January 2021 Online Sesshin, Day 7: Blue Cliff Record #14, "Ummon's Teaching in Reference to Oneness"
9:12PM Aug 4, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the last day of this January 2021 Rohatsu online seven day sesshin. And we'll pick up a koan this morning -- a simple koan that is short, uncomplicated. It's number 14 in the Blue Cliff Record -- Ummon's teaching in reference to oneness.
And its just one exchange where the monk asks what is the Buddha's lifetime teaching. And Ummon replied, teaching in reference to oneness. And oneness is what this teisho will be all about. And in fact, it's very much what sesshin is all about. Sesshin -- the Japanese word one, one, the most common translation I've heard is unifying the mind. Unifying the mind.
In the beginning, the little opening ceremony, the virtual remote opening ceremony, I quoted Zen master Dogan who said that the the mastery of the way depends on all the monks practicing together. But with an online session, what does together really mean? Well, it's not the same together as all of us in one under one roof, as we have always had sessions in the in the before times, before last March. And really what what sesshin very simply is is a way for us to confirm this one mind. It's just Zen parlance for the fact that all existences are indivisible. There's only this original nature. Ordinarily, because of our discursive mind, we fail to really get this because we we are so deceived by this world of name and form. That's the phrase that you see in the sutras, name and form convinces us that we are separate, verb fragmented. We look at the myriad physical objects in the world, different things, different people, different names, different names for every single thing. And it tends to conditioned us to think that, that everything is quite divisible, quite separate. And one of the promises of sound practice long, serious and practice is to reveal what is beyond these names and forms all these different names and forms beyond words beyond concepts, to the indivisibility of all things, which is the reality when we're not seeing things just through the lens of our discursive mind.
So back to this number 14 in the booklet record. The Zen master whom Oman is the Japanese version of his Chinese name, which is young men, young men, known for his one word, responses one word replies, one word, which when translated into English, Be more than one word. But it really refers to the one character the one video graph in China, of his many of his replies to questions. I don't know how many video graphs This is teaching in reference to oneness, but it is certainly a short, succinct answer to what is the Buddha's lifetime teaching the big question? What is what is the Buddhist teaching? What is the Dharma all come down to this mark is asking, teaching in reference to oneness.
The, again the word sesshin unifying the mind. What does that mean? For with with when we're in a, a, an online session, or could also call a remote session? What does it mean to unify the mind? Well, at a, at a training facility such as chairman Miller, in earlier days, it was Arnold Park. It means a lot of everything arranged to reveal this unity of our original nature, that is, encompasses everything with me itemize some things. There's is another word for all this is uniformity that that in formal Zen training, there is one form that we all strive to adhere to. And so there are all kinds of Of course, a lot of prescribed forms. uniform. We, we wear robes as a way to to reduce this, this false sense of separation. And many of the things, many of these features have an in person session. We don't have of course, in virtual sessions, we don't have a lot of it comes down to just our shared effort, our unified effort working as one so in online sessions, we have no shared key mean no shared meals, no shared work period. And other little things that can make a difference to the that it contributes to the sense of unity there's no think of the water table like shape and mail. No shared experience of one water table for everyone to be using. We don't have people passing one another in the hallways, you know, any random unexpected person we're passing in the hallways when we're at home. We're at home we're not running the duck son and groups are walking in groups doesn't matter. There's no stick. We can most of us can benefit from in our homes. I think someone someone pointed out that you probably those those of you who have spouses, those of us who have spouses could invite our spouse to use the stick on us but that could get complicated. We don't at home or at home or not all leaving the zendo together or even entering the zendo more or less together we're not we're not walking together to meals that are provided.
And meals is is an issue one of the challenges of home home sesshin that we don't have won't work together at a place like shape and mail we have refrigerator in our house or apartment. And it calls for more self discipline. It's all too easy to just stand in front of the refrigerator. Last in picking and choosing mind and possibly overdoing it. It's harder when, when receded, especially with a formal meals at shape and mill. I think it is harder to overdo it over eat. Although I advised her that some people find a way where there's a will there's a way when we're at home sitting alone there, we don't have these ambient zendo sounds that we do at a sesshin facility. Just a little personal things, occasional throat clearing or even coughing. The sound of people walking through the zendo the creaky floors, the rustle of robes. No, no fragrance of incense, necessarily, of course, people can light incense at home. How many do I don't know I don't. In our homes, there may or may not be an altar with a Buddha or Bodhisattva figure. head shape and mill there are multiple altars with various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are figures that can, especially as sesshin goes on, that can inspire one in a way that one wouldn't have expected earlier. This is one of the things that very likely, I don't know, for everyone but very likely can develop as we advance in our practice is seeing a Buddha figure a Bodhi soft figure with new eyes. I know I for one, my earlier years, I never had much use for them. But as time has gone on, they've become more and more meaningful and inspirational. A Buddha or Bodhisattva figure embodies the qualities of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, Buddha or Bodhisattva. And that becomes more plain to see, as time goes on. And in as much as it does. It's inspiring. A well made figure can be very inspiring and can grow and grow on us. as as as we grow as our eyes become more and more open, and we're seeing more directly and clearly then these figures can really come to life.
Maybe to state the obvious. When we're sitting at home, we don't have the benefit of of being in a a whole facility. That was it's used. It's dedicated to Zen practice and, or even more like get that get in shape and mill that was designed from the ground up to nurture Zen practice and training session.
I've been itemizing things that that that work against us a little bit and and with respect to unifying the mind having a sense of of shared effort and congealing together as one mind. None of these none of these things are obviously or do deal breakers we've just gone through six and a half days of this and we know that it's still well I won't speak for anyone for me It sure is worth it. Here a couple of others. This later wake up hour we you can well you can wake up hmm you want as long as you're by your device at six o'clock in the Morning, but in it shaped melts and razza it's 415 in the morning. So everyone can enjoy longer night's sleep, anyone who wants to. And that can cut both ways. There's the saying exam that Roshi Kapleau and I both have quoted this that when you're tired, the egos tired. When you're tired this discursive this dividing mind is tired. That's that's surely why typically in Zen training, the wake up is, is very early. When I was at Koko g in Japan, it was about every every day of the year except for Well, I was only there for three months. But what I heard was that they're only, say three days a year for days, where you can sleep later than 345 in the morning. And yeah, of course, you get tired over time, just as we do in regular sessions, where we get up earlier, either for 15 or 445. Or rather, excuse me, wake up in row hazza. Is that at 340? in regular sessions, it's at 410. We start at four rohhad su 454 15. And then for the other one for 45. Anyway, some people may feel Oh, it's great. I was I was more alert during the rounds. Although, yeah, maybe I talked about this briefly a couple days ago, how we can't count on more sleep. We can't count on more sleep making us more alert, and helping us helping us keep from being drowsy. It's not that simple. We have longer breaks in these online sessions at home. For for reasons, good reasons. We'll probably stick with that. For our online sessions people need at home they need. They don't have we don't have meals provided all laid out on the table. For us to eat together. We have to fend more for ourselves. So a lot of things, a lot of things that
don't contribute toward the sense of unity of everyone working together. Yesterday, honey Roshi used to say, I think this is in three pillars of Zen, that there are three primary elements, components of obsession. teisho, dogs, dog, son, and sitting. We've got the sitting. We've got the sitting, maybe not quite as much as online, I mean, as in person sesshin. But we got a lot of sitting and that's the main thing. Carnegie asked Otani. He thought it was about 1/3 each that sesshin is 1/3 teisho, 1/3, dog son and 1/3. Sitting. I would I would suggest otherwise, I would say that, that the sitting is about two thirds of session. And the other two are no a sixth each. The sitting is the important thing. Maybe in in maybe in Japan, maybe even China. Doakes on the Japanese will typically invest more importance in coming before the teacher. I think that's far less important than the sitting. But even dopes on this online Doakes on how I can now work really, this is really hitting home is that because of the fact It's on a screen, a device. Our visual experience for both the student and the teacher of visual experience is diminished. I'm not able to see as is, as well, the students face and surely vice versa student can see my face as well. Micro expressions that can be high useful to see or helpful to both of us. And we know that there are there's always some problems that can arise it with the sound, even when there aren't glitches. There are it's not the same. talking through a screen. Same with the instruments. The instruments can be a little weird. This came up more than a few times in our monitored my meeting with the monitors, where we talked about little problems with the sounds of the instruments and these gaps and unevenness with the sound. The timing.
The big thing about doc son, that I miss is just the physical presence of a student
doaktown has been described as in these terms need to knee eyeball to eyeball. Well, we don't have knee to knee do we, in fact, that can't even see people's knees in doc Sam. And that's also a reduced a diminished experience for me, when I can't see the whole person, even just the whole physical person. And this is particularly can be particularly problematic when people are demonstrating physically demonstrating their understanding of a koan. Sometimes, I, I wish I could just take my device back about 20 feet or 15 feet to be able to see the student the whole student and, and how she or he walks or moves from from more of a distance, but it's very hard to do.
So the setting is the key thing. joke's on you dokusan is a whole different thing. Through a screen. As far as the yes tiny rashis third component teisho. Yeah, it's it's, it's much the same as in person that shape and mill. Because we, we encourage people in the zendo, a treadmill on Park, not to look up at the teacher during teisho. Because we're more likely when we when we cut out the visual, we're more likely to hear better. But beside that I feel I've limited there are two and teisho. Are there. There have been times not not often, but there have been times over the years when I have done things that really, I can't do now, through a screen through audio system. In when we're all listening to teisho together, there's there's that shared experience of what we hear outside and inside and, and of course, the response. The laughter the groans I don't know. I remember more of the laughter, which is can be so surprising to a teacher. There are times when I'm the people everyone's laughing. Makes sense. And sometimes I just don't get it like it was the same with Roshi Kapleau. But then the shared experience of the of the rain, Thunder leaves the crows calling he remote traffic leasing we're at we're at Parnell Park, right on a city street
there's the matter of, of the, the limits of help that the monitors can give besides the stick, no, stick it and we're at home in sesshin. But when people don't show up, they happen sometimes people don't show up for a block of sitting that they had signed up for. And the monitors can't do what they would do at Chapman mill was just to go down the halls and to their room, fetch them, find out what's going on, if they're sick or something in the course of the night, of course, but really, it's it's impractical for the monitors, when they have the screen in front of them, to when they when they see people fidgeting or shifting their posture during around can really address them that way. It's another example of my people have to have to find, set their own discipline. And so, because people can fidget while they're sitting, because they don't have to struggle yet here to the the rule we have in sesshin have no moving during around a formal setting. It has less rigor, this machine is sitting has less rigor to it. And meaning that one doesn't. necessarily if if, if you're letting yourself move during a 35 minute rounds, then you don't have to face your imagined limits. Because that's what pain, pain does it we have to face the pain and, and in doing so and not moving, we find that we we can find our way through the pain we learn the most important and most important lessons of sesshin is to discover how by using our attention in the best way we can find our way through the pain that is we can find how the how the pain changes how it doesn't need to be such a huge thing. But we're not likely to find that unless if we have to move if we get to move whenever we want to. And then there are the the called domestic distractions that we can face at home. whatever whatever the people in our house may need for us to do think of especially if you don't have a partner who is fully on board with you're spending many hours a day facing the wall. there can be problems there kids of course children have requirements you have to do and then just unexpected things that come up when we're at home. The FedEx deliveries the the Amazon Prime deliveries that may come to the door the doorbell ringing this morning. During dog sound I found myself having to take a break to stop the toilet from running in the toilets that was 10 feet from my laptop from from running and to get the get into the tank of the toilet to set the rubber thing down
Back to the call on
all of this, all of these little handicaps of, of doing sesshin in one's house, as compared to together at a at a sesshin facility. All of these, of course, are what we have, that's the way things are. And if there's one responsibility we have, as Zen practitioners, it is to when when we can't change the conditions, the circumstances when we can't change them, we have to find a way to become one with them. And that could be the single most profound, all encompassing. Gift of Zen practice is learning how whatever the circumstances or conditions may be, how we can manage it. How we can adapt to it
is another another koan. In this one, featuring a Chinese master who was a disciple and Dharma heir of young men. It's called he his name was Jordan. is Chinese really, that's the Japanese version, his Chinese name is Sheng Chung. And he was asked what is the meaning of Bodhidharma is coming from the west, which is just another way became a conventional way of saying, What's the highest principle? What is the ultimate truth? What is the Dharma, and he said, sitting long and getting tired.
Just this, this the conditions and circumstances that we find ourselves in, which will always be less than ideal, because ideal isn't real. There will always be difficulties, whether we're in sesshin or outside sesshin. This is the ultimate requirement of us as human beings is to to find a way to not separate ourselves. I found that exchange with this, this accordion or Shang Lin, where a monk asked, What is the monks true I and Shang Lin said no separation.
This this response sitting long and getting tired. I found this morning that this master who said that killed him that his his monastery was in Chengdu Chengdu in southern China is known as one of the four furnaces of China. I spent a couple of days there and one of my pilgrimages I've never never sweated so much. In Chung do is any anywhere else as much as in Chengdu just sitting absolutely still. Just sweat and I don't sweat but sweat running down my back. So cold and might have said sitting long, getting tired and sweating when you're hot.
I have sometimes in my opening talk and the opening ceremony of sesshin shape and mill made the point that It's a shame. We're all monks for a week, or however long we're there. We're all monastics for a week. Not so in our online sessions, far from it for all the reasons I've mentioned. One might ask whether, how how, how different is an online session, then sitting for seven days alone in a shed? How much better is it? Well, after everything I've said I would, I would, I would submit that it's a lot better. Even though this is what I missed the most in online sessions is the full experience of collective momentum as sesshin goes on. A coalescing? I don't know maybe because I do. I do a lot less sitting facing the wall silence sitting than everyone else who's there full time. I spent so much time in dark sun. I don't think it's just that. Because I don't spend so much more time in jokes on than I did in a big sesshin unshaven mill. And where I do, always, I have always had this sense of this, this gathering force that we're all being swept along through this jaw, Ricky.
But if ever there is a time, we have to find a way to adapt to circumstances, it's during this pandemic. There really is no, there's no alternative. It's at all safe. yet. yet.
One more call on another short one that relates to this also, even when he was he was asked among young men himself addressed the assembly saying, I don't ask you about the days before the 15th of the month. But what about after the 15th? Give me a word about those days. Well, the 15th of the month. Okay, that B is not a significant point of the koan. But clearly, he's talking about where one is, learned a thing or two, or experienced a thing or two. And then what about after the 15th of the month, and he AMS he answered himself, every day is a good day.
Every day is a good day. This can sound Pollyanna ish, on the surface of it. But that would be a misunderstanding you and man is not. He's never been described as having just a silly happy face. Don't Don't take good to mean the opposite of bad. Good has a broader, deeper meaning. It means that we find we find a way after awakening or our hurt, hurt after beginning practice, we can find a way to not separate ourselves from the conditions and the circumstances we're in. And then it's not really so much good or bad. But it is what it is when we can really be fully with what is it's it's what it is, it is what it is. It's not a problem. Maybe that's the best way of putting it in the negative. Good, good meaning not a any kind of significant decision by biding distress or upset even when we have real problems in our lives. They're not going to be the Same if we have established some some real sitting experience.
So, I feel I can say this without any hesitation, that is nothing, nothing more, nothing more important, nothing more intelligent we can do with our time, then Zen as a way to not develop oneness, it's, it's, it's rather, it's just a way of seeing through the illusion of, of separation. And the ultimate Zen is doing it for nine or 10 or more hours a day in sesshin. So, even though an online session is is not is not the experience of an in person session, it's what we have now. And we can be grateful for it. I, I make I'm making this point partly for the sake of people those of you listening who haven't been to an in person session because I got to speak frankly here it it's not the same. So
I would urge you, those of you who haven't been to a real session I assess us that real rather than virtual to not be not think that this is the full experience what we're doing online and comm find that out for yourself confirm that by coming yourself. When we open again, which should be this year question mark. Could be this summer or even spring I'm thinking that we might start by having inviting people who've been vaccinated to sit in person at shape and mill and then others do it online. A hybrid hybrid sesshin this is what Amala sensei in New Zealand has tried. Where luckily I live close enough to the center just six minute drive that I could be doing dokusan and teisho at at Arnold Park well yeah shape and now that's different. That would be a drive but anyway, some kind of a hybrid thing. I see this as as the the Treta interim solution maybe maybe I haven't really given too much thought because this is where we got what we've got right now this have to play it as it lies. Alright. The Monitors must have mentioned that we had planned with schedule for this machine to go until mid afternoon. But that would be the first time we would have done that. And for a seven day session in decades, we typically end about one o'clock. And I I told them that it just maybe it's just that midday closing of sessions such deep conditioning for me that to go beyond that. To come back after lunch for just one more hour, hour and a half of sitting. Seems seems a bit contrived, a bit artificial forced to me. So So now we'll have a look at and of course and then a round of sitting. For people to forget everything I just said please forget everything I just said. That's seriously, seriously. Don't carry this stuff in your head. I toss out and teisho teacher tosses out this and that if it lands good But afterward Forget it. Don't be sitting there chewing on what I said. It's going in what what you hear in teisho. And I know this, myself, of course, from my experience. What what what the student hears is it's, it's there somewhere, it's here in the mind at some level, and there's no need to hold on to it consciously. So then in I don't know, roughly 45 minutes, we'll have the final period of jokes on and we'll stop now and recite the four vows.