January 2022 Sesshin, Day 3: "Everyday Zen: Love and Work" by Charlotte Joko Beck
8:56PM Jan 18, 2022
This is the third day of this January 2022 seven-day Rohatusu sesshin. And we're going to spend one more day with Charlotte Joko Beck. I'm going to start from a different book here initially. It's the first book that was published of her talks. And it's entitled Everyday Zen.
And the selection we're going to look at here is entitled The fire of attention.
Back in the 1920s, when I was maybe eight or 10 years old, and living in New Jersey, where the winters are cold. We had a furnace in our house that burned coal. There's a big event on the block when the coal truck rolled up. And all this stuff poured down the coal chute into the Columbian you know, here at Arnold Park, when we first took over the house in 1968, I guess there was a cold being down in the basement, down where the men's changing room is in the furnace room. And one of the first things we did was to clear out all that coal, and then that was one of the one of the bedrooms for the people who were in training during that first training program. Definitely show your age when you're familiar with coal to heat a house.
She knows more about coal than I did. She says I learned that there were two kinds of coal that showed up in the coal bin. One was called anthracite, or hard coal, and the other was lignite soft coal. My father told me about the difference in the way those two kinds of coal burned. anthracite burns cleanly leaving little hash. lignite leaves lots of ash. We burned lignite, the seller became covered with soot. And some of it got upstairs into the living room. Mother had something to say about that I remember. At night, my father would bank the fire. And I learned to do this to baking the fire means covering it with a thin layer of coal, and then shutting down the event to the furnace, so that the fire stays in a slow burning state. Overnight, the house becomes cold. And so in the morning, the fire must be stirred up, and the vent opened, then the furnace can heat up the house. What does all this have to do with our practice? Practice is about breaking our exclusive identification with ourselves. Very good way to put it with every method that people use, whether it's working on a koan, doing shikantaza. Working with the breath
always we look to leave the self behind. And just in the process of doing the practice whole art wholeheartedly. We break our exclusive identification with ourselves. She says this process has sometimes been called purifying the mind. To purify the mind doesn't mean that you become a holy or other than you are. It means to strip away that which keeps a person or a furnace from functioning best.
The furnace functions best with hard coal. But unfortunately, what we're full of is soft coal. There's a saying in the Bible. He is like a refiners fire. It's a common analogy found in other religions as well. Because when you're refining metals, you need an extremely hot fire. To sit through, so Sheen is to be in the middle of a refining fire. You know, Roshi once said, This Zendo is not a peaceful haven, but a furnace room for the combustion of our egoistic delusions. Zendo is not a place for bliss and relaxation, but a furnace room for the combustion of our egoistic delusions. What tools do we need to use? Only one, we've all heard of it. Yet we use it very seldom. It's called attention
tensions sometimes awareness. Presence. She says attention is the cutting burning sword. And our practice is to use that sword as much as we can. None of us is very willing to use it. But when we do, even for a few minutes, some cutting and burning takes place. All practice aims to increase our ability to be attentive, not just in Zen, but in every moment of our life. Think as everyone knows, this is a very important point, what we're not doing is simply developing the skill of Zen. We're transforming our lives. And for that to truly happen, the practice we do on the mat has to be extended into everything we do. No one wants to do this. There's always resistance, sit for a while and then take a break. Member somebody who went to their first session. And I was really impressed that they got through it so well. But I found out that after it was over, they stayed up all night playing video games
are the things you can find in practices, there is that sort of rebound effect. We don't want to work as hard as we do. And when we think we can stop, then we go in the other direction. What we're looking for is a consistent, consistent practice that reflects what we value. Not easy to do.
She goes on. As we sit, we grasp that our conceptual thought process is a fantasy. And the more we grasp this, the more ability to pay attention to reality increases. One of the great Chinese masters won both said, if you can only rid yourselves of conceptual thought, you will have accomplished everything. But if you students of the way do not rid yourselves of conceptual thought in a flash, even though you strive for eon after eon, you will never accomplish it. We rid ourselves of conceptual thought, when by persistent observation, we recognize the unreality of our self centered thoughts, then we can remain dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected by them. This does not mean to be a cold person. Rather, it means not to be caught and dragged around by circumstances. It's easy to try to attempt to get beyond thought by becoming rigid and cold. That story of a monk who practice as a hermit and there was an old lady who provided him with the with the Hermitage and fed him. And one day she decided to test his practice. And so she sent her daughter to him with instructions. The daughter brought him his food as usual, and then embraced him and said, How does this make you feel? I can't remember exactly what he said. But say like a cold, withered stump. The daughter went and reported back to her mother, who then came and drove the monk out with a broom and burned the Hermitage down.
We remain human beings. Ideally, the practice of Zen makes us more real more who we are. We're not continually hiding behind masks and defenses. Come out and meet life head on. Joko says most of us are not much like this. As soon as we get into our workday, we discover we're not at all calm. We Have many emotional opinions and judgments about everything, or feelings are easily hurt. We are by no means dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected. So it's extremely important to remember that the main purpose of doing so Sheen is this burning out of thoughts by the fire of attention, so that our lives can be dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected by outward circumstances. I don't think there's anyone here of whom that is wholly true. Yet our practice is to do that. If we truly accomplished this burning out of attachments, there would be no need to sit. But I don't think anyone can say that. We need an adequate daily period of Zen in which we attend to what's going on in our minds and bodies. If we don't sit regularly, then we can't comprehend that how we wash our car, or how we deal with our supervisor is absolutely our practice. Master Rinzai said we cannot solve past karma except in relationship to circumstances. When it is time to dress, let us put on our clothes. When we should take a walk, let us walk do not have a single thought in mind about searching for Buddhahood. So someone once asked me, Joko, do you think you're ever going to achieve great and final enlightenment? I replied, I hope a thought like that would never occur to me.
So easy to get our desire to accomplish something to interrupt true practice. This is not a practice of getting the practice of dropping.
Just another thought. If you start thinking about coming to realization, you know, you're still in the foothills. Remember, the Enlightenment account of Roshi Kapleau. In the three pillars of Zen mentions once or twice thoughts of Kensho leaped up, and he cut them down to the sort of Mu important thing is to drop them.
She says there is no special time or place for great realization. And here she's talking about something more than Kensho. As Master Hongbo said, no account make a distinction between the absolute and the sentient world. It's nothing more she goes on. It's nothing more than parking your car, putting on your clothes, taking a walk. But if soft coal is what we're burning, we're not going to realize that. soft coal simply means that the burning of our life is not clean. We are unable to burn up each circumstances we encounter it. And the culprit is always our emotional attachment to the circumstance. For example, perhaps your boss asks you to do something unreasonable. At that moment, what is the difference between burning soft coal and hard coal? Or suppose we're looking for employment, but the only work we can find is something we dislike or a child gets into trouble at school. In dealing with those what is the difference between soft coal and hard coal? If there isn't some comprehension of the difference, or wasting our hours and sesshin most of us are here chasing after Buddha hood. He had Buddhahood is how you deal with your boss or your child, your lover or your partner, whoever our life is always absolute. That's all there is.
Truth is not somewhere else. But we have minds that are trying to burn the past or the future. The Living present Buddhahood is rarely encountered. When the fire in the furnace is banked and you want a brightly burning fire, what do you do? You increase the air intake We are fires too. And when the mind quiets down, we can breathe more deeply and the oxygen intake goes up, we burn with a cleaner flame, and our action comes out of that flame. Instead of instead of trying to figure out in our minds what action to take, we only need to purify the base of ourselves, the action will flow out of that the mind quiets down, because we observe it, instead of getting lost in it. We see the thoughts instead of chasing after them.
She says, then the breathing deepens. And when the fire really burns, there's nothing it can't consume. When the fire gets hot enough, there is no self, because now the fire is consuming everything. There is no separation between self and other. And this is what we call Samadhi.
She says we don't like to think of ourselves as just physical beings. Yet the whole transformation of sitting is physical. It's not some miraculous thing that happens in our head. When we burn soft coal, we are misusing our minds, so that they're constantly clogged with fantasies, opinions, desires, speculations, analysis, and we try to find right action out of that bog. When something goes wrong in our life, what do we do? We sit down, try to figure it out, mull over it speculate about it. That doesn't work. What does work is noticing our mental aberrations, which are not true thinking, we see our emotional thoughts. Yeah, I really can't stand her she's a terrible person. We just notice notice, notice that as the mind and body quiet down, and the fire burns brighter, out of that will come real thinking and the ability to make adequate decisions. The creative spark of any art is also born in that fire.
Many people have the pattern of not trusting their decisions and willing to go with their gut, have to think things through over and over again. second guess themselves. Worry about it.
Other people are often wrong but never uncertain. Obviously, we do have to think about things that are intricate. And we have to make a decision one way or another. But if we're not in touch with this moment, for not integrated into the body, for up in our head, chances of hitting on the right actions go down. And she says we want to think we want to speculate. We want to fantasize, we want to figure it all out. We want to know the secrets of the universe. When we do all that the fire stays banked. It's not getting any oxygen. Then we wonder why we're sick mentally and physically. Burning is so clogged, there's nothing but debris coming off. That debris doesn't just dirty us dirty is everything. So it's important to sit every day. Otherwise, the understanding of the burning process gets so dim and cloudy, that the fire stayed banked. We have to sit every day, even 10 minutes is better than not sitting at all. So really important point to keep in mind when circumstances are such that you don't have time to sit as you normally do. It makes a huge difference. If you just get your butt on the mat. Even if it's only for five minutes. It's way different than never stopping. And of course there are so many opportunities in life where we're sitting in a car at a stoplight or have a moment in the office where we can turn back. Experience the mind and the body
back to the practice. She says so Sheen's are also essential for serious students. Daily sitting may keep a low grade fire burning, but usually it doesn't burst into a full Blaze. Let's just continue with sesshin. There's nothing you won't face before you're done with it. Rage, jealousy, bliss, boredom. Watch yourself as you claim to feeling sorry for yourself as you claim to your problems, as you claim to your, the awful state of your life. Say as you shrink from your fear and anxiety, you worry about your performance. All of that says that's your drama. The truth is, we like our drama very much. People tell me they want to be free of their troubles. But when we steward our own juices, we can maintain ourselves as the artificial center of the universe. We love our drama. We'd like to complain and agonize and moan isn't a terrible, I'm so lonely. Nobody loves me. We enjoy our soft coal. But the messiness of that incomplete burning can be tragic for me and for you. So let's practice well.
I'm going to turn now back to her second book, nothing special. And this is a section entitled The icy couch. She says in experiencing we lose our seemingly dual relationship to other people and things that is in directly experiencing which is ICU, I comment on you I have thoughts about you or myself or whatever. dual relationship is not hard to talk about, but non dual relationship. Experiencing. As Roshi likes to say directly experiencing is harder to describe. I want to consider how we get away from living a life that's experiential, how we fall out of the Garden of Eden Eden.
When you see little children, so much of what you see is direct experiencing. It's always sort of poignant. As they begin to individuated begin to see the difference between themselves and mom and dad. Actually had one of my grandchildren sitting at the table all of a sudden, per cup and point mommy, daddy Isabel here adores
every human being while growing up, decides what he or she that he or she needs a strategy. Because we cannot grow up without meeting opposition from what we might call the non self, which is seemingly external to us. Often we meet apparent opposition from our parents, friends and relatives and others. Sometimes, the apparent opposition is severe. Sometimes it's fairly mild, but no one grows up without developing a strategy to deal with it. Of course, that strategy doesn't grow up because we consciously decide this is what I'm going to do. When I'm faced with stress and opposition. We react and it becomes a pattern non conscious pattern of dealing with stress and everybody has one. She says we may decide that our best option for pleasant survival is to be a conforming nice person. If that doesn't seem to work, we may learn to attack others before they can get at us or we may withdraw. So there are three major strategies for coping, conforming to please attacking or withdrawing. Everyone in some way employs one or another of these strategies. And sometimes we use more than one. In order to maintain our strategy we have to think so the growing child relies more and more on thinking to elaborate that strategy. Any situation or person encountered begins to be evaluated from the standpoint of the chosen strategy. Eventually we approached the whole world as if it were on trial, asking Will that individual or event hurt me or not? Even though we may do it with a social smiling face, we ask that question of everything we meet. If you don't see this in yourself, then you haven't looked so hard to see people cleanly and clearly, without that filter without that secondary consideration of whether they're a threat, or perhaps they're going to give us what we want. Either way. She says, eventually, we perfect our strategy so that we no longer know it consciously. It's now in the body. For example, suppose we develop a strategy of withdrawing. When we meet with anything or anybody, we tighten the body, the responses habitual, we may tighten our shoulders, our face, our stomach, or some other part of the body. The particular style is unique to each person. And we don't even know we're doing it because once the contraction is established, it is in every cell of our body. We don't have to know about it, it's just there. Although the response is unconscious, it makes our life unpleasant. Because it is a withdrawal from life and a separation from it. That contraction is painful.
Process of course, is even more dramatic if we suffer abuse when we're young. Sometimes our difficulties are mild. Sometimes they're traumatic. She says everybody has it. Even when we think we're relatively happy, we may be able to detect a mild tension throughout the body. It's nothing spectacular and maybe very mild. When everything is going our way, we don't feel bad. If the mild contraction never ceases. It's always there with every person on earth.
Children learn how to elaborate their strategies, incorporating everything that happens to them into the framework of their personal systems. Our perceptions become selective, incorporating those events that fit our system, and screening out events that don't fit. Because the system is supposed to keep us safe and secure. We're not interested in having it weakened by contradictory information. By the time we reach adulthood, the system is ourselves. It's what we call the ego. We live our live life from it, trying to find people situations jobs, that will confirm our strategy, and avoid those that threaten it. But such maneuvers are never completely satisfactory. Because as long as we live, we can never quite know what will happen next. Even if we get the most get most of our life under control. We never know how to achieve this totally. And we know that we don't. So there's always an element of fear. It has to be there. It's always that flicker of anxiety, every living being. Not knowing what to do. The average person seeks everywhere for an answer. We have a problem. And we don't really know what it is. Life becomes for us the promise that is never kept. Because the answer eludes us. That's why we may start to practice. Only a few lucky people on the planet begin to see what needs to be done to recover the Garden of Eden are genuinely genuine, functioning self. Perhaps we get a new partner who's just wonderful, particularly in relationships, delusion reigns supreme, that we marry or live with him or her. And whoops. If we're practicing this whoops can be immensely interesting and instructive. If we're not practicing, we may trade that partner in and look around for a new one. It seems as if the promise has not been kept kept. Or we start a new job or a new endeavor. At first, it's fine but then we begin to see some harsh realities and the disillusion begins to set in. If we're living out of our strategy, nothing seems to work. Because phenomenal life by definition, is a promise that is never kept. If we fulfill a desire, we're happy for a brief moment. But the nature of fulfilling one desire is immediately to find another one and another one and another one. There is no way of being free from that pressure or stress. We can't settle. We find no peace.
All sorts of studies have been done of people who inherit a bunch of money or get a great job or get the new house that they always wanted. And if you go and check back with them, six months later, their level of happiness is no higher than it was before. Everything becomes routine. What next, always looking for more.
As we said, the endless spinning in our heads reveals to us our strategy is the strategy itself, that generates the buzzing thoughts. Only one thing in our life is not caught by this strategy. And that's the physical organic life of the body. Of course, the body is taking punishment, because it reflects our self centeredness, the body has to obey the mind. So if the mind is saying that the world is a terrible place, or we could say, a dangerous place, lonely place, the body says, Oh, I'm so depressed. The minute the images appear, thinking, fantasizing, hoping the body has to respond. It has a chronic response. And at times that response exacerbates into depression or illness.
The main teacher I've had all my life has been a book, it may be the best book on Zen ever written. However, it's a translation from French. And the writing is unwieldy with sentences that are whole paragraphs. After reading one of those sentences, you may ask yourself in puzzlement, what did he say? So it's a difficult book. And I can attest to that, I find it impossible. So it's a difficult book. Still, it's the best explanation of the human problem that I've ever found. I studied it at one time for 10 or 15 years, I have a copy of that looks like it's been through the washing machine. The book is the supreme doctrine that you bear Benoit, a French psychiatrist who was in a severe accident that left him almost completely helpless for years. All he could do was just lie there. The human problem was his all consuming interest. So use those years of recovery, to thoroughly delve into it. That was term for the emotional contraction, arising from our efforts to protect ourselves is spasm. He calls the ceaseless chatter of our internal dialogue, the imaginary film that is our endless thought stream. The turning point for him comes when he realizes, quote, that this spasm, which I have called abnormal, is on the road that leads to Satori. That is to enlightenment. One can indeed say that what should be perceived under the imaginary film that is behind all our thoughts, is a certain profound sensation of cramp have a paralyzing grip, of immobilizing cold, and that it is on this hard couch, immobile and cold, that our attention should remain fixed, as though we tranquilly stretched out our body on a hard but friendly rock that was exactly molded to our form. What Benoit Bin was saying is that when we rest at peace with our pain, this repose is the gateless gate. So the last place we want to be, it's not pleasant, and our whole strategic drive is for pleasantness. No, we want somebody to comfort us, save us and give us peace. Our ceaseless thinking, planning and plotting is always about this. Only when we stay with what is beneath the imaginary film and rest there, do we begin to have a clue? The way I usually explain it is instead of remaining with our thoughts, we see them we let them settle down a little bit. And then we do our best to stay with that which really is the non duality. That is the sensation of our life at this very moment.
Our oneness with the body, with the koan, with the breath that goes against everything we want. Everything our culture teaches us, but it is the only real solution. The only gate to peace As we settle into our sensation of pain, we find it so appalling that we skitter off again, the minute we land in the sensation of discomfort, we spin back again into the imaginary film. We simply don't want to be in the reality of what we are. That's human, neither good nor bad. And it takes years of patient practice to begin to touch this reality more and more, becoming comfortable in resting there, until finally has been washed says, it's just a hard and friendly rock that is molded to us, and where we can finally rest and be a piece. Sure everyone is notice this veering away from anything that's unpleasant. So hard to do what we value when we're so accustomed to just avoid pain and seek pleasure. But as she points out, it's here that we can finally rest and be at peace. She says, sometimes we can rest for a short time, because we are so habituated, we soon go back into the same old mental stuff. And so we go through the process again and again, over time, is that ceaseless process that brings us to peace. If it's complete, it can be called Satori, or enlightenment.
The imaginary film genuinely generates the spasm. And the spasm generates the imaginary film. That is we go from thought to reaction. And then the reaction triggers thought. It's a ceaseless cycle. And it's only broken when we have when we have become willing to rest in our pain. The ability to do this means we have become somewhat disillusioned, no longer hoping that our thoughts and feelings will be a solution to anything. As long as we hold out hope that the promise will be kept. We're not going to rest in the painful body sensations. It's not that we have to go seeking them out. It's just that we have to stop running away from them. So when we spin off, spin out of what is we get into trouble.
Takes a long time. To begin to see this begin to feel it. To notice how when we open up, drop the defenses stop skittering away, suddenly everything settles. We're whole we're complete. We're here we're in the room are occupying our own body. The more we feel it, the more confirming it is. But the gate is painful. It's not where we naturally want to go. As Joko is pointing out. She says. So there are two parts of practice. One is endless disappointment. Everything in our life that disappoints us is a kind of friend. And we're all being disappointed in some way or other. If we're not disappointed. We never were out our desire to think and re establish ourselves at the top of the heap with victory. Nobody wins in the end, nobody is going to survive. But that's still our drive our system. You can only be worn out by years of sitting and by life. That's why our practice and our life have to be the same thing. We can't just go to sesshin and then let everything slide in between true there are times of greater intensity and times of less but always be have the ability the opportunity to open
find our feet on the ground
skipping ahead, she says. So there's nothing in life but opportunity. Nothing. That includes anything we can think of. Until we are disillusioned about the imaginary film that we spend endlessly. We hardly open our eyes in the morning before it begins. We won't stay with the cramp will spin more and more. I suppose that is what is meant by the Wheel of Karma. Now I'm Not asking anyone to adopt this description as some sort of belief system. The only way we know the reality of such practices by doing it eventually for a few people, sometimes intermittently. But finally, most of the time, there is what Christians call the peace that passeth all understanding. It has often helped me in difficult times to think of that cold immobile couch, and instead of fighting and struggling, just to be willing to rest on it. Over time we find the couch is the only place that is peaceful, the source of clear action. And we can call it things as they are.
As a Dharma talk, this sounds forbidding it the people who endlessly practice are the ones who are enjoying life. This is the gateless gate to joy. People who understand and have the courage to do this are the ones who eventually know what joy is. I'm not talking about endless happiness. There's no such thing, but joy.
Okay, that's a good place to stop. So we'll stop now, and recite the four vows