White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 91: Seeing Armored People

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, November 6th, 2010

It's a funny thing,
when we let it,
when we are willing to take the chance,


can show us what it is to be a human being.

It can show us misunderstandings.
It can show us that not only do we not know everything,
we really don't know anything at all.
That's kind of funny.

Seeing people who are disciplined,
"May all beings
Keep clear determination in practice
And not wander from the path of Awakening."


Universally, we pretend that we know, we know the right way,
we know the right way to be,
we know how everyone else should be.

Sounds kind of harmless,
but then we do things like kill others who don't believe the same thing that we do, or we make a "mistake",
we do something and self-image comes up going: "Oh no!"
and we start spinning stories,
and the stories are that we're so new at it, whatever it is,
how could we possibly know?
or someone distracted us,
how could we possibly know?

So we start to tell ourselves little... stories,
I won't say lies,
I'll just say little distortions about what actually happened
because self-image, that contraction into a sense of a self with a story,
likes to believe it is infallible,
and it will armour itself with all sorts of little quotes and sayings,
and all sorts of associations with power that it can pull out
to defend why it finds itself in the situation that it is in.

Now we all know, because we're sitting here in the Hatto,
that any time anything comes up,
we don't have to judge it right or wrong, we just have to see it for what it is:

a movement of attention,
a leaf in the wind,
a shift of colour, form, sound,
and a cue to
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze,
to practise mindfulness in that moment,

to practise
as a verb,
as something that you DO
moment after moment.

Today's verse:

Seeing armoured people,
"May all beings
Be armoured with integrity,
And move to the state beyond learning."

"Armoured people..."

Now, we're fortunate that we don't often see people bearing weapons.
In fact, I was reminded today of the surprise that the citizens of Ottawa experienced
way, way back in October 1970, mid-October 1970,
when the Government of Canada proclaimed the War Measures Act
and people woke up and went to work seeing soldiers on the street with big guns,
Parliament Hill occupied by the army.

As I said, we're fortunate in that other than for ceremonial occasions,
occasions that remind us of times when self-image with its grasping into self and other
and its myriad belief systems
gets into killing each other.
only on ceremonial occasions do we often see people wandering around with guns.
But the shock of seeing soldiers on the street changed the city on that particular day,
it changed the whole feeling of the city because people were feeling threatened,
something bad had happened.

But we can feel that sense of threat, when we create it,
when self-image creates threat for itself,
and armours itself with its various deceptions,
such as
ignoring what's going on,
pulling a blank,
pretending that it feels differently or has a view that is different than it actually has
because it doesn't want to say what its view actually is
because what if it's different than the Powers That Be.

So we shut up.
Is that integrity?
No, of course not, total misunderstanding of any situation.

What is integrity?
It's the situation of being whole, entire, undiminished,
and implies a level of living in wholeness and truth in all aspects of our lives.

So because we know that we can express an opinion, a point of view,

and because we know it may not be accepted by all,
and because we know what it really is:
a string of words coming up that throw another perspective on a situation,
we can feel our feet,
we can feel the breath,
we can sit or stand up straight,
we can open the eye gaze,
and we can say what we actually think in that moment.

That doesn't mean that that might not change over time with more information
because otherwise we're doing what the usual mind does, what self-image does,
which is locking ourselves down into a belief system which we can use as armour.
And we've all seen in our own experience how when we—
what shall I call it?—
distort the truth, when we say something that's incomplete,
when we say something that's not whole,
we start to have to scrabble to remember what the fuck it was that we said
so that we don't give ourselves away.

Oh, it's horrible, it's just too much work.

So we know that through practising mindfulness, and what is mindfulness?
Well, there's the activity of the actual practice
of using the noticing of any detail of experience,
any detail whatsoever,
to notice the rest of the details of that moment,
the breath being as a touchstone to that moment of experience.

Mindfulness is paying attention to the details and through this,
we learn to see beyond the contractions of conditioned reactions to our world.
Any pattern of self-image,
contraction into a sense of a self that has a little belief about how it should be,
and let's see, can I put it in a couple of words?...

How should self-image be? How does it think it should be?

Oh, wait a minute, I know!
It thinks it is perfect all the time.
It thinks it knows everything
and if anyone suggests that there might be something outside of that view,
it reaches around in its little bag of tricks to come up with justifications about why it is indeed perfect.

When you start to see that, well, for heaven's sake, you're seeing the beginning of politics.

So what do you do when you see this?
What do you do when you see the grasping after details that will prop up a point of view?

Well, you're seeing dharma, moments of experience,
you're seeing moments that you can use to actually put forth the effort to practise
and open past that moment of conditioned experience
and notice the rest of what's going on:
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling,
candles flickering,
stomach gurgling,
your hair growing,
breathing in and out,
hands, feet,
everything that's going on in that particular moment, rather than settling for some tattered old story.

So you keep on doing this and doing this and doing this, you keep on cutting free of that armour,
and over time,
and what length of time is it?

Well, it certainly depends,
but over time, when you are living your life with integrity,
doing the best you possibly can to say what you mean and mean what you say,
and using as best you can each moment to see more clearly into how you are,
how the world is,
to see context and content:

you can move past any conditioned experience.

It just doesn't happen anymore,
and you move into the state (the word used in the verse),
the "state beyond learning".

Now that doesn't mean that one cannot still learn things,
but what that does mean is that in a situation a teacher has dealt with everything,
everything has been worn out,
all associations, all conditioning:
worn out,
no longer happening.

And in reading through stories about the past,
the history of Dharma,
this is the point where Teachers may leave and go off wandering around on their own,
or travelling, and at some point are called by students to teach,
as the Roshi was when he came to Ottawa.
Called by students to teach,
the Teacher settles down and transmits what they've learned to others.
And so the Dharma is perpetuated, it's carried on.

And seeing into the actual nature of experiencing in this moment,
ultimate freedom,
freedom from all conditions is made real
and if that were the case for everybody,
we never would be seeing armoured people on the streets,
we never would be hearing about the atrocities,
some of which, a tiny amount of which we hear about every day,
they just wouldn't be happening because they couldn't...

But, oh sigh, dear me, that's just a fairy tale. Isn't it?
Well, I know for sure it's not going to be happening in my lifetime,
or in yours most probably,
but instead of wasting energy into moaning and whinging and complaining and sighing and regretting,
what we can do is feel our breath in this moment,
notice the experiencing of this moment and do whatever we do with integrity.

We can walk the talk, 'cause that's the way it has to be... The verse again:

Seeing armoured people,
"May all beings
Be armoured with integrity,
And move to the state beyond learning."

When you're "armoured with integrity",
you don't need to be armoured at all because nothing can hit you, as it were.

It's a lot lighter than carrying around all that stuff.

Thank you for listening.