held understanding
and that this is something that can be fostered and trained
and it's certainly not about giving up individuality,
it's about opening up those patterns that may have been expressed over and over again
in sometimes less than desirable or attractive ways,
patterns of what we may have considered to be our individual personality.

So, "seeing mendicants"
and we don't see them very often
once in a while we may,
we can recognize this as an historical reference to this particular community, but
on the other hand we can also recognize the richness of the lives that live as us, the richness of the life that lives as
you and you and you and you and me
and everyone,
all beings,
and that when that gets covered over by the contractions of self-image
into a whining, complaining, nastiness
that it's not fun for anyone.

So by feeling those feet on the floor,
by standing up straight,
by opening the eye gaze,
what happens?

Well, we notice that when we do that,
the thing that we were going on about—
not we, let me change that—
the thing that "self-image",
the thing the pattern was going on about

That's just universally true,
and you've noticed it enough times that your own experience tells you it's true over and over and over again.
Granted, sometimes we have to be reminded to do that,
that's what teachers are for,
that's what practice advisors are for,
they are there to remind you of the richness of your own bodymind in this moment,
which is the only moment that's going on.

We don't know if there's going to be another one...
and we can't recover the last one.

There's nothing we can do except recognize
that there's this moment
open up that ribcage
feel those bones
see the seeing
hear the hearing
and recognize there is nothing lacking.


Seeing mendicants,
"May all beings
Be harmonious and serene,
Training themselves thoroughly."

So we all want you to do that.

You can all do it.

And as you sit there breathing in and out,
and as you put forth effort,
and as you contribute,
you can recognize that twenty years from now,
twenty-five years from now,
fifty years from now,
there may be bums sitting on those zafus that haven't even been born yet
and you helped provide them with the opportunity
to practise the reality of being a human being.

That's pretty great!

So thank you for doing it.

And thank you for listening.