by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi
Daijozan, January 29, 1989
Good morning and welcome to the January 1989 sesshin.
This is our first sesshin of the year, but it is not the first sesshin for any of you sitting here. So there's nothing new. We've all done this before. And yet everything is completely new. The birds are singing outside, and across the road black squirrels are jumping from tree to tree. Sitting on your zafu, thoughts and feelings and sleepiness are jumping, leaping, shifting and changing. Cricks in your back, blurry vision.
But good morning. Because this is the first time you've ever breathed this breath. This is the first time that this thought has ever arisen. So here we are again, where we always were. Right in the midst of our lives.
Sesshin, this "gathering together of the heart," "gathering together of the mind," is entering into the heart of our lives, practising the heart of our lives. And sesshin is the heart of our practice. It is the place in which we come face to face with ourselves. Sesshin is where we can truly allow ourselves to hear the birds cry outside the window, allow ourselves to truly feel a step. To see how we tie ourselves hand and foot with patterns of behaviour, patterns of attention.
Coming into this moment we often see how we are living our lives from the past, a past that is nowhere to be found, waiting impossibly, perching on the edge of this moment, waiting for something to happen, sometime in the future. And yet, no matter how many patterns might arise, no matter how bound we might feel, no matter how much of the past or the future we might carry around with us as we lurch from step to step in kinhin, we are right here. Right here for the very first time.
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 minds 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 pretences 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.
This morning we will continue to hear from Bodhidharma, from his treatise Two Entries and Four Practices. Having discussed the entry of no entry, or entry through the Nature, we will now go on to discuss what Bodhidharma calls the second entry, "entry through conduct."
Entry through conduct refers to the Four Practices which embrace all activities. These are: knowing how to answer enmity, according with circumstances, being free of craving, and being in accord with the Dharma.
"Conduct", in this sense, means this endless doing which arises moment after moment, this breathing in and breathing out, this stepping and walking, this meeting and leaving. Conduct means the deportment of this bodymind. And so these Four Practices embrace all activities.
To truly practise, to practise completely, we must do whatever we do completely. We must realize and embrace our lives, and embrace each and every activity completely, thoroughly. So please, take care of everything. Give care, thoroughly. Care for your zafu and zabuton when you fold it and place it against the wall, for your oryoki set, for your neck and shoulders, for your neighbour, for your breath, for the wall, for each and every step you take, for each and every feeling or thought that arises, dwells, and decays. Be very careful. Care completely; so completely that there is no limit to this caring. There is just an open heart which embraces all activities because it knows that whatever is done, it is doing.
Bodhidharma goes on:
What is meant by knowing how to answer enmity? Finding oneself in adverse circumstances, one who practises the Way should consider: From beginningless time I have wandered in countless states, concerned only with the branches and missing the root. Thus I have given rise to numberless instances of hatred, anger, and wrong action. While I might not have committed violations in this lifetime, the fruits of wrong actions of the past are being harvested now. This suffering has not been given to me by gods or by humans and so I will patiently accept all ills that occur without grudge or complaint. As well the sutras teach that when situations are penetrated with prajna the basic root is known. Awakening this thought, one will be aligned with prajna and use enmity by bringing it into the Way. This is called knowing how to answer enmity.
In this first practice of the second means of entry, the entry through conduct, Bodhidharma brings together both the gradual and direct approach, and merges them. The gradual approach trying to be better than we are through giving rise to patience with whatever situation we might find ourselves in, to free ourselves from struggle, jealousy and anger, and yet at the same time to realize that all situations can be penetrated with prajna, and the basic root known right there.
Now I'll repeat myself once more. If you penetrate any cloud in the sky, no matter how dark, or large, no matter its shape, penetrate any cloud and you reach only the sky. The sky which is beyond grasping, that extends in all directions, and that appears as clouds of many different shapes, that folds in upon itself and plays with itself as clouds. But penetrate any of these clouds, even a sky overcast and grey and heavy, penetrate that in any place and you find only this sky.
Concerning the gradual approach, Bodhidharma recommends that, finding oneself in adverse circumstances, you should take a look at the situation. You should realize that from beginningless time there has been this wandering in countless states.
Here Bodhidharma is talking about the rising and falling of bodies and minds through the wheel of birth and death. The wheel of birth and death, though, arises in this lifetime, in this body and mind, in this moment, as you wander through the hell-realm of claustrophobia and anger, through the god-realm of bliss and momentary ecstasy, through the hungry-ghost realm of poverty and self-consciousness and hesitation. Wandering through all of these states one was lost and tangled in the branches and leaves, and missing the very root of things, the very root of your existence, the very heart of your life. And this has been beginningless; which means one can't find any particular situation to blame, any particular thing that you have done.
Bodhidharma says you can't blame anybody else either, gods or humans. Thoughts arise, dwell, and decay. Feelings swell and shift like tides. And you never know what thought is going to come up, what feeling will arise, because this process of grasping, of solidifying, of freezing, that we call self-image, is completely random. It has no reason; it follows no plan. It simply schemes and engages in strategies. So hatred, anger and wrong action, boredom, lust, fear, joy, kindness, any of these states might arise, and this is beginningless. You have no place for your blame to rest. You did not choose for this thought to arise, and so there is no blame. The arising of these one hundred thousand dharmas is completely free of blame, free of guilt, and yet we have this responsibility to live, this responsibility to pay attention.
So in the midst of this adverse circumstance, in the midst of confusion, in the midst of fear, in the midst of poverty, in the midst of aching shoulders and knees, ankles and minds screaming out in the afternoon, in this sesshin, there is no blame, no guilt. But there is responsibility. Everything that we have done makes us who and what we are, and yet there is so little that we have actually truly done, since most of our activity has simply been habit, simply a playing out of patterns of reactivity and endless interpretations.
This beginningless though also refers, I believe, to that place which is completely without beginning, completely without end. This beginningless is the heart of our lives, the Actual Nature of this moment of experiencing. It is that which experiences. It is this moment, which has no beginning, and no end. Because in this moment there is not a scrap or a shred of time to be found. In this moment the whole body arises and exerts itself, the whole world arises and exerts itself as this very moment.
So in whatever arises, practise thoroughly, which is the characteristic of the gradual path: thoroughness, step by step. And yet at the same time, with each step penetrate into the root, penetrate into the groundlessness of this moment, into the formlessness of form, into the forming of this formlessness, and its spontaneous passing. See that the wheel of birth and death revolves around a point that does not turn. Sit in that place, and you will understand the Way.
But whether you understand or don't understand, understand that it is this moment of your life. Practise this moment of your life and all understanding will open for you, as this moment opens, as this breath opens, as again and again you experience your life for the very first time.
Take care, and give care.
Please, enjoy yourselves.