Today is April 9 2023. And for teisho, this morning, I'm going to continue the theme of last, my last teisho back in back in March, which was practice off the mat. So this is maybe part two, or we could call it "Stop Fixing Yourselves". I kind of realized I had more to say, when sesshin ended, and I saw people and dkousan and so many people, just surprising number with the same theme, which is, in sesshin, I can get to this place where I'm so focused and clear. And now a few days later, where's it gone? What do I keep from sesshin? And what do I do to stay connected, connected to my life? So it's, it's pretty common. The first thing to say is something Roshi emphasizes all the time and I do the same, which is, there's no way when you're not sitting 10 hours a day, and working and going about your day in complete silence except for the course of separate ducks on, there is no way you can be in the same concentrated state. When you go from that to your daily life and all the different things we do all the distractions and all the concerns and worries and planning. They're just two different animals
but what we learn
in say, Sheen is we learn the way in we learn what we need to do, we we we come to terms with how difficult it is, and how simple it is just this week, get a taste a flavor of just being present. Being here in this moment is wonderful. And then we have the task of making that come to life in our lives. And that's that's a harder task really is.
We're always going to be affected if we're chasing after our thoughts, and letting our minds wander. But even if we find ourselves in the thick of that the way is still been cleared. And anyone who's been going to sesshin for a long time, or simply just keeping up a daily practice on a steady basis. If you look, if you look at your life, if you want to step outside practice for a moment and compare it to the way it was a year ago or some months ago, you'll find things have changed. And the more sincerely we work, the more that change happens. But what is it? What is it that makes it so difficult? Why is it that we feel that we're backsliding? And why when we try to return to some sort of intimacy, with our practice and with our life? Why do we feel stuck? Why doesn't it click into place? The way it did before? The way we think it does for other people? And the answer is probably looking in the wrong direction. Looking at how it was before, and we're hoping it's going to be how we want it in the future. Maybe in the next minute, please. It's just it's just, if you're ever asking how can I keep my focus? And I think we can all understand. You're not focused. You're you're looking at my what's my condition? How am I doing? How am I going to do you know is this working the Those are all legitimate questions, I guess. But it's not practice. You're not. You're not becoming one with the practice, you're, you're looking at, you're standing apart, and you've divided yourself from your life. And that doesn't really work. It's natural to do that. It's how we do everything else in our lives. check in and see how I'm doing. Makes of course corrections. And a little bit of that in practice is normal and probably a good idea. It is good to know you'd make sure yeah, I'm going in the right direction. But the the the engine of practice is our surrender to this moment. Our willingness to be with things as they are. My favorite mantra is, right now it's like this. However it is.
There is a significant difference between wanting to see what's real and wanting to fix ourselves. And I'm going to dip for a moment into our old friend, old good friend Anthony de Mello. For people who haven't been subjected to Anthony de Mello before, I will just say he's, uh, he was he died, some years back, Jesuit priest born in India, in Goa, I believe, but to a Catholic family. And he at some point, I think studied with with a Vipassana teacher Gingka, a pretty well known one, and clearly has a lot of insight. And he's written a number of different books and gave talks all over the country, mostly to Catholic lay workers and priests. And this is from a book I've never read from before somebody gave it to me, it's called stop fixing yourself. Just want to read a little chapter entitled, your sad history of self improvement. He says, compare the serene and simple splendor of a rose and bloom with the tensions and restlessness of your life. The Rose has a gift that you lack, it is perfectly content to be itself has not been programmed from birth as you have been to be dissatisfied with itself. So it doesn't have the slightest urge to be anything other than what it is. It possesses the artless grace and absence of inner conflict, that among humans, is found only in little children and mystics. Only the adult human, only the adult human being is able to be one thing and pretend to be another. Think of the sad history of your self improvement efforts, they ended either in disaster or they succeeded only at the cost of struggle and pain. And then we could add the cost of rigidity, and your ability. So many of the self improvement projects that we take on, have a sort of locking down and shutting out the parts of our life that we don't like. And beating up on ourselves with predictable results. He says you're always dissatisfied with yourself, always wanting to change yourself, always wanting more. So you are full of violence and self intolerance, which only grows with every effort that you make to change yourself. Does any change you achieve is inevitably accompanied by inner conflict.
Either and often accompanied by denial. We want to be better than we are. And we start by pretending we're better than we are. And then we go on to compare ourselves to others. Or if we're failing miserably, then we compare ourselves with others and think how we're worse than everybody. Everyone else's got the secret. I'm an idiot. I should probably just give up. He says suppose If you stopped all efforts to change yourself, and ended all self dissatisfaction, would you then be doomed to go to sleep at night, having passively accepted everything in you and around you. There is another choice, besides laborious self pushing on the one hand, and stagnant acceptance on the other is the way of self understanding. It is far from easy because to understand what you are, requires complete freedom from all desire to change what you are into something else. You just can't do both at once. You can't be dissatisfied with where you are, you're at, and really be where you're at. You're always running away. You're always grasping or pushing away. Incidentally, that's the second noble truth, cause of our suffering is our grasping and our aversion. It's ironic that in order to follow the Buddha away, we just deployed exactly that approach. Everybody, everybody does that. Because as he says, he said earlier, we're programmed to do that. That's how people work. But he says, Consider the attitude of a scientist who studies the habits of ants, that's ants, little crawly bugs, without the slightest desire to change them. He has no other aim. He's not attempting to train them, or get anything out of them. He's interested in ants, he wants to learn as much as possible about them. That's his attitude. I have such respect for some of the great scientists of you know, of our era. Just the passion, to know willingness to go wherever their curiosity leads them. My role model is Richard Feynman. If you ever have a chance, check him out. Find him on YouTube. He says the day you attain a posture like that, you will experience a miracle, you will change effortlessly and correctly, change will happen, you will not have to bring it about if what you attempt is not to change yourself, but to observe yourself to study every one of your reactions to people and things without judgment, condemnation or desire to reform yourself. Your observations will be non selective, comprehensive, never fixed on rigid conclusions, and always open and fresh from moment to moment, then you will notice a marvelous thing happening within you, you will become flooded with the light of awareness, you will become transparent and transformed.
The change that we're looking for is not a change that we can manufacture and direct. It's the whole reason for practice. That's why we have a method just by giving our attention to what's right in front of us to the breath, to a fundamental question of koan, just to the sensation of inhabiting this body on this mat, just by doing that, things change. And our preoccupation with the things we're worried about and the things that we feel aren't good enough for us. Dissatisfaction moves into the background moves away, it becomes just one of the many noises It's a it's a lot. It's a lot like learning how to deal with physical pain. A lot of people have learned that on the mat, that when your leg aches, if you just focus on the practice, focus on the pain, don't think about it. Don't worry about when it's going to end or how bad is going to get and just sort of bring your curiosity to it. It diminishes. With keep we keep our pain and dissatisfaction alive with our constant worrying about it. Can't stop picking at it can't stop that internal complaining. But when we tie the mind to our method, we just open up to what's actually They're things have a chance to change. And that change is always good change.
It's not easy to stop the obsession that we have with results. It's just natural. Of course, we want to do well in our practice. And that's our habit. It's what we've always done. We're actually learning a new habit. So much of our lives, is trigger and response. There's a guy I've read from before Robert Wright, wrote a book called why Buddhism is true. And he talks about this theory of mind that basically, one way of looking at the human mind is, we have it's sort of like a Swiss army knife, you've got all these different tools, all of these different modules. So all of a sudden, something triggers you and you're going into one mode or another, maybe it's mate competition mode, or fight or flight, or all the different behaviors that are sort of wired into us. Anybody who's a parent is probably had this experience, you're yelling at your child, because of course, it's a child and they're just unreasonable. You know, there's that, that routine that the disgraced comedian Louie CK, talks about going into a grocery store and seeing a woman yelling at her child. And he says, My reaction is not what a horrible mother and my reaction is, what did that child due to that poor woman
you're yelling at your child and you hear your father or your hear your mother. It's just the weirdest thing. All of a sudden, it's like, I haven't heard that voice since he was yelling at me. And, you know, if you're realistic, there's so much that we do that goes on automatic pilot. A lot of what practice is, is just getting into getting underneath that, getting ourselves to wake up. But it's, it's slow, because habit changes very, very slowly. And from what I've read, and what I Intuit, habit never really goes away. That pattern of behavior is wired in the brain, those grooves have been have been laid down. And certainly that's something you find alcoholics who recover who stopped drinking, find if they go back out, it doesn't take much to set off the old behavior because it's all there ready to go. Programs have been written, just push a button and off you go. It's why a lot of alcoholics just never drink. It cuts off the pattern
probably the most effective way to change any habit is to replace it with a different one. Rather than trying to white knuckle it, find something else that you can do instead. And of course, the ultimate habit. The one I try to practice and recommend is just the habit of awareness. Just knowing what's going on. So simple. It's so available. It works so great with so many difficult emotions. You know, for instance, if you're struggling with anger, when the anger flares up, where does your mind go? Does it go to what you're angry about? Do you lose yourself in your justifiable rage? Or do you notice what's going on in your body
just to come back to the body, so helpful. The more you do it, the more it becomes a refuge feeling the room feeling where you are in space. noticing what's bugging you? You know is there some fluttering tension in your chest? Your jaw aching because it's so tense. Shoulders hyped up around your ears. Just to notice that and that awareness alone helps us helps defuse the tension but it's a pattern that requires repeating again and again and again. habits don't get, you know, there, there's, there was some sort of consensus that it takes 21 days to establish a habit. Well, that's ridiculous. They did some experimentation. And they found that actually, with a really simple habit, like, let's say somebody wants to make it a habit to drink a glass of water after breakfast, yeah, maybe in about 21 days, they're gonna feel that's, that's really baked in. But with anything more difficult, it takes longer. And sometimes it can take a year or more. And that's when you're doing whatever it is consistently. But we do we do establish habits that are helpful, that support us, we all learn to brush our teeth. I think every, every I have a, I have a tooth brushing routine, which is ridiculously long. It's about 10 minutes. And that's because apparently, I grow a certain kind of bacteria in my, in my mouth that's makes me really, really prone to cavities. And probably if I didn't do that I would be wearing dentures at this point. But at some point, my dentist after you know, he'd urged me and I'd failed and urged me and failed. Got me to start flossing and using special prescription toothpaste and going through this whole routine. And it was difficult. It was hard it took it took a big chunk of time at a time of day when I just want to fall into bed and go to sleep. But I did it because I was tired of spending money on new teeth. And at this point, it's kind of wonderful. Every night, whatever, whatever is going on. I hit the bathroom and I go through that routine. And it's almost a dance. It's it's it's pleasant. You know I just do it there's something I was going to get to later but I'm going to read it right now because it really fits in now that I've run off and started to talk about teeth
it's something I read that was written by some sort of spiritual teacher whose name is Bodie poxa. And I and I not sure what kind of meditation he teaches, I believe he's Buddhist with a name like Bodie. But he says this there's a wonderful scene in the film adaption where the character is Susan or Leanne played by Meryl Streep begins to appreciate the act of brushing her teeth after taking a drug made from a rare orchid. Well, that's one shortcut. As you watch her seeing herself in the mirror, she begins by breath brushing her teeth in the normal habitual way. You can tell by the absent expression on her face, that she's miles away thinking about something else. Then gradually she begins to notice what she's doing and slows down. Then we see her delightedly playing as She brushes her teeth enjoying the sensations as the bristles tickle her gums. From the way she seems to relish this simple activity. You can see that it's as if she's brushing her teeth for the first time. It goes on one attribute of mindfulness has been described by Suzuki Roshi, that's the teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center was a teacher Suzuki Roshi has a beginner's mind. Beginner's Mind arises when we let go of the Been there done that attitude that we normally carry into everyday activities. When we let go of the assumption that there's no point in paying attention to this experience, since we've done it a million times already, we're free. When we let go of that assumption, we're free to fully experience those sensations. Having let go of comparisons with previous experiences, we really can feel almost as if we're brushing our teeth for the first time. You may also find that brushing your teeth more mindfully and carefully leads to fewer cavities.
For almost everyone, our comfortable habitual resting place is our thoughts. And it really does seem to us like the safe place. When we're when we're threatened. That's where we're going to go. That's where we fight our battles of self improvement. Trying to fit think our way through and trying to refute our discouraged thoughts or our lazy thoughts trying to change our feelings that we've already established that that doesn't work so well. Still, we're reluctant to let it go. evaluating how we're doing seems like practice I mean, it's practice related, right? You're thinking about how you're doing isn't that practice, you're not thinking about breakfast or
yet, yet, it's just a simple switch, simple switch of attention to move from that, back to your practice back to the method. If you're out and about during the day back to what's right in front of you. It's just that you have to do it again. And again, you have to be you have to buy into it, you really do and that that's a process. You know, some people hear the gospel and, and, you know, they're all in right away. But that's pretty rare. You know, we all sort of have to have our doubts, want to see if this really works. Everybody wants to keep doing whatever they've been doing and just have the world change to accommodate them.
There, there is an interesting practice that Sheng yen, the Chinese Zen master has recommended to his students that you can try to sort of give yourself a feel of, of just bare attention. I just want to try it out because I found it really useful and interesting. He did this during a retreat, and just threw some this threw this in, he said, I would like to introduce you to another method of practice. I think of this as an auxiliary method rather than an alternative to those we have been discussing. And of course, he's discussing koan practice, breath, practice, and shikantaza just sitting which in China is referred to as silent illumination. He says, You may use it at times when it seems especially conducive to do so, the essential idea is to regard whatever arises directly what to regard whatever arises directly with no thought, interpretation, examination or questioning whatever. So not even questioning two courses the the heart of koan practice, he says, just look at it, or listen to it, exactly as it is in an immediate apperception of whatever appears before you. In this activity, there should be no self reference or involvement of the self in judgment or intention. In a way we cannot call it either meditation or practice, because there is no purposeful intention to go anywhere at all. The object of contemplation is simply allowed to be direct means directly, immediately right now and hear that word contemplation means a method, that quote allows one to go through a door. When one goes through a door, there is both an exit and an entry. Here one exits the world of thought, judgment, evaluation, self, and time. When enters the immediate presence, the noun pneus of the object, be it a landscape, the sky, a stone, or an image simply presents itself before one, you do nothing, except regard it or hear it. In this regard, however, there should be an alert attentiveness, something like a nonverbal expectancy without anything in particular being expected. The mind needs to be very bright. To reflect the object as a mirror does, perhaps is it is like looking straight at the moon, rather than using a finger to point to it. Find a I fall into doing this sometimes when I'm taking a walk. I have a dog who encourages me to take a daily walk. And when we're in my neighborhood, just all these catalpa trees as we walk by really interesting old trees and just to look at them without thinking of the name It just it just appear it really settles the mind it really gives you a flavor for what we mean by direct experience. So useful thing to try
gives a little bit more practical advice if anybody wants to try this at some point. He says when you contemplate directly whether in sitting, standing or walking, simply choose something that attracts you in the immediate vicinity. It may be something you see or something you hear, but you should only use one of the sense faculties not more than orders. In other words, don't try to do shikantaza Focus brightly on the object and do not add any preconceived ideas, experiences, words or questions. Although you should not let such ideas arise when practicing, there are nonetheless four stages that you may be able to detect in retrospect afterwards. First, allow yourself to settle down to regulate the breath and let go. Then let the sense that faculty focus on the choice chosen object or you forget what it is you are regarding. forget its name description, its likable or unlikable features. As the focus becomes stable, the mind will become still and spacious. When is entering illumination. This is why I call it an auxiliary method. Of course, the method is prone to the usual deviations, drowsiness, wandering thoughts, fear illusions. If these cannot be set aside, it may be best to stop and renew the session later. Often you get a sense of when it is appropriate to do it, and may then act on it. Then he sends his students out into the field to go practice that says it could be some distant feet feature or something close up a stone, a grass blade or a flower. For example, if you choose a distant object, do not let the eyes wander around. Allow the birds to fly across the screen of vision, do not follow them. Continue to hold the attention on your chosen object. See how long you can hold your attention in this way, and what results from that when you lose it rest a moment and then start again.
As he says it's an auxiliary method. But I think I in my own personal experience, I found it really helpful just to get a flavor of just this. So much of what's presented to us is words. This is a way to go beyond those words to the reality. The sad is to see the moon and not the finger pointing at the moon
what we're really doing is we're stopping our attempts to move from here to there. We're learning to just be here just recited. Master Hakuin is chanting praises Zen. He says how near the truth, yet how far we seek, like one in water crying, I thirst. All of us, all of us are in the midst of truth in the midst of reality. And somehow we want to go there we are there.
It's It's like somebody at a cocktail party talking to someone. But they're not really paying attention because they keep looking over that person's shoulder for somebody more interesting, who may walk into the room. It's really what we do with our practice. Trying to bring the mind to the method, focus on the breath, for example. Maybe there's something better. A lot of times it's just a picture of some other state when we were focused on the breath, so ironic that somebody can especially when you're new desires as in, you can get into a really surprisingly concentrated state. And then you can spend weeks trying to recreate that experience. But you're not doing what you did when you became concentrated. You're no longer paying attention to the breath. You're a imagining yourself paying attention to the breath and you're focusing on that it's both ridiculous and frustrating. It's really it's really good piece of advice. If you can't be with the one you love, love the one year with
real practice isn't something special
it's just becoming invested in our lives as they are. It's really internalizing that right now it's like this it's being willing to be just a garden variety human being. The French philosopher Montaigne said, I'm like other people, except in this one thing that is that I know I'm just like other people
there's a there's a real power in knowing what's going on with us being attuned to what we're feeling in the body knowing what thoughts are going through our head knowing that they're just thoughts it's a real important step most thoughts most thoughts that have real emotional content to them we're we're locked into the emotion before we even realize that's just a thought. Why do I believe what I think? I think stupid things all the time.
We, we commit to taking it all in really take to heart it's all grist for the mill. The Zen teacher is Charlotte Joko Beck said, when we refuse to work with our disappointment, we break the precepts. Rather than experiencing the disappointment, we resort to anger, greed, gossip, criticism, yet is the moment of being that being that disappointment which is fruitful. And if we're not willing to do that, at least we should notice that we are not willing. The moment of disappointment in life is an incomparable gift that we receive many times a day if we're alert. This gift is always present in anyone's life. That moment when quote is not the way I want it. Another teacher called it a compassionate alarm clock, reminding us you're lost in the dream. seems counterintuitive, to go into the pain to go into the unhappiness or dissatisfaction but that's absolutely where we need to go. Otherwise, we've walled off part of our lives and we become incomplete. I read something about Charlotte Joko back on a blog written by another Zen teacher James Ford, I think it's called monkey mind. You said this about her. Her style emphasize the ordinariness of Zen. One of her Dharma Heir is the lie who gave me Oh Smith once wrote of a Dharma talk she gave. She said, I am fully present about 15 to 20% of the time. This frankness thrilled many as it went against the idealized and nearly unattainable image that Zen teachers were always fully present. Among her eras, Dr. Barry Magadh noted known as maggot or magic, to me joke always stressed experiencing the absolute in the midst of the every day, staying with anger or anxiety wasn't so much a technique for dealing with emotion as a way of seeing emotion itself, resistance itself as it now it is obstacles on the path to be worked through and removed, but as the path itself that's a really difficult attitude to have. But when when you're like that scientist, really interested in how you work, what makes you tick, what's going on, you begin to approach that. You feel anxiety, and you can become curious about well, where does that show up? You know, there's that old a familiar feeling in my chest. What happens to it when I just observe it? It's a very delicate dance. Because when you look into those things, in the back of your mind is a thought, well, if I really do look into it closely, and disinterestedly, it'll go away. No, no, no, no, no, that doesn't work so well. But you know, it's trial and error. Just keep keep going in there, keep looking.
Keep coming back back to this moment. Very, very rare that we need to plan and think about what's coming up. Sure we do sometimes. But you could spend 95% of your life not doing that. And you would have more than enough time to plan for every contingency. Most of what we do in our planning is just repeating the same thoughts over and over again. I read once, quote from Henry Miller, the author. That's something I saw him say in a video. And I'm going to repeat it right now it is the he says this, the idea is, you know, you live from moment to moment, this moment decides the next step, you shouldn't be five steps ahead, only the very next one. And if you can keep to that you're always alright. You see, but people are thinking too far ahead. You know what I mean? Take only what's right there, do only what's right under your nose to do you know, it's such a simple thing, and people can't do it, you know. So the video is great, he's sitting at his desk in his pajamas, smoking a cigarette.
It's really, it's really, sort of like we're changing our diet, from chasing after things, to something more nutritious. You know, it's like, your day doesn't need to be filled with reading the daily gossip. That never seems to change when when we go away and do sesshin for a week and come back. It's amazing how little is normally changed. But there's so much that we have so much that we can build into our lives, that's healthy, that settles the mind, you know, just to get outdoors in a walk, just to spend time with friends that we love. Just to sit to breathe.
To appreciate what's beautiful to give thanks for all the amazing things we have in our lives. Thanks for this practice that we found, somehow lucked into it's good to reflect. If you want to do some thinking on how short our lives are. How little time there is. Few have a member one somebody with an example of if you have a good friend you meet in college and then you both go off to different cities. And maybe you see each other every two years or so. All the time you spent with them when you were together. How much more time will you have now? If you see them once every couple of years for a day, maybe? It's short. Do you have kids? How long will they be this age? That growing up so fast? Are you there? Are you not? That'd be wonderful. If we could just go back and do it over again
what is it
that we need to do the most in life? It's just to be present. I'm going to finish by reading something that I forgot to bring with me the last talk I gave it's a poem by the poet Mary Oliver. It's called the summer day reads like this. Who made the world who made the swan and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper I mean, the one who was flung herself out of the grass, the one who was eating sugar out of my hand, who was moving her jaws back and forth, instead of up and down, was gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention. How to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed. How to stroll through the fields, which is what I've been doing all day. Tell me what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last and too soon? Tell me. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Good place to stop. Will now recite the four vows