This is January 28 2024. And for teisho, today, the topic I'm going to take up is our attitude towards practice. Because it's about as good a way of summing it up as I can come up with for a title. But let's get into, let's get into it. And I wanted to start by recounting something that happened, oh, just three, four days ago.
I was driving to the Center down East Avenue. And there was a obviously --it must have been a nursery school class - little kids, and walking down the street, adults with them, of course, every kid had a hand to hold. And I, I'm always ,when I see that sort of thing, I always take it in. There's nothing, other than a basket of puppies, there's nothing better than a line of schoolkids. And at the very end of the, just at the rear of the line, there was one little girl, and she had her hand up. And she was she was just sort of looking at the sidewalk. And she was just totally delighted. It was just the most amazing thing to see. I guess you had to be there.
And I thought that's it. That is a samadhi of innocent delight. Just blasted - nothing, nothing, nothing in her mind - but was right there. Now that the kids have left the Zendo, we're all adults in here.
AndI guess my question is What the hell was going wrong? And I have an answer. It's it's basically we are we are limited and made to suffer by all the strategies that we've developed over the years to protect ourselves, to wall ourselves off from danger, from suffering, from life. It's a theme you've probably heard before. We bring, we bring that self protective state of mind to our practice. We're dealing most of the time in what we want and what we don't want in hope and fear.
But as we practice, we begin to find something a little different. And sometimes it can come in a flash, there can be some life experience, where we suddenly wake up and realize, Oh, I'm the problem. It doesn't have to be this way. And my guy, Anthony de Mello, recounts an experience for him that I wanted to read. It's a good place to start.
He says, "I discovered something and it turned my life upside down. It revolutionized my life. I became a new man. This is what I'm going to share with you. Later having discovered it, I found it in all the major religious writings, and I was amazed. I mean, I had been reading scripture for years, but I hadn't recognized it".
Just for anyone who doesn't know Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest. And definitely an awakened man.
"I've been reading scripture for years, but I hadn't recognized it. It was right there in front of my eyes and I hadn't seen it. I wish to God I'd found this when I was much younger. What a difference it would have made. It was a rickshaw puller, I was introduced to in Calcutta named Ramchandra, who opened my eyes.
"Understand that pulling a rickshaw for a living is an awful existence. It's backbreaking work, and the lifespan of a driver is only 10 to 12 years once they begin pulling the rickshaw. In addition, Ramchandra had tuberculosis. And at that time an organized crime ring was engaged in an illegal activity involving exporting skeletons. And they preyed upon impoverished rickshaw drivers because of their short lifespan. They bought the man's skeleton while he was still alive - all for the equivalent of $10. The moment one of these drivers died, the thugs would pounce on the body, take it away, and decompose the body through some awful process, until they had a skeleton to sell on the black market.
"Ramchandra had a wife, children, and all the squalor, misery and disease that comes with abject poverty. And he had sold his skeleton to support his family. You'd never think to find happiness in this man's life. Yet... he was alright. Nothing seemed to faze him. Nothing seemed to upset him.
"So I asked him, Why aren't you upset? About what he said? Your future the future of your kids. He simply said that he was doing the best he could. And the rest was in the hands of God.
"But what about your sickness I asked. That causes suffering, doesn't it? A bit. Ramchandra said, but I have to take life as it comes.
"I never once saw him in a bad mood. And as I came to know him, I realized I was in the presence of a mystic. I realized I was in the presence of life. He was right there. He was alive. By comparison, I was dead.
"Remember those lovely words of Jesus. Look at the birds of the air. Look at the flowers of the field. They don't have a moment of anxiety for the future. Ramchandra's life embodied those words. He understood the loveliness and the beauty of this experience we call human existence. Though exceedingly poor, Ramchandra lived like a king. Yes, more money would have helped. But he didn't need it. He didn't need it. Not to live from his heart. I saw that to live like a king or queen spiritually means you know no anxiety at all - no inner conflict, no tensions, no pressures, no upset, no heartache. Until we can transcend these reactions, our lives remain a mess. Seeing this in Ramchandra and others revolutionized my life, I became a new man. This is what I'm going to share with you the discovery of the king and queen we were all born to be - say of the Buddha - that we all are."
So I never had an experience quite so dramatic. met someone quite as amazing as Ramchandra sounds like. But I did. I did have things turned around for me in bound 1990 In connection with getting a DUI getting getting stopped for driving while drinking. And I have to say that for a while drinking was my solution to the limitations that we all feel in our lives the sense of the horrible sense of self consciousness and inadequacy and struggling to know if we measure up. I remember acutely how cute it was for me when I took up Zen practice. I really felt like I wasn't working hard enough. Roshi Kapleau would say Just do your best. And I think well, it's never my best could always be more. I really felt in a bind. I remember walking down from my had been doing Zen up in the mountains in New Hampshire. It's up in a cabin about nine miles from the road that I'd hitchhiked into. And I was walking back I was going to hitchhike back to Rochester. And I just kept thinking I just have to I just have to do what I can seem pretty clear for a little while but it didn't really change anything. And eventually I found reasons not to continue to come to the center not to go to 16 think I'd sat occasionally I never really officially gave up but I drifted away. And I found that drinking really alleviated a lot of the self discomfort that I felt it was. It was like it was Like a magic combination, you know, you do some Zen and then you drink and lean against the wall and snap bottlecaps around the room and life is good. God dammit. But of course, that falls apart, doesn't it? I don't know too many people who can drink six drink their troubles away successfully for a year after year after year. And eventually, I was, you know, it wasn't working as well as it had in the beginning. Let's put it this way. And I actually quit on my own for a while thinking, well, I'll just, I'll just apply my willpower and quit drinking, and maybe that'll fix things. And I did stop drinking. But eventually, I said, let's just go back and take it up again. This time, it'll be better. And of course, eventually, I had this DUI. And in the process of going through the whole legal ramifications, I was told by my lawyer, you know, you should get an evaluation because your, your judge is going to want to see that. So I thought, Okay, I'll go do that. And I did. My wife came in with me. They seem to think that I was an alcoholic. And I said, Okay, whatever. I've already decided that I'm never going to drink more than one or two drinks a night. So I think that kind of takes care of it. And my wife, bless her soul said, you know, he can do that. He's got very strong willpower. I think she was giving me more credit than I deserve. But anyway, they said, Well, maybe so but we still think you should have treatment. And I said, well, thanks for your opinion. And I went my way. And it just happened that day or two later, I had a physical with my doctor who was really a great guy, guy named Tim quill. And he I told him about what was going on. And he said, Well, you know, you'll learn things about alcoholism, if you do that. And I thought, well, yeah, I like to learn things. And so I decided, alright, I'm going to do it. And I went back and told them and they were somewhat surprised to see me again. And then they gave me the whole routine. It required three nights a week, I had to go to three AAA meetings a week. And it just, my heart just sank. But I said, Well, alright, whatever, whatever you say, I'm going to do it. And we'll, we'll try it out. And by within a day or two of taking up, so called recovery, I knew I'd found something, you know, I don't know why. It was just all of a sudden, a burden lifted. One of the things that always bothered me about the center was that people seem so Xeni, you know, people would imitate Roshi Kapleau were a Baray like Roshi Kapleau tried to walk down the street like Roshi Kapleau. Put on that front. And I, you know, I didn't want to do that. And of course, you get an A and people are just people, you know, you have in common with them that you've kind of scraped the bottom, you failed. And there's a fellowship that develops out of that. And out of the mouths of people that you think, you know, what does this guy have to tell me? comes wisdom you didn't expect? It's exciting. It was a drive around Rochester going this whole city is full of church basements, full of people that I want to see.
One guy who walked into the AAA meeting and he was slumped in the chair, not paying attention at all, as far as I could tell. I thought what a loser. And then the topic that was that was brought up was honesty. And all of a sudden, this guy sits up and he says I'm honest, because I like to travel light. And I just went wow, that's it, isn't it? Just stop doing the dance. Stop trying to hide what you've done. Stop trying to present a front that isn't real. Be yourself. It's amazing. I want to spend just probably too much time but a little time. Probably not enough time talking about the three first steps of a most people know a Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12 step program. And I'll read the first three steps. First one is, we admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable. The second is, came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. And the third is made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. footnote here, you don't have to believe in God. A uses the term a higher power and it took me a little mental work. But finally I found a way to relate to what they were talking about without having a bearded guy in the sky. So I just want to look at the let's start with the first step we we admitted, we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. From my experience. This is probably the most powerful step of all the steps in AAA, admitting that we're powerless. And if you think it's just alcohol, that people are powerless over, you're missing something. Every one of us is powerless, powerless over our conditioning, over our habits, over the ways that we've built up over the years to protect the self that doesn't actually exist. You know, that poem, I think it's called Invictus. Out of the dark that covers me or something out of those, some from pole to pole. I think whatever God's may be from my unconquerable soul. That's kind of the Western way, isn't it? Just stand me up at the gates of hell and I won't back down. But it isn't that way. When you when you go deeply, when you look deeply into the mind, you begin to realize there isn't any self at the center of all of it. So it's a myth. It's an idea that we have, you know, they do experiments where they can monitor your your brain and see the when you make a decision. For example, if you're deciding to push a button or you know, easier to envision if you're deciding to jump off a diving board, when you make that conscious decision, and you leap off that decision was made seconds before your so called self decided to do it. Basically, we make up a story about how we do things, and it's just it's just a fiction.
Anthony de Mello said people mistakenly assume that their thinking is done by their head is actually done by the heart which first dictates the conclusion and then commands the head to provide the reasoning that will defend it
obviously, what we do shapes who we are but all of us are determined in a way by what we've done by what we were born with by how our parents raised us by all the blows that we suffered. We can't just pull yourself up by our bootstraps. Saying in a people think that they're such a such a sad case, no one has got it as bad as I do. Everybody is just a garden variety drunk. And we're just garden variety humans trying to steer our way through life. When we're not really at the wheel, like a kid sitting next to its mother, with this little pretend wheel while she drives the car, who's driving the car? I don't know.
There's a certain freedom in realizing that people just do what they do. You can't really build am anyone for being a jerk? You know, it's the it's the result of their conditioning, causes and conditions, karma, however you want to put it. And we're the same way. We make mistakes. Hopefully next time we'll do better. But the mistake we made, can't spend too much time regretting it. Some people spend most of their time blaming others, other people spend most of their time blaming themselves, it's equally ridiculous. So there's a second step came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. And that begins to dawn. When you immerse yourself in some genuine spiritual practice, whether it's Zen AAA, any of them Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, a power greater than ourselves, that power can simply be the power of Zen. That is a power greater than ourselves can be associating with people who have the values that we value
real change comes unbidden. Here's something else that Demello said, said, don't change, desire to change as the enemy of love. Don't change yourselves. Love yourselves as you are. Don't change others, love others as they are. Don't change the world. It's in God's hands and he knows it. If you do that, change will occur marvelously in its own way, and in its own time, yield to the current of life, unencumbered by baggage. It's really a prescription for doings as in
that third step made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. It's just it's just, we can also say made a decision to follow this path. It's a decision that gets made gradually a lot of times you started out find things are changing. If you're lucky, you may be if you're married, or you have a close friend, they noticed a change and that's encouraging all of a sudden situations that used to bedevil you, you find you can handle I found in in a, I used to always have a terrible time. consoling someone, you know, if somebody had had a family member die, or some other tragedy had befallen them, I always felt inauthentic, saying, you know, sorry for your loss that just went away. No longer focused on whether I was presenting myself right. I was focused on being sorry for their loss. It just so many problems drop away, when we're not trying to put up a good front. Like to say give the kid a break.
Everyone in this room is a person of goodwill. Everyone in this room probably is too hard on themselves. Too hard in one sense, and not hard enough. And another because you can't, you can't do too much Zen. But you can only do what you're ready to do. Just need to move in the right direction. And that's that's the higher power the right direction. If you go in a certain direction, change will happen. You won't make a tap you won't make it happen. But it will.
Other religions, they talk about blind faith. That doesn't go too far. It has to be it has to be corroborated. But that does happen over time. Sometimes it takes a long time for us to really get it. And then I guess our best allies are stubbornness. Sometimes you know what you need to do, but you don't know why. And if you're a stubborn person, you just keep doing it. And somehow Some way things thaw. And you know, yeah, yeah, this is my way. Can't be someone else's way. You know, sometimes parents talk to me about if they can encourage their children to take Zen as a path. It's really, really dodgy. Everybody needs to see it for themselves. Maybe if there's some way to insert ourselves into their dreams and do some sort of inception magic, we could make it happen
there's a there's a chant we do at meals has a wine defilements are many and exertions week. It's just it's just the fact that's what is. We're, we're we're products of conditioning. And we're all conditioned.
But that's also our way out. Because when we drop our self concern, when we turn our attention to what is and not to our schemes and ideas and rationalizations, we change, change in a healthy way
we have to see that some of the ways that we manage things now aren't working. That's, that's it's the same with AAA till somebody realizes that their drinking is causing more problems and it's solving. They're not ready to quit. When they see than there are then they're a candidate. And it's the same with us. When we see that our joy, our spontaneity, our ability to appreciate what's in front of us is limited by how we are. We were motivated to try differently. Listen to the teachings, put them into effect.
So a lot of it is, as I said, In the beginning, it's attitude. We have an attitude towards practice. For most of us, it's something that we want to get Roshi Kapleau used to chastise me and Doakes on he said, John, you just want to get Kensho and run. And I think he probably said that to a number of people, because I wasn't the only one. We're not, we don't want to come to practice with that kind of transactional attitude. It's not trying to get something a lot better if we're coming with the idea of giving something. And what we give of course, is our attention.
You have to be willing to take life on its own terms. Have to be okay with what it is. To be able to say right now it's like this. So we have to work with, you know, maybe maybe pain in the legs, maybe restlessness, maybe boredom, maybe annoying people around us.
So there's a Chinese Zen teacher, Chan teacher. Child, of course, is the Chinese word for for Zen. His name is Guo Gu. And he wrote a book called Silent illumination. It's, it has a great deal of information about the practice of shikantaza, or what the Chinese call silent illumination. But in the beginning chapter two, he really looks into this business of how we approach Zen practice. And I want to just pluck a few things out that I think are really, really illuminating.
And he sort of presents them as qualities that we can cultivate that make practice Be fruitful. And the first one, the main one is contentment. So he says this He says contentment has the flavor of being at ease, grasping nothing lacking nothing. It is being open and leisurely. In this state, we don't make anything into a big deal. While at the same time we engage with the freshness of each moment. cultivating an attitude of contentment is engaging with, and yet not grasping at causes and conditions. Not grasping and not pushing away.
Of course, he says, There is no formulaic way to cultivate contentment or non grasping, we need to personally explore the flavor of contentment, and digest this feeling little by little, becoming familiar with it in our lives. And this can be anywhere, this doesn't need to be on the mat, you know, just reminding ourselves to take in the moment. So many times, it's listening to the wind, walking from one place to another, seeing a group of schoolchildren walk down the street, so many things where we can just take it in. We don't need to be constantly gritting our teeth and grasping at something. We don't need to be constantly constantly retreating into whatever our addiction is, cell phone, internet, alcohol so many things that we do just to not feel our own disease it's amazing. The minute you bring your attention to this moment, the whole quality changes that that grows over time
birdsong car is going by in the street
sound of o'clock our own breath
everything is so full, fresh as Guo Gu says. All we need to do is to turn our attention to it. And we change change happens.
Says again little by little becoming familiar with it in our lives. We can't just force this attitude on ourselves and expect to be able to plow through all of our problems. Contentment is not just a concept, we need to appreciate the depth of what it means to be content is not just being disinterested or detached from everything.
He adds, in this process, there may be pain and grief. But we are cultivating the ability to feel fully to be present to whatever arises without judgment. Allowing such feelings to move through us will make us stronger. We are incredibly resilient. Our hearts and minds will eventually accept and release whatever comes through us
so much of our suffering is just our resistance refusing to feel our disappointment or grief
have to feel our own body to be in the body. Have to relax. So many people their practices one of tension. Really need to learn to relax. Guo Gu says we relaxed from the crown of the head to the toes section by section. We relaxed the skin pores, muscles, tendons, means actually feeling different areas of our bodies. Most people are so out of tune with their bodies that they don't really know how to relax acts are what their bodies feel. So this requires practice. It's not a mistake to actually take this up. As an adjunct to TOS as in, there are a lot of meditations you can do, where you just lie on a bed or a couch or the floor. And there's somebody speaking, just taking you from head to toe, feeling what's in every corner of your body. And if you find pain or tension, just letting it go. It's amazing how much how helpful this can be if you do it over time.
In a subsequent chapter that's entitled supporting attitudes to cultivate Google Google's through a few other things that we can deploy. And the first of these is interest. Really interesting, really interesting. No pun intended, but gladly taken. Interest is an important attitude that we should cultivate in our lives. Interest has the quality of engagement, but it is not controlling. It is fascination without interference. This is really the approach to breath practice, to be interested in each breath. Initially, of course, it's just another breath, right? I've done that already. But to just hold yourself to a just stay with it. Keep it down to just this in breath. Just this out breath, just one. Just to
the more you give yourself to it, the more interesting it becomes.
Its interest, but it's there isn't any interference, as you said. He says a good analogy for non interference is that of a mother sitting in a room with her toddler, letting the toddler play while she knits. In this way she is present with the child, but she doesn't have to fixate her gaze on them or control their every move. In the same way in our meditation, we're engaged with the method. That is the practice whatever practice we have. But we're not tensely focused on it. Our attitude is contentment. Yet with interest. If we're tense or controlling, then even if we have the best method in the world, we're not going to be able to use it because our minds will be agitated. The mind needs to be still. It can't be still when we're trying to get something. It's why contentment is so helpful. Besides being still it needs to be vivid. That's where interest comes in.
Think of the analogy of a relaxed cat watching a mouse hole. Cat is not terribly intense one watch watching the mouse hold but it is focused. It's relaxed, but ready at any moment to pounce on a mouse. If it comes out of the hole. It's not tense, but ready and awake.
I was at home once. Before I ever think this before I ever took I was in practice can't remember. And it was Christmas Day. And our family used to burn the wrapping in the fireplace was always exciting because you get all sorts of cool colors depending on the wrappings and we're used, and so my father had gotten it started and unbeknownst to any of us, there was a bird in the chimney. And as the fire blazed up the bird went soaring out into the room. And our cat, which had been sleeping on the floor meant it in midair. The most amazing thing and then ran off with a burden it's mouth, which I retrieved I think the bird survived
no 10 And at all cat was sleeping. There was ready. Probably dreaming about birds
says this if you're meditating on the sensations of the breath while cultivating an attitude of interest than every breath is fascinating and includes new sensations. This interest keeps you on the method. There is no need to get rid of wandering thoughts. Just be more interested in your method. This attitude of interest has a freshness to it. If your mind is interested, vibrant and wakeful, you won't take your method for granted, believing you already know how to do it. Every moment is fresh and you can engage with it fully. This is the right attitude of interest. It's one of the real problems in practice is feeling like we've done it all before. To routine I know how it goes it's you you're you're not tuned in when you think that way.
To other attitudes that will Gu mentions I got to talk about them briefly. The next is confidence.
He says the word confidence in Buddhism also includes other shades of meanings such as belief, faith, conviction and trust. All these qualities are based on experience. They're not based on blind belief. If they're not grounded in personal experience, they will not hold up to the challenges of life and practice. Only experience fosters genuine confidence. It doesn't hurt I don't think, to reflect on our practice. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that things are changing. remind ourselves that difficulties that we come up against our result. It seems like every time we get stuck, we feel like I'm going to be stuck forever. Roshi, Bowden Roshi used to say you could replace the teacher and the ducks on room with a sign which said this will pass. Things change. We continue to apply ourselves. We're going to get through whatever the difficulty is, for stuck in the mud, we'll find our way again. People always believe that however they feel right now is the way they're always going to feel. It's just a sort of a Macula common human delusion. We have more experience in practice, we know this is just bad weather sweeping through something else comes after. And then we're free to give ourselves to the flavor of that bad weather. Take an interest in your boredom. As paradoxical as it seems. It's what's there what's there. The more interested you are, the easier it is to catch hold.
He says competencies and attitude built on experience must be cultivated. So we must take action to cultivate it and let our personal experience deepen it. It's a virtue we all have, but we have to engage in practice to develop it. For beginners in meditation, it is helpful to set a time every day for 10 or 15 minutes of sitting. Don't try to sit too long at first, but gradually over a period of a few months. Increase the time to half an hour. As you experience the benefits of your practice, you will be more likely you will be more likely to want to meditate. In order to cultivate self confidence. We need to learn to follow through on our intentions with small tasks. Don't set grand projects that are impossible to accomplish. We do things incrementally and accomplish them. We can move ourselves from I can to I can't Henry Ford once said If you say I can or you say I can't You're right.
Final quality is determination Guo Gu says, confidence and continuous effort together give rise to the proactive prerequisite of determination. Usually when we think of determination, we think of diligent practice like a tidal wave, we give it our all and in the process become tense. But this kind of determination is usually contaminated by greed and anger, which are unwholesome mental factors. I want to realize awakening I want to attain Buddhahood I want this, I want that
then he has a really nice passage here. Determination is about being steadfast, trickling on like a fine stream in a continuous flow that does not end. Even when a big boulder is in the way, the stream simply meanders around it and continues. So, a Chan analogy for determination is a continuous stream of water without gaps without seams. This attitude helps us to keep the body and mind relaxed without grasping and at the same time diligent. This takes discipline and resourcefulness.
Normally, when people are tired, they're unable to practice. But when they are clear, they practice very well. But we have to be able to practice in all situations even when we're tired. being resourceful is learning to adapt to the conditions of our bodies and mind. That's how we become skillful predict practitioners. So how do we practice when we're fatigued? We try to fight through the fatigue, we'll become more exhausted and our minds will become more scattered. We have to know when to take a rest. When the mind is agitated or excited. How do we practice we may need to relax more and bring the energy of the body downward and get grounded. We learned to approach our practice from different angles, adjusting our attitude accordingly. All of this is part of building a relationship with ourselves. When we are skillful, that our practice comes alive. Slowly, slowly, it becomes less influenced by the limits of our bodies and minds. This comes with patience and a result of cultivating all the previous right attitudes.
There's a Japanese Zen master, show to heart a Roshi. He's the master of a temple in Japan called Sol Genji, where a lot of students from this center have practiced including Roshi, my wife and I spent some days there with him
and he said this. The way to avoid haziness and Zen is to open yourself up as much as possible. This opening is the point of Zen. In fact, the mind becomes clearer in Zaza not through forced concentration, but through ever expanding openness. As we liberate our awareness it becomes larger and more vast. To achieve this openness, you need to relax completely. When you feel sleepiness or mental distraction coming on. When you find yourself getting fuzzy in your focus. Don't try to focus harder. Just rest your eyes on the point in front of you in a way or way that you're clearly aware of But without forcing your concentration upon it true one pointed attention does not involve concentrating on one thing and shutting everything else out. But rather opening your awareness so that everything is seen clearly
other words, opening up to what's in front of us. Totally different way of approaching our lives than what people conventionally do what all of us start out doing sometimes it's pleasant sometimes it's difficult but it's always there it's always solid it always is available
Mother Teresa said God has not called me to be successful, called me to be faithful. Gradually it dawns on us faithful to what to this right now. The way it is right now. Dogan Zen master Dogon said if you don't realize truth right where you are, where else will you find it? Okay
think I've used up all of our time. We'll stop now and recite the Four Vows