July 2022 Sesshin, Day 1: Dream Conversations: On Buddhism and Zen: Kokushi, Muso (trans. by Thomas Cleary)
5:36PM Aug 3, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the first day of this July 2022, seven day sesshin. And we'll be reading, to start off with, this this sesshin, we're reading about from the teachings of the great Japanese Zen master Muso is referred to as Muso Kokushi. Kokushi means national teacher. He's the National Teacher Muso. He lived in the 13th and 14th centuries just after the great Zen master Dogen.
Just for some trans trans cultural comparison during his lifetime his contemporaries were Marco Polo, Chaucer, Dante, Meister Eckhart during his lifetime is when the Black Death devastated Europe the Aztecs established what is now Mexico City and tennis as an outdoor game began
there's not a lot here about biographical information about Mu. So, here is just first something about his time there for this is from the translators introduction, the translator is Thomas Cleary. A says that all of Continental China had been taken over by the Mongol warriors under Kublai Khan. And then this Kublai Khan went further you, the south and the east. And his invasion forces reached southern Japan by sea in the late 1270s and early 1280s. That's right about when Musa was born. And as the records habit, his force was repelled from Japan by a kamikaze spiritual wind is an S storm.
That drove the the Chinese or the Mongols rather, from the coast, and also, by a valiant defense collaborative defense staged by heroic warriors from all over Japan's are two factors, the storm that drove them away and these heroic warriors. Now this is the part that I think we might take some heart from here in our 21st century. He says ironically, the salvation of Japan from Mongolian invasion, also planted seeds for the downfall of the military regime. And this is how, under futile custom, successful bravery in battle was rewarded by land grant. And so there were there were there were many, so many of these Japanese heroes, that there was no way to compensate them all adequately, in the traditional manner, under the conditions at the time. And then as a result, there was a good big drain on natural resources, the Japanese natural resources, and the and the inevitable disgruntlement of some warrior clans. And this, this undermine the stability of the regime. And to say this because it's so hard to know, when, in times of fortune or misfortune, what it'll lead to. We so easily react to, well, like now all of the terrible things that are happening now in the world, the pandemic Climate change terrible political divisions war in Europe and then on and on who knows who knows what what might unfold from the time of so much danger and suffering
this book this collection of musos teachings were given two were really basically replies to a certain certain government high government official, the the younger brother of the Shogun at the time. So, on to musos biography, such as we have it here, he's born in 1275.
And he was raised from childhood in the Shingon School of Japanese Buddhism. So not not Zen the beginning. But then he went on to train in Zen under both Chinese and Japanese masters. This was the the very birth of Zen in Japan, when people like Musso and others would have to go to China to get there early training that hadn't really taken root yet in Japan, so he he trained under both masters from both countries.
musos main Japanese teacher cohoe had been an imperial prince, who left the worldly life to learn Zen from another transplanted Chinese Master says here the Musa became a highly skilled teacher, producing more than 50 enlightened disciples, which is a very unusual number
it's no wonder that he became the national teacher that's where the Emperor's appoint someone became the teacher of the Shogun, but also the emperor who gave him that title coke che. And then he was also so entitled by several successive Imperial courts, including posthumous honors he was awarded the title coke she by no fewer than seven Emperor's extraordinary honor. And he was also famous as master of calligraphy and the art of garden design.
So much for the life of Mu. So now let's dig into the these these replies that he gave. He starts off right at the all important to the for bodhisattva vows that we recite two or three times a day and sesshin. He says those who seek liberation for themselves alone cannot become fully enlightened. It may be said that one who is not already liberated cannot liberate others. But the very process of forgetting oneself to help others is itself liberating. So this is a common, common enough objection by beginners, how can I resolve to liberate all beings when I'm not liberated myself? But this would be musos answer. Just forgetting about the self to help others is itself liberating. And then he adds, those who seek to benefit themselves alone, actually harm themselves by doing so. All, while those who help others also help themselves by doing so. The whole notion of self versus other is the problem.
Be as always skipping around from one entry to another, some of these just aren't, these don't work for teisho Here's another fundamental warning, there is ultimately no means of safeguarding anything in this world. Anything you gain can be lost or destroyed or taken away. For this reason, if you make the acquisition and retention of goods or status your aim in life this is a way to anxiety and sorrow
there is a bumper sticker some years ago whoever has the most money when he dies wins. Ironic Of course. And yet, if we look closely, this is the governing principle for vast hundreds of millions of people. How can I acquire more money? How can I acquire more goods? Status course. But it's all going to go
is that is that where we want to be? When we're dying, having devoted our lives to acquiring money and status
the great Tibetan master Milarepa I think gets at this so well when he says all worldly pursuits have been one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow. acquisitions, and in dispersion, buildings in destruction, meetings in separation births in death. Knowing this one should from the very first renounce acquisition and heaping up and building and meeting and faithful to an eminent teacher set about realizing the truth.
I think most people who attend sesshin have probably more than an inkling of this the wisdom of this to give up a week's vacation or a week of income or some other sacrifice like that suggests that you've got your your eye on the ball, you recognize the limitations of worldly concerns
and really, when you look at what millas words carefully represent words. You can see that if you take them really literally he's talking about monasticism. Giving up meetings
meeting people meeting people romantically match.com or other these other services
even if you find the perfect person it's only a matter of time. Before you live, you lose that person. Either you go for arrest or that other person goes first
Musso and Milarepa are facing the facts. This, we are, we are caught on this wheel of suffering and yet And yet through serious practice and especially through some degree of awakening, we can find freedom even in this world they live
separation the Buddha talks about four kinds of suffering two of them are being, apart from people we want to be with, having to be apart from people we want to be with, and having to be with people we don't want to be with. But as far as the first one, being separated from loved ones
painful but less so. When we have cultivated the ability to be fully present, right where we are here it's thoughts about the other, being at a distance. It's thoughts that generate so much of the pain.
We can acknowledge missing people dear to us, children, lovers, friends, we can acknowledge that we we miss them without dwelling in thoughts about them being away, far away from us and makes all the difference. That's the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the inevitable missing of someone. And then the suffering is, is something on top of the pain. That's where we have a chance to really find some relief freedom through Zen practice, being present, not lost in thoughts of if only thoughts of the past thoughts of the future
is another one. It is a characteristic tendency of human beings to indulge in emotions such as happiness, grief, or anger in response to present conditions. Failing to balance these feelings with the awareness that present conditions are results of past causes are the words ignoring that it's that everything is causing effect that this whatever whatever happiness or whatever positive or negative feelings we find ourselves having. It's it's the effect of previous causes.
He goes on it is illogical to face the present only as an object of enjoyment or tolerance, neglecting to use it as the opportunity to create the future. These amazing stories of people who win the lottery win big the grand lottery 200 300 $500 million and how miserable their lives become after doing that
More often than not everyone wants to win the lottery. But then what happens? Suicide. Terrible things happen. There's a documentary, that fascinating documentary about, it's called Lucky. It's about seven lottery winners and how their lives are changed.
They said be an example of the happiness side of present conditions. Just just thinking, yeah, just how lucky without recognizing that what goes up must come down, or can very well come down the only person. And this documentary who did really well, was a man who used his immense wealth to sudden immense wealth to build a compound of homes for his family, his family from Vietnam. In other words, giving, giving to others using it for others.
And there was one poor guy who won all this wealth and then just completely squandered it in the most absurd ways if he found a pair of pants pair trousers that he liked. So he bought 400 of them.
It's not what happens to us, but it's the underlying character structure. Are we equipped to deal with either extreme fortune or extreme misfortune. That's, that's what we're doing here. We're forging character in sesshin. And generally, in Zen practice, building the structure, refining, personality and character so that Whatever befalls us, we can more easily manage.
So again, the problem of facing the present only as an object of enjoyment or tolerance, and neglecting to use it as the opportunity create the future.
We read the stories of people who, let's go to the other side misfortune, being convicted of something serious, who have the resources, the personal resources, inner resources to really change their lives.
Now, continuing under the the topic of cause and effect karma, he says, causes are complex and have different timescales. The efforts of the individual are not the sole determining factor in the individual's condition in life. Because everyone is part of the nexus of society and nature and the continuum of time. It is common for people to attribute causes wrongly because of misperceptions of real relationships. So imagining that we have more control or power than we really do. The efforts of the individual are not the sole determining factor. And let's let's bring that home here to sesshin. Our efforts in sesshin are not the sole factor. We can have heroic efforts we can, we can sit up every night and sit through break periods. It's not the only factor because we're part of this great web of causes and conditions, also based on the past
He then he adds, every cause is the effect of something else. And every effect is the cause of something else. What may seem a curse may be a blessing. And what may seem a blessing may be a curse again back to that invasion that would be invasion that for the invasion of the Mongols of Japan, with the Kamikaze, the wind the storm
and how it led to social drastic social change in Japan, the victory of the Japanese hardship is a blessing when it spurs effort and development. Ease is a curse when it increases complacency and self indulgence back to the 400 pairs of pants
sometimes it takes something dramatic, a dramatic change of fortune for the better or for the worse for us to discover what we're made of.
When someone formally becomes a student of mine in a ceremony, I always invite them to write a very short biographical piece about especially focusing on what it is in their past that they think may have led them to spiritual practice. And what what it is for most of us is pain. It's it's loss. Crises
it doesn't have to be and there are different degrees of of loss and pain. Some people are just more ready to turn to spiritual practice and doesn't take the death of someone close to them or some other terrible loss. Others it takes something more dramatic to get them to see see the ultimate limitations of worldly fortune and misfortune.
He says now if you forget your feelings about things of the world, again, Fortune misfortune if you forget your feelings about them, they become enlightening teachings. So not dwelling and feelings of whatever self pity or self congratulation. And then he says if you get emotional about enlightening teaching, it becomes a worldly thing
it brings to mind a koan in the Blue Cliff Record where a certain government official says
he quotes a master as saying all things return to the wind or something like that. I don't have it in my mind. And then and then this government official says to the to the master, he's facing says Isn't that marvelous? And we don't know how much emotion there was behind that. But enough for the master to reply. Some people see this flower this PNA here, some people see it as if lost in a dream.
Emotions and have the ultimate as akin Roshi said, emotions or feelings. Feelings are not the floor of the mind. There is something beyond emotions and feelings just as there is something beyond thought. So Some people they fail accept okay yeah, we have to get beyond thought. But they're so attached to their world of feelings and emotions that they think well this is what really counts. This is it feelings and emotions yes get rid of thoughts but feelings and emotion now that switch what's true,
we don't look and see this week if you get into some kind of emotional state, state of despondency discouragement and machine or euphoria, see, see how long it lasts, hopefully not long
nothing has any self substance to it. No roots are no roots to our thoughts there are no roots to our feelings or emotions. What is beyond all things?
Now returns to the topic of virtue. Doing good seeking rewards is contaminated virtue. Doing good without thought of reward. dedicating it to enlightenment is uncontaminated, virtue. contamination and non contamination refer to the state of mind of the doer not to the good deed itself. I think most people hearing this are onto this
this is part of our chanting service each day, the return of merit. 10 directions three worlds, all Buddha's bodhisattva Maha sapphires. Now it's broke before that faith in Buddha Dharma Sangha brings true liberation, we now return the merit of our chanting to other words, getting ourselves unattached to the idea of merit or rewards.
These different features of our chanting services may to some people to seem like rituals, just something that go through the motions but by by verbalizing these things are these profound teachings the sutras and other things by by actually voicing them, we come to more closely embody them, we come to understand them better, it's gonna remain in the body rather than just conceptually. It's a big part of what chanting is about. Over and over and over again hundreds 1000s of times doing these these chants, we assimilate them in the most the only important way which is in the body.
Next, there is a vast potential latent within human beings that remains undiscovered, because of the limitations placed on consciousness by habitual preoccupations. The recommendation is that all cravings be relinquished does not mean that detachment itself is a goal. It is a means of breaking through self imposed restrictions and opening up this inexhaustible treasury of potential. So he's talking about renunciation. He says the the recommendation that we give up our cravings is not to be understood as something that has virtue in itself, but that it can crack open our cleaning our attachments this would here's another example sesshin example yazar the late night sitting most of us have some attachment to sleep. Not that we don't need sleep Of course we do. Sleep is an important part of so many physical and mental functions. But the extent how much sleep do we really need, especially when we're sitting 10 or more hours a day
so to to do extra sitting to to go without seven hours of sleep, instead do some sitting. It's not just to be doing the extra sitting it's because it's practice. It's good word. It's practice at letting go of relinquishing one of our attachments, one of our many attachments
I have a personal example of this. When I was still working on my first koan. Rare a certain point is to sheen. I had been to quite a few machines and was getting more desperate and Roshi Kapleau said if you're if you're desperate enough, try something different give up something and he gave the example of skipping a meal. Now I had, I had my whole life then grown very attached to getting my three meals a day and even in in in, in Zen practice in sesshin. I would always go to breakfast always go to lunch, always go to dinner. I wouldn't have much. I knew that much that I had to eat less it's it's can be very helpful to one's concentration to eat less. Roshi Kapleau is first teacher how did Roshi used to say it's helpful in sesshin to eat 1/3 to one half less than you normally would. And I have no doubt that's that's true. But so I had eaten very very little and and have a little tiny bit on my plate but I never never altogether skipped a meal not gone into the dining room. And I was just desperate enough at that's a shame to say okay, by God, I've tried everything else. I've been sitting up getting only a couple hours of sleep a night I've been sitting break periods I've been doing this I've been doing that. I have to try something else. So I skipped dinner on the last night of sesshin and it was that night in Duck sun when Roshi passed me and my first koan now did did having did forgoing that tiny bit of dinner make a difference? In itself? I doubt it. I usually had a mostly empty stomach anyway after a meal, but it's breaking the patterns, the patterns that we hold on to so dearly. This is one of the opportunities of sesshin and that may mean really looking Okay, where am I? Where am I? What am I really habituated in what are my habits now in sesshin. certain ways times of sleeping or not sleeping, eating, not eating is not a lot much more in sesshin than those. Try mixing it up. If you always sit extra at night before going to bed, well try moving that extra sitting was extra, whatever, two or three hours, move it to the other end of the night. Go to bed earlier if you're good and tired and get up in the middle of the night. See what you might experiment with. It's nothing wrong with experimenting. During such sheen. It can be quite illuminating and liberating really. Again, the phrase here is our pre habitual preoccupations. And the big ones, these go back to the beginning of time is food, sleep, sex. Those are the big ones.
And then along the same vein, he says, just as greed for worldly things is inhibiting and self defeating. So also craving for other worldly things, prevents the opening of the mind. Craving for other worldly things, craving for psychic powers or craving for peak experiences.
Craving for enlightenment prevents the opening of the mind. Having the aspiration to come to awakening for the sake of all beings, is nothing we ever would need to apologize for. It's a wonderful thing a great resource a great asset to practice is wanting to be liberated from this wheel as wheel of samsara but not to mentally crave it in terms of thinking about it in the mind. If it's there, it's there. We don't need to think about it. We just need to use it. In the service of the practice. We're working on the breath practice or the koan, or whatever we're working on.
Craving for other worldly things would also mean drugs, drug experiences, preventing the opening of the mind.
When people are unsympathetic to you, let's say when people are mean to you, and the world does not go as you wish. This should be a help to detachment of feelings from a repetitive, repetitive repetitious cycle of becoming, and decaying, gaining and losing. So that's how we can take one when, when we're met with hostility from others. We can take that, too, as a reminder of how we have to detach from our feelings of liking and disliking. From a repetitious cycle of becoming and decay gaining and losing. It goes back to what we were reading about 20 minutes ago that that we can we can use unpleasant adverse experiences and conditions. We can use those things too. As a spur to see what is beyond them. Right time is Apple stop now and recite the four vows