December 2021 Sesshin, Day 2: Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi
5:17PM Dec 14, 2021
This is the last day of this December two-day 2021 sesshin and we'll resume where we left off yesterday.
Since desires and cravings are actually a manifestation of the life force, there is no reason to hate them and try to extinguish them. What does he mean by that? And yet if we become dragged around by them and chase after them, then our life becomes fogged over. There's a footnote here about fogged over. In Japanese the word used vocaroo, fogged over, is meant to cover both extremes of how our lives become unclear or muddled. That is, by frenetic activity or busyness, chasing after every whim or desire and through the other extreme, sluggish activity like laziness.
The endpoint point, the end point, important point here is not the cause life to be fogged over by thought based on desires or cravings, but to see all thoughts and desires as resting on the foundation of life, to let them be as they are, yet not be dragged around by them. It's, it's such an interesting point, you know, we are human we have desires, we have cravings. The key is to not pursue them to not chase after them with more thoughts on top of thoughts. It's only natural in RZA, Zen that desires will come up desire for a warm Rosendo desire for that beer after machine. I'm not talking from personal experience, I don't have a beer after session. I have a beer later on, but not right after machine maybe the next day or the following weekend. It's the Yeah, it's just the mental. And then it becomes physical kind of craving. Once we start pursuing those, those desires, that can lead us down to difficulties. It's kind of like it's reminds me of desire for awakening. I, of course, you know, when we come, especially when we arrive at the beginning, or we read three pillars, then we read those stories, those enlightenment stories. I mean, that's what got me hooked. That's why I came here was was for that. And so it's only natural to have that desire, that I wouldn't want to use the word craving, but that desire for awakening, but we got to get rid of it completely. There has to be no agenda. It's, it's Yeah, because of desire. I used to initially, early on I remember, Roshi and teisho, talking about the problems of desire and I kind of remember thinking like, sounds kind of prudish to me. And my extremely judgmental discriminating mind at the time. But as as, as we practice further, further down this row, we come to realize that desire is, is a big desire is what keeps us away from Peace. It's desire that that this constant craving is not the way to go. Let's just put it that way that it does. And we'll see that in RZA, Zen. Day after day after day, we see the even the petty cravings that arise in the mind. Just not a problem, we see those thoughts and we just get back on that highway just don't pursue those thoughts. That's where we get into trouble with RZA, Zen and then we're off and running. I mentioned I use that image of a train and love trains. The this one of the most kind of things I kind of fantasize a lot about sometimes is just reading on the train some long trip. Well, yeah, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It's when I'm a wanting to do that. Or being that when I'm out She in the train reading a book. It's the fantasizing of it that goes on and on in their mind's eye gets in the way of, of getting back on that road when we're doing Zen. I'll use another example looking back in hindsight nevermind, let's get back to our text
no, I forgot where we were.
It is not a matter of making a great effort not to be dragged around by desires. It is just waking up and returning to the reality of life that is essential. If we apply this desire, then it means that even if various thoughts like A and B do occur, different thoughts, they will all vanish by waking up to Zen. Thank you to my hair's distinguishing, it's not that we shouldn't put effort into 1000. To get away from those thoughts, it's just a question of not straining or grasping to get away from those thoughts. It just it's putting that it's kind of hard to describe, but it is putting energy and effort into RZA Zen to open up the hand of thought and discard those thoughts. Even when one is completely off the track carried away to the point where some thought appears as a very vivid vivid image. By waking up to Zen even that thought will disappear in an instant. Anyone who does Zen is actually enabled to experience with her whole body that thoughts are nothing but empty comings and goings without independent or unchanging substance. However, unless we actually practice as in this cannot be undone, easily understood. I realized that the say you cannot understand this without doing zozen Sounds very pompous. But the reason I say so is because usually we are unable to recognize that what we think about in our heads is nothing but empty comings and goings, due to plunging our heads too far into our thoughts and living too much in the world of thought. Once we think of something we want, or like, we assume that the simple fact of thinking we want it or like it is the truth. Then since we think this idea is the truth, and we're seeking, we proceed to chase after everywhere and our whole world eventually develops into one of greed
reminds me of that, quote, one of the Rockefellers Long, long ago this back in the 20s or 30s, I think someone asked them, I mean, how much more money do you want? And he replied, just a little more. So it is an unseen you know, it is ceaseless really, or it can be.
On the other hand, once we think of something we hate or dislike, we assume again that the simple fact of thinking we hated is the truth. thinking, thinking that since this idea is the truth, we ought to follow it, we chase after it until our whole role turns into anger. The activities in our everyday lives are almost entirely the result of chasing after ideas like this, causing vivid lifelike images to become fixed, and then giving more weight to these fixed delusions and desires until we finally get carried away by them. It would be even more accurate to say that ordinarily, we are being flung about by desire and delusion without even knowing it. It is like a man who is drinking soccer. This is soccer a young child was using it in terms of as a metaphor for consuming fantasies. So it is like a man who is drinking soccer. At first he knows that he is drunk. But when it develops to the stage where the soccer is drinking the man, then he is adrift in fantasies without even knowing it and acts accordingly. Almost all people in societies throughout the world today are carried away by desire and delusion. This is precisely why RZA Zen comes to have such a great significance. When we wake up, quote, he puts wake up an awful lot here uses the word awful lot wake up, and he puts them in quotation marks because he's not talking about enlightenment. He's talking about Getting back on that road when we, you know, when we Yeah, when we get back on that highway. When we wake up during zozen, we are truly forced to experience the fact that all the things we develop in our thoughts vanish in an instant. Let me just say that if you're wondering doesn't, if you're wondering to yourself, you know, it's not vanishing in an instant, there's only because the thought is still there, we're still pursuing that thought. And we might even be pursuing it on a subconscious level that we're not even aware of. And so, the key to this is that just keep doing za Zen, the more zozen We do, and that's why sesshin can be such a powerful tool in discarding those thoughts is that the more zozen We do, the more we pick up on on, the more we realize that we're lost in thought, the more the quicker we get back to get getting back on that highway, we see it, we get back on it. You see it again, we get back on it. That is we see the thoughts or the emotions or the feelings, we experienced it but we get back on that highway.
Actually, I kind of misspoke there. In terms of feelings or emotions, thoughts are easier, it is so much easier to discard our thoughts and get back on that road. But when it comes to, when it comes to something deeper in the body that we're experienced, like say we just start crying, we don't know why. There's no need to wonder why we're crying, no need to think about it. Just cry, you know, just experience what's going on in the body without trying to suppress it. And of course, the other extreme is not clean to it, to just experience it in the body and it will pass. By doing that by just experiencing in a way that is getting back on the road. Right then right there just allowing oneself to experience what's in the body. It's the same thing with anger, you know, or frustration that we experience in the body. The less we cling to it and try and figure out why we're feeling so frustrated, frustrated, or angry. Sometimes we just don't know, you know, the less we cling to that the more quickly will pass through us and we're on the road when we're experienced that not clinging to it and not suppressing it.
Despite the fact that we almost always stressed the content of our thoughts. When we wake up, we wake up to the reality of life and make this reality our center of gravity. It is at this time that we clearly realize that all the desires and delusions within our thoughts are substantially nothing. When this kind of Zen experience fully becomes a part of us. Even in our daily lives we will not be carried away by the comings and goings of various images. And we'll be able to wake up to our own lives and begin completely afresh from the reality of life. So our desires delusions and thoughts like A B and C are all things that primarily do not exist and should be denied. Of course not because as I mentioned before, even thoughts which produce desire and delusion are a manifestation of the lifeforce reminds me of the line in Furman faith and mine. For as it is whole and complete this sense world is enlightenment.
Yet if we continue the thought and become carried away by desire and delusion, life becomes obscured and stifled. So we wake up to the highway and from the standpoint of waking up, we are able to see that thoughts, desires and delusions are all the scenery of life joins us then they are the scenery of Zen.
There is no scenery where there is no life. There is scenery only when there is life. Let me just start over there is no scenery where there is no life. There is scenery only where there is life. While we are living in this world, there will be happiness and unhappiness, favorable conditions and adverse ones, interesting things and boring things. These will be pleasant times and painful times, times to laugh and times to be sad. Actually, all of these are part of the scenery of life. Because we plunge into the scenery become carried away by it and end up running helter skelter, we confront, we become frantic. And so we suffer. In cell Zen, even though various life like images appear to us, we are able to see the scenery of life for what it is by waking up to the highway. I don't like the highway anymore. But the line let's use the waking up on the line, cutting back on that road. Kind of reminds me of the same way he just talked about this scenery of life, this, this Zen phrase of being in the world, but not of it.
Let us think about this in regard to the quote AI that becomes determined by relationship with quote other Alright, so he's talking about self and other hair. Let us think about this in regard to the self that becomes determined by relationships with the other, we can easily see that the eye that is determined from the outside is scenery in the life of the self. It is not that there is no such thing as an eye fixed from the outside. Although it produces all this scenery, my own true life is the reality of life that I wake up to without being carried away by the scenery. So Zen is the foundation of life where this reality of life is being manifested. In that sense. So Zen is the reality of the self, the true self.
Just looking at this footnote here, let me repeat that sentence, in that sense as an as the reality of the self, the true self. And then in the quotation, or the self with the self with the capital, as Zen is the practice of the Buddha, Zen is non doing. This is indeed our genuine self. As Buddha Dharma, nothing else is to be sought after. In other words, the most essential thing in zozen is not to eliminate the illusion and cravings and become one with the line. Of course, there are times like this journey Zen, but this too, is just part of the scenery of Zen. While aiming at the road. While aiming at this line this highway, we have a tendency to diverge from it. Despite that the very attitude of returning to the road and waking up is most important for practices as in as the foundation of life.
Next section, practice this titled practice is for life. I want to take up the point of why it is so important to continue our practice all our life. The most essential point in carrying on our practice is to wake up this self inclusive. Okay, the most essential point in carrying on our practices to wake up this self inclusive of the self inclusive of everything. This means that we have to realize that all sentient beings fall within the boundaries of our life. For instance, imagine that you and I are sitting together talking. But talking to you, I'm not talking to some other person than myself. The face before me is reflected on the retinas of my eyes. So you are within me, I'm just facing myself. In other words, you exist within myself and it is to that it is to that you that I direct myself. That is what quote vow is should always bear in mind that all sentient beings are suffering. Everyone is fretting about something inside their head. Mozilla sensei is often saying these days which is everyone is fighting a hard battle. Everyone is fretting about something inside their head. That is why we practice. For example, should I stay where I am or should I go? somewhere else. That's the sort of thing over which we worry all too often. Actually, it doesn't matter where we practice since that is only a minor problem going on in our head. Have you heard the expression Bodhidharma didn't go east and a waco Waker? The second answer didn't go west. There really is no such place as Japan, there really is no such place as America, we're or we're where where you are living right now is all there is. For instance, if you were to have some idea that America really isn't a good place to practice in Japan is better. That would be nothing but a problem rumbling around in your head. When you look at things from the perspective of letting go of all your ideas and anxieties, what it comes down to is there is no America to leave or returned to the practice in Japan or in the States. Either one is okay. Through minds me of I've heard from all their Sangha members tell me that Roshi Kapleau would tell his students is the reason the one of the reasons why went to Japan so that you don't have to go to Japan.
You might try looking at all the stuff that comes up in your head as just a secretion. All our thoughts and feelings are a kind of secretion. It is important for us to see that clearly. I've always got things coming up in my head. But if I tried to act on everything that came up, it would just wear me out. I've been Haven't you ever had the experience of being up on a very high place and having an urge to jump? that urge to jump is just a secretion in your head. If you felt that you had to follow every urge that came into your head, well, thought thought Thought. As far as the human thought is concerned, anything is thinkable. But you have to have some stability. And think when all these things come up. Is this true? Or is this false? Is this best for me or not? You have to reflect upon yourself. Let me just say that the more we have Zen in our daily lives, or have a daily Zen practice, the more likely we'll be that if we have difficult decisions we have to make, the more likely we might not necessarily get the answer right away. But we can come to an awareness or some kind of resolution where yes, okay, I need to do this. Well, that's the answer right there, isn't it? I'm saying, but you just kind of have an inkling of what you need to do, might not be easy and might might. There might be some sacrifice involved. But if it's something that one needs to do, and one should pursue that. But of course, no one can tell each person what they need to do, they need to figure that out for themselves. And Zen is definitely a great way to clarify things for oneself. When we have difficult decisions to make.
I still I still I still find myself moved by just the mirror. Just thinking about the fact that Philip Kaplow was 42 years old when he went to Japan
and in terrible shape, I mean, he was in good shape he was I always heard that he was a person that exercise regularly but man the man was stiff as a board when he got there to how to get them a chair when he did his first seven day sesshin he was so stiff.
In bringing the milk in bringing the Buddha Dharma to ripeness in your lives and in America, you have a big, big job. Columbus's discovery of America doesn't compare and scale with this job. When Columbus left Europe he was already fairly certain that if he sailed westward long enough, he would hit another continent or something. But after setting out and sailing week after week without citing a thing, people aboard began to fret and grumble. Columbus's accomplishments was that he wasn't moving By the grumbling but persisted on this his course he lived through it all. But to ripen and transmit the Dharma is an even more difficult task. It is no simple matter to take the sweet persimmon of the Dharma and transplant it in each of our lives so that all humanity may become a sweet person entry instead of an astringent one. To do that, you have to have a broad enough perspective to see that the front ends, excuse me.
To do that, to do that, you have to have a broad enough perspective to see that the front ends and grumblings that come up are all in your head, and that they need to be acted upon. In other words, you shouldn't use your own calculating mind to validate everything that is such. The value of machine that's one of the values of seen is is, you know, day after a day we sit in this posture, round after round. In the calculate in mind, you want to try and fix things you want to try and get out of your pain you want. It's only natural, you want to get beyond your pain, but the calculator mining gets in there. I remember actually sends a Tallamy in his early days as A cian, he would actually measure a seven day sesshin in terms of fractions, I'm I, there's no way my mind could do that. But he would see day after day, okay, 30% of sesshin is done. 40% of sesshin is done. 43% sesshin is done. That's the calculating mind.
In other words, you shouldn't use your own calculating mind to value evaluate everything, various things arise, arise. But when you reflect deeply upon the accidental nature of yourself and your thoughts, you will no longer because consider using them as a standard for your activities. In order to truly see that using your thoughts as the standard is invalid, you simply have to practice and to sustain your practice over time, it is invaluable to practice together with others. That is in a Sangha. The Sangha was originally the Buddhist monks and nuns living together. But now it has come to mean all those who practice the Buddha Dharma, particularly in groups, practicing in a Sangha is difficult. You have to actually taste the pain and suffering that you encounter there. It's just as difficult for Japanese as for Americans, or Europeans or Europeans, sometimes you feel you want to do this or that, or you want to quit the whole business, but you just have to keep plugging away. After some time, though, and this takes years to really develop, you begin to get a perspective on things, you begin to realize that there's nothing more important than just letting go. Don't take what I've said to mean, don't take what I've said to mean that problems won't come up anymore. They will, but you begin to see things, ideas, plans, even how you perceive the things around you for what they are just secretions.
Next in practicing, and if possible, being in a Sangha, you mustn't forget vowing. By vow I mean that you must work and function towards settling everything around you. This should be your life posture, as well as the foundation for all your activities. It is essential to live with the conviction that you are making history for the next generation. When people hear you talking like that they think you are only boasting, but actually you have to have that kind of conviction. There isn't anyone else around who will do it. You have to realize this and then plant your roots deeply. All that most people see when they look at a large tree or the leaves and flowers, but it's the roots that you have to pay attention to. A tree won't develop fully unless the roots are very deep. When the roots are in in deep than the tree will grow and beautiful flowers will blossom naturally. Can't help but think of Chapin Mill what we built here. Can't remember we had one of our Sangha members. I remember someone saying you know The fruits of building as a retreat center, it's not about us. It's about future generations what we've built here for future generations. But at the same time, what we've offered what we're offering to other like minded groups who can, who come here
it's also important to look carefully at our motives for doing za Zen. As far as I can tell, it seems that far too many people who start doing zozen immediately begin to think about enlightenment or the Japanese word here Satori. They get into their heads that they have to attain enlightenment, and they sit just for that purpose. But they are way off base well. So I think I've already talked about this a little bit. Having this desire for enlightenment. It's only natural that we come with that when we start sitting. But as time goes on, it becomes it becomes it. It's like I say we there has been no agenda when we're doing Zen. The more agenda we have, the further we are away from enlightenment.
You have to remember that fundamentally, no matter what kind of circumstances we're we've fallen into, we're always living in the midst of enlightenment. We are always living out the reality of life. However, as soon as we start thinking and calculating about things we become, in a sense, suspended from reality. That is human beings are capable of thinking about things that aren't real. That is why I say that to realize the extent of enlightenment is to see that proportionately, we are very enlightened, we have to be able to see that clearly. However much however much we become enlightened, that is how much we ever have an experience, we have an experience of enlightenment. It just isn't that very much. Our practice begins to ripen only as we start to be aware that although we live in the midst of enlightenment, the little we become aware of in life is just scratching the surface. If we don't ripen at least that much, then we can't really say we've been practicing Zen. Our practice will remain incomplete and astringent. But ultimately, it doesn't have anything to do with a little or a lot. We just continue to practice aiming to live a true light way of life as best we can. Neither worrying nor God gauging what we are doing. In that environment. The sweet person and branch will flourish naturally. Alright, so what Yama is referring to is persimmon tree, what is he talking about there? In fact, this is where we'll end this section here of practice and persons. How does a person become sweet? The person is a strange fruit. If you eat it before, it's fully ripe. It's tastes just awful. It makes your mouth pucker up because of its astringency. Actually, you can't eat it unripe. Yeah, you just have to spit it out and throw the whole thing away. In other words, if you don't let it really ripen, and of course, I'm using this as a metaphor for Buddhist practice, you just have to throw it away. That's why I hope that people will begin to practice and then continue until it's really ripe. Persimmon has another characteristic that's very interesting. But to understand it, you have to know something about the Asian person. There are two types of person entries, the sweet person Amagasaki in Japanese, and the astringent person called Schouwburg gaki. When you plant seeds from a sweet persimmon tree, all the saplings come up as stringent persimmon trees. Now if I said that if you planted seeds from a sweet persimmon, all the saplings would become sweet persimmon trees. Anyone could anyone could understand. But it doesn't seem to work that way. Without exception, all the saplings planted from sweet person and seeds are stringent. So now if you want to grow a sweet persimmon tree, what do you do? Well first you have to cut a branch from a sweet persimmon tree and then grafted onto an astringent tree. Then in time, the branch will bear sweet fruit. What I always used to wonder about it is how that first sweet persimmon tree came about. If the saplings from the seeds from a sweet persimmon all come up the stringent Where did that first sweet persimmon tree come from? When they had the opportunity to ask a botanist who specializes in fruit trees, and he told me this. First of all, the Asian persimmon is an indigenous indigenous Japanese fruit. It goes back many many years. It takes many years to grow a sweet person. Even the fruit of a tree 40 or 50 years old will be astringent. That means we're talking about a tree that's at least 100 years old. Around that time, the first sweep branches on an astringent tree begin to ripen. Those branches are then cut off the tree and grafted until on to us younger astringent one. What took over 100 years to grow on one tree is then transferred to another one to continue there.
In a way, Buddhism and our own lives are just like that. If you if you leave humanity as it is, it has an astringent quality, no matter what country or what part of the world you look at. It just so happened however, that several 1000 years ago in India, in the culture of that day, a sweet person was born. That was Buddhism. Or more or more precisely, it was shocking when he Buddha who was born like a branch on an astringent persimmon tree that after many, many years finally bore sweet fruit. After a time a branch was cut off and transplanted in the astringent ground of China. From there a branch burns, fruit was brought to Japan and planted in that barbaric country. That's why we can find Buddhism in Japan today.
Now one thing about big old trees is that they wither easily. For the most part. There's not much Buddhism left in Asia today, except for Southeast Asia, in some places in Central Asia like Tibet. Japan is one of the few places you can find it as weathered and dried up as it may be. Now the sweet person is being nurtured in America and it needs to be tended and cultivated. So it can flower and ripen here. It doesn't happen automatically. Just I feel the need to say it doesn't feel quite accurate, accurate to talk about Zen dying in Japan or Zen dying or Chan dying in China or is dead. And everything has happened here in the US or in Europe, or in other countries. Roshi Kapleau, his first main teacher, Harada Roshi. This was I imagine late 50s said to him that the reason you you know after you train there for a while Robert Roshi just told me, Zen is dying in Japan and you need to help transmit it to the west. All there's some accuracy to that. But look at what's happened in China from everything I've heard. I mean, I've never actually been there. But chon Buddhism in China was dormant for quite a long time because of the Communist revolution. And the big changes that went occurred there. But last I heard from those who went there 10 years ago, it's really reviving. It's like a generation of theirs. I think it was it was a woman that told me that there's just it's so interesting. There's these really old monks from before the revolution occurred. And then there's like a couple of generations, you just don't see them practicing. But this new there's a new generation, there's this new revived interest in it. And the same goes to Japan. You know, I I read a Roshi had me read this one book before I went, and I was actually quite shocked. It was written by an American nun who live live, not impressed who lived in Japan for a long time. And I was quite shocked for her to mention that there was Not a lot of Zen practice going on. Oh, that's not quite accurate. There are some monasteries. Yeah, I guess what I'm trying to say is, you know, Zen or Chan, or Sangha can be dormant in cultures for a while, but then when things change, things always change. What I am saying also applies to your individual life, I would like I would like for as many of you as possible to become sweet persimmon branches, bearing the sweet fruit of Buddhism, finding a true way to live as you settle on your astringent tree, which is after all your own life and your family, coworkers and society. I have had only one concern in my life, discovering and breaking the way for a true way of life for humanity. Just that that is why I became a monk. Over the years I've once considered becoming famous. Over the years I've never once considered becoming famous by the usual standards of fame. The only thing that matters to me is just to be an example of a true way of life that is possible for anyone anywhere in the world.