White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

1: The Sky Sits Up Straight

Presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei

Dainen-ji, Saturday, August 24th 2019

Anzan Hoshin roshi has said to me, "The sky is always sitting up straight above, around, and all the way to the ground. The sky envelops the earth with atmosphere. As the atmosphere fades, the space of the sky extends to the sun and past, enveloping the galaxy and all stars and worlds galaxies to the edges of the universe. But people are focussed upon whether the sky is cloudless and blue, or clouded and grey."

The other day, Roshi once more pointed out to me that "Clouds are magnificent atmospheric sculptures standing in the sky, far beyond the talents of any sculptor, formed of air and water."

Clouds forming and reforming, sometimes massive and imposing, towering and billowy; sometimes displaying as wisps and curls and waves, as fish scales or solid sheets of pewter. It is art being created moment to moment and it’s all free.

In the Buddhadharma, the sky has often been used as a metaphor for complete and utter Awakening, the Dharmakaya or the context of Awake Awareness. Within the context of the sky, within the Troposphere, the band of atmosphere closest to the earth, vapour congeals into water or ice droplets, forming clouds and these have been used to represent the congealing of attention into content within context.

In “Six Verses in Leisurely Solitude”, written by Eihei Dogen zenji, one verse entitled “The True Person Displayed Throughout The Ten Directions” says:

The true person is
no one in particular.

Like the deep blue
of the vast sky
it is everyone, everywhere.

Breathing in, breathing out, we breathe the sky. No matter what we are doing, regardless of how we feel about what we are doing, we are always breathing the sky.

On a clear evening if you are able to see the Milky Way, what you are seeing is about 200 billion stars and the universe says, “Do you know how ancient I am, how beautiful I am, how vast I am?” And you recognize this because you are made of stardust and so you are what those 200 billion stars are, and you and they arise together in the same space. “It is everyone, everywhere”. You see the light of stars that are 100,000 lightyears away or more, and although you can’t touch them, their light crosses vast space and time and touches you.

What you are able to see of the sky, and of space beyond the sky, is only possible because of light - the light from the sun, the light reflected by the moon, and the light from objects far from the earth. Right now, facing the wall, you are seeing space lit by daylight and electric lighting. You are seeing sky. And the space of the sky is always available to you.

What we’re talking about is context. The open space of the sky is the context. Clouds within the sky refer to content within context. In this series of Dharma Talks we will discuss how to open the clouds of states you create by opening to context.

At any moment you notice a contraction, by simply feeling the breath and the body and opening to the space around the body, there is a loosening of the contraction. All contractions are simply knots tied in space.

Contraction is the result of grasping and clenching and recoiling and refusing the openness of reality. Self-image continuously sorts experiencing into what it likes (passion, or grasping), what it doesn't like (aggression, pushing away and struggling), and then everything else, the 99.9% of experiencing that it can't be bothered with (ignorance) because it doesn't fit into the categories of liking and disliking. Self-image wants to hide, to lose itself in states.

The space doesn’t bend to your likes and dislikes. It doesn’t care about any of your states or storylines. And yet, it envelops all of them with an intimacy that is closer than any relationship you could ever have and always has space for anything that might come up.

In a collection of poetry called "The Sky Itself" published in 1986, Roshi wrote:

the wisdom-sword of Monju
takes no sides

it cuts
leaving no trace

it cuts cutting
it cuts Monju

right edge cuts left
left cuts right

but leave all this behind
and cut into THIS!

this moment, this sound

autumn rain falling
in the midst of darkness

the sky itself
this breath

As the Roshi says, “The three klesas or three poisons of passion, aggression, and ignorance are self-image's three fundamental options towards anything that arises: run to it, run away from it, curl up in a ball and ignore it. But all that is known points to the open space of Knowing.”

We too, can sit up straight, as does the sky that is always around the clouds. And even clouds are just forms of the sky. Whatever comes and goes, whatever clouds form and dissolve, sit with this breath as the sky that you are breathing in and breathing out.