White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 98: Seeing the Elderly

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 5th, 2011

[O-sensei whispers:]



Yeah, you!
And you... and you... and you...


you're getting older and older...
and older...
and one day
[speaking now:]

You'll be elderly... [students laugh]


"Me?" "No, there's gotta be a way, there's gotta be a way"...

And so we seek out ways, ways of occupying our time,
really, between now and THEN,
you know what I mean.

Today's verse:

Seeing the elderly,
"May all beings
Be able to decisively cut through
And not follow contracted conduct."

Well, it's always a good idea, when anything is seen,
when anything is recognized with the sense bases,
that we remember to practise,
we remember to feel the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

That whole bodymind and what is being known by that whole bodymind,
what is being sensed by it,
is not who you are,
you're the Knowing of it.
So Knowing practises in this moment,
without discrimination as to the object that is known.

In today's eMirror, there's a quote from
"Without Difficulty: Words on Trusting Awareness" by the Roshi
and after the sitting, at some point during the day,
you might want to have a read of it.

... the seen, the heard, the touched, the smelled, the tasted, and the cognized. (...) The coming and going of each and every thing is the nature of each and every thing and presence as the coming and going of this moment. Being without aversion in this case means not falling into rejection but not falling into acceptance either. (...) Moving in the One Way means making no move against how reality naturally expresses itself but instead just sitting up straight, releasing strategies and allowing reality to be as it is. Be without difficulty.

Well, what does this have to do with seeing the elderly?
Well, it's the fact of the seeing.

Now, there may be all sorts of thoughts that come up,
there may be all sorts of feelings that come up
and in my experience,
being officially one of the elderly,
this involves things like pushing you out of the way on public transportation.
[O-sensei and students laugh]

It's an amazing thing, somewhere after 50,
you kind of start to become more and more invisible.
That can be handy at times,
but you of course,
none of you here would do anything like that.

The seeing sees what it sees.
At the moment of noticing you're seeing something,
you're practising,
you're feeling the whole bodymind in the whole moment,
and you would not push an elderly person out of the way
so that you could get a better seat on the bus, but it happens.

Now, in thinking about this Dharma Talk, I thought:
this is actually really difficult because we must remember what we're talking about
is not the object of the senses,
not what has been perceived,
we're not really talking about how one should treat those who are elderly,
but quite naturally,
when contracted conduct is not followed,
things can be—
how shall I say it?
—more civilized in how we treat other people.

So I went and looked at several other sources for translations of this verse. Another one is:

If they see an elder,
They should wish that all beings
Be able to clearly cut off
And not practise evil ways.

... which of course brought into mind: witches!

How, we have these pictures of elderly
with warts and this thing and that thing,
and moles and hairs growing and somehow this is evil.
Perhaps that's what they meant, I don't know,
but I found it interesting.

If we see an elder in the context of practice,
we are seeing someone who has been around,
has been practising longer than we have.

What does that make them?
Well to keep things simple, they have,
through the act of applying their bum to the cushion
over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again,
whether they wanted to or not,
they most likely have,
or will soon, take monk's vows.
So that means they're wearing black.
Those are your elders in the context of sangha.

What does this mean to you as students?
It means they are resources.
It means that when questions come up, you can ask them.

Now, I'm speaking right now from my own experience,
and this is my own point of view, as it were.

I've had students come into daisan
and bring up something that has been bugging them for a long time,
like a splinter in their thumb,
and it's developed a lot of pus around it
and it's really painful.

So I say:
"Listen, why didn't you come and we could talk about this splinter before it reached this point?"
And they say:
"Well, I wanted to but I didn't want to bother you."

Now, in a social context,
which this is not,
that may or may not be useful,
so I'm not going to comment on the usefulness of that in a social context,
but the more I continue in this environment,
in this community, in the Northern Mountain Order,
the more I realize the only reason I'm here is to be "bothered"!
[O-sensei and students laugh]

Without the "bothering", what is there?

This of course establishes,
needs to have established a certain understanding,
and the understanding is this:
if I am doing something that requires my full attention,
when you knock on the door or when you send an email,
I will say to you:
"I'm doing something right now that requires my full attention, are you available in ten minutes?"
I will tell you honestly what's going on.

I think that's a fair deal!

You have something,
I'll tell you something,
both are true to the best of our ability, so bother away!

But be prepared,
you may ask a question and self-image may not like the answer it's going to get,
but that's what happens in practice interviews,
that's what happens in daisan because bear in mind,
that contraction into a sense of self that has its views about how it is
and how the world is,
wants to be correct.
It's totally convinced it is correct and gets really pissed off when you say:

"Look at you.
Look at self-image,
look what it believes in the face of your actual experiencing in this moment."
It says things like:
"I know you really don't have the time to see me..."

Really? How did you find this out?
Am I not looking at you with these very eyes?
Are you not looking back at me with those very eyes?
Are we not arising in each others' minds in this moment?
How can you believe that bullshit you're telling yourself?
But this happens all the time, it is not uncommon.

As we start to, through recognizing when we notice anything,
any seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling,
any thought,
when we've recognized it for what it is,
and practised that moment of recognition
by allowing the whole bodymind to be recognized,
we start to see more clearly what's actually going on,
the Reality of this moment.

As the weeds that we've woven around us by believing the many stories of self-image start to disentangle,
we start to experience freedom
from conditioned experiencing
... and there are traps with that too
because self-image will go:
"oh yes!!"
and if it's an engineer, it will get out its little calipers,
it will get out its little computer
and it will start to try and chart out,
to draw a diagram of what it had done to experience that moment of freedom.

When it's pointed out by a well-meaning elder
during a practice interview, or during daisan,
it will say: "well, it's really useful and that's just the way I am."

That's a pattern speaking.
You're being invited, cajoled,
maybe embarrassed,
you are being shown in many ways the process of perception and cognition. 
You are being given means to see how you are in this momentand to practise at that moment of clear seeing
so that getting caught in the weeds happens less and less.
And indeed, sometimes it's not comfortable.
Sometimes your face might redden,
sometimes you might get all moist around the eyes,
sometimes you might shoot venomous darts from the eyes,
all kinds of interesting things can happen...
(and I've been on both sides of it so I know what I'm talking about) ...

Those are not you!
They're things that bodymind has learned to do: patterns.

So with the willingness to
walk, walk, walk, walk, walk,
sit, sit, sit, sit, sit...
...over time, patterns wear out.

Now, back to the verse:

Seeing the elderly,
"May all beings
Be able to decisively cut through
And not follow contracted conduct."

Now, another interesting thing:
it doesn't matter how old you are when you're practising,
because in that moment when you're seeing how you are,
when you are as you are,
there is no life or death,
there is no old or young,
there's just this moment.

And again, if you notice a statue of Manjusri around the monastery,
if you read in the eMirror under "Who, What, When, Where, Why?" about Manjusri,
you'll uncover this,
here's a quote from "The Secret Life of Manjusri" series by Anzan Hoshin roshi:

Manjusri, the oldest and most significant of the bodhisattvas, the embodiment of prajna, transcendent wisdom, depicted as a youth because whatever arises is always fresh and an understanding which can meet experiences clearly must also always be fresh, always be new, always be renewed with each and every moment.

The magic of Reality.

breathe in and out.
Sit up straight.
Pull up through that breastbone.

Have a good time!

Why not?

This breath could be...
yes, this one right here....
you're breathing it out...
could be the end of in breaths...

Thank you for listening.