Today is the first day of this May 2023, two day sesshin. And we'll start with a story. But let me just say a few words about my use of stories. There is no story that's off limits. If it has Dharma value, it has the potential of being told and retold. I use the stories of the masters, of the Masters not just in the in Zen or in Buddhism, but in any tradition. I will use stories from from literature, adult stories, I often use what may be called children's stories, song lyrics, scenes from movies.
What matters more to me is not necessarily that the outside of the story is true, that the facts are true. That's that's less important. But the inside is true. What the story is pointing to. So over the course of this weekend, I'll be telling you some stories that are not true on the outside, but are right on target inside. This one is one that's true, both the outside and the inside. It's called the Art of Swordsmanship. There is an ancient story about a young man who aspired to become a master swordsman. After much searching, he finally found a man known to be the greatest master throughout the land. He sought out this master wanting to become a student. How long will it take me to become a master swordsman like yourself? The young man asked your entire life was the Masters response. That's a long time. The young man said I can't wait that long. What if I became your devoted servant and trained under you? How long would it take then? The master said 10 years. That's still too long. What if I worked as hard as possible? What if I train day and night then how long would it take? The master thought for a moment. Eyeing the young man carefully. Stroking his long white beard. Greedy ambition. One in such a hurry could never learn quickly, he thought 30 years, he said. Taken aback, the young man blurted what? First you say 10 years now 30. The master immediately began training The training of his new charge, but not in swordsmanship. As expected. The young student learned to wash dishes, sweep, mop, dust, cook, carry water, chop wood, and do the Masters laundry. The boy found his teacher to be very particular in how each job was to be performed. One day, the master spied the young man stooping by the river washing the vegetables. Tiptoeing up to him, he raised a long bamboo stick above his head and whacked his servant across the back. Before he could recover, the master picked up the boy by the collar and repositioned his hands and body then set him back to work again. On another occasion, the master watched his students sweeping. He ran up to him, brandishing his stick and whack. The master showed him how to hold his hands and position his body to sweep more effectively. These corrections continued until the young man learned how to do even the most mundane tasks like going to the bathroom and the proper manner as dictated by his esteemed teacher. The student was always attentive, always alert, on edge, watchful. At any moment, his teacher could round a corner and whack him with the stick. years past. One day, the young man was clearing cobwebs from the ceiling with a broom. The master quietly approached him, raised his bamboo stick to strike. The young man spotting him just in time, instinctively lowered his broom and blocked the blow, and avoided being hit. The master smiled and walked away. Each day the boy received a surprise attack. As time passed, the boy became an expert and blocking and countering the Masters moves. Eventually, the young man's talents surpassed his teacher, and he realized his dream of becoming a master swordsman.
And that's the end of that story.
In addition to this being the first day of this machine, today is also may 6 2023. Today's the 19th anniversary of the death of Roshi, Philip Kaplow.
We will remember him properly in August, following the Western tradition of, of memorializing someone on their birthday. Asian traditions, they do it on their death day. Following the memorial sequence of events have of doing a memorial service each day for the first seven days and then once a week for a while, and being on the 49th day, then once a year, and then intervals that are fewer and fewer times that it happens. But I would like to remember, Roshi Kapleau today and tomorrow by exploring some of his teacher teachings that would be most applicable to us here in sesshin. He taught how to make the most of sushi. And we'll be looking at some of his teachings today. Let me just get started and I'll be reading from his book Zen merging of East and West. And I'll be reading from a chapter called devotions. And this is how it begins. There are many who haven't been exposed to Zen only through academia find themselves after entering a Zen Center gaping in confusion at the Buddha and bodhisattva figures, the chanting and the rituals. Zen yes, they tell themselves that is to be expected. But this yet the 2500 year old living and growing discipline called Zen Buddhism, is a full bodied spiritual tradition in which such devotions play a vital role. Indeed, it is artificial to speak of Zen devotions as separate from Zen, bowing with hands and Gosho upon entering and leaving the Zendo doing prostrations before Buddhas and bodhisattvas and making offerings to them, taking part in regular confession and repentance ceremonies. These acts when performed no mindedly refined the emotions and purify the mind gradually softening the sharp corners and rigid outlines of the personality and because they all serve to prune the ego i They hasten awakening
the main practice that we do in sushi is Zen of course. But we have these other There are aspects of our practice connected here to the Zendo. We have a chanting, we have Dharma talks. We have dice on private instruction. I'd like to talk a little bit about each of those offerings, some teachings from from Roshi Kapleau as well as some tips that were passed on to be by my teacher, Bowden Roshi for the six sushi newcomers for you for those that may be beginners, this some of this will be new to you some of it you may have heard before and others of you this consider this a review, a refresher. I hope that you can listen with this the beginner's mind that the others are bring bringing to this talk. So let's first talk about chanting. This is what Roshi Kapleau says. No element of Zen devotions occupies a more central role than chanting. There is hardly a Zen temple or center, where men and women do not assemble in the main hall at least once a day and chant sutras and the words of the Masters who have realized the highest truth. Chanting forms the vocal ground on which every ritual ceremony and rite of passage is performed, setting a tone through which participants acquire a heightened awareness of and receptivity to what is being enacted. And then he next few paragraphs, he describes the chanting service, our first chanting service of the sesshin will be in the next block. And in what he says he speaks about what to do with the body, what to do with the voice, and what to do with the mind. And this is what he says about the body. During chanting, the whole body is relaxed. The energy for the chanting comes from the lower belly, with the sound resonating in the head cavities. And Zen, there is no swaying or rocking during the chanting. It is carried on in an erect and stable posture with the hands in the lap. So the preferred posture for chanting is the size of position the kneeling posture. And the reason for it is is it just allows the energy to flow. But sit in whatever posture that your body will allow you to, to sit in. That's what will really allow the energy to flow. Not that you're sitting in some way that's prescribed. So we sit still, it's hard, carry love to dance. And so it's it can be hard not to sway Oh to rock. But it does, it does change this practice of chanting. So keep the body still relaxed. That's how we stay still, is by being relaxed and put all of the energy into the practice of chanting. We keep the back straight. And the alignment is just like forth with Zen where the ears are aligned with the shoulders which are in line with the hips, nose and navel lined up. The hands, as he said are clasped in the lap but but if you are holding a chant book, hold it with two hands. Whatever we can do with two hands, we will do with more engagement with more of our body and minds involved. And when you do hold the chapbook hold it up at at eye level. If it's down, the eyes will be too far lowered. The head will tilt forward and it just clogs up the energy for the chanting
In any time that we are sitting like during the Dharma talk, chanting will be sitting just like this. As we're sitting now, the temptation is to start looking around we have so much more visual input. So avoid that. Keep the eyes lowered, focused on the chanting. Focused on this
and then Roshi Kapleau speaks about what to do with the voice. And he says, Each chanter takes his own his or her own lowest natural pitch, a note in the lowest part of one's range that can be maintained easily without strain, while at the same time, blending in with the dominant pitch to form a harmonious unity. The particular words of the chants emerge from one's basic pitch. Thus, the words flow together into a drone issuing from the horror. The pitch does not rise and fall in a singsong. Anyway. So I'll say, we tell people that it can take two three years to find one seat for Zen. And finding one's voice for chanting can take some time to so he Roshi Kapleau speaks about the pitch. And all of that to say from my own experience is that once once pitch it's like the lower range of your talking voice your speaking voice
and know that some people may have been practicing and other traditions where I remember I did a was at an interfaith service at a at a advisory on a place that Tibetan Buddhist place and they're chanting was so different from what we do. So if you've done chanting, but in a different style, just listen for a bit to get the hang of things
Roshi Kapleau also talks about the chanting being a drone issuing from the Hora what some people think of a drone, as as, as what it is, it's it's a monotone but it's it's not monosyllabic. What often happens is, is that there are two extremes that people take with with chanting is that they enunciate the consonants making the chanting, choppy, that's one extreme. And then the other extreme is, is that there they there are no consonants, they eliminate the consonants. So it goes from being the voice sounding like the moku go to just a drone. So So listen to the difference. So I'm going to chant the The Heart Sutra the bodhisattva of compassion from the depths of prajna wisdom, saw the emptiness of all five skandhas and sunder the bonza cause all suffering too choppy to enunciate it. Nor is it the chanting that we do.
We, the consonants are softened and strung together in a drone of sound. Boys from Nadella Raja wisdoms are the s of all fives gone, then Sangha are the ones that cause suffering. And while we're at it, let's talk about breathing. Again, it's the tendencies for folks to not want to skip a beat. ants will end up gasping for air and causing a lot of tension in the body. Breathe normally, just as you would for Zen You're not manipulating the breath. Just breathe as you normally would. And so you're chanting On the exhale, then you just stop and take a normal inhale, the chanting is still reverberating in the mind and in the body. And then you pick up with the chanting. You don't have to be at the end of a line, or at a period to take a breath. Just take a breath when you need to bodhisattva of compassion. So are the mDNS of all fives condors and Zen nirvana, the cause of MDS and denas own live on
when it comes to volume, we are chanting with others. So, when it comes to how loudly we chant, we don't want to chant so loudly. We can't hear others. So if you're chanting so loudly, that only can hear yourself, tone it down a bit. However, if you're chanting in such a way that you can only hear others, then you're you're doing it too softly. Chanting softly, is a is a recipe for inviting thoughts into the mind. If you're going to err err on the side of chanting more loudly to to chant more loudly and requires more engagement. More energy.
However, if you are unfamiliar with the chanting, or with the with the chants or the rhythms, then do chant more softly so that you can listen and get that into your body. And then maybe the next time you chant it, it will be it will flow more readily for you.
Now for what to do with the mind during chanting. This is what Roshi Kapleau says, firstly, is talking about the two different types of chants that we do. We do sutras and Dharani. And the sutras are the words of the Buddha, which may also include words of the masters and then he picks up the advantage of chanting these in one's own language is that when repeated regularly, the truth of the words is hammered home to the subconscious mind, thereby instilling greater understanding and faith. No conscious effort need to be made to grasp the meaning for it is absorbed spontaneously unchecked by the rational mind. The mind state created by the chanting, which is involvement to the point of self transcendence, is of primary importance. So as he said, so here we are, we are not trying to figure out the meanings of the words, in the chants. We're not trying to understand what we're saying. We're just chanting. The meaning is absorbed. It's over time and experience. It's so funny, that as we go in our lives, a situation will come up and then the words of the chant will bubble up to to consciousness. And we understand in a way that is much more deep and personal and direct. And if we try to understand the words, rationally
if your your practice is a breath practice or a cold aura shikantaza Then during chanting If you're just chanting don't try to follow the breath while chanting. If yours is a koan practice, sometimes you can have the koan going in the back of the mind, maybe.
But if you do feel split, you feel divided than just chant. Then you're chanting is your koan. When thoughts arise in the mind, which they will then return to the chanting. We don't even have to let go of thoughts, returning to whatever it is that we're doing, whether it's on the doing Zen, whether it's chanting, whether it's listening to the Dharma talk, that is the letting go of the thoughts.
So when thoughts arise in the mind during chanting, returned to the chanting, it can help to memorize the chants. But memorization can come from just from chanting often. However, one of the things, we have these term intensives, and I know many of you have participated in them, some of the some of you haven't. But that's a popular term intensive commitment is for someone to take a chant their favorite Chan to whatever, a chant that's most meaningful for them. And for the period of the three or five weeks of the term intensive to memorize the Chan
memorizing them, we can just throw ourselves into the chanting without having to handle the champ book and find our place
and chanting We are to one degree or another, embodying the teachings, me made just a small degree, just by having to vocalize I remember, way back in the day, it seems like we used to, in the last night or to have sushi I mean, those those who were working on a Mu no Mu call on or the who call on or who had worked on it in the past, could could vocalize it for a minute, two minutes, three minutes, whatever it was, and as loudly or softly as you wanted, or not at all. And it took me several, okay, years to do that in a way that didn't leave me scattered and distracted. But once I learned to vocalize in a way that was grounded, it was so helpful to get the colon in the body. And it's the same way with the chanting. When we vocalize, we are embodying the truth.
It's much better than simply reading
this is what Roshi Kapleau says. Energetic chanting done with a pure mind with single minded involvement is another form of Zen, another mode of learning the Buddha truth in a direct non conceptual way, performed in this manner chanting is also a means of strengthening Samadhi power and of helping to bring about awakening. So don't underestimate the power of chanting. And now for the Dharma talks. Some there can be a question about what's the difference between a Dharma talk and a teisho where the commentary and Roshi, Roshi capital addresses this too. And this is turning to another, another section then merging of East and West and this is what he says. He says, The word dharma distinguish it distinguishes the talk from a talk on social, health, public or other general topics. Although Dharma has many meanings in Buddhism, for most purposes, it refers to the Buddhist teaching the law of the universe. Unlike a commentary, or a teisho, which is less a talk than a demonstration of Zen offered directly to the Buddha, a Dharma talk is delivered somewhat informally, with the Roshi or whoever's talking, facing his listeners. Also, unlike a commentary, a Dharma talk may include questions. So there won't be so my talks or notices she won't include a q&a but outside of sesshin, they do. So what do you do with the body and mind during during the Dharma talk, it's very similar to as during, during chanting, the recommended posture is same as a kneeling posture. Again, for the same purposes, for the same reasons to allow, it's more of an outward kind of posture allows the energy to flow. And just as Errol said, you can, it is recommended to sit still, however, you can change your posture, as you need to just do so mindfully. And that mindfulness has more to do with your your neighbors are probably not paying the least bit of attention to you. They are focused on what they're doing. You're moving around for what in whatever way is going to be more disruptive for you. It just creates this kind of bumpiness in the mind. Like okay, my, my knee is starting to ache. And do I change my posture now? Or I'll just wait a little while? Oh, no, it's starting to ache a little more, I better do it. Now. As soon as you feel that the need to change your posture, just do it. Don't fuss about it in your mind. Just do it.
The eyes are lowered. The alignment is just like for Zen. And just like for, for chanting. What you do with a mind if you're working on a breath, practice, or show or shikantaza Just listen to the talk. When the mind wanders, and it does return to the listening. And it's the same way with a koan. If you if you feel split, then just listen. Listen, as if it's just me and you. There's nobody else in this room. As if this talk is just me and you. You there's no need to try to understand or remember anything being said. you'll absorb what you need. And just let go of the of the rest.
These Dharma Dharma talks are for everybody. But we don't all need the same things. So what people get from a Dharma talk can be different. And that's okay. But die sign a private instruction is personalized for you. Here's another story. A man goes to his meditation teacher and says my practice is horrible. I'm so distracted. My body hurts. I don't know what I'm doing. It's terrible. And the teacher says, it will pass. And then the next week, the same student goes to his teacher and says, Oh, my practice is wonderful, I feel so focused, I feel so alive, I feel so free. And the teacher says, it will pass
this method of instruction goes back to the time of the Buddha. That's where a lot of the sutras came from, is the Buddha giving instruction to this guy, and this, this person answering their questions, may making comments
this, this, this
practice of private instruction allows you to receive some encouragement. You're in many ways, facing the wall, you're on your own. And that's how it should be. We are here alone, together. And sometimes encouragement, advice, clarification is needed. Sometimes it can be so confusing what to do. For design, you can go in every time your group is called, if you wish. But if you want to go less frequently, do check in at least once a day. Say hello. Outside of sushi and the parameters of what's brought up in, in, in private instruction can be quite broad. However, during the sheen, let's stick to those matters of practice closely related to Zen, or personal matters, that are closely related to our practice. That's why we are here. Your Practice doesn't have to be going well. People think that, you know, got it, it's got to be good to go to private instruction. In fact, it can be more helpful when your practice is a hot mess to go.
And in fact, you don't even have to have anything to go. You don't have to have a question or comment. Or you might have something, but it isn't fully formed. It doesn't have to have a capital letter at the beginning and a question mark at the end. It could be some rolling rambling thing in your mind that hasn't formed yet. We can figure it out together whatever it is. However, don't spend time in the Zendo trying to come up with something to say or rehearsing something. There's absolutely no need to say anything. You can just come and we sit together. Bring your practice with you
but do come because even though you might not have something to say to me, I might have something to say to you. And I won't get a chance to say it unless you come but whatever it is said Be honest. And that can be a big challenge. Being honest. I know. It's a natural to want to impress to want to show yourself in the most positive light but we will work best to go Other when there's honesty between us. And I will try to be honest too. And because if I don't know something, if I don't know how to help you, I'll just say I don't know. And during the next break period, I'll give Johnson's a call and ask him so there's help available how long your private instruction will take, it could take two minutes, it could take 15 minutes. depends on what's needed. I am slow. Apologize now. I'm slow. I learned that slowness from Amala Roshi. I appreciate having space in the ducks on room with her I want you to have your space to to let whatever arises arise without having to be forced.
And what that means is that means that you won't get into private instruction as often as you might wish. But when you're there, I'm there. And when private instruction is over, whatever you need, will stick and be there. And whatever you don't need let it go.
For for those folks that are working on colons do under know that there's no passing of colons, there's no assigning of colons during private instruction. That's true for anybody. Not just me. That happens in ducks on however, you know, you still can go to private instruction. So because although I can't work with you on your, for people that are working on a subsequent call on, I can work with you people that are working on a beginning call on. I can work with you on your koan, but for those that are working on a subsequent koan, although I can't work with you, on that subsequent koan, I can work with you on you.
That's it, that's all I have. Everything we do and so sheen can be supportive of ours doesn't have our practice here in the Zendo. Or it can detract from this practice. It's completely up to us what each moment will bring whether it's supportive or distraction.
Some final words and these are from Roshi Kapleau. To truly practice then, therefore means not leaving lights burning when they are not needed, not allowing water to run unnecessarily from the faucet not loading up your plate and leading leaving food uneaten. These unmindful acts reveal and indifference to the value of the object so wasted or destroyed, as well as to the efforts of those who made these things possible for us. This indifference is the product of a mind that sees itself as separated. This indifference robs us of our birthright of harmony, and joy. We'll stop now and recite the Four Vows