White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Being Breathed - IV

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, April 22nd, 2000

In "Shinjin Gakudo: Studying the Way Through the Bodymind", Dogen zenji said, "Thus you will be able to steal the nostrils of the Buddhas and Ancestors and make them breath out."

When we hear this or read it for the first time... or maybe the second or the third time... there is a moment when we know what our Lineage Ancestor Dogen zenji meant. "Ah...ahha yes. He's saying that if we practise thoroughly and wake up we are the manifestation of the Lineage, of the Ancestors right here, right now. We are the Lineage."

But we become confused as we think about our understanding. We worry it like a domestic dog will worry a bone. 'Worrying', shaking, biting, and sucking on the bone coats it with slippery ropes of saliva, dirties it, and eventually turns it into a shattered thing abandoned...to decay. The activity of 'worrying' the bone exhausts the dog. And for what? The bone is not food. The bone is an object around which the activity of this game of 'worrying' occurs. The bone has become an object of distraction for the dog and a means of burning off energy.

Our thoughts can be used as objects of distraction. They can have the appearance of practice, a true expression of 'the real thing'. When asked how our practice is, we can adopt a particular 'wise' tone of voice and say, ''I am starting to really see and understand how each thing affects everything else." Nodding knowingly (not quite but almost doing a Pythonesque 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink to the practice advisor), "it is really true."

We expect our sagacity to be rewarded. We want the practice advisor to declare, in awe, "Yes, yes...well done...that's it...you've done it...you understand' and we can join the ranks of THOSE WHO KNOW.

The practice advisor instead of gasping in amazement and running off to get the Roshi says, "How is your practice right now.... What are you noticing?"

Left hanging, breathless, in mid-air self-image starts to generate stuff: Wait a minute...Wasn't the answer true? Sure it's true. I heard the Roshi say something like that or I read it or something....I recognized something didn't I?. sputter, sputter, splurt, splat.... Sooner or later with more or less guidance we do notice what is really going on...

Everything, of course, depends on how you are when you are uttering the words. Practice is recognizing how you are and practising that moment of recognition. The words are just words. They are neither true nor false. If you were feeling the tongue against the teeth, the sounds reverberating in your abdomen, neck, and chest, if you were noticing seeing and hearing and tasting and touching and feeling and the breath moving across the vocal chords carrying sounds across the tongue to be shaped into words what you said may have been relevant to that moment.

If you were not noticing seeing and hearing you were "worrying a bone", pretending to yourself to understand, instead of understanding this moment as the only moment to practise. You are being breathed in and out, thoughts are swirling, a "sense of self" is viewing this maelstrom. Practise the moment you notice this sense of a self which is "experiencing practice".

That sense of self is how you are at that moment. You have noticed a 'self' coming into being. Practise that moment of noticing. Practise like this until all moments of knowing are simply knowing in itself. All of the Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors provide and have provided, and will continue to provide us with instruction on how to practise this.
Zen Master Anzan Hoshin points out in "The Bodymind of the Way", his comments on "Shinjin Gakudo" that,

The real meaning of practice cannot be grasped because the moment that one tries to grab onto one's practice and tries to 'understand it', the moment that one tries to limit one's practice by taking a look 'at' it, in that moment you have distanced yourself from it. You are then no longer practising but are only pretending to practise. One is only thinking about practising.

We don't know if the dog was actually "thinking" about hunting when worrying the bone. But we can know when we are "thinking" or more accurately propagating a lot of thoughts about practice instead of practising. The more we choose to allow attention to move into, and to entertain ourselves with, descriptions, conjectures, thoughts, about what we have understood, the less likely we are to be actually practising in that moment. But we do have the capacity to practise fully and completely in that moment of noticing. Again, that moment of noticing is the only moment we can practise.

Ancestors such As Zen Master Dazhi of Baizhang caution that "If you just grasp onto the view that primordial purity and inherent freedom will liberate you or that Zen practice will enlighten you, you fall into holding the blind view of spontaneous enlightenment."

What is required is the willingness to see how the energies of the bodymind tend to be attracted to, and congeal around, views, concepts, slogans, ideas, descriptions, conjectures, thoughts about the bodymind and thoughts about practice. At the moment of seeing clearly what is really going on we are instructed to recognize thought as thought, to feel the breath and watch what happens as the bodymind releases its pattern of attachment to that view, concept, slogan, idea, description, conjecture...our thoughts about practice. We are instructed to recognize and realize the exertion of the whole bodymind in this moment.

The Roshi comments that "The teachings are not just a pile of junk lying in an old house, they are the collected effort and energy of those who study the Way".

Chinese Tiantai Master Zhiyi, who died in 598 C.E. wrote a book about studying the way. In Chinese, the title is the Mo Ho Shi Guan, in Japanese Maka Shi Kan. This has been translated by the Roshi as "The Big Book of Stopping and Looking". In "The Big Book of Stopping and Looking", this Awakened Ancestor described samatha and vipasyana, shi and ka'n, concentration and insight, as like the two wings of a bird in flight. They were to be practised together, each informing the other. We need at least a little samatha or will-power or concentration to keep us on the zafu so we have an opportunity to notice when we become concentrated or obsessed about any particular thought and are using it to distract ourselves from everything else that is going on.

Vipasyana; insight or clear seeing, is recognizing that moment of waking up from the distraction of thoughts, descriptions, obsessions. Seeing it for what it is...a moment of waking up from a dream. Waking up to reality we are instructed to feel the breath at that moment of waking up, arising as this moment. Why feel the breath? If you're breathing you are alive in this moment. May as well notice it.

As master Zhiyi said some 1300 years ago, the bird needs to have both wings in balance so that it can fly properly. It needs to be breathing in and to be supported by the vastness of the sky.

The essence of OUR practice, shojo no shu-realized practice is to align ourselves with what is true about experiences and experiencing. This is the practice of Aware Space. As taught by Zen Master Anzan Hoshin Hakukaze this is the practice of the vastness in which everything moves. A little shamatha, a little vipasyana, moving in the vastness of the sky.

Our practice is not the wings of the bird, not the bird; it is the practice of the vastness within which everything moves.

We are freely offered endless opportunities for alignment of body, breath, speech, and mind as we move, bow, chant, sit, have our posture re-adjusted, do kata, meet the Roshi, or a Dharma Teacher, or a senior in a hallway. All you really need to do moment after moment is stop and look. Then follow the instruction which presents itself.

During Great Bows, when aligned with the sitting leader we can notice that the exhalation of the breath supports and guides the bodymind as joints bend and we move toward the floor. The inhalation of the breath as we rise pulls us up. The more our attention can be open the easier it is to move that 100 plus pounds of meat, sinew, bone, and marrow through some 5 to 6 feet of space. Practise it.

The Teachings are what the lineage ancestors have experienced and have expressed about studying the bodymind of the Way with their bodyminds. Their bodyminds were dedicated, through vows taken, to uncovering the Way, and through that to help you uncover who you are before all your thoughts about who you are.

This Lineage of the Way has been expressed for 2600 years. The Lineage continues to express through body, breath, speech and mind, what it is to be a real human being. And the Lineage tells you how to do it.

The Buddhas and Lineage Ancestors were people, human beings just like you and me. The Teachings are what the Lineage Ancestors understood and subsequently expressed from their own experiencing as uncovered through their own practice. The Teachings are about their experiencing. The Teachings are a record of how those experiencings and understandings were transmitted to students.

The Teachings are about you in this moment. We cannot know this moment by memorizing and spouting back some little slogan about "each thing making everything else what it is" and expect to be convincing. We can see how self-image is used to being a mimic, how it tries to construct and present a self that "understands"rather than being the expression of understanding itself.

The recognition of this moment of body, breath, speech, and mind, is practising yourself as you are. Through this continuous practice, this gyoji, you become and recognize that you are, the Buddhas and Awakened ancestors.

When you truly are the full expression of that understanding in every moment, "You steal the nostrils of the Buddhas and Ancestors and make them breath out."

Thank you for listening.