Today is February 19 2023. And the topic for my teisho today is practice off the mat.
I want to talk a little bit about the importance of our lives when we're not sitting on our cushions. We don't really talk about it that much, I don't think. I've run into a lot of people who are working on the breath practice. And they're unclear about, some of them, about what they can be doing when they're not sitting. A lot of people have come to me and said, I really have trouble being aware of my breath during my daily activities.
That's a misunderstanding of the practice, or it hasn't been properly explained. So if you're doing the breath practice, when you're not in a position where you can pay close attention to the breath, when you're doing your normal daily activities, then what we advise, what we recommend, we urge you to do is to become one with whatever you're doing.
What does that mean? It means not to live in your thoughts; it means not to split yourself. And one part of the mind is sort of paying attention to how you look to others. And another part of the mind is worrying about what's going to happen next. And another part of the mind is kind of thinking about how you really don't enjoy doing this. And it's just it's a mess. It's so wonderful to notice that that's what's happening. It's great to realize how messed up we are because it gives us the incentive and the place to start from. We can be more thoroughly alive if we drop all the reservations and all the splits that just come into our minds, through habit energy, because that's the way we've lived and everybody around us has lived. It's just normal, normal to be doing two or three things at once. Walking, just walking, listening to music, just listening to music. Watching TV, just watching TV. Everything changes when we show up, when we're just not trying to move on from this moment to some future moment or dragging ourselves through some past moment. Sometimes, I think I know I'm just thinking of the way I've understood this in the past, there's a tendency to think of becoming one with things as being sort of an on off switch, either you're one with it or you're not. But really it's kind of a continuum. If you're completely one with it, you're going to be pretty surprised. It's a pretty amazing state to drop all the side issues, to be completely absorbed in any one thing. Out of that kind of absorption can come real understanding. But there's a continuum, there's a gradation. We can be totally scattered and separate. Or we can be pretty much on track. And really our work in a way is just sort of to raise the level of our direct participation in our lives, to show up. The saying in Gestalt therapy about knowing that you're in the room. We all know that we can spend a lot of time not in the room. We're thinking about things. We're just the mind is running, there's just a tape running. And we're not even really paying attention to it so much, but that's where most of our attention is and then, you know, making sure not to walk into walls or bump into people.
We come to Zen practice. Most of us, I think, in order to improve the quality of our lives. And hopefully to improve the quality of other people's lives, the people we are shoulder to shoulder with, elbow to elbow, in our daily lives. And so much of that takes place outside the Zendo. It's the sitting that we do is so important, because it gives us the concentrative energy, that enabled gives us a fighting chance, when we're out and about. It's like charging a battery. Then we get off the mat and walk out of the Zendo and start draining it. But we don't have to drain it quite so fast. We find that if we can get in the habit of bringing awareness, same awareness that we cultivate when we're sitting, can bring that into our lives, then the next time we sit, it's easier, it's easier to settle. A lot of people have noticed that say they're sitting a half hour round, it takes about 25 minutes for the storm to pass, assuming that it does. As we become more awake, as we become more present, that separation between on and off the mat diminishes, and it's easier to settle in, easier to wake up.
There's a chant we recite. A line we recite in the meal chants, "defilements are many and exertions weak." This is true of everybody. There are many, many people who feel my defilements are many and my exertions are weak because I'm inferior. And all those other mysterious people are obviously they obviously have it all together. They don't. Everybody, everybody is knocked off center, from time to time. It's another continuum. But in Japan, they say even the Buddha is somewhere still working on himself. The good news is that there's so much room for improvement.
Because we're so bad at this, we can get much better. Rejoice. But it takes effort. It takes commitment and it takes you know, we have to value it. We have to value the way that we live our lives and realize that the choices we make make a difference. I want to read a little something. It's a little diatribe. Well, not really a diatribe from Ajahn Chah, the forest master, a Thai Forest master, who was the teacher of many of the people who are the leading lights of Vipassana Buddhism here in this country. And this is from a talk that he gave in Barre, Massachusetts.
At the Insight Meditation Society, he gave this lecture at a retreat.
And then he says, practicing here this evening, we have meditated together for an hour and now stopped. It might be that your mind has stopped practicing completely and hasn't continued with the reflection. That's not the right way to do it. When we stop, all that should stop is the formal sitting meditation. Keep a state of meditation or a reflection going at all times. Just taking a walk and seeing dead leaves on the ground can provide an opportunity to contemplate impermanence. Should say that their practice is a little different from Zen practice and there is some of this just reflection on the realities of life, on the essentials. The fact of impermanence, the fact of suffering, and the fact of no self are the three characteristics of existence as taught by the Buddha. Seeing dead leaves on the ground can provide an opportunity to contemplate impermanence. We are no different from the leaves. When we get old, we are going to shrivel up and die. It's coming along just fine. Other people are the same. We should make efforts to raise the mind to the level of constant contemplation and awareness like this, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. These are the four classic postures that the Buddha taught, walking, standing, sitting, lying down. No matter where the body is, we can be present, we can be awake. So this is practicing meditation correctly, following the mind carefully at all times. I've often said that if you don't practice continually, it's like drops of water. The practice is not a continuous, uninterrupted flow. Mindfulness is not sustained evenly. The important point is that the mind does the practice and nothing else. The body doesn't do it, the mind does the work. If you understand this clearly, you will see that you don't always have to be in formal meditation, for the mind to know Samadhi.
Alot of times, sudden understanding or insight will come when we're just going about our daily lives. Hear a sound in a way we've never heard it before, suddenly find ourselves settled. This only happens if we're continuing our practice, when we're off the mat.
Says once you recognize this, you will be developing awareness at all times and in all postures. If you are maintaining mindfulness as an even and unbroken flow, it's as if the drops of water have joined to form a smooth and continuous stream. Mindfulness is present from moment to moment. And accordingly, there will be awareness of mental objects at all times. That is, we have a better chance of knowing when thoughts are in the mind or coming into the mind. Want to recognize that no matter how diligently we practice, almost everybody is going to be lost in thought from time to time. The flow will get broken. It's just the reality of living with all the habit energies we've developed through this life. But what happens as we practice is that we notice more quickly. We notice more quickly and we become more willing to turn the mat mind back to be again here and now. He says if the mind is restrained and composed, with uninterrupted mindfulness, you will know the wholesome and unwholesome mental states that arise. You will know the mind that is calm and the mind that is confused and agitated. Wherever you go, you will be practicing. If you train the mind in this way, your meditation will mature quickly and successfully.
So many things we do where we can just develop the habit of coming back awake, coming to awareness. When we bow, when we take off our shoes and stash them somewhere. When we're eating, when we're reading, no matter what we're reading.
He says, Please don't admit, please don't misunderstand. These days, it's common for people to go on retreats for several days where they don't have to speak or do anything but meditate. Maybe you've been on a silent retreat for a week or two. Afterwards, returning to your normal life, you might think you've "done Vipassana", then we could say you've done practice. And because you feel you know what it's all about, you return to your old habits of sensual indulgence. When you do this, what happens? Before long, none of the fruits of practice will be left. If you do a lot of unskillful things that disturb and upset the mind wasting everything, then next year, you go back, do another retreat for several days or weeks, come out, and carrying on partying and drinking, that isn't the path to progress. He seems particularly focused on partying and drinking, perhaps he's reading his audience, I don't know. But there's so many other things that we do that are not maybe quite so obvious. Carry on idly talking, carry on doomscrolling through our phones. So many ways that we fill up our lives, that where we're not really present, I suppose you can do scroll through your phone and really be paying attention. But, I'm not expecting it. He says, so you need to contemplate until you see the harmful effects of such behavior. This is what is meant by renunciation. Indeed, we need to understand cause and effect. And that takes some clear eyed seeing. Recently, I've been reading a book about inflammation, and how connected it is with diet. And it's much easier to take that to heart and make changes when we notice how several days of cakes and pies lead to sore knees walking down the stairs. And you realize that the simple choices that I make during my life have an effect. And I need to make a choice. I'm not always going to do the "right thing". But I'm moving in that direction. He says seeing the harm in drinking and going out on the town, reflect and see the harm inherent in all the different kinds of unskillful behavior you're accustomed to indulging in until that harm becomes fully apparent. Just notice. Bring to your life, sort of the spirit of experimentation, what works and what doesn't work. It works much better if the changes we make are changes that we ourselves have decided on and not because somebody gave a talk and told us not to. He says this will provide the impetus for you to take a step back and change your ways. Then you will find some real peace. To realize peace of mind you have to see clearly the disadvantages and pitfalls and such forms of behavior. This is practicing the correct way. If you do a silent retreat for seven days where you don't have to speak or get involved with anyone, and then are chatting, gossiping and indulging all over for another seven months, how will you gain any real or lasting benefit from those seven days of meditation? It's necessary to speak in this way, so habits that are faulty become clearer to you and thus you will be able to give them up. You could say the reason you came here is to learn how to avoid doing the wrong things in the future. What happens when you do the wrong things, it leads you to a state of agitation and suffering where there is no goodness in the mind. It is not the way to peace. This is how it is. But many places where meditation is taught don't come to grips with it. Really, you have to conduct your daily life in a consistently calm and restrained way. Of course, it helps if you have some practice of doing that and you begin to appreciate it. When you begin to appreciate being calm, you begin to appreciate occasionally being restrained, begin to appreciate returning anger gently, begin to appreciate not getting into arguments or pissing contests with other people. He says this is a form of reminder to you all so I will ask for your forgiveness. Some of you might just feel I'm scolding you. The old monk is telling us off. But it's not like that. It's just that you may need reminders because in meditation, you have to be constantly turning your attention to the practice. This is not only on the mat. Please try to practice consistently. See the disadvantages of practicing inconsistently and insincerely and try to sustain a dedicated and continuous effort in the practice, and then can become a realistic possibility that you might put an end to the mental afflictions.
Of course, it's difficult. It's hard. So many distractions. There's so many difficult people. Other people have expectations and judgments, we feel them. We feel the judgments of others. We feel our own judgments, going around evaluating everyone else, evaluating ourselves. And we as I said before, we're all subject to habit energies. For many of us, there's a pull towards zoning out. Life, as most people live it, all of us to one extent or another, is a struggle. Everybody you meet is fighting a hard battle. And sometimes we just want relief. Want to space out. At least, we need to know that we're doing that. So much of it is unconscious, just without thinking. And as Roshi is fond of pointing out, when you're lost in thought or zoned out or whatever, you can't make yourself notice because you're not even there. Your only lever of power comes when you notice. As I said before, noticing is good and then the willingness to correct it.
Our habits are habits of grasping and aversion. Trying to pull in what we want and push away what we dislike. We go through our days, constantly trying to get from here to there. Trying to finish the task. Check it off our to do list.
We're confronted by our own judgmental tendencies. Some someone said, some ancient Zen master or Taoist, If your mind is occupied with right and wrong, you are a person of right and wrong. How unnecessary so much of that is.
There're some times that are particularly difficult. Can think of trying to sit and stay awake. When we're traveling, for instance, you're in a new space, staying in a motel or hotel somewhere. I know early in my practice, I found that almost impossible, couldn't believe how much harder it was to sit when I was out of my normal routine. Some of you may have spent time around children. That can be extremely difficult. That's crazy. When my grandchildren come over, my practice is just trying to open up to the insanity as best I can. When we're worried... I remember early on in my practice, there was a very decent chance that I would be drafted and told to go to Vietnam at which point I was going to have to decide what I was really going to do. And it was very hard to stay focused. Because I was worried. Any strong emotion: Anger, jealousy, shame.
We nevertheless, we do the best we can. If you're having any of those problems, you're going to get pulled off center quite often. But you still, you still come back. It's I like to compare it to working with heavy weights. The weights are so heavy. You can't really do many push ups. You can't really lift, do many reps but then you benefit more because of the difficulty. Zen master Hakuin comments on how much value there is, in practice in the midst of daily life, that the power generated is so much greater than the power we generate on the mat where the obstacles we face are relatively fewer.
Many people face the difficulty of discouragement. It's just a habit. Habit we feed is one of the many forms that so called automatic negative thoughts take.
It's a valuable practice, to spend some time trying to notice what sorts of negative thoughts come into your mind. It wouldn't hurt you to give an hour or two a day to just watching that stuff arise. Because when it arises, and you're not aware of it nothing changes, just keeps coming. Don't waste your time and beating yourself up or criticizing yourself, obviously. See it. It starts with seeing. Just be curious. You're in charge of your life. You can let it just drift past. Or you can look and see what's there. Over time, we become a bit more skillful. Over time, the tendency to beat ourselves up diminishes, partly because we see how useless that is. Maybe there's some minor benefit that people might get from just being shocked at how poorly they're behaving. And maybe that will raise the desire to do better. But if it's continued, if it becomes a continuous theme, it loses its oomph. And all it does is make you miserable and give you another excuse to zone out. There's a lot of power in just doing it, whatever it is that we're resisting. We said last week, trying to move from the "I'm anxious or I'm tired or I'm scattered and so I don't think I can do it" to "I'm anxious, tired and scattered, but I'm going to do it". Big change comes when we make that shift. So, how do we cultivate the habit of awareness?
We wake up by waking up. It's hard to give a formula that people often want to know coming to dokusan and they want to know a technique to be more deeply involved in their practice. We really have to find our own way. If you're determined, if you're persistent, you will, you will begin to wake up. But you need to you need to keep at it. You need to see when you're not awake. You need to notice your judgments. Notice your thoughts and notice the body. So much of what goes on is reflected in the body. Arguably everything is reflected in the body. They're really not two things the mind and the body.
Alot of times because we're only half aware of what we're physically feeling, we resist doing things without even knowing why. A little nagging pain in the chest or sinking feeling in the stomach can drive our behavior and we're not even aware of it.
We begin to just trust the simple act of awareness. Awareness isn't something that we add, isn't something that we bring in. We are aware, that's what we are. It's just a question of not covering it up.
Joko Beck said...she's a Zen teacher, now dead but taught in San Diego for many, many years...said awareness is our true self. It's what we are. So we don't have to try to develop awareness, we simply need to notice how we block awareness with our thoughts, our fantasies, our opinions, and our judgments. We're either in awareness, which is our natural state, or we're doing something else. The mark of mature students is in most of the time, they don't do something else. They're just here, living their life. Nothing special.
Just stop for a moment, let the mind fall silent. That's what you are. Lin-chi said Master Rinzai said, just put thoughts to rest, and don't seek outwardly anymore. When things come up, then give them your attention. Just trust what is functional in you at present, and you have nothing to be concerned about. It's so simple. And so difficult...
because we have so much invested in the ego, in the I, in the me. When our motivation is just curiosity, wanting to see what's there, wanting to understand our lives, we're not so worried about what other people think about us or even what we think about ourselves. It's a hard switch to make, to just see others and see ourselves as we are. Ram Dass, the great LSD pioneer and later, a teacher and a meditator said, part of it is observing oneself more impersonally. When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent. And some of them are straight. And some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you will allow it, you see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn't get enough light and so it turned that way. And you don't get emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose that. And you're constantly saying you're too this or I'm too this, that judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees, not literally of course, which means appreciating them just the way they are. Something I do sometimes when someone is annoying me or not quite measuring up to what I want is just to stop and appreciate them as they are. It really really is game changing. Being able to do that have to be not threatened you have to be not threatened by other people. You have to be confident in your ability to cope with whatever they're bringing to you. But if you can, if you can summon that amount of confidence and interest, try it. Everybody's amazing. Really.
Somebody said you can't exhaust the wonder of a fly. Anything you look at with full attention, blossoms and becomes interesting and complete.
Birds, dogs, trees, people. It's all wonderful. It's like a banquet that set out before us. And instead, we occupy ourselves with all our petty concerns. Or to compare, once two passengers in a train riding through beautiful countryside, and it's raining and they can't see out the windows. The rain stops and the window is clear. All of a sudden you realize, oh wow! This is great. Remember in the "Three Pillars of Zen", Roshi Kapleau had been introduced to Hara practice to being in his belly, having his focus there. And he noticed all of a sudden, when he done zazen and walked out and looked at Mount Fuji, it soared. And when he wasn't in that kind of clear and open state, it was just a mountain. Been there, done that, seen that. You go on vacation and everything looks sparkling and amazing. Why should that change when you come back home?
Really a lot of the motive power of practice is developing a taste for awareness and clarity. No, no teisho would be complete without a word from Anthony de Mello. Well, I'll try to keep it to a minimum here.
I've read this before, but I could read it 20 times and it wouldn't be enough. A dog trainer attempts to understand a dog so he can train the dog to perform certain tricks. A scientist observes the behavior of ants say, with no further end in view than to study ants and to learn as much as possible about them. He has no other aim. He's not attempting to train them, or get anything out of them. He's interested in ants. He wants to learn as much as possible about them. That's his attitude. The day you attain a posture like that, you will experience a miracle. Change will happen. You will not have to bring it about. As the life of awareness settles on your darkness, whatever is evil will disappear. Whatever is good will be fostered. You will have to experience that for yourself.
When there's something within you that moves in the right direction, it creates its own discipline. The moment you get bitten by the bug of awareness, it's so delightful. It's the most delightful thing in the world, the most important and the most delightful. There's nothing so important in the world as awakening. Nothing! And of course it is also a discipline in its own way.
I want to read a poem by Mary Oliver sort of sum this all up
but I can't...
...because I didn't print it out. Must have been a lapse of awareness. Let me instead close with a quote from Henry Moore, who's a well known sculptor. He said the secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do. We'll stop here and recite the Four Vows.