• Home
  • Dharma Class with Myoki Raizelah Bayen : Discovering Your Genjo Koan Talk 4

Dharma Class with Myoki Raizelah Bayen : Discovering Your Genjo Koan Talk 4

  • Monday, February 19, 2024

Myoki Raizelah offers a reflection on Eihei Dogen's Genjo Koan during this fourth session of her shuso's class, Discovering Your Genjo Koan.  This class was offered in support of the community's Winter Practice Period.

Stream audio:

Stream video:

Myoki Raizelah's talk notes:

Well, we are half-way through the practice period. How’s it going? You might reflect on your intentions. Take a minute to remember. Sometimes I forget about my intentions during practice period and need a nudge to get back on track with them. Sometimes I find that life presents something completely unexpected to practice with. 

As Dogen says, “That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.”

What has come forth in your life to practice with?

My practice period brought forth Covid. This is week 5 of practice period and I am still practicing with Moon Face Buddha/Sun Face Buddha.  Remember that koan I shared earlier in the practice period? The student asked the teacher, “How is your health?” And the teacher replied “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha.” We practice with both sickness and health. I am learning so much from this.

I’ve been reflecting on a conversation I had with Norman at a sesshin many years ago (maybe 15 years ago?). The sesshin schedule was more challenging then. It didn’t allow for a full night’s sleep (for me, 7-8 hours and if I don’t get it, I really feel it). I was so tired, with a headache and body aches  from the lack of sleep. I complained to Norman. He said, “So, you’re a tired Buddha.” And it was his tone I remember so vividly. No preference. Sun Face Buddha/Moon Face Buddha, in sickness and in health - no preference at all was what I remember about this conversation - 15 years later.

So, I’ve been offering myself his advice when I get cranky or discouraged about being fatigued. “So, you’re a sick Buddha,” I’ve been saying to myself - trying to mimic his tone.

Then the other morning this quote from Suzuki Roshi popped out at me (Not Always So, p.115): “Real practice has orientation or direction, but it has no purpose or gaining idea, so it can include everything that comes. If something bad comes, ‘Okay, you’re a part of me.’ If something good comes, ‘Oh, Okay.’ Because we do not have any special goal or purpose of practice, it doesn’t matter what comes.” 

Just as I work with this practice, this practice works on me. If I simply accept what is - my fatigue and limitations - then I get to ask myself each day, “What is most essential today? What is most essential to keep my business running? What is most essential for this practice period? What is most essential to my household? What can I ask for help with? What can I let go of?”

This has been my unexpected practice during this practice period - and such a valuable practice! It is teaching me to connect with what’s most essential. To sort the pure from the impure (this is how we talk about the Small Intestine Meridian’s function in Chinese Medicine) - and to let go of the rest. 

I can see already how this practice is helping me in my life, setting Covid aside. 

What has this practice period offered you to practice with?

Monologue (5 min each in groups of 3, no discussion): What has this practice period offered you to practice with?

Practice period offers us great support for our practice. I encourage you to take advantage of it. If you haven’t yet gotten together with your practice period buddy to reflect on practice, please do. At EDZ, we were encouraged to meet with our buddies 3x during practice - and to bring some formality to the conversation. Each person gets to talk about their practice and simply be heard. Both people share. Then there is a conversation. In the same way we do monologues here. This provides a container, a holding for each of you.

If you don’t have a buddy, but would like one, please email me and I will try to match you up with another person that asks for one.

The teas are another form of support that practice period offers. There are 5 teas coming up in the next 4 weeks - and there are still spaces in each of them. The first one is happening this coming Saturday at 9:30 at my house. There are a couple more at my house, one here at BUF on a Thursday afternoon, and one online. The link to sign-up is on Red Cedar’s home page. As far as I am concerned, anyone here can sign-up to join a tea - even if you didn’t sign-up for the whole Practice Period. We’re all practicing together. There are no special clubs here.

How about some Genjo Koan now?

When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore is moving. But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see that the boat moves. Similarly, if you examine myriad things with a confused body and mind you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has an unchanging self.

We are the boat. We take ourselves to be the solid ground, the center or pivot point, around which the rest of the world is revolving. I see the world from this center point. Usually, I believe I am right here, and that the world is moving and changing all around me. It’s a very self-centered view. 

Okumura(p.144)  says “...it’s a mistake to think that the coast is moving rather than the boat, it is also a mistake to think of the self as a fixed, unchanging subject around which shifting objects revolve.”

I live much of my life from this fixed view: I am here, I have a seemingly solid sense of self. Right? I think I know who I am, and I believe that what I perceive is correct. That is a chair; that is a cushion; I’m here and you’re there; and over there, that is the shore moving, right? I don’t know anything outside of what I know.

Okumura (p.148) explains, “Because we each have different karma, each of us sees the world differently. And yet one often thinks, “My opinion is absolutely right, and all other views are wrong.” To open the hand of thought, or to stop discriminating, is to stop judging things solely on the basis of one’s limited views. Because any view is the product of a particular set of conditioned circumstances and experiences, we must give up our own views as absolutely true.”

Zazen is truly a support for this. When we sit zazen over time, we slowly start to discern our conditioned views. To me, it seems just seeing them again and again is sometimes enough to gradually soften the rigidity of what I take to be true.  Zazen helps me to see that this sense of self changes. Sometimes, in moments of grace,  I see it dissolve and can sense the ephemeral quality of this life. 

I have a repeating question for you.

Repeating Question (8 minutes each): What do you take to be true right now? This could be about yourself, your life, your surroundings, the sangha, or anything. What do you take to be true right now?

Group Discussion/sharing of what came up for you (10 minutes)

I know this is a new practice for some of you. At Red Cedar, we’ve done monologues but not repeating questions. I’m going to tell you a side story to give you context for this practice. This practice I learned during my years practicing with the Diamond Approach (in a spiritual work school called the Ridhwan School). This is something I didn’t talk about in my Way Seeking Mind talk, only because there wasn’t time to talk about everything, but it was an important part of my journey. 

As most of you, my Zen practice started at Green Gulch when I was in my early twenties. In my mid-twenties, I left formal Zen practice to practice the Diamond Approach, because I was looking for a practice with a stronger psychological component (I really needed therapy). Anyway, the Diamond Approach consisted of 3 primary practices: daily sitting (breath meditation as we do, so even though I left formal Zen practice, I never stopped sitting what we call Zazen), sensing (a practice to support embodiment), and inquiry. Inquiry is huge in the Diamond Approach - lots of monologues and repeating questions. As a naturally inquisitive person, I have always and continue to feel a strong resonance with this practice. I left the Ridhwan School and returned to formal Zen practice when I started to sit with EDZ in my early forties. But inquiry as a practice is still alive in me. But, again to give credit where credit is due, I learned this from Hameed Ali, the founder of the Ridhwan School. His pen name is A.H. Almaas. So, I want to thank him for teaching me this practice that I now share with you.

Back to Genjo Koan:

Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again. Yet, do not suppose that the ash is the future and the firewood is the past. You should understand that firewood abides in the phenomenal expression of firewood, which fully includes past and future and is independent of past and future. Ash abides in the phenomenal expression of ash, which fully includes future and past. Just as firewood does not become firewood again after it is ash, you do not return to birth after death.

Dogen is one of the few spiritual teachers that writes about time. He has a whole fascicle in Shobogenzo devoted to it, “For the Time Being.” In this verse of the Genjo Koan, Dogen is offering his teaching on time. 

Okumara p.119 “Commonly we think of time as a stream that flows like a river from beginningless past to endless future. We believe we are born and appear in the stream and later die and disappear from the stream…In reality each stage or dharma position can only be experienced in the present moment, and the present moment does not have any length.

Here Okumara is saying that reality can only be experienced in the present moment; but there isn’t actually any present moment. By the time I say “now,” now is gone. Pooff. Present moment is nothing. We believe that the present is the only reality we experience, because the past is gone and the future has not come. Yet the present is nothing. Isn’t that interesting? 

Okumura goes on to say, “Still, from this present moment which is empty and does not exist, the entire past and the entire future are reflected. This present moment, which has no length, is the only true reality of life as we experience it. And since everything is always changing at each present moment, everything arises and perishes over and over again; each moment everything is new and fresh.“

Well, to me, this is an invitation in the present, and invitation to practice presence, to enter this moment. Essentially, it’s an invitation to practice.  The past is our reflections and memories; the future is our plans, desires or projections, our hopes or dreams. So, actually, the past and future exist only as constructs of our mind. 

Okumura says “Yet when we open the hand of thought in zazen, we let go of our story and sit right here, right now, in the present moment.” 

There it is again. The invitation to “open the hand of thought,” to open our mind - to see things with a beginner’s mind, to see each moment as fresh and alive.

Isn’t this the Genjo Koan?

Dogen says the same thing over and over again, each time using different words, different metaphors or different analogies, to give us the same message: show-up fully, actualize the point, wake up to the present.

Suzuki Roshi guides us on study p. 76 of Not Always So

“Without losing yourself by sticking to any particular rule or understanding, keep finding yourself, moment after moment. This is the only thing for you to do.”

www.RedCedarZen.org     360-389-3444     registrar@redcedarzen.org
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software