The Four Noble Truths

A Series of Dharma Talks by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

1: Life is Suffering?

by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 7th, 1998

This Dharma talk series is looking at "The Four Noble Truths", the Ariya Saccani" "Ariya sathya", the Pali word "Saccha" and the Sanskrit from that word, "Sathya", "that which is" or "truth". The Four Noble Truths are four basic facts about our experience. And they are noble because they are true.

This ancient description of our existential situation and the means to resolve it were the Buddha's first Teaching. They were given to his first five students after he himself Woke Up to the actual nature of experiencing. This Teaching was the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma and it set the Transmission of this Lineage of realized practice in motion.

In a teisho entitled "Becoming Buddha" from "The Complete Teachings of Reality" series, Zen Master Anzan Hoshin says,

"These facts are: first, that all conditioned existence gives rise to dukkha or unsatisfactoriness, suffering, contraction, and confusion. The second Noble Truth is: this suffering, this dukkha is fueled by the mechanism of grasping, of trying to hold, to hold on to something when it cannot be held and by continually misunderstanding the nature of our experience."

Now the good news; Anzan roshi goes on to say that,

"The third Noble Truth is that it is possible to end this. The Buddha himself had experienced the end of this dukkha, this suffering". And the fourth: "That it is possible for others to experience this by practising."

This Dharma Talk is looking at the first of these four which says that all conditioned experience gives rise to dukkha or unsatisfactoriness. What does this mean?

One of the things that puzzled me for a very long time before I became a student of Anzan roshi was this expression that I'd heard which said that "this life is suffering." "Life is suffering." That struck me from my own experience as not exactly true. One translation of the Buddha's presentation of the first Noble Truth is,

"But what, oh monks, is the Noble Truth of suffering? Birth is suffering. Decay is suffering. Death is suffering. Sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, are suffering."

Now is that what he actually said? I don't think so. Or if that was what was actually said it probably has become, obviously, not probably, obviously, very distorted over 2600 years being heard by who knows how many ears and then being repeated by who knows how many mouths many of which weren't practising, as we know it.

The Buddha is reported to have said in this translation that birth is suffering. Well, I myself have never give birth but I have worked in the delivery room. I have been present when beings gave been born, and not just human beings, other beings, and indeed the mother suffers in the sense that there is pain as the soft tissues are stretched, as the muscles contract and release, as the bones of the pelvic girdle separate to make room for a body with a head that is bigger than the tunnel through which it must travel. This must hurt. Any being given birth does let those around know that it knows that it is experiencing something extraordinary; something that is stretching the being beyond anything they thought was possible. But it is possible and it is what every mammal does.

So what's the Buddha really saying? Anzan roshi says that the Buddha is pointing out that the body is subject to birth, old age, sickness, and death and that you can't hide from the uncertainties of life. You can't escape. You are alive. The bodymind is alive.

The Buddha goes on to say that death is suffering. The decay of the bodymind is what the bodymind does and starts to do it right after it is born: losing cells, getting older. Decay of the bodymind is what the bodymind does and then the bodymind dies at some point. Death is something that anything that lives, does. Death is a fact. That which is born, brought into existence will die. Nothing can or will remain static and unchanging. Everything arises and decays. Birth, old age, sickness, and death, are what life does.

Life is not suffering. Your life in this moment is not something to be borne. It is the vivid display of this moment and be it birthing or being born, crying or laughing, falling down and skinning a knee, or feeling the last breath leave the body, it is always this moment. And in this moment there is no suffering. There is only the vivid display of this moment. This is what we must practise. This moment is the only moment we can practise because we don't know if there will be another moment.

So, I think we can conclude that, with people being lazy, and from the beginning of language apparently liking to come up with pat phrases - bumper stickers before there were bumpers - we have the pat phrase, "Life is suffering". This is a misunderstanding. This is a whisper game. Don't be fooled by it. The Buddha may have said something like, you're alive; you're in this bodymind; the bodymind is subject to birth, old age, sickness, and death, so since this is true don't waste your time in recoil and fantasies. Accept it as what life does. Birth goes on so live with it. That's reality, you can't change it. Decay goes on, accept it, you can't change it. Death happens to anything that is born. This is reality. There's nothing we can do because nothing will stop this because this is what life does.

Life is not suffering. As the Roshi's translation says,

"Conditioned experiencing is suffering. Life is life. Experiencing which is conditioned by anything whatsoever, so that there are obstructions or obscurations, closes down, contracts, and filters experiencing. Everything that is experienced is filtered through that obstruction and thereby distorted."

Now, pain, a pain in the knee for example, that's something that I'm sure, I'm just guessing here, I'm sure we've all experienced it; a pain in the knee when we are sitting is what the bodymind is doing and there's very good reason for that because we are being stretched. The bodymind is being stretched. When those experiences, when those sensations are attended to openly we can notice that those sensations are not constant, they are not solid, and they are not a thing. Sensations flicker and change, sometimes opening completely and dropping away.

We have a tendency to give rise to thoughts about that pain and to allow attention to move into thoughts about the pain. The pain and the thoughts about the pain are two entirely different things. As we allow attention to fall into the thoughts we are distancing ourselves from this moment of experiencing, from the experiencing of the sensations. We are creating a concept of what pain is, what it means, what the consequences are and, "Why me? Why me? What did I do to deserve this pain?" We become so busy with our fantasies and our stories about what we are experiencing that it is, indeed, as if we are no longer experiencing those sensations. Everything is filtered through the obstruction we have created. Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, are obscured by the story we have created. That causes us to suffer. The space of open experiencing is corrupted. This is suffering. This is dukkha.

"Dukkha" has its roots in Sanskrit. "Du" means bad, "kkha" means pace. The word "dukkha" is describing bad space. A classic metaphor is of the hole that the axle of a wheel passes through being broken or blocked. So, fundamentally, with dukkha there is a sense that things don't work, things are not working out for us. 'Why me?" and, of course, things aren't working out because we are creating the obstruction which has broken the openness of experiencing into self and other, this and that. When we notice that this is what we are doing we can practise: we feel the breath rising and falling in the body in this moment. This is life.

The Buddha went on to say that, "Sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, are suffering." This translation is a little bit more "on". This is something we can understand more clearly because although we can grieve and feel sorrow, we can cry when something unfortunate happens; we need not focus on that sorrow, on that grief, on that crying, to the exclusion of everything else that we are experiencing. When we do we cause ourselves to suffer. This is the creation of "dukkha" of bad space. Practice teaches us how to open around this, to give it room, so that it can unknot itself.

We do this creation of suffering over and over again. For example, there are things that we want and we can pine over these things believing that if we just had them everything would be all right and we are so busy focusing on what we think we don't have that we don't notice what's going on. We don't want to be lonely. We can become so busy being contracted around this fear of being lonely, so busy with this lonely self we have created that we don't even notice that there are other beings around us, maybe laughing, maybe just breathing, maybe walking by, maybe growing in a pot, maybe curling around our leg trying to get our attention, and we don't notice that is impossible for us to be alone.

There are four kinds of "dukkha" described: the dukkha of not getting what we want; the dukkha of getting what we want and losing it; the dukkha of getting what we don't want; and then, the dukkha of dukkhas, the inevitability of suffering that follows along after the introduction of the image of a self. So, the moment contraction occurs in the bodymind and obscures open experiencing we have self and, necessarily at that moment, the misunderstanding that everything else is other. ~ And let the suffering commence. And it does until we are fortunate enough to arrive in a place where we can receive the Teachings of Reality and where we can practise.

A recent innovation, I think it is North American Buddhist, is that there is something called "necessary suffering". "Necessary suffering" being, of course, birth, old age, sickness, and death. And that there is "unnecessary suffering" which is, of course, the thoughts and feelings that we use to create a self that is separate and distinct from everything else and is suffering because the universe is not supplying it with what it wants. When we see those thoughts and feelings we can open around this "unnecessary suffering". Well, again, this confuses the issue for me. Birth, old age, sickness, and death, are what life does, period. And then there's suffering which is "treatable".


We sit. We feel the breath moving in and out of the bodymind. We see thoughts as thoughts. We see feelings arising. We feel sensations. Any time we notice anything at all about how we are we practise, we are practising the practice of Awareness Itself. Whatever arises and falls comes and goes as the activity of Awareness Itself. Awareness cannot be conditioned by what arises within it. Awareness is the only condition.

Zen Master Anzan Hoshin says, in "Round and Bright", "that true reverence is not a feeling about something. It is respectfully allowing a space in which something can present itself on its own terms." So in that sense, the Monastery, Dainen-ji, is a place of reverence, in the sense that it provides for us a space in which anything can present itself on its own terms and be opened. The bodymind, your bodymind, is a space which you can allow anything to present itself on its own terms. That space is aware, that space is open, that is the space that arises as all beings. That space is you. Take care of it. Open obstructions that try and pull together a self that is separate. This (separation) is an illusion, it is impossible. So practise.

As this moment arises within Awareness, Awareness arises as this moment. Anzan roshi says, "In order for our practice to be complete practice it must be born anew in each moment as each moment. Open completely to whatever arises."

2: Grasping

by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 21st, 1998

Having only begun to practise and study with Zen Master Anzan Hoshin a week or two before, a student whilst standing with the Roshi as he talked to other students, nervously picked up "Chanting Breath and Sound", the chanting text for White Wind Zen Community, and longingly said, "I want to learn all of these chants!"

The Roshi, turning, glared, and boomed, "Don't do that."

The text fell from suddenly nerveless fingers. At that very moment the student understood. There it was: the Teachings; complete; everything. Quickly came confusion and shock to cover up the understanding. But please, let me explain. Anzan roshi says, in "The Rabbit Killing Tree",

"Any moment of grasping, any moment of denial, separates us from this whole moment of experience. This moment of breathing, this moment of being alive, this moment of experiencing, this is where our life is. To hold to any thought or feeling, any understanding, any concept, any viewpoint, merely increases our conflict. To search for moments of happiness through trying to be a particular way or to have a particular state of mind is like the poor man sitting by the tree"

And you'll all remember that is on page six of "Before Thinking", waiting for the tree to do its stuff.

If we look at the moments of our life when we have felt happiest, most complete, these are the moments in which we expected nothing. They were not moments in which we were trying to acquire something or trying to deny something. We were neither trying to become anything nor to distance ourselves from anything. We were simply present. As you remember from the first Dharma Talk on the Four Noble Truth, the First Noble Truth, as presented by Anzan roshi, is, "Conditioned experiencing is suffering." Experiencing which is conditioned by anything whatsoever so that there are obstructions or obscurations causes dukkha, bad space, suffering, fundamentally a sense that things don't work, things don't work out for us. Of course they don't. We are the obstruction which breaks the openness into self and other, this and that.

The student couldn't rest with this moment. Self-image reared its ugly head and wanted an award for being good, wanted to be seen by the Roshi as keen, intelligent, a worthwhile student, maybe even better and more important than the others. This grasping, this becoming a some "one" separate from the moment, obstructed the moment of open experiencing. As the Roshi has said, "Knots were tied in space."

The Master bellowed, "Don't do that!" and a brief flash of understanding, a moment of terrifying openness, which self-image hates because it knows it ceases to exist. The student recoiled, forgot to practise, and self-image started to generate its stories. The space of the moment became even more dense, now there was no open experiencing. There was a student and The Teacher. Maybe he was angry. Maybe he would toss the student out. Oh woe. Oh suffering.

"He can't talk to me like that! Why is he talking to me like that? I could ask. I can't ask. He'll think I'm even more stupid." The student froze in the dukkha of dukkha; the suffering of suffering.

Remember the four kinds of dukkha? The first: not getting what we want. The student wanted what; praise, recognition? It was a habitual response. There was no reasoning behind it. It was simply, "Look at me. Look at me." Self-image never knows what it wants so in the glaring light of truth is shone on it, it fragments, it doesn't know. But then what do students know?

[Long pause]

Exactly; that's why they are students.

The second dukkha is getting what we want and then losing it. The student had wanted to find a Teacher, to spend time with that Teacher, and to communicate with the Teacher, and was, even when there were no words. But if there were no words, if the moment wasn't filled with, "yada-yada," the usual mind's understanding of communication and interaction falls apart. Perhaps self-image needs to generate some glue to keep this moment of intimacy from disappearing. Hah! Self-image wants to be in control, wants to seem to understand, and so grasped at a chance to demonstrate what a good student it was thereby sustaining what it wanted, interaction with the Teacher, but on its own terms. As it doesn't know anything, doesn't exist, there were still knots tied in space.

The third dukkha: getting what we don't want. "Don't do that!" Attention from the Teacher that is apparently, to self-image, negative. That was not what was wanted at all.

And the fourth dukkha, the dukkha of dukkha, the inevitability of suffering that follows along after the introduction of an image of a self. Some "one" suffering because of suffering and the knot becomes pulled tighter.

Fortunately for the student and for all of you, what the Zen Master was pointing out was that whatever arises and falls, comes and goes, is the activity of the awareness it is arising within. Awareness cannot be conditioned by what arises within it. Awareness is the only condition. You are not that grasping; you are not that "self".

This talk is on the second of the Noble Truths which is that suffering is caused by grasping. The Buddha says the root of dukkha is grasping. Anzan roshi says that this is not cutting deep enough. And it is not. Over the years this has become an idea of grasping and then that kind of changed so it has turned into wanting, or desiring, things, such as money, power, sex, love, food, and so on. It has been propagated that the treatment for this is a turning away from life, a denial. This is a misunderstanding.

A student came to me after the first Dharma Talk in this series and said, "I wish I knew this, years ago. I grew up being told that life is suffering and the root of suffering is desire and this desire must be denied." We can see self-image folding in upon itself over and over again, becoming denser and denser as attention focuses and fixates, not only on desire, but on thoughts about what having these desires, random thoughts and sensations in bodymind, say about us, because desire is bad. Isn't it? We know through this practice that our usual categories of good and bad, hope and fear have nothing to do with the basic questions: What's going on really? And who is this? We answer this question with the whole bodymind over and over again as we sit in zazen, walk in kinhin, as we practise this moment of noticing how we are, this moment of weariness, this moment of self pity, this moment of clear seeing, of insight, of prajna, for this is what noticing anything at all about how we are is. If we notice we are confused this is a moment of clarity. We use the breath as a touchstone as we practise mindfulness of body, breath, speech, and mind. We only grasp if we have some sense of lack, a sense of poverty, which inevitably arises through believing that we are, in some sense, as self. As Anzan roshi says, "Anything which presents itself as a self cannot be what it pretends to be." And why is that? Because it is known; it is felt, and so cannot be the knower.

Poverty mind: It can happen over the simplest things. First thing in the morning your eyelids snap open; fresh, clear, nobody there. And then BANG, "I don't wanna get up. Ooh I'm so tired. Oh, five more minutes. That's it; oh my goodness." And a self has been created that believes itself separate from the world, from other, and from its own life. As soon as we grab on to that tired self, it conditions everything we experience.

Anzan roshi says in "The Rabbit Killing Tree",

"As soon as you grab on to one thing you exclude everything else. As soon as you identify with something it is like tying a tourniquet around your life. You cut off the flow, the circulation, the life of your life."

Now an example, a metaphor could be, a little child playing with a tiny, soft, purring kitten. The child likes playing with the kitten, likes it a lot, wants to keep it, wants to hold it and hold it - tighter and tighter and tighter until "haaa" it scratches and hurts the child. We fall in love, frighteningly often it seems. We fixate on the object of our adoration and the space becomes claustrophobic. The loved one often starts to suffocate, driven away by our desperate self. Or back to the new student of Zen Master Hoshin, she's found after a life-time of looking the Teacher, the Zen temple within which to practise and study with body, breath, speech, and mind, the Way of Liberation, shoju-noshu, the practice of Awake Awareness. "Well! Better get it". Better learn all of these chants. Better grab the text. Better say, to impress the Teacher, perhaps, with our sincerity, "I want to learn them ALL."

Zen Master Anzan Hoshin with grand-motherly kindness boomed, "Don't do that!" And the student - every day she chants, and some days like today, when the Roshi is not in the Hatto, I even lead the chants for you and others. What can you do? The moment you notice a movement towards any sort of grasping, and the creation of a self starts to make the space bad - practise.

Next week, the Third Noble Truth: We can end this suffering. That's right.
How you can end the suffering, the dukkha caused by grasping. O-sensei whispers, "Nirvana".

Thank you for listening.

3: End It

by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, February 28, 1998

Previously, we have looked at The First Noble Truth which is that conditioned experience causes dukkha, suffering, unsatisfactoriness. The Second, this dukkha, this bad space, is caused by grasping; grasping after experiences, objects, anything to stop the petty nattering of self-image as it moans and whines. Today we are looking at the Third of the Noble Truths: The truth of the end of suffering; the truth that there is an end to dukkha.

Traditionally, what is experienced after these burning flames of craving, grabbing, clenching, have been seen for what they are and extinguished, is called "nirvana" which literally means "blown out"; or as Anzan roshi has said, "The complete removal of grasping after a self."

Previously, we had the student standing as the Teacher talked to other students. The student reached out, grabbed a chanting text, and pulling it, and pulling the space tight, said, "I want to learn ALL of these."

"Don't do that!" That simple phrase bellowed by Zen Master Anzan Hoshin, exhibiting grandmotherly kindness, for a moment that knot in space created by the student by the grasping after some "one" who could have some "thing" was cut through and opened by the sword of the Roshi's pointing. But only for the briefest of moments and then space closed down again and became hurtful, caused the student to suffer, self-image turning on that spit, turning in space, being burnt by the flames of grasping, by the flames of the klesas of passion, aggression, and stupidity. And then what happened?

Suffering, dukkha, is not pleasant. It is surprising that we make a choice to do so much of it over and over and over again. We experience a moment of clarity, a flash of understanding, contraction is released into open space, everything is round and bright for the briefest possible moment. That is who we are. That is what we must practise.

In the story of the student and the teacher there are many things to look at. There is far more to look at through the lens of our own experiencing than meets the eye or the ear at first glance. One day, the student, after having stirred up a very poisonous soup flavored with all sorts of stories about, "why he had said that to me" asked the Roshi, "Roshi, what was wrong with what I said? I just said I want to learn all the chants. Isn't that a good thing to do?"

The Roshi explained, "It isn't what you said. It is how you were when you said it."

So, we've been told that practice and all the forms of practice are available to us to help us look into how we are moment after moment after moment. Everything, all the Teachings, are available for us, all around, all the time. But students can only understand what they can make themselves available for. So, "It is how you were when you said it", of course, became another bone of contention; something to chew on, something for self image to use to justify itself. Well, I was fine. I was just interested. I guess I was a little tired at the time. [O-sensei laughs] I just don't know why you say these things to me. [O-sensei laughs].

And then one day -and we don't know when it is going to happen - we are sitting and we see the thought come up. We see the movement of attention into the propagation of that particular state. We see it clearly enough that we are actually able to practise that moment. And what happens? It releases and opens. We are practising ourselves as we are.

So I would go back to the Roshi and say "Now I understand… if I, what if…perhaps, if I had spoken more slowly or bowed more completely?" Well, perhaps, that is partial.

And the Roshi would say and has said again and again and again and again "It is not what you said, it is how you were, when you said it. This is what you must see."

So to reiterate, the Four Noble Truths: The first one: conditioned experiencing causes dukkha, bad space or suffering. The second Noble truth: this conditioned experience is caused by grasping. The third: we can end this grasping, this bad space, this dukkha . And fourth: How? By practice.

Now these were, as we have seen, these four noble truths were presented by the Buddha to his first five students and it is said the Buddha based his presentation of the Four Noble Truths on the four questions that doctors, who were his contemporaries 2600 years ago, used in contemplating the treatment of the patient. The first was: is there disease and if so what is the disease? The second: What is the cause? Third: Is there a cure for the disease? Fourth: If the disease is curable, what is the proper treatment?

So the first, suffering, dukkha, bad space is the disease, not life. Life is not a disease, life is life. Suffering is the disease. What is it caused by? It is caused by grasping, it is caused by the tendency of self image to want to grab on to things to make itself real, to pull things to it, to create something that is solid, something that will let itself forget the pettiness and the insubstantiality of its very existence. Is there a cure for the disease? Yes, there is. There is an end possible to this suffering.

What is the proper treatment? Practise. And if we practise, over and over and over again, this moment, over time the tendency of this clinching, of this acquisition of self, is extinguished. We are no longer fooled by it. We, ourselves, are ennobled by the application of the Four Noble Truths to our own moment-to-moment experiencing.

Now curiously, I found out just before coming up here that one of the meanings for the words "noble" is "free from pettiness and meanness". The word itself comes from the Greek, "nobilus", "to know". Now I don't know if this is absolutely true, but I thought that this is so interesting because if we know how we are, if we know really what it is to be a human being, we practise that knowing and through that can free ourselves from the pettiness and meanness of self-image.

Nirvana is the release from, the absence of the longing or craving, for grasping, for pulling into being all the obstructions that obscure open experiencing. Nirvana is a condition in which our human potential, our capacities, the capacities of body mind are opened. As Dogen Zenji says in the "Fukenzazenji", "traps and cages spring open". And he goes on to say, "the doors of the treasure house fall open for you to do with, as you will". The treasure house of your life as it arises in this moment.

Sakyamuni Buddha lived and taught for 45 years after he woke up, he lived and taught in this world. For the Buddha, Nirvana and this world were one and the same. Nirvana is not a concept to be pondered and understood intellectually but is the actual realization of the clarity and perfect freedom of this moment, unconditioned by the contractions of self image. It is this moment as it really is. How do we understand it? We understand this through our practise of this moment with this bodymind.

Zen master, Anzan Hoshin says in "The Great Matter",

"Each moment presents us with a most precious opportunity, a most precious gift, whether we have a stomach ache or we are sleeping, or our bones hurt, or we are cold, whether we are feeling happy or we're meeting an old friend, no matter what our experience is, our experience arises in and as this moment. And this moment is the very gate, through which we can enter more completely into ourselves, as we are".

Thank you for listening.

4: Practice

by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 7th, 1998

We will continue our examination of the Four Noble Truths. The first; conditioned experiencing is suffering.

The second: the cause of this suffering is grasping. We grasp if we sense that there is something lacking, a sense of poverty present, the sense of poverty arises as Anzan Hoshin roshi says, through believing that we are a separate self. Anything, which presents itself as a self cannot be what it pretends to be. Why? Because it is known; it is felt, and so it cannot be the knower.

There is an end of suffering, end of conditioned experiencing. How do we end it? Through practice: this practice; this lineage of realized practice which was set in motion when the Buddha presented these Teachings to his first five students. Now in various translations and texts, the means to the blowing out of suffering, the blowing out of the burning flames of passion, aggression and stupidity, is presented as the Path or the Way. Now this is true and it is not true. It all depends what we are talking about. And as the Roshi has said, "It is important for us to understand our practice because if we misunderstand we will practise that misunderstanding".

Now the clarity of Anzan roshi's Teachings show us that the Path, the Way, and practice are one and the same. The Roshi wrote a gata (a chant) called the "Shinjin Gata",

"Body arises as mind
Mind arises as body
Right here, right now,
The way attains itself."

You are the Way. As you practise this moment, as you see obscurations arise and open them by feeling the breath in the body - seeing the seeing, hearing the hearing - you are practising the Path. Experiencing is open, clarity presents itself. You are turning the Wheel of Realized Practice.

Right here we have another opportunity to see how misunderstandings arise.

As I said a few moments ago, often the Fourth Noble Truth is stated as being the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is presented using different words, such as "Right Understanding" or "Right View", and in other texts, "Perfect View".

The second step of the Eightfold Path is; "Right Thought" or in other texts, "Perfect Resolve".

The third: "Right Speech" or "Perfect Speech".

Fourth: "Right Action" or "Perfect Conduct". Right here I am getting a little bit scared - "Perfect conduct" in order to realize the Path? Hmmm.

Fifth: "Right Livelihood" or "Perfect Livelihood".

Sixth: "Right Effort" or "Perfect Effort".

Seventh: "Right Mindfulness", in other text, "Perfect Mindfulness".

And the eighth: "Right Concentration" or "Right Meditation" or "Perfect Concentration".

Now this does seem to be rather confusing and complex, doesn't it? It seems a bit like a whole lot of rules, and I'm not really quite sure exactly what is being talked about. But, as we know if experiencing is open, if this moment is open and contraction is released, then this moment is free of obscuration and obstruction. It is whole thought. The creation, the coming into being of "a self" which is a contraction, which believes it can hold itself apart from everything else that is going on is released and results in experiencing in this moment.

So we understand through this practice that seeing and hearing, tasting and touching, feeling and smelling arise in this moment as this moment ; thoughts and feelings arise in this moment and are practised and can be released into this moment. And so we begin to understand reality, the reality of our practice, of our life, more and more clearly. We see things for what they are. Thoughts are seen for what they are. The reality of their appearing and disappearing presents itself moment-after-moment.

As we continue to practise and continue to open to this moment through the forms of our practice, through zazen, kinhin, bowing practice, oryoki, chanting, the tendency of self-image to separate ourselves, to hide from open experiencing in a fabricated self is released. What we think becomes clearer as obstruction is released; what we say, when we open our mouth to speak. And as we speak we feel the tongue against the teeth, we feel the breath passing over the soft tissue of the throat, we feel the vibration of the sound, and the words we utter become clearer. They are unobscured by self-image trying to say the right thing and do the right thing. What we say or do is what it is.

Now, the same clarity starts to manifest in what we do, in the action we choose to take. Action which is unobstructed, not contracted, which is open and generous, is dignified, is an expression of the dignity of life as it arises in this moment. As our practice matures we may find ourselves making career changes, changing what we do for a living, changing how we are so we are more in line with the Dharma, with the Teachings of Reality and with vows that we take, should we take them. So more and more we start to understand what is spoken of as "Right Livelihood".

As we practise, as we feel the breath, rising and falling in the body, as we see the colours and forms, hear the sound of birds; each moment opens more and more fully if unobstructed. Present in this moment, as the energy of bodymind is clarified in each thing that we do, nothing is left behind. This moment is traceless. We can now start to understand the seventh step of what is presented in a linear fashion of "The Eightfold Path", mindfulness, "Right Mindfulness", the practice of mindfulness, which clarifies misunderstanding into understanding, practice. At this point "The Eightfold Path" has circled or spiraled and we realize that out of our practice, what was spoken of as eight rules, in fact, is just what we do when we do what we do from clarity.

In "The Straight Path", Anzan Hoshin roshi presents the discourse by the Buddha on "The Four Noble Truths":

"And again, monks, one lives completely viewing the Four Noble Truths as mental states. And how, monks, does one live completely viewing the Four Noble Truths as mental states? Here monks, this is suffering. Thus one knows it as it is. This is the arising of suffering. Thus one knows it as it is. This is the ending of suffering. Thus one knows it as it is. This is the way to the ending of suffering. Thus one knows it as it is.

"Thus one lives completely viewing mental states as states, internally. One lives completely, viewing mental states as states, externally. Thus one lives completely viewing mental states as states, both internally and externally. One dwells observing mental states as phenomena which arises. One dwells observing mental states as phenomena which decays. Thus one dwells observing mental states as phenomena which both arises and decays. When the mindfulness 'These are mental states' is established, there is just knowing and just mindfulness."

One practises. You practise, as you sit facing the wall, you are practising yourself as you are in this moment: realized practice, the practice of Awareness Itself, the practice of Waking Up.

2600 years ago, Gautama Siddhartha woke up to this, to the actual nature of experiencing. He recognized that all things rise and fall and nothing that is known can be what Knowing in Itself is. That recognition, that practice of this moment has been Transmitted from Teacher to student through a 2600-year Lineage. We call it Zen. Now here in this practice we are taught to practise what Dogen zenji, our Lineage Ancestor and the Founder of Soto Zen taught, "Shinjin Gakudo: Study of the Way Through the Bodymind".

The Bodymind can only arise where it is arising, which is right now in this moment. Feel the breath arising. Anzan roshi instructs in "Before Thinking",

"Practise whatever presents itself to you. Practise this thought, this sound, this feeling, this tension in the shoulder, this shortness of breath, and this ease of the breath sliding in and out. Practise this joyful posture, practise this contraction in the belly, practise whatever is present, whatever presents itself to you. Practise this present moment. As you do so, you enter more and more into the body, into the mind, into the moment, and greater and greater depths begin to show themselves to you"

I recognize in this moment, complete as it is, right here, right now, with the practice of right here, right now, obstruction and obscuration are released. Grasping is released. Suffering is ended. Move on.

Now, remember our student, our student who grasped and closed down with, "I want to learn the chants"?

Remember Zen Master Anzan Hoshin, "Don't do that"?

What happened?

Well, the student practised this moment and this moment and this moment and chants and sits and walks and eats in this present moment, just as you are doing.

There is a traditional gata which is marked outside the gates of Zen Monasteries. It is chanted during sesshin. It is written on the block of wood with the wooden striker in the Hatto; the characters on the block of wood on the wall which is called the "han", say "Daiji", or "Great Matter". The chant, which is one of the ones that the student learnt, is called the "Daiji-no-ge". So I will ask my Dharma sisters and brothers, monks, who are in the room, in the Hatto at this time, to join me in chanting the "Daiji-no-ge".

[Gong is struck twice]

The Great Matter is birth and death.
Life slips past and time is gone.
Right now, Wake Up! Wake Up!
Do not waste time.

[Gong strike]


Thank you for listening.