Red Cedar Zen Community, 1021 N Forest, Bellingham Washington

Dharma Talks

Talks by sangha and visiting teachers.

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  • Wednesday, September 12, 2018 8:00 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Wednesday, September 05, 2018 9:18 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Wednesday, August 22, 2018 8:30 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Wednesday, August 15, 2018 9:38 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Wednesday, August 01, 2018 8:36 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)


    Tim's talk notes:

    Opening with a poem:

    Rosemerry Trommer - One Morning

     One morning

     we will wake up

     and forget to build

    that wall we’ve been building,


     the one between us

    the one we’ve been building

     for years, perhaps

     out of some sense

     of right and boundary,

     perhaps out of habit.


     One morning

     we will wake up

     and let our empty hands

     hang empty at our sides.


     Perhaps they will rise,

     as empty things

     sometimes do

     when blown

     by the wind.


     Perhaps they simply

    will not remember

     how to grasp, how to rage.


     We will wake up

     that morning

     and we will have

     misplaced all our theories

    about why and how

     and who did what

     to whom, we will have mislaid

     all our timelines

     of when and plans of what

    and we will not scramble

    to write the plans and theories anew.


     On that morning,

    not much else

     will have changed.


    Whatever is blooming

    will still be in bloom.


     Whatever is wilting

     will wilt. There will be fields

    to plow and trains

     to load and children

     to feed and work to do.


     And in every moment,

     in every action, we will

     feel the urge to say thank you,

     we will follow the urge to bow.



    • Usual when introducing a koan formally to introduce the players
    • Yunyan 780-841
    • Daowu was 11 years older 769-835
    • Both were students, together, of Yaoshan 751-834 who was himself  a student of Shitou
    • Shitou author of Merging of Difference and Unity wihich we chanted on Monday morning
    • You may remember we also chanted Dogen's great meditation manual Fuzanzazengi which means "A universal recommendation for zazen" or something like that.
      • details about posture
      • which mean pay attention to how you arrange your body not that you should really be sitting in full  or half lotus
      • And then the briefest mention of what to do with the thinking mind (this is embodied practice!)
      • "Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Non-thinking."
      • This is a reference to a story about Yaoshan, Yunyan and Daowu's teacher:

    When Priest Yaoshan was sitting in meditation a monk asked,
    ”What do you think about, sitting in steadfast composure?”


    Yaoshan said, “I think not thinking.”


    The monk said, “How do you think not thinking?”


    Yaoshan said, “Non-thinking

    • If our chant book not-thinking and non-thinking are hyphenated which is a kind of clue that these are special words and ideas not just "don't think"
    • The word used for thinking is shiryō (思量) in Japanese.
    • Not-thinking is fu-shiryō (不思量)
    • and non-thinking is hi-shiryō (非思量)
    • (source
    • I don't read Japanese or Chinese really I looked this up in a talk by a colleague and i can put the referene into the notes for this talk on our website if you're interested in this stuff.
    • So fu and hi in fushiryo and hishiryo are just ordinary negations. Like the not and non in our English translations. The important bit according to my source is that there are multiple words for thinking and this particular one, shiryo, is actually not that common and means evaluative thinking, the ryo at the end means "to measure".
    • So the monk asks Yaoshan how he stabilizes  his mind and he  says "I think not thinking" meaning something like "I engage the mind in NOT measuring and evaluating. So it's not turning off the mind it's not "no thinking" is not-evaluative-thinking and it's an active engagement not a cutting off or a shutting down.
    • The rest is more or less word play I guess, the monk asking how do you DO that: how do you think not thinking. And Yaoshan just gives a synonym to emphasize and encourage the monk to investigate.
    • And that Dogen quotes this more or less verbatim is a sign of great approval. Usually he comments or deliberately mis-quotes something to either show how wrong it is or to bring it up to snuff.
    • So in zazen engaged in the gentle act of releasing from evaluative thinking is what is seems to be saying. How do you work with the mind? Pay attention closely, notice when the thinking that compares or judges arises and release it. Free it to drift away like a cloud.
    • Or you could read it: "I direct my thoughts awah from directive thinking"- think non-thinking.
    • Every great master's "record" includes their enlightenment story
    • Yunyan's - Zen's Chinese Heritage p 142-43 - note that Yunyan earlier studies with Baizhang who is one of the super famous teachers, the Zen Monastic Rule is attributed to him, famous for "day of no working is a day of no eating."
    • I don't have an enlightenment story for Daowu
    • Daowu is featured in a wonderful koan that's a meditation on life and death
      • BCR case 55, Cleary p. 365
    • and Yunyan and Daowu are together again in a wonderful koan on compassion, one of few Zen writings that speaks directly about compassion (mostly implied in Zen literature)
      • SYR case 54, Cleary p. 229
      • Naturalness of this kind of compassion
      • Compassion is a willingness to feel the suffering of others and try to help
      • The great bodhisattva of compassion - one of her names (Kanzeon in Japanese) meaning she who hears the cries of the world.
      • Are we willing to hear the cries of the world?
    • Koans are also called "encounter dialogs" - dialogs that emerge from encounter between sincere practitioners. This afternoon we'll close our formal sesshin time with a ceremony in which we'll create our own encounter dialogs - explain shosan ceremony and afternoon schedule
      • (lunch break pack of your stuff in the cabin/tent zone)
      • 2pm work period, bell to stop at 3pm or switch as soon as John's tasks are done
      • 3pm clean up cabins (incl. e-cabins, camp bathroom) listen for han or watch  the time for
      • 4pm shosan ceremony (you might drive your car around)
      • Then we'll clean up the zendo as Bob and crew gets our dinner finished up. Also move the pews and table back in.
      • 5:30pm informal dinner - paper plates
      • 6:30 clean up church bathrooms, kitchen, reset dining hall.
      • 7pm s/b all done.
      • What to remember - on the hour:
        • 2pm communal work
        • 3pm clean cabins and camp bathroom
        • 4pm shosan ceremony (3:50 han please Reamick)
    • One last Zen story

    A monk asked Master Zhaozhou, "How is it when a man brings nothing with him?"

    Zhaozhou replied, "Throw it away!"

    The monk inquired, "Since I have nothing on me, what could I throw away?"

    Master Zhaozhou said, "Well, then go on carrying it!"

    • A good answer to the "how do I take this with me" question about intensive practice - throw it away! But I know there's nothing, I know it's empty. Ok, then go on carrying it!


  • Tuesday, July 31, 2018 10:40 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Tim's talk notes (not a transcription, Tim often stays from his notes, sometimes in interesting ways).

    Several of you have mentioned that you're finding breath counting fruitful.

    But of course if can be hard to tell which practice is helpful. Sometimes in our subjective experience we have a result we like: like you feel you can concentrate better or there are fewer anxious thoughts or something. But other times we have subjective experiences we don't like: one practice or the other feels boring and mechanical or frustrating.

    The thing is it might be that a practice we don't like, especially in the short term, turns out to be the most helpful.

    How do we know if a practice helps? Do you we just try things and see if we like them? Do those kinds of preferences help us? Or is there a deeper feeling of connection and possibility sometimes with one practice or another? Is it more logical or more intuitive?

    And anyway why bothe with a technique like breath counting anyway? Why not just sit?

    Well that's fine if you're really just sitting. Just finding some way of letting everything drop away - opening into the big wide possibilities of our lived experience. But sometimes "I just want to sit" means more like spacing out or checking out. It's so hard to know!

    This is why really all instruction in Zen ends up being individual. Sometimes I can help someone feel into what's helpful- I just feel it and there's a kind of knowing. I say that but I also know it's not "me" exactly - I can't look inside anyone's head and I certainly can't look into the future to see what the result of one practice choice or the other will be. It's more like sometimes something emerges in the conversation that we're both contributing too. Some clarity is there and, on a good day, I can name that clarity - that sounds wonderful, please continue; or that sounds really challenging, please continue anyway; or that sounds really like it's not so helpful right now, let's try something else.

    And other times I really have no clue. And then I'm grounded and clear I'll just say that - hmm, no idea right now, what do you think? Other times I just feel a little vulnerable and frustrated. I want to be helpful in the dokusan room and that's just not always possible. How could it be? To meet each other with all of our complexity in a few minutes and feel our way forwad with more clarity? Tall order! It's amazing it's helpful as often as it is actually.

    This is a vulnerable thing this practicing sesshin, isn't it? I appreciate the way so many people here are in all kinds of new roles and even if you're doing a role you've done many times there is so much freshness and engagement and curiosity. And so much skill - which, yes, includes making mistakes! It's so vulnerable the way we show up together. We're exposed. In the quiet we see each other in a certain way. There's no where to hide. There's a commentary line on another Zen story that I've been turning over my mind lately: "completely exposed."

    I realized as I was walking back to my little trailer that there's a big "new" for me in this sesshin too. This is the first multi-day sesshin I've ever led without another Dharma teacher. Usually I'm co-teaching with Eko Jeff Kelley or Seattle Soto Zen or with my teacher Norman Fischer. I've led all kinds of things myself of course but there's something very special and important in our tradition about a multi-day sesshin, especially a residential one were we're living here, it's our deepest ritual and it's a big deal to lead it. I was just going along one step at at time we do not thinking too much about it when I realized, wow this is kind of a big deal!

    And I know that's also not really true. I'm not leading this alone. I am surrounded by deeply experienced practitioners and colleagues - some of whom I've had to pleasure to practice with for decades - and there is much leadership and support all around. I love that while we do try to honor the powerful practice of leadership we also do everything we do pretty cooperatively so I feel very supported. So thank you.

    And also that this role of "teacher" is just one role of many here at sesshin and they are all important and essential so that's true too. Ringing the bells or cooking the food or painting the cabin or being the teacher, in a deep way every one of these roles is just as important and essential.

    And there's something to this role, this form, this wearing this color of robe and sitting in this seat is a big deal, a real hot seat. Completely exposed.

    In case I forget to say this at the end I do want to tell you that if any of my words or deeds confuse you or are harmful or unhelpful in any way I do deeply apologize for that. I'm not an enlightened Zen master I don't think but I do have the karma to be offered this seat and so it's my responsibility to show up and sit down here with you. My responsibility and my honor.

    In any case breath counting is a very good practice to stick with for some days of sesshin, for some months and years of practice, but ultimately all technique does become a bit extra.

    So you could either stick with breath counting, or you could try a companion practice for the rest of sesshin. This is what we might call "open awareness of breathing" - when you first sit down tune in strongly to the body and breath as you can been doing for breath counting. Then as each breath goes by invite the awareness to be light. To be lighter and lighter. And when other things arises that aren't breath awareness have less of a feeling of "oops, wrong - back to the breath" - treat other phenomena that arise more like the weather of the mind: clouds and rain squals, the occoasional thunderstorm, let them there there, let them float across the mind and meet them with a feeling of gently, gently settling back on the breath. So not that kind of strong moving away from the so-called distractions and back to the breath but an allowing, a being with, an opening to that just naturally leads gradually and organically back to the breath. The breath is always there patiently waiting for you, you know?

    But do make a choice in each zazen period. Are you practicing breath counting or are you practicing this lighter open awareness of breathing? Make a choice and stick with it. And to just add more confusion you can also do a mix of these two practices: settle yourself in with breath counting for the first half or so of a zazen period then let the counting get softer and softer and drift away and then just rest your awareness lightly on the breath in the way I just described.

    There is a great value in choosing how you're practicing and sticking with it for a while. Not rigidly or tighty so much but with commitment and vision.

    And if you have questions or want my reflection back we can explore that in dokusan.

    And in all of these practices we can invite the spirit of Yunyan's "you should know there's one who's not busy." We are making some kind of effort - there is "busy" in that sense of engagement and occupation - but notice when tense, hurried, striving kinds of effort arise. Can we notice that, feel it, and let it fall away? Hold up the broom for yourself and ask "which moon is this?"

    The moon metaphor is from a Chinese sutra called the Shurangama Sutra. It's a longish Mahayana Sutra about the nature of reality that mostly unfolds as a long dialog between the Buddha and his attendant and cousin Ananda. Ananda is my favorite of the early disciples of the Buddha. A brilliant and devoted student with an incredible memory and yet in some deep fundamental way he had a huge problem "getting it" no matter how hard he tried.

    In the opening of the Shurangama Sutra, Ananda screws up. It's a little racy actually - he's on his daily begging rounds, on his own which the Chinese commentators of this sutra tell us is a big mistake - don't go off on your own: you might do something you regret. And that's what happens. Ananda falls hard for a woman in one of the houses he stops at and they jump into bed together. No kidding!

    But luckily for Ananda, his teacher the Buddha has clairvoyance and he always knows what's happening with everyone. He's actually in the middle of giving a talk over lunch to a donor when he sees what's happening with Ananda and before Ananda can take it too far and violate his monastic vows Buddha sends the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjursi, off to fetch Ananda.

    Interestingly the woman he's with returns also to hear the teachings of the Buddha. And later in the sutra I'm told she actually gets enlightened before Ananda does. There are some misogynistic aspects to this little fling of Ananda and his, sadly unnamed, woman which I'm chosing to leave out but also these encouraging bits are actually right there in a thousand year old Chinese text. She practices and awakens too, we don't just leave her in bed. At least that's something.

    Anyway Buddha realizes the problem isn't whether Ananda knows how to practice or the teachings or what the rules are, the problem is in the very nature of Ananda's understanding of reality so they start this long kind of Socratic dialog to explore what the nature of the senses and perception and reality are. This is a common theme in Buddhism: the problem isn't that you don't have enough information. The problem is you're in some fundamental way confused about who and what you are and what reality really is.

    The challenge of these kinds of teachings for us is we are so thoroughly convinced that it all is the way we think it is. I'm me, you're you, the world is this way, not that way, you're thinking x y or z about me, I'm sure of it, the moon is up there in the sky. Sometimes the Buddha recommends practices that may shift our understanding in a meditative way but sometimes he uses logic actually. And this sutra is a vast exposition in logic about perception and reality.

    I'm going to give you just a taste of this style of teaching. It's also from China appearing around the same time as the first Zen teachings, but it's a very different kind of literature from the koan stories.

    And like most Mahayana Sutras there is a whole little school of Buddhism that sees it as the most important sutra ever and they are deeply devoted to it. This translation is from American students of the Chinese Zen master Hsuan Hua who created a very large center near Ukiah, California called the City of 10,000 Buddhas. Master Hua says early in his commentatary something like, "if you don't understand this sutra that is all the most reason to study it more, because you don't understand it you should study it, not the other way 'round." Which of course you could apply to lots of things but I've really come to love and appreciate devotional logic nonetheless.

    After Ananda is back in front of the Buddha here's what happens first:

    When Ananda saw the Buddha, he bowed and wept in sorrow. He regretted that, since time without beginning, he had devoted himself to erudition but had not fully developed his practice on the Path. Respectfully and repeatedly he asked the Buddha to explain for him the elementary steps that lead to attainment in the wondrous practices of calming the mind, contemplative insight, and meditation on stillness - practices through which Buddhas from all directions become fully awakened.

    That's impressive isn't it? It reminds us that the key ingredient in the practice is actually humility. We screw up and we don't make excuses or blame someone, we also don't keep it to ourself and try to strategize a way to avoid making that mistake again either - Ananda's example is we go to teacher and ask for basic instructions. How do you do this practice again?

    That's instructive to me for dokusan room practice too - so often people want to figure out a new strategy to solve their problem - I like strategies, I have some good ones too! - but maybe it's more helpful to go right back to the basics of practice.

    Which reminds me of another of my oft repeated stories. This one I'll especially indulge because it happened right here on this campground about 25 years ago [first seshin, me anxious, Norman reminding me to breathe].

    So the Buddha then surveys all of the bodhisattvas present in the assembly and gives Ananda an intimate kind pat on the head which actuallly we still do in the Dharma Transmission ceremony it says he "extended his golden-hued arm and circled his hand on the crown of Ananda's head." So intimate and sweet. And then he asks Ananda a key question:

    "You and I are members of the same family, and we share the affection that is natural among relatives. At the time you first made the resolve to become enlightened, what excellent attributes did you see in my Dharma that immediately led you to reject the deep familial affection and conjugal love found in the world?"

    In other words: so what inspired you to become a monk and devote yourself to practice. What did you see in my teachings that inspired that?

    And Ananda says it was the Buddha himself. In the tradition it's said that your body changes in various ways when you become a Buddha - it has 32 distinguishing characteristics - the 32 marks of awakening - like suddenly you can see special dharma wheel symbols on the Buddha's feet and he has a particular kind of head and hair. And eyebrows! There are a bunch of them, we don't need to worry about those details so much as recognize that we see something in our teachers don't we? It's hard to say quite what that something is, too? We see something and feel something. I think in our Dharma age mostly the teachers a lot more human than radiant beings with the 32 marks which seems on the whole healthy as we are so much less likely to put our human teachers up on a pedestal where they may fall hard and hurt people in the process, but something moves us in the practice of others right? We see something in them.

    So when Ananda says "I saw something important in you," Buddha sees this as a great vehicle to help him understand reality more fully. To help him deeply example the idea of "I see" the marks of awakening. What is that "I" and what does it really mean to see? How do you see? What is seeing? And so on.

    So I'll just read a few pages of their initial exchange and try to refrain from comment just for time. Just let this roll over you.

    [read middle of p. 15 '"Now, Ananda, I ask you this: when , in response to the thirty-two hallmarks...." to p 18 skipping Master Hua's comments.]

    And then several chapters later the Buddha gets into what is it that's seen. And how we may think we're seeing the moon but is it really the moon? Is there the moon in the sky or in our mind? Or both? Or neither? Is the moon in our eyes? What does it mean to see? What does it mean to be one who sees? How does seeing really happen? Who sees the moon? It's a deep deconstruction of a process we take so for granted and if you really stay with this and study it and meditate on it the idea is just like contemplating the key phrases in a koan story this is a powerful path to liberation. Our perceptions and sense of self are so stubborn! So it takes a lot of patient practice. Whether that's in silent meditation, listening to talks, studying a text like this one on your own or even better with a peer or a teacher, little by little the scales fall away from our eyes. Little by little we see more clearly.

    Someone was telling me that because of where she was in the room here she could just see 7 pillars, not 8. I said their were 8 pillars but she counted over and over and saw that I was wrong there are just 7 pillars. Kind of odd that they'd make a 7 sided room but it appears they did. And then she move or something and realized her misperception.

    The idea of these teachings as that everything is like that. It's ALL a misperception tweaked out by our narrow-minded sense of a separate self that needs to be defended and promoted. And when we finally stop doing that, wow, what a relief, how liberating, how freeing.

    Speaking of liberation and freedom I was talking to someone about our story of Yunyan and Daowu and we came up with another version that you might find helpful:

    One day Yunyan was sweeping the ground.

    Doawu came up and said, "Too busy!"

    Yunyan looked up and said, "You should know there's one with nothing to prove."

    Doawu said, "If so then there's a second moon."

    Yunyan held up his broom and asked, "Which moon is this?"

    This is worth considering too isn't it? Are you living in some way to prove yourself? To someone in paricular? To the world in general? Maybe the one you're trying to prove something to is yourself. Perhaps proving to yourself that you're actually okay, that you're enough.

    I think our practice is not to much to cut that off at the knees - you could try certainly - but just to notice it, just to know it. Just to see it. In the traditional Buddhist texts there's a character called Mara who is an embodiment of all of our greed and desire and confusion. Mara shows up in a big way on the night of Buddha's final practice push into enligthenment (the way it's usually told as this big heroic pump through all of his resistance.) Mara throws everything he's got at Buddha but the Buddha doesn't budge, just keeps practicing and eventually Mara's armies are defeated by the Buddha's clear, wise practice (and "defeating the armies of Mara" is an actual phrase is those early teachings that talk about this).

    But the intersting thing is that even after Buddha's awakening. During his 30 year teaching career, Mara keeps showing up from time to time. In other words the Buddha still had his issues that would pop up. But the neat thing is how was Mara subsequently "defeated"? Simply through awareness, the Buddha could name him, "Ah, I see you there Mara. That's you bringing these anxious thoughts forward in the mind." To which Mara always says the ancient Indian version of "drat, foiled again!" and dissappears.

    So when you notice and name your various anxious projections and self-centered ideas your attempts to impress someone for instance. Just reminding yourself, "you should know there's someone with nothing to prove" even if you can't quite really feel that one right now, that's a kind of naming of that attempt to seek valdiation. Or keep it even simpler, "ah fear I see you." "ah, of thinking I'm not-good-enough, I see you" or "too busy! too too busy and stressed, I see that!"

    Does this make your issue go away in a poof of smoke like Mara in the story? Sometimes maybe, sometimes not. But over the long arc it helps, it defuses that energy a little, it's walking the path of awareness. It's a wisdom practice to name your crazy patterns and then be sure to bring forward, as best you can the compassion practice of naming these things with kindness.

    With more of a feeling of "ahh...very frightened right now" than "darn it! there's nothing to fear here, straigthen up!"

    Okay that's more than enough. Thank you again for listening.

  • Monday, July 30, 2018 10:40 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Note this is a partial recording (recorder wasn't turned on right away).

    Tim's talk notes (he often strays from his notes, these are here for reference and in case they are interesting in their own right. It is not a transcription of the talk):

    Welcome again to sesshin. Yes it can be a little shock to the system at first. Not sleeping well or sleeping but having really intense dreams is common. Getting used to a new routine can be challenging butit's also instructive isn't it in seeing how routine-bound we can be. You could get easily get into a headspace around how complex and stressful and difficult sesshin largely beause it's different from the complex and stressful day you normally have. But really is there any problem here? All you have to do is do the next thing on the schedule. Sit, walk, chant, eat, breathe. Is the thing that determines whether it's stressful or ease-ful the schedule and format or is it the attitude we bring to it? The way we meet it?

    Our central theme this week is being busy. Or perhaps being too busy. Or perhaps being busy is okay but there's a way we get lost in our busy-ness that is a problem.

    The dictionary says to be "busy" is just to be engaged. The first definition is:

    • occupied with or concentrating on a particular activity or object of attention: the team members are busy raising money | she was busy with preparations.

    Zen is all about engagement isn't it? Focus. So maybe busy is good.

    But so easily being engaged and occupied becomes a different kind of busy. Harried, hurried, stressed, too busy.

    But it's also about balancing different kinds of focus. We're good at a certain kind of narrow task oriented focus and we've derived from that a certain kind of narrow task-oriented way of worrying about things. Did I forget to do that? Did I do is wrong? Will I know how to do it right?

    Do, do do.

    There's another kind of attention that the narrow task oriented type. There's also a broad, grounded, spacious kind of attention.

    On way to think about zazen is making use of the narrow to feel into the broad. We gathering out drifting jump attention that's all over the place - doesn't it feel like a thick cloud of thoughts and worries and impressions and things half-seen and partly remembered that swirls all around you sometimes - zazen does include a technique of narrowing down. Gathering in. Finding the breath in the body. Feeling the breath in the abdomen if you can. And a persistent gentle effort to keep it there.

    Out it spreads, pulling it back.

    How we pull it back matters a lot but we'll get back to that later, the point is we pull it back, we gather it up.

    I first heard the term "sesshin" translated as gathering - gathering the heart-mind - it's all over so spend 3 days or a week gathering it up again. Like a basket full of stuff that you spilled. You're zooming along trying to get stuff done and you trip and spill your mind out everywhere. It's frustrating but what are you going to do just leave all that stuff scattered all over the ground?

    In order to gather it up, you have to stop right? The shock of the spilling brings you up short. Maybe there's a moment or rage or frustration but there's also an opportunity there to stop, to take a breath, to get down closer to the ground and gather it all up again. Maybe you do a little reframing from "what an idiot I am who could I have been so careless?" to "okay, this is good, I'm being reminded to stop rushing around so fast, don't freak out, it only takes a few minutes to gather this stuff back up again." And we you do go on usually you go on in a better way, a more grounded and stable way.

    So too-busy leads to spilling doesn't it? It leads to mistakes and how we meet those mistakes is important.

    So zazen is noticing that we've been spilling our mind all over everywhere this whole time. Maybe our whole lives and we perhaps didn't really notice this fact. So we gather our attention into the breath and body. We stop. We suddenly have the opportunity of a new perspective on our own consciousness.

    A powerful and ancient support for this gathering is breath counting. I'd like to encourage everyone to make breath counting your central practice for the next day or so. Whether you've done a whole lot or if you heard about it and rejected breath counting in favor of something else or if you never heard of it, let's all invite breath counting into the middle for at least from now until tomorrow's talk.

    [basic breath counting instructions]

    And the interesting thing is over time as we gather our attention in this way, as we use what appears to be a narrowing of focus exclusively - just this - we start to feel simulateneously included in that a different kind of attention and awareness. A broad, grounded feeling of our life becomes apparent. This is hard to quite explain or talk about. It's not "figuring it out" like we might have the idea of with spiritual practice - if only I could figure out my problems - it's more of a "feeling it out." Or a settling into it.

    In one branch of Chinese Buddhism they have this term the "mind ground." Zazen helps us feel the mind ground and there's a great and wondrous sense of security and stability that emerges from this. A sense of trusting in our own life and this world - messed up as it is in some ways, wondrous as it is in other ways.

    So the gathering that breath counting support helps withthis.

    It also helps to feel the literal ground beneath our feet. Our practice isn't in our thinking mind, it's embodied - it's body-and-mind (all one word) practice. So we feel the ground.

    Even if it's relayed through a building or through the furniture, it helps to feel the literal ground beneath our butts and legs when we walk, when we sit.

    We feel the way it's the ground that makes it possible to sit: to line up our torso in some kind of balance. Try tilting the pelvis forward a bit - might require re-planting the butt - and inviting your vertebrae to stack themselves up in a slight S curve, the lower spine comes forward a little the upper back a little - inviting a lifting in the sternum helps. Inhale yourslef into the open blaanced posture - we tend to suually lean forward so a little corrective helps - and then....let go, soften, give the body to the Earth.

    So our Zen busy-ness is both narrow and focussed together. Simultaneous inclusion

    Narrow: keeping our gaze lowered helps reduce the scattering and spilling of the mind, so does keeping yourself out of other people's business - trust the sesshin organization and just do your job as best you can. Often just being quiet and staying out fo the way is best.

    Broad: feeling the space, feeling the air, remembering that we're all breathing the same air together, aware of the energies and bodies and minds all around us without getting too excited about that (no need to figure anyone else out), seeing the trees and grasses.

    And how it all works together is amazing. When we work this afternoon noticing the flow of the paint off the brush and how the viscosity of the paint and the dryness of the wood dance together.

    On the one hand the narrow does seem to be true: you as a separate human being picked up a brush and dipped it in the paint and moved it across the wood so we can say "I am painting this trim."

    But really, don't be crazy that's not the half of it! You can't make each of those molecules of paint go from there to there and stick to each other and the wood. You are just cooperating in a much larger story. The early chemists and artists who figured out how paint works are as important in this as anything you could ever do. The nature of wood is important. And that means a tree grew and was harvested and milled. So there is rain and sun and soil and growth and evolution and an entire incredibly rich ecological system operating in every stroke you make.

    I'm just illustrating here a few possible ways of thinking about this - a few out of million and millions of ways of thinking and understanding the incredibly rich interaction that's happening when you paint some trim on one of the cabins.

    But here's the thing: although thinking about this is a road in, just like gathering your attention in zazen is a road in, the actual practice of it is much deeper and wider than thinking. It's a felt sense of the depth and majesty of every act we take. It's a not falling into a narrow ego-istic view that everything is somehow "me" over here do this to "that" over there. There is an experience of "me" to be sure but our practice supports us in feeling the deeper reality of this and that deeper is reality is so helpful, so supportive, so liberating. It's not all on you anymore. That doesn't make it easy - there's still work to do and some of it is really hard - but the burden of it might not be the burden you think it is. That's the great power of cultivating this broader awareness.

    So Zen stories are all about this. Not to be caught in the narrow and the self-centered. But also not to reject the narrow and the self. We are both. And at the same time the whole thing is bigger and more mysterious that this or that or both or neither. Zen stories - Zen koans - get misportrayed in a lot of ways. You read that they are puzzles to thwark the intellect for example. And that mix up has been going on for more than a thousand years we know because Dogen is at his most irate at people who say that koans are irrational. It's just a different kind of rationality I guess.

    That said let's start exploring our central case.

    When these stories appear as koans or "cases" in the koan collections they've been seriously worked already and these are complex books with many layers of creation and commentary and the system is different from how we build up books and ideas in the West. Ideas around originality and plagarism are very different for instance.

    In this case the story is collected as case 21 of the Book of Serenity Koan Collection. The 100 stories in here were first collected by a teacher named Hongzhi (1091-1157) also confusingly called Tiantong which is what Thomas Clearly refers to him as in his book - you might remember Jeff Kelly and I discussing Hongzhi at Rohatsu last year in that eclectic history of Buddhism class we did last Fall we read some sayings of Hongzhi and wrote our own responses to them. Hongzhi put the stories together and wrote a verse in response to each one. He also wrote little pithy responses to each line of the main story, like footnotes. And then later on another teacher named Wansong (1166 - 1246, born a decade after Hongzhi died) took Hongzhi's book and made a new book out of it by writing an introductory verse and a commentary both to the main case and to Hongzhi's verse about that case. And both of these esteemed teachers would have been well read about what other teachers over the centuries have said about this story and about related stories. So it's layers and layers of stories.

    We don't dig into this Chinese Zen literature in greath depth too often but I'm glad we are this week. These are our family stories in a way. And like all family stories they do get a bit embroidered and enhanced with each telling so there's really not way of knowing whether any of these events actually happened in a conventional reality kind of way but that's ok we can appreciate them deeply none-the-less.

    And it's interesting: writing in English about these stories has gone through basically three phases. At first they were described as literally having happened. And pretty well valorized and held in very high esteem. These are the wise words and doings of our enlightened ancestors, heed them well and try to be like them! Then as modern scholarship started picking holes in some of the traditional accounts - this teacher could actually not have said this to that teacher because they lived in opposite sides of China o r they weren't alive at the same time or whatever - then the presentation changed to a seeking out the "true" original stories and weeding out the later bogus accrections and exagerations. As if it would somehow with brilliant textual analysis and archeology be possible to find out what exactly happened in a conversation in some Zen temple in year 800. And the the 3rd phase is more like: well we're pretty sure this person existed and lived in that area and maybe something like that happened but what's interesting is that the authors of this book 300 years later were trying to make this point with the earlier teachers as the charcters in their storytelling.

    But of course these were real people situated in a culture and that culture had serious gender issues just like our culture still does so these are stories written by men about men among other limitations. We do have some wonderful recent efforts to bring the stories of the wise women of Zen happily, but for these talks I'm going to go ahead and dive into the traditional stories even though there is this underlying mysogeny to this whole literature. Let's take a moment to acknowledge that though - there is a deep suffering I know, well it's deeper than I can know, that women were left out in these literatures.

    And all of this setting aside the fact that for some Buddhist schools all of this horsing around by Zen masters 1500 years after Shakyamuni's death is kind of beside the point and not really Buddhism anyway. Why not just study the oldest text that purport to say exacty what the Buddha said?

    So there are so many layers here.


    My famous 3-point approach to studying original texts, regardless of how truly "original" they are might be worth mentioning again. We can focus on the historical, the devotional, and the practical. Three strands. The historical is what it sounds like - what really happened historically as best we can tell? - this is interesting and I do love mentioning it but in the context of sesshin maybe we don't spend too long on this. It's the intellectual side of things. The devotional is kind of like that first wave of scholarship on the Zen stories although a little more realistic because we can do devotional without having to be "believers" in quite that way - whether this is historically 100% true or not let's jump into these stories as if they were true. Let's put ourselves in the room with these wise worthies. Let's feeling into these stories. Let's invest our hearts in these stories and spiritual truth whether we understand them or not. And the 3rd aspect the practical is "how do we practice with this?"

    Well with that nutty amount of introduction here's our main story this week.

    [Wansong's introduction]

    One day Yunyan was sweeping the ground.

    Doawu came up and said, "Too busy!"

    Yunyan looked up and said, "You should know there's one who's not busy."

    Doawu said, "If so then there's a second moon."

    Yunyan held up his broom and asked, "Which moon is this?"

    There are two key connected teachings here: the idea of busy and not busy and the teaching of the two moons. We'll play with the moon tomorrow.

    We all know some version of "I'm too busy!" - just say to yourself now "too busy! too busy!" - what do you feel in the body. Is there a constriction? A narrowing? An increase in blood pressure? An intensity. Too busy is powerful. It's energy. It can be a tool. And it can be a tool that uses us instead of our using it.

    Yunyan and Daowu are brother monks and according to some accounts were also biological brothers. So this is an intimate exchange between two people who knew each other very well. It wasn't just some monastery overseer seeing a monk rushing through his work and reminding him to slow down.

    In Zen when we hear a statement that's a correction on the face of it "too busy!" we need to learn to see that not as criticism but also as encouragement. Encouragement to look more deeply at your activity. Are you only narrow and ego-centric here, "I have to get this task done, it's on me and everyone else better get out of my way"? Or are you able to also feel the breadth and depth of our intepenetrated life with each swish of the broom?

    One day Yunyan was sweeping the ground.

    Doawu came up and said, "Too busy!"

    We could hear his as Daowu asking Yunyan, "So I see you are trying to show up fully in this world where there are tasks to do whie also trying to feel the depth of the mystery of existing in this vast, mysterious web of interconnection where everything depends on everything and you're just one small part. How's that going?"

    The story goes on:

    Yunyan looked up and said, "You should know there's one who's not busy."

    This might be Yunyan answering, "Thank you! It's good! I'm feeling the depth of the mystery. I am in touch with the one who's not busy even as I sweep this walkway with lots of enthusiasm."

    And it could have ended there but the exchange continues. We could read the next part as Daowu not being statisfied and confident in Yunyan's understanding or as Daowu having the compassion and kindness to encourage Yunyan to touch it even more deeply.

    Doawu said, "If so then there's a second moon."

    We'll explore the origins of the two moons tomorrow but for now maybe we can think of this as a reminder that everything has two sides, two aspects - well infinite sides and aspects but two stands for that - everything. If you think you are this, then think again maybe you're also that. If you think there's just dropping into the depths of the ultimate reality as you sweep then explore that more deeply.

    And most importantly, recognize the way you are constructing this reality in your mind. The moon you see is not the real moon is it? It's an image and a concept and a thought that although it seems to be dependent on the existence of a huge rock orbiting the earth it's not the really the moon. That's your moon, that's one moon, what about other perspectives? What about realizations you haven't had yet and things you haven't understood yet. What about the second moon.

    And the commentators all agree that it's really wise that Yunyan answered this with a question. We get too sure of everything and it helps to practice with questions - it opens us all up.

    Yunyan held up his broom and asked, "Which moon is this?"

    Oh! You're right brother there is never one way of looking at it. This is what Suzuki Roshi meant by that great expression "not always so" - and we can't really know anything with that kind of certainty we get that comes from thinking there's just one way - Suzuki Roshi's "beginner's mind" is here too.

    Yunyan holding up his broom and asking that question wasn't Yunyan having the answer and quizzing Daowu but him raising up the question for both of them, and for us, and for all beings, which moon is this? What is this? What are my views and perceptions? What are my assumptions? What is this.

    Several generations later the great teacher Dongshan in this lineage said it this way: "This this is it."

    Sesshin is a wonderful time to explore this sensibility about our lives. This deeply knowing the unknowability of who and what we are. Which moon is this? What is it? Just this is it! Really? Yes, really, and don't take my word for it or your word for it, keep asking.

    Let's appreciate the whole story one more time and then we'll continue with our quiet practice of both gathering ourselves deeply and carefully - breathing in, breathing out "one...", breathing in feeling our body, breathing out "two...", breathing in sensing the space around us, breathing out "three...".. Breathing in, what? what was I just thinking about what? and gathering ourselves up again, "one...."

    Can we bring this commitment to gathering, settling and opening to everything we do. When we feel tight and busy - even just sitting here looking for all to see like you are doing absolutely nothing you can get pretty darn busy in there right? - notice when it is "too busy" and come back to breathing, settling and opening, that's our way of exploring the one who's not busy.

    I'm deeply grateful to everyone for being here, for listening, for your practice. This is just an ordinary every day kind of practice but I'm also deeply convinced that it's really important. Our strengthening our confidence in the one who's not busy is important medicine for us and for this world. So let's take opportunity of sesshin seriously - following the guidelines, doing our best. And remembering at the same time that it's not "me" that does this anyway. Just be here. Just practice. Breathing in, breathing out.

    One day Yunyan was sweeping the ground.

    Doawu came up and said, "Too busy!"

    Yunyan looked up and said, "You should know there's one who's not busy."

    Doawu said, "If so then there's a second moon."

    Yunyan held up his broom and asked, "Which moon is this?"

    Thank you very much.

  • Friday, June 22, 2018 10:30 AM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
  • Thursday, June 21, 2018 10:30 AM | Talus Latona (Administrator)
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