Wow. My undiluted gratitutde to every one of the 10 bodhisattvas who sat with Wind-in-Grass tonight. For one, it was our first full house. Yeah yeah I get it, no attachment and sure, on some hand, maybe not mine, I feel like a REAL buddhist would be divorced from this sort of result, but thats not the kind of buddhist I am, so I really enjoyed having a full hall with so many sincere and open folks. Second, I am nightly blown away by the wisdom that comes up like flowers from the cracks in sidewalks, unexpected, robust and perfect.
Tonight, the cream in the middle of our Zazen Oreo (tm - please don't sue us Nabisco), was Case 78, from the Blue Cliff Record, helped by bucket No. 3, from the Orchard Supply and Hardware. Both, it turns out, were perfect vessels of enlightenment.
The koan goes: In the old days there were sixteen bodhisattvas. They stepped into the bath together and realized the cause of water. They said, “This subtle touch reveals the light that is everywhere. We have reached the place where the sons and daughters of the Buddha live.”
Since our beloved Chris Wilson was enjoying a well deserved rest in Koaii (sp), the small group koan study was kind of up in the air. Instead, we looked at the koan in the middle of practice. I recited it during zazen. This required that I read it from my journal, because it is long and antique sounding and has a special way of wedging itself in the cracks in my brain.
We went around and said what we noticed. It should be routine by now, but it is still somewhat stunning, the wisdom and clarity of the sangha. People noticed that the words slipped around. T noticed the water reflecting. S talked about family and security and intimacy that she noticed when she looked at the last part of the koan. R noticed how light kept becoming the sun in this experience. M, noticed (well first he noticed that I need a copy editor, and he is right, but I am not sure he was volunteering, but I digress), "so what?".
Then we got the bucket. In an attempt to take the koan out of the past, and out of antiquity and bring it into the room, I filled a 3 gallon bucket up with warm water. 1) I was surprised we had warm water and 2) I was surprised it remained warm. Everyone was invited to roll up their sleeves and plunge one or both hands into the water. I asked people to notice of the water was warm or cold, and how they knew that. And how they knew it was time to remove their hand.
After our 10 Bodhisattvas [do you know bodhisattva is in the spell check? huh, no s$%^) had stepped into the bath, we talked about the cause of water. It was remarkable the perfection of the responses. People noticed a reluctance at the surface of the water. A pleasure, and a visceral interaction. They noticed how they felt connected with each other and how the experience opened them up to the universe inside them. They noticed please from the warm. S noticed, beautifully that she knew the water was warm because she felt herself smile. She said she felt at home, and amongst family.
Frankly, I was enjoying the moment so much, I am going to do only a piss poor job of capturing the experience here. I invite everyone who attended to add their recollections in the comments.
What was left for me, was a connection with everything. A warm pleasure in that intimacy. A sense of family. There was a sense of blurring boundaries, warmth, and water and hand. There was an opening to the koan, the 16 old bodhisattvas were gathered around and inside and the subtle touch of the water was everywhere.
Thank you all for the perfect evening.
David Weinstein taught last week. (hear his dharma talk here). One thing that he said that evening and that he has said before, that has been clanging around the think pump more than usual, is "what you think is none of your business". Recently I have noticed how my thoughts seem more like traffic than an imperative order. Just rushing by. I also like how this underlines a theme I have been hearing more lately, which is the blurring distinction between you and me. If my thoughts are not my business and nor are yours, then where am I?
In this game, we took turns, each of us valiantly putting into the room one thing that “can’t be it”. "It" being enlightenment. " It" being the Buddha. "It" being the Pure Land. It being a source of light and perfection. "It" being the Way. "It" being the path. "It" being whatever you hold dear as your fantasy about how life should go if only you were [fill in the blank].
We each said just one.
"My knees that fall asleep"
"The tension in my jaw"
"My jealousy of other artists"
"My compulsion to teach"
"How I am always trying to Improve"
“the drunkenness I feel when I sleep in zazen”
We Just went around and around, adding one, and hearing one another.
After we had gone around maybe 5 times, we sat again for 5minutes (3.5- thank you Chris). I rang the bell at short intervals. I invited each person to look at whatever is going on and say to themselves: “this is it”. Of course, we all understand that on an intellectual level. But for tonight, we suspeneded doubt and tried instead with curiosity...THIS IS IT? THIS IS IT. THIS IS IT! In short, when those pit of shit thoughts came up, we tried out what it feels like to tell ourselves “this is it”. After, we discussed how what we noticed. What I noticed was that when the usual pushing aside of "unworthy" thoughts stopped and was replaced with something more encouraging and kinder, the thoughts expressed themselves with more clarity. Then faded away. Its hard to really hate something when it might be IT. I noticed I was willing to suspend disbelief and break from that story that there is something wrong with my life, and was happy to play a little with the possibility that my life is it. The Way. The Pure Land. The golden light. All of it.
The inspiration for this game came from: The Woman at the Inn: There was a woman who kept the pilgrim’s inn at Hara under Mt Fuji. Her name is unknown, and it is not known when she was born or died.
She went to hear a talk by Hakuin, who said, “The Pure Land where everything is only mind, the Buddha of Infinite Light in your own body—once Amida appears, mountains, rivers, and earth, plants, trees, and forests, all glow with a great light. If you want to see this, look into your own heart. Since the Pure Land is only mind, what kind of special features would it have? Since the Buddha of Infinite Light is your own body, how would you recognize it?”
When she heard this, the woman said to herself, “This isn’t so hard.” Returning home, she meditated day and night, asking these questions while she was awake and during sleep. One day, as she was washing a pot, she had a sudden breakthrough. She tossed the pot aside and rushed to see Hakuin. She said, “I’ve run across Amida in my own
body, and everything on earth is shining with a great light. It’s wonderful!” She danced for joy.
“Is that so?” Hakuin asked, “But what about a pile of shit—does it shine with a great light too?”
My endearing thanks to all the Buddhas in the room tonight. You are wise and wonderful teachers.
See you next week. Remember, David Weinstein is coming out to teach.
Recently the topic of unpredictability keeps arising. It seems so central to Zen practice, the acceptable that we have really no idea what one moment will hold to the next, which, in turn, allows this moment as it is to be lived.
Recently I read two passages that I thought we so similar, that I would share them:
The first is from Nassim Taleb, from his book, the Black Swan, which talks about randomness:
Our minds are wonderful explanation machines, capable of making sense out of almost anything, capable of mounting explanations for all manner of phenomena and generally incapable of accepting the idea of unpredictability.  events were unpredictable, but intelligent people thought they were capable of providing convincing explanations for them---after the fact. Furthermore, the more intelligent the person, the better sounding the explanation. Whats more worrisome is that all these beliefs and accounts appeared to be logically coherent and devoid of inconsistencies.
Taleb goes on in his book to propose that the efficient market strategy is to take into account the unpredictability of truly influential events, and to position yourself to take advantage of them.
Anyway, I was reminded of this passage when I read a similar passage in John Tarrant's book, Bring me the Rhinoceros:
What if it's true that real insight and joy don't come from the direction your expect such things to come from? If what you really want could come from any direction, that information might change the way you conduct your life. Instead of watching out for danger, you might be vigilant for happiness
So that's whats been banging away inside of me. That life is utterly unpredictable and that perhaps that is a good thing. What I am noticing is how hard I work to make sense of how things came to be. But when I look at those explanations, they are merely stories protecting me from the fear that I really have no idea what is going on and how things happened, and more importantly, WHAT is going to happen. What I am finding is that when I loosen my belief in those stories that I know what happened and how it happened and how it could have been prevented or how it could be repeated, then I am forced to acknowledge that I cannot predict what will happen. There is no pattern. With that, I can honestly start to realize that the most consequential events in my life were unpredicted, and unpredictable. I have a remarkably poor track record for predicting what would make me happy and fulfilled. That can be a gift. Somewhere in accepting that, is a small freedom to accept that happiness could come from anywhere, and anyone. That I have no idea what will happen, so I can stop trying so hard to control things. When I let go of the control, it makes it easier to admit that happiness could be at the bottom of a really nasty surprise, and then I find that, often, it is. It also makes it easier to accept things as they are, which means that they cannot really fail my expectations, because those explanations are no longer really believed.
Interesting to me also that a Zen teacher and a statistician/financial analyst agree on the same principals.
Nobody knows whats going on.
I am going to publish this right now before I erase it again and have to retype it all.
Tonight, at our regular Wedensday practice time, we played a game entitled "you know you like it".
The inspiration for the title was my ill concealed attempt to lure people into Zen practice by making it sound slightly taboo. The inspiration for the game, however, was a dharma talk David Weinstein gave late into Sesshin last spring. In it, I recall he talked about his work as a therapist/counselor for a methadone program. He described talking to addicts after they had fallen again off the wagon. He described asking them "Did you like it?", to which, he reported they invariably claimed that they did not, that it was awful, and that they regretted it.
That sounds a lot like my mind sometimes when I find myself suffering again from some story I am telling myself about how things should be going, or what I am falling behind on. I immediately tell myself that it felt awful and that I want those thoughts to stop. But is that true?
The fact is, as David that night pointed out, that like our mental prisons, it is important for all addicts to first addict that they liked the drug/story/addiction/whatever. Until then, its not whole and you are not allowing it to be loved and heard.
So this game invited people to sit for 5 minutes and when they noticed thoughts arising, to pay special attention to what they are getting out of that. What did we LIKE about that thought.
First of all, my sincere gratitude to the hall full of teachers tonight. Thank you all for your sincerity, you candor, your openness and your integrity. Every week I am thankful for who walks in that door and what they bring with them. This night was magical. Thank you all.
What I noticed.
Well, I noticed that my thought protected me. There were unflattering portions of myself that I would rather avoid. I noticed how my mind, like a police man, directed traffic away from the accident. I noticed how my mind was constantly scripting conversations. When I paid more attention, I noticed how grateful I was to know what to say, and how I felt safer having something to say to sound intelligent, and that it also made me feel in control of the situation a little more. I guesss I like that. I mean, its easy, strangely easier, to recognize that it is holding me back from connecting with people, from being in the moment, from being genuine, from listening, from being overwhelmed by the intimacy of people's expression, but to be honest, there is a part of me that I discovered is grateful for the distance, for the space, for the perceived protection.
I noticed how my mind was constantly running scenarios, and predicting the outcome of things. I noticed that my mind was telling me that it was very good at such things and that without it I would be lost. Like the TSA, I found my mind was telling me that without it providing this valuable function, that I was in danger, that terrorists awaited that only it could stop. I noticed that my mind's ability to predict the most influential events of my life, my successes, my loves, my most painful lessons, was so close to nil, that it was starting to make nil uncomfortable.
I liked that my mind promised to protect me from boredom. From the boredom of the stars. From the boredom of springtime. From the boredom of speeding trains. I am not sure, really, what boredom, but I know I am scared of it, and my mind nicely promises to keep me entertained until the main feature begins. Except it never does.
That said, I liked its promises. Like I like the governments promise that it is looking out for me. That it can anticipate what I need, what I want, what will happen. I am finding none of this is true, but I am finding out that before I stop turning to my mind like an addict to heroin, its important I know what I like about it.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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