White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 9: When Giving Something Away

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, January 17th, 2008


...you can
when giving something away, raise the verse: 

"May all beings

Be able to release everything
With hearts free of clinging." 

The reality is everything is given.

Our life.

Our breath.

Given for, as the Roshi has said,
"for no reason at all." 

Now, giving is enjoyable.
Giving can make us feel "good".
Perhaps we start to like that "feeling",
perhaps we start to identify ourselves as a "giver",
and without noticing it, maybe,
we start to expect something in return. 

As we start to notice this,
and as we practise at the moment of noticing,
we might start to see that we are
clinging to, counting on, expecting, enjoying, identifying with,
that good feeling,
or that expectation of something in return.
We might start to notice that giving can turn into barter. 

Now the verse, 

When giving something away,
"May all beings

Be able to release everything
With hearts free of clinging.'" 

...reminds us we are learning, with practice,
to "...release everything with hearts free of clinging". 

That "clinging" describes the unquestioned patterns that are woven into an image of a self,
a description which we may not see
or may be loathe to release
which has placed value on almost everything.

The "clinging" may be to the thing we are giving away,
or to the idea we have of how the receiver should receive it,
and the sense that something is now owed to self-image by the receiver. 

You all know what I mean.
It's the stuff of drama and comedy.

"Drinks and dinner and later I'll get..."
[students laugh]

"I'll pretend to enjoy whatever they're enjoying even if I hate it
and maybe I'll end up with a spouse..."
right up to gigantic corporate donations that are tax write-offs. 

Barter. The content may vary and some of it can be interesting,
but what we are interested in, here and now,
is the fact of the patterns;
the movement of attention into the content
so that it defines what course of action we chose to take. 

Of course, the first choice of action for a practitioner
is to practise basic mindfulness when noticing anything
rather than allowing that "clinging" to propagate. 

"Hearts free of clinging." 


The organ ticking in the chest?

Is that what is being talked about? 

No one knows, exactly, 
to what extent the cells of the bodymind are affected by movements of attention
but it can be experienced.
Self-image, a pattern that defines how it is and how the world is,
and contraction is apparent,
but we are used to unquestioningly calling that "me"
without seeing how attention narrows
and that most of whatever else is going on seemingly vanishes.
An interaction has occurred,
something has been given,
something has been received,
reactivity may have surfaced,
and usual patterns may have played themselves out. 

We give things.
We give gifts of objects.
We do samu.
We give the gift of offering up our time and energy to support the practice.
Self-image likes to think that the object or the activity of bodymind is being given freely
and we may get the feeling that we "are a good person",
and that we "are really practising".
Then one day,
we may notice that when what is given is received
and the other doesn't respond the way we think they should
all of a sudden there's someone,
feeling angry, offended, slighted, unacknowledged, vindictive, vengeful,
all sorts of states.
We've become it.
The state has taken over and is defining who we are.
No problem. 

What to do?

You guessed it.
All at once:
Practise at the moment of noticing anything. 

Now, it's easier to do this in the monastery.
The monastery itself is gift, a reminder,
which gives us not just a zafu and zabuton in the practice hall,
(that we might be secretly be regarding as "mine")
but the gifts of ikebana, sho, plates, teisho, dharma talks, robes, food, forms. 

"Shin" means heart, mind, essence,
that which is not the actual flesh and bone and marrow,
shin the calligraphy of which is just outside the door to the Zendo,
to the right,
as you're facing the Zendo door,
"shin" means heart, mind, essence,
that which is not the actual flesh and bone and marrow,
"shin" allows us to see contraction and it is affected by it.
The contraction is felt in the flesh, the bone, and the marrow,
and "I",
the body and the mind, bodymind, contracts and suffers. 

But in that contraction and suffering 
there can be a strong sense of "me",
how I am,
self-image wanting to define that moment.
The forms offer up in many different ways tools for practising in that moment. 

Now sometimes students speak of an increasing sense of "aloneness",
separation from the usual world as they start to practise.
Now, we are alone.
We may all breathe in the same air as each other
and breathe it out
but we are alone.
We may affect each other and everything else
with what we do
but we are alone. 

Knowing, that which knows, and can make choices,
knows all of the dharmas
as the chance to know all the experiences arising within experiencing
and makes the choice to practise.
Now perhaps it is that sense of knowing
and wanting to know more about this
is what brings us to practise,
disguised as a bodymind with a name and number
and lots of other definitions.
As we practise, we start to see the definitions for what they are,
movements of attention towards,
focusing on
one aspect of experiencing to the exclusion of the rest. 

No problem.
That's not what you are.

Just see it.

Practise mindfulness
by feeling the breath,
sitting or standing up straight,
opening peripheral vision.

When you do that,
there is an opening that occurs that is vaster than what you had been experiencing.

The pattern is not being fed.

It may still be there
but it is not a problem
because it is balanced out with all the other moments of knowing,
all the other dharmas.

It is not being fed.
Over time it ceases to "have a life of its own"
and you start to see that you are most certainly not those patterns.

The information is still available,
information that comes up when we see a pattern is still there and it can inform choices. 

The first choice for a practitioner, of course, is to practise...
basic mindfulness.
Use the forms with as much care and detail as possible
and see what happens. 

The next time you give something or are given something,
you'll be sure to notice more details arising around the activity of giving and receiving.

No matter what content you may notice there is no problem.
You are not those thoughts.
You are not those patterns.
They're just something going on.

And there's a knowing of them.

There's no need to follow them.
There's no need to do anything about or with them.

Just feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
and enjoy the gift of the life that is living as you
(as well as, perhaps, any chocolates, or books, or...)
[students laugh] 

Start to notice, "with a heart free of clinging"
the true endlessness of giving and receiving.

Thank you for listening.