White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 88: Seeing Aristocrats

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, October 16th, 2010

This whispering of the leaves reminds us that everything that's born will die. 

Those leaves were once just little buds and then they unfurled,
spent the summer doing their thing,
making food,
and now it's time...

The colours come out,
the green disappears and then the leaf falls from the tree.

But in the meantime, there's the whispering,
moved by the same air which you are breathing in and out.


gives you the opportunity to practise,
to feel the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

Today's verse:

Seeing aristocrats,
"May all beings
Always keep to pure activity,
Moving past all contraction."

"Aristocrats? What the hell?"

What's an aristocrat?
We all came from the same place...
go back, I don't know, 50,000 years, 100,000 years
and there we were, pulling ourselves up from out of the mud,
and somehow or other, these beliefs arose,
having to do, I think, a lot with land, power...
because if you had the most stuff, well,
you could call the shots and everyone else would go
"Ooh ah, ooh ah" and bow down into the mud as you passed by.

It's funny, reincarnation—
just a little sidebar—
you never hear anybody saying
"I'm the reincarnation of this nameless, faceless droog
who spent his brief 16 years of life on earth working 20 hours a day trying to get enough to live,
nobody ever says that's what they were in a former life, do they?

No, they were a princess or a prince or a queen or a wise philosopher.

It's nuts.


"Seeing aristocrats",

I invite you to go back in time 1600 years when these verses were written,
and there we are:
we're standing on some dusty corner,
we're covered with dust,
we probably don't have any shoes or if we do,
it's something we've had forever and it was passed on to us
(at least we know it wasn't made out of old plastic bottles or tires
but something else [students laugh])
and uh, oh I guess maybe we've lost a lot of our teeth,
which is a shame like at 22...
and um, there's grime embedded in every pore and on our face
so of course we look a lot older than we really are
and we haven't changed our underwear—
well we don't have underwear, do we,
we might wrap a little something around,
but it's all pretty nasty so I don't think we want to go any further into that...
[O-sensei and students laugh]

But anyway, there we are, we, the hoi poloi, the mass, the wad,
and in the distance, we see a stately umbrella,
maybe on top of a stately elephant that's all decorated up with more jewels than we can even dream of,
and on top there's someone about whom they say:

"Oh, here he comes, the Poobah, the Grand Poobah"
and so we may prostrate ourselves in the dust,
or we may bow our heads, depending upon what the forms are,
and who knows what we were thinking at the time, but the verse is just saying:

"May all beings
Always keep to pure activity,
Moving past all contraction."

That's what we're supposed to think of when we see the aristocrats,
but we'll never know how people used that verse but in any case,
it is a good reminder, "seeing...whatever..."

Who is an aristocrat?
A member of a ruling class, or nobility,
which of course is all stuff that we've made up,
the stories about who's noble, who isn't, who's the ruling class,
well the person with the most stuff is the ruler, usually.
And deals were made, you've all read a little bit about history,
and stories about deals are coming out now, including royalty,
and their alliances with the "unspeakable", but I'll let you find out about that on your own.

So, we can say a member of the aristocracy,
a noble person, a person with tastes, manners, beliefs, and so forth
of the upper class—nouveau riche, let's say. So really, you look around,
what are you supposed to do?
People do like to have individuals that they can model themselves upon,
but that's turned into vast fields of muffintops
because certain stars, pop stars wear clothing that's too tight and too short for them.
Well, oh I bet it has something to do with money,
I bet the more you show, the more you go,
so those CDs are flying off the shelves,
or I guess to be more accurate today, concert tickets are flying out of the ticket booths because you never know,
you might catch a glimpse of something that will become international news. Isn't that crazy?

Is that the new aristocracy?

Well, we can peruse the word, we can look into it, and it has something to do with modelling, let's say, how we shape who we are, and it's often shaped upon and around those who are public figures.

However, here we sit, and we're practising,
and we are in a situation that's been spoken of
by Dogen zenji over 800 years ago,
and he said anyone can practise
and he meant it.

That was his view,
that issues of class, race, means, sex or gender, meant nothing
as far as practice goes.

Anyone with the will could do it and wake up.

This of course was acceptable to only a very few at the time
and any of you who have read the "Rahai Tokuzui" and I suggest that you do, and also to read or listen to the Roshi's teisho on the Bendowa
can recognize that here we sit in the most unusual of situations.

We live in a world where questions of race, beliefs, gender, are divisive.

Here we sit in a situation where those questions just won't be raised as a discriminatory tool.

They will be brought up so that we can look at them
and see the extent to which self-image—
contraction into a sense of self with beliefs about who we are and how the world is—

We're sitting in a place where anyone who has the will
can practise and wake up.
In the process of doing that, of course,
many of the beliefs you have about who you are and how the world is
will necessarily get smashed to smithereens
and you can scramble around like Humpty Dumpty
trying to glue them together and it's not going to work.

Now, a fundamental mistake that we make:
self-image has this belief that you have to "want" to do this,
and by "wanting" to do this, often what we'll mean is that we have to be gung ho:
"Yeah, I can hardly wait to get into that Hatto!" [students laugh]

"I'm going to practise my ass off!" And if we're going drag, drag...

"I don't want to" (the little thoughts)

"I'd rather be doing anything in the world, I'd rather poke my eyes out with sticks..." [students laugh]

that's the fuel for your practice,
that's the shit that makes the flowers grow [giggles]
Well, that's just one way of talking about it,
it's the cutting through,

it's seeing the entanglement of it

and recognizing,
even though the biochemistry of reluctance [O-sensei laughs]
is racing through your body,
having that moment where you think:

"Okay, I'm gonna do it. One foot in front of the other."

and you end up doing something that self-image had no intention that you do
because it is, inevitably, the destruction of that—
(those because there are many—)
contractions that come up that present themselves as a self
with a belief
about who you are and how the world is.

So another belief about that is that,
let's say the teachers, the monks, the practice advisors, and so on,
have wanted to do this ever since they came across the idea of practice,
like there they were, little undiscovered continents of purity, [students laugh]
keen as mustard to get in there and shave their hair off and sit down for hours on end...

Well, I don't know, maybe I'm the first to tell you,
but it wasn't like that for me.
Not at all.
And it is the taking one step after another
that leads you to seeing that all the stuff you think,
especially those words that form when there's no one in the room,
are thoughts.

You may be talking to someone if there's someone in the room, that's a different matter,
>but when you're talking to yourself,
you really are crazy
because you're listening to self-image
that does not know what it's talking about.

But you start to see that!
You start to be able to loosen that contraction by noticing
that for no reason whatsoever,
out of the clear blue,
like a flash of lightening,

You see that was a thought,
and you were caught up in it,
(because you don't see it when you are caught up in it)...
so you recognize that moment of lightening, and it might be tiny,
you know
you might not even notice it...really
but you notice that the bodymind has presented you with this beginning of an opening,
this moment of clear seeing,
of seeing that a thought has been seen.

You as the Knowing are knowing a known, which is that thought.

You're practising that moment of clear seeing
because the more you practise something, the better you get at it.

So you will have more moments of that happening.

That can be confusing too
because when we start to notice more thoughts,
self-image's conclusion of course is:
"I'm having more thoughts than I ever had before".

But it's not the case, what's happening is you're noticing more,
you're knowing more of the thoughts for what they are.

So, aristocrats again, back to aristocrats.
We don't really see any aristocrats around but what we can do is use the verse:

"May all beings
Always keep to pure activity,
Moving past all contraction."

as an encouragement to practise when we notice anything whatsoever.

Now, aristocrat also has the meaning in it: "noble".

Noble implies a certain dignity and courage,
a certain willingness to do the right thing
under sometimes extremely unsatisfactory circumstances,
like say, sitting an O-sesshin can sometimes be "unsatisfactory",
you know, the body, oh it complains,
it's not that the O-sesshin is "unsatisfactory",
it's that the body gets stressed and pulled
because it's a whole bodymind activity,
so it can be uncom—uncomfortable? [O-sensei laughs]
Oh, a wee bit uncomfortable
from time to time...

But yet, numerous people have managed to make their way through
by recognizing moment after moment is all that's every going on.

In the moment,
in the present,
there is only this moment,
with this bodymind wrapped around it.

That is what enables you to practise,
that understanding.

So when you see people, for instance,
who have sat many O-sesshin,
it can remind you that they did not necessarily sail through that O-sesshin
in a way that we might like to think is possible,
they may have had moments of recoil and reluctance,

but they stuck with it,
and they stuck with it...
and they stuck with it...
and there is something noble and dignified
about the possibility of each practitioner actually doing that.

People do notice, students do notice what others around them are doing.

They often can model themselves,
how they carry the bodymind,
what they do or say, on their seniors,
and that's why the instructions are very clear in this situation,
that you align with whatever the senior is doing,
because chances are they might know more as to what's going to happen
than the person standing in front of you might,
which in some occasions can be an associate student or a general student who has just started,
so you align with the person who is leading,
the more senior person in the room.

So people do notice, and how do we know they notice?
Well, sometimes they will actually express themselves
and I was reading the eMirror, which is our newsletter,
one student took the time to write:

"Thank you to Chunen angya for making everything, yes, even kinhin, more fun".

That's great! [students and O-sensei laugh]

And further on:

"to Saigyo ino for cheerfully changing my samu assignments every time I injure my back".

So the eyes are upon each and every one of us
and reminders like this are very helpful.
We can notice how people are, we can ask questions,
we can open up past our assumptions about who we are and how the world is.
The only silly question is the one that never gets asked.
Why is that silly?
Well because often those questions will fester away,
covered over with assumptions and beliefs about how things are...

"Oh, I can't ask that."

"Ooh, ooh, I'd better not comment on this thing because..."

That is listening to contraction into a sense of a self with a belief,
it's listening to self-image,
and it does not know what it's talking about.

So, with your eyes open, when you go around,
you start to be able to notice more and more clearly that each moment,
each being you see and interact with
can inform your practice,
it can remind you to actually practise in that moment.

The verse again:

Seeing aristocrats

(And they're the ones who throughout history were not covered with mud and crap.)

Seeing aristocrats,
"May all beings
Always keep to pure activity,
Moving past all contraction."

Thank you for listening.