White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 99: Seeing a High Minister

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 19th, 2011

Well. Here you are again!

How come?

It's interesting, it's an interesting question,
that "how come?",
because a lot of the time, self-image does not know.

Oh, sometimes if asked it will come up with a story about the "greater good"
and wanting to save the world,
or be a better person,
but it does spend, at least in my experience,
a lot of its time saying:

"No. NO! No no no no no... I don't deserve this, no.
Not me!
Maybe others, but not me. Arg."

But then there's something that can't be denied...
you find it impossible,
there's been that little, to quote LC,
"the hole in the wall, where the light comes through."

There's been that moment of clear seeing and so,
oh, we pull on our galoshes,
grumbling all the way
and end up here on this very bright morning with the snow outside,
the weather can't decide whether it's spring,
it will melt later in the day...
I mean it seems we just can't trust anything anymore.

Today's verse:

Seeing a high minister,
"May all beings
Always practise right mindfulness
And all their activities be true."

Well the day that happens, monkeys will fly—
oops! Dear me!

But what we have with all these verses, written 1600 years ago,
are reminders that
in the course of going about our daily concerns, we run across all sorts of things.

Well, we've been through kings and princes,
we didn't go through queens and princesses,
but that's okay, we've addressed that issue.
We see bridges,
we see people who are disciplined,
we see mendicants,
we see people begging,
we see people suffering,
we see people obsessed with pleasure,
we see a park,
we see trees,
we see gardens,
we see water,
we see tall trees,
we see dangerous roads,
and on and on and on...

the same things that people were seeing 1600 years ago.

So "seeing a high minister",
we're in the capital city of Canada so our chances of actually seeing,
in the flesh, a minister in the government,
are higher than they are if we were in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

we have television,
we have the Web,
we have newspapers and magazines,
we have radio
so contact 
and the opportunity to see for example, a "high minister", is high.

Now, these people are elected of course for the greater good,
to do what will be beneficial to the vast number of people who will never be in a position to be in,
in this case the Parliament, 
and make decisions.
But something happened along the way,
something happened to this parliamentary system when people would get together,
in Britain,
and point at one person and say:

"You go, and you represent us."

And the fellow—and it was a fellow—
would be more accountable because he'd have to come back and say what he did.

But then, you know what happens in situations,
someone says: "Well vote this way, if you vote my way,
in the long run it'll be better for you and your people,
and uh, oh here, by the way,
buy yourselves a pair of sleeves or some oats for your horse,
or come and have a drink with me at the pub."

So it begins: corruption.
What's corruption based on? Lies.
Lies people tell each other and tell themselves.

So when we're sitting and we are practising mindfulness,
what we are learning to see is all those expressions of patterns
that may not be exactly telling us the truth.

We start to see them for what they are:
something that bodymind has learned.

We didn't pick and choose,
I mean would you pick a pattern that says you're the best at something or other
and then have to live up to that?
Probably not,
in the harsh cold reality of the moment.
You don't need to do that.

Having a belief like that
just gets in the way of actually fully expressing yourself in the moment
at whatever task you are doing,
so the belief that one may be carrying around that you're the best at something
is what causes people to choke, athletes and so on.

There are all kinds of examples of that because if you're the best,
you have to prove that you're the best,
"Oh my! Look at all those people! Look at all those people...."

So energy gets redirected into that belief
and it becomes less and less possible to actually perform in that way,
so there's a choke that occurs.

This can come up in the doing of forms,
we see it,
we try so hard,
we want to do it perfectly
and so much attention and energy is going into the perfection
that we actually lose the capacity to notice what's actually going on.

So we'll be in a situation where we are the only person in the room
who is putting their hands down after a bow,
everyone else is not,
their hands are still in gassho but ours are not,
ours have gone down and then there's that moment [O-sensei claps]

Ooop! Back to alignment.

But mistakes aren't problems,
they're not even "mistakes " really
because the purpose of all the forms is to show you—
you the Knowing of experiencing, the Knowing of knowns—
how you are.

So at the moment when the hands have "taken on a life of their own",
you can see it,
you can know it

at that moment
you practise,
you actually feel the bodymind,

the whole bodymind
in the moment.

It's not that you're bringing more senses to the situation,
the senses are already all there,
but what information they're sending out has become hidden behind the balloon of the story about what's going on.

So you learn to see that,
you learn not to believe it,
you learn that the content,
no matter how appealing it may be,
is something that you really can ignore.

You don't have to go for the content,
it's same old, same old,
you're noticing the fact of a pattern
and at the moment of noticing a pattern,
it's a moment of clear seeing,
it's a moment of waking up to Reality, teeny tiny,
but you practise that moment,
that's what you're actually practising. 

And what happens when we practise something?
We get better at it.

We sometimes forget that, 
we sometimes forget that
whether it's skateboarding or embroidery, whether it's singing or painting,
whether it's mindfulness practice,
the more we do it,
the magic of Reality: the better we get at it.

Isn't that reassuring?

Well maybe not... [O-sensei laughs] ...
sometimes it might just get you through that moment.
Seeing a high minister,
seeing or doing anything,
we can be reminded of all beings,
we can have the wish or desire or the fairy tale
that all beings will always practise right mindfulness...

Now we know that's never going to happen..."always" is a suspect word,
we can use a moment of noticing something
to remember what it is we're actually doing.

We start to uncover the many ways we actually lie to ourselves.
We don't even know that we're lying
because we're not used to looking into moment to moment experiencing.

For example, a decision was made some time ago to go to a certain movie this afternoon.
And then a thought came up: "Oh, refreshment for the retreatants!"

And there was an immense sense of relief.

So I thought: "Wait a minute, hold on, what's going on here?
That movie deserves and needs to be seen on a sunny day
because coming out of that movie into the twilight of a perhaps colder by then, winter evening
might produce unpleasant feelings."

We start to be able to see more and more clearly
this process of perception and cognition,
of how what we choose to do when based in mindfulness,
produces choices
and actions
and activities
that are more true,
more appropriate to whatever situation we happen to be in.
And that's useful.

In day to day encounters,
students have talked to me about this because people are always asking others what they think about things.

"Do you think this coat makes me look....?" (fill in the blank).

What do you do in those kinds of situations?
What's the truth about that kind of situation?

Well the truth about that kind of situation is that you know what's going on
because you have established and are establishing a practice,
you know, through your own patterns,
through the experience of being a human being
more of the story, more of what's actually going on,
so you can make a better choice as to what to say.

Now to some people you could say: "It's hideous," and then there'd be [laughing]:
"Yeah, I thought so, I'm just checking with you!"

Or you might say: "I like the colour, maybe a different fabric?"

So you start to become more adept at how you conduct yourself, how you interact,
and that's surely got to be a good thing. 

Are you lying?
No, of course not, of course you're not lying,
you're being more and more truthful about what's going on.
Out of that also comes the capacity to perhaps ask or raise uncomfortable subjects.

Self-image has ideas about the kind of questions it should ask in daisan or practice interviews.
It self-edits and it goes: "No, I can't ask that because..."
and we fail to recognize that self-image does not know what it's talking about.
If it did, it would be sitting on the other side of that vast divide
that sometimes seems to separate the practice advisor from the student,
the Teacher from the student.

You can bring anything to talk about.
You may not necessarily like the answers.

Sometimes a practice advisor or a Teacher might blurt out: "That's really stupid."
It's happened.

You might then say: "Well, that person's being rude."
You can ask: "Are you being rude?" or "I feel offended."
And then that's another topic of discussion.

When you notice self-editing,
and this is really easy to notice once you kind of get the hang of it,
there's a little, when you look closely,
there's a little table inside your head
and at it there are sitting little people with books and highlighters
and they check these thoughts that come out of little machines like ticker tape,
and they redact,
they'll make big black marks: no, not this, no not this, no not this.

And if you believe that, have I got a bridge for you!
[O-sensei and students laugh]

Some of the stuff, you see, is very funny once it's exposed to the air.
We start to see that we have amazingly repetitive thoughts and patterns,
and we can see that this is, in general, how culture works.

We notice that more and more frequently now,
there are remakes of movies that were just made a few years ago.
Come on, people!
What's happening to creativity?
Where's the freshness?

Oh I see,
I buy that freshness, 
I spray it on 
and then everybody's going to love me.

We have commerce spinning stories for us.
We can't go out—
why would we want to?
—with our little sign saying: "Truth in advertising",
well you know that's not going to happen
because it's inherent in advertising that lies must be told
so don't waste your time.

What you can do is develop a more discerning eye, ear.
You can see more clearly the process of perception and cognition
and you can find things
more and more amusing.
And we can hold those in elected office accountable.
We can, when we suspect that we are being lied to,
raise the question.

If it's a face-to-face situation, 
raise the question.
We don't have to live like robots,
putting up with stuff,
but many many many many many millions, trillions 
of people over the years,
have put up with stuff.

I mean, imagine those poor people who actually built those pyramids
so that one guy or gal and their family could reappear in the afterlife.

One could say in a way they are, they have
reappeared in the afterlife as desiccated corpses wrapped in linen
that other people can study and gawk at...
but I have a feeling that's not what they had in mind when they built those pyramids.

So we see more and more clearly
the ways we lie to ourselves as a group, as indivduals.
Speaking of Egypt, it was interesting recently
with the raising up of people there to get rid of someone who had been around far too long and I mean,
when you have an old man like that
dying his hair black
and believing it looks good,
[students laugh]
there's something that happened to his cognitive powers, okay?

That in itself is suspect.

But apparently the army was told to go against the people
and there was a situation where they took their headsets off,
got on their cell phones and many called their parents.

"What do you think we should do?"

They said: "No no, don't go against the people."

So it didn't happen.
There are more and more pieces of information
so perhaps people are starting to understand things in a different way.

Perhaps as a species,
we're starting to see and question into some of the lies,


What you can do right now, moment to moment is:
feel the breath
sit up straight,
whether you're walking,
whether you're standing,
whether you're walking down the stairs to come for daisan,
you can practise.

Use the forms to look into the experiencing of the bodymind in each and every moment.

The verse again:

Seeing a high minister,
"May all beings
Always practise right mindfulness
And all their activities be true."

We have the capacity, so, take it on!

Do it, moment to moment.

Thank you for listening.