Recent Dharma Talks

Talks by sangha and visiting teachers. Use the page controls to see older talks or see the topical pages listed above.

  • Wednesday, February 04, 2015 1:26 PM | Anonymous

    The third study group meeting facilitated by Chris Burkhart – we covered chapter 4.

    Podcast: Play in new window

  • Thursday, January 29, 2015 6:25 PM | Nomon Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    The second study group for the Way of the Bodhisattva was facilitated by Bob Penny. We covered chapter 3.

  • Tuesday, January 27, 2015 8:50 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    This talk by translator and author Stephen Batchelor (who was part of one of the first efforts to translate Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara into English) is highly recommended. Great overview of who Shantideva was and how the text is constructed.

  • Saturday, January 24, 2015 6:38 PM | Nomon Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Unfortunately the beginning wasn’t recorded so in case you can make sense of them I’ll include my notes below.

    Compassion and Fears of Compassion

    Last week we talked a little about pathways of training, how do we open our hearts at Bodhisattvas – how do we practice compassion and how can we make the compassion more possible. Let’s touch briefly on a few pathways and then let’s think a little about fears of compassion.

    • HH: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
    • Compassion 6 ways:
      • The first way of cultivating, or allowing compassion, is a naturally arising when the mind is settled – this is what’s emphasized in Zen, once the craziness of our mind settles out what arises is compassion, there are various techniques for inquiring into the craziness that’s swirling around – all of our conditioning – we do get interested in the mind and the process of mind, but not it’s better not to get too interested. Just enough awareness and understanding to dance with it all and let it go. And in that settledness is a grounded acceptance that supports compassion. A famous example of this is a priest named Hakuin who lived in a fishing village in old Japan (tell the story). So the first of six ways to practice compassion is just settle, just let go, just be present, just respond. The practice of zazen is all about this. And the extension of zazen into daily life from this settled place is a one-pointedness. The classic Zen phrases like “when walking just walk” are an expression of this. And we can hold that space in more complex situations too, I’ve really been trying to apply that sensibility more to using the computer. When doing email, just do email. Set a period of time to focus on it, attend to each message mindfully and move on. This first way is a kind of getting out of our own way as wise and compassionate beings.
      • The second way is we study cause and effect. We often have a narrow understanding of what leads to what which can cause us to misjudge what’s really helpful. HH has a nice comment on this: “The view of interdependence makes for a great openness of mind. In general, instead of realizing that what we experience arises from a complicated network of causes, we tend to attribute happiness or sadness, for example, to single, individual sources. But if this were so, as soon as we came into contact with what we consider to be good, we would be automatically happy, and conversely, in the case of bad things, invariably sad. The causes of joy and sorrow would be easy to identify and target. It would all be very simple, and there would be good reason for our anger and attachment. When on the other hand, we consider that everything we experience results from a complex interplay of causes and conditions, we find that there is no single thing to desire or resent, and it is more difficult for the afflictions of attachment or anger to arise. In this way, the view of interdependence makes our minds more relaxed and open. By training our minds and getting used to this view, we change our way of seeing things, and as a result we gradually change our behavior and do less harm to others.” And we become more skillful in helping and supporting ourselves and others in ways that really matter, that really help, that really lead to the way of living we so deeply desire.Here’s a poem by Jane Hirshfield

    I Imagine Myself in Time by Jane Hirshfield

    I imagine myself in time looking back on myself —

    this self, this morning,

    drinking her coffee on the first day of a new year

    and once again almost unable to move her pen through the iron air.

    Perplexed by my life as Midas was in his world of sudden metal,

    surprised that it was not as he’d expected, what he had asked.

    And that other self, who watches me from the distance of decades,

    what will she say? Will she look at me with hatred or with compassion,

    I whose choices made her what she will be?

     

    • The third way to bring forth compassion is to put energy into our intention, and Buddhism focuses strongly on the power of intention, or vow, we arise the deep deep wish for all being to be happy and free from suffering. And Buddhism frees up intention from our doubts about it by unzipping it from action, by encouraging us to look deeply at intention before action arises. And even if our actions aren’t as we hope they would be we can turn back to our intention and strengthen and clarity there.
    • This probably should have been the first think I mentioned. Practice vow. You might take on the practice of reciting the Bodhisattva Vows every morning during practice period.In the life of the Bodhisattva the hope or wish or intention to be compassionate and kind is seen as a pivotal  thought – there’s a wonderful term for this thought: “bodhichitta” – the mind of awakening – in the chant we did at the beginning this morning we vowed to awaken “true mind” which is the Zen way of expressing this. Bodhicitta arises both spontaneously from our practice, and the possibility of it’s arising is supported by the first two practices of settling to make room for bodhichitta and understanding karma so that we see it’s a natural and logical thing. Bodhicitta is also cultivated and encouraged. We invite it forth.
    • The forth way of developing compassion is to work actively with mind states that block compassion. This is called “apply the antidote” this is emphasized a lot in the Tibetan tradition. If you’re angry you can’t be compassionate. If you’re withdrawn and depressed it’s hard to be compassionate. These kleshas or afflictive emotions are to be really worked with. They often use military language actually: we see these afflictive emotions as enemies and do battle with them. Each one that arises we respond by fighting back with what they call the antidotes, so they mix military and medical language. When stinginess arises you practice gratitude. When anger arises you practice loving others and seeing yourself in others.  There is a relative, conventional, realm to this work with emotion that we’re quite familiar with. It can feel like such a tempest in the tea pot of the mind when we are in the middle of this relative realm. In the relative realm we are buffeted by desire, by impatience, by wanting things to be a different way than they are. And in the Tibetan system we notice each of these arising and apply the antidote. One antidote to desire, rooted in early Buddhism, is to contemplate how whatever it is we desire won’t really satisfy us in the lasting way we crave – they say to examine it’s essential ugliness, like if you desire someone’s beautiful body you contemplate how it’s really full of phlegm and guts and feces and so on, which isn’t language I find so helpful. But we can certainly all relate to how temporary the satisfaction from whatever it is we’re crazing really is. And how surface level our understanding of objects in the world and in our own mind are. Once we get them close they turn out to be different from what we thought! Another antidote to desire for something for ourself is to practice generosity – go get whatever that is and give it to someone else! The antidote to impatience is to practice patience and so on. So we’re trying to actively dance with our afflictive emotions so we can re-emerge into the field of beneficial conduct for all beings.
    • It’s worth acknowledging that this is a little different from modern positive psychology and the the mindfulness meditation movement which encourage us to accept and befriend our negative emotions. American Vipassana teacher Tara Broch says the Dharma is “radical acceptance.” Here is some commentary from HH that seems to completely contradict that idea: [p.37]. So which is better? To accept and befriend or to neutralize and remove? Well I think both approaches are important and we can learn to discern when to be firm in this Tibetan Bodhisattva Warrior way and when to accept and relax. I think part of what the enemies language reminds us is not to be complacent, to be active in our curiosity about how to respond to our mind states, and most importantly not to identify with our negative emotions. When we tell ourselves I’m an anxious person that’s just how it is that’s a kind of surrender that limits the scope of our life. On the other hand if we refuse to acknowledge the arising of anxiety because we are a fierce warrior of awakening and anxiety is not permitted in consciousness we need to relax and practice honesty and acceptance as the place to start from. So we can see this language of getting rid of the enemy of afflictive emotions as a deep  encouragement to be vigorous and active in our approach when that’s helpful. And, and this is a very important and, we can also look a the whole drama of emotional life from an other angle.There’s also an ultimate realm to this working with afflictive emotions. The difficult emotions are hard on us because we think they’re real. When anger is here we think “she made me angry” or “I am angry” or “this is my anger” which is true enough in the relative realm, but we’re also doing ourselves a real disservice if we stop there. Is the anger real? Is it solid? Is it making me feel in some way or act in some way? Really? What if it’s more like an illusion, more like a shape made out of smoke, not so solid, what if it’s not real at all? And here we practice the ultimate or absolute bodhichitta: [HH p. 38]Another Tibetan system of practice that we’re studied before called the Lojong mind training slogans has a number of suggestions for how to work with this ultimate level, the true antidote. My favorite is the slogan – “regard all dharmas as dreams” – dharmas here means everything that we experience. Can we hold it all so much more softly and relate to it as we would a dream. We participate and are a part of our dreams, they have a reality to them certainly, but they are just dreams, no?

      The Genjo Koan text by Dogen is also all about the relative and the absolute levels. Did you notice that? From the opening lines [read from chant book] If we can learn to dance a bit better between these two aspects of reality we will be so much happier, so much less will grab us and pull is into suffering.

      So this idea of relative and absolute is the deep wisdom thought of Buddhism. Probably the most important teaching that Buddhism contributes to the conversation about being a human being.

    • The fifth way of cultivating compassion I want to mention is encouraging its arising through compassion meditation, using phrases and visualization and encouraging the nascent compassion to manifest and be strengthened. Most of us our familiar with loving-kindness meditation which is popular in the Vipassana world emerging from the South Asian traditions. We can add to that universal wish that others be happy a deeply felt acknowledgment that all being suffer. That we share in common a universal common bond as beings – we do suffer and we do want to be happy. This is such a profound thought and it sounds simple and is easy to underestimate. We can systematically bring up that thought in various ways in meditation. Usually you start with yourself so if you like let’s dip into this practice for a moment and if it strikes you you can continue through the day with this. It’s also great to just rest in simple awareness of body and breath. You start with yourself “May I be free from suffering and the roots of suffering.” [loved one, friend, neutral person, difficult person, all 5, all beings].

     

    • And the sixth and last way to cultivate compassion is to get out there and do something. Actually help someone with your words and deeds. But that help won’t be compassion unless we have a wise attitude. The wisdom piece is essential, you can help others in ways that don’t cultivate compassion. So we have to be a little careful not to wait until we’re all wise and so on but in the Buddhist tradition the inner work is seen as essential training that brings wisdom forward.

    It’s important to acknowledge the deep parts of us that don’t want compassion. That don’t want connection. That are afraid of exposure. That worry about losing control or something.  A really interesting psychologist in the UK named Paul Gilbert has done a bunch of work with people who have pretty several psychological illnesses – scitsophreniza and the like – and he’s found that working directly with compassion and connection to others is a powerful treatment. In other words he’s training them to be bodhisattvas in some way. And what’s interesting is that he’s done research into what blocks people from accepting their compassionate nature; from accepting compassion for themselves, compassion from others, and their ability to be compassionate and connected.

    One way to think about compassion is that it can operate in three directions.

     Compassion from Others – think about how open you are to the help and support of others? Is there resistance to receiving that help or love? Do you deserve it? Do you trust them to give you the right kind of help? Do you not want help from others?

     Compassion for Others – there’s only so much energy to go around isn’t there? I mean we’d give more if we could, right? Well maybe not to everybody. Do they deserve our help? Well, maybe they do but how can we really know what would really help? Can we know how to help?

    Sometimes I don’t  story from How Can I Help?

     Compassion for Self – boy, tough one. Do we take care of ourselves in a way that’s truly nourishing? Why not?

    Paul Gilbert created a list of questions that he uses to measure fear of compassion and I have a selected list here, let’s read this over together and see what strikes us and then have a conversation with a partner. The partner conversation will be pretty structured but we’ll get to that in a minute.

    If time after getting back together Tibetan Medicine story from How Can I help?


  • Wednesday, January 21, 2015 7:14 AM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Our first meeting on Shantideva’s text. We discussed background info on who Shantideva was and read verses from chapters 1-3. Copy of the text is linked in below.

    Printable PDF of Shantideva cited by HH Dalai Lama

  • Saturday, December 06, 2014 8:12 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Hearing Buddha Speak – notes

    Rohatsu talk, Dec. 6, 2014

    Following the ancestors, following the body

    Through the forms, connecting to all the practice that has gone on before

    Suzuki

    Because we want to find out the actual value of the teaching, we practice Zen and train ourselves to have the actual living meaning of the scriptures. But this practice must be quite serious. If we are not serious enough, the practice will not work and the teaching will not satisfy you. If you have a serious friend or teacher, you will believe in Buddhism. Without an actual living example it is very difficult to believe or practice. So to believe in your master and be sincere—that is enlightenment. So we say, “Oneness of enlightenment and sincere practice.”

     

    Placing oneself in a vertical relationship (with something larger than yourself)

    • Opens us to the dharma, to life, from above and below
    • Allows us to receive, barriers are set aside
    • This is humility This is freedom
    • This is dropping the fight—the bumper car relationships of the horizontal
    • This opening to a fluidity of roles

     

    Retaining our sovereignty in a vertical relationship (with the world?)

    • This is not placing yourself in the teacher’s hands
    • This is not giving yourself to the teacher, but giving yourself to the universe using the teacher as a model
    • This is following the body
    • This is taking on the shape of the mind
    • The teacher’s job is to guide you toward relying on your own connection to the dharma

     

    This is scary, requires lots of letting go. Through zazen, we must develop acceptance of not-knowing

    • This is wholeheartedly giving away your preferences and taking on a different way
    • This is allowing ourselves to be transformed in a way that we can’t imagine. When we get there we say, “Of course.”

    We verify for ourselves

    Suzuki

    . . . So Dōgen said, “If you want to listen to a Zen master for absolute truth, you must not think about his rank, his accomplishments, deeds, or shortcomings. Accept him just as he is because he is a bodhisattva.” That is the right attitude toward life—just accept it.

    Allowing the teacher to be a bodhisattva. To learn what it is to be a bodhisattva, you must meet a bodhisattva.

    Teacher must continually hand back the gold that has been entrusted

    Teacher just needs to be mostly trustworthy

    Following the body (of the ancestors) through the forms of practice

    Following the body that leads to the true self

    Suzuki

    . . . So Dōgen said, “Everyone is your master, don’t pay any attention to whether they are a layman or priest, a woman or man, young or old. Everyone is your teacher and your friend, but as long as you discriminate this from that, you will not meet a Zen master.”

    . . . If your attitude is right, everything you hear will be Buddha speaking. Then the master is not teacher or student, but Buddha himself.

     

    Opening to another human being, vertically, is s step toward allowing grasses and trees, fences and walls, to express the dharma.

    Allowing pillars and lanterns to expound the dharma, Dogen, EK #10

    Taking a step forward or backward at the top of a hundred jo pole, with a single mind, turn your face and transform your self. This mountain monk [Dogen] will allow the pillars and lanterns to expound this principle for everyone. Have they finished expounding it yet or not? They expounded it last night, and also the night before. Tomorrow they will expound it, and also the day after tomorrow. If they have finished expounding it, has everyone heard it or not?

    All things expounding the dharma

    Intimate exchange with each thing in this moment

    Dogen, EK #68, Jumping and Stumbling in a Fragrant World

    When we exhaust our strength to express it, the pillars help us from the sidelines with half a word. Training the mind and verifying enlightenment, a wooden ladle energetically adds another mouthful [of sustenance for practice]. For a person who can hear and who can practice, emotions are not yet born and forms have not yet appeared. Voices babbling on, every bit is naked. Without awakening, advancing each step we stumble over our feet, making seven mistakes and eight mistakes. Without resting, taking a step backward we stumble over our exposed legs; arriving at two and arriving at three. Jumping up and kicking over Mount Sumeru, pick it up and place it within everyone’s eyeballs. Stumbling and overturning the great ocean, pick it up and place it within everyone’s nostrils. Why doesn’t everyone awaken and understand?

    After a pause [Dogen] said: Last night a flower blossomed and the world became fragrant. This morning a fruit ripened and bodhi (awakening) matured.

    [1] “Making seven mistakes and eight mistakes” implies the mistake after mistake in our practice, which may be necessary for our practice to develop. In Shobogenzo Sokushin Zebutsu “This Very Mind is Buddha,” Dogen says, “Without making mistake after mistake one departs from the Way.”

    2 “Arriving at two and arriving at three” seems to imply something extraneous.

    3 Nostrils refer to the original face, or true nature, as the nostrils are at the center of our face but we cannot see them. Eyes refer to understanding. When Dogen returned from China he said that all he brought back was that his eyes were horizontal and nose vertical.

     

    In the last moment a flower blossomed, in this moment the fruit is ripening

    Each thing expounding the dharma

     

  • Friday, December 05, 2014 8:25 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    THIS PRECIOUS OPPORTUNITY TOGETHER

    December 4, 2014 Rohatsu 2014 Bellingham

    Let’s reflect a minute on how rare, how precious, this opportunity to practice together is. So many factors have to be present for us to be able to do this. Of course each of us made some kind of choice to be here. To show up. Sometimes we notice that level of condition, our own choice, or own motivation. But it goes much deeper than that, doesn’t it?

    Spend a moment feeling your breathing. Feeling the body. Feeling contact between the body and the cushion or the chair. Giving yourself to yourself. Dropping in.

    Not perfectly comfortable maybe, not utter joy and contentment may, but pretty good eh? A body and mind that can sit, can practice. Be with that a moment

    Now visualize someone you know, or have known, who wouldn’t be physically able to be here. So many people are ill. Bedridden. For so many people just keeping alive is the main thing. Or maybe someone who was hurt or in an accident. The frustration of losing mobility and being stuck somewhere. I was visiting a Zen student yesterday who’d just moved to Bellingham, very excited to come practice with us. She went out to dinner with her brother. On her way out the door after a nice meal her foot caught on something on the floor. Down she went breaking her arm and her leg both. She’s been stuck in a rehab place for nearly two months now. I’ve been trying to encourage her to practice there but it’s not easy. Conditions are more challenging than we are enjoying. This really happens to people. So visualize yourself in that situation. Ill. Hurt. Broken. Unable to come to the zendo or receive teachings.

    Feeling the feeling of that. How would you practice?

    And return to the feeling of being here. Now. Ah….

    And now visualize someone who suffers from a serious mental disability. Retardation of some kind. Dementia. Alzheimer’s. There’s a day treatment facility for adults with autistic spectrum in town, sometimes you see a group of those folks walking around downtown with their supporters. They give off some happiness for sure but they are not going to be able to practice in the way we are in this lifetime. So many people just lack the mental resources to do spiritual practice.

    Imagine if you were in that situation. What would that be like? Can you get inside that and feel into it. Would everything that happens be disorienting? A surprise? Maybe you can think of a time you were really disoriented and confused? Or just imagine the roughness of that kind of mind.

    And return to the feeling of being here. Now. Ah….

    Now think of the many people throughout history, and now, who live in situations where the luxury of spiritual practice would be unthinkable. People living in war zones. People living with intense economic hardship. I often remember a powerful encounter with a homeless who was hungry that I had during one of our weekend retreats with Norman at the old place on State Street. The folks living under our bridges are just trying to stay warm this morning, figure out how to get some food or some basic needs. And of course we have so many war zones all over the world. I read a wonderful thriller set in Somalia and Kenya which helped remind me of the daily existence and poverty there. There are no meditation retreats. What would it be to live as a refugee or a homeless person. Day to day to day to day. Be in those shoes.

    And return to the feeling of being here. Now. Ah…

    Lastly visualize the great teachers and spiritual masters who practiced so diligently to develop these ways of practice. To drop through the projections and craziness of their minds. Many of them practicing with very little support. So isolated, either physically or spiritually and emotionally. We don’t really know what it was like for Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri Roshi coming to America in the 50’s. Barely speaking the language. Conflicting demands and requests on them. The people around them not having any context for this practice. We highlight the ways they celebrated the openness of that – beginner’s mind – but I’m sure it was also really tough. Disorienting. I don’t think they magically knew just how to present Zen practice. What to emphasize? What to leave out? When to correct the students’ form and understand? When to just give them time to grow into it. What if they never get it? We romanticize them now but I’m sure it was pretty tough. Put yourself in their shoes. How hard to keep going sometimes!

    And return to the feeling of being here. Now. Ah…

    This opportunity to practice is so precious. So rare. And how easily we get distracted. How easily the mind focusses on our dissatisfactions and issues. Not that we can’t bring up our issues – we can and we should – but what do we hold closest to our hearts? Do we show up whether we feel like it or not? In the traditional Buddhist scheme this birth as a reasonably healthy human being who somehow is able to practice the Dharma is extremely rare. Extremely precious. Let’s do our best to bring that thought back to mind throughout our retreat. And if you’re visiting for the talk, you too can practice in this way out in the busy world.

    Speaking of Suzuki Roshi, our Rohatsu Buddha’s Enlightenment sesshin is a celebration of ancestors. We celebrate Buddha and we celebrate the chain of men and women who’ve practiced from Buddha’s time to now. We celebrate that aspect of this precious moment now. This sesshin brought to you by Buddha and company.

    Since we are in the Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri Roshi lineages here I thought we’d appreciate some words of Suzuki Roshi together. I was looking through a treasure trove of digital dharma files I have and found a folder called “SR Archive” which turns out to be all of the transcripts the students at San Francisco Zen Center made of his talks. They are arranged in date order so I thought it might be interesting to read the earliest one.

    TEACHER AND DISCIPLE, Shunryū Suzuki-rōshi, December 1961 and February 1962

    Emptiness does not mean annihilation; it means selfless original enlightenment which gives rise to everything. Once selfless original enlightenment takes place, very subjective and objective existence resumes its own nature (buddha-nature) and becomes valuable jewels to us all.

    In Mahāyāna Buddhism every teaching is based on the idea of emptiness, but most schools emphasize its expression in some particular sutra—the Lotus Sūtra, the Avatamsaka-sūtra, the Mahāvairochana-sūtra, and others. In Zen we do not emphasize the teaching until after we practice, and between practice and enlightenment there must not be any gap in our effort. Only in this way it is possible to attain the perfect enlightenment from which every teaching comes out. For us it is not teaching, practice, enlightenment; but enlightenment, practice, and the study of the teachings. At this time every sutra has its value according to the temperament and circumstances of the disciples.

    This “gap” is an important teaching. Not turning away from what’s arising now is how I understand it. Not pulling ourselves away. Being right there. Right there with everything that arises. Breathing it in. Merging with reality. With what Suzuki Roshi called “things as it is.”

    Confusingly a similar concept of finding the space between stimulus and response as things come at us is an important skill in practice too. We find a spaciousness so we aren’t led around by the nose by our judgments and resistances. We learn in that space to see this is just what it is I can be with it.

    So oddly the practice of feeling into the spaciousness is the same as the practice of no gap. It’s a question of point of view or language.

    So it is the character or personality, the cross-current of teacher and disciple, that makes transmission and real patriarchal Zen possible—practicing from the point of view of the enlightenment of the Buddhas and patriarchs. So the relationship between the teacher or Zen master and disciples is quite important for us. By believing in one’s master, one can attain his character and the disciple or student will have his own spiritual unfoldment.

    This is a central idea in Zen and also in Tibetan Buddhism and probably other schools too. Less so in the Thervadadin Buddhism that informs Vipassana where the teacher is seen as more of a spiritual friend. The traditional understanding in Zen is that the teacher embodies something that cannot be expressed in words. And an experienced teacher is an essential element in our practice.

    The aspect of me, Tim Burnett born in La Jolla, California in 1966, which operates in words through my personality and history feels a little funny talking like this though. I am apparently sitting in the teachers seat and giving a teaching but I do not feel special or wise or enlightened in a self-conscious way. I don’t go around making too many brilliant insightful remarks like a mythical Zen master either.

    And it might be that’s just your bad luck that we are entering the age of ordinary teachers. Suzuki Roshi was operating in the age of Special Teachers. And in that situation he was empowered to do lots of special things and his surviving students still talk about the amazing things he said and did and his presence. I remember Norman complaining about that at one point. They’d have a special celebration of say, the 50th Anniversary of SF Zen Center’s founding, and round up all of the surviving Suzuki Roshi students they could find who would then tell the same old stories they always tell. Wonderful stories though.

    But there’s another aspect of this where it might be this archetype of the teacher and student is alive and well. Fully functioning. It’s more subtle and you have to hang around a while to even notice it. A long term practitioner who’s received some support to practice in an insightful way does embody something. There’s a feeling to it that’s hard to describe.

    One time I went to Norman’s house in California to spend the day with him learning how to do the calligraphy on the back of the rakusu people receive in the jukai precepts ceremony. Norman and I hung out all day and practiced that. He made me some really tasty coffee and a nice lunch. We went for a walk in the neighborhood. He didn’t give me any particular teachings or advice. We just spent a quiet day together.

    And when I got back to where I was staying that night I noticed how different I felt. How much more grounded. A sense of depth and appreciation for this human life. It was really striking once I noticed it. I think my sister in law pointed it out actually and I was like “yeah…you’re right!”

    Norman was just present with me. And come to think of it I don’t remember him having to veer off to attend to other things all day. Maybe he answered a phone call at some point I don’t remember but he was really there with me. He was present. And it wasn’t like he was doing me a big favor or felt like he was “working” that day. We were just enjoying our companionship in the Dharma. And it was a really profound day I will never forget.

    Maybe if we’re lucky here in Bellingham and in Seattle we can be that kind of teacher for each other. Each in our own way. It’s not about spiritual zingers. It’s about being deeply together. Walking the path together.

    Suzuki Roshi goes on and tells a story from the ancestors

    Once when Yakusan-zenji was asked to talk about Buddhism he said: “There is the teacher of scriptures, there is the scholar or philosopher of Buddhism, and then there is the Zen master. Do not acknowledge me.” Day after day, from morning until night, he behaved like a Zen master. “Why don’t you acknowledge me” is what he meant. To practice Zen with disciples, to eat with them and sleep with them is the most important thing for a Zen master. So he said, “Why don’t you acknowledge me? I am a Zen master, not a teacher of the scriptures or a philosopher.”

    So we say, “Only to sit on a cushion is not Zen.” The Zen master’s everyday life, character and spirit is Zen. My own master said, “I will not acknowledge any monastery where there is lazy training, where it is full of dust.” He was very strict. To sleep when we sleep, to scrub the floor and keep it clean, that is our Zen. So practice is first. And as a result of practice, there is teaching. The teaching must not be stock words or stale stories. But must be always kept fresh. That is real teaching.

    But we do not neglect the teaching or sūtras of Buddha. Because we want to find out the actual value of the teaching, we practice Zen and train ourselves to have the actual living meaning of the scriptures. But this practice must be quite serious. If we are not serious enough, the practice will not work and the teaching will not satisfy you. If you have a serious friend or teacher, you will believe in Buddhism. Without an actual living example it is very difficult to believe or practice. So to believe in your master and be sincere—that is enlightenment. So we say, “Oneness of enlightenment and sincere practice.”

    I didn’t know it at the time, but the first problem given me by my master was this story about Yakusan-zenji, which I have just told you. I could not acknowledge my master for a pretty long time. It is quite difficult to believe in your teacher, but we must know our fundamental attitude toward Buddhism. That is why Dōgen went to China. For a long time he had studied in the Tendai school, the very profound, philosophical school of Buddhism, but still he was not satisfied. Dōgen’s problem was, “If we already have buddha-nature, why do we have to practice? There should be no need to practice.” He was quite sincere about this problem.

    I do worry a little if we’re serious enough here. It’s a subtle thing to be serious in a wholesome way. Not too heavy. Not judgmental or too precious. Not reinforcing the illusion of our separateness or the illusion of our incompleteness.

    I worry that I’m not devoted enough to the Dharma. And it’s okay I can practice with that worry and be with it. Try to invite it to encourage me to sit every day and show up for my life. To not lay any trips on anyone else but to be upright in my own life.

    We can see the effects of taking this seriously in an uwholesome way. That feeling of never being good enough. Not living up to some kind of idealistic monastic vision. And we can see the effects of not taking it seriously at all. We know that “everything is practice” but that is so damn easy to misunderstand. But each of will have our own expression. Not everyone can come to the zendo all the time. And I have to admit I worry about this point a bit as I said.

    So I’ll just invite each of us to consider: what does serious practice look like for me? What’s the right way? We need some encouragement sometimes to work through our desire for comfort and our laziness but do we turn it into self-aggression if we try too hard. It’s a subtle and important point.

    Buddha-nature, you know, is neither good nor bad, spiritual nor material. By buddha-nature, we mean human nature. To be faithful to our nature will be the only way to live in this world as a human being. So we call our nature buddha-nature and accept it, good or bad. To accept it is a way to be free from it; because we do not accept it, we cannot be free. If the idea of human nature exists in your mind, you will be caught by it. When you accept it, you are not caught by it. So to accept does not mean to understand it psychologically or biologically. It means actual practice. No time to be caught, no time to doubt.

    A more eloquent way of exploring this question of what our practice is about. Are we trying to improve ourself? Or are we trying to understand the actual nature of the self. I love the active verb in this sentence: “We call our nature Buddha-nature and accept it, good or bad.” We need to call out to our life. Call out to the world. Call out to each moment. Engage. Re-engage. And accept the answer that comes back in response to our calling. And this acceptance is not a self-conscious kind of psychological understanding. Dogen reminding us over and over that we may not know enlightenment in a self-referential cognitive way. It’s a deeper feeling than that.

    Dōgen tried to be satisfied with some teaching or answer which was written, but as long as he was concerned only with the teaching, it was impossible to be satisfied. He didn’t know what he wanted, but as soon as he met Zen Master Nyojō[1] in China, he knew. Dōgen was quite satisfied with Nyojō’s character and Nyojō said to Dōgen, “That I have you as a disciple is exactly the same as Shākyamuni Buddha having Mahākāshyapa.” So that was the relationship.

    The teachings come to live in embodied relationship with real people. This is so easy to miss. We like to make things abstract. And we like to make them our own in a way that limits the teachings. The teachings are bigger than that. Nyojo by the way is the Japanese version of Dogen’s teacher Ryujin’s name.

    In this way, Zen teaching and understanding is transmitted. Nyojō said, “You must transmit this teaching to someone.” This looks as if he were trying to bind the disciple, but once you understand what he actually said, everyone you meet and everything you have becomes valuable to you. So Dōgen said, “Everyone is your master, don’t pay any attention to whether they are a layman or priest, a woman or man, young or old. Everyone is your teacher and your friend, but as long as you discriminate this from that, you will not meet a Zen master.”

    If we are real Zen students, we sleep where we are, eat what is given to us, and listen to the teacher, good or bad. The teacher may say, “How are you? If you answer, I will give you a hit, if you don’t answer I will give you a hit.” He doesn’t care what you think about it. If you get hit with the stick, you will get something. Whether the answer is right or wrong, whether you get hit or not, is not the point. So Dōgen said, “If you want to listen to a Zen master for absolute truth, you must not think about his rank, his accomplishments, deeds, or shortcomings. Accept him just as he is because he is a bodhisattva.” That is the right attitude toward life—just accept it. If your attitude is right, everything you hear will be Buddha speaking. Then the master is not teacher or student, but Buddha himself.

    This last part is quite a relief because I myself don’t feel so accomplished. And that’s okay.

    Let’s practice carefully and fully together in this retreat. It will be over before we know it. Please don’t waste time. And the way to not waste time is to forget about time, forget about you. Just keep showing up. Just meet everything fully, with no gap. When there’s no gap there’s no me, no you, no zendo, there’s just this. And our willingness to enter fully into just this without any holding back is a great gift to ourself, to the world. That’s truly making wise use of the precious opportunity of human birth.

     

  • Wednesday, November 26, 2014 8:43 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Blue Cliff Record Case 6:

    Yun-Men taught by saying, “I do not ask you about before the 15th of the month. Come, give a phrase about after the 15th:”

    He himself responded, “Every day is a good day”

    What I love about the Zen koans is how they don’t explain but they show. Master Yunmen shows his gratitude in this story. His complete appreciation for every day. Whether it’s a day we like or a day we don’t like. Whether it’s the full moon or before the full moon or after the full moon.

    Yunmen lived in the 9th century – 860 to 949. These Zen masters lived a long time. 89 years old when he died. He was seen later on as the founder of one of the Five Houses of Zen.

    He is found often in the traditional koan collections. 18 times in the Blue Cliff Record that this case is found in.

    He is the subject of one of many famous and somewhat violent Zen stories.

    While a boy, Yunmen became a monk under a “commandment master” named Zhi Cheng in Jiaxing. He studied there for several years, taking his monastic vows at age 20, in 883 CE.

    The teachings there did not satisfy him, and he went to Daozong’s school to gain enlightenment. According to a legend, first mentioned in 1100, he had his leg broken for his trouble:

    Ummon [Yunmen] went to Bokushu’s temple to seek Zen. The first time he went, he was not admitted. The second time he went, he was not admitted. The third time he went the gate was opened slightly by Bokushu, and thus Ummon stuck his leg in attempting to gain entrance. Bokushu urged him to “Speak! Speak!”; as Ummon opened his mouth, Bokushu pushed him out and slammed shut the large gate so swiftly that Ummon’s leg was caught and was broken.

    We don’t push so hard in our temple here. But I think we should be clear that there is a real place to devotion and discipline. It’s okay to take this practice seriously.

    And it’s good to learn how to relax and put it all down.

    I do not ask you about the day before Thanksgiving; come, say something, about what happens the day after Thanksgiving?

    Every day is a good day.

    Every day is a day to offer thanks.

    I had a challenging interaction with some colleagues yesterday morning. They were questioning some of my choices and how I’d expressed a few things. They were actually very careful to be kind and supportive in how they brought this up. And I could feel myself taking it in, and starting to shut down. It didn’t feel like a good day any more.

    And as I hung out at home that night I thought about this conversion. The morning I woke up I thought about it. It came and went all day. It distracted me a bit when I was out walking with my wife. My mind was on the conversation and I wasn’t really there with her part of the time. And then this afternoon, somehow it lifted. I could feel it lifting. When it was settled on me I couldn’t quite imagine that possibility of it just lifting. It felt like something I had to solve and figure out. I wrote a long email which, thankfully, I didn’t send. While in this state. In my journal I wrote that I realized I’d been “enflammed” and enflammed state. This will happen in our sangha conflicts too. We enter a disoriented state and we have one attitude, one approach.

    Sometimes if we can just be with it it will shift or life and then we have a different situation. There is still stuff to work out with those colleagues but it doesn’t have the same fear and urgency that it did. I return to a wise place. I return to gratitude. I return to every day is a good day.

    Maybe one day we can learn to rest in every day is a good day….every day. I don’t know. But I do know it’s a space we can return to. It’s a space we can feel. It’s a space we can stand in even when there’s no where to stand. And from that place we can be kinder, clearer and wiser. Compassion and wisdom are found there.

    John Tarrant is a Zen teacher from New Zealand who teaches in California and I understand does a weekend retreat in Seatlte once a year – we should all try to go. He’s big on koans and working with them in a very flexible way.

    I found some comments he made on this case.

    The teacher said, “I’m not asking about before the full moon, say a word or two about after the full moon.”

    The teacher answered the question, “Every day is a good day.”

    Gratitude comes with a feeling of openness, shyness, vulnerability. The person who is grateful can be hurt or rejected, she is taking a risk. With gratitude, there is more at stake, life is not small.

    Gratitude can surprise me just the way a poem or a song can surprise me, and fling me into another wider air. When the ancient Chinese thought of waking up as intimacy, they were referring to an appreciation for trees and rivers, an appreciation so strong that it amounted to identification—what’s outside of us is us too. They also meant that our own innermost experience leads us outward to connect.

    Gratitude is an impulse that creates a community, it’s my contribution to living with others. It doesn’t happen to me as a solo Ronin meditator practicing the dark arts of consciousness alone in a hut. Because of this and because other people are always doing unexpected things, gratitude has to confront anti-gratitude, bitterness, and despair. If we want to speak for gratitude we have to go down into desolation,damage, and hurt and find space to breathe exactly there. In that way gratitude is a path, as much as a feeling; it asks me to look where I’m putting my feet.

    Gratitude is what we feel for every single thing that occurs since we would rather be alive than not, would rather be here than not and perhaps our only job is to celebrate being here, being happy for each other.

  • Sunday, November 23, 2014 8:10 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Shuso Chris Burkhart discussed the Chinese Zen poem “Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi” which is chanted as part of the Soto Zen liturgy.

    Talk is continued with Part 2.

    Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi Composed by Dongshan Liangjie (Tozan Ryokai)

    The teaching of thusness has been intimately communicated by buddhas and ancestors. Now you have it, so keep it well.

    Filling a silver bowl with snow, hiding a heron in the moonlight – taken as similar they’re not the same; when you mix them, you know where they are.

    The meaning is not in the words, yet it responds to the inquiring impulse.

    Move and you are trapped; miss and you fall into doubt and vacillation. Turning away and touching are both wrong, for it is like a massive fire. Just to depict it in literary form is to stain it with defilement. It is bright just at midnight, it doesn’t appear at dawn. It acts as a guide for beings, its use removes all pains. Although it is not fabricated, it is not without speech.

    It is like facing a jewel mirror; form and image behold each other – you are not it, in truth it is you. Like a babe in the world, in five aspects complete; it does not go or come, nor rise nor stand.

    “Baba wawa” – is there anything said or not?

    Ultimately it does not apprehend anything because its speech is not yet correct.

    It is like the six lines of the illumination hexagram: relative and ultimate interact – piled up, they make three, the complete transformation makes five.

    It is like the taste of the five-flavored herb, like a diamond thunderbolt.

     

    Subtly included within the true, inquiry and response

    come up together. Communing with the source, travel the pathways, embrace the territory and treasure the road. Respecting this is fortunate; do not neglect it.

    Naturally real yet inconceivable, it is not within the province of delusion or enlightenment.

    With causal conditions, time and season, quiescently it shines bright. In its fineness it fits into spacelessness, in its greatness it is utterly beyond location. A hairsbreadth’s deviation will fail to accord with the proper attunement.

    Now there are sudden and gradual in which teachings and approaches arise. Once basic approaches are distinguished, then there are guiding rules.

    But even though the basis is reached and the approach comprehended, true eternity still flows. Outwardly still while inwardly moving, like a tethered colt, a trapped rat -the ancient sages pitied them and bestowed upon them the teaching.

    According to their delusions, they called black as white; when erroneous imaginations cease, the acquiescent mind realizes itself.

    If you want to conform to the ancient way, please observe the sages of former times. When about to fulfill the way of Buddhahood, one gazed at a tree for ten eons, Like a battle-scarred tiger, like a horse with shanks gone gray. Because there is the common, there are jewel pedestals, fine clothing; Because there is the startlingly different, there are house cat and cow.

    Yi with his archer’s skill could hit a target at a hundred paces. But when arrow-points meet head on, what has this to do with the power of skill?

    When the wooden man begins to sing, the stone woman gets up dancing; it’s not within reach of feeling or discrimination – how could it admit of consideration in thought?

     

    Ministers serve their lords, children obey their parents; Not obeying is not filial and not serving is no help. Practice secretly, working within, like a fool, like an idiot. Just to continue in this way is called the host within the host.

  • Sunday, November 23, 2014 7:51 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Shuso Chris Burkhart discussed the Chinese Zen poem “Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi” which is chanted as part of the Soto Zen liturgy.

    The discussion began with part 1.

    Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi Composed by Dongshan Liangjie (Tozan Ryokai)

    The teaching of thusness has been intimately communicated by buddhas and ancestors. Now you have it, so keep it well.

    Filling a silver bowl with snow, hiding a heron in the moonlight – taken as similar they’re not the same; when you mix them, you know where they are.

    The meaning is not in the words, yet it responds to the inquiring impulse.

    Move and you are trapped; miss and you fall into doubt and vacillation. Turning away and touching are both wrong, for it is like a massive fire. Just to depict it in literary form is to stain it with defilement. It is bright just at midnight, it doesn’t appear at dawn. It acts as a guide for beings, its use removes all pains. Although it is not fabricated, it is not without speech.

    It is like facing a jewel mirror; form and image behold each other – you are not it, in truth it is you. Like a babe in the world, in five aspects complete; it does not go or come, nor rise nor stand.

    “Baba wawa” – is there anything said or not?

    Ultimately it does not apprehend anything because its speech is not yet correct.

    It is like the six lines of the illumination hexagram: relative and ultimate interact – piled up, they make three, the complete transformation makes five.

    It is like the taste of the five-flavored herb, like a diamond thunderbolt.

     

    Subtly included within the true, inquiry and response

    come up together. Communing with the source, travel the pathways, embrace the territory and treasure the road. Respecting this is fortunate; do not neglect it.

    Naturally real yet inconceivable, it is not within the province of delusion or enlightenment.

    With causal conditions, time and season, quiescently it shines bright. In its fineness it fits into spacelessness, in its greatness it is utterly beyond location. A hairsbreadth’s deviation will fail to accord with the proper attunement.

    Now there are sudden and gradual in which teachings and approaches arise. Once basic approaches are distinguished, then there are guiding rules.

    But even though the basis is reached and the approach comprehended, true eternity still flows. Outwardly still while inwardly moving, like a tethered colt, a trapped rat -the ancient sages pitied them and bestowed upon them the teaching.

    According to their delusions, they called black as white; when erroneous imaginations cease, the acquiescent mind realizes itself.

    If you want to conform to the ancient way, please observe the sages of former times. When about to fulfill the way of Buddhahood, one gazed at a tree for ten eons, Like a battle-scarred tiger, like a horse with shanks gone gray. Because there is the common, there are jewel pedestals, fine clothing; Because there is the startlingly different, there are house cat and cow.

    Yi with his archer’s skill could hit a target at a hundred paces. But when arrow-points meet head on, what has this to do with the power of skill?

    When the wooden man begins to sing, the stone woman gets up dancing; it’s not within reach of feeling or discrimination – how could it admit of consideration in thought?

    Ministers serve their lords, children obey their parents; Not obeying is not filial and not serving is no help. Practice secretly, working within, like a fool, like an idiot. Just to continue in this way is called the host within the host.


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