The Touchstone

A Series of Dharma Talks by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Stone with a pattern that looks like a person sitting in zazen

The Touchstone 1

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, October 20th, 2012

A touchstone is something that we can use to tell what something is and what it isn't. When we hear the word "touchstone", most people have a sense of what the term means but might not be that clear about it. So, first of all, what is meant by the term "touchstone"?

A touchstone is a simple but reliable tool used to distinguish real silver or gold from look-alikes. A lump of ore pressed against black quartz left a streak of metal that could be compared to other samples to determine authenticity. For instance, most of us even as kids knew about fools gold, or "pyrite" which might have the brightness and shininess of gold, but a quick test with a touchstone would reveal its hardness and brittleness, completely unlike real gold. The word "touchstone" is also used as a metaphor for judging the relative merits of an idea or concept. In either case, what is basically being spoken of is a means of discerning what is true from what is false.

Similarly, we use the touchstone of the breath in our practice, as a means of distinguishing between what is true and what is false. If we are not feeling the breath, then our attention is not open; if we can feel the breath, then we can open attention further to reality. Anything can seem to be true because our thoughts are like fools gold - shiny, shiny. You have only to reflect for a moment on the number of ideas you've had in the past that seemed truly wonderful at the time but turned out to be truly awful to see this is true.

Self-image, as a process of contraction, is very good at distorting context or even creating the illusion of contexts that do not exist in reality. We see this happen each time we get lost in thought, each time we wake up from a storyline about who we are and what everything else is, and what seems to be going on. So we need a way of seeing our experiencing in the light of open, expansive attention, and for this we use the touchstone of the breath.

There are many suttas of the Buddha directly concerned with mindfulness of the breath and this topic has been spoken of in numerous teisho and Dharma Talks presented by the Roshi as well as Dharma Talks by Dharma Teachers and practice advisors. There is extensive instruction during preliminary interviews with students before acceptance and review of the instructions during interviews after acceptance. As well, the Roshi has provided commentary on the Sattipatana sutta in his book "The Straight Path: Zen Teachings on the Foundations of Mindfulness". So this is an extremely important aspect of our practice.

During daisan with students, once they have taken their seat and are settled into posture, I frequently ask if they are feeling the breath. Usually they will say "Yes". But when I ask them where they are feeling the breath I often see confusion in their faces. Sometimes they will place one hand on their midriff, the center of the belly, much as one might do if one were experiencing a stomach ache. At other times they will place their hand in the center of the chest or wave vaguely towards the nose and throat. And they are dismayed when I say "well, that's not what you were instructed to do". I need to keep coming back to this point because it is a very basic aspect of mindfulness practice, but students' understanding drifts and they will often rework or forget the instructions. Not that that's a problem because practice advisors and Dharma Teachers will review the instructions again and again as many times as is needed, just as the Roshi did with us when he met with us in dokusan.

The instructions are to feel the breath at the diaphragm and tanden simultaneously and in the same breath. And to use these sensations as a touchstone to open to the sensations of the whole body sitting, together with seeing and hearing. Simultaneously. In the same breath. Perhaps we should talk a little about why we do this instead of directing attention to the belly or the sinuses or the trachea or upper chest.

The activity of thoughts seems to take place not just in the head, but around the head. We have a cluster of sense bases in the head - eyes, nose, mouth, ears - so the head receives a lot of attention to begin with. When you are lost in thought, your attention has moved to the area of the head and you can become so absorbed in the swirling of thoughts that you can forget altogether that there is more to the body or to reality than just what's going on in your head.

The activity of feelings and feeling-tones takes place in and around the area of the chest. Feelings and feeling-tones tend to 'pool' in the area of the chest. Thoughts and feeling-tones are not separate. In fact what usually happens is that a feeling-tone will come up and then thoughts will spring up out of the feeling-tone to justify or explain the feeling-tone. The more thoughts you engage in about the feeling-tone, the more you propagate the feeling-tone and the more thoughts it will produce. So a kind of 'loop' forms -- thoughts, feelings, thoughts, feelings, and your attention is drawn into the loop. This is why, when you have a really juicy storyline going, it can seem so difficult to let go of it. It's not enough to try to stop the thoughts because as long as the feeling-tone persists, further thoughts will come up to fill it out. In any event, this area of the head and the chest is a high-traffic area and it receives a LOT of attention.

What feeling the breath and body and opening to the sense fields while sitting zazen reveals and expresses is the open space of your own experience beyond your stories and misunderstandings about who you are. Feeling the breath is a way of undercutting the traffic - the movement of attention - towards the head and chest, and the fascination with the endless looping of thoughts and feeling-tones. Instead, we mark the moment with the touchstone of this breath. We touch the breath and ground ourselves in this moment.

Feeling the breath is not about air-flow. It's not particularly about the movement of air entering your nose, or moving down your throat or filling your lungs. It's about feeling the diaphragm and the tanden. The diaphragm is the large muscle that runs across the top of your stomach, just under the ribcage. It is the movement of this muscle that causes your lungs to fill and empty, and without it, your lungs would be useless sacks. The movement of the diaphragm is quite a large movement and easy to feel.

Feeling the sensations of the tanden together with the sensations of the diaphragm is important because the sensations of the tanden are lower still in the body. To release your storylines, the ways in which you confuse and delude yourself, you must be able to ground yourself in whole bodily sensation.

The tanden is a hand's width below the navel, just above the pubic bone. It's an area of the lower belly that always remains soft, even if you were to tighten all of the rest of the muscles of the abdomen. And the blades of the hands should be in contact with that area of the belly wall if they are positioned correctly in the Dharmadattu mudra. Many people say initially that they can't feel the sensations of the tanden. That isn't actually true. You can feel the belly wall with your hands and you can feel your hands with the belly wall. It's not that complicated. But as your practice continues and attention becomes subtler, what will happen is that you will notice more and more sensations in and around the tanden.

So let's say you're just beginning your practice at the start of a sitting round, or you're refreshing your practice during one, or perhaps when you're doing informal practice. You notice that there are thoughts. Not a problem, just don't bother completing the sentence. Instead be intentional about what you are doing. Open attention to the sensations of the diaphragm and simultaneously feel the sensations lower still, at the tanden. Use these sensations to open to whole-bodily sensation and the seeing and hearing -- all at the same time, all in the same breath. It's not something that's done in 'stages', one thing at a time. Attention can open to many sensations, many details simultaneously and that is what you need to practise. And you need to practise it with each breath, breath after breath, as continuously as possible, throughout your sitting round.

Now, of course you're going to drift. And that's not a problem either. As soon as you recognize that there are changes occurring in your posture, or that your eye gaze has shifted, or that you're starting to follow a storyline, come back to the breath at the diaphragm and the tanden. Use these sensations as the touchstone from which to open to the whole of your experiencing instead of becoming distracted by wandering attention.

Now for a bit of 'trouble-shooting' -- complexities that students bring to this very simple matter of feeling the breath and the tanden simultaneously.

One concern that students raise is that they can't feel the sensations at the diaphragm and the tanden at the same time. That's not true. You do have to practise it though. And the more you practise it, the easier it becomes. If you're used to focusing on one sensation at a time, what you will find is that the sensations change as you open to more sensations. For example: If I told you to focus all of your attention on the middle finger of your right hand (and I mean really focus), you would experience the sensations of that one finger as being quite defined in their own way. If I then said "Okay, so now release the focus on that one finger and allow attention to open to the sensations of the whole hand, as well as all of the fingers while still feeling the middle finger", what you will find is that you can indeed feel the whole hand, all of your fingers, as well as the middle finger. But the sensations of the middle finger will feel slightly different because you're feeling it in the context of the sensations of the whole hand. Similarly, when you feel the breath at the diaphragm and the tanden simultaneously instead of focusing attention on one or the other, you will notice that the sensations of both together seem lighter, more effervescent, not as defined as "this" and "that".

The next area of complexity students fall into is what we sometimes refer to as 'mapping'. "Mapping" involves self-image taking up the stance of a watcher that is guiding and directing your practice. This is what happens when knowing is congealed into the sense of a knower or self or watcher. So what will often happen is that it will come up with a list of 'stuff' for you to pay attention to. It may even MC your sitting, announcing "feel the breath at the diaphragm; now feel the breath at the tanden; now feel your hands". etc. etc. etc. That is no more than habitually and self-consciously watching yourself. Don't follow it, don't avoid it, don't bother struggling with it. If you're really doing the practice, your attention is much lighter and much quicker than that. By the time it says "Feel the tanden" you're already feeling the tanden. You'll soon realize that there's nobody, no real intelligence that's there listing all of this stuff. It's almost like the words to a song echoing meaninglessly in your mind for no reason at all. It doesn't mean anything about you or your practice or what is really going on. It's just thoughts doing what thoughts do - thinking. Just stay with the instructions and continue to do your practice and it will dissipate by itself.

What often happens is that students will ignore both the diaphragm and the tanden in favour of the belly or upper chest or nose. Or they will skip the diaphragm and direct attention to the tanden; or they will skip the tanden and direct attention to the diaphragm. But anything you do in your practice will have an effect on the whole bodymind, so it's important to understand and apply the instructions as clearly as possible. When I say that changing the instructions, doing something differently has an effect on the whole bodymind, I mean that quite literally.

Over the last twenty years or so of presenting these instructions, I can often tell when a student comes into the daisan room to meet with me, how they are feeling the breath just by the way they walk into the daisan room, their facial expression, their posture, their deportment. The students who skip the diaphragm and direct attention to the tanden are usually engaging in a kind of concentration practice. This tends to make them quite heavy-handed, quite joyless, not only in their practice, but in their lives. The students who skip the tanden and direct attention to the diaphragm will tend to be more spaced out and prone to engage in feeling-tones and storylines, and not just in their practice but in their lives as well.

It's not that we need to cut off all concentration, or cut off all ability to feel. But these must be balanced with the rest of the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world around us: our sense fields, whole bodily sensation, environmental mindfulness. To use the musical metaphor of an orchestra: Having only piccolos or only bass drums makes for a very dull composition. You need a range of instruments, a range of notes. You have these at your disposal, but your preference is to make use of far less than you are capable of.

Paying attention to the sensations of the breath, the real details of the real breath as it really is just brings about what is actually going on. It is not a matter of drilling down into the sensations to dig up some special thing, some kind of hidden ore that will make us spiritual or saintly. Or to construct some miracle device out of them that can let us float above our real lives. The simplicity of the practice is so honest and direct that it allows us to be really honest and direct. This kind of integrity is really rare, really special, it is certainly more essential and spiritual than what labels itself as being spiritual.

Today, during this Dharma Assembly, please let's use the time we have to practise the Suchness of the posture, the Suchness of breath, the Suchness of our confusion, the Suchness of our clarity. Let's use the precious touchstone of the breath to unfold Suchness and be enfolded within Suchness.

The Touchstone 2: Countless

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, January 26th, 2013

Breathing in, sky becomes breath. Breathing out, breath becomes sky. The breath comes and goes; thoughts come and go; feelings come and go; countless experiences come and go. Practising the posture of zazen, feeling into the countless sensations of the whole body sitting, feeling the breath and opening to the senses, we begin to understand, to experience directly, the vastness and richness of this life.

For moments here and there.

In truth, most students are really doing this practice of opening to Openness for only a split-second here and there in the course of a half-hour sitting round. It's not that you couldn't do this more continuously, that your practice couldn't be more open and clearer, but only that habitual patterns and tendencies are strong and attention will tend to follow them. Habitual patterns of attention are rather like dry channels that have been cut into a landscape by streams of water. Just as water will follow channels in the ground, your attention will tend to fall into and follow the narrow channels of habit and tendency instead of opening to richness.

So for a moment you may be sitting zazen, and you really are feeling into the sensations of the body sitting in an aligned posture, feeling the movement of the breath at the diaphragm and tanden, feeling your hands in the mudra, your legs crossed, your backside on the zafu. Peripheral vision is open and you are hearing whatever sounds there are that present themselves, and then a thought comes up: "I have a hole in my boot. I'm going to have to put my wet sock back on and my boot and it's going to be cold and nasty. Damn, I've got to remember to go look for new boots. I hate shopping and I don't want to spend money on boots. I'm saving for a new phone. Oooh, a shiny new phone. The breath. Right, the breath. I have to feel the breath. But oooh, that phone. No, feel the breath. Right. Breathing, breeeeeeathing....hmmm. There's a hole in my boot."

Of course, that's a very brief description of something that could come up. But sometimes these channels are cut very deeply and the compulsion to follow them is quite compelling. It could be about one's child or husband or wife, or an illness or a situation at work or financial difficulties, some past event, or what to make for supper. Thoughts and feelings come up simply because they can and they'll go on for as long as you focus on them and give them attention.

Attention can be round and wide, or it can narrow and congeal. The tendency is to focus attention and allow it to congeal into knots of contraction. These knots can vary in duration, from a few moments to hours, days, weeks, months, even years of contraction. And they can be about anything. I'll just mention here that what seems 'light' or 'open' to you may not be light or open at all. It's just as easy to be contracted over thoughts about what enlightenment might be like as it is to be contracted over breaking up with your girlfriend. Contraction comes about through a narrowing of attention, a congealing, directing and focusing of thought and feeling that becomes increasingly internalized.

Most people don't really question into what the process of contraction is, what really happens. But some do recognize that there is this tendency for people to become very scattered and spaced out or to become overly focused, obsessed with thoughts and storylines and feeling-tones. And this has given rise to many techniques and strategies designed to calm the mind and control the scattering or the focusing.

Any strategy or 'technique' you apply to bodymind already has an agenda because it is the product of the presumptions underlying how you experience the world and yourself which are themselves products of the process of locating a sense of a "knower" or "self-image", an "I". The agenda is to strengthen the sense of an "I" or a "self" that is "doing" the practice. If you engage in such practices, what you will actually be doing is practising self-image and if you practise self-image, what you end up with is self-image.

If you truly want to Wake Up, YOU need to get out of the way and allow the bodymind to sit as bodymind. You need to shut up and attend to what is already going on and allow the countless experiences to reveal themselves as the Total Field of experiences as the radiance of the luminosity of Experiencing itself. The bodymind is already breathing and it doesn't need your help, your direction, or any interference from you. It doesn't need you to concentrate on it or regulate it or count it. All that you need to do is feel into the breath at the diaphragm and the tanden but don't stop there. Use the breath as a touchstone, a place from which you can open to the whole of experiencing.

Recently I had a conversation with a student about a technique they had encountered, called something like 'conscious breathing'. This involved following the instructions of a recording and deliberately regulating the breath by focusing on it and counting it. Counting the breath is a practice used widely by many groups and organizations and students sometimes ask me why we don't use it, so I will explain. I have done this practice of counting the breath. In fact, earlier on in my own practice, the Roshi instructed me to do it for a time so that I would understand it and would be able to explain to students why we don't do it. Its aim is to settle and calm the mind by directing attention to a point of focus -- the breath and the counting. This will have the effect of seemingly 'calming' the mind, but it's important to understand what's really going on. You're not stupid and attention is not stupid. If you focus on something, what you are doing by focusing is seemingly making whatever it is that you are focusing on stand out or light up. It seems to become bigger, more important. It's much like looking through a telescope - something far away seen through the lens of a telescope looks much bigger than it is in real life. A cow standing on a distant hillside looks the size of Godzilla. But if you take the telescope away from your eye and see it in context, you'll realize you can barely see it, it's so small.

When you focus on the breath and count it, you're trying to limit experiencing to only the in-breath and the out-breath and the numbers. Those details can seem 'lit up' or much bigger, much more important than anything else because you've thrown a huge circle of darkness on everything around them. If you do that, you will be practising focusing. Of course the mind seems to become quieter -- as I mentioned previously you're not stupid and attention is not stupid.

If you force the mind to pay attention to only one or two details of experiencing, you're numbing it. You're deliberately choosing stupidity. You're putting up a wall of attention to exclude everything else. But what will happen outside of your dull little place of quiet is that the patterns of attention that spawn all those pesky thoughts and feeling tones are regrouping and when your wall crumbles, which inevitably it will, they'll come back with a vengeance. Traditionally, it's compared to holding an empty gourd under water; when you let go of it, it pops back up to the surface and bobs about wildly.

You see, it's not the scattering that's the problem, it's the focusing. When you focus attention on one thing, you do that by excluding everything else. You become so used to focusing on one thing and then another, that if something comes up unexpectedly, it throws you off balance. Your attention becomes less and less flexible, less and less able to open to life as it actually is, full of interruptions and surprises, and change.

A single moment of seeing a thought rise and fall as you open around it is worth years of counting the breath. Why? Because counting the breath or applying any other strategy to the breath will not show you anything about how attention moves towards and away from what is noticed, including thoughts and feelings. You're just swapping one set of thoughts - your storylines - for another set of thoughts, counting and concentrating on the breath.

In Anzan Hoshin roshi's book on the Buddha's Satipatthana sutta, "The Straight Path: Zen Teachings on the Foundations of Mindfulness", he says,

The practice is not to concentrate on the breath, but to just breathe the
breath. If you try to "concentrate" on the breath, what will happen is that you will
abstract yourself from the actual situation. You will create some kind of special
realm and you'll enter into conflict with yourself by trying to screen out what is
really just your own life. So, just sit and breathe the breath. When you get lost in
a thought, or in a feeling, you have separated yourself from the rest of your
experience. So when you have noticed this, gently return to this moment of
breathing in or breathing out.

He also says:

The practice is actually just being aware. It is not really about following the
breath or trying to produce some kind of feeling tone of "being one with the
breath." Zazen is the practise of experience as it actually is. This begins with
being mindful, and so you are using the breath to be reminded of that and to
show you what your mindfulness is like. Just sit and breathe. Do not try to
concentrate on your breath. You are not trying to make any particular mental
state happen, you are just seeing what's happening by looking into the breath.

Although some contemporary Soto Zen Teachers, especially those in the West, might have counted the breath and now instruct their students to do this, our own practice is based directly on Eihei Dogen zenji's foundations and those Awakened Ancestors who have come before him.

In the Eihei Koroku, Dogen zenji says,

In our practice the most essential matter is sitting in the correct posture. Next it is important to release the breath with a calm mind. In the Narrow Path there are two ways of doing zazen. The first is counting the breath and the other is to contemplate the body as impure. So a practitioner of the Narrow Path would control the rhythm of the breath through counting the respirations. However, the practice of the Awakened Ones and Ancestors is completely different from the Narrow Path. A Discourse says," You should never follow styles of practice of the Narrow Path which are based upon 'cultivation'. (EK 2:97)


The Shibunritsu and Kusha schools that are active in Japan currently are of this sort. The Vast Path way of balancing the breath is just to know that a long breath is long and a short breath is short. Breath rises and falls at the lower belly. Breathing in is breathing in and breathing out is breathing out. However the breath is, breathe in and breathe out from the lower belly. When you breathe in this way through the belly, the impermanence of your life becomes clear and the mind stills itself. (Eihei Koroku 2: 96)

And so in "The Straight Path", Roshi also says,

The body breathes. It breathes in and it breathes out. Begin with this. Know this moment of breathing. Attending to the breath, attending to the body, attending to movement, attending to sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, is attending directly to the experience of body. To see directly the rising and falling, the coming and going, the birth and death of each moment, is the Straight Path. So we begin with this body, we begin with this breath.

Note that he says "So we begin with this body, we begin with this breath". He doesn't tell us to focus on the breath or follow it or concentrate on it. Instead he is pointing to the practice of feeling into the breath and body, in the same breath, at the same time.

Just feel this breath as it is. Without focusing on it, without counting, without manipulating it, just breathe. Open attention to the sensations of the breath, but simultaneously open to the rest of the sensations of the bodymind sitting; open to seeing and hearing; open to as many details of experiencing as you are able, all at the same time, all in the same breath. Do this now, in this breath. And now again. And now again. At first it may seem very effortful, but that is because your attention is used to jumping about like a spoiled child. It has to learn to attend, to be available to the open intelligence of the Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors. It has to learn to be a 'big person' instead of a petulant child. And as you practise this, coming back to the breath again and again with each breath, practising this 'Beginner's Mind", over time you will find the gaps in your mindfulness will shorten.

Then you will begin to see what gives rise to those gaps, how they happen, how you get lost. But that will be for the next Dharma Talk.

As I mentioned in the previous Dharma Talk in this series, paying attention to the sensations of the breath, the real details of the real breath as it really is just brings about what is actually going on. It is not a matter of drilling down into the sensations to dig up some special thing, some kind of hidden ore that will make us spiritual or saintly. Or to construct some miracle device out of them that can let us float above our real lives. The simplicity of the practice is so honest and direct that it allows us to be really honest and direct.

Breathing in, sky becomes breath. Breathing out, breath becomes sky. You have never experienced this breath before. Earth and water, wind and breath, nothing held and no grasping. Just breathe and experience this measureless moment with the sensations of fingers and toes and belly and spine and colours and forms. Attend to what already is.

The Touchstone 3: Sticks and Feathers

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, March 23rd, 2013

"Beginner's Mind" or shoshin 初心 is practising the recognition that this moment is always fresh. Zazen is not taking up a stance about the world; it is sitting down and sitting up straight and opening past our stances to allow reality beyond our thoughts and images and states. And so, just as each moment is always newly this moment, in each moment of zazen we always begin again. If you become lost, you find yourself back here with the touchstone of this breath.

As you practise coming back to the breath again and again with each breath, practising this "Beginner's Mind", over time you will find the gaps in your mindfulness will shorten. And that you will then begin to see what gives rise to those gaps, how they happen, how you get lost. I mentioned this in the previous Dharma Talk in this series and I will talk about it a bit more now. In fact, you will hear about this again and again and not only from me but in many teisho and Dharma Talks because it is such a big and such an important topic.

This is a big topic because there is not just how these gaps in mindfulness happen, but the strategies that students might apply to them if they are noticed at all, which can further complicate things.

For a long time in one's practice it can seem as though things are fairly open and clear in one moment: You know you are sitting on a zafu, in a room; you can feel the sensations of the body sitting, the breath; you can see the wall and hear the sounds in the room. It's all going quite well. But in the next moment, it can seem that you are finally waking up from a dream-filled dazed state that you might have been lost in for moments, or days, for all that you know. It can seem that way but, of course, one doesn't go from one state into another state with nothing in between. Between a more open state and a state in which your posture and your mind have slumped, there was a succession of movements of attention, of thoughts and feeling-tones that your attention was following.

Wandering mind and sinking mind are not that different. Both involve shrinking back and away from reality, inverting and internalizing attention further and further. Wandering mind is not as dense as sinking mind, however. You can quite easily follow a storyline for a period of time while simultaneously knowing what is going on around you. We are well practised in this as we do it all the time - at work, at home, in the middle of a conversation with another person, for example. For all intents and purposes you seem to be listening, but you're really up behind the eyes already formulating a response before the other person has even finished speaking. It happens all the time.

In the series "Sitting Up Straight", the Roshi says,

Sinking mind, konchin, and wandering mind, sanran, are not all that different. In order to become lost in thought, your attention must already invert and narrow. This inversion and narrowing is of course much stronger with sinking mind. But even within sinking mind there is wandering. There are bits and pieces of discursiveness, there is imagery, and of course a flux of feeling tones.

Wandering mind is a slippery slope. You may think you can multi-task practising as well as follow your favourite stories, but this is not practising. It is fragmenting and dividing your attention which is not what practice is. And in the process of doing this, you are engaged in the activity of piling up and propagating the three klesas of passion, aggression and stupidity.

There's no middle ground with this. It's as with the forms. You are either doing them or you are not. A small example: when you take care of your cushion, it should be rotated clockwise, pressed four times, and while doing that, you should be feeling into the sensations of the body, the posture, feeling the fabric under your hand, as well as feeling your hand pressing the cushion. If you're turning the cushion counterclockwise because you're thinking about something else while you are doing this very simple task, well, what's that about? You're not doing the form, you're just paying lip service to it while going about the usual wandering about in states and storylines which is so habitual that much of the time you don't even notice you're doing it.

Sinking mind is much denser than wandering mind and there is no mistaking it. It's completely abandoning your practice as you allow your posture to slump and your mind to sink into nonsensical half-dreams. You may fall asleep, or you may just spent a period of time in a kind of no-man's land, in which you have abstracted yourself to such a degree you don't even really know where you are. Or care. When you become lost in thoughts and fragments of dreams, your attention has withdrawn from the colours and forms and sounds and sensations, from the details of present experiencing -- where you are and what is going on around you. The colours and forms seem to flatten, hearing becomes less distinct; sensations seem quite far away or dulled down.

But you always wake up from these states. Eventually. Even if you do nothing you will become more and more contracted until the contraction passes through itself and then you will wake up. But you don't have to wait that long. You can be much more intentional about waking up. What usually happens is that some external sound or a strong sensation, such as a pain in your knee, or the unexpected touch of a practice advisor adjusting your posture will break through the swirling fog of dreams and you'll find yourself back on the cushion again.

And so you straighten up and begin again.

Now, there's something in this I'd like to bring to your attention. Students who have been practising at Dainen-ji for any length of time understand that there is a tendency for attention to move to the area of the head. You can see this very easily when you get lost in thought, for example. The activity of the thoughts will seem to take place in and around the head and there appears to be little bodily sensation. This is because you're so fascinated by the false reality you've created with thoughts and ideas and concepts, that you've abstracted yourself from basic physical reality - the fact of the bodymind sitting on the cushion in the space of the room, surrounded by colours and forms and sounds. This is obviously not good. If you don't know where you are and what's going on around you, how can any of your thoughts be balanced, practical or realistic? They're occurring in a space that seems entirely separate from the rest of the world, the gravity free, consequence free space of your "personal" thoughts and feelings about who and what everything is.

On realizing that attention has become congealed and contracted, students will often straighten their posture and open their eyegaze. Wheeee! You just got three inches taller and the world got very bright. It's certainly a quick way of cutting through the fog, but there's a snag with this because it's not enough. It's not that there's a problem with straightening up and opening the eye gaze. But if that's all you do, you are going to get lost in thought again within a short space of time. Straightening the posture and opening the eye gaze is good, but if you don't go further, you've turned those two elements of practice into a strategy, a bit of a cheap trick. And so sometimes, during a sitting round, all around the room there are people bobbing up and down, straightening, slumping, straightening, slumping. It's a lot of work doing all of that and you don't need to do it, actually.

What you need to do is feel into the sensations of the whole body sitting as well as open to peripheral vision and the hearing and the sense of smell. You need to practise opening all of the capacities of bodymind, not just one or two. You need to feel the breath at the diaphragm and tanden, as a place from which to open to the whole of experiencing. And stay there, sit still, resting in the openness of experiencing instead of wandering in and out, in and out, bouncing up and down, slumping, straightening, slumping, straightening. Just stay in posture and practise the posture of mind AS WELL as the posture of the body. Stay with what you're actually doing. Begin with the breath as a touchstone and with the next breath, use it as a touchstone. If we can feel the breath, then we can open attention further to reality.

And here's another place where students get stuck. Sometimes they will hunker down around the sensations of the breath and body, as though doing that could save them from their thoughts. If you direct attention 'downward', to the breath, as though from a point behind your eyes, that's not really practising either. And what will happen is that although you may notice some sensations associated with the breath, again, in a matter of minutes, you will be lost in thought again.

The ways in which your attention arranges itself to make it seem that the storylines and feeling tones and states are real and should be given all of your attention are such that you become so enfolded in them, so convinced by them, that you cannot imagine an existence free of them. Sometimes students actually worry that if the stream of thoughts and feeling tones stopped, they would be incapable of intelligent thought. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to open intelligence, you need to first let go of all of the ways in which you habitually cut yourself off from the world and all of the information the world offers you moment after moment.

These states of wandering and sinking mind do not spring up from the zafu to infect you and do not come up because you are sitting zazen. What you see when you sit zazen is a closer glimpse into how your attention tends to move ALL of the time -- when you're at home, when you're alone, when you're with other people, when you are doing anything at all that you do.

What you do everything WITH is a matter of how your attention is, and is experienced by attention.

So of course, the quality of your attention, your ability to make intelligent use of attention, will have a profound effect on the course of your life. It will affect every decision you make, large or small; it will affect your relationships, your job, all of your choices. Attention moves continuously. It opens, closes, shifts, wanders, sinks, opens again, becomes focused, obsessive, and sometimes loosens so much you lose all sense of direction. Sometimes it will spontaneously open, presenting you with rare flashes of simply knowing what to do and how to do it (which you later take all of the credit for, as though you made it happen). But that is all very random and most of the time it's just moving from this to that without any real intentionality. It is why you have such difficulty doing things in a straight line, why it's so hard to follow something through to completion, why you never get around to doing all of those things you say you have always wanted to do.

The difference between these movements of attention occurring during zazen or occurring when you're in the midst of doing other things is that when you are sitting zazen, it's not about you or any of the things you 'do' or want to do. It is about your attention. It's looking into the one thing that determines all else about your life.

Shikai O-sensei's cats love to play games. But they're very intelligent cats. If you first dangle a feather tied to a string, hanging from a stick, they'll be mildly interested in the movements of the feather but FAR more interested in where the movement of the feather is coming from. And within moments they have figured it out and are not fascinated by the feather, but instead are looking at the stick and beyond that, your hand holding the stick.

In a manner of speaking, zazen is not about the dangling toys of life. It's about what they really are, what everything really is, what is true and what is untrue, what makes sense and does not make sense. It's about seeing and releasing the fascination with 'knowns' to begin to understand what the Knowing is in which all knowns arise. And obviously not being clear about this is not really even knowing which end is up when it comes to the feathers and sticks, life and death and everything in between.

By sitting zazen, you have the opportunity to see how attention moves, how you are convinced by your own deluded storylines and ideas and notions and how to wake up from them. Instead of acting out storylines, ideas and impulses in your life and having to put up with the consequences of buying into chunks of fool's gold, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by simply learning to differentiate between what is true and what is false. And as your practice deepens your ability to discriminate between the two becomes stronger and clearer, thus helping you to make stronger, clearer decisions about everything that you do.

It's not that we have to try to make the mind still or calm. Thoughts will come up. Storylines spring up seemingly out of nowhere. It's not even that you are 'doing' these. They just bubble up out of the chemistry of bodymind. So there's no need, when noticing a thought, to try to punch a hole in the space where the thought is, or to try to replace one form of thought with another. For example, tying yourself in knots by noticing a thought about a conversation you had yesterday and trying to replace it with a thought about mindfulness. That's just swapping one thought with another and shows you nothing about the mechanisms that are generating the thought.

This is why, in the series "Sitting Up Straight", the Roshi says,

Opening to and attending mindfully to this moment, you find that there is an infinite infinity of sensations, of sounds, variations in temperature. Even the colours of the wall, although white, are many different shades of white.

Rather than struggling and trying to survive... just let yourself die away. Let that thought die away. Let the past moment die away. Let the moment drop through itself. Do this, and you will know shinjin datsuraku, dropping through the bodymind.

You just have to be willing to enjoy this moment as it actually is.

If there is sinking, feel that, feel what it's actually like, without attempting to push it away or steel yourself. And without snuggling into it, without collapsing, without becoming someone experiencing the sinking.All around the sensations of sinking, everything is quite bright.

Thoughts and feelings will come up. You will experience wandering mind and sinking mind while you are sitting. That is inevitable because this is how attention will tend to move unless you are being intentional because it is being manipulated by the mechanisms of self-image. Self-image wants to lose itself in states, it wants to hide and allowing attention to wander or sink are two of the ways in which it can play out an agenda of distraction and abstraction, to render you so dulled that you won't notice what it is really going on.

Even when there is wandering mind or sinking mind you can open to reality. You can use the touchstone of the breath to cut through the murkiness. There can be the noticing of discursiveness, the fragments of thoughts or dreams, the noticing of sleepiness, the noticing of dukkha, a feeling of unsatisfactoriness. And you can practise with these. You can feel the breath, keep your eye gaze open, feel the sensations of the legs crossed and the hands resting in the mudra. You can hear the sounds. Whatever states there are that arise are transparent to reality. You can feel through them, hear through them, see through them. And in allowing mindfulness to meet them without moving attention toward or away from them, over time you will come to realize that you can practise through any state you experience.

This is how the gaps in your mindfulness will shorten, how your practise can become more continuous. Nothing is excluded from this practice, no state of mind or body, no conditions, nothing at all. Your age, your gender, your state of health, everything that you experience is the display of awareness moving as Awareness as a ceaseless coming and going and ever-changing display of Awareness which itself never moves.

Stay with what is simply true, beginning with this breath, in this moment.

The Touchstone 4: The Three Natures

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, April 27th, 2013

What you are practising when you are sitting is knowing. I don't merely mean 'knowing things', or 'knowing about something', or even having some kind of secret knowledge.  I mean knowing as the sheer capacity to know, the activity of knowing. This is traditionally compared to the ability of a mirror to show images rather than the reflections themselves, or the capacity of light to illuminate the darkness. This is called the Luminosity of Knowing in itself.

We usually have the idea that knowing is just our thoughts and feeling-tones and imagery and concepts. And so at first it's difficult for us to understand at all that the kind of Knowing that we learn through Zen practice is not the same as learning, memorizing, regurgitating what we have already learned. In fact it cannot be thought about it in a way that directly captures it. This is traditionally called its Traceless or Ungraspable aspect.

The kind of Knowing we learn through practising with open attention is much more direct than that and much simpler. It is so simple that it can be and is whatever can be known. This is called the Unobstructed aspect of knowing.

When you feel into the sensations of the breath you are coming back to the touchstone, the place from which you can begin to open to the directness and immediacy of experiencing as it actually is, without interpretation, without thinking about it. The touchstone of the breath is beyond all of our strategies because we don't 'do' it. Breathing is something the bodymind does for us. Any strategy we bring to it, any thought we have about it, any label we try to plaster over it, misses the point.

Mindfulness can never become a kind of habit, not even a 'special habit'. And the reason it can never be a habit is because to be mindful is to be mindful of this breath, this moment of seeing, of hearing, just as it is. It's not something you can crank up and then just leave to let it run itself.

It is experiencing the bodymind, the environment, the world -- in, as, and through the bodymind, together with bodymind, so that experiencing is all of one piece instead of being divided up into fragments that attention darts towards and away from.

In the Sattipatthana sutta, the Buddha spoke of knowing a short breath as a short breath; a long breath as a long breath. He didn't say "okay, so whenever you take a short breath you should say to yourself "short breath". He was talking about practising the Knowing (capital K knowing) of a short breath - which is direct, immediate, without words. It's too fast for words because together with that short breath there is seeing and hearing, the temperature of the air on your skin, the hands in the mudra, thumbs touching, the set of your shoulders and head and neck and spine, your legs crossed, the tip of the tongue against the roof of your mouth -- so many details that you could not possibly give words to them all.

He wasn't telling us to monitor the breath, to compare a short breath with a long breath, to categorize the breath as this or that or the other. He was saying "feel this breath as it is." It doesn't matter what kind of breath it is - long or short, but the knowing of long or short breath is felt without holding on to it, without considering it, without doing anything with the sensations of it at all.'re still breathing. Let go of the last moment - the last split-second of feeling the breath in order to feel the breath as it is now in this split-second and the next and the next. You don't know how the breath is until the breath breathes and then it's gone as the bodymind continues to breathe. Always new, always fresh.

He was speaking of feeling into the sensations of the breath with the sensations of the breath. The bodymind feels the bodymind. If you start thinking about the sensations of the breath or label the sensations of the breath, you've moved away from the directness of the sensations. You've gone back to believing that knowing is about memorization and regurgitation of what is already known. You have lots of labels, lots of words and phrases in your collection of already-known stuff. That has nothing to do with the practise of Knowing (capital K knowing). If you manipulate the breath, to make it long or make it short, or push it against the back of the throat so that you sound like a wind tunnel in the mistaken notion that this will help you to feel it more clearly, this is also giving rise to this wanting to be the "knower", the one who is "doing" the breath. Just let the breath be as it is. The bodymind knows how to breathe and does not need your interference. It does not need you to change it or think about it or label it. If this were not the case you would not have survived infancy because you'd have forgotten to breathe.

With the onset of spring, we often open the windows of the Hatto and because this room on the second floor is as high as the tree tops, birdsong can be heard very clearly. When you are sitting and your attention is more open, the birdsong is heard together with seeing the wall, feeling into the sensations of the body, feeling the clothing on your skin, feeling the temperature of the air -- together with many, many other details that can be noticed. There is no focusing on this or that because these details are changing so rapidly that they are more a coming and going of details, a continuous streaming of reality.

But if attention begins to narrow, it will congeal around a narrow range of perception. Since birdsong is something we quite enjoy, when there is this narrowing and fixating, attention will tend to latch on to the sound of a bird. If this narrowing of attention is propagated, mindfulness is reduced to only the noticing of the sound and you may even find that you're visualizing the kind of bird it is, or where it is relative to where you are sitting. You may even say to yourself "bird", plaster a label over it as though you didn't already know it to be a bird. And of course, as soon as you do that, you're no longer even listening to the bird, you've retracted attention away from the sound and you're listening to yourself! Inside your head. As though what's going on inside your head is the world. Ewwwww. Good thing that isn't true or you'd be stuck with it.

When you do this, you are not practising environmental awareness at all, you've turned your practice into "This is what I know. Me, me, me and what I know". This is what happens when self-image lays claim to experiencing. Self-image sets itself up as the knower at the center of experiencing, doing the experiencing, listing all of the things it knows.

This is labeling experiencing and when we do this, we have shrunk back from the vastness and vividness of experiencing and have reduced it to just this one 'thing' that I KNOW. This reinforces the sense of locatedness, the sense of an I that is separate from what is being experienced, which is really quite the opposite of practice.

What you need to do is to open to ALL of the sounds, near and far - the sound of the bird together with the sound of your own breathing; the sounds of traffic; the apparent 'silences' between the sounds. And do this by coming back to the touchstone of the breath, together with opening attention to the seeing, the sensations of the whole bodymind sitting - the balance and alignment of the posture, the details of thumb touching thumb in the mudra, legs crossed, your backside on the zafu. Don't focus on this or that detail because any detail is occurring in the midst of a vast number of other detail. Your practice is to open all of the capacities of bodymind to hear, see, smell, taste, think and feel all together, all at the same time, not to regurgitate what you have already learned, certainly not to identify, categorize and label everything you already know.

At any moment you notice you are focusing on something, come back to the touchstone of the breath, touch the breath and use this touchstone to refresh your practise of mindfulness. This breath is always new and fresh. If you are really feeling into it, you cannot freeze it to reduce it to a thought or a picture or a symbol of something else. It is always.....this breath being breathed by the whole bodymind.

The internalization of attention that is required in order to give rise to the sense of a knower in the midst of your sitting is the same internalization that enfolds you in all of the other states you experience. All of the states you get lost in are really the products of the five skandhas. The word "skandha" means "heap" or "accumulation." The Roshi explains that the five skandhas are a way of describing how we experience what we are. The activity of these processes creates the illusion of an accumulation or localization of experiencing. and describe the basis of self-image, the illusion that there is a self doing the experiencing, a single entity in the midst of what is being experienced.

So whether you are experiencing wandering mind or sinking mind or "dukkha", a general sense of unsatisfactoriness, all of these are the result of internalizing attention and all of them have a whopping great big unhappy "I" in the middle of them that is refusing to open to the simplicity and clarity of experiencing as it actually is. To paraphrase something the Roshi once said in a teisho: It's rather like the guest who stubs out his cigarette in a plate of fried eggs generously offered him by his host. When you are in the midst of a state, that "I" that wants to be in the middle of it and have everything be about it,  wants to hunker down, cut itself off from bodily sensation and seeing and hearing and all of the ways in which the openness of experiencing would cut through it. It doesn't want anything better than the toxic mindset it generates and it doesn't want to be interrupted. Opening to reality would interrupt its agenda, which is only ever about to perpetuating itself. States don't give you anything. They don't teach you anything. They just cut you off from the depth and breadth of experiencing to keep you locked in the belief that your states are who you are. You are not your thoughts or feelings, you are the awareness in which all thoughts and feelings arise. Awareness is the context in which all knowns rise and fall.

The soft spring air, the morning light, the scent of incense arise together with this breath, this moment of seeing and hearing. Feel directly; see directly; hear directly without making anything 'the point'. Not even the breath. Use the breath as a touchstone, a place to come back to, to open to the whole of experiencing. This IS your life and nothing is more important than living it fully, in each and every moment, to the best of your ability.

The Touchstone 5: Washing Rice with Water

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, June 22nd, 2013

When you feel into the sensations of the breath at the diaphragm and tanden, you are opening attention to something that is going on right now. But of course there is more going on right now than just the breath. The whole bodymind is the display of reality and all that arises around the bodymind is also the display of reality. Reality is beyond your thoughts and feelings and interpretations about what is going on.

The breath is not a kind of life raft that you can hang on to, to fend off thoughts and feelings. It's not a 'pure' thing in the midst of some kind of corruption that you can turn to for a cure. It's not some bit of you that is more 'essentially you' than any other bit of you; it's not mommy or daddy or some kind of magic force that's going to look after you. Of course not. It's just the breath. And of course not, there is no such essence because there is no solid self, there is no magic mommy or daddy. And the cure for the sickness of dukkha or suffering that the Buddha diagnosed with the Four Noble Truths is to recognize the search for those kinds of ideas is part of the sickness and instead to simply and directly pay attention to reality. And this what the practice of anapanasati or mindfulness of the breath is for.

The breath is a touchstone, a point from which to begin to open past the states of contraction that compromise mind and body and hold it captive. We come back to the touchstone, we touch the breath without focusing on it, and immediately open attention to whole-bodily sensation and seeing and hearing without moving away from the sensations of the breath. And we do this breath after breath after breath. Touch, release, open all at the same time, all in the same breath.

States of mind can capture the breath. You can notice this when, for example, feeling anxious. The breath will sometimes become shortened, the sensations seem to tighten. Similarly with fear or anger or confusion, there can be an effect on the breath. And this is why it is so important to also feel into bodily sensation while feeling into the sensations of the breath. You're not going to notice that you are tensing or acting out a state with the body - as well as with the breath - unless you're feeling the whole body at the same time.

When you feel into the body and the breath together, all at the same time, all in the same breath, there is a kind of releasing that naturally occurs. What is being released is the cruft and fluff that accumulates when emotional and mental states are propagated. In releasing these states, you are freeing and opening the capacities of bodymind to see, smell, touch, taste, think and feel without interpretation.

The thoughts and feelings generated by states that come up are rather like ghosts flitting around a tombstone. Just flitting this way and that all around the tombstone. But the tombstone is reality. That's one of the Roshi's jokes and it's a really good one if you consider it for a moment. Heh. He means that reality is the death of self-image, the reality of the impermanence of even stones and the presencing of Suchness as everything you can touch and see and hear and experience.

And so that's not to say that all thinking is bad. There is nothing wrong at all with the capacity to think. But there is a difference between intelligent thought and just thinking about stuff. When we talk about releasing the thoughts and feelings, what we're really talking about is all the junk we waste swathes of time on. Intelligent thought is quite a different matter.

The capacity to think, for most people, is filled with the ceaseless mutterings of self-image. The ghosts flitting around the tombstone, nattering on about hope and fear. This is just having lots and lots of thoughts about stuff, usually very repetitive, echoing back to oneself what one already knows. You can see this quite clearly when you're trying to think about something that has a lot of emotional weight for you, or when trying to make a decision you're anxious about. And in seeing it there are some details that you can also notice quite clearly, about how you think - the form it takes.

Some people think primarily in words, others think primarily in pictures, others may think in feeling tones and textures. We are all capable of all three of these and often there will be two or even all three running at the same time. Understanding this is useful because when you notice you are thinking in words, you can use the noticing of that as a reminder to open to what you are actually hearing with your ears instead of listening to what's going on inside your head. If you notice the thoughts are coming up as pictures, you can use the noticing of that as a reminder to open attention to what you are seeing with your eyes instead of following the internalized imagery of people and situations that are not at all accurate. If you notice that you're getting caught up in feeling tones and textures, you can use that as a reminder to open to whole bodily sensation - to feel the body instead of feeling the feeling tones.

Most people believe that the decisions about small and big things they have to make occur at the level of thoughts and feeling tones. That isn't actually true. The process of making a decision - about anything - can actually occur very quickly and one's thinking can be very clear. But what slows the process down, complicates and clouds it, is the habit of worrying it to death like a dog tearing up an old shoe. People tend to think and think and think about everything. They think about events that have already happened and why those events happened and what was going on with all of the people involved in those events. They think about what's going on right now and what that might mean about themselves or about other people or other situations that are affected by what is going on right now. And they think about the future and what might happen to them and what that might mean and how other people may behave and the effect that might have on everything else and on and on and on.


All junk.

But why is it all junk?

Well that's very simple. What you have already experienced is now in the past. You were there when it happened. You experienced it. You've learned everything there was to learn about that stuff while it was happening. So if you start thinking about it now, all you are doing is echoing back to yourself what you already know and confusing yourself by weaving more and more interpretations into it.

What you are experiencing in the present is not going on inside of you and stands apart from anything you think or feel about it. In fact it has very, very little to do with you. To experience what is going on in the present, you need to get out of the way and that means dropping the tendency to want to draw comparisons and associations and interpretations about it and following the habit of just reacting to it all. In short, what you need to do is shut up and pay attention and what IS going on will reveal itself. Everything is already telling the truth about itself and the only way you can confuse yourself about it is by following your own interpretations instead of paying attention to what is being presented to you.

And then there is the future. What will happen in the future isn't here yet. It hasn't happened. And whatever will happen will unfold in ways and to an extent that cannot be bound within your language, imagery, or feeling tones. The future is not science fiction. It is not fiction at all. It is a range of possibilities and probabilities that are nothing at all until they are no longer the future but are simply the present. So any thought about it that you may have is just more of the nattering of self-image lurching between hope and fear like a drunk with a knife.

So what we're talking about here is all of the thoughts you have ABOUT stuff. The junky thoughts. The thoughts generated by an addiction to generating thoughts. Making a grocery list involves intelligent thought. But thinking about a grocery list when you're sitting on a zafu and don't have a pen or paper is just having thoughts ABOUT making a list. Is there really anything you could think about while sitting that would fall into the category of intelligent thought? No. Because you're sitting and there's nothing you need to think about sitting. Sitting involves a kind of 'doing' or as the Roshi would say "doing not-doing' and that not-doing includes not indulging in that little stone you get off of talking to yourself. Getting lost in states and generating wave after wave of thoughts about the state is rather like being stoned.

That's why you need the touchstone of the breath. When you're under the influence (of a state) you need a way to begin to ground yourself in reality to wake up from it. So we come back to the breath, we touch the breath and the touchstone of the breath shows us what is true of this moment of experiencing. But we get so drunk on mental and emotional states that just feeling the breath is not enough. It needs to be felt together with the rest of the sensations of the body as well as opening to reality through seeing and hearing. If you just try to hang on to the breath as though it might save you, you'll get lost in thought again very quickly because you haven't opened attention enough to stay with reality.

Thoughts will come up while you are sitting, but as I've said, any thought that comes up while you are sitting is junk. It doesn't matter what it's about, how important or creative or intelligent or open or compelling it might seem -- it's junk.

There are a few kitchen sink matters, things that occur in the kitchen that a tenzo notices, that I'd like to tell you about concerning thoughts and thinking and how to clarify the way in which you are using that capacity.

You will be eating rice for lunch. So let's talk about washing rice.

When we wash rice, great care must be taken. Aside from dust and insect eggs, bits of husk and who knows what else, rice has a lot of chalk mixed into it, to prevent the grains from sticking together. That's why you can pour it out of the bag instead of having to handle bricks of rice. But chalk isn't good for you and it has a weird texture on the tongue. Some people find it actually upsets their stomach. So the rice needs to be washed well before it's cooked. At Dainen-ji we measure the rice, then tip it into a stainless steel mixing bowl, watching carefully as it is poured into the bowl to spot any pebbles that might have got mixed into it. We cover the rice with a generous amount of cold water and then gently stir it with one hand. You don't need to work it as though you were kneading bread - the simple action of gently moving the grain through the water is enough to loosen anything that needs to be washed away.The water turns a milky white and is poured off, being careful not to lose any of the grains of rice down the drain. This is repeated as many times as necessary until the water is only very slightly clouded. At that point it's not chalk that's turning the water cloudy but starch from the grain itself, which is harmless. It's then tipped into a mesh colander and we shake it to remove excess water before putting it into the pot or rice cooker.

When washing rice, you need to let the water do the work of washing the rice. If you knead it and rub it together with your hands you'll break the grain and ruin it. In your life, the choices and decisions you make don't require that you knead and mash your thoughts and feelings together to clarify anything. It's simpler than that. Let reality show you what needs to be done and how to do it. Let reality do the work by aligning with what is most true of your experiencing.

There is another, more classically Indian, metaphor about clarifying butter. To make clarified butter (ghee), unsalted butter is melted in a pot. As it warms, the milk solids rise to the surface and are skimmed off. The skimming takes a little time but at the end of the process one is left with a clear golden oil.

When you are trying to think about something, perhaps because you have to make a decision, a lot of thoughts will come up. Many of them will just bubble up out of feeling tones you have about the issue - fear, confusion, doubt and so forth. These thoughts and feeling tones are like the milk solids. Let them come up but keep releasing them. Just decide that for a period of time you're not going to settle on any of the thoughts. They're all junk. Each time you notice a thought, instead of giving it your attention, choose instead to open attention to the sensations and colours and forms -- to where you are and what is actually going on around you. This is how you can release attention wherever you are, no matter what is going on. Now if you continue to do this for a time, what will happen is that the volume of thoughts will gradually lessen and perhaps just a few will begin to repeat. Keep skimming those off too. Not this, not that. Don't propagate any of them. They're all still junk. Continue to open around them. You'll want to follow the thoughts because that's your habit, but you can release them. And if you do this what will happen is that a much simpler understanding of the situation can begin to present itself.

Knowing is not the same thing as thinking. Knowing does not require crunching your attention into distorted patterns and internalized maps in order to understand something. Knowing, which we also refer to as Luminosity, is very, very different from thinking and thoughts. Attention following thoughts is like a drunk with a knife lurching about in the dark shadows trying to tell you what to do, while Knowing is more like the sun coming up over the horizon spreading light across a landscape so that you can see where you are, where you need to go and what you need to do.

Sitting is the best place and time to practise releasing the thoughts. Not this, not that. If anything seems to become the point, open attention past that. But you can practise this at other times too. You can learn to trust Awareness instead of hoping that you need to cram attention into your head to think your way through every situation you encounter. If you do that, you're only going to repeat old habits of thought and feeling again and again and again.

During this sitting and the next, and the next, there is nothing you need to think about. You have this precious time to practise, so please don't waste it. When the thoughts come up, practise like washing rice with water, like making ghee, by choosing to open attention to the breath, to bodily sensation, to seeing and hearing. Simply let the breath breathe.

The Touchstone 6: Not a Tourist

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, August 24th, 2013

The breath is always immediate, simple, direct. This is why it is the touchstone for mindfulness. It is something you can open to anywhere, at any time, for as long as you are breathing. It's not even really something you "do". The breath is already going on and all that is needed is for you to release attention from the ways in which it is usually bound, in patterns of contraction and recoil, and attention can just open to it. Simply. Directly.

And the touchstone of mindfulness of the breath is a path to greater and vaster simplicity. Let go not only of what attention seemed to be bound within. Let go not only of the habits of discursive thought and daydreams; let go also of the strategies of attention of being someone who is being mindful of the breath. Let it be just the breath breathing the breath, in just this moment. Let mindfulness be mindful.

If there is the sense that you are watching the breath from above it, from somewhere up behind the eyes viewing down, you've taken up the stance of an 'observer'. When this happens, you're not entering fully into your practice. The 'observer' has little discrimination. Watching is watching, whether it's watching thoughts, watching feeling tones, watching theories, ideas, concepts, about this or that, watching the breath. It doesn't really matter to it what it's watching providing it gets to watch, because as long as it's just watching it doesn't have to really do anything. It doesn't have to take any responsibility, it doesn't have to engage in what is going on at all. It can seem to be quite removed from what is really going on, free to maintain whatever agendas it views as important while ignoring almost everything that is really going on around it. A tourist.

This is a quote from the Fukanzazengi: How Everyone Can Sit by Eihei Dogen zenji:

In this and all other worlds, in India or in China, every place is marked by the seal of Awake Awareness. Upholding the essence of this Way, devote yourself to zazen, completely do zazen. You might hear about ten thousand ways to practise but just be complete and sit. What's the point of giving up your seat to go wandering around in dusty lands and countries? Take a wrong step and you'll miss what's there.

You've got what you need, the treasure of this body and birth, so don't waste your time. Keep to this as the basis of the Way of Awake Awareness. Don't be attracted by just a spark from the flint. Anyway, your body is like dew on the grass, your life a flash of lightning; vain for a moment and then vanished in an instant.

You who are in this excellent Lineage of Zen, don't blindly grope only a part of the elephant or fear the true dragon. Put all of yourself into this Way which directly presents your own nature. Be grateful to those who have come before and have done what was to be done. Align yourself with the enlightenment of the Awakened Ones and take your place in this Samadhi-Lineage. Practice in this way and you'll be what they are. The doors of the treasure house will fall open for you to do with as you will.

We miss so much of our lives through being inattentive. As the Gokan No Ge, the traditional Five Remembrances Meal Chant, says, Delusions are many, attention wanders. No matter where you are, no matter the circumstances you find yourself in, if you are not attending to experiencing, if you are not questioning into the nature of experiencing, you are missing most of what is really going on.

A tourist doesn't gain real insight into the experiences of people living in other lands and countries. They skim the surface of experiencing, noticing only the coarsest details. People will often say they want to travel to this place or that because they want to experience a different culture. You can't experience a different culture unless you live within that culture for many years, forming relationships and interacting with people, speaking their language, eating their food, reading their books, listening to their music, engaging in all of the details within that culture to take on its characteristics so thoroughly that you know it inside out. That is understanding another culture. Anything else is just being a tourist.

Being a tourist in one's own life is one of the characteristics of self-image. Self-image is very concerned with how things appear to be so the most superficial details will tend to stand out. We learn to dress according to what we think is our 'part', we learn to speak our 'part', play our 'part', fit in. It's really not comfortable and we tend to complain a lot, but we don't really have any better ideas about how to go about it all so we go along with it. But if there is a glimmer of real questioning within all of this, eventually we may find ourselves sitting on a zafu, facing a blank white wall, coming back to the touchstone of the breath, in order to question further into what it is that we are really experiencing - past the expectations and associations and assumptions that make up so much of what we think of as 'our lives'.

When you come to the monastery to attend a sitting once a week as an associate student or perhaps a few times a week as a general student, it's easy to forget that practice isn't just about the round and a half of sitting you do in the Hatto or the Zendo. It's about the WHOLE of your life. What you see while sitting in zazen is how your attention tends to move towards and away from whatever is noticed - a thought, a feeling, someone on the other side of the room coughing; the sound of a bird, the breath, back to a thought, an itch, a reaction to the itch, a reaction to the reaction. And on and on. Attention waxes and wanes, closes down with contraction, opens, sinks, opens, sinks again and you fall asleep. And then you're wide awake, feeling the breath for a moment, then lost in thought. And so it goes, throughout the round just as it does all of the rest of the time, through all of your waking and sleeping hours. But the difference between what is going on when you are sitting zazen and what is going on for the rest of the hours in your day is that if you are making an effort in your practice, that effort is to be more intentional about how your attention is moving.

Now, when I say "that effort is to be more intentional about how your attention is moving" this doesn't mean that being intentional means directing, aiming or focusing attention. The intention that is needed is to release attention from exactly that directing, aiming and focusing you engage in most of the time. The intention is to release attention into reality, beginning with the simplicity of the breath. And by 'reality', in this context I mean simply something that is going on, something you can verify through your actual experience. You are breathing. That is unarguably true. So we start with something that is very simple and completely true. We come back to the touchstone of the breath as a starting point from which we can open to more of what is true of our experiencing. We are breathing, but we are also experiencing the sensations of the whole bodymind sitting. Those sensations are not something we make happen, they are already going on. All that we need to do is let go of continuously distracting ourselves with thoughts and feelings and release attention into the breath and the sensations of the body. The bodymind is also seeing. You can see the white of the wall. That is unarguably true. You are hearing the sound of my voice, the pauses between the words I speak.

These sensations, this breath, these sounds and colours and forms, the experience of the bodymind and the space in which the bodymind arises - this is your life. You are not a tourist, visiting temporarily to have some kind of special experience. The practice of your life is the practise of whole bodymind in this moment, just as it is. You've heard the expression Progress into the ordinary? Well this is what it means.

Tourists like to watch other people's lives. They like to just pass through without having to do anything. They pick and choose the kind of experiences they think they want to have, living temporarily in a kind of bubble that floats above 'ordinary' life which allows them to watch what is going on and interact with it as little as possible.

This is just like the sense of being a watcher that can obstruct true mindfulness. It is like just being a tourist in the land of Zen.

A point of interest about the 'watcher' is that it likes to believe that it is being very subtle, very covert. It's as though it were back and away from what is going on, off at a safe distance from which it can observe and generate various judgments and notions about what seems to be going on. All by itself, all very secretive. Sometimes people will refer to the movements of contracted attention that are really what this observer is, as their "innermost thoughts and feelings".

But through the process of mindfulness practice, one begins to realize that in fact there is no 'inside' or 'outside' and the appearance of a secretive "self" or "me" who is at the center of experience watching and making judgments is nothing more than the self-image attempting to set itself up as a 'knower', a voyeur, a tourist just passing through, who watches, makes judgments, but never really engages in anything that is actually going on. Because it doesn't really consider itself part of what is going on.

Now sometimes the observer will show up as that thing that seems to be looking over your shoulder making judgments about everything you do. "You shouldn't have said that, you sound like an idiot". Sometimes it will do replays of events that occurred previously, echoing them back to you over and over again, re-writing what you should have said or should have done. It likes to pretend it's much more intelligent than the rest of you is, much more worldly. But it's only AFTER the fact that it has anything to say. And that is a dead give-away. There's actually nobody inside of that thing that's doing the observing, no entity that is more intelligent or more knowing than you are the rest of the time.

For many people, taking up the contracted stance of an 'observer' is so habitual that they don't realize they are doing this most of the time. It comes up in dokusan, daisan and practice interviews with students quite frequently. An extreme example of this would be when a student is facing the Teacher or a practice advisor waiting for some kind of 'big' experience. Like a tourist waiting to be entertained.

I was an associate student when I first started having dokusan with the Roshi and I used to get into quite a lot of this in the beginning. I used to sit opposite him and as he spoke I would be coming up with all kinds of thoughts and opinions about what he was saying and how he was saying it and what it all meant about me and how I felt about it, whether I agreed with it, how it fit into what I thought I already understood, and on and on and on. All from up behind the eyes, in 'secret'.

What I didn't realize at first was that he was seeing all of this.

I don't mean that he was reading my mind or anything like that. Reading other people's minds even if it were possible would be very rude so he wouldn't do that. No, it was simply that he could see how my attention was. When attention is more open that is quite obvious. When it is contracted, that is quite obvious. Different kinds of contraction generate different kinds of textures that can be felt. And how a student responds or doesn't respond shows quite clearly how willing they are to be exposed to and by the process of practice. Again and again and in so many ways the Roshi invited me to come out from my hiding places to meet with him and receive the Dharma. In some of my other Dharma Talks I've provided a few glimpses of exchanges I've had with the Roshi. Sometimes they were very uncomfortable; sometimes he could be quite fierce; sometimes very kind; but always in speech and action, through example, what I was being shown was the Dharma. I remember on one occasion a particularly snippy comment I made, which was I'm not learning anything. The Roshi responded simply by saying I am Teaching you, moment after moment in how I am. Pay attention.

The great debt of gratitude I owe my Teacher can never be repaid.

When you are called for daisan or a practice interview, the first question you are usually asked is How is your practice? This is first and foremost a reminder to practice, to really make use of the opportunity to meet with a monastic. A practice interview or daisan is meeting with the mind of practice. So it is about speaking from your practice, about your practice. Other topics may come up about your life or your activities outside of the monastery, but these are only relevant at all if the reason you are bringing them up is to clarify how you can practise with them. If you bring up something like your relationship with your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend or work concerns or health concerns or the state of the universe, there is nothing a monastic really has to say about any of this unless you are speaking about it from the mind of practice, with the intention to practice with the reactivity that comes up about it. It's important to understand that your practice is your life. Your life is not your practice, not unless you're practising with it. Difficulties you may experience in your life would be going on whether you were practising or not. They don't come up because you're practising. And what a Dharma Teacher or practice advisor can offer you in the way of advice about these is to really allow mindfulness to inform your decisions; to practise as continuously as possible. That is what we do; that is what we are trained to do; that is what we are here for and that is what we have to offer you.

In the teisho series, Entering Completely: Commentaries on Bodhidharma's "Two Entries and Four Practices by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi:

A thought comes up, and we think that we have thought it, even though we don't know where that thought has come from, or where it goes. We pretend that we have thought the thought. We pretend that we are the thinker. And we are coloured by the contents of that thought, as we propagate the next thought, and the next thought, and the next thought, and continue this game of dancing around pretending that we are the thinker, pretending that we are the contents of the thoughts. We bind our experiences together into lumps and heaps, into piles of junk.

We get up in the morning, and once we get over that moment of panic of the first opening our eyes and realizing that there's a world there, and we collect together all of our thoughts and feelings for the day. We start to ramble around inside of our head, feeling a grudge about this, feeling anxious about that. We wake up in our usual bed, in our usual way, get out of bed into our usual room, and wander around through our usual world for the day, looking for some kind of satisfaction someplace, something interesting to happen to cut through this usualness, this pettiness. Desperately searching for something to make us happy, or at least give us some sense of being alive.

And yet, things are not bound together, nor are you tied. Sounds come and go. Thoughts come and go. The world comes and goes over and over and over again. When a thought comes up it is instantly gone. It is impossible for you to hold onto a thought. It is impossible for you to hold on to a sound. It is impossible to find any place to hold on, let alone to be able to pile things up in ugly heaps.

The world is not usual. The world is amazing. The world exerts itself as world, simply for the fun of it. In our search for something to make us happy, we pass over this basic joyfulness that is existence. And so the reason it is not manifest is only due to being wrapped in external objects and deluded views. We have a deluded view if we think that the world is the same moment after moment. We have a deluded view if we think that we can hold onto anything. We have a deluded view if we think that we are anything at all. We have a deluded view if we believe in time and space and body and mind and self and other. We have a deluded view if we think that we have to become Buddha. We have a deluded view if we think that we are not Buddha. We wrap ourselves in external objects when we hope that something will make us happy. Wrapping ourselves in external objects does not just mean collecting cars, and houses, and mink coats. Giving up wrapping ourselves in external objects is not as easy as selling your property and going off to live in a cave. Ceasing to wrap oneself in external objects means to come out into the open, to stop hiding, and to come out and play.

Practise the simplicity and honesty of opening attention to things just as they are. Release the strategies self-image entangles you in by coming back to the touchstone of the breath. Do this as much as you are able while sitting in zazen and then follow through and practise mindful speech while meeting with monastics in daisan and interviews. And beyond that, practise this simplicity as often as possible the rest of the time too. You're not a tourist in your life or in the monastery or in your practice and this is not some 'spiffy Zen thing' you do now and then. This practice IS the practice of your life as it really is, beyond your ideas and interpretations about it. And as the Roshi would say, Please, enjoy yourself.

The Touchstone 7: Faster Than the Speed of Thoughts

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, October 19th, 2013

When you come back to the touchstone of the breath, in the moment of really coming back and allowing yourself to open to the sensations, there is a change in perception. The degree to which you'll experience this will depend on how your attention is arranged in that moment and was prior to feeling the breath. But whether subtle or obvious, however you experience it, there is a shift in perception and there is a direct relationship between that shift and opening attention to the sensations of the breath and body. It might be just a split-second flash of recognition, or it may be as pronounced as would be the experience of seeing the world in three dimensions when previously you were seeing it only in two, as though it were a flat photograph. There is a depth, a breadth, a sense of spaciousness in feeling the breath and body that in contrast to the claustrophobic folding in of thoughts and feelings is unmistakable.

We begin by coming back to the touchstone of the breath, but we also feel into the sensations of the rest of the body. If you also feel into the sensations of the whole body, without leaving the breath but instead feeling into breath and the rest of bodily sensation at the same time, the experience of spaciousness, of ease, of there being room within experiencing for anything that is going on or anything that might come up, becomes even more obvious because the real process of practice is a process of opening that continues to unfold into further openness.

It's not either/or -- feel the breath OR feel the body. In some traditions of Buddhist practice teachers instruct students to feel the breath. And that's good. However, in our practice of Dogen's Zen, the emphasis is on feeling the breath TOGETHER with opening attention to whole bodily sensation at the same time. It's not enough to just feel the breath and it's not enough to just feel the hands and feet and legs and arms. Or to move attention from one thing and then another. You need to feel into the sensations of the breath and at the same time, in the same breath feel into the sensations of the whole bodymind - top to bottom, front to back, all at the same time.

Why? Well, because they are all going on at the same time in the first place. The question is not why you should feel all of these sensations all together but why you were not feeling them all together. Attention becomes directed and focussed into interpretations and thoughts. Directing and focussing attention towards something other than thoughts, such as the breath alone or the seeing alone or the hearing alone, or the feet alone, or the hands alone, or the knees alone, or the back alone, or the elbows alone is all just more focussing and tunneling of our experience.

The Straight Path of the Buddha's mindfulness is a journey of the whole bodymind from dukkha and contraction into release and sukkha. This is what all of our Awakened Ancestors have realized and practised as the Shobo or Complete Dharma.

And so we practice with the breath, with the seeing, with the hands and feet, the elbows and knees, the belly and the back, all together and whole in this whole moment.

And practise this with the next breath, and the next in the next moment, and the next.

Breath, bodymind, the world, all that you are experiencing arises together, at the same time, so why would your practice occur in stages? When this seems to be the case, it is because you are shuttling attention from one thing to another instead of allowing it to simply fall open.

You don't need to direct attention. In fact, you really can't direct attention. All you can do is make things absurdly complicated. But we are masterful at making things complicated so we should talk about what to do when you find you've done just that.

What you can do is just drop everything you think you're doing for a moment, even the idea of being 'mindful' because that's not mindfulness. Pay attention to the simplest of details. If you're sitting down, feel the bodymind sitting down. If you're standing, feel the bodymind standing. Open attention to the space around you. Where are you? In a room? Outside? How do you know where you are? Well, you know where you are because you can see the space around you and you can hear it. You can also feel such things as temperature, air currents; you can smell whatever scents there might be in the environment. And if you do just this what you are experiencing is a kind of honesty and simplicity that is close to mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not a technique or a strategy. It's not a kind of state or a mood. Mindfulness is an activity and that activity involves simultaneously opening and releasing. What you are opening to is the details of present experiencing. What you are releasing is fixation and focussing. Opening and releasing are not separate from each other. To open you need to release; to release you need to open. Releasing and opening move together like the ocean and the waves of the ocean. There is nowhere in the ocean you can point to, to say "this is where the wave ends and the ocean begins" or "this is where the ocean ends and this is where the wave begins". In our practice, opening and releasing are a ceaseless movement that occur simultaneously. Although we can use two words to describe the movement, the words are not what it is.

You can't experience experience by labeling it, or by thinking about it. You can only experience experience by experiencing it. Each time you come back to the touchstone of the breath you can experience opening and releasing. You can use the touchstone as a place from which you can begin to release the ways in which attention has narrowed and congealed. Each time you come back to the touchstone of the breath you are simultaneously opening and releasing attention into the sensations of the whole body and the colours and forms and sounds.

It's rather like choosing between viewing your life as a flat photograph or being able to see what is in three dimensions. Once you begin to understand the difference, you will find yourself more often choosing the wider, and more accurate view of course. The narrower, flat-photograph view leaves out more information than it provides and when information is missing the chance of misunderstanding what is really going increases dramatically.

The reason I chose the metaphor of a flat photograph to describe the mutterings of self-image is because there is a flatness to it. The cartoon-like images of other people or situations that decorate your thoughts are very inaccurate, very flat representations of how they actually are. The statements you make to yourself are not true to life, they have no nuance. They too are flat. Self-image, as a process of contraction, will make use of bits and pieces of reality to shore itself up, to prove itself right or worthy or intelligent, but it's really just reducing the view to tattered photographs that it can obsess over and be reactive about.

We spend much of our time losing ourselves in the push and pull of reactivity. We are reactive about our circumstances, about what goes on around us, about our own thoughts. Who we think we are, who other people think we are, how they respond to us, how we respond to them, fills us with a kind of habitual anxiety. One moment we are completely lost in thought, swept away by some storyline of hope or fear; and in the next moment we are desperately trying to control how we are, to put our best face forward whether that so-called-face is the face we like to imagine in the privacy of our thoughts or the face we wear when walking into a room to speak to someone. The face in the photograph. You know, the photograph we invented but that really doesn't exist.

Coming back to the touchstone of the breath is not a way of forming yet another argument to counter the countless arguments we already have with ourselves about how we should be or how anything else should be. Coming back to the breath stands outside of all of our accounting and equations and internalized maps about what everything is. As attention begins to open to the touchstone of the breath, there is the possibility of releasing of the structures of attention that form the framework of how our perceptions are arranged and bind them together - the same structures of attention that make up our views and attitudes towards ourselves and everything else.

It's not a matter of distracting yourself from thinking by directing your attention to the breath. Nor is it a matter of rearranging yourself in some way. It is touching something that is true, something that is going on right now that isn't of your invention. For a moment you stop lying to yourself quite as convincingly. For a moment a crack appears in the storylines. But as I mentioned previously it's not enough to just cling to the touchstone. You need to touch and then let go by releasing attention further into the breath and the sensations of the rest of the bodymind. And further still by releasing attention into the breath, the sensations of the whole bodymind as well as seeing and hearing. All together, all at the same time.

If there are thoughts, you don't need to wait until the thoughts go away so that you can begin to practise. Begin in the midst of the thoughts. Continue in the midst of the thoughts. Open attention to as many details as possible - details of bodily experiencing as well as practising environmental mindfulness. The thoughts might continue through this, but they are not obstructing anything. They are just details that can be noticed, but there is no need to move attention toward them. The very fact that you are noticing means they've already been given enough attention. What you need to do is give them context and the context is the space in which they are occurring. They are occurring within the context of whole bodily sensation, the space of the room, the space of seeing and hearing. If the thoughts are allowed to completely eclipse sensations, seeing, hearing, why is that? It is because you've agreed to let attention fold in on itself.

It isn't necessary to think about anything while you are practising zazen, but thoughts will naturally arise and fall. The deeper that your practice is, the less that thoughts condense into anything with words, images, or feeling-tones; instead they are movements of meanings. But this is only so for students who practice deeply as monastics and deshi with not only a very full schedule of formal practice but are engaged in gyoji, continuous practice. So, in general, let's face it - you are going to start thinking about stuff. There are times, and sometimes long stretches of time, during which you become very passive. You let yourself be stupid because it's easier. But you're not stupid because you do, in fact, know that you are doing this.

So instead of taking the approach that says that you have to label thoughts or make thoughts disappear so you can sit in a nice quiet little bubble before you can practice, what you can do is practise with the thoughts that come up. They are, after all, something you are experiencing. The problem is that you make them the most important thing you are experiencing when in reality they are one of the least important things you are experiencing. You're not going to learn anything new from them because….they are your thoughts. You already know everything that's in them. But people are addicted not just to thinking, but the whole process that gives rise to thinking as well as the content. Sometimes it's gossipy, sometimes it's (ahem) creative, sometimes furious, sometimes self-pitying and sometimes completely insane with a slightly comedic twist performed by the worst comic in existence that only they find funny. People love their thoughts. Even when you protest about them and say that you wish they would stop, you're loving it. Because even your protesting is more thinking.

But you don't get off the hook that easily because the truth of the matter is that it doesn't matter how peaceful or noisy your mind seems to be, you still need to feel the breath, open to bodily sensation and seeing and hearing and nothing else is going to cut it. Why? All of the living details of the breath, bodily feeling, seeing and hearing are all actually going on and if you are not open to them then you are avoiding your own life. You are lying to yourself. And if you try to justify that to a Dharma Teacher then you are trying to lie to the Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors.

And the truth is: you can do this, no matter how much you might protest that you can't -- because remember, all that protesting is just you getting all tricksy finding another way to feed your addiction to sit there and think about shit.

Feeling into the touchstone of the breath is faster than any thought you could possibly come up with. Opening to whole-bodily sensation together with the breath brings your two-dimensional self-created view into three dimensions, in technicolour, with surround sound. There is simply no way to compare the pixel density of the best video screen to the countless colours and numberless details of actually seeing. Do you really want to argue with me that that little fart-in-a-treetop line of thinking you get so invested in is worth your forgoing that? I don't think so. In fact, almost every thought that you get invested in and lose the vividness of your life in is almost immediately forgotten by the time you get lost in the next thought. Do you remember what you were thinking about when you got lost in thought on Wednesday? Or Thursday? Or Friday? Or this morning?

Remember, Zen practise isn't just about your practice on a zafu. It's all the time, because as long as we are alive, we are alive all the time. You practice on a zafu facing a blank white wall because your attention is in such a mess you don't know how to attend very well. So you're given absolutely simple conditions to practise in with a minimum of distraction. And although you might find it all rather boring, what is happening as you apply the instructions is that your attention is getting stronger. And stronger. And clearer. You're learning to distinguish between a lie (meaning most of the content of your thoughts) and what is actually being experienced. How can you tell if you are lying to yourself or someone else is lying to you when you don't know the difference between something you're actually seeing - i.e. the wall - and believing the imaginings you have going on in your head about yourself or other people? I truly cannot think of a better skill to have than the ability to distinguish quickly and clearly between what is false and what is true. And of course that's just ONE of the skills that practising zazen will teach you. The thousand arms of Avalokitesvara bodhisattva represent only a fraction of the possibilities of upaya or skillful means, the activity of wisdom.

And so when you get up from your zafu, you're not done. As I mentioned previously, self-image is an addict and grasp after highs from anything you weave attention into. So it is very important that you continue your practice, during kinhin, during kata, as you walk down the stairs and out of the building; as you make your way home and while you are at home. With everything you do. If you are sweeping the floor, practise while sweeping the floor. Are you really sweeping or are you 'multi-tasking' - moving the broom around while you watch home movies in your head? While you're eating lunch, washing the dishes, standing in the bank line, anywhere, all the time, you can make the choice to open attention or to fold down into nonsensical day-dreams.

Are you only practising when something 'big' jogs you into remembering to? Like the sight of an expanse of water, or the sound of wind, or perhaps noticing you're in a particularly nasty state and don't want to feel that way, so you remember to practise because maybe you can manipulate it, turn it into something else like a feeeeeling of openness. That's not openness.

Opening is opening attention by coming back to the touchstone of the breath, by coming back to bodily sensation, to seeing, to hearing. It's not just some memory of having been mindful at some point in the past that you can slosh over yourself now. It's not a feeling about yourself that you can have. It's not a discursive thought about mindfulness. It's something that you actually do.

In coming back to the touchstone of the breath, come out to the whole moment with the whole bodymind. This is where the jewel of your real life really is.

The Touchstone 8: The Nobility of the Truth

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, January 25, 2014

Feeling into the touchstone of the breath, as with all other aspects of our practice, is always actually about seeing how our attention is.

When people first begin practising they are often quite shocked at seeing how often and unpredictably attention drifts and sinks, becomes fragmented into the range of states they experience, and the volume of thoughts those states seem to generate. It's not that the states or the thoughts were not there before, it's just that through practising mindfulness, one is able to see them more clearly.

Someone asked me, not long ago, if practising mindfulness could deepen the states they experience and cause them to become even more contracted than they were before they started practising. No, not if you are following the instructions at all. But you would experience the contraction, the actual density of the state, more clearly. And you would be less able to fool yourself about whether it is "good for you" or not.

And that is actually at the root of that question: Although it presents itself as being fearful of Zen practice and looking to blame Zen for the painfulness of contraction, that's just how self-image tried to warp and corrupt what grew from the root. The root is the recognition that contraction hurts, that it is dukkha, or suffering, which is the First of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths. The Second is that this dukkha has a cause, and that too is there: the cause of dukkha is contraction or grasping of attention. The Third Noble Truth is that, just as the dukka has a cause it can also have an end. The Fourth Noble Truth is that there is a way to do this and that way is the path of the practise of mindfulness and insight through zazen.

Whether you are sitting for 30 minutes once a week or 30 minutes a day, every day, the instructions are the same. Attend to the sensations of the breath at the diaphragm and the tanden; attend to the sensations of the posture as a whole; attend to seeing and hearing. Attend to the details of present experiencing by opening to the sense fields.

Thoughts or feeling tones will continue to come up out of sheer habit. But it becomes clearer and clearer to the practitioner that there is a huge difference between what is actually going on and whatever version of reality they are fabricating and that they need to make the choice to open to reality and do that again and again and again, countless times within even a single sitting round.

Each half-hour round you sit zazen must be dedicated to actually sitting zazen.

Za means "sitting"; Zen means "practice"; Zazen means "sitting practice". The instructions are clear: Practise sitting. Practise opening to whole bodily sensation, mindfulness of the space in which you are sitting (the room around you); practise where you are and what is actually going on in this moment. It is NOT a time to talk to yourself about your theories about yourself or other people or what you think of as your life. It is not a time to figure stuff out or wallow in feeling tones of poverty or despair or anger. It is not a time to lose your mind in so-called "inspiration". It's time to sit zazen and follow the instructions.

If you make the choice to attend to the details of present experiencing, to open to this moment, you will begin to see how attention moves toward and away from whatever is noticed. When attention moves towards something it does this by narrowing and focusing. When it moves away from something it does that by ignoring and recoiling.

When you fall into a state and really identify with it, it is because your attention has become so narrowed and focused that you've made a feeling-tone or a storyline or something you are reacting to the point of your experiencing. It seems to be most or all of what is going on. It's a very strange thing, really, because you would think that when we feel so completely sure, so definite, about something it would occur to us to question what that feeling of certainty really is. But it doesn't. Instead, attention clenches and locks onto something and we become convinced that the clenching means something solid and true and certain. We get so caught up in the content of a state and the feelings it generates for us that we forget completely that any state, any thought, any feeling, is always arising within a larger context and unless we are opening to a larger context, anything we believe about ourselves or other people or situations is going to be skewed.

In a series of classes presented by Anzan Hoshin roshi in the late 1980s, entitled The Development of Buddhist Psychology, the Roshi explains for us the traditional meanings of the terms applied to states from about two and a half thousand years ago. He says:

The Dhammasangani, the "enumeration of the dhammas", is the first volume of the pitaka, and begins by classifying mental states into "kusala"and "akusala". "Kusala" has been translated in many ways: good, pure, or wholesome; "akusala", literally "not kusala", has been translated as bad, evil or unwholesome. These translations derive not from only the translators' penchants and predispositions but also reflect nuances in the tradition. Whereas it is often common in Western contemporary Dharma to view "akusala" as "unwholesome" rather than "evil", the basic connotation in the classical texts is often that certain mental states and certain things are inherently evil, and, in fact, that anything which is impermanent and compounded (and everything is) is the cause of suffering and thus evil.

What makes a mental state or anything else "wholesome" or "unwholesome" is how it is related to. Anger, for example, is regarded as "akusala". If anger is identified with and acted out, then harm comes to oneself and others and this certainly is not wholesome. However, if anger is attended to with mindfulness and insight, then it helps to deepen one's practice and has given one a measure of greater freedom. Thus something that is unwholesome can become wholesome. As well, if the energy of anger is known without judgement, identification, or avoidance but is simply attended to openly, then the gathering of factors (such as the tightening of muscles, the postural configuration, tightness of breath, focusing and contraction of the senses and sensory fields, thoughts, and so on) which is conventionally understood to be "anger" is disengaged from the factors which make it "anger", then anger is no longer anger. It has not been rejected, suppressed, acted out, or denied but has been opened through direct insight. The energy of anger thus becomes available as simply energy, which can then be applied as strength, determination, or whatever is appropriate. This way of working with states is not characteristic of the Hinayana or Abhidhammic approach although it has developed from their consideration of each thing being a gathering or compounding of many other things. The Hinayana approach would be to simply cut off the state.

If we approach certain elements of our experience as if they were inherently "evil", they are then no longer available to us as tools for greater clarity. When I teach, I emphasize the quality of attention, the process of the occurrence, rather than the content, and so kusala would be a moment of open attention, akusala would be contracted attention. Defining something as unwholesome or evil or bad as such reifies and objectifies it. As well, our basic tendency seems to be to want to read a list of good things and bad things about ourselves so that we can know what not to let show.

A practical example of this might be that of anger - a state that comes up all the time, even about small things, and it can be "neutral", "wholesome", or "unwholesome". An example of "neutral" anger might be dropping a pencil on the floor and realizing you have to pick it up. The silent "Oh damn!" that comes up is not harmful, it's just a little flaring of energy. As long as it's not propagated and weighs upon whatever event follows.

An example of "wholesome anger" might be the burst of energy that arises that allows you to drag a small child out of the way of an oncoming bus.

An example of "unwholesome anger" might be getting into a real state, letting someone have it in a way that is harmful to them (and harm can take place in many ways), and then thinking "There! I'm glad I did that". Not good.

Anger that comes up and is vented on others is not wholesome. It presupposes that there is a "self" and there is an "other" towards whom the anger is directed. This is why we need to practise opening around it. If there is a sense of "self" underlying the anger (and there almost always is), then real communication with another person is not possible because we have taken up a stance towards them that cuts off any possibility of meeting them where we and they are most human.

When anger is practised with, the energy of it can open and when it opens, it can become a kind of clarity and determination that has no "edge" to it. When this happens, we can be more intelligent about the situation and it is often possible to see ways of responding, actions that can be taken, that would not normally occur to us. So in this way, anger can become very useful. Left to its own devices, though, it will just cause further difficulty. As Roshi often says, Contraction only leads to further contraction.

And this is precisely why you should come back to the touchstone of the breath whenever you notice anything about how you seem to be - angry, sad, confused, anxious, tired, sick, happy, enthusiastic, energetic -- whatever it is that seems to become dominant in your experiencing needs to be open to question. Feeling into the touchstone of the breath when you're really angry at someone might seem to be incredibly inconvenient and an unwanted interruption, but that just shows you how vitally important it is that you DO feel into the sensations of the breath, open to bodily sensation and seeing and hearing. It's very simple, really. If any state you are experiencing cannot be open to colours and forms and sounds and sensations, what does that say about the state?

Sometimes students will notice something about how they are, some state or some way in which they have behaved, and they will say something along the lines of, "My self-image was very strong today". Which makes it sound like we have some kind of ghostly entity living inside of us that misbehaves and overpowers us.

The thing to understand about this is that the thing that seems to be watching self-image -- that is ALSO self-image.

So what's the relationship between self-image and attention again? Well, that's exactly what we have been discussing. So, first off, there is no such thing as self-image. It's an illusion. And it is an illusion formed out of the contraction of attention into a 'knower'. The structures of attention that give rise to self-image are what we need to be able to notice in order to release them.

I know that there can be a bit of a problem with that phrase "seeing how our attention is" because that can be misconstrued to mean that one should 'watch' attention -- as though one were somehow separate from it and could watch it. Which makes no sense at all. So let's look at what is meant by the word "attention" and then we'll go into what's meant by "the seeing of it" and why that is important.

The Roshi defined the word "attention" in Painted Cakes: a Zen Dictionary, as this: When directed towards or away from an experience, this is the primary mechanism of delusion. When clarified of fickleness, distraction, and sinking, it refers to mindfulness without the need to apply effort.

Attention can move towards and away from whatever it attends to. It can move towards an object, toward a thought, a feeling, a state, a sound. And it can move away from any of these by ignoring details or distracting itself from whatever might be noticed. But mind and body are not separate so these movements towards and away from what is noticed affect the whole of the bodymind. You can see this in a very simple and direct way when sitting zazen. If attention is leaning into a state, you are not sitting straight. If attention folds down or becomes narrowed and congealed, the bodymind will begin to slouch or tighten.

If attention can move toward and away from an experience, how then does this become the primary mechanism of delusion? If you move attention toward an experience (and focus on it) or move attention away from an experience (by ignoring), both of these will just create distortion. You are either viewing whatever it is that is noticed as being far more important than it really is or far less important than it really is. It's rather like changing the magnification of a lens you're viewing the world through. You're not seeing it as it is, relative to everything around it -- you're making it larger or smaller, according to your own agenda. You are distorting reality and thereby deluding yourself. And this is THE most common way you cause delusion for yourself and for those around you.

Seeing how your attention is in this moment is not falling into how you usually tend to be but it is also not something you do by stepping forward or backward or to the sides from what is going on. See how your attention is with the breath, with the mudra, with the knees. with the wall, with the sounds, with the right elbow and left elbow and the belly and the back, in this moment.

Practise the nobility of this moment, the truth of this moment, and be the Buddha of this moment.

The Touchstone 9: Honestly

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, March 22nd, 2014

You are not your thoughts or feelings. You can never be any of the thoughts or feelings you experience because no thought or feeling can be what your life is. Thoughts and feelings arise within your life, as a coming and going of reactions to what is being experienced. Thoughts and feelings bind together as views - of yourself and of the world. And although the view keeps changing, you can still convince yourself that THIS view is THE view. THIS is how it really is. THIS is what's really going on.

The ways in which we know tend to be based upon habituality and limitation, upon what we have already known. The binding together of thoughts and feelings and reactions into what I am referring to as "views", is the result of the activity of the five skandhas, or in Sanskrit, the panca upadanaskhanda, the five binding groups.

The five skandhas, or the five maha-bhutas, which describe the piling up of mental factors, are rupa (form), vedana (basic reactivity), samjna (symbolization), sankhara (habitual patterning), and vijnana (consciousness). The five skandhas are compulsive and occur through glossing over the details of experiencing: not noticing that a thought arises, dwells and decays; not hearing how a sound is actually heard. So the five skandhas refers to how experiencing is conditioned rather than to how Knowing shows itself as what is known.

Because we focus on the known, we don't understand how the known is known. We do not understand what Knowing is. And because we do not understand what Knowing is, we presume that there is a knower.

Now, let's pause here for a moment and just feel the breath at the diaphragm. Feel into the sensations at the tanden. Just feel that area, without making it move. It isn't linked to respiration, it has its own sensations. it's right where the blades, or the 'edges' of the hands in the mudra contact the lower belly so it's easy to feel. But it's down at the belly so feeling the tanden can help to ground or balance the tendency or habit to try to feel downwards and outwards from the head, from behind the eyes. Open to the sensations of the whole body sitting on the zafu. Open to seeing and hearing. Release any thoughts or feelings into the sensations and colours and forms and sounds.

Any thought that comes up is a known. Any feeling that comes up is a known. That is not what we are practising. What we are practising is knowing, which includes the knowing of thoughts and feelings but is not about them. However, thoughts and feelings tend to be quite sticky, so it is important to begin to question into the processes that give rise to them instead of just being caught up in the content. It might seem, at first, that just by magic, without any reason you can see, you get lost in a storyline or a feeling-tone. But once you see the mechanisms that create them and perpetuate them, they become much less of a mystery, much less 'sticky'. I have spoken about practising with thoughts in previous talks in this series, but not a lot has been said about feelings and feeling-tones so we will go into this a little.

Beginning students find the way we use the terms "feeling" and "feeling-tone" to be a bit confusing.

The word "feeling" as a verb, refers to feeling into the sensations of the body. The sensations of the hand, for example, are felt by the hand. Only the hand can feel the hand; it does not require that you "think" about the sensations, but instead that you feel into them. In feeling into them it can be noticed that some sensations stand out; others are more subtle, but the sensations are not separate from one another - the hand is not separate from the wrist; the wrist is not separate from the arm. And so the more that we practice opening to the sensations of the breath, the tanden, feeling into the sensations of the rest of the body, the more we find that each sensation opens out into every other sensation and so we can learn to feel the whole body simultaneously. And that is the point - to feel whole-bodily, to feel all of the sensations of the body, all at the same time, all in the same breath, rather than as bits and pieces.

The word "feelings" as a noun is different. Feelings are not really directed towards anything when they first come up. They are simply an acknowledgement of something that is going on. Not how we "feel" about what is going on, but acknowledging that it is happening. For example, a feeling of grief may come up as an honest and direct acknowledgement of the fact that someone we know is gone. It does not require thoughts about it, does not require us to move attention towards a thought or a feeling about that. It is simply there as an acknowledgement of something that is true and is already being felt, simply and directly, without commentary, without storylines, without any kind of embellishment. But if we begin to focus on a feeling, give it too much attention it will begin to distort into what we refer to as "feeling-tones".

Feeling-tones are distortions or misinterpretations of feeling that come about through turning attention to a feeling and propagating it. Feeling-tones condition or "colour" our experiencing. For example, when we are sitting feelings frequently come up as an acknowledgement of what we are experiencing while sitting. We are practising opening attention and so perhaps a subtle feeling of anticipation springs up simply because we are acknowledging that we do not know what our experiencing might be in the next moment, what we will notice. There is just a brightness and freshness to things because we are paying attention to what is going on and the feeling is not really about anything specific, is not directed towards anything. If attention begins to move towards that subtle feeling of anticipation and focuses on it, then we begin to propagate it by giving it too much attention. The word "propagate" comes from the Sanskrit word, "prapancha", which means "five times too many". Giving the original feeling too much attention will cause it to distort and it may begin to take the form of perhaps a kind of grasping - wanting to know what it is that we are anticipating. If we continue to propagate, a feeling of unsatisfactoriness can begin to form because we want to know what is coming up before it comes up. The more we propagate, the more feeling-tones we generate about our experiencing and in a very short time we can go from a simple feeling of anticipation, to a feeling-tone of unsatisfactoriness to a feeling-tone of confusion. This is just an example of how a feeling-tone can move from one view of things to another, to another, in a short space of time.

Feeling-tones, as I mention, colour or set the tone for how we are experiencing things. They have an "environmental quality" to them. From the feeling-tone, thoughts begin to spring up to justify or explain the feeling-tone. And so we might start talking to ourselves about how we want to have some kind of "break-through" in our practice so that we know we are "progressing" and perhaps how hard we've tried to do the practice and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. As we continue to propagate these thoughts, they generate more feeling-tones, which generate more thoughts, which generates more feeling-tones and a loop begins to form.

States of mind are not separate from states of body, so the more that we do this, the more we will tend to act out states with the body. If there is a feeling-tone present that is perhaps about anger, we will act that out with the body and so the breath might become tight and constricted; the shoulders may rise; the jaw clenches; the facial muscles tighten; the thumbs, held in the mudra may begin to push against one another. If there is a feeling-tone present that is about sadness, the shoulders may become rounded, the chest becomes somewhat concave; we begin to sigh; the mudra collapses. We habitually act out states with the body during our waking hours and even when we are sleeping and dreaming.

However, when we are sitting, we don't do this. We let the body sit as body. Regardless of whatever feelings or feeling-tones or thoughts there are that come up, we stay in posture and refrain from acting them out. Instead of acting them out or propagating them, we use the noticing of them as a reminder to re-initiate our practice - to open to whole-bodily sensation, the colours and forms and sounds.

Most of what people describe as "feelings" are not actually feelings, they are feeling-tones. Most of us are thoroughly addicted to feeling-tones and to such a degree that there is a continuous flow of them. We also swap feeling-tones all day long with other people and help one another to propagate them. I am sure you have had the experience of going to work feeling just fine, encountering someone, having a brief conversation with them, and for the rest of the morning feeling unsettled or confused or angry etc.

Sometimes another kind of confusion comes up for people that isn't so much about whatever feelings there are that might seem to presence, but rather that they don't seem to be feeling anything at all. This can come up so strongly that they wonder if there isn't something wrong with them, if perhaps they are "dead inside". When this perception is present, we believe that it is due to an "absence" of feeling, when in actual fact what we are experiencing is a presencing of something - a feeling-tone that registers as "absence". If you are noticing that feeling-tone, it is because you are feeling it, so, in fact, it is not true that you are not feeling anything - you are feeling something that you are calling the absence of feeling. What came before that may have been any number of actual feelings that were not about anything in particular, just acknowledgments about what was actually going on - perhaps noticing that one was sitting in a room and there was nothing going on. There isn't really anything to think about while sitting, or to have feeling-tones about. It's quiet, open, spacious. There are sensations and colours and forms and sounds, and none of this is really about "you". It's about paying open attention to what is going on around "you" instead of having thoughts and feeling-tones and storylines and states about "you".

Things begin to open a little, and then there is a tendency to want to fold down again, to make things small again. We are used to having feeling-tones and thoughts fill up the space of our experiencing. They keep us busy with storylines and theories and so forth. When we are sitting, we are not trying to fill up the space of experiencing with feeling-tones and thoughts about ourselves or anyone else. We are opening to a far bigger space, a vast space that is not about us. When we begin sitting, we can open for brief moments and then we will want to fill up the space with something, anything, to distract ourselves.

And this is precisely what we are doing when we identify with and propagate a feeling-tone about not being able to feel. This really comes down to finding a way to distract ourselves from having to do the practice. It doesn't matter whether a feeling-tone that comes up is one that we "like" or one that we "dislike". In either case, if we are giving a feeling-tone too much attention, we do that by narrowing and focussing attention. What should you do about that? Use the noticing of any feeling-tones, thoughts, storylines that come up - whether you "like" them or "dislike them" as a reminder to re-initiate your practice and open to this moment of present experiencing. It doesn't need you to comment on it or feel any way about it. The practice is not about cultivating a state of mind or a certain feeling. It is about paying attention to this moment of present experience as it is, without interpretation.

When you are sitting and you notice a feeling or a feeling-tone, practise with them. This is important because feelings and feeling-tones come up before thoughts do. Thoughts spring up to explain or justify a feeling or a feeling-tone. So unless you release the feeling or the feeling-tone, the thoughts are just going to continue. Feel into the sensations of the breath. Where does the feeling or feeling-tone seem to take place relative to the breath? Is it in front of the breath, behind the breath? Does the breath run through it? As soon as you begin to feel the breath at the diaphragm and the tanden, and open to whole bodily sensation, there is recognition that no thought or feeling-tone is as solid as one might have assumed. It has no real substance. It can have an effect on the whole bodymind if it is propagated, but you don't need to propagate. Just continue to sit up straight, do your practice and open around any tendency to want to lose yourself in a feeling.

This isn't a matter of suppressing or ignoring feeling. It's about being honest with feeling. You don't need to contract in order to feel. You don't need to squeeze your eyes shut or let your posture collapse. You don't need to abstract yourself from bodily sensation or block out colours and forms and sounds in order to feel.

Feel, but allow feeling to arise together with all of the details that make up your life as a whole. Allow feeling to open into a larger context instead of wadding it up into a tight little painful ball in the middle of your chest. Feel the breath, feel the body, open to your life. And allow feeling to open to the knowing in which it too arises.

You might really like some of the feelings you experience - feelings of happiness or euphoria or excitement. And you may hate some of the feelings you experience - feelings of despair, or anger, or self-loathing. With any feeling you experience, come back to the breath. Feel the movement of this breath which gives you life with each breath. Be honest about feeling, by being mindful of the breath and bodily sensation and seeing and hearing. You don't need to exclude sensations and colours and forms and sounds in order to feel. And if you are excluding them……..well, what does that tell you about how honest you are really being about what you feel?

Thoughts, feelings, feeling-tones, storylines, memories are all really quite tricky because they will condition how you experience what you experience. Open feeling-tones and ground feelings by opening attention to things just as they are, beginning with this breath, right now.

The Touchstone 10: Serenity Is Not Special

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, June 21st, 2014

At any moment that you recognize that you are lost in thought or are propagating a feeling tone or a state, you can use that recognition as a prompt to come back to the breath and the body, seeing and hearing. Experiencing this moment with the whole body is practising an intimacy of experiencing that comes about only when you simply allow yourself to meet your experiencing as it really is.

Meeting experience as it is might be feeling the breath at the diaphragm and tanden, opening to seeing and hearing while chopping vegetables. It might be opening attention while pulling wads of who-knows-what out of the drain in the kitchen sink because it's not emptying properly. It might be a moment of opening to seeing and hearing and bodily sensation while listening to birdsong as you walk under the canopy of trees on the way to the monastery. Or you might find yourself opening attention while someone nearby is expressing frustration and anger. It might be feeling the breath at the diaphragm and tanden and opening to whole-bodily sensation and seeing and hearing while listening to falling rain, or it might be while measuring out medication for someone who is ill. You don't know, from moment to moment, what will happen, what will need to be done, what someone might say. Yet each moment of your life is a moment of breathing, of feeling, of seeing, of hearing. Each moment is always a moment in which you can simply allow yourself to meet experience intimately.

If you were not practising at all, you might still walk down this street and hear the birdsong and you might still have to pull wads of who-knows-what out of the sink drain when necessary. And you'd still be interacting with other people and their states. But if you are practising, the difference is that you can do each thing you are doing more fully and completely. You can do each task with the whole bodymind instead of doing them with a sense of resentment. You can recognize how your attention is as you do them and choose to release attention into the sensations and colours and forms and the doing of the task instead of recoiling and holding yourself at a distance from it.

Self-image -- or the process of contraction that gives rise to a sense of self -- would much rather think about what's going on than really engage in what is going on. This is because through contraction, the sense of a 'self' sets itself up as the 'knower' of experiencing, as a some 'one' who is separate from what is being experienced.

When you sit zazen you can see this process of contraction and separation quite easily. You might begin by following the instructions to stay with the sensations of the breath and body, to open to seeing and hearing and pay attention to where you are and what is going on. But a few minutes later, you begin to drift into a storyline, in which the sense of self can seem to be at the center of the storyline.

In zazen, again, and again, when you come back to the breath and body, and refresh your practice, you see the storylines fall apart because there is no "one" at the center of experiencing. There is just this moment and the details that present themselves as the exertion of this moment which are constantly changing. Our practice is to release contraction, and instead of recoiling, learn to meet experiencing as it actually is. This is why we begin with this very simple practice of sitting cross-legged in the posture of zazen, opening attention to all of the sense fields instead of ignoring them to pursue internalized states and stances. And this is why, when we practise Anapanasati, or mindfulness of the breath, we come back to the touchstone of the breath, we mark the moment with the touchstone of this breath. We touch the breath and ground ourselves in this moment.

Grounding oneself in this moment doesn't mean hanging on to the moment. It means letting yourself drown in the moment. If you try to hold on to the moment things can get quite complicated. So I will talk about that a little, because it is something that comes up in people's practice at one time or another.

In people's lives there is usually a lot they have to contend with that they don't particularly like. For instance, being bored at work; having to participate in social events they don't want to go to; being immersed in family issues that are not interesting to them.

Zen practice isn't about any of that stuff. But we are instructed to practice while those experiences are going on. So here's where a misunderstanding can creep in.

If you are practising Zen you will see more about your own states. And you will recognize more often when other people are in a state -- because you recognize some of your own. Now, all this stuff that was going on before you started practising - the boredom and arguments and family foibles and all of the rest of it -- that stuff is still going to be going on after you start practising. And what can happen is that you may make the mistake of trying to use your practice as a way of distancing yourself from all this stuff you don't really like.

So, for instance, there is a family member in front of you talking about an issue. It doesn't matter what the issue is. What matters is the stance you might take up relative to that person and the situation. If you recoil instead of releasing, this is not practising. It's taking up a stance about the situation and perhaps about the other person. And if you allow this recoil to continue, it can seem as though you are at a distance from what is being experienced, in a kind of special practice space that they don't share. Because, the story says, you're different. Because, the story says, you practice and they don't and that makes you superior and special. And if you allow this state and its story to continue, you may actually begin to feel quite serene about the whole thing. But what is being mistaken for a sense of serenity is actually a sense of flattening and withdrawal.

I do want to make it very clear that this has nothing to do with practising. This is merely the acting out of various patterns of contraction with a storyline about practice woven through them.

If you are in a social interaction and this comes up, open around it by coming back to the touchstone of the breath and actually do your practice. If you are in that situation it is because you agreed to put yourself in that situation. So be in that situation with the whole bodymind. If you don't wish to experience that sort of thing again, then you can change the activities you engage in. If you are in a relationship or are married, it is because you agreed to that. You can change that, but if you are going to change it then do it. Don't fence-sit, secretly holding yourself at a distance. Fully participate in your life and if you make a change, then fully engage in and take responsibility for that change. Don't use your practice as a way to avoid your life. This is not how a bodhisattva behaves - it is how self-image behaves.

When students make the mistake of recoiling from their own lives, and from the people around them, to some extent they will recognize that this is not good. And they will ask if Zen is devoid of feeling.

No, Zen is not devoid of feeling. If you are really practising, you will feel more, not less. But genuine emotion, real feeling, is a momentary flash. It does not colour or predispose, so it is not something you can hold on to.

In Anzan Hoshin roshi's translation of the Genjokoan, The Question of our Lives, Eihei Dogen Zenji says:

Gaining enlightenment is like the moon reflecting upon water; the moon isn't wet, the water isn't stirred. With all of its radiance, the moon can still be seen in a puddle. Full moon, vast sky, can both be reflected in a single drop of dew dangling from a blade of grass. Enlightenment does not disturb you just as the moon doesn't ruffle the water. You can no more grasp enlightenment than the dew drop can restrain the full moon, the vast sky. As deep as the drop is, so high is the moon. As to how long such a reflection will last, just consider the water's depth, the moon's light.

We cannot grasp enlightenment and we cannot grasp mindfulness. Mindfulness is only mindfulness if we are really allowing ourselves to meet our experience as it actually is in this moment. It's not something we can 'oversee'. We can only enter into it, moment after moment. It penetrates our lives like sunlight through water and the longer and more deeply that we practice, the more transparent we become. And being transparent to experiencing allows us to see that all experiences arise within a much larger space.

To be transparent means that there is absolutely nothing you can hang on to. It means that none of your thoughts are solid, none of your feelings are solid, none of your views or attitudes are solid.

So when you are practising formally or informally, at home or at work, interacting with other people, the same is true. Practise this transparency by coming back to the breath and body, by opening to seeing and hearing, and allow experiencing to present itself to you. With other people, let them be how they are and don't hold yourself separate from them. Again, if you don't want to be with them you don't have to be. But if you ARE with them and this is what you agreed to, then let yourself fully BE in that situation. Don't be half-assed. You can't sit up straight as the Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors if you are half-assed. You need to practise with the whole bodymind, both legs, both feet, both hands, and arms and legs and ears and eyes and the nape of the neck and behind the ears.

You can't do other people's practice for them. Do your own practice. If you just do your own practice, it includes all people that you know, all of the things that you do, all of the colours and forms that you see. In doing your own practice you practise the moment and everything that arises together as the moment. Meet the moment intimately and wordlessly. Don't recoil. Release. In this way you embrace everyone instead of holding everything at a distance.

You can release grasping at them and being entangled by their grasps as well, by embracing them and everything in the intimacy of experience. You are not people's ideas about you and they are not your ideas about them.

Zen practise is not an idea. And it is certainly not the ideas you can have about your practice, many of which are quite contradictory. Zen practice is something that you actually do. And in actually doing it, it does you, it changes you. Not into a special version of you, someone who is not only more spiritual or wise than you were but more wise and spiritual and special than your family and friends. It changes you so that you can live your real life, be a real person instead of a story about yourself, and really meet others beyond your ideas about them. We will explore more of this next time.

Right now, let's sit.

The Touchstone 11: Entering the Space of Maitri

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, August 22nd, 2014

During the previous Dharma Talk in this series, I spoke a little about the sense of separation that can come up between people, the way in which self-image will set itself at a distance from what is being experienced. That distancing allows us to avoid the directness of experiencing, and in the so-called 'space' between one self and whatever is being experienced, there is lots of room to propagate attitudes and stances about other people or situations.

But allowing oneself to experience the directness of experiencing might seem fraught with difficulty if misunderstood. Self-image is very good at over-simplifying imagined options, making them seem rather cartoon like. Either I "like" this person or this situation and I enter more fully into it because I like it and so I want to grasp as much as I can from it. Or I don't "like" this person or situation so I pull back from it. I distance myself from it. And, all depending on what's going on, liking and disliking might switch around, so that something you like in one moment becomes something you don't like in the next moment.

We have a conversation with someone and we believe that they are someone separate from us; that we are separate from that person. So there is an interiority to how we are. We withdraw and become internalized. From that internalized sense of ourselves, we believe that we have thoughts and feelings that are hidden from the situation. We look out at this person who's speaking to us, this person that we might like in one moment and might dislike in the next.

This is all very harsh, don't you think? It is harsh because when you separate yourself from experiencing by withdrawing and internalizing, the world that is seemingly 'outside' of you seems critical and judgmental and you become critical and judgmental of it.

We can't ever truly meet anyone at all unless we do so with complete intimacy. When we notice we are contracting or internalizing, in that moment of noticing we have the opportunity to make a choice about how we are. And the only choice that is really a choice is to open. Instead of furthering that sense of separation, we can instead choose to allow a quality of "maitri" or "friendliness" to guide our interactions. Maitri is a kind of basic friendliness, a kind of warmth, which the Roshi has often described as a sense of space within which you can allow for however you are to come and go, without pushing or pulling at it. Maitri means recognizing our fears, recognizing our hopes, openly. It means learning to really bring mindfulness and confusion together.

Anzan Hoshin roshi said, in Maitri Bhavana: The Practice of Compassion:

Maitri does not mean indulging in our thoughts and feelings. It means seeing the tendency to indulge, to identify, to propagate, and it sees also the tendency to avoid and cover over and reject and suppress. But it trusts the clarity of the moment itself. It trusts the dignity of experience itself. It trusts and knows that the moment itself, our experience itself, is so vast and limitless that a contraction, a lie, a contortion, a clenching, must unfold itself within such vastness when it is recognized. Just as a fist must unfurl into an open hand at some point - you can only keep it closed for so long - so in the same way, Maitri attends to what is arising openly and brings that quality of openness towards what is arising so that what arises dwells and passes away, so that what comes goes. Effortlessly, painlessly, spontaneously, freely.

It's not about pumping up a feeling of warmth as a feeling tone, or creating some sort of warm, fuzzy state of compassion. It is about actually practising. Because if you really practice, Maitri is an aspect of what your practice opens into. But it can only really come about through the activity of practice.

A practical example of this might be practising with the eye gaze while you are speaking to someone. By "practising with the eye gaze" I just mean to be mindful of how the gaze is. I do not mean to take up a special way of looking at people, a Zen trick to play with the eyes or anything like that. People are often looking for a special tool, or more accurately a kind of "secret weapon" that other people will not have in order to have an advantage. Practising with the eye gaze, or the posture, or the breath, or the whole bodymind in the whole moment is not a matter of playing tricks or playing with weapons but of seeing through and thus not being tricked. We often trick ourselves, or try to trick others, or we fall for or even submit to the tricks of others. Practising is noticing how we are adding these tricky tactics because we are following the strategies of hope and fear of trying to maintain an image of a self instead of allowing the reality of the open body, the open mind, and the open moment.

Many people will maintain a tight eye contact with others, almost as if they feel like potential prey in the presence of a predator. This is because the sense of separation is already quite strong and is being generated by self-image, which itself is fear. Instead of propagating this, practise opening and relaxing your eye gaze while speaking to other people. Open to the sensations of the touchstone of the breath, feel into the sensations of the diaphragm and tanden and the whole bodymind in whatever posture it is in. Open to hearing and open to peripheral vision so that you can see the space around them - to the left and right and up and down all at the same time. Release the focusing of attention by seeing the details within the space, and also seeing the space between you and they, the same space that opens up all around and behind them. In doing this, you are literally 'giving them space'. And although they won't know what it is that you're doing, they will likely experience a feeling of friendliness from you because you're giving them space. You're not using a spotlight - you're using soft lighting and this is much less harsh than the usual focusing of attention. That kind of focusing is harsh because it's way too much. When you focus on someone like that, you're making them the most important thing in the world and they're not. They're just part of what's going on. They and the room you're standing in, the colours and forms and sounds and sensations you're experiencing arise together with them within the whole of experiencing. For you the visual field will be softer, less 'aimed and directed', which will allow the bodymind to relax more. It's really quite alarming for the bodymind when attention congeals into patterns of anxious focusing.

So as you can see from this example, maitri is not a feeling or an attitude. It is a friendliness towards oneself and others that comes about through actually doing the practice in the midst of interactions. But maitri can be applied to much more than just eye gaze. I simply used that as an example because it's quite easy to talk about.

But even when there is no one else there, when you are telling yourself stories about yourself or stories about other people, these are times when maitri is needed. And just as you can release the focusing of the eyes to practice this when speaking with another person, you can release the focus of attention on yourself when you notice you are talking to yourself. The same narrowing is going on and needs to be released.

Now I'll read a brief passage from the Roshi's Commentaries on the The Xinxin Ming, which so clearly describes the distortion that occurs through contraction.

The Roshi says:

Your presumptions about yourselves as selves cloud your eyes like cataracts and so you see things that are just not there. Sometimes they might indeed be beautiful like flowers. But more often they are much more threatening: like flesh eating flowers looming around you and images of scowling faces and fear of plots and rejections, feeling unloved and unlovable, and loving someone for what you want them to be and hating someone for not being what you want them to be and on and on. Self-image clouds the eyes, dims the ears, numbs the body and dreams its nightmares of hope and fear throughout the day and night. What we hope for is an hallucination that eludes and tortures us, what we fear is a phantasm that can take any form from a telephone call to a telephone that doesn't ring to saying the wrong thing to a wordless gasp that we wake up in the morning with.

As attention narrows and fixates, discursive storylines that fit the edges of that narrowing squirm into place and fill what is experienced with meanings that seem certain because they fit so well. Anything can seem to be true if the information that would contradict it is simply ignored. When we practise opening fixation we find that many if not yet most of our presumptions begin to fall away because without that narrowness there is nothing to hold them in place. It can even seem to make sense to shove our heads back into the mouth of the flesh eating flower of our fantasy because, well, we grew up with it. The bite of the acids is so familiar it seems like the smell of mom's home cooking. We are so addicted to grasping after and pushing away the fleurs du mal of our delusions that we don't know what to do with our hands without them.

So Sengcan says, "What are you? Crazy? Stop that. Put your hands in the mudra. Sit up straight.

Coming back to the touchstone of the breath, we see again and again, how we trick ourselves by indulging in states, by propagating storylines. In a moment of feeling into the touchstone of the breath, attention releases fixation on usual patterns of thought and feeling. The beginnings of a kind of spaciousness, of equanimity can be felt, a quality that is very different from the usual configurations of attention. It's so profoundly simple: feel the breath; feel into the sensations of the bodymind; open to seeing and hearing. In contrast to the usual narrow concerns of self-image, it is rather like opening all of the windows in a closed, airless room. All of a sudden and all at once, it's so easy to simply enjoy the intimacy of breathing this breath within the vast, open space of experiencing.

With this breath, enter into the space of maitri.

The Touchstone 12: The Practice of Taking Care

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, November 22nd, 2014

Our practice of the Way of the Buddhas is practised with and through the whole bodymind. Dogen zenji called this "shinjin gakudo, "studying the Way with the bodymind."

How your mind is at any moment is expressed in your posture, in your actions, in how you are with others, and the space in which you allow them to be as they are. And it's also expressed through the spaces in which you live and work.

We tend to think about things as being solid and somehow already complete, when in fact everything is always in process. Your life is made up of a vast array of details that keep shifting and changing. But people often talk about their lives as being almost entirely made up of their job and social life.

Joshu Dainen zenji often said, Be joyful and be careful. In our practice Teachers might often talk about the importance of "taking care."

When a sitting round ends,our practice does not end. Bowing with the breath, we straighten, mindfully move from zazen posture to seiza on the zabuton and then mindfully take care of the zafu and zabuton. Each press on the zafu is a touchstone of reality. Each sensation of the knees and shins and feet on the mat, each sensation of clothing on the skin, the air on our faces and hands are touchstones of reality. And in standing, the standing is our practice. Hearing the kaishaku strike is the sound of reality. Taking a step is reality taking a step. This is how we take care and how we can understand realize the "joy" that Joshu Dainen roshi was speaking of, how we can "enjoy ourselves" in jijuyu-zanmai as Anzan roshi invites us to.

But it has been clearer and clearer to me that students often misunderstand this. Instead of it being understood as something that we can do, as part of our practice, it is understood as just more of self-image's usual turning around in what Dogen zenji called the "closed circles of self-concern."

"Taking care" of oneself, taking care of our surroundings, taking care with the people we interact with, is not about having a feeling about any of those details. It is in how we work with the details. Taking care of yourself is seeing what is needed with a wide view. It's doing what needs to be done now, with an eye to how that will affect us later. Cleaning up your space is an act of compassion towards yourself because if you clean up the space you will come back to a nice clean space. That is what you will meet later. Setting up a pot of coffee for when you get up in the morning is an act of compassion towards yourself because then it's all taken care of for the you - as you will be then - who will have a much easier time because all that you will have to do is press the button to turn it on. Whew. Good morning! Thanks! And the same applies to cleaning the dishes in the sink so you won't have to do that later, or hanging your keys on a hook so you always know where to find them. And then building on these little actions of clarifying how you do what you do so that things become easier and easier and easier.

But these acts of compassion are often not convenient. You have to make an effort to take care of things and that won't necessarily be easy. We all know, for example, that taking care of a baby is important, but it is not easy. Getting up, night after night, in the middle of the night to tend to a crying baby is not convenient and it's not particularly easy. You don't do it because you feel motherly or fatherly or because it's fun. And it often is the last thing on earth you want to do. But it is part of taking care, an act of compassion, and it is a necessity. And although it is is quite a bit easier, so is cleaning the kitchen, even though you don't feel like doing it.

When you look at the space in which you live and the objects you have within that space and how you have them arranged, what you are seeing is your mind. If you allow things to pile up and fall over, you're doing this with your mind. You're not seeing what is right in front of you or what it is telling you. Well, until you trip over it. In which case it's telling you you've forgotten you have feet and feet need a clear space to walk through.

If you want to clarify your life, you need to start with these details: Food, clothing, shelter. Eat well. Everything you do you do with the bodymind. No bodymind, no you. And the bodymind needs the energy from food to do what it does. If you are busy in areas of your life and don't eat, you're neglecting the bodymind. You're not a floating head, operating independently of the rest of the body. If you don't eat properly you will get sick. Or crazy. Or both. Because states of mind are not separate from states of body. Starve the body and you are starving the mind.

Sometimes people think that "taking care" of themselves means going to see more movies. Or hanging out with friends more. Or having different kinds of friends. No, "taking care" of yourself starts with the business of feeding, clothing and sheltering the bodymind. The movies and the friends and whatnot are activities you might or might not engage in, but the staples, the most important things, the things that you depend on for life, these involve first and foremost, taking care of food, clothing and shelter.

You need adequate clothing to protect the bodymind and you need to look after your clothing. By adequate clothing I mean warm clothing for the winter. If your winter coat is not warm enough, go get a warm coat. If it doesn't fit you anymore and you can't zip it up, go get a bigger coat. But take care of the bodymind by clothing it properly. Hang your clothes up properly. Don't just drop them on the floor mixing clean clothing with dirty, because again, this is reflecting the state of your mind. Live with a quality of dignity. Create a place to put dirty laundry and keep it separate from the clean. If you tell yourself you're just messy but that's okay because you've been messy ever since you were a teenager, take a look at that attitude. You're not a teenager anymore. And the fact that you had this or that habit as a teenager is no justification for continuing it now.

It might seem a bit odd to some of you that I am talking about this. But it is important and the level of confusion that people are experiencing these days compels me to explain it. So even if you think you already understand it all. Listen. Listen carefully. Because even if you think you already understand this, there is a good chance you know one or more people who actually do not and they will be experiencing a kind of suffering because of it. And I will also point out that what I am saying actually does apply to everyone no matter how well we might think we have everything arranged, because we are never finished. All of us are "in process" and everything could always be better, more open, clearer.

If you start with small things and are sure to do small tasks every day to keep things from piling up and falling over, the changes that comes about in your life, as your life, can be very powerful. You begin to care about yourself and through that, you begin to care about other people in a different way. You understand more clearly the challenges they face in what they need to do. You understand more about the effort it takes to establish a nice space and maintain it. And you begin to take interest in and responsibility for your own space and how you interact with it. It becomes interesting. Very interesting. Because the space is continuously giving you feedback about how you are and you can learn from it.

But again, this is not about having a feeling. It's not about doing a big-burst white tornado thing and cleaning all the things! Today! Now! And then collapsing and not bothering with it any further. Don't make it into a great monumental task. It's about learning to take care of things, learning to work in a methodical, measured way that is sustainable. The big burst white tornado approach is a state that burns very brightly while it burns, but once it has burnt out, you're back to square one. And if you tend to take that approach to organizing or cleaning your living space you will also tend to take that approach in the work you do. In your work or in your home, letting things pile up until they pretty much fall over and then rushing around to catch up - alternating between not caring at all and trying to fix it all at once - is exhausting and completely unnecessary.

Your life is an ongoing process. Situations come and go; people come and go; circumstances change. But through all of this you're learning and part of what you are learning is how to adapt and apply skillful means to the situation as it is now; how to organize things now and make the best possible use of what you have and what is available to you. The smallest details matter. Changing the broken shoelace for a new one is being able to tie your shoe properly. That is helpful and every little bit helps because it is the sum total of all those little bits that make up your life.

If you want a rich, strong life, and good relationships with others, it starts with having a good relationship with yourself and how you are about yourself and with yourself and the space around you. If you're not responding to your environment, if you're not interested in it, it is because your attention has become so inverted you've cut yourself off from it. And if that's the case, how are you going to know how to respond to other people in a way that is appropriate and enlivening? Practise responding. Respond to the dirty cup on the counter. Respond to the cat who is asking to be fed. Respond to the smell of the litter box and the garbage pail that needs to be emptied. Respond to the laundry that needs to be done. Respond to the bill that needs to be paid and the friend who is waiting for an answer to an email. Respond to the gnawing feeling of hunger in your belly by preparing a nutritious meal or stop somewhere for a bite to eat. Cut through the passivity and respond and life will respond to you. The bodymind needs to be allowed to open to the world in which it arises and states that seem to justify not opening tie a tourniquet around your life.

It's that time of year again. Ho ho ho. Christmas trees and wrapping paper. And in the midst of that, there are people thinking about committing suicide. I find even the thought of that painful, but it is true. And beyond and all around the wrapping paper and tinsel and the disappointments people experience in their lives, there are infinite possibilities. Anything you experience can be interpreted in countless different ways. Don't buy into any of them. Let the process of life continue to unfold and let's see who and what we all are.

The posture of zazen is very simple and very clear. The point of the posture is to sit in the reality of this moment. The posture points to the open space of reality all around and within and as the bodymind. But this is also true when you are not sitting zazen. It's true when you are walking down the street or sitting on the couch. It's true even when you are sleeping.

If you habitually slouch because you can't be bothered to sit up straight, you're allowing attention to lean into a state. If attention folds down or becomes narrowed and congealed, the bodymind will begin to slouch or tighten. And you can notice this and in the noticing of it, choose to do something about it.

There's up and there's down. Down is allowing attention to fold in on itself, to become passive. There are degrees of this, of course, but at its more extreme, people stop caring. About anything. Including themselves. But this occurs through a process of making compromises - one small compromise after another. We all tend to do this but when people are experiencing more extreme states, it's more obvious.

Everything you do matters. Everything you do affects someone or something else, outside of you.

You might think "well this doesn't apply to me, because I'm highly functional, and I'm good at my job". But that isn't enough if there are areas of your life that you're not taking care of. The whole picture must include you in the picture. If you leave you out of the picture, you're not working with reality because you ARE part of reality.

Eating well, taking care of the space you live in, staying on top of your bills and dentist appointments and so forth are all very, very, important because these affect the whole bodymind and everything you do you do with the bodymind.

If your house or your living room, or your bedroom is in a mess, what you are seeing when you look at that mess is your own mind. You don't stop at the end of your nose. The world doesn't begin at the end of your nose. You and world arise together. You can't pretend you are not part of it. You can't hide from it. You and everything else you are experiencing arise together and at the same time, and there is no separation between them. So if you drop your clothing on the floor and leave the sink full of dishes you are displaying your mind. The mess is you. So you can't get off the hook by saying "well, I'm very together in this area and so that area doesn't count". There aren't two of you. There is just one body and one mind and everything you do is done by this one bodymind.

Dongshan Liangjie daiosho said, I just want to be one whole body. The Sutra Master Sengzhao said, Heaven, earth, and I have one root. All things and I are one body. Shitou Xiqian daiosho was inspired by this to compose the Sandokai: Meeting of Ultimate and Relative. Practising this single and whole bodymind wholly and completely in each moment and situation is the touchstone that allows us to contact, to meet, and then realize what the Buddhas and the Awakened Ancestors have realized.

So have a good morning and take care of yourselves.

The Touchstone 13: Living in the Space of Maitri

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, March 30th, 2015

We have passed the time when the calendar says that it is spring. But we know it is not yet anything that we can really call spring. The trees are still bare and their dark branches stand out against the blue of the sky. Sometimes early in the morning or at sunset, the light paints them in shades of gold and brown, but most of the time they appear to be very dark, almost black, starkly contrasting with the blue of the sky which appears between the branches. If you look at them in a particular way, it is as if the sky were caught between their branches. But of course if you widen your view, you can see that the trees are not holding the sky in their branches. The sky opens all around them, in front of them and behind, and they arise in the sky within the whole of the sky. The vastness of the sky extends up and all around, and all the way down to the ground. If you widen your view and your understanding further then you realize that the sky and the branches are not separate. The sky, the branches, the clouds, the buildings, the people, your hands and feet are not separate. They all arise within your seeing, your experiencing.

A shift in perception like that can be quite a strong experience. But even the strongest of experiences can last for only a brief moment. Then they are just forgotten or are just assimilated and become part of the way we understand things, so they no longer stand out. And if you don't remember to practise with such experiences and then continue to practise during the time following them, they will tend to dissipate altogether.

Sometimes students will have moments of a more open understanding in their practice, and they will tell me about these with enthusiasm during daisan. But sometimes only a few weeks or months later, and sometimes even days later, they are seated opposite me, telling me that they can't really remember why they started practising; how their practice hasn't changed and they're not getting anything out of it. Usually when this happens the thing that they fail to notice, the most obvious thing, is how they are when they are speaking about this. They fail to recognize how contracted they are.

The problem with contraction is that it is so habitual that we just don't notice how contracted we are. It's perhaps a bit like not recognizing you have an accent. Everyone else might notice it, but you don't because you always sound the same to you. But the contraction is there and the effects are -- well, perhaps one could say -- cumulative.

Before you started sitting your thoughts seemed to you to be a kind of continuous streaming that always made sense to you. But when you sit zazen, it is immediately apparent that they are actually a jumble of "stuff". Something can seem a really fantastic thing to think about and a moment later you cannot even remember what it was. And that is what is really fantastic: that we do not remember that! Within a half-hour of sitting, thousands of different strings and fragments of words and images rise and fall.

Self-image binds it all together to create that illusion of it being a continuous streaming by ignoring the fragmentation and contradictions that are actually occurring. You can't help but see this through sitting zazen. But you forget it. And how important that understanding is.

An alcoholic who stops drinking knows he or she cannot drink without disastrous effects, and yet, they can trick themselves into thinking it's okay to have a drink and then another, and another. Self-image, which is itself contraction, wants to hide. It doesn't want to be exposed for what it is -- which is essentially a fabrication, a kind of ghost, made out of fear. It is that thing that derails you when you are trying to do something of benefit for yourself or others, that convinces you that nothing is really worthwhile, that it's really all quite meaningless and there is no point in making an effort. It's a bully that doesn't really care about you or anyone else. It slowly dries you out, dries out heart and mind, and it will have ten thousand ways of justifying why that's the right way to go. It's not. It's the wrong way to go.

If you don't practise really being a human being, you won't be a human being, not in the full sense of the term. And this is why we begin our practice by opening to the details that are most essential to the reality of our existence. We practise opening to the sensations of the breath, as a touchstone, the sensations of the tanden, the rest of bodily sensation; to seeing; to hearing, and we spend a long time just learning to let ourselves be honest about those. But that's just the beginning. Mindfulness is an essential practice, but it is called "basic mindfulness" because it is basic to other aspects of Zen practice that you might eventually do. And in fact everything else, such as the Bodhisattva Precepts, koan practice and study, and all of those other things are a deepening and widening of mindfulness.

An aspect of this deepening is what we call maitri or "a quality of friendliness towards self and other". The space of maitri is not a realm or a place. It is every realm, every place. It is living with choice and the only choice that really is a choice is the choice to open. Having an open heart is not trying to do something or be a certain way. It is simply opening to the vastness of our lives, not holding oneself separate from experiencing. An open heart just observes, straightforwardly and honestly. And when this begins to happen, we experience a kind of spaciousness and generosity, a basic quality of friendliness towards ourselves and towards those around us. We realize this is something we can choose to open to, moment-by-moment. This is beginning to live in the space of maitri.

We need to take care in our lives, and in our interactions with others. It's so easy to contract and when we contract attention narrows and congeals. Because of this we will tend to miss most of the detail of what we are experiencing and this makes it very easy to take the worst possible view of whatever is going on. Which is precisely what people tend to do much of the time. This is when we are at our least human. If there is something going on that we don't like, we will tend to believe it's because it's deliberate. Someone is choosing to make us feel small and victimized. The situation was set up to make us feel this way. They're plotting and they're out to get us.

So much time and energy is consumed by contracting attention into storylines about what other people are doing or might be doing and reacting to those -- worrying about how I am or how I should be and how they are and how they should be and on and on and on. And if any of this is acted out, it affects everyone around us. If they are acting it out too, the propagating spreads like wildfire. If you take just a moment to really look at this, there is a question that really does need to be asked: Why would you do this to yourself? Set aside for a moment what other people might really be doing or how they're behaving, or the grappling to uncover "the truth" of the situation -- why would you choose to see yourself in that light? And isn't it obvious that if you don't see yourself in that light, then there's no need to struggle to prop yourself up or fight against anything because everything is alright and has been all right all along. If other people are into a tizzy about something, why should you allow that to cause you to feel poverty-stricken?

What if we just stopped all of this pushing and pulling and struggling and flailing about? What if we recognized that contraction is contraction. It doesn't matter whether it's your contraction or my contraction. It doesn't matter where it started or why or who started it or when. If you are experiencing contraction, it's yours to practise with. What if we decided to just do that - to take responsibility for what is going on and practise with contraction simply because it's there and we recognize it to be contracted and open all around it? This would be practising the first of the paramitas, dana paramita.

We really can't discuss maitri (friendliness towards self and others) or karuna (compassion or the activity of wisdom) without looking into the six paramitas, or as they are known in Japanese, the ropparamitsu. These are:

Dana Paramita

    : generosity or recognizing the fundamental richness of experience

Sila Paramita

    : integrity or living with not-knowing

Ksanti Paramita

    : patience or the flexibility of not jumping to conclusions

Virya Paramita

    : energy or the limitless uncontrived exertion of experiences

Dhyana Paramita

    : the practice of inherent freedom through continuous questioning

Prajna Paramita

    : perfect knowing or Awake Awareness becoming itself as it is.

I'm not going to go into these in-depth today because there isn't time, but they are essential to maitri and karuna. They're essential to the whole of our practice. And although it might seem that because there are six paramitas spoken of, that these represent some sort of progression, there really isn't a progression from one 'stage' to another 'stage'. Each is an aspect of the whole and all are necessary for complete understanding.

Situations continuously arise in our lives that we need to respond to. But if we do this with the sort of strategies self-image will come up with, we're not really responding. Instead, we're propping up the sense of "self" and "other". We think we have to "deal" with the situation, that it has everything to do with what we already assume it to be. And when we do this we completely miss the process that is going on, the interaction between subject and object. We don't see how judgmental we become -- towards others and towards ourselves -- or the effect this can have until it becomes glaringly obvious.

To practice living in the space of maitri we first need to recognize the need to open. It doesn't matter what is going on, that comes first. And then we need to apply skillful means. To do that, there are four areas we need to look into: person, place, time and amount. Who is it? Where are they? What sort of situation is it? Is it the right time, is it appropriate now, and how much?

Whatever the topic is, will what you have to say about it be understood, or will it fall on deaf ears? Will it cause offence, thus distorting the point that you would like to make? If so, why bother? If you decide it's worthwhile to say something, then you need to speak clearly and observe how what you are saying is being received. Are you saying too much? Too little? Is this an appropriate setting for this conversation? If you are trying to have a fairly private conversation with someone in the middle of the cash line at the supermarket, that's obviously not going to work too well. How much time do you have for this conversation? How much time does the other person have? Is this too complex a topic to go into in the amount of time available? If so don't go into it until there is enough time. And as to amount - can you say everything you intend to say all at once? Will it be too much for the other person to absorb? Is what you're saying to the point or are you dragging all kinds of associations into it that might be meaningful to you but mean nothing to the other person? There's a lot to look into with this because, let's face it, the point of communication is to communicate, to make something clear FOR the other person, not to just talk to yourself out loud.

Beginning to take responsibility for contraction - your own and other people's is not a matter of cultivating warm, fuzzy feelings of compassion for the "human condition".

In the Dharma Talk, Compassion is the Activity of Wisdom, Anzan Hoshin roshi says,

To practice compassion we must have a tender heart, an open heart. We must have removed many layers of armour, but also of skin. We must have peeled ourselves away so thoroughly that we are not only transparent to our experience and to each other, but we are completely intimate. So that when Zhang drinks sake, Lee gets drunk; when Lee drinks sake, Zhang gets drunk.

A compassion that does not spring forth from insight, from wisdom, is unfortunately usually an attempt to try to manipulate oneself and manipulate others so that one can arrange one's world in a way that consoles one. Either for the love that one feels that one always deserved but never had or for the sake of the power of it, the power of having people love you and depend upon you and be grateful to you. This is very scary, very frightening.

Compassion must be manifest in the most simple actions: Listening to someone; reaching out and taking a hand; slowing your steps to keep pace with someone. All of these simple actions, moment after moment, day after day, are compassion.

But sometimes being compassionate might also require that you speak firmly to someone and they may not necessarily thank you for it. They might not like it at all. Taking a sharp knife away from a child, even though that may make them cry, is an act of compassion. But there should be no anger in what you're saying and the reasons for saying it, It's not a matter of just going along with whatever other people say or do. If someone is doing something that you can see is harmful to them, it may be better to explain to them how that activity is harmful and explain why it is in their best interest to change that rather than hold their hand while they do it. It depends on the situation. Person, place, time and amount.

You can always choose to open, no matter what is going on. The alternative is to fold down, to fall into strategies, to follow the contractions of self-image. You don't have to do that. You can feel contraction, physically, in the tightening of muscles, in the clenching of attention. You can clearly notice reactions, such as the impulse to defend yourself against perceived insult, or replay interactions over and over again in your mind as though trying to see it in minute detail so that you can figure out what you should have said or should have done.

You don't need to do that. Most of the strange and weird and unpleasant conversations you have with other people are about topics that really don't matter in the first place. And frequently there is no resolving them. They don't need to be resolved. The less entanglement you fall into, the more clearly you can see what is actually going on and how to respond to it appropriately. But if you do feel the need to respond, open first. Drop the defensiveness and anger. Come back to the breath and the sensations of the tanden, whole bodily sensation, seeing and hearing. Open to peripheral vision so that you can see the space between you and the person you're speaking to that extends all around them. Be generous. You can afford to be generous.

Practise the simplicity and honesty of opening attention to things just as they are. Release the strategies self-image entangles you in by coming back to the touchstone of the breath. Maitri must be grounded in mindfulness practice, or it can devolve into feeling-tones, strategies and stances about being "open" or "compassionate" or "caring" and that is NOT what we are talking about.

When you are speaking with someone, especially if you're in a state, bear in mind that words are not what experiences are. They can be useful in that they can point to experiences. But no matter how long you talk for or how descriptive you try to be, you can never, ever convey fully to anyone exactly how you feel about something; or what you think about it; or what it was like for you. And neither can they. Anything we experienced in the past, even if just five minutes ago, is gone. All that remains are fragments of memory. If we don't recognize that, we will tend to beat our heads against a metaphorical brick wall trying to "share" experiences with other people, trying to get them to see our side of it.

The same is true even if you're just reading a news article about something that has happened. You might react to it this way or that, shake your head in disapproval, feel sad about it, feel indignant about it. But whatever the article says is going to leave out almost as many of the facts as it puts in and most likely many many more. Your impressions of the people or the situation the article is pointing to are not whatever that situation is. Your impressions of it are really quite a lot like cartoons about it. If, for example, you read something about Boko Haram kidnapping 500 people, however you represent that understanding to yourself is NOT what that situation is and never could be. And if you could somehow download your thoughts and feelings about it and send them to the people involved, they probably wouldn't recognize themselves at all from the descriptions you've conjured up in your mind.

Everything is like that. Even if you are speaking to your wife or your husband or your children, your friends, other family members, even teachers and practice advisors, you can only use words to point to experiences. No one can ever fully and completely understand what you have experienced. And that's fine because no experience you have had or ever will have could ever be the ultimate truth about experiencing. Experiencing is always coming and going, shifting and changing.

And that's why it really doesn't really matter what's happened in the past. Most people spend an amazing amount of time dwelling on past events which is a complete waste of time and energy. None of it has the solidity you try to attribute to it. What matters is what you do now. And the most important thing you can do is open. And then open further.

The Touchstone 14: Karuna

presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, June 27th, 2015

In the previous Dharma Talk in this series of Talks, I spoke about "maitri", (Sanskrit मैत्री) which means "friendliness". The practice of maitri brings together the recognition of states of hope and fear and confusion together with mindfulness and wisdom. When we do this, there is a kind of warmth or tenderness towards ourselves and towards others. This is simply opening to the vastness of our lives, not holding oneself separate from experiencing, but allowing ourselves to experience with an open heart. An open heart just recognizes, straightforwardly and honestly. And we realize this is something we can choose to open to, moment-by-moment. This is beginning to live in the space of maitri.

And now we can consider the maturation or ripening of maitri and so the topic is "karuna" (करुणा), the Sanskrit word for "compassion" used in the Buddha Dharma. As Anzan Hoshin roshi has said, compassion (or karuna) is the activity of (prajna or) wisdom. It is recognizing and thus doing what needs to be done in each moment.

It is very important that we are very clear about what we mean by "compassion" as this is widely misunderstood to be a feeling tone that one 'pumps up' in response to a situation or a person.

In the teisho, "Zhang Drinks Sake", Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi says:

Karuna is a compassion that springs directly from wisdom, from seeing the emptiness, the tracelessness, the openness, the vastness, the limitlessness of your own experience, the vastness and limitlessness and openness and tracelessness of yourself and of each other.

It is a compassion which can be very ruthless, a compassion that is choiceless. A compassion that not only does not ask for thanks in reward for its actions, not only does it not ask for thanks, it often doesn't say "please" first. It doesn't even introduce itself. It simply does what it does. Because compassion is the manifestation of wisdom, of clear seeing, of insight, of mindfulness.

A very big question that comes up for students goes something like this: "What is the relationship between mindfulness practice, the practice I do, and what is going on in the rest of my life, or the world around me? How is sitting on a cushion practising zazen related to compassion?"

Before we started sitting our thoughts seemed to us to be a kind of continuous streaming that seemed to make sense to us. But when we sit zazen, it is immediately apparent that they are actually a jumble of "stuff". Before we started sitting we believed that to be aware of something we must have thoughts and feelings about it. And that we were the thoughts and feelings. Of course, this makes no sense because the thoughts and feelings arise within awareness of them. Thoughts and feelings don't mean anything more about our experience than does the fact that the bird song is sweet or the passing dump truck is loud and not really pleasant. Thoughts and feelings are part of what awareness does, but awareness also presents itself in many different ways. Self-image is the presumption that awareness must be aware of something and that there must be something that is aware.

When we sit zazen, it is so easy to see that although thoughts and feelings might be present we are aware in all kinds of ways that have nothing at all to do with thinking and feeling. We can see how attention moves towards a thought or a feeling or a sound, an itch, an ache, a fly on the wall. We can observe how attention contracts, how it folds down, and how it can open up if we stop either trying to avoid what we are experiencing or stop habitually identifying with a feeling, a thought, a view, a strategy.

The path never ends. It begins again and again in each moment, and begins in this moment of being aware. It is only when we cannot observe experiencing openly that it becomes a contraction. We begin afresh in each moment of sitting zazen, by opening to the sensations of the bodymind sitting; by opening to seeing and hearing. and in doing this we are engaging in the moment-to-moment practise of the Four Great Vows.

Yasuda Joshu Dainen roshi used to say that, Zen is the Four Great Vows with arms and legs and eyes and ears. In other words, it is about living the Four Great Vows with the whole body in your actual life. To live the Four Great Vows with the whole bodymind in your actual life, you need to be able to open attention past habitual thoughts and feelings and storylines and reactivity in order to truly feel, to see, to hear, to smell and taste and touch and think and feel clearly. That is what you are practising when you practise mindfulness, which is the foundation of practice. And other practices can follow as our practice deepens. All of the practices we do which are part of the continuum of training within Zen practice, are about fulfilling the Four Great Vows. Your practice of mindfulness springs from The Four Great Vows and is part of how you work towards the fulfillment of them.

We live in strange times; very strange times.

Increasingly we are seeing reputable, peer reviewed studies that indicate that the earth's sixth mass extinction is already underway. One says that unless policies change, society will collapse by 2040 due to catastrophic food shortages. This is very scary stuff and it's not going to go away. So what about all of that? What does that have to do with your practice? What about the rest of the world and all of the difficulties and suffering that people experience, that sometimes you or the people who are close to you experience? What about the vast suffering that will inevitably come about through climate change?

What can you do about this? What can anyone do about this?

Back to the Four Great Vows, but this time I will read a quote from another student of our grandfather in Dharma, Joshu Dainen roshi. The student's name is Endon and he trained under Joshu Dainen roshi at Hakukaze-ji, when Anzan Hoshin roshi was also there. Endon said:

People really need to realize how bad the situation really is. Even so, though there's not much anyone can do we should do what we can. My late Zen master Yasuda Joshu roshi used to say, "It's no use, these Four Great Vows. But you must mean them when you chant them. Knowing there is no use. It is thinking the world is just stuff you can use that is the problem. So, although they are useless, the Four Great Vows have the highest use. But only if we know they are useless. Being human, being Buddhas, what else can we do but work for the best?

Now I think this is very important, because it clearly conveys that chanting the Four Great Vows is not going to save anyone from anything. They're not a magic incantation that's going to make a benevolent "Buddha" smile down upon us and protect us and make it all alright. That's not why we chant them. But they are rather like a summary of our practice - whether one is practising mindfulness as a beginning student or doing more advanced practices as a monastic. They are a reminder that we expose ourselves to regularly, that our practice is NOT just about us, it is about all beings. They remind us that we can be of no use to beings if our attention is clouded with obsessions; that we can and MUST practise in each and every moment; that right now matters; and that we must make the commitment to do our best equally in our practice and in our lives; that we must be living the Four Great Vows with the whole bodymind, in our actual lives, living the Four Great Vows with arms and legs and eyes and ears.

It's so easy and so habitual to contract, to fold attention down into negative patterns of attention. Finding new ways of responding to the questions about our lives that present themselves -- from the very smallest of details to the really big, complicated questions -- requires that first and foremost we make the effort to open attention past habitual patterns of thought and feeling. Otherwise we just go in circles. As Anzan Hoshin roshi said to me long ago, You nail your foot to floor and turn in circles and think you're seeing the world. You need to pull out the nail and move freely to see beyond self-concern and see what is going on.

As Joshu Dainen roshi said, It is thinking the world is just stuff you can use that is the problem. He said this long before anyone spoke about climate change or mass extinction because this has always been the problem. It is the root cause of ALL of the problems we have created that have caused such vast suffering all around the world. It is the cause of genocide and war. It is the cause of poverty and starvation. It is the reason global economies are in ruins. The world is not just stuff we can use, and we really need to do something about this sense of entitlement generated by self-image. Make choices with open attention, choices that make sense instead of continuously trying to prop up the sense of self that is 'this' or 'that', that always needs more to puff itself up.

A student wrote to Anzan Hoshin roshi about questions that he had following the falling of the Two Towers in New York City on September 11th, 2001. This correspondence was published on the internet as "No Consolation". In this, the Roshi said:

People who make money by buying and selling money move their money here and there and industries and nations and people lose money because of it; people can no longer buy rice to make gruel for their babies. This too is very real. There is also every likelihood that no matter what anyone does now, unless everyone everywhere changes everything that they do about everything (and most of us also just vanish magically from the earth without leaving the plagues and pollution that would result from so many human bodies), all wildlife on the planet will be extinct within twenty years or so except what can live in cities and between the ploughed rows of fields such as raccoons, crows, and so on. This too is very real. And it gets worse because the list goes on.

None of this can be remedied, no matter the depths of rage and anguish and horror and sadness we might feel. You cannot fix it. I cannot fix it. We can try not to break it further. But in any case, life will go on, as it does, doing what it does: birth, eating, shitting, death. This is a very beautiful world, but it is not a safe place. It is not fair. It is not nice. And yet the nature of all beings and of each being is, and always has been, and always will be limitless luminosity, beyond birth and death and all conditions. Realizing this freedom, embodying this, and making it available to others in every way that we can is the only thing worth doing at all. This has nothing to do with trying to make the world safe or wishing it was nice. It has to do with the continuous practice of radical questioning and the dynamic activity of releasing. So I cannot help you with your sadness except to say: Feel sad, if sadness is present. A broken heart is a reasonable thing in this world. But do not become the sadness but do not avoid it. Feel the hands, feel the feet, keep the peripheral vision open. Don't talk to yourself. Don't vent to others and encourage them to vent. If you are watching the news on TV, practise. If you are speaking, practise. If you are listening, practise. And follow the instructions you have been given. Sit when you can, as often as you can. From everything that I know and what all of the Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors have known, this is the most and in fact the only important or useful thing you can ever really do: practise the Way. This is the only light and wisdom I have to offer. It is not consoling but I think you do not really want merely to be consoled.

What you are seeing when you are sitting is how your attention moves; how it folds down, how it opens up; how it falls into habitual patterns of thought and feeling; how convinced you are by thoughts and feelings. And all of these details you are seeing are made up of the same movements of attention with which you do absolutely everything that you do. If attention is habitually contracted, that is how it will be when you get up in the morning, when you go to work, when you interact with coworkers, with your family, and when you make decisions.

We don't know what effect our practice will have on our lives or on the lives of others because that changes all the time. This is why everything we do matters. When you take a step in kinhin, it matters. When you hang your coat up, it matters. When you take care of something instead of leaving it for someone else, it matters. And what you are doing right now, sitting here feeling the breath, the sensations of the body, opening to seeing and hearing, it matters. Because all we have is right now, right here. The past is gone; the future hasn't happened. There is only now. There is only this and this is as good as it gets.

I think we would like to have a formula, something that tells us how to be compassionate in this or that situation so that all we need to do is remember the formula and we'll know what to do to be compassionate and other people will recognize our actions as 'compassionate'.

But reality has no formulas. We can devise formulas that describe aspects of reality such as chemical reactions or wave functions or particle and field actions. Mass, velocity, and other abstractions. But in our real lives, you can never predict how anything we say or do will be received or interpreted or what effects this will have. For example, I say this with deep compassion for you but you might think I am hectoring and wagging my finger at you. But as a Teacher of the Dharma I can only do my best to express what I know must be said.

And so just as reality is not a concoction of formulas, in our practice, there is no formula. But there is a touchstone: Are you open to your experience or are you contracted? Is it open, or is it closed? Are we open with the whole bodymind to the whole field of present experience? Or are we in recoil from it, crouched behind a contraction of thoughts and feeling-tones? So the touchstone is: If it is closed, then open. If it is open, open further. There is just this moment-to-moment practice of being alive to our lives, of choosing to open so that whatever the circumstances, whatever happens, we are already making that choice. And because we are making that choice, how we respond will be from the best we have to offer.

The Touchstone 15: Ceaseless Activity

presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, August 22nd, 2015

In the previous Dharma Talk in this series of Talks, I spoke a little about "karuna" (करुणा), the Sanskrit word for "compassion" used in the Buddha Dharma. And as concepts about "compassion" are, in my view, fraught with so many misunderstandings, we will look into this further today.

Compassion is not a feeling tone. It's not about how you feel about other people or about yourself. It is an activity. And in Buddhist iconography we have a wonderful depiction of this ceaseless activity in the form of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

Anzan Hoshin roshi tells an updated version of the legend of Avalokitesvara vowing before Buddha Amitabha that he would never attain enlightenment until and unless all sentient beings attained enlightenment. And so he worked, tirelessly, unceasingly, until one day he went to Amitabha Buddha and said "There, I'm finished" and Amitabha Buddha said "Good, good, O son of noble family. But you've only been looking in one direction." And he moved Avalokitesvara's head slightly. Then he saw numberless beings stretching to infinity in all directions, still bound by their delusions and suffering dukkha, waiting for instruction. At this moment, the Roshi says, it was like a cartoon character being shocked and their eyes popping out of their heads. Except that Avalokitesvara's head exploded into eleven heads that could see into all of the ten directions -- at once and more -- just in case. And from his sides exploded a thousand arms, each hand holding a different tool: pots and pans, a saw, a broom, a needle, a bag of birdseed, a bandage, a zafu, a scrub brush, a serving tray, a fountain pen, a hansaku, a watering can -- whatever is needed for the situation.

The term "bodhisattva" is commonly translated as "wisdom being", with "wisdom" meaning realization of sunyata, the emptiness or Openness of all things. Avalokitesvara bodhisattva is one amongst many legendary figures that are symbols for different aspects of Awakened activity, of how someone who has woken up from the delusion self-image lives. Anzan roshi points to how a bodhisattva is not really a noun but a verb, a description of activity, by translating bodhisattva as "being open to Openness."

Compassion is being ready to work with whatever situation arises. You're not 'trying' to get ready to be compassionate, you're just working with what's actually going on, and moment to moment that changes. If your attention becomes invested in a feeling tone "about" compassion, then what happens is that you're reducing reality to an image of what you think is going on that seems to fit the feeling tone. You cannot see clearly what is in front of you because you are too busy looking at yourself and your feeling tone. In one teisho Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi likened this kind of self-absorption to walking about holding a hand mirror up so that you can constantly look at yourself. Makes it very difficult to get in and out of cars.

The contraction of attention into a sense of self is what distorts our understanding of what it is to be compassionate and prevents us from seeing the never-ending opportunities to practise compassion in each moment. Compassion springs from the ceaseless activity of opening to reality, of being available to reality. Opening attention is, itself, an act of compassion towards oneself and others because the only other alternative is to contract. Contraction leads to further contraction and that's how things tend to go sideways in the first place. Contraction creates complexity and that in turn makes everything more difficult for everyone. So if you don't contract, you're saving everyone else a great deal of trouble.

There is no self that stands apart and separate from anything else. Each thing is made what it is by everything else and each thing is what it is because it is an experience. Anything else we might think it is, is simply a thought. Forms do not possess a self.

If you look at the wall or your zafu or the floor, none of those forms possess a self. And if you look at another person, you might like or dislike them, but who and what they are has nothing to do with your feeling about them. They stand apart from your feelings about them. But if what they mean to you is tied up with your feeling of like or dislike about them, then that feeling tone and texture become how you will interpret experiencing. And this will happen to the point that when you are identified within a texture, then within the thoughts and the categories of like and dislike you have assigned them to, there is little room for anything else. That texture and that feeling tone is all that you will allow yourself to notice. And SO much of your attention can become invested in your liking or disliking of a person ( it could also be a situation), that in addition to limiting their meaning in terms of whether you like them or don't, you're not feeling your breath or your hands and feet; you're not seeing other colours and forms that stand out vividly in the space around you, and you don't hear the sounds. Everything becomes limited because you are allowing this texture and feeling tone to colour and condition how you are experiencing experience at that moment. And since this is contracted, how you experience experience is contracted.

And I will stress here that a feeling tone about liking another person is often just as contracted as a feeling tone of disliking them is. Because both are constructs. You've invented them and they really have nothing at all to do with that person. But if we attend to these categories of like and dislike that we assign to people, we can see past them. It is just our category for them and there is so much more going on than just that feeling of like or dislike. We can see their facial expression, the colour of their eyes, their clothing; we can see them as a whole person together with the space all around them. When we open our eyes and look, we see that there is actually someone facing us and we need to meet them as they are. We can see that they and the space around them arise together as bodymind and walls and floor and ceiling and the rest of the objects in the room and all of these arise together with the sensation of our own breath and our eyes seeing and our ears hearing and there is no separation between any of this. Yet at the same time, each detail that is noticed stands out distinctly and independently of each other. Each of these are part of how experience is presenting itself. Each detail is what it is and is also intimately part of everything else. Each dharma interpenetrates every other dharma.

Compassion is a ceaseless activity that springs from opening to Openness. It isn't something we need to 'try' to do because if we practise opening attention to things as they actually are, we find that we are available to help in whatever way is needed -- simply because it's needed and we can see that. It isn't necessary to have a feeling tone about what we are doing or why we are doing it in order to act. And if a feeling tone or a thought does come up about what we're doing or why we're doing it, that is simply recognized as a feeling tone or a thought and is released. It is of no consequence.

People tend to think that compassion must necessarily involve feeling tones, such as being "kind" in a certain "kind" of way - a way that other people will like. So compassion is viewed as having qualities of kindness, and softness, and tenderness.

Compassion might sometimes be tender. It might mean taking another person's hand or putting an arm around them if that is what is appropriate. It might mean offering them words of reassurance if that is appropriate. Sometimes it might mean making them a sandwich. And sometimes it might mean telling them to get off the couch and go make themselves a sandwich. Or go look for a job. There's no formula -- what is appropriate will depend on the situation. And the fact that you are practising does not mean that all of your relationships will suddenly become completely smooth and effortlessly harmonious in a "let's all be happy happy" way. Why would they? You can't predict how other people will behave, how they will understand or react to anything you say or do. You cannot control causes and conditions and other people's reactions. They are going to do whatever they do regardless of how you are. But if you do have to be firm or direct with other people, you need to first notice how your attention is and open around any anger or frustration by feeling whole bodily. Then be firm, but without anger.

All that you can do is your best and the best way to do that is to practise. Our practice is absolutely simple and absolutely practical. Practice doesn't ask you to believe in anything or to behave a certain way. It asks that you apply your practice and use it as a touchstone so that you can be honest about what you are experiencing. It asks you to open to what is most simply and directly true of your experience - that you can feel the breath; you can feel the sensations of the body; you can see and hear and taste and touch and smell and think and feel. And so can everyone else. By opening to your own sense fields, you experience a natural empathy towards all experiencing - your own and the experience of everyone and everything around you. You and everything else arise together, and at the same time, with no separation. And so you will find yourself taking care and giving care without having to think about being a kind person or being a compassionate person.

Compassion is the ceaseless activity of Openness. So now let's practise being bodhisattvas.

The Touchstone 16: Manjusri

presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, November 21st, 2015

This morning we began the sitting with chanting practice, and we recited the Ten Proclamations which included the names of Bodhisattvas -- legendary figures that are symbols for different aspects of Awakened activity. The Sanskrit word "bodhisattva" is sometimes translated as "one who is unfolding wisdom" or "one who is learning wisdom".

A bodhisattva is actually not just a certain kind of person, it is an activity. In fact, Anzan Hoshin roshi points to how a bodhisattva is not really a noun but a verb, a description of activity, by translating bodhisattva as "being open to Openness." This activity has the sense of one taking a journey on the Path and there are different stages that are taught about deepening this recognition.

In the last Dharma Talk in this series I spoke for some time about the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara who, for us, represents the energy of unborn compassion, or that which hears the suffering of all beings. Today I will speak a little about Manjusri Bodhisattva, who is a traditional and fictional character, a device or symbol representing aspects of what is true about who and what we all are.

Essentially, Manjusri a set of instructions. This is true of all of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas that appear in the Teachings of our Lineage of Dogen's Zen. That is why we make use of these mythological figures. For us, Manjusri represents the richness and freshness of Knowing expressing itself as finely detailed and nuanced and coherent knowns. Another way of expressing that might be to say that Manjusri is the brightness and freshness of open intelligence, princely, ever youthful and very precise. He is portrayed as youthful because whatever arises is always fresh and an understanding that can meet experiences clearly must be freshly renewed moment after moment.

Manjusri is reputed to be the oldest and most significant bodhisattva in Mahayana literature. He first appears in the early Mahayana sutras. Because he is associated with the Prajnaparamita sutras he symbolizes the embodiment of prajna or transcendent wisdom. In Vajrayana Buddhism, Manjusri is considered to be a fully enlightened Buddha. In the Shingon School of Buddhism, he is one of Thirteen Buddhas. He figures extensively in many esoteric texts such as the Manjusri-mula-kalpa and the Manjusrinamasamgiti which Anzan Hoshin roshi has translated.

He is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. He questions directly into the nature of reality. He is depicted as a prince because he has recognized and unfolded the inherent dignity and richness of experiencing and of experiences. And he is sometimes depicted holding a sword. The two-edged sword is the sword of insight which cuts both self and other simultaneously.

His other hand holds a lotus blossom, on top of which lies the Prajnaparamita Teachings. He is sometimes shown riding on a lion, which signifies wisdom, courage and power, or sitting on a lotus pedestal which represents purity. In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist art, Manjusri's sword is sometimes replaced with a ruyi scepter or a lotus blossom with a long stem curved like a ruyi.

I will read a passage from the teisho series, The Secret Life of Manjusri, presented by Anzan Hoshin roshi, as it speaks of both Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. It provides an example of how they are different from each other.

Manjusri appears in the 700 Line Prajnaparamita sutra, the Vimalarkirti Nirdesa sutra, and throughout the literature of the Prajnaparamita. He is ubiquitous; one encounters him everywhere. But although Manjusri is the representation, the poster boy, for Prajnaparamita, somehow he was never quite as popular as Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Perhaps this is because with a figure such as Avalokitesvara one could at least hope for some sympathy. You could say "Avalokitesvara, I am so lonely." and Avalokitesvara would say "Oh dear, that's terrible. Oh dear. What can I do for you? Maybe I can fix you up with someone."

Manjusri, on the other hand, of course, would simply look at you and say "What's wrong with you? What is it that you believe about yourself and the world that this state makes any sense at all to you? This state is a symptom of your sickness. Face-to-face with the claustrophobia, the constipation of self-image, you want to get away from it. You want to seek comfort, but you yourself are the cause of your own sickness. Look into this. Prajnaparamita!"

The qualities that Manjusri represents of radical questioning opening into wisdom and compassion are practised every time you really sit up straight and actually do zazen and release habitual states and storylines. There may be times when you are experiencing a lot of sinking or wandering mind, or discursiveness, but you can cut through these by coming back to the touchstone of the breath at the diaphragm and tanden, by opening attention to whole-bodily sensation, to seeing and hearing. When you use the forms to cut through sinking mind, you are using the sword of Manjusri . When you choose to release thoughts by simply not completing the sentence, you are choosing wisdom over entertainment. Each time you are able to recognize something about how your attention is arranged and choose to open it if it is closed, or open it further if it seems open to you, you are practising the wisdom of Manjusri.

I'll give you a small example of the activity of Manjusri in everyday life. I think we have all had the experience of standing in a high place, perhaps a balcony or a bridge, looking down. And because we are high off the ground, looking down, the possibility of falling might occur to us. We might back away from the edge, or grip the railing a little tighter in response to that. If the reaction to this is strong, just in the looking down, one might experience a sensation somewhat like falling. This, of course is not what's happening, yet the sensation is there. This can also happen when you look up - for example, looking up to view an interesting cloud formation. You might experience a moment of vertigo and feel as though you were about to fall up. It's a very strange sensation. But if you feel your feet on the ground, come back to the touchstone of the breath and the sensations of the bodymind, you can clarify this condition -- you know that you are not falling, that everything is alright. And so this is the wisdom sword of Manjusri cutting through delusion by opening to the details of present experience to give the sensation context.

The sharp edge of the sword of Manjusri that cuts through confusion doesn't cut one thing away from another thing. The sharp edge is all directions. It is finely detailed and nuanced and coherent knowns. In any moment that you notice how your attention is arranged into states and stances and storylines - echoing back to yourself what you already know as thoughts and feelings - and choose to open around them by opening attention to the ten directions, you are practising the wisdom of Manjusri. No thought or feeling can be what you are or what the world is. Cut through obsessive and deluded views by allowing yourself to see clearly and hear, smell taste, touch and feel the world as it actually is.

There is a text called the 700 Line Sutra attributed to Manjusri, which begins with Manjusri waking up one morning and deciding he wanted to go sit in front of the Buddha, just to be in the presence of the Buddha. Anzan Roshi tells the story in this way in a series of classes on the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita sutra or the 8,000 Line Prajnaparamita sutra:

And so he went and sat outside the Buddha's hermitage, contemplating the Buddha and other monks saw him and thought, "Oh, well that's a pious and good thing to do", so they all sort of grouped there and so on.

So the Buddha felt all of these people outside of his door so he just sort of peeked out and said, "What the hell are you doing? What are you doing there?"

So they said, "Well, we've come to contemplate the Buddha."

He said "Well, who actually started this? Who had the first idea for it?"

They said, "Manjusri".

He said "Oh, well that's all right then." And then he asked Manjusri what he was doing in order to point out to the rest of the Sangha the way to meet the Teacher -- and that consisted of Manjusri saying that contemplating the presence of the Buddha isn't contemplating the Buddha's body, isn't contemplating the Buddha's face or his fingers or his toes or his deeds or anything of that nature but simply what the Buddha is and that the Buddha's body and form and so on is simply the presencing of those Teachings. So then if one looks at, if one understands the Dharma, then one meets the Buddha; if one meets the Buddha, one meets the Dharma.


The wisdom of Manjusri cuts through the distortion created by the imaginary concepts about "I" or "mine", of "self" and "other". As Anzan Hoshin roshi says in the teisho series, The Secret Life of Manjusri:

Whenever anyone attempts to turn the process of realized practice, of embodying what is true about who and what we are into merely another set of stances, another set of doctrines, Manjusri will not be far behind twirling that sword of his over his head.

We experience a world of 'things' when our attention becomes narrowed and compressed and it can seem to us as though we don't have time to meet the moment as it is. But the practice of mindfulness, the forms, listening to teisho, our interactions with Dharma Teachers and practice advisors, shows us how to stop rushing past our experience.

The two-edged sword of Manjusri is the rising and falling of each moment and all of the details that present themselves in each moment present the Teachings of the Prajnaparamita sutras. That which is represented by Manjusri is present as this body and mind, as this moment.

Being a Bodhisattva, or "one who is unfolding wisdom" is not about being 'clever' and it is important to make the distinction'. Prajna or wisdom is not a matter of accumulating understandings. Prajna is living as that which is true. The Bodhisattva practises wisdom by paying attention openly, unfolding this further and further, This, of course, requires looking into and recognizing just what this means about you and the world without taking up a stance. If you fall into priding yourself on your cleverness, on how "open" your practice is, and so on, you've truly misunderstood. if attention is modified in any kind of way, if any structure of mind comes up and is taken seriously, you've lost your way.

You don't need to try to be clever. You don't need to rehearse what you are going to say before coming to daisan or a practice interview. You don't need to come up with a list of clever questions scribbled on a piece of paper. Just do the practice as you have been instructed.

Manjusri is an embodied representation of the instructions. In the Sodo or Monks' Hall of traditional Soto Zen training temples the rupa on the Butsudan or platform of Awakening is Monju, which is Japanese for Manjusri. There he is represented simply as a monk practising zazen. In practising the forms, in doing zazen, in caring for each detail with open attention, we each can open to Openness as Manjusri. Manjusri is a touchstone for opening to the details and richness of expansive intelligence.

So, when you chant and hear the name Manjusri during the chants before a sitting, remember what Manjusri is there to remind you of: The wisdom of precise and vast mindfulness and insight.

The Touchstone 17: Samantabhadra

by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, January 23rd, 2016

For as long as you are alive, the touchstone of the breath will be available to you in each moment. No matter how difficult or confusing or frightening life might seem; no matter how joyful and exciting and energetic it might seem, you are always right here, right now, and the bodymind is always breathing. There is space in your life for you to feel the touchstone of the breath and use this touchstone as a place from which you can begin to open to Openness. And when you do this, you are beginning to do the practise of the Bodhisattva. "Bodhisattva" is sometimes translated as "one who is unfolding wisdom" or "one who is learning wisdom".

Just a reminder, though, that when you hear the names of Bodhisattvas such as "Avalokitesvara" and "Manjusri" and "Samantabhadra", in a Dharma Talk or a teisho, it's important to understand that we are not referring to people. What is being spoken of, is a set of instructions. This is true of all of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas that appear in the Teachings of our Lineage of Dogen's Zen.

In the last Dharma Talk I presented, I spoke about Manjusri Bodhisattva and the teachings associated with him: how in practising the forms, in sitting zazen, in caring for each detail with open attention, we can open to Openness as Manjusri. Manjusri is a touchstone for opening to the details and richness of expansive intelligence. In today's Dharma Talk I will speak a little about Samantabhadra Bodhisattva.

"Samantabhadra" is his Sanskrit name.In Japan he is called "Fugen".In China he is known as Puxianin Tibet he is Kun-tu bzang-poin Mongol Qamugha Sainand in Vietnamese, Pho-hien

However he is known, his name has has commonly been translated as "Universal Sage", or "Universal Virtue", "Universal Worthy" and "Universal Good". Another is "All Pervading Benefit." Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi has looked into the root meanings of the Sanskrit terms and the tone of the texts associated with Samantabhadra and so translated the name as "All-Pervasive Richness".

As the Roshi explains in the teisho series, Oceans of Realms, which contains Teachings on Samantabhadra:

Samantabhadra represents one who has completed the bodhisattva path. Although there no signposts on the path itself there are various ways of speaking of it and the Indian Buddhists developed numerous sets of numbers about it. There are the six paramitas, the ten grounds, the fifty-three stages. Samantabhadra has done all of the numbers. He or she is the culmination of the path.

And yet it is said that by practising as Samantabhadra did, by making and fulfilling her vows and aspirations, even the beginning bodhisattva becomes Samantabhadra through living as All-Pervasive Richness. And so Samantabhadra represents the beginning and end of the path.

Samantabhadra is primarily associated with the Avatamsaka sutra, the Flower Garland Discourse. He is usually depicted as a youthful noble. His hands may be held palm-to-palm, or he may be holding a flower, a sutra, a jewel, or in some instances a sword. He is riding an elephant which represents sovereignty, majesty, power, grace, thoroughness, and patience. The elephant has six tusks representing the six paramitas. There is a text called The Sutra of the Practices of Samantabhadra associated with the Lotus sutra, in which the elephant has seven limbs representing the cessation of hypocrisy, lying, slander, wrong language, killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. The elephant also holds a flower in its trunk and the six tusks have six wading pools on top of them. And, according to legend, the elephant never touches the ground, but instead hovers in the air. There is a lot more about the elephant we could go into but enough about that. We have far more interesting topics to consider.

What we are concerned with today, is how the Teachings associated with Samantabhadra weave through and are an integral part of the practice of basic mindfulness and how you can recognize and practise them more clearly.

The Roshi also said in the teisho series, Oceans of Realms:

A Teaching of the Huayan school is that the first stage of the path contains the last stage and the last stage contains the first. The beginning of the path contains the end of the path. This does not make too much sense to you when you are at the beginning of the path. When you have completed the path, it's not of much interest because it is so obvious. But after one has been practising deeply for a number of years it can be a useful point. Let me put it this way. At the beginning, you have to open up to what is in between and all around your states of contraction and tendency. The end of the path is that openness itself. All through the path of practice you are moment by moment unfolding your recognition of that openness by releasing contraction. As things seem to open more and more it can also seem that contractions are darker and tighter because you know the difference between open and closed more and more. But then you realize that what I have been telling you all along is true: that all along, it has always already been open. The more that you realize this, the more that you open to Openness and can see how you could have done that right from the beginning.

To put it into very simplified terms: When we first begin practising, our first task is to learn how to recognize and then open around states of contraction. The recognition of the suffering that comes about through contraction and making the choice to end suffering by releasing contraction could be represented by the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. It is that aspect of our true nature that has always been available to us, but has tended to be obscured by contraction, that helps us to recognize the possibility of being compassionate towards ourselves and in turn, towards those we encounter. That is the flicker of recognition and insight that prompts us to practice at all.

The precision and attention to detail required to actually practise with contraction -- that's Manjusri waving his sword over your head, insisting that you pay attention. He makes it clear to you that you cannot afford to waste time and space out. Follow the instructions, stay with basic mindfulness practice.

The Openness between and around your states of contraction, the Openness you open to -- that's Samantabhadra, "All-Pervading Richness". The practice of living as All-Pervasive Richness is opening to the transparency, expansiveness, and the Luminosity of our experience as it actually is. Samantabhadra represents the culmination of all of the realizations and practices of Avalokitesvara and Manjusri. And as our practice opens further and further, we begin to understand that the vastness and intimacy and richness of experience pervades everywhere.

In the Teisho series Oceans of Realms, the Roshi says,

Our world is a vast interweaving of realms. There is a realm of colours and forms, a realm of sounds and songs, a realm of fragrances, a realm of flavours, a realm of sensations, a realm of perceptions and cognitions.

All of the different ways in which we know - seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking and feeling, provide us with different kinds of information about ourselves and the world. Although we might talk about these knowns as though they were separate, they are all aspects of the same "Knowing" (capital K "Knowing") of the Dharmadhatu or the Total Field of All Possibilities. This is why, in our practice, we must learn to open attention to all of the sense fields simultaneously instead of shuttling attention from one thing to the next to the next. Seeing occurs together with hearing, occurs along with sensations, occurs intimately with smelling and tasting. They are not separate. They don't happen sequentially. If it seems that they are sequential it is because you are only allowing attention to open to fragments of experiencing.

Self-image is convinced of and addicted to a sense of poverty. We squint at the world and our vision becomes thin and small and uncertain, clouded by storylines and states. We know we're not seeing clearly. But through sitting zazen, we learn to allow the eye gaze to fall open so that we can actually see the wall. And not only that, but we can see that the wall isn't just one colour - white - it's many shades of white and white is many colours. We can see that there is a depth of space between us and the wall and that can be seen. There is a richness and fullness and depth to seeing that is wonderful. So rich, so nuanced. And as attention continues to open, we begin to release the drone of storylines and our ears can actually hear!

I'll quote a passage about the sense field of hearing from the teisho series, The Flowering of the Senses, teisho 3. The Roshi says,

Each sound rolls within a sea of waves of sounds. Each sound has a shape, a contour. Each sound strikes the space of hearing like a match and lights up something of the qualities of that space.

Each sound shows in its presencing, in its rising which is a falling away, in its coming which is already a going, the truth of impermanence, of ungraspability, of tracelessness, of selflessness, of intimacy.

Sitting here right now, there are so many sensations that you could be noticing. You might have sat in this same room countless times before, and everything around you might seem to be as it usually is. But is it? You have never experienced this moment of experiencing before. This is ALL new. What does it feel like to be sitting here? I mean bodily? What sensations are you noticing? Your hands rest in the Dharmadhatu mudra, thumbs touching. Feel your hands. There are 48 named nerves in each hand, which includes 3 major nerves, 24 named sensory branches and 21 named muscular branches. That's a LOT of nerves and they're all working, all relaying information, moment after moment. And that's just one range of sensation. There are others.

You might sometimes think that it's easier for you to experience the 'benefits' of practice in your informal practice. That's because things are more on your terms when you are not sitting. When you are sitting, you will often tend to get bored; you'll want to propagate storylines and states just to have something to lose yourself in. Or you'll want to try to attain some sort of 'special state' to make yourself feel better, so that you can feel as though something is happening. There's nothing in any of that. This is what happens when you allow yourself to follow that basic sense of poverty that I referred to earlier.

When you are sitting on the zafu, open attention to the richness of experiencing presented by Samantabhadra. You have never been here. You have never breathed this breath or heard these sounds or felt these sensations. The beginning and the end of the Path meet at the touchstone of this moment of this breath, so feel the breath, and use the touchstone as a place from which to open to the richness and wholeness of experiencing.

We will end for today and in the next Dharma Talk we will look into another aspect of Samantabhadra, that of Vastness.

The Touchstone 18: Vastness

presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, March 26, 2016

In this series of Talks I have spoken a little about Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra and how these Bodhisattvas are touchstones that represent for us specific sets of instruction for our practice. During the previous Talk I spoke about two aspects of Samantabhadra - opportunity and richness. Today I will go into some detail about a third aspect -- Vastness.

Most of us use smartphones quite a bit and they really are astonishingly useful little devices. You might be looking down at that tiny screen - perhaps googling something or messaging with someone - and then you look up from the cluster of details you've been immersed in and all of a sudden everything is WIDE SCREEN! If you're outside, this extends as far as visibility permits, all the way down to the ground and all the way up to the sky. And the space is filled with shapes and colours and textures and sounds. And you are part of the shapes and colours and textures within the space. If you're inside a building, even in a very small room there is space all around you and the field of seeing is rich and wide.

Outside of and all around whatever attention is focussed on, the whole world presents itself as colours and forms and sounds and sensations. Whether it's your cell phone or your thoughts and feelings, whatever attention narrows and focuses on, is always occurring within a larger context.

Vastness is never hidden away or roped off from ordinary life. Ordinary life is always vast. Right now, sitting here in the Hatto, you are sitting within vastness, and you and the zafu you are sitting on are part of that vastness. But whether you experience it that way, or your attention is so compromised that it seems to be limited to the same old claustrophobic stuff you tend to experience most of the time, will depend on what you are actually doing while you are sitting on that zafu. And how willing you are to give up what you usually do. How willing you are to stop limiting yourself to usualness.

When you hear the word vastness, a range of different associations may come to mind. You might think of the vastness of space in which this tiny beautiful planet is floating. In this vast space, there is no up or down, no north or south. It is not a place, or a state of mind or a feeling about things. It is so vast that really there is nothing we can think about it that can help us in any way to really understand it. We just know that it is beyond the limits of anything we have been able to explore or understand.

But vastness doesn't just apply to how far things seem to extend away from us. Everything we experience is made up of details, including the bodymind itself, and within those details there are details. Anything you look at or see or hear or smell or touch or taste is made up of an infinite range of details and those details are enfolded within vast space and unfold as vast space in this moment. You sit here right now looking at the wall, but how are you seeing it, and what is the wall?

Here is something that Anzan Hoshin roshi had to say while commenting on Bodhidharma's Two Entries and Four Practices:

Each time that we realize that we are here, we begin to recognize an inexpressible freshness, a vividness; nothing extraordinary, but something beyond price, something beyond boundary. We begin to sense being alive. We begin to come into contact with this livingness, this being. And yet even this is not enough. We must go yet further into our own hearts, into our own minds and bodies, further into this moment, to find what this living is. Not what this living "means", but what this living is, what this wall is, what this body is, what this mind is.

Bodhidharma advises each and every one of you to practise biguan, wall-gazing, to sit like a wall, like a blank wall. Not to make your mind a blank, but to just sit with the thoroughness of a wall. A wall does not isolate itself from anything. A wall supports the ceiling. A wall extends. A wall doesn't need to move in order to be so useful. It's just [strike] there. So sit here, facing this wall, feeling this breath, hearing this sound, for the very first time, and again and again for the very first time. Sit.

This practice of zazen is beyond measure, beyond understanding, beyond concept, beyond strategy. This zazen is the manifestation of the mind of the Buddhas. Realizing this posture of zazen, this posture of body and mind, this posture of wall, of floor, this posture of Zendo, perhaps we can hear the posture of the bird's song, the presentation of bird as bird, song as song, and hearing as hearing. What is it that presents itself to us in this way? What is this presenting? Birds cry out in this warm January morning. No matter how you are this day, sit like a wall, see how you are, without reactivity, without hiding, without pretenses of holiness, or pretences of profanity. Each and every one of you thinks that you are the best and the worst here, but you're not fooling anyone. So let's stop all this and sit.

So as we sit here in the Hatto, you are seeing the wall in front of you and there are other people sitting alongside you. You can feel the sensations of the bodymind sitting, feeling the touchstone of the breath, the weight and balance of the bodymind, feeling the feet and legs, the set of the spine and head, the hands in the mudra. You can feel that there is space all around the bodymind and that there is space between you and the wall. 

You can see the wall in front of you and you can see details to the left and right at the same time. And you can be aware of listening, not just to the sound of my voice, but to the quality of the listening, to how you are listening, how attention is. And all of this is going on at the same time, a vast richness of detail, and yet none of these details obstruct one another. Seeing does not obstruct hearing, does not obstruct feeling sensations. They all arise together as experiences within the vastness of experiencing. And if we allow each detail to stand out as what it is, just as it is, we realize we don't have to push or pull at experiencing to make some space for ourselves or any particular way of experiencing. We can just allow things to be as they are.

Each moment rises and falls as the vast intimacy of All-Pervasive Richness. Whatever you look at, whatever you touch, it arises within your experience. Experiencing has a quality of spaciousness, of vast openness. Whatever appears to be experienced is the activity of vastness arising within Knowing. Anything that you experience - a sound, a colour, another person, anything you look at, anything you touch - is arising within experience. And by thoroughly practising with this as it really is, there is room for everything. This is true for you, and it is true for everyone else and is always available. This is why this is called the Mahayana or the "Vast Path".

But we tend to shrink from the vastness of experiencing. Sometimes that shrinking takes the form of wanting to look at vastness from a certain perspective, from a vantage point. As soon as we do that, all other ways of knowing are closed off. Sometimes we're just really invested in proving to ourselves that 'something is wrong', even though that 'some thing wrong' is just a feeling of dilemma and difficulty that keeps propagating itself.

And here is something that Anzan roshi said while commenting on the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra, the 8,000 Line Prajnaparamita Sutra. He said:

This practise is as simple as this moment. And it is as rich as this moment. In this moment, there is nothing other than just this. But "just this" is not a narrowing or flattening. It is not "merely this." This moment of Suchness is the activity of Reality, the presencing of Aware Space. The more completely that we release attention into the presencing of just this moment, the more that we begin to experience the boundlessness of experiencing. Literally, there is no boundary around experiencing. It cannot be contained. Whatever is experienced arises within it. It is only by fixating upon small clusters of experiences and turning away from the vastness of experiencing into the gestures of locatedness and directionality that boundaries occur. But all around those boundaries, the space of experiencing is still open and luminously free. Each experience points all around itself to the space of experiencing it arises within. Each way of experiencing points all around itself to the space of experiencing it arises within. Each moment points all around and all through itself to the infinite infinities of reality. Like radiance dancing on the face of waving water, colours, sounds, sensations all shimmer and leap forth and fall away as spaces moving within spaces.

Now, when you are sitting, you do not need to think about vastness, or try to feel vastness, or try to conjure up a notion of vastness. The idea of vastness can never get a hold on the fact of vastness. All that you need to do is to pay attention to the details of things as they actually are, and the space that they arise within, and allow your practice to unfold. This is "opening to Openness", this what being a bodhisattva is.

So, being a bodhisattva is what practising zazen truly is. When we sit up straight with the body and mind open to each other and as each other, we can open to the whole moment. When we stand up, step forth, pick up and put down, talk and hear, with the whole bodymind with open attention to the space of experience, the touchstone of Samantabhadra bodhisattva mahasattva invites us to go yet further into the openness of reality.

The Touchstone 19: Fudo Myo-o Part 1

presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, August 27th, 2016

In this series of Talks I have spoken a little about Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra and how these Bodhisattvas are touchstones that represent for us specific sets of instruction for our practice. Today I will touch on another set of instructions, some of which are part of the Mikkyo or "self-secret" Teachings associated with our Lineage. These are represented by a Bodhisattva who is known as "Acala Vidyaraja" in Sanskrit or  Fudo Myo-o in Japanese. And of course you will recognize his name as it is one of the names that appears in the "Ten Proclamations" which we chanted this morning.

In preparing for this Dharma Talk I had a look around the internet for information. What little I found bore no relationship to how we understand and use the figure of Fudo Myo-o. However Fudo Myo-o has been of great historical importance. Originating with Indian Buddhist tantra, it was brought to China and from there to Japan where many of the Vajrayana practices of the Shingon and Tendai schools involve Fudo. Eihei Dogen zenji, who is the Founding Ancestor of our Zen Lineage in Japan, was originally a Tendai monk.

The Teachings associated with Acala Vidyaraja are primarily advanced monastic practices and so there are areas of this I really can't go into. This is not because these Teachings are secrets, but because you'll do just about anything to keep them a secret, to not hear them, to not allow yourself to recognize that you already understand. But there are some aspects of Acala practice that I can go into, though this may require several Dharma Talks. We will see.

But before I begin, I must remind you again, that we are not talking about a 'person' or an 'entity'. Which is good because Fudo Myo-o is a pretty strange looking, perhaps scary to some although Anzan Hoshin roshi often refers to Acala as "goofy".

Fudo Myo-o is often depicted as male, although the categories of male or female really don't apply here. Language being what it is, insists that I choose, so I'll just switch back and forth between male and female to speak about him/her.

You will have already seen various images of Fudo Myo-o. There is one on the Butsudan in the second-floor Sensei-ryo daisan area and there is a small scroll depicting him on the wall, just inside the door. And there is another painting of Fudo Myo-o in the O-sensei-ryo on the first floor.

She is depicted as standing or seated, chained to the top of a very large rock. She is blue black in colour, and not pretty; sometimes shown as having one tooth that curves up over her upper lip and another that curves down over her lower lip, almost like boar teeth. She has a furrowed brow and an expression on her face that makes it clear she is not to be trifled with. She's very fierce. She has a braid over her left shoulder and in her left hand, she holds a mala. Her right hand holds an upraised sword. And she sits, immoveable, in a sea of flames extending in all directions.

So we have a solitary figure engulfed in flames, standing on top of a huge craggy stone, and he is chained to the stone. If you are in any way thinking that this might be similar to the Christian doctrine about hell fires and brimstone, forget it. You are completely off the mark. This has nothing to do with god or heaven or hell or punishment. In fact it's the complete opposite.

The fire expresses many things.

Self-image needs to abstract itself from bodily feeling, from seeing, from hearing, it needs to fragment these in order to propagate itself. It takes the capacity to think and feel, fragments, distorts and compresses these into thoughts which occur in terms of language, imagery and feeling-tones, It superimposes this over what is seen and heard, and felt and tasted, and makes this its primary set of meanings. It's like a carbon-copy world made up of illusory images, with constructed "eyes" that seem to follow the thoughts and an internalized set of "ears" that listen to the thoughts.

To some extent we're able to recognize that this internalized "world" and all of it's meanings are fabrications, and that may prompt us to want to find a way out of its stale nest of views, but unless we are really practising with that recognition, we will tend to just fabricate other kinds of states that seem to be slightly better than the habitual ones. But they are still fabrications.

We are asleep and we toss and turn in the dreams and nightmares we create and propagate. The energies of bodymind are used to feed our delusions and instead of being used to bring benefit for ourselves and those around us we create and often lose ourselves in dense states of contraction and confusion. The dynamic energies of bodymind burn brightly like flickering flames, in the sea of flames which are the blazing of each moment of present experience.

The flames surrounding Fudo Myo-o represent the dynamic activity of experiencing. Everything dances as the flames of experiencing. Each thing that is experienced, each person, each state, each situation is the dancing of the flames of experiencing, dynamic, bright, You are the dancing of the flames. All  life on Earth, even the atoms of our bodies created in the furnace of now-long-dead stars burn brightly now as the life that lives as all lives. Each moment arises as the flickering of the flames, burns brightly and vanishes into the flames. All colours, forms, sounds, are the dynamic exertion of the flames of experiencing.

Anzan Hoshin Roshi said in the teisho, "The Fire: Acala Vidyaraja",

The world is on fire in each moment. There is the fire of passion, aggression and stupidity, whose heat drives us ahead of it. We avoid being caught directly in its flames. We avoid seeing it clearly, because we are busy being driven towards the objects of passion, aggression and stupidity. We are too busy focusing on what we are angry about to actually recognize what the anger is like and its effect upon our lives and the lives of others. We are too busy trying to attain and grasp and have the object of our desire to ever see the mind of such grasping and its pettiness. We are too driven by our stupidity, too blinded by the glare, to see how fresh, how clear each moment stands.

In the midst of these flames, standing in the heart of this moment and in the heart of all beings, from the centre of the bliss of emptiness and the release of confusion, the energy of insight arises as Fudo Myo-o, Acala Vidyaraja, the immovable and unshakeable Lord of Luminosity. This is traditionally the symbol of the mind of our Lineage of transmission. It is the Sambhogakaya form of the realization of this practice. It is the symbol of the Teachers of this Lineage. Fudo Myo-o stands enveloped by the flames of passion, aggression and stupidity. He or she (it's hard to tell) stands chained to a stone in the midst of these flames, chained by the vows that he has made to liberate all beings who dwell in this hell realm of confusion and grasping.

The rock to which Fudo Myo-o has voluntarily chained himself represents the ground of reality. His vow is to stand immovable on the ground of reality in order to liberate beings in the midst of their various forms of contraction. The rock is reality and no matter how wildly the flames of passion, aggression and stupidity burn he has chosen to chain himself to the rock. This is why the first instruction beginning students of Zen receive is to begin to learn to open to reality, to use the touchstone of the breath as a means of distinguishing between what is true and what is false.

So now let us sit and breathe this breath in this moment.

The Touchstone 20: Fudo Myo-o Part 2

presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, January 28th, 2017

In the previous Dharma Talk I spoke a little about the Bodhisattva known as "Acala Vidyaraja" in Sanskrit, or Fudo Myo-o in Japanese.  He is also known by the name "Acalanatha".  Ācala" means "immovable" and "nātha" means "protector". He is immovable because he is Awareness in Itself and Awareness does not move. Awareness is the context in which everything comes and goes. He is also not a "he" or a "she", male or female, of course, but the traditional texts use the convention of saying "he" so that is what I will use here.

Fudo is immovable because he is always as he is and to represent this he stands chained to a rock. Who chained him there? He did, just to make sure. This also represents the determination of Teachers and monastics to work for the liberation of beings from confusion.

A sword is upraised in his right hand and a looped cord is held in his left hand. He is blue-black in colour, surrounded by a sea of flames and he appears to be very fierce. He has one eye that looks up, while the other looks down, and he has a fang that protrudes over his upper lip and one that protrudes over his lower lip. As strange as all of this might seem at first glance, to the practised eye of a monastic, every detail of Fudo-o's appearance conveys instruction.

He is indigo, blue/black in colour, perhaps similar to the deep blue/black sky of late evening. The blue/black represents the vastness of sunyata, or emptiness. in our Lineage, he is often shown wearing black monastic robes. Chinese or Japanese paintings and statues usually show Acala wearing the clothing of a king or ruler because he is the unshakeable and immovable Lord of Luminosity.

"Luminosity", as we use this word does not carry the meaning of some sort of heavenly light. "Luminosity" is a way of speaking of "Knowing". It's not code for a god or some sort of entity. It's not a form of pantheism. Please bear in mind that the Bodhisattvas we have been discussing are not meant to be understood as people or entities or representatives of an entity. They are sets of instructions.

Acala looks up with one eye and looks down with the other in order to see through the higher and lower realms of the "Six Realms of Being" at the same time.

The six realms are useful as a description of the various states of mind and behaviour that people fall into. They are: the hell realm of contraction, of being completely convinced of the densest states of fear and rage; the realm of hungry ghosts, in which one is thoroughly overwhelmed by a sense of poverty and neediness; the animal realm of going from eating to shitting to sleeping; the human realm of lust and fickleness; the realm of the asuras or titans or warlike gods who are caught within a continual struggle to achieve dominance, and the realm of the devas or shining beings who are sunk in bliss and self-satisfaction. These are all states that people fall into.

So Acala sees into all of these realms with eyes that look up and down simultaneously. And as to how he sees them - as the Roshi says in the teisho "The Fire: Acala Vidyaraja:

Fudo Myo-o's eyes glare wrathfully, without fear. No compromise is to be seen in them, because he realizes that each thing is always workable, no matter how loathsome, no matter how full of longing, no matter how desperate, no matter how distracted, no matter how anxious, no matter how asinine, no matter how cowardly, or how arrogantly we might be, all of these states are workable. What is it that is aware of them? What is it that is aware of your thoughts and feelings? Who are you, really?

This is the realm of luminosity in which all apparent worlds are rising and turning. This is what is seen so clearly by the eyes of Acala Vidyaraja.

Acala Vidyaraja holds a looped cord in his hand, sometimes described as a lariat or a rope formed into a lasso. In Buddhist texts such as the "Sadhanamala", the Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Kandarpa are said to be evil because they cause endless rebirths. So one interpretation of the rope or cord is that Fudo uses it to bind these Hindu gods as well as those who are ruled by passion, aggression and stupidity.

In our Lineage the cord is symbolic of the Precepts. Acala is chained to the rock on which he or she sits or stands by the vow to liberate all beings. He is enveloped by the flames of passion, aggression and ignorance which consume the beings who live in this hell realm of confusion and grasping.

The sword he holds upraised in his right hand is the sword of insight or Prajna, which cuts through confusion. The Roshi says in the teisho "The Fire: Acala Vidyaraja":
In his left hand, he holds a cord, a rope, which binds each thing to its own nature, which allows each thing to be as it is in its true nature of luminosity. This is also the cord of the precepts. The sword of wisdom and the cord of the precepts mean that we must each practice completely. No matter how deep our insights might be or how grand our little spiritual experiences might seem, they are of no use whatsoever unless we apply them in each moment of activity, in each thing that we do, in how we are. How we are must be rooted in the nature of things as they are. Our activity, our speech, each thing that we do, must be rooted in this moment as it is.

Now you may be asking yourself what this practice has to do with you, because you haven't been given instruction in it, you haven't been told to do any sort of practice associated with Fudo Myo-o, and this may be the first time you've heard of him.

For anyone who practises for more than a few weeks, it becomes increasingly clear that it's really easy to waver in your resolve. The slightest turbulation in your life can seem like enough of a reason not to sit. Feeling a bit unwell can seem like enough of a reason not to sit. Being on vacation can seem like enough of a reason not to sit. Just feeling like you don't want to sit can seem like enough of a reason not to sit.

But for those who are here, who have practiced for weeks or months or years, you've had to learn to stand firm. Or at least a bit firm. You know that there are states that will come up that say that sitting is too difficult. And you know that if you feel the breath and feel the body and pay attention to putting one foot in front of the other is not difficult; neither is sitting down on a cushion; neither is sitting there for five minutes; for ten minutes; for 30 minutes. And that's as long as you need to sit. You also know that sometimes old habits of thought or feeling will come up: states of boredom, runaway discursiveness, restlessness, fear, confusion, euphoria, silence - any of these and many others might come up in your practice. And you know that all you need do as soon as you recognize that a thought or a feeling or a storyline is taking up your attention is to come back to the touchstone of the breath at the diaphragm and tanden, to open to whole bodily sensation and seeing and hearing and begin again. And over time, you can also learn that you can practise opening to reality not just when you are sitting, but all of the time and this has a profound effect on your life.

The practice of basic mindfulness is very simple and it is very powerful because of its simplicity. It has a depth and breadth that need to be fully explored before one is given other practices to do. And this is because ALL of the more advanced practices come from the practice of basic mindfulness. Without that, the rest would be meaningless. So we begin by establishing a very strong, very stable practice of basic mindfulness.

By practising basic mindfulness, by coming back to the touchstone of the breath again and again and again, you are strengthening attention. You stop wobbling quite so much. You stop falling falling into states and storylines quite so much. Increasingly you recognize them for what they are - simple fabrications. You're less convinced by them and so more often you make the choice to open past them by coming back to the touchstone of the breath from which to open to the whole of your experiencing. It doesn't matter what the content of the thoughts and feeling-tones are telling you. It's the fact that you can recognize that they are thoughts and feeling-tones. They're like ghosts. In reality there are no ghosts, and it makes no sense to say that "some" ghosts are more real or less real than others. All of the thoughts and feeling-tones you propagate and follow are like this. None of them make sense. Open around them.

What happens when you open around them? You begin to practise Knowing (capital K Knowing) instead of talking to yourself about stuff you think you already know. You begin to practise an immediacy and directness of experiencing that is alive and fresh in this moment and the next.

Fudo Myo-o is sometimes depicted in statuary or scrolls seated, practising the immovability of Awareness. Sometimes Fudo is shown standing, representing the Activity of Aware Space, luminosity vividly radiant as all experiences.

So let's sit now, and allow attention to fall open to the touchstone of the breath, the sensations of the body, the colours and forms and sounds. Acala sits on a rock, enveloped in flames. You sit on a zafu and zabuton, enveloped in the vividness of experiencing. Practise opening to that.

The Touchstone 21: Mahavairocana Part 1

presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, Saturday, March 25th, 2017

When you feel the touchstone of the breath, you are knowing the sensations of the breath. When you open attention to hearing, you are knowing the sounds and the spaces between the sounds. When you open attention to seeing, you are opening to the knowing of colours and forms. For a split-second at a time you know directly and without interpretation, and then you start thinking again. Because you still believe that knowing is about you, the knower, collecting knowns. This is how your practice gets really complicated. And yet, even when you are engaged in the ways you confuse yourself, sometimes you know that you are confused.

Whatever is known arises within Knowing. We can know nothing else other than the fact of knowing. There is nothing apart from Knowing in Itself to be known. This is sometimes symbolically represented by Mahavairocana, or the radiance of Knowing, or one might say, 'the Big Radiator". This Radiance does not radiate from somewhere to somewhere, it simply radiates.

Mahavairocana is the Primordial Buddha, the Buddha before all other Buddhas. All other Buddhas have a history, even if it is legendary. Mahavairocana is not a particular historical Buddha. He, or she, or it, is not bound by time because she is not anybody. It is what Sakyamuni Buddha and all other Buddhas who came after him Woke Up to.

The Brahmajala sutra, which Anzan Hoshin roshi translated with some assistance from me, describes a meeting between Sakyamuni Buddha and Vairocana Buddha:

Sakyamuni Buddha and that whole assembly had prostrated themselves together in homage before the feet of Vairocana Buddha, [and] Sakyamuni asked, "How can all living beings of earth and sky within these universes unfold the path of the Ten Stages of Opening to Openness? What signs arise when Wakeful Ones are about to realize the fruition of Awakening as Awareness? Amongst the numberless aspects that all originate from Buddha Nature, please present in detail what the seeds of all Wakeful Ones are.

Immediately Vairocana Buddha was filled with vast joy. The space manifested the actual nature of his luminosity, the original harmony of the Body of Reality which had become Buddha and which was always already so. He said to the assembly, "All you students of the Buddha, listen carefully, reflect well on my words, and apply them in practice. For incalculable hundreds of eons I have practiced Primordial Awareness and followed through with it. Releasing every thing merely usual and practicing to the highest edge of complete and utter Awakening, I became known as Vairocana, Inherent Luminosity.

I dwell within the Lotus Matrix of all worlds and realms, and the ocean of all worlds is contained within this lotus throne. This throne is an embrace of a thousand petals, each petal containing a universe, so that there are a thousand universes in all. I transform myself into a thousand Sakyamunis to occupy these thousand universes. Each universe in each petal contains, in turn, ten billion Mount Sumerus, ten billion suns and moons, ten billion sets of four continents including ten billion Jam-bud-vipas, each with its Sakya seated beneath a bodhi tree, opening to Openness.

While each of these Sakyamunis presents Primordial Awareness for Wakeful Ones which you have just asked about, each of the other nine hundred and ninety-nine Sakyamunis also give rise to ten billion Sakyamunis who, in turn, do the same.

Each Buddha within the thousand petals is a transformation of myself and the ten billion Sakyamunis are, in turn, transformations of these thousand Buddhas. I am the source of all of them.

Thus I am called Vairocana Buddha, the Awake Awareness Which is Originary Luminosity.

So, we can see that while Mahavairocana Buddha is not someone with a personal history, it is a way of trying to talk about profound aspects of realized-practice.

If we want to know what the Buddhas Wake Up to, what Awareness in Itself is, what Mahavairocana is, the only way to do that is to be aware, fully, thoroughly and completely through moment to moment mindfulness which ripens into insight and then matures as the fruition of prajnaparamita. The Teachings symbolized and embodied by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the Continuing Lineage of Awakened Ancestors are sets of instructions and explanations that help us to open to the Knowing, the Luminosity of Awake Awareness.

So what we ultimately Wake Up to is symbolized by Mahavairocana, which contains and subsumes the Teachings of Fudo Myo-o, Samantabhadra, Manjusri and Avalokitesvara.

I will briefly review these:

Knowing never moves from what it is; it is the context in which everything comes and goes. This immovability of Knowing is symbolized as Acalanatha Vidyaraja or Fudo Myo-o.

Experiencing has a quality of spaciousness, of vast openness. Whatever appears to be experienced is the activity of vastness arising within Knowing. It is inexpressibly, all-pervasively rich and expansive. This is embodied as Samantabhadra, All-Pervasive Richness. The figure of Samantabhadra represents the culmination of all of the realizations and practices of Avalokitesvara and Manjusri.

Manjusri symbolizes the brightness and freshness of intelligence:  the precision and attention to detail required to actually practise with contraction.

Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, the activity of ceaseless Opening, hears the suffering of beings bound by contraction.

But just to be clear I must say this once again:  When we use the words, "Awareness", "Openness", "Knowing", "Luminosity", "spaciousness", they are not code for some sort of god or entity or intelligent directing and determining force for the universe. We are not talking about a form of Pantheism. Nor are we talking about a feeling about things.

At the beginning of all formal sittings, we recite "The Three Jewels", which state that:

Awareness is the only condition.
All that is arises as the display of Awareness.
This is the seamless expanse of all that is.

Every way of knowing and everything that is known are expressions of Knowing in Itself. When there is confusion or clarity, when you experience anger or impatience, or love or hate, there is the knowing of these. All that you can experience is experiencing and all experiences arise within awareness of them, and point directly to awareness.  Everything that presents itself as experiencing, anything that seems to stand out or stand forth, is arising within the knowing of it.

The Luminosity of Knowing which is radiant as knowns is symbolized, is indicated, is pointed to AS Mahavairocana Buddha. Realization is not a matter of knowing Mahavairocana but of realizing your true nature as Mahavairocana. And this is not a matter of knowing some "thing" but of opening how you know to the total field of knowns arising with the fact of Knowing.

As the Roshi has said,

The Total field of all possibilities cannot express what Awareness in Itself is, and yet everything that arises is the expression of Awareness in Itself.

There is so much to say about this that there is almost nothing that I can say about it. And since I broke a tooth yesterday and it has been somewhat reconstructed and I feel like I have been hit in the face with a hammer but I want to talk with students in daisan, I will just leave this here for now.

The touchstone here is slippery because it is everything in all directions all around you. And that is exactly what people tend NOT to notice. Zen practice is how we can open past this tendency to what the Buddhas are, to who we all actually are.

This is why we have Dharma Assemblies, retreats, and Zen as such.

So let's get to it. Ready? No? Yes, you are.

The Touchstone 22: Mahavairocana Part 2

presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, Saturday, July 29th, 2017

This breath in this moment. Feeling into this breath, opening to the whole body and mind and the fact of experiencing right now brings us into reality.

Throughout this series of Dharma Talks I have tried to provide you with a touchstone you can use to understand the beginnings of Zen practice and how it matures and deepens.

When we do the practice of chanting in addition to zazen, we have as the most basic chants the Three Jewels and the Ten Proclamations.

The Three Jewels describe what the Buddhas and the continuing Lineage of Zen Ancestors realize:

Awareness is the Only Condition.
All that is arises as the Display of Awareness.
This is the Seamless Expanse of all that is.

The Ten Proclamations are an ancient assembly of symbols that describe facets of how we realize through practice what Buddhas Wake Up to.

Namu, Mahavairocana Buddha.
Namu, Sakyamuni Buddha.
Namu, Acala Vidyaraja.
Namu, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva.
Namu, Manjusri Bodhisattva.
Namu, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.
Namu, all Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas.
Namu, all beings throughout all times, all directions.
Namu, Mahaprajnaparamita, Mother of Wisdom.
Namu, the Lineage of Awakened Ancestors.

These too are touchstones that provide very condensed descriptions of how to practise and what practice is and how it unfolds. But, of course, because they are so brief they use symbols and metaphors such as the mythological Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Samantabhadra, the vidyaraja Acalanatha, and the non-historical primordial Buddha Mahavairocana. As with all of the forms of Zen practice as presented by Anzan Hoshin roshi, there are very good reasons why we chant these old words and names and use these old symbols. They provide instructions, touchstones, for us to use now.

Mahavairocana Buddha is where the Ten Proclamations begin, what practice ultimately realizes, and where I will put down this touchstone series of Dharma Talks.

As I said last time, Mahavairocana Buddha is difficult to talk about. I asked Anzan Hoshin roshi how to describe Mahavairocana Buddha and he answered my question with a question:

"What is brighter than light?"

Often the best answer to a question can be a question that goes deeper and leads us further, past the limits of our previous understandings.

All that we see, all colours and forms, each other's faces, the wall, the floor, the sky,  we see only because of light. Most of the time this is reflected light, meaning that light reflects off of an object and into our eyes. Look at almost any object - a cup, a pencil, a zafu, your cat, a building - and what you are seeing is reflected light which your brain translates as 'cup', 'pencil', 'zafu' etc. What you are knowing as 'pencil' is your perception of a pencil as reflected light. It is not what the pencil actually is. It's not solid.

When you recognize that you are experiencing a state, that is possible because states are not solid either. All states are transparent to the Knowing of them. This knowing is traditionally called Komyo, or Luminosity. Komyo means "bright brightness." "Myo" has the meaning of the first light of morning spreading on the horizon. And this is the Radiance spoken of by all of the Awakened Ancestors though the Buddha's Dharma. In the same way that you can see objects with your eyes because of reflected light, you are able to see states, thoughts, feeling-tones, storylines because they are the radiance of the luminosity of Knowing. And this is what makes it possible for you to open all around and past them. You are not the states; what you think of as 'you' and all of the states 'you' experience arise within Knowing or Luminosity as its radiance.

Mahavairocana, the Buddha that is before all historical Buddhas, is the primordial or "always already" condition or situation of Awareness or Knowing or Experiencing. This is luminosity, the knowingness that is active as whatever is known. Each known is the radiance of that luminosity.

"What is brighter than light?"

We misunderstand that what we tend to understand about ourselves and the world is only the product of our own tendencies. Tendencies are how our attention and cognition arrange our perceptions. Zazen is the straight path laid out for us by the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, to understand how we have understood ourselves and the world and move past this into a world we cannot imagine. Imagination is just more of our tendencies, irresponsible to reality. Every time that we wake up from what attention became entangled into, we become more capable of taking responsibility for being Buddha, truly awake. Zazen is not about pretending to be a Buddha but about receiving and taking this responsibility and the freedom that it reveals.

Through zazen, the reality of Mahavairocana becomes not just where we live but who we always really were.

In 1227, Eihei Dogen Kigen zenji wrote in the "Fukanzazengi" or "How Everyone Can Sit":

Primordial Awareness is in essence perfect and pervades everywhere. How could it be dependent upon what anyone does to practise or realize it? The movement of Reality does not need us to give it a push. Do I need to say that it is free from delusion? The vast expanse of Reality can never be darkened by the dust of presumptions. Who then could believe that it needs to cleaned of such dust to be what it is? It is never separate from where you are, so why scramble around in search of it?

The thing is, if there is the slightest gap, sky and earth are ripped apart. If you give rise to even a flicker of like and dislike, you lose your mind in delusion. Just suppose you become puffed up about your understanding and inflate your little experiences: You think you have seen the truth, attained the Way, recognized the Luminosity of mind and can grasp at heaven. You might think that these initial jaunts about the borders are entering the realm of enlightenment but you've lost the Way of complete liberation.

May I point out the one from Jetavana, the Buddha, who was himself Primordial Awareness and still sat for six years? And how about Bodhidharma transmitting the seal of Awareness through doing wall-gazing at Shaolin temple for nine years? The echo of those are heard even now. If this is how it was with the great ones and their diligence, then how about you in your own practice? You should stop chasing understanding through juggling words, allow the external seeking of your mind to collapse upon itself and light up your own nature. Doing this, the bodymind will drop through itself spontaneously revealing your Original Nature. If you wish to be realized in Suchness, immediately practice Suchness.

Don't give rise to the mind's common concepts, the judging of thoughts and observations. Don't sit to become Buddha because you can't fabricate a Buddha out of sitting or lying down.

Once you have found your posture, breathe in and out deeply, sway left and right and then settle firmly and steadily. Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Be Before Thinking. These are the basics of zazen.

Today, during this Dharma Assembly, please let us use this moment to practise the Suchness of the posture, the Suchness of breath, the Suchness of the tanden, the Suchness of the whole body with these arms and legs and eyes and ears. Let us use the priceless jewel, the touchstone of this breath in this moment to unfold Suchness and be enfolded within Suchness.