November 2021 Sesshin, Day 3: Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck
7:36PM Nov 16, 2021
This is day three of this November 2021 seven day sesshin. And I'm going to be starting taking up a new book to read from today. It's entitled Everyday Zen Love and Work by Charlotte Joko Beck. It's basically transcriptions of talks that she gave.
And for people who don't know who she is, just briefly, she was born in 1917 and died in 2011. So just a few years behind Roshi Kapleau. And like Roshi, she worked with Yasutani Roshi among others. But all from all here in America. Here's the brief description in the book. Joko Beck is an American Zen original. Born in New Jersey, educated in public schools and at Oberlin Conservatory of Music gioco then Charlotte, married and began to raise a family. When the marriage dissolved, she supported herself and her four children as a teacher, secretary, and later as an administrative assistant in a large university department. Not until well into her 40s did Joko begin the practice of Zen. Of course, that's when Zen first really started to blossom here in America - been in either the late 50s or early 60s - began to practice the practice of Zen with Maezumi Roshi, then sensei of Los Angeles, and later with Yasutani Roshi and Soen Roshi. That's Soen Nakagawa. For years, she commuted regularly from San Diego to the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Her natural aptitude and persistent diligence enabled her to progress steadily, and she found herself increasingly drawn into teaching, as other students recognized her maturity, clarity and compassion. Joko was eventually designated Maezumi Roshi's third Dharma heir. And in 1983, she moved to the Zen Center of San Diego, where she now lives and teaches.
I'm going to be reading, starting with a section entitled The price of practice. See, I read from this about 13 years ago in Madison. Anybody in Madison remembers what I said, Forgive me if I repeat myself. When we find our life unpleasant or unfulfilling, we try to escape the unpleasantness by various subtle escape mechanisms. In such attempts, we're dealing with our lives as this there is if there is me, and then there's life outside me. As long as we approach our lives in this way, we will bend all of our efforts to finding something or somebody, somebody else to handle our lives for us. We may look for a lover, a teacher, a religion, a center, something or somebody somewhere to handle our difficulties for us. As long as we see our lives in this dualistic fashion, we will fool ourselves and believe that we need not pay any price for our realized life. All of us share this delusion to varying degrees, and it leads only to misery in our lives.
It's natural, we don't want practice to be hard. But it is. It's the nature the nature of working on ourselves. But I'll let her expand on it. As our practice precedes, the delusion comes under attack and slowly we begin to sense horror of horrors than we must pay the price of freedom. No one but ourselves can ever pay it for us. When I realized that truth It was one of the strong shocks of my lifetime. I finally understood one day that only I can pay the price of realization. No one, no one at all can do this for me. Until we understand that hard truth, we will continue to resist practice. And even after we see it, our resistance will continue, though not as much. It is hard to maintain the knowledge and its full power. Reminds me of one of the sayings and a we tried to find an easier softer way, but we could not.
What are some of the ways in which we evade paying the price? The chief one is our constant unwillingness to bear our own suffering. We think we can evade it, or ignore it, or think it away or persuade someone else to remove it for us. We feel that we are entitled not not we are entitled not to feel the pain of our lives. We fervently hope and scheme for someone else, or husband or wife or lover or child to handle our pain for us. Such resistance undermines our practice. I won't sit this morning, I just don't feel like it. I'm not going to do sushi and I don't like what comes up. I won't hold my tongue when I'm angry. Why should I waver in our integrity when it is painful to maintain it. We give up on a relationship that no longer fulfills our dreams. Underneath all these evasions is the belief that others should serve us. Others should clean up the messes we make.
One of the antidotes to our reluctance to do what we know we need to do is to pay attention to the results. So what's kept many people on this path is realizing how things open up, when we really buckle down. Don't indulge our thinking. Don't indulge our inherent selfishness.
When we do the work, it makes a difference. And when we look back, a year or two years, we see changes that have happened because of our efforts. Even though they're painful efforts many many times. She says In fact nobody but nobody can experience our lives for us. The great Chinese and master Ciao Joe, Josue set of urinating such a simple matter, and yet I must do it myself.
Nobody can feel for us the pain that life inevitably brings. The price we must pay to grow is always in front of our noses, always in front of our noses. And we never have a real practice until we realize our unwillingness to pay any price at all.
We're always faced with this choice, either evasion, or acceptance.
We're always working against the temptation to try to dodge what we don't like. And then do know where do we see this more clearly and vividly than in sesshin. She says sadly, as long as we evade, we shut ourselves off from the wonder of what life is and what we are. We try to hold on to people who we think can mitigate our pain for us. We try to dominate them to keep them with us, even to fool them into taking care of our suffering. But alas, there are no free lunches, no giveaways. A jewel of Great Price is never a giveaway. We must earn it with steady, unrelenting practice.
We must learn it in each moment, not just in the spiritual side of our life. How do we keep our obligations to others? How do we serve others, whether we make the effort of attention that is called for each moment of our life, all of this is paying the price for the jewel. I'm not talking about erecting the new set of ideals of how I should be. I'm talking about earning the integrity and wholeness of our lives by every act we do. Every word we say. From the ordinary point of view, the price we must pay is enormous. Although clearly seen, it is no price at all but a privilege. As our practice grows, we comprehend this privilege more and more.
In this process, we discovered that our own pain and others pain are not separate worlds. It's not that it's not that my practice is my practice and their practice is their practice. Because when we are truly open up, when we truly open up to our lives, we open up to all life. The delusion of separateness diminishes, as we pay the price of attentive practice.
To overcome that delusion is to realize that in practice, we are not only paying a high price for ourselves, but for everyone else in the world. As long as we cling to our separateness my ideas about what I am, what you are, what I need and want from you. That very separate list separateness means that we are not yet ready to pay the price for the jewel. To pay the price means that we must give what life requires must be given. Not to be confused with indulgence, perhaps time or money or material goods, and sometimes not giving such things when it is best not to. Although the practice effort is to see what life requires us to give, as opposed to what we personally want to give, which is not easy. And always the practice effort is to see this. This tough practice is the payment exacted if we wish to encounter the jewel.
We cannot reduce our practice simply to the time we spend in Zen vital though this time is our training, our paying the price must take place 24 hours a day. As we make this effort over time, more and more we come to value the jewel that our life is. But if we continue to stew and fuss with our life as if it were a problem, or if we spend our time and seeking to escape this imaginary problem, the jewel will always remain hidden. Though hidden, the jewel is always present. But we will never see it unless we are ready to pay the price. The uncovering of the jewel is what our life is about. How willing are you to pay the price? You know, yes, the tiny Roshi said something about sincerity in practice, said you can start with 5% sincerity. No one is completely committed. But gradually it grows, just as Joker was saying. The point of all this is not to beat ourselves up to look at ourselves and say what kind of a practitioner Am I to see where we need to go what we need to do.
And understand how our desire to find an easy way makes it harder.
She says we are always trying to move our lives from unhappiness to happiness. One might say that we wish to move from a life of struggle to a life of joy. But these are not the same. Moving from unhappiness to happiness is not the same as moving from struggle to joy. Some therapies seek to seek to move us from an unhappy self to a happy self. But then practice and perhaps a few other disciplines or therapies can help us move from an unhappy self to know self which is joy. Want to read a little something
Something that from Anthony de Mello Jesuit priest I'm always reading from
he says this. So the first thing, admit that your life is a mess. And second, this is a bit tougher. Okay? Here it is. You don't want to get out of it. You do not want to get out of the mess. Talk to any psychiatrist who's worth his name, and he'll confirm that. The last thing a client wants is a cure. He doesn't want a cure. He wants relief. This doesn't resonate with you. Maybe you haven't really looked. Eric Bern, one of your great psychiatrist here in the United States put it very graphically. He suggested you imagine a client or we could say a practitioner who's up to his nose in a cesspool. Okay. Yeah, he calls it liquid excrement. And he's coming to the doctor and you know what he's saying? He's asking the doctor, could you help me please so people won't make waves the client doesn't want to get out of the cesspool. Oh no, no, no get out for heaven's sakes, no, just helped me so they won't make waves.
Joko goes on. To have a self means we are self centered, being self centered and therefore opposing ourselves to external things. We are anxious and worried about ourselves. We bristle quickly when the external environment opposes us, we are easily upset and being self centered we are often confused. This is how most of us experience our lives. Although we are not acquainted with the opposite of a self, that is no self, let us try to think what a life of no self might be. No self doesn't mean disappearing off the planet or not existing. It is neither being self centered nor other centered, but just centered. Life of no self is centered on no particular thing, but on all things that is it is not attached. So the characteristics of a self cannot appear. We are not anxious, we are not worried, we do not bristle easily, we are not easily upset. And most of all our lives do not have a basic tenor of confusion. And thus to be no self is joy. Not only that, no self because it opposes nothing is beneficial to everything. For the vast majority of us, however, practice has to proceed in an orderly fashion
you know, restless disillusion of the self and the first step we must take is to move from unhappiness to happiness. Why? Because there is absolutely no way in which an unhappy person, a person disturbed by herself or himself by others, by situations can be the life of no self. So the first phase of practice should be to move from unhappiness to happiness. And the early years of Zen are mostly about this movement. This reminds me of what Gogu the disciples successor Dharma heir of Sheng yen, said about the factors of of practice, the first and most essential is coming from a state of contentment. Being okay with who we are, where we are. It's a truism but we have to start from where we are.
So many people are so upset by what they perceive as their shortcomings were all disasters is nothing terribly unique but having faults
when Not trying to leap in one bound from who we are to becoming a bodhisattva. We're on the path, we're doing what's in front of us. We're attending to what's in front of us. When we can do this, then we can move along. Everything else is just daydreams.
So we need to start from this basic happiness or contentment, whatever you want to call it. She says, for some people, intelligent therapy can be useful at this point. But people differ and we can't generalize. Nevertheless, we cannot know Should we try to skip over this first movement, from relative unhappiness to relative happiness. Just one thing to add in here. It is sometimes the case that people who come to Zen practice because they're miserable, get beyond that misery, they come to the stage of relative happiness, and their motivation for practice vanishes. And some people, that's enough, they've got that and they move on to whatever else is going to fill their lives. But for many of us, it's not enough. Even if we are relatively happy, there's still plenty of pain, to keep us motivated. No matter how happy we are, we are going to die and everyone we know is going to die and everything we possess will be lost. And then when we really see that we want to do something
there's nothing better we can do than to wake up. She says Why do I say relative happiness? No matter how much we may feel that our life is happy still our life is based on a self, we cannot have a final resolution. Why can there not be a final resolution for a life based on a self because such a life is based on a false premise? The premise that we are a self. Without exception, we all believe this, every one of us in any practice that stops with the attempted adjustment of a self is ultimately unsatisfying. Yeah, people will still make waves. To realize one's true nature has no self a Buddha, is the fruit of Zen and the path of practice. The important thing because only it is truly satisfying is to follow this path. As we battle with the question of our true nature, self or no self, the whole basis of our life must change. to adequately wage this battle, the whole feeling the whole purpose, the whole orientation of life must be transformed. What might be the steps in such a practice? First, as I said, is to move from relative unhappiness to relative happiness. At best, this is a shaky accomplishment, one that is easily upset. But we must have some degree of relative happiness and stability to engage in serious practice, then we can attempt the next stage. An intelligent persistent filtering of the various characteristics of mind and body through the Zen, we begin to see our patterns, we begin to see our desires, our needs, our ego drives, and we begin to realize that these patterns, these desires, these addictions are what we call the self. As our practice continues, and we begin to understand the emptiness and impermanence of these patterns, we find we can abandon them. We don't have to try to abandon them. They just slowly wither away. For when the light of awareness plays on anything. It diminishes the false and encourages the true and nothing brightens the light as much as intelligence I Zen done daily and in sesshin.
We don't have to try to change, change happens outside of our direction. It's the beauty of practice. It's the simplicity of practice. Just
working directly with our resistance letting go of the thoughts we don't want to let go of
things begin to change.
With the withering of some of these patterns, no self, which is always present, can begin to show itself with an accompanying increase of peace and joy. This process though easy to talk about is sometimes frightening, dismal discouraging. All that we have thought was for was ourself for many years is under attack, we can feel tremendous fear as is turning about takes place. It may sound enchanting as it is talked about, but the actual doing can be horrendous. It's important to remember when practice takes us into difficult places, and when we go through misery and sesshin or off the mat or wherever, there's nothing wrong. It's not supposed to be on diluted joy.
That's probably if you're, if you're finding nothing but undiluted joy, you may be missing something. It's a refining fire that we go through. She says still, for those of us who are patient and determined in our practice, Joy increases peace increases the ability to live a beneficial and compassionate life increases in the life which can be hurt by the whims of outside circumstances suddenly alters. This trans slowly transforming life is not however, a life of no problems, they will be there. For a time our life may feel even worse than before, as what we have concealed becomes clearer. But even as this occurs, we have the sense of growing sanity and understanding of basic satisfaction.
To continue practice through severe difficulties, we must have patience, persistence and courage. Why? Because our usual mode of living, one of seeking happiness battling to fulfill desires, struggling to avoid mental and physical pain is all always undermined. By determined practice. We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being, the circumstances of our life as they are not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life. Not in avoiding pain, but in being pain, when it is necessary to do so, too large in order to hard on the contrary, it is the easy way. Since we can only live our lives through our minds and bodies, there is no one who is not a psychological being we have thoughts we have hopes, we can be hurt, we can be upset, but the real solution must come from a dimension which is radically different from the psychological one. The practice of non attachment the growth of no self is the key to understanding finally, we realize that there is no path No way No solution because from the beginning, our nature is the path right here and right now. Because there is no path our practice is to follow this no path endlessly and for no reward because no self has everything it needs no reward from the no beginning it is it self complete fulfillment
that doesn't make sense. Just keep sitting.
Gonna move ahead to the next section. It's titled a bigger container. At the age of 95, Gimpo Roshi, one of the great Zen masters of modern times, was speaking of the gateless gate. And he pointed out that there truly is no gate through which we must pass in order to realize what our life is. Still, he said, from the standpoint of practice, we must go through a gate, the gate of our own pride. And every one of us here since the time we got up this morning, has in some way or other met our pride, every one of us to go through this gate that is not a gate, we have to go through the gate of our own pride
pride resistance, self concern
she says, No, the child of pride is anger. By anger, I mean all kinds of frustration, including irritation, resentment and jealousy. I talk so much about anger and how to work with it. Because to understand how to practice with anger, is to understand how to approach the gateless gate. In daily life, we know what it means to stand back from a problem. For example, I've watched Laura make a beautiful flower arrangement, she'll fuss and fiddle with the flowers, then at some point, she'll stand back and look, see what she's done, and how it balances out. If you're sewing a dress, at first you cut and arrange and so but finally, you get in front of the mirror to see how it looks. Does it hang on the shoulders? How is the ham? Is it becoming? Is it a suitable dress? You stand back? Likewise, in order to put our lives into perspective, we stand back and take a look, I
think this is really good advice. Not something we're doing all the time, obviously, don't want to spend all our time thinking about ourselves, but really does help to think, what am I doing? Why do I want out of life? What's getting in my way. She says Zen practice is to do this. It develops the ability to stand back and look. Let's take a practical example of coral. The overriding quality in any coral is pride. Supposing I'm married, and I have a quarrel with my husband. He's done something that I don't like perhaps he's spent the family savings on a new car. And I think our present car is fine. And I think in fact, I know that I am right. I'm angry, furious. I want to scream. Now what can I do with my anger? What is the fruitful thing to do? First of all, I think it's a good idea to just back away to do and say as little as possible. Of course, to do this, you have to recognize that you're angry. It's kind of the first step in working with anger. And many times we don't, the reaction is out there before we even know what's going on. One of the things that sighs and does is it gives us that space between the insult and the response. And as she said, good thing to do is to do and say as little as possible. If I retreat for a bit, I can remind myself that what I really want is to be what might be called a bigger container. She says In other words, I must practice my ABCs you get a bigger container. To do this is to step into another dimension, the spiritual dimension if we must give it a name. Let's look at a series of practice steps. Realizing that in the heat of anger, it's impossible for most of us to practice as the drama occurs. But do try to step back. Do and save very little. Remove yourself could add one of the things you can do is just report on what you're feeling. I'm really really angry here. You're on safe ground when you're talking about what you're feeling. What's yours to process. You're not projecting motives to another person. You're not evaluating them telling them what an idiot they are spending money that didn't need to be spent. Whatever the infraction is
do and save very little remove yourself. Then when you're alone, just sit and observe. What do I mean by I observe, observe the soap opera going on in the mind, what he said what he did what I have to say about all that what I should do about it? These are all a fantasy. They are not the reality of what's happening. If we can, it's difficult to do an angry label the thoughts, why is it difficult? When we're angry, there's a huge block that stands in the way of practice. The fact that we don't want to practice we prefer to cherish our pride to be right about the argument or the issue. When I was working in AA, through the 12 steps I think one of them is one, when we were angry, promptly admitted it. Not one of the steps but one of the slogans. At any rate, I got into an argument with my wife in which I was clearly right. Which, which is the most difficult argument. It's the hardest to do. And I found I just was even though I saw I remembered when we were around completed, yeah, yeah. And yeah, well, I'm not wrong. And I knew I needed to let go, but I couldn't. I just was unwilling. But looking back, even even shortly after that happened, I realized that was really a first step, just to see it, just to see it play out just to experience that. That just unwillingness to give feel that in my body. And the next time that came up, I was able to step aside. See what needed to be done.
haven't always been able to do that, but it's the beginning.
She says we prefer to cherish our pride to be right about the argument or the issue. And then she quotes think it's long bow, do not seek the truth only cease to cherish opinions. That's why the first step is to back away see little, it may take weeks of hard practice before we can see that what we want. What we want is not to be right, but to be a bigger container, ABC step back and observe. Yes, he shouldn't do that. Yes, I can't stand what he's doing. Yes, I'll find some way to get even all of which may be so on a superficial level. But still, it is just a soap opera. If we truly step back and observe and as I said, it's extremely difficult to do and angry. We will be capable in time of seeing our thoughts as thoughts, unreal, and not as the truth. Sometimes I've gone through this process 1020 30 times before the thoughts finally subside. Get the impression that Joko Beck is a really determined and thorough person
1020 30 times when they do I am left with what I am left with the direct experience of the physical reaction in my body, the residue so to speak, when I directly experienced this residue as tension or contraction, since there is no duality in direct experience, I will slowly enter the dimension, the Samadhi which knows what to do, what action to take. It knows what the best action not just for me but for the other as well. In making a bigger container. I taste oneness in a direct way
she deals mostly with the issue of anger but it applies to all the emotional psychological afflictions which we run into not only out in the world, but sitting on the mat. feelings of fear, feelings of discouragement.
Feelings of unwillingness wanting to escape from pain all those things if we can take them in. Step away from the drama. See what's going on and feel them in our body There is there's a way through. It's always through, it's not a way to turn towards it, not with our thoughts with our awareness
we begin to do that. Practice becomes wonderful. And there's a saying, quoted before a Buddhist saying, to be a Buddhist is to be happy to see your karmic hindrances arise. It gives us a chance to transmute them, to experience them directly. Sometimes the most change comes from a bad sesshin. not recommending that we have one here. But whatever it is, whatever it is, as Roshi Kapleau said, it's all grist for the mill.
need to be aware of our reluctance. We need to be realistic about our ability to overcome our reluctance and not beat ourselves up. Because, you know, I've been told what to do, and I can't do it. It's gradual. Open a bit open a bit. Actually, she says something useful about this. She says the solution is a practice in which we experienced the separating emotion as a definite bodily state. When we do a bigger container is created. What is created, what grows is the amount of life I can hold without it upsetting me dominating me. At first, the space is quite restricted, then it's a bit bigger, and then it's bigger still, it need never cease to grow. And the enlightened state is that enormous and compassionate space. But as long as we live, we find there is a limit to our container size. And it is at that point that we must practice. And how do we know where this cutoff point is? We are at that point when we feel any degree of upset or anger. It's no mystery at all. And the strength of our practice is how big that container gets.
As we do this practice, we need to be charitable with ourselves. We need to recognize when we're unwilling to do it. No one is willing all the time. And it's not bad when we don't do it. We always do what we're ready to do.
Okay, we're our time is up. Gonna stop here. Pick this up tomorrow. It will now recite the four vows