2022-11-D3-AW: November 2022 Sesshin, Day 3: The Teachings of Maurine Stuart-roshi 3
6:14PM Nov 15, 2022
Sensei Amala Wrightson
Today is the third day of our seven day sesshin first of November 2022 and we're going to take up another chapter from "Subtle Sound: the Zen Teachings of Maureen Stewart", edited by Roco Sherry Chayat. This this chapter is called "The taste of Zen"
spiritual transformation is a rather grand science sounding phrase, that that is what we are engaged in and hard work it is there is pain and weariness and there are many doubts and questions. This is a good a good topic for day three, when we can be experiencing quite a lot of pain and tiredness and the the concentration has not yet kicked in it can be can be a day of struggle at times
it is a times hard work
think here of this saying of an old master. The taste of Zen is Pain In The Knees
she says there are many doubts and questions he talks about doubt in our other text meetings with remarkable woman
this is she's being interviewed by the the writer of this book Lenore Friedman. And she she This is Lenore Friedman starting off here. She says I found myself wanting to ask her about a deep level of doubt, that sometimes arises in me. What if this is all a sham and delusion? What if it's all empty form? Or worse? What if I'm doing it that way? What if I'm fooling myself and everyone else? What if it's all going to fall apart? Dissolve? And now knowing the answer to that can I act from that place? In one room, this is Maureen's response. You remember that the Buddha said, don't take my word for this. Put no head above your own. Have your own experience. Think about what he went through. You know about all the doubts or the delusions that came to him and flew around in his head, just as with you, and may everyone, no one is excluded from this and shouldn't be. It's a part of the human condition to doubt. That's, that's part of what makes us human is, is we have this this self awareness that that prompts us to question things. She continues, it's an important part of our experience, if you did not question did not go down to the bottom and say, Is this truly so? It would be very superficial, very superficial. We must say, what is this? What is this? And say it with absolutely every pore of our being? What is this? This is the great doubt we talk about. It has to be answered with your whole being not just your integrate, and more, the more deeply you feel it out according to some ancient texts, the greater the enlightenment. The more you plumb the depths of this, the more you know, one balance one balances the other. And to be honest, is essential to say am I really doing this to the depth of my being? Or am I just sitting here? This is a good question to ask ourselves and be honest about are we really doing this with a whole being? Or are we marking time? Waiting for lunch?
is there's a Zen teaching which most of you weren't may have heard about before, but for the sake of, of newcomers, let me just mention it. There is said to be three essential ingredients in Zen practice, great faith, or confidence in in our inherent Buddha nature and in our potential to awaken in other words, but also great doubt or perplexity. Wonder if this is the case, if we are inherently awakened, why don't I act that way? Why don't other people act that way. So there's this gap opens up between our faith and our doubt. You could call it a kind of creative tension actually. Because it is very creative. It's it, it gives birth, this tension gives birth to our great determination. It grows out of this tension and determination to close the gap to to know for ourselves in our bodies, what the truth is.
So the faith and the doubt, really, are all of a piece and they give birth to the determination, which is what powers sesshin everybody here is determined to open up open their minds. See the nature of things?
Continue with a dialogue between Maureen and Lenore Friedman, she asks this is in response to Maureen saying it's a matter of questioning what are we really doing? Or are we just sitting here? She says the law says how can I do that without a teacher? By myself? Maureen replies, Mu after Mu after move after Mu. With your whole being, this is not a technique, it is a way of life. Lenore? Don't I have to test that? Ask? am I planning this is my MO dot.no. Don't ask that don't ask, Do it. Do and see what happens. And when doubt comes up, about my capacity, it has nothing to do with your capacity, nothing at all. Your Capacity is your capacity. And you use this capacity in all kinds of relative situations in your life. But this practice has to do with absolute reality, not relative reality. So it has nothing to do with whether you are good, bad or indifferent. In this respect, it has to do with plumbing the depths of this reality, Mu reality God reality, Buddha Nature reality. And that's in everybody. No matter what you can do physically, mentally, whatever it is. Your spiritual reality is something else. It's in everybody pure and unadorned. And we hang a lot of stuff on it. So what is this? What is this? Why have I clouded it up so much? How do I unclouded by being absolutely honest, as you are doing and saying, Let me strip down to my bare bones and see what's there. There is something wonderful there when you stripped down to bare bones. So I think this is very encouraging to hear that it's nothing to do with our capacity. So many of us come with, with strong, negative judgments of our capacity or our worthiness. We we think we're no good, we call ourselves stupid or worthless. And, and we, we doubt ourselves and our abilities to, to do this work. But it's nothing to do with our capacity it's it's just not in the picture. It's, it's not applicable
Maureen Morini goes on to relate about one of her students. One young woman came to me with this dream, she said, I dreamed that you gave me a beautiful pair of shoes, and a photograph album, The album had pictures of me and all of them. In all of them, I was naked, wonderful, just shoes and naked. to wonder if these shoes were the practice in a sense how to walk, how to meet the world. But at the same time to meet it without any of our usual defenses or, or ways of, of concealing ourselves.
She says so it really is to not be afraid of our weaknesses, our delusions, illusions, whatever they are, we all have them. So to have this ultimate bottom realisation, that there is something else there. I think in some curious way, I always had that feeling without making any big bones about it. Whatever is going on around me if it was extremely difficult or painful, or too much was, and there was a lot of that in my life. I always felt that there was some quiet inner place where everything was all right. Just get there just sit down and take a deep breath. And a little bit later, in the same conversation. She talks about working with Mu.
A little introduction from Illinois Friedman. When instructing new people in Zen, Maureen stresses a feeling of firmness of feeling rooted to the ground. This is a practice on this earth, not out in space somewhere. You're right here on this wonderful planet, your knees are solidly planted on the ground. From there, you grow your spine, like the stem of a flower, your head like a blossom on top of it, and everything in wonderful clear alignment. Then you regulate your breath. Let it fill you up, let it slowly out, then let your breath breathe you then let your posture do its exist version of this. And that changes from day to day, minute to minute. And it should if we remain some static form, that's not what it's about. She talks about regulating your breath. We just usually instruct there may be the first two or three breaths when you sit down. You can make sure they're long and slow but that after that is just letting your breath breathe you in other words breathing however it comes not not trying to control the breath in any way. And it's hard to emphasize enough the importance of posture in in allowing us to do this to search with stability with three points of contact with them with the mat or the floor or to the floor and the seat to have a straight spine that helps with alertness and an open chest. So that one is receptive. A soft posture that's not very tense in one way or the other area, but again received receptive and open
you know, goes on to ask some questions, some questions about Mu Lenovo, do you keep the koan in your mind? Maureen? The koan is filling up your whole body, Lenovo, and the original question does a dog have the bun nature? Maureen? That has nothing to do with it. In each koan, there are important words Mu and Buddha nature, that's what Mu is Buddha nature. So you are becoming filled up completely becoming Mu. You are it, but you are coming to realize it. Not thinking what is Mu what is Mu? No. Got it, Lenore? Well, as much as I got it, I got it. That's this is the kind of the paradox of working with cars. We don't We haven't got it, and yet we've got it
back to the subtle sound
we'll just reread this passage a little bit. There is pain and weariness. There are many doubts and questions. But this is a practice of body and mind coming together. It's not just sitting and thinking, but being dynamically aware, syncing with our entire bodies. We let the breath go into all the places in us that hurt, not just the physical wounds, but all the wounds of our life. The breath enters tenderly, warmly healing Lee, as as in posture is a posture of healing, it is open and alert, the healing breath moves freely freely through us.
important reminders here the breath enters tenderly, warmly healing Lee we can in our grasping at something we can tense up in different parts of the body. And this will just result in not being able to sustain the practice. So to soften always, to
dance with Mu, or whatever our practices rather than trying to sort of wrestle with it, which can be a habit. The word meditation comes from the Latin, medi Tara, which is the passive form of the verb, meaning being moved to the center. It is not the act of form which is moving to the center, we are being moved to the center, the center is our own essence, sitting after setting, letting go, letting everything go we become more aware of our own personal center, we become more rooted in it. The simple act of sitting absolutely still letting everything drop off has far reaching effects. I think here I have something that mathematician Nicholas of Cuza said God is a circle whose center is everywhere where and circumference is nowhere. God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere. We are We are each of us at the very center of our universe.
This this statement this sort of You could say a mystical statement. It has been followed in recent years by strikingly similar discoveries in cosmology.
The same radio again from Journey of the universe by Thomas swim and Miss Mary, Evelyn tugu. A surprising development in the second half of the 20th century has led to an entirely new understanding of center, the word center. This understanding goes against common sense, and is a challenge to absorb fully, for what we have come to realize is that there is not one center but millions. Each Supercluster of galaxies is at the very center of the expansion of the universe. We live in a multi centered universe and are only now awakening to this new discovery. For instance, our Milky Way galaxy is one of a several dozen galaxies revolving around each other. This system as a whole is moving around the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. There are also other groups revolving about the Virgo cluster, and this entire system is called the Virgo Supercluster. We can picture this as something like planets swirling around a central star, where the planets are individual galaxy clusters and the central star is the massive Virgo cluster. What we have learned is that this Virgo Supercluster is at the very center of the cosmic expansion. What is striking and counter intuitive is that the other superclusters throughout the universal are also at the center of the cosmic expansion. To visualize this picture, the universe is a loaf of raisin Red Rising, where each raisin is a Super Cluster of galaxies. As the loaf grows larger, and we imagine ourselves on one of the reasons, we would see all the other reasons moving away from us, we would also conclude that we are not moving because we would not be moving through the bread, it would not matter which reason we chose. Such is the nature of the large scale universe. In terms of the expansion, each supercluster is stationary, while all the other superclusters are expanding away from it. This staggering new perspective is causing a massive shift in our understanding of how we imagine our own place our own home, we realize that we dwell in one center in a universe that is composed of millions of such centers. While this is difficult to comprehend, we are learning nonetheless to orient ourselves with wonder and or in the midst of these amenities. I think of what we're told the Buddha said on his birth in Labine gardens, above the heavens below the heavens, I am the only one each of us is actually the only one each of us is at the center of the universe. But so is every other being every other galaxy.
Back to slow, subtle sound, and sitting still.
sitting still is not what some of us may have imagined spiritual practice to be. We may think that it involves something more impressive, but those of us who do it, those of us who are prisoned at this moment, know that this is it. Sitting absolutely still. Body and mind are not separate. Our state of mind at any given moment becomes clearer in this condition of being present, completely present. And it is great. And there is great healing power in this
Get off the mat to, to be completely present. Sometimes people are not sure what that means. But it's perhaps easier to understand by what it isn't. So often when we were doing something we're already thinking about where we we need to be next, or what we're going to do after or where we're going to go. But just to be completely present with the moment we're in. So putting on our robe, we're just putting on our robe, we're not thinking about how we should be in the Zendo right now. Or eating something we're just eating, we're not thinking about some other meal, which was better or worse, different.
Of course, we have pain. The true taste of Zen really cannot be understood unless we have some pain. So we do not resist that pain, we invite it in. And we find that it's not so bad. We don't move against it, we don't struggle with it. Rather, we simply breathe into it and discover what it can do to change our condition. We see what happens when we pay attention to it. We learned that this the simple act of an attention is in itself transformative. Thing shifts things shift when we attend to them.
I often ask students, why did you come to sit? What is your reason? Do you have a reason? We could say what what is our deepest longing? And we asked this question because our motives shape our experience. And to be be clear about what our motives are can can help us get through the difficult times in our practice times where we might be ready to give up? What happened in your life that brought you to the cushion? Why are you here? And most people say they came because they wanted to have some peace of mind. As we sit there is some temporary peacefulness of course. But what we want to come to is a condition of mind that takes us through all the circumstances of our life, no matter how difficult they are, no matter what happens there is this quiet, truly peaceful space within. And unless we endure some pain, some weariness, we cannot really taste this. Without our practice may never go really deep. Please don't misunderstand. This doesn't mean we should inflict, inflict anything on ourselves. We don't need to we don't need to inflict anything on ourselves because there's plenty of pain already within the human condition and sooner or later. It'll, it'll be something that we experience whether it's sickness, the pain and loss of old age. Death Of course of of people we love of ourselves, losses of all kinds, separation from our loved ones, or having to put up with people we don't like. There are numerous kinds of pain that we will experience sooner or later.
But we also don't, don't shy away from the pain. It simply means that if pain comes, we let it come and we let it be our teacher. Thus even illness can be a wonderful teacher for us.
pain and joy samsara and nirvana are not separate. Delusion and enlightenment are not separate. Even the words separate or together are not separate. There was a Zen master named Jizo. Who decided to live alone on a little farm. There he continued his practice setting as much as he wanted to working as much as he wanted to. He lived in a tiny hut, set and worked. One day for traveling monks stopped for a visit. They didn't know who was living there, but they thought they would investigate. Jizo, ask them in and gave them whatever hospitality he could. He apologized that his heart was too small to hold them all. But he built a nice fire outdoors so that they could sit around it and be comfortable, eat and relax. When they were finished with a meal and had rested a while, he inquired, it appears that you as in monks, in your practice, do you consider yourself and this field the stone, this hut, separate or non separate? The monks didn't realize that they were talking to a master. They thought that this was some old farmer sitting there in his heart. One of them named shoes on answered impatiently, they're separate. Everybody knows that. She's only held up two fingers and quietly said, I have read a little bit about Buddhism. And according to my understanding, the Buddha's teaching is that self and others are not separate. Shoes on Hurley said, Oh, yes, of course. There's no separation. Of course everybody knows that being one between oneself and one's surroundings. There is no separation. Quite right, quite right. And again, Jizo held up two fingers. And so one part of your mind is saying there is differentiation. And the other part is saying that there is oneness. What about this, she was on laughed nervously and said to his friends, let's get out of here. He did not think that this ordinary own old farmer had anything to teach him. We often miss a great opportunity. So many things are teaching us all the time. The words printed on the label of a tea bag can teach us but too often we think I want a famous, wonderful, illustrious teacher to give some great lineage from some great lineage to teach me, I must find such a person
these monks, these four monks set off to train in, in southern China, where Buddhism was, was popular and strong at that time. But on the journey shoes on, couldn't stop thinking about the question that Jesus had Pope proposed to him, he felt a little guilty. And he kept on dismissing his thoughts about it, but they would the question would have to return are things really separate? Or are they one? What is the split in my mind? What kind of Zen student am I? As he pondered these questions, he began to practice very sincerely, there was a lot going on around him, but he continued to practice in his own way, just as each of us must do, we are always surrounded by many activities, many books, there are always interesting lectures to go to, but fundamentally at bottom, we must find out for ourselves. This was a book was written in pre internet age, and if the always books and lectures at the time this was written, just add in here now that the number of blogs and podcasts we can access the whole whole world of teachings online, endless, endless supply, that they'll only take us just so far. In the end, we have to find out for ourselves. We have to do the work. Then one day, she was on returned to this old farmer who was no longer in his overalls, but instead switch to wearing his robes. This time Jesus asked us on where have you come from? In so many Zen stories, this question is asked, what is the real question being posed? Where have you come from? What was your face before your parents were born? Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you here? What is your aspiration What is your deepest longing as most of us would do shoes and gave a literal answer, I have come from the self. Jizo asked how is the Buddha Dharma in the South? Shoes on told him about all the many discussions and the popularity popularity of Mondo Zen Question and Answer dialogues in the south, the flourishing life there. Jesus was unimpressed Is that so? It doesn't seem as good as what we're doing here. What do you do here she's on acquired, we cut down trees and cultivate the fields. What do we do and as ours and we cut down the forest of our delusions, and cultivate the fields of our true nature, sitting quietly we are cutting off digging, cultivating the Buddha fields. This Buddha Dharma is deeply rooted in our ordinary everyday activities. Lofty discussions missed the mark. In this practice, we engage in our life work completely and fully reaching our essential being and then expressing it wherever we are.
We can never come to a standstill on this path, we are always moving on letting ourselves be moved on by the Buddha Dharma engage in our life work completely and fully. This certainly is completely applicable in OSI Shane, to, in the work period, engage fully with whatever we're doing, whatever our task is, just quietly doing it with with our whole being not not doing it impatiently so that we can get back to the real world.
So how is the Buddha Dharma here in the Zendo today what is our practice right here right now. It is always different it is living, moving, changing, always open, no static condition, simple and straightforward, naturally harmonious and end it is a feeling of deep friendliness. This is this is an important aspect of monitor monitoring what we're doing, we come into this practice with this friendliness, this metta, loving kindness
just to relate to the practice with the spirit
whatever habits we have in terms of how we relate to the other will manifest in our relationship with the practice the breath or the con shikantaza.
All the ways that we maneuver and and
struggle with relationships, this will also come forth in our relationship to the practice. That's why it's so valuable to to come to grips with these things that get in between us and real intimacy.
This is the Buddha Dharma today in this room, a deep wonderful connection with one another. We don't need to say a word but we feel it. We do not need to smile at one another. We feel one one another's bodies smiling to each other. But to smile at the border and each in us in in each other is not a bad idea. When you're sitting Every so often smile at the border in us. We do not need to be grown. This is a joyful practice. Coming through pain coming through weariness, we experience wonderful joy in sushi and we don't engage in social niceties of, of making eye contact or smiling at each other or saying thank you, because the whole structure the whole atmosphere is is one of gratitude of appreciation for each other's efforts. But Warren Stewart's suggestion that we smile at the border occasionally may be very helpful. There's a lot of research been done about the relationship between smiling and in mood. And we can we can do quite a lot of time spent a lot of time frowning, puzzling.
To smile at the Buddha in us to smile at our, our true nature that can't be taken away from us.
One with Buddha. One with dharma. One was Sangha.
These simple quiet activities, just sitting, just walking, just eating, just cleaning are helping us to find a vital way of living a way to face things fearlessly directly from our essential being. Today we are looking at everything as if for the first time we take no fixed positions. We let our opinions fall away. There is no inner voice insisting this is the way I have to do it. We are willing to find a new way to do it a new way to look at it a new way to open up this beginner's mind. We are giving ourselves entirely to each moment. Just as we are rooted on our cushions rooted in the earth. Sitting on our cushions by our own effort. We feel the wonderful support and encouragement of all others present. What an extraordinary practice we have together self and other not separate in breath. out breath receiving, giving just this the stop here and recite the four vows