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Nomon Tim Burnett : The One Who's Not Busy talk 1

Monday, July 30, 2018 10:40 AM | Nomon 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 breath...one....two.... - 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.

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