2022-11-D2-AW: November 2022 Sesshin, Day 2: The Teachings of Maurine Stuart-roshi 2
6:13PM Nov 15, 2022
Sensei Amala Wrightson
It's day two of our seven day sesshin 31st of October 2022. And we're going to take up a talk in "Subtle Sound: the Zen Teachings of Maureen Stewart". The first talk we're going to look at is entitled "Sesshin Mind, Universal Mind". It is the illusion of having some separate self that keeps us from finding in a piece. When we gather together for so sesshin, what we are doing is melting down this illusion of a separate self melting down this idea that there is something to be pacified. Melting down this idea that there is something to be pacified. I wonder if Maureen Stewart Roshi is thinking here of the exchange that happened between Bodhidharma whose death day we celebrated just a few weeks ago, and his disciple Hui ku, who comes begging for teaching to pacify his mind, and then Bodhidharma says, will bring me that mind. And some time later, we don't know whether it was minutes, hours, days or years waker comes back and says, I have searched for that mind, and I cannot find it anywhere. And Bodhidharma says, I have pacified it for you.
If we, if we can really pay attention, we can start to comprehend the insubstantiality of this sense of separation is actually something we create with our thoughts, our habitual ways of reacting to things. But the good news is that anything that we create, we can deconstruct and that's what we're doing in session with deconstructing delusions.
Maureen Stewart continues. What does the word sesshin mean? The first character, Situ means to join, to collect, to receive, to transmit, to continue. And Shin of course, means mind or heart, heart mind. We are not here just to collect our minds. This is not just a time for us to receive something, to continue something to transmit something just for us. It is a time for us to join our minds to the mind of the universe. We are expanding into and realizing this unity of mind with the whole universe. You think of the what we're told the baby Buddha said it is birth taking seven steps. Above the heavens below the heavens, I alone honored one.
There's a cosmologists Brian Swimme. who expresses this very clearly, he says. Just as the Milky Way is the universe in the form of a galaxy. And an orchid is the universe in form of in the form of a flower. We are the universe in the form of a human. And every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe. We are actually the universe reflecting on itself. And this changes everything.
If there's a, if there's a clear night, this week or sesshin week, I'd encourage people to go outside lie down maybe on the ground and look up
actually, it can be quite mind altering, to look down into the universe because in a sense, we're held by the gravity of Earth. And if it weren't for that gravity that that, that strong attractive force, we would, we would just fly off into space for just drop into into space.
In fact, we are held, were held here on this earth.
sesshin also means fasting, becoming poor in spirit, letting go of everything, not grasping, not panting after anything, just doing what needs to be done step by step. And she doesn't mean fasting literally here. But fasting in the sense of refraining from various things that we normally do. It includes eating lists, but but not fasting, which can be too much of a distraction, and not not helpful in sesshin. But definitely, not just eating in our habitual manner. But lightly. That then also, I think, a very important one now, in our time, is the fact that we're on a media fast, we're not exposing ourselves to news of all kinds, which can be so disempowering in the way that it's framed.
To cut down on all the inputs
and when we do this, as Stuart says, ourselves as in, gets stronger, clearer, more alive, more dynamic, every day, if we let go of our gaining ideas, our judgmental attitudes about whether or not we are doing well. Our habit of it's, it all comes from our habit of habitually, continually stepping out of whatever we're doing, and passing judgment on it.
This is our practice. Zen is not some cold or steer, held back kind of practice. It is full of warmth, full of a loving nature, full of giving to the whole universe. In everything we do, we affect every other being.
Sometimes, I've heard people say that we we, we sort of tend to neglect the third of the three treasures of Sangha. They're all equally vital, but are awakened mind, Dharma, the teaching and Sangha community, but to really take refuge in all three and to recognize that we're, we're practicing Sangha when we sit together and work on touching our minds together
And to be sure that that this warmth that that Stuart talks about is there where where we can come to the practice with, with generosity and patience and kindness for everybody around us and also for ourselves this emphasis on warmth. Came to to STEWART I think it's fair to say through her teacher so knock ago Roshi, who was also saying yesterday where she kept rose first teaching teacher in Japan, and in meetings with remarkable women. Stewart talks about, about sewing remembers. Everything was strict, but warm, always warm, always compassionate. Everything, absolutely everything immersed in compassion. There was nothing that escaped him. Somebody told me about him going to about going to row Takuji. This was so unstable in Japan for a session. The session was just for monks. And this poor man's feet were bleeding from running back and forth in their rough straw sandals. He was exhausted and quite discouraged. So when Roshi came and looked at those sandals with blood on them, and they're in their place, he put soft slippers, inconspicuous, wonderful attention, he was so aware of each one of us, always turning every situation, however dark into some wonderful teaching. Keeping the feeling of embracing the whole Sangha when he conducted sesshin you are not just here for yourself alone, but for the sake of all sentient beings, I can hear him saying, Keep your mind pure and warm. Just to be doing that just step by step, simply step by step with reverence, reverence, and a grateful heart. This was that wonderful Solon. And just reading this memory came back off the very first time we were at the center, Richard, my husband and me. In fact, we we, during that, that trip, we we got married, Roshi Kapleau, married us, we'd been living together for some years. But now we we, it was meaningful for us fall for us to have a Buddhist wedding. But we came totally ignorant of what that meant. And I didn't have any special clothes, I thought I'd be getting married in my robe. And we were also supposed to have rings. And it was one of my first experiences of the Sangha grapevine that I mentioned to one person that we didn't have rings, and we'd need to go out and buy them. And it seemed like minutes before somebody had offered to take us to the nearby mall to find a find winning bands. And it just, it's at the time, it felt like the never failing help of the Sangha. This, this wonderful responsiveness that is such a hallmark of authentic Zen training.
She continues talking about so nagawa he turned everything that was parched for me into something that was shining and fresh. Once he had a sesshin and somebody became very upset and ran away. It was painful and difficult for all of us. And he turned it into such a compassion for this person. Instead of people being upset for their own egocentric practice disturbance of his as in, he turned it into something wonderful. He did extraordinary things and see Shane, he would look out the window and see the moon was shining up. He would say we're all going for a moonwalk. And he would go out and look at the stars. He always said to don't look to me. Don't hang on me as teacher. Don't attach yourself to me. Look at the universe. Look at these stars. This is this moonlight. Look at the sunrise. At one of his last dog signs. Everybody came up the stairs And then he was standing on the landing, he turned everybody to the window and there was the sun rising, he put his hands on the back of our shoulders. And we chanted together looking at the sunrise
our teachers are all around us if we just allow ourselves to notice. light falling on the wood, a breeze coming through the window, a bird calling it train passing through.
The conscious mind that we use habitually in everyday life, because code becomes confused and unstable from time to time. We all know this. And unless we have time to connect with this universal mind, our condition doesn't improve. When we take this time, when we immerse ourselves in session after session, we find that we are functioning more surely, more clearly, more joyfully and more energetically in our daily life. And above all, we have a better connection with all human beings, with whom we come into contact. As I was saying before, this is really the proof of our practice that we we angle is quickly that we able to respond to people's needs, that we can be free ourselves of resentments and grudges
and this, this, this process this this refinement, the suffering, softening can happen even when we feel like we're really struggling in our practice that we were grappling with an distracted mind monkey mind but as long as we're just practicing with best intention without with most sincere energy, then that will be having a profound effect on us
when we first start to shame we may be very annoyed by something or by somebody's particular way of being is the days go on these likes and dislikes melt down and by the end of five or seven days, there is no more of that judgmental attitude we have made a deep connection which has nothing to do with Is it good is it bad? Do I like it? Don't I like it is just goes far beyond that. This is what we taste together here in sesshin we get rid of the self centered mind the competitive mind the proud mind the gaining or losing mind we let go of all of it what what she doesn't mention here is that is that these things and is we've had a profound translators transformation of the mind do come back after sesshin this week with sesshin trick the mind transformation has been thoroughgoing but they come back weaker. Mostly
we can be we can be encouraged by this, this weakening of our defilements and especially we can be fortified by that sense of connection that we can have with people after session I remember talking to Sonia Sensei one time after sushi and she she likened our connections to that of a forest of trees. If you look from from above ground, seems like they're all these separate trees maybe within the crowns their branches intermingling a little bit if you were to look underground, you would see the roots all intermingling. And we know now that they're also connected by vast webs of mycelium. fungi that form a kind of tree internet connecting all these, these trees are communicating with others sharing nutrients and many other things.
We human beings can also share nutrients
in a sense, that's what the talks within sesshin are about the chanting Doxon.
During these days, we become really aware of how much we are not being true to ourselves, of what we are carrying around with us, of how much an essential stuff we are holding onto so tightly. This is This is because the other side of of sesshin, the uncomfortable side of where we start to see this stuff more clearly. See the patterns especially. It's painful, but necessary, has to happen if we do become more conscious. This practice of fearlessly being who we are, precisely the person we naturally are with no expectation, no pretension, requires a lot of integrity and a lot of humility. If we are true to ourselves, in the depths of our being, then we can be true to all other beings.
She may be talking here about one of the teachings of master Rinzai the true person of no rank for each of us to become this true person of no rank incomparable full of integrity independent and yet responsive. In meetings with remarkable woman, she says it a little bit more
true person of no rank, the one unlimited true person to be found in each of us. What else are we here to do but, but uncover this true person. This true person is neither male nor female, student nor teacher, past, present or future. It is all in one, one in all. And when this is realized, there is no more worry about not being perfect. We can move freely. Whatever occurs we freely respond freely coming freely going, freely moving freely speaking, freely acting, the true person in us is here to awaken to itself. This true person longs to be realized.
Stewart cautions us not to become attached to to master Rinzai who gave his teaching or to our teachers. She says our true teacher is your own zazzy in sitting in the strong, grounded posture allows us to become still composed. It is the stillness, the deep stillness of the sender. The difference between inner and outer motion and rest is resolved. Alert and present to what is going on. We forget ourselves absorbed in just being we realize that this one mind is not created or owned by anyone's ego. It is a universal wakefulness that every one of us can tap into, as sesshin goes ahead, we feel this more and more people become more gentle, more alert, more vividly awake, more vividly grateful for such time together we do we do go through all kinds of struggles and sesshin all kinds of dark nights and desolate deserts and steep mountains, but to remember this, this, that how fortunate we are what good karma we have to be able to spend this week together in this beautiful place, surrounded by trees and birds and other animals.
place where we can really connect with ourselves and others. And to to think if we are struggling, we can can remind ourselves and just touch into that that gratitude that we feel for, for having a Sangha where we can practice the Dharma.
Back to our main text
without any self conscious effort, we just respond spontaneously to what needs to be done. Every time we think we have achieved something, or that we have understood something, or that we know what all of this means. We just throw it away. During this time together, we are constantly paring down, continually letting go of these opinions, this fixed thoughts for and against. And we are committing ourselves to listening to accepting whatever comes along, rather than closing up or defending ourselves against it. We are participating in a sesshin bath, giving up letting go feeling the carat clarity of what is purifying our minds. It's traditional to have a figure of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of prashna wisdom on the altar, and often not always, but often he is where he's holding the sutras in one hand, and he's wielding a sword with in his other hand and the sword is the delusion cutting sword. And that's that's what I practice is to the breath or the koan. It's a delusion cutting a weapon where we can lop off thoughts and opinions and beliefs. And listen, instead, instead of holding on to these things, to become receptive, not defensive. Then, then our Zen becomes a bath like a bath purifying, refreshing enlivening.
Every day we chant The Heart Sutra, which in Sanskrit is called the MaHA prajna paramita sutra, and in Japanese the hanya Shin y'all. This Heart Sutra is the heart of the matter. It's where the basic teachings behind our practice are expressed. The eternal sacred deed the endless practice is the GIL that we do. Your means means sutra.
Maha means great, all inclusive, nothing left out. prajna is intuitive wisdom. Everything is sensed with our inherent intuitive wisdom, not just thought. Out in our heads gone gone gone to the other Sure is paramita what does this mean? Not going to some other place, but finding nirvana in this very place, having a change of heart, seeing things from a cleared up fresh perspective like that, that quote from the female side that I mentioned in the opening ceremony, her prayer was, do not change my circumstances change me
this earth where we stand as the pure Lotus Land, this very body, the body of Buddha Buddha
what is the way, the real way is not difficult. So, Zan, Joshu, Nansen Dogan, Rinzai, all say the same thing in different words, the real way is not difficult if we avoid choice and attachment. If we don't try to hold on to things or to fix things into some pattern of our own choosing. His referencing here affirming faith and mind that we've been chanting every morning. The great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.
We are all seeking true peace of mind. But there are no sidetracks no quick exits, no solutions from the outside. We cannot sit on the cushion and blame our problems on other people or on society. We have to take full responsibility sitting here. There is a time for social action. In other words, a time for taking responsibility for societies structures. But it's it's sesshin is not the time for that sesshin is the time for you could say recharging our spiritual batteries in order to be able to then go and do that work non violently and without resentment or or attachment or anger. In see Shane, we're focusing on our part in the catastrophe we could say. We're trying to get to the root of humans beings problems. And blindness way the way that we avoid doing that
each of us has to take full responsibility for this moment.
In so many cons monks come to teach us and ask about the way what is the way? Shall I search after it? Shall I work hard to get it? Then will I grasp it? If we try to grasp it, we lose it. If we try to say what it is it's gone. Our need for security binds us and causes us to seek some definition for what Zen is. But this mysterious unspeakable indefinable something that we are all experiencing together here cannot be put into a mold can't be grasped it can't be pinned down.
A professor came wants to see in yoga and sin Zaki at one of his floating Zen dos Yogen Zen Zaki was a very important figure in the early history of Zen in America. He was really way before his time in bringing brings into especially to the west coast of this country. And the this reference to floating Zen dose is a reference to the way that Yogen Zen Zaki operated in a society which was totally ignorant of what Zen was. This is pre die set Suzuki or or hell What. And he wrote about later about this, he said, for 17 years, I simply walked many stages of American life, making myself a grass of the field, meditating alone in Golden Gate Park, or studying hard in the public library of San Francisco. Wherever I could save money, whenever I could save money, I would hire a hall and give a talk on Buddhism. The started in 1922. I called our meeting place at that time, a floating Zendo. So so this professor came interested in Zen to experience what yogin seems like he had to offer and really to write down everything he could Yogen since he took him to the Zando, and the man with his pen and paper ready, started to talk about Zen, since Aki put his fingers to his lips and said, Shall we meditate in silence here? Then he took them to the kitchen, and the professor thought, Oh, good. Now I can talk. Now let's see what they eat in this place. And he began to ask about that. Since like you said, we prepare food and eat and silence here. Next, they went to the library, and the professor thought, oh, all these wonderful books. Surely we can talk now. But since like he said, we read in silence here. And as he showed him to the door, the man was still gasping. But what is in you reminded here of the importance of silent practice working in silence, has a practice. And also here he highlights the importance of the kitchen as a price of practice. The three the three places of silent practice, traditionally, are the Zendo, the kitchen, and the bath.
So if you have a job, working in the kitchen, don't imagine that you have to finish up your job quickly so that you can go and do practice. Know that the kitchen is an important vital piece of practice. With so many Dharma lessons that can be learned from the process of working with food and serving the food and clearing up the food, washing up everything. It's all just gold in terms of practice. And I know that many many people have some of the most important Dharma lessons working in the kitchen. Certainly people who get the responsibility of being head cook are especially prone to these great lessons that we have. Because it's hard it's hard there's no letter that people keep keep on needing to eat and it's just one meal after another it can be feel sometimes a bit like a treadmill. But what could be more vital than keeping people alive so they can practice and more than just keeping people alive
giving people joy nourishment, nourishment, aesthetic nourishment as well as is the nourishment of the food itself making beautiful food that that people can take delight in
the the point of this little story about the professor is that as long as he was wanting to two pins in down he wasn't experiencing Zen is not about definitions but about action. During sesshin, we are suspended in a place where the only thing to do is to get in touch with the teachings and with ourselves. That's all very clearly to get in touch. Every day we chant the three refuges. I take refuge in Buddha. I take refuge in Dharma, I take refuge in Sangha. There is much talk these days of support systems. We have a wonderful support support system, the Buddha, a human being who practiced faithfully, and who came to understand the true nature of the universe and of himself said to all of us, you can do this too. Each and every one of us can do it, without exception. The Dharma is the teaching of our everyday life experience right here. The Sangha is our companionship, or being present for each other. And with our own richness of experience, we come little by little to feel true peace of mind, true contentment of spirit. Each of us is the only one who can know if this is so thanks to this practice, I feel I do have some true peace of mind. After all, life and death, health and illness are one. The true face of this universe includes all things in it, good, bad, life, death, health, illness, all of it. There are so there are many so called healers in the world, that healers cannot not bring us wholeness. healers do not heal us. The healing is already here in the wholeness. And the real goal of healing is to help the person in need of healing to be aware of this. In other words, to kind of connect what we need to do is to connect with our own powers of healing the body's powers of healing. At the deepest level, the so called sickness, sick person has no sickness. At this level, I am not sick. And there's a footnote saying that she had at this when she gave this talk in 1989. She was already aware that she had metastasized cancer with deep gratitude to this practice because of what a Dharma and Sangha because of all of you, because of all of this that we are engaged in together because of this indefinable mysteriously unspeakable, marvelous whatever it is, I really do feel this no sickness.
When sickness comes upon us, one of the wonderful things that that happens is that bodhisattva spring up to help. And we we get a chance to really feel and appreciate our interconnectedness, how much we rely on each other.
You cannot take my definition, my experience of it, because yours Of course, the only reason I tell you of my experience is in the hope that it may encourage you. It is your own life experience that confounds you all the time. How how often we can experience this quite painfully our own life experience that confronts us all the time. We can't run from a mind. So the only other option is to turn around and face it into a spire to see it in its wholeness. All of it, including death and sickness, struggle, loss, or that can't be it can't be pulled apart. She continues, your breath is not breathing because you say breathe. Your heart doesn't beat because you think about it. A power beyond definition is making our heart speed and making us breathe. This is the reality of our lives. Every single moment were part of this reality. Breathing. Speaking, lying down eating what is it? How can we open ourselves to it? So, we know why we're here. We're here to get rid of confusion. Each of us must do it. The Buddha said you must be a lamp unto yourself. May our lamps shine out unselfconsciously so that we may continue this wonderful practice for all beings. We'll stop here and recite the four vows