White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 93: Seeing People Debate

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, December 11th, 2010


with every breath that breathes you,
you have an opportunity to
practise the whole bodymind
in the whole moment.

You see and you're learning to see,
and you're seeing more clearly more often,
patterns that have formed that tend to grab attention,
or that attention is pulled toward
that narrow the field of experiencing,
that condition
what you do experience and what you do notice.

So you notice attention caught up in something,
some dharma,
there's a moment [O-sensei claps] of noticing it that's bright and clear,
that's where you practising
because you want to have more and more of that clarity.

That is possible.
How do you know it's possible?
You just experienced it.

We're not used to that,
we're always looking around for the rules,
we're looking around for what we should do.

Who is looking around?

Self-image, looking around.

Self-image is afraid of so many things, isn't it?
It's afraid, basically, of being wrong,
of being somehow called out,
of being seen through.

The basic thing that we're learning to see,
that we're learning to see through,
is the fact that there is no such thing as is described in those multiplicity of moments of experiencing
of patterns that we call 

The verse:

Seeing people debate,
"May all beings
Be able to counter
All inverted views."

"Seeing people debate? I guess that must mean that it's okay to argue with the Teacher..."

Of course it's okay to argue with the Teacher,
but the Teacher is going to say:
"Here, look in this mirror that I'm holding up in front of you"
[O-sensei makes "wham wham wham" sounds that indicate the mirror is reflecting a wavy image and students laugh heartily]—
Fun house mirror—
and you see
what is being pointed to
is a contraction into a sense of self that has learned to be a certain way in situations.

So arguing is not what's referred to here with the word "debate".

Think about it, this text, the original text,
The Practice of Purity, which comes from the Avatamsaka Sutra Chapter 11, Flower Garland Sutra,
at those times in India,
which is the place apparently where over some years (nobody exactly how many years)
some people (nobody knows who they were, nobody knows how many there were)
but some said, "look at this debating thing that we do,
which is quite interesting.
It's a form of entertainment,
there's a formal engagement when two people agree to discuss in a certain way, a certain topic.
So one person takes this view,
another person takes the opposite view.
Or, one may be the questioner and one may answer the questions."

It can be very entertaining because what happens is
people are exposed to logical thinking which can in fact be very funny.

We have all come across versions of this:

Does Shikai O-sensei have a tail? No, but she has two cats. Do cats have tails? Yes.

Shikai O-sensei has a tail, I win! [students laugh]


So we have people in northern India debating, engaging in,
we could say
a discussion or a consideration of something
by presenting ideas on both sides of an issue.
This travelled to Tibet and was picked up by Tibetan monks
and perhaps you've seen on videos or in film and so forth, or pictures,
people or monks debating.
When the person who asks the question is asking the question,
they will go [O-sensei claps]
they will clap each time their question is presented.
You've seen that, it's a very physical activity,
and like all things that have rules,
they can become formalized and then just the rules are acted out
rather than it being the lively discussion that it was intended to be.

And in fact, the transition say, from cultures, from languages, across languages,
presents interesting moments of knowledge.

In Middle English, the word "debate" came from the Old French debatre: to batter.
So you can see where our argument comes from
and how many discussions about anything today, these days,
have reached the point where it's a battering of one against the other.

You're wanting to hit the nail on the head
and drive that opponent into the ground.
So arguing is a way of life, confrontation, a way of life.
Is it useful?
Obviously not.
Better that people engage in crump or hip hop dance offs, in my view,
it's more fun to look at. [students laugh]

Anyway, that's just my point of view.

Seeing people debate,
"May all beings
Be able to counter
All inverted views."

So, an "inverted view" would be a case
where attention has gone into a view
that has been presented because of previous experience
and has become a pattern,
something contracted that says: "well this is how things are".

What we get a chance to see in the monastery—
and the whole monastery is devoted only to this—
we get to see the process of perception and cognition, each one of us.
There is no one apart from it.
So you started last week?
Just because you started practising last doesn't mean
that you have to confine yourself to only noticing certain things
because you're "not worthy" of noticing other things, not at all.
The whole environment is here so that you can see more and more clearly into your own experiencing.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a student, in fact an associate student,
which means coming to the monastery once a week,
and he remarked upon how crowded and jostling and chaotic the front hallway had become after sittings.
I said: "Really? So, tell me more."

He said: "Yes, when people leave, nobody seems to know what to do."
And then he rephrased it more accurately and said:
"I don't know what to do!"
because of course that's another pattern,
we look out from behind our eyes and say everybody else doesn't know what to do,
rather than looking into our own inverted view.

I said: "Okay, tell me more, what happened?"

He said: "Well, I noticed that I didn't want to do the wrong thing."
And then he said: "I know that was a thought, that was a known, that was a contraction, that was self-image."

So I said: "Yes, good job! What happened then?"

He said: "Well, I looked around because I remembered vaguely that you said:
'When you don't know what to do, look at what a senior is doing'
because logically, they might know."

So he looked and saw a formal student who was not bowing when someone stood at the door to bow to leave.
That student was taking care of his boots, taking care of his coat,
getting ready to go out into the cold
and then the associate student noticed a couple of other more senior students who were doing exactly that as well.
So he said to himself: "Well, that's what I'm going to do" and it worked out.

A form is a way of using the bodymind to the best possible advantage
for seeing the process of perception and cognition.
So the student discovered for himself how contraction into a sense of self can confuse the issue.

There is no rule that says no matter what people are doing
they have to stand there in the front hallway, one foot up in the air, one hand with a boot in it,
and balance and turn around, hop around, and bow to the person who is leaving.
That's not the form. [students giggle]
I've seen it, have you not? [O-sensei and students laugh heartily]
I'm not making it up, folks!

When one allows oneself the opportunity,
takes the risk to actually recognize that concentration into a sense of self
that is causing confusion by saying things like:
"Oh, I'd better ask someone about this".
Instead, the student said to me yesterday:
"I realized I didn't have to ask anybody because the environment was full of information
when I allowed myself to practise
which stopped my attention from folding into that view that doesn't want me to make a mistake anytime, anywhere.
Is that self-image?"

Now, I might have been tempted to say: "No, you're way off base"
just as a joke of course,
but we don't do that, do we?
We say what we mean, we mean what we say.

I said: "Yes, that's it, good for you, keep it up, good work".

So "Seeing people debate..."
We don't often get a chance to see people debate,
maybe around a presidential election,
or election of a prime minister there might be a debate,
but certainly it seems to have turned into a lot of—
what's the word?
mudslinging, character assassination, non-witty witticisms and so forth... but that's just my view.


"May all beings
Be able to counter 
All inverted views."

is something that we can wish for because if everybody did it,
wouldn't that be great?
If everybody took care and saw their own process of perception and cognition
and saw how when something occurs
there's a flare in the bodymind,
a flare of energy,
and you recognize once you've seen it,
at that moment,
you practise the seeing.

You're not practising to rub that thing out or to get rid of it,
and if it comes up again,
it doesn't mean you're a bad student, 
but that's what self-image will say because oh my goodness,
it's got a lot of scripts.

And as I say, I'm always delighted to hear something unique and different
that self-image has come up with,
so please don't hesitate,
if you notice you may feel embarrassed because you had a thought,
or self-image had a thought,
or a thought came up that self-image rushed in
and judged it to be inappropriate,
that's probably one that I might like to hear about. [O-sensei and students laugh]

So, the verse again:

Seeing people debate,
"May all beings
Be able to counter
All inverted views."

Ah, now, in another text, translated by another translator, this verse was given as:

Seeing people debate, 
"May all beings
Be able to refute
All erroneous doctrines."

In the context of the formal, say old Indian or Tibetan monastic debates,
that might be okay,
but it's not something that I think any of us would want to engage in, really.

We have to remember: person, place, appropriateness and amount.
So you may come across someone,
particularly another student,
who is saying something that you don't agree with as a doctrine,
or as something that is part of the Teachings,
just ignore the tendency,
or practise when you notice the tendency to want to refute that "erroneous doctrine",
because really, it's not your business,
it's something that they have to deal with.
It's a moment of experiencing,
a contraction into a sense of a self that has a little belief about what's going on.

Practise at that moment
and you can always seek out a Teacher or a practice advisor and ask about it,
but don't get involved,
especially in social situations,
in refuting other people's "erroneous doctrines",
you will become a virus on the social scene,
people will avoid you, you know?
No one likes a know-it-all.

But, when we see inverted views,
our own,
we can open them through the process of practice.
When we see the inverted views of others,
we may start to develop
and may have started to develop that karuna or compassion
that recognizes that being a human being is the same for all human beings,
we can't work with their inverted view,
but we can work, as it were,
we can practise with what we recognize in ourselves,
and that's the way to go.

Now, I'm sure there will be some who will want to argue with me about this and I say:
bring it.

Thank you for listening.