White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

5: Entry Through Being Free from Craving: Flick of a Bird's Wing; Entry Through Aligning With the Way; The Paramitas

by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi

Daijozan, February 26, 1989

Good morning.

Through the rice paper blind over the dokusan room window, I can see birds falling from the branches, jumping from the roof, into midair, and flick their wings, and vanish. Each moment of flicking the wing, a moment of flying, arises and passes. Each moment of flight, flight is gone and renews itself. And the sun shines this bright morning, on the branches, and snow and ice, and birds, and buildings. It's a beautiful morning.

This beautiful morning we are gathered here, the harmonious community,1 gathered together to practice. In this gathering together there can be no holding. When there is no holding, then things can truly come together in harmony, and this can truly be Sangha. And where there is Sangha, there is the proclamation of Dharma. And where there is the proclamation of Dharma, there is awakening to the realization that this is Buddha.

Each moment of our lives let us recognize this harmony, this Sangha. In each moment of our lives, let us attend to and proclaim the Dharma. And in each moment let us wake up to this moment, and penetrate into this moment.

To penetrate means to fully enter into, to not stand outside of. To fully enter into, so fully that there is no entering. Entering into this coming, this going; entering into this moment; penetrating this moment, we are nowhere to be found.

This unfindability is like the flick of a bird's wing. Entering into this is like leaping from branch into midair, sheerly for the joy of it.

And so let us gather together and practise joyfully. Enter into this moment joyfully. This joy is not a matter of cranking up any good feeling. This joy is simply the expression of the freedom of the moment itself. Let us express this moment, express this practice, and celebrate this practice on such a beautiful morning.

On this beautiful morning, my back is wracked with pain.2 If I move to the right or the left, there's pain. And this pain flashes out, like the flick of a bird's wing.

It is a beautiful morning, and a good time to hear from our Ancestor Bodhidharma daiosho, and so we will continue to examine this text Two Entries and Four Practices.

The text states:

Being free of craving means: The usual person, through basic ignorance, fixates on one thing and then another, this is called craving. The sage however, understands truth and is free of ignorance, mind abiding evenly in non-action, and body moving in accord with the principle of causality. All dharmas are empty and there is nothing to crave or grasp. Merit and darkness follow each other. These three worlds (of desire, form, and formlessness), in which we have strayed altogether too long, are like a house on fire; all that is conditioned is dukkha and no one knows true peace. Realizing this, be free from fabrication and so never grasp at the various states of becoming. The sutra says, "Where there is craving, there is dukkha; cease from craving and there is joy." Know that being free of craving is the true practice of the Way.

Previously, we spoke of according with circumstances, and knowing how to answer enmity, and spoke of how these were related to the development of maitri, or metta in Pali. Maitri is a fundamental warmth, a fundamental joy or friendliness toward whatever is arising; bearing no grudge against one's life, but seeing that one's life is one's life, and that there is this living, and attending to this living. Facing our fear of being alive. Facing our fear that our life is not truly our life. Facing the fear of that which we already deeply know somewhere, that this life is not our life. This is life. Maitri is the awakening of some sense of the vibrancy of this life, and compassion for our fear, compassion for our fear of being who and what we are in any case. Maitri is the realization of the groundlessness of this fear, and the groundlessness of life itself, death itself, existence itself, non-existence itself.

So first, it is often necessary for us to accept adverse circumstances as being the case. And this is very difficult for us, but not quite as difficult as letting go of that which we cherish, and this is what Bodhidharma is addressing here, this being free of craving.

Bodhidharma says, The usual person through basic ignorance fixates on one thing and then another. This basic ignorance is the root of self-image, avidya, basic ignorance, ignoring the fact that one is already fundamentally free and pretending to be bound. In the midst of space, trying to carve out some territory, as if one could build walls out of the sheer air, as if one could tie knots in the air, nail clouds in place.

This tying of knots, this erecting of walls, this nailing things down, is this fixating on one thing and then another, grasping at thought, grasping at sounds and feelings, grasping at forms, and names. This is called craving.

And so the craving that we need to address in our practice is not just a matter of giving up our attachment to fashion or a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, a beautiful husband, beautiful children, a beautiful life in which there are no problems. Dropping that does not liberate, because all craving, all greed, all lust, all anger, are rooted in this fundamental strategy of self-image to contract and localize, to create boundaries within emptiness, to grasp at emptiness. And so we must understand this process of fixation as it arises, and it arises not in a beautiful house. It arises in this moment of seeing and hearing. It arises as mind moments display themselves, and as this display is interpreted to be self and other, time and space, body and mind. This is the craving that we must understand and release.

Bodhidharma goes on, The sage however, understands truth and is free of ignorance, mind abiding evenly in non-action, and body moving in accord with the principle of causality.

This mind which abides evenly in non-action is like the phrase in the Diamond Sutra which calls for giving rise to a thought which dwells nowhere. This is the immovability of Things as They Are. Dharmas arise, dwell and decay. The moment arises, dwells, and decays. Birth and death, bodies and minds, arise and fall continually. Yet there is something which never moves. What is this? This "not moving" is not a matter of staying, not a matter of holding or grasping. This "not moving" is not any place. It is not any thing. There is this seeing and hearing going on. There is this body and mind. There is this life. But what is it that lives? What is it that knows all of these objects of knowledge? Realizing this, one has a mind which abides evenly in non-action and the body moves in accord with the principle of causality, the principle of causality being karma or cause and effect.

This moving in accord with the principle of causality arises free of effort, free of struggle, because it is simply the easy and natural flow of dharmas. But fixating simply on this flow one is simply riding along on the surface. One can only be truly without effort when one realizes this non-moving mind. This non-moving mind cannot be realized through any strategy of contraction, cannot be realized through concentration, cannot be realized through anything at all because this non-moving mind is realization itself, and cannot be realized through anything. Whatever arises, arises as the expression of this non-moving mind.

In our practice we must open all boundaries, see all structures of attention and release them, recognize all strategies of contraction through direct penetration, direct insight, radical insight. Dogen zenji says, This practice is not gaining concentration by stages and so on. It is simply the easy and joyful practice of the Buddha. There is ease and joy in the recognition of the coming and going. This coming and going arises without effort. Practise in this way, in the midst of this coming and going, directly penetrating this coming and going, to realize this non-moving mind. And then you can act freely because there is nothing being done, nothing to hold you, nothing to be held.

Bodhidharma goes on, All dharmas are empty and there is nothing to crave or grasp. Merit and darkness follow each other.

If one grasps at a moment of joy, this strangles the moment of joy. Whatever name or fame might arise for you go just as easily. Realize that in this moment all dharmas are empty and ungraspable, and you will realize that it is not even a matter of letting go. It is a matter of realizing that there is no holding.

These three worlds [of desire, form, and formlessness], in which we have strayed altogether too long, are like a house on fire; all that is conditioned is dukkha and no one knows true peace.

The three worlds of desire, form, and formlessness, are all the permutations of possibility within self-image, and all of these possibilities are simply rearranging conditions in different patterns. To realize the unconditioned one must not operate within the realm of conditions, in a conditioned manner. These conditions are like a house on fire.3 There is no safe place because every time you try to hold on, the ungraspability of Things as They Are exerts itself. And the more that you are determined to hold, the more that you suffer. To exit this house on fire, to leave the realm of conditions, does not mean to go any place. It simply means to see without conditions, to see the conditions without conditions. And then one realizes that there are no conditions, that Awareness is not what it is aware of, that this unfindability, this ungraspability, this boundarilessness, is this life.

Bodhidharma says, Realizing this, be free from fabrication and so never grasp at the various states of becoming.

These states of becoming are again these three worlds, or the six realms, or the twelve links of interdependent emergence, pratitya-samutpada, or the five skandhas of form, basic reactivity, symbolization, patterning, and consciousness. These various states of becoming are simply this process of fixating on one thing and then another. Trying to fixate on that so that one can maintain this, but since that is always coming and going, the sounds are always coming and going, this is always coming and going, always struggling to become something, to define itself in some kind of way, to locate itself, to prove to itself that it exists. But it doesn't. Being free from fabrication, free from complexity, free from struggle and strategy, is to accord with Things as They Are, and to realize that Things as They Are, are free of craving because they are free of being anything at all.

The sutra says, Where there is craving, there is dukkha; cease from craving and there is joy. Know that being free of craving is the true practice of the Way.

Being aligned with the Dharma [the text goes on] means the intimate knowing that what we call Dharma is in essence stainless, and knowing the emptiness of all that arises. It is undefiled and without attachment, and has no this or that within it. The sutra says; In the Dharma there are no sentient beings because it is free of any trace of being. In the Dharma there is no self because it is free of any trace of self-nature. The sage realizes and maintains this truth and is aligned with the Dharma. As in the Essence of Dharma there is no cherishing or possessing, the sage always practises generosity of body, life and property, and never grudges or knows the meaning of ill-will. With perfect understanding of the threefold emptiness of giving [no giver, gift, receiver], one is unswerving and free of grasping. One uses forms to free beings of stains, to embrace and transform them; one is unattached to fixed forms. This is benefiting oneself and others and adorns the Path of Awakening. As with the paramita [transcendent activity] of dana, so with the other five paramitas. The sage practises the six paramitas to exhaust deluded views and yet has nothing to practise. This is called being in accord with the Dharma.

The six paramitas, or six transcendent activities of the bodhisattva, are how the bodhisattva manifests and actualizes the Dharma for all beings. What is transcendental about these activities is that they occur beyond the range of this and that, beyond the range of self and other, and so are completely ungraspable by the usual mind. And yet not truly "transcendental" because they are simply based upon how things are, based upon tathata4, on Things as They Are; based and rooted within the groundlessness of this life.

Entering into this life, directly, or through these four practices is fundamentally the same, because they are all based upon this life. Our practice is simply a matter of the direct transmission of realizing that this is Buddha, this is Dharma, and this is Sangha. And so fundamentally, we are not even transmitting any particular practice. We are not transmitting following the breath, or working with koan, or even shikantaza, as a practice. Fundamentally we practise no-practice, we practise this Transmission, by entering most directly into this life. Bodhidharma is said to have described this Lineage as a fundamental Teaching, the essence of Dharma, because this Lineage, this practice of Zen, transmits to us the essence of who and what we always already were, always are, and always will be. And Bodhidharma has also said, A Teaching outside the Sutras, directly pointing to the Mind. This pointing to the Mind of course also points to the body, points to the wall, points to the floor, points to this moment of knowing, and asks: What is this? Who is this? To receive this Transmission we must answer this question. In answering this question we have received this Transmission. And we will have had Transmitted to us nothing at all.

This nothing at all is simply our life. This nothing at all is a place without boundary. This nothing at all is each and every thing.

I thank you, dear friends, for listening. May you be well, may you liberate all beings.

Please, enjoy yourselves.

  • 1. Sangha.
  • 2. Roshi had slipped on icy stairs and fallen, injuring his back for a few weeks.
  • 3. In the Lotus sutra the Buddha speaks of samsara as being like a house on fire.
  • 4. Immo. Suchness or Thusness or Things as They Are.