2022-05-01 Action As The Refuge
6:01PM May 1, 2022
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Sunday morning talk. And I'd like to begin with a little something autobiographical that when I was in my 20s, I was living at a Zen monastery, Tassajara monastery here in California for about three years. And I had recently graduated from college, and had been accepted to graduate school, which I then deferred and living at the monastery living a monastic life. And I spent a lot of time reflecting, thinking about what was I going to do with my life, go to graduate school, do something else, what should I do. And I was happily engaged in the monastic life for four days of the week, they had a five day week cycle. So I'm following the monastic routines for four days, and then the fifth day was kind of half day off or something. And so I would go and hiking in the mountains there. And those days off with my heart, the hardest days for me, because I was left with myself in a different way. And I had to reflect on my concern about what am I gonna do with my life, what not to make a decision. So I did a lot of reflecting on those walks. And after about a year of these kinds of walks, and reflects things and reflections and thinking what to do, and I think it was beginning to be kind of, maybe I'd done enough reflection thinking about it, with no answers. And at some point, I realized that I was operating in general generalizations and imaginations, imagining a future imagining things that were beyond the monastery, but what I could do and should do, and possibilities, and I became acutely aware of how much I was in my world of my imagination, thinking about all this. And, and so I made a decision. It wasn't exactly a conscious decision, but it was like, I don't know exactly, but it was a decisive moment where I decided, somehow I decided that I had enough of all these reflections and thinking hadn't hadn't helped me. I decided that I would start my life over, I would just, I would just start all over again, with the next step as I walked. And, you know, looking back at it now, 40 years, I don't know if that was naive. Sure. But anyway, I did it. That's what I did. That's what I and I just happened to be living at a Zen monastery. That was a kind of a cool place to start all over again. Because then the bell rang, and I had to go meditate, bell rang, and he got up and did went to work or did things. So it was a healthy host, very wholesome place to be. And I just then followed what opened up in front of me. And, and at some degree, that was the that that represents the rest of my life, that somehow that just taking the next step, and then seeing what happens, and then responding to that and take, you know, things open up and doing it eventually, you know, led me here, you know, and to what's happening in Redwood City now and in the rest of my life, and I'm still doing that, just kind of. And so that was nice for me. That was a nice decision to make. And turns out that each of us every day, every moment, comes to that juncture, without realizing it. Every day. You kind of start over. Every moment you kind of start over believer or not. You could start over and the way you start over is that all the things that you did in the past are now in the past. Things you did in the past contribute to this moment. But whatever decisions you made in the past have been made. You don't have to make those again.
We find ourselves here and now. And now is when we can decide how to step take the next step. Now is the time we decide, given all the conditions that are present here and now. Now we're making a choice to do something. And the choices you made in the past, they are what they are. The place that's really dynamic, the place that's really significant for us in our lives, is a place where we're today. And this next step, we think, the choice we make today. And the choice we make today of how we walk, how we talk, what we say what we do, is consequential. And sometimes we there are unconscious choices, we're influenced by things around us. But the choices you make have consequences that shape your future. Imagine that there are two identical twins, who grew up together. And people couldn't tell them apart, they looked the same, they had the same mannerisms and way of speaking, the same personalities, you know, they were just all like so similar. But then they decided to go to different colleges, when the time came to go to college. And each of them had a different roommate. One of them had a roommate, who had a strong tendency to complain. The other had a roommate had a strong tendency to be grateful for everything. And then they didn't know that there was like, Oh, this is what each one of them thought, Oh, this is just what roommates are. They didn't have any reference point to think anything different. But you know, okay, I'm you college, you get a roommate. This is what roommates are like. And they didn't. And so slowly, there came under the little bit the influence of the complaining, one learn to complain. And you want to learn to be grateful, it wasn't exactly a choice, that we would set out a conscious choice. But there was a choice. There was a kind of subconscious choice like, okay, under the influence of a roommate that became, you know, like you got reinforced if you were in the complainer, if you complained, that was like, you know, you were had camaraderie ship, you could go with the one who was grateful you had the camaraderie ship by being grateful. So slowly, you know, and the person who had the twin didn't recognize what was happening, how they're being shaped by the situation. And after a year, you could tell the difference between the two twins easily. And their lives started to change dramatically. The one that started to complain more and more people kind of held their distance from that person. People who want who was grateful people like to be with them. different opportunities opened up the one who have complained because things you know, things are a little bit uncomfortable. It's an uncomfortable mental state to complain. Stressful mental state that reinforced certain other inner reactivities annoyance, the state of mind, certain self critical illness and made it easier not only to be complaining, but to be angry at things. The person who was grateful supported other mental states, more relaxed states, more feeling more of generosity, and that's what came out. So they both came to the same moment, going to college, where they in a certain way, started their life over. And then things went a different different way for each of them. So today is a new day for you. Today's a new beginning. Every moment is a new beginning and you've come to a fork in the road. And the question is, which fork do you take? There's no one who's asking you or telling you I think you really about what fork you should take moment by moment. But what if you really took it seriously that you're starting your life over today, fresh and new. Because in a way you are and the way that you are maybe I'm repeating myself is that this is really the only place today and now
where you can make the choices engage in the activities that are going to shape your future. That's if you're going to be kind of the one who shapes your future, to whatever degree we can shape it. It's only you that can do that. Even if you get a roommate who complains, how you respond to that roommate, how you take it in and receive it is really up to you, even if it's subconscious. When we are mindful, we put it in it and have this kind of pause and ability to stay present. We have a much higher sensitivity to notice the choices we make higher sensitivity to be wise about which fork we take the one that's healthy, and the ones that are the one that's unhealthy, the one that creates a better life. It's Kate's crazy kind of worse life for ourselves. And, and so when we have this mindfulness practice, we can really appreciate we start over. In that sense, in a certain kind of way, it's very forgiving. Yes, you've been influenced by the mistakes you've made in the past. That's part of the conditions that brought you here. But we don't have to be weighed down by the past. Buddhism, the Buddha's approach is to think enough about the past to reflect on it, learn from it, just enough, so we can aim to do better in the future. Buddhism in a way is forward looking. So you know, some people think that Buddhism is all about being in the present moment. It's, it's about being in the present moment, part of the reason to be in the present moment, is so we can, in looking forward looking, we can make the choices today that make a difference for tomorrow. In a good way for ourselves. And even something as simple as complaining. as innocent as it is, maybe sometimes is choosing a fork, which may be one little complaint is not going to have much impact. But once we start making complaints more and more that affects our mind states. If it affects our habits, it affects how people treat us and relate to us. And it begins creating a new world. So how careful do you want to be in the world that you create for yourself? How you create yourself, there is an expression in English. I don't know if this expression, you'd have to notice that is set phrase, but that goes something like like this. If you do X, you'll you own it. You own it. So I don't care. I couldn't think of a good example. But like, you know, if you if you know, if you if you decide to balance all the key cups in your house, on top of each other. You know, and you insist on doing and when someone says no, that's not safe, it's gonna they're gonna fall they're so fragile, they're gonna break. And so the person that said, I'm going to do it to safe and you say okay, well, the person walks away, so Okay, well, then, whatever happens you own it. Meaning I think it means that you're responsible for it, it's up to you to take care of it. It's it's your, your, your karma, some people would say, you own it. Indirectly This is what are directly that the Buddha said that to 2500 years ago. He said, You're you are the owners of your actions. You are the owners over your actions. And then he goes on to say something else he has said there's a wonderful almost like liturgy, I got him a very famous monk Buddha's line about action. That I think encapsulated what I'm trying to say today. Beings are owners of their action, ear, ears to their action. They inherit them and they originate from their actions. They are bound to their actions and they have actions as their refuge. So we're owners of our actions is kind of what I'm saying here. Once we do something, the consequences of that
somehow continuous for us. So to be careful with what we do, so we, you know, the consequences, the results, the momentum we set in place is one that we want to live with live by. We inherit or actions, so the heirs of our actions. And so some of the, you know, we receive against him kind of the same idea, but they're passed down to us from data from one day to the next, through habits through conditioning through whatever way that these so all these different ways that infinite ways in which actions kind of carry with them consequences in the future. The idea in Buddhism is that there's no free lunch, when it comes to action, or there's no free continental free consequences, all actions can't carry consequence. And so we inherit them, we inherit the consequences. And then we originate, that's the powerful one, all beings originate from their actions. So in this way, I'm talking about it today, that who you are today, is partly the consequence of all the actions you've done in this lifetime before today. And it's all these things are so subtle and small, and how they come into play and, and build up over time. I was think I was told once that Abraham Lincoln said something like, by the time a person is 40, they're responsible for their face. And I think what he meant was, you know, all the little gestures and all the different ways expressions we have on the face, you know, build over time, a certain kind of face. And, and I've been impressed, I've seen this sometimes with, see people who grew up in different cultures, different countries. And, like someone who their parentage was from one countries, but they grew up in a different country. And you can see sometimes like, the difference facial features, or muscles or expression, how they are in their face, maybe if built up differently, because of partly might this be different muscles are used for more, we speak different languages. And as you do that, over, you know, decades, it affects the face, but also expressions and all this stuff. So we originate from our actions. I don't know if that was the best example. But from the Buddhist point of view, it's not about our face, but it's about our hearts, our minds. And so much we're shaped by all the choices we make. And then we are bound to our actions, you can't get away from your actions, you can't get away from the fact that actions are consequential. Even if you your action is to do no action, just be a couch potato, do nothing. That's an action to so you know it we're bound to actions, we're human beings, that's what we are, we're human. If we say we're human beings, I don't think there's very, very little time we spend just being you know, you sooner or later you have to pee. So we're, we're more like human actors, that human activity, ORS are constant activities that we're doing. So to embrace that, to appreciate it, to find a new way to be an activity, activity, actor, an activity ater. I know, trying to do something equivalent equivalent to being and because we're bound to it, we're bound to action. We can't get away from acting. So let's look at action and activity in a serious way. And then we come to the last part, beings have action as their refuge. The Buddha said that you can make yourself a refuge. So we're not trapped in action. We're not trapped into, you know, creating problems for ourselves by what we do and what we say and how we act. We can act in ways we can engage in the world and behave in ways that we become our own refuge, our own support. And the refuge in Buddhism is a very powerful word. It's almost like they were they I don't know it's, it's kind of like a word like
I don't know if it I don't know if it carries the same it doesn't carry the same meanings but maybe this Same associations or the same heart feeling or emotion, as in some other religions, they might talk about having a conversion experience, or having a really deep, I'm a devotee of some wonderful religion or something. It has this very deep religious sense of refuge. But rather than the refuge being outside of oneself, the refuge is not exactly in ourselves, it's not like you find some essence inside yourself, oh, I can, you know, now I've discovered my true self in there. In for the teachings of the Buddha, the refuge is our as our actions, how we live what we do. And it makes a huge difference how we live and what we do. And we can do the things that are supportive and nourish us and benefit us. So it means simple, not so simple, maybe, but simple to say. We can live by live ethically, we can live by the precepts. It makes a big difference, believe it or not, whether you kill people or don't. For your heart, it makes a big difference, whether you steal or if you don't, it makes a big difference. If you engage in sexual activity that harms others. Or you don't, it makes a big difference whether you lie. Or if you don't, it makes a big difference if you engage in intoxication. Or if you don't, it makes a big difference, whether you're greedy, or if you're not big difference if you have hatred, or if you're not, it makes a big difference if you're generous. Or if you're not. It makes a big difference, if you are grateful. Or if you're complaining, it makes a big difference, whether you take the time to see people with respect and even reverence. Or maybe the opposite. And those are all these are all actions. These are all behaviors. And choosing the side of the equation that is healthy. We create our own refuge. We pray that the inner life that we're happy to be in, that we're proud of the girdle that's brings us a sense of joy and delight. More importantly, for meditators, it brings up this possibility of relaxation of ease. We look within and we're not we don't find conflict, we don't find this is you know, oh no, I regret so where I said are challenged by what I've done for you look inside, so Oh, it's good in there. Imagine, oh, it's so nice to be in there. Who's your best friend, your own heart to what you find inside. But due to discover that, to find that it's through our actions that we do. Some people feel like they have a lot of doubts and like lack of confidence. How do you find confidence? You find V. Some people think it's by reading a lot of books. Until they find the perfect teaching sometimes is thinking they have to find some state of you know meditative state of mind that's going to come out correct everything. With the way to build confidence is step by step in the actions you do. And it might be that it just like, you know, after a while you've been practiced honesty, for you know, slow in small, little increments slowly getting more honest, than after a while you if you feel that, oh, I think I have confidence or learn this skill, to communicate honestly in a way that's effective and helpful and, and safe. But we learn to develop that. We will learn to be generous, maybe in small steps, until we feel oh, I know how to be generous I know when to be generous and how to be generous and, and you know, I know about the world of generosity a bit.
And so it's through actions that we develop ourselves, cultivate ourselves. It's by actions, they we develop confidence, and faith, the faith and dharma faith and Buddha in Buddhism is not like faith and Buddhism so much. There might be some of that. But you might not have enough faith in Buddhism, that you begin acting in different ways behaving differently in Then the refuge, the faith becomes less and less about Buddhism, and more about yourself, knowing how to behave and act beautifully. And, and so the word beauty when the Buddha talked about action, he talked about the word here as karma. He sometimes in English translations, you'll read his teachings, they'll talk about good and bad karma. The word for good, literally is an Pāli. ancient language is beautiful. Is it there's, there's, there's bad karma. And then there's beautiful karma. What a difference. There is bad behavior. And then there's beautiful behavior, that creates a very different feeling. It doesn't have the moralistic flavor of good karma, I think. And so, what are we creating here? What are we living our life as? What if, say, We're doing what's beautiful, living there, beauty, living beauty. And that is more an ethical life. But it doesn't have the heaviness of being of calling an ethical life. It has some sense of, maybe for me, some place of freedom and delight and joy. That reliving the joy reliving the delight of what we want to what we do. And so too. So, the teaching about that, so set that so central to the Buddhism that it has to do with action, how do we live our life behave and our life is not always conveyed for people learning meditation. And it's, there's a particular syndrome among a few individuals here in the modern West, of being any any emphasis on doing and doing doing something that ties them in knots, because they feel like they they're not, they can't do it, right, they're wrong. They have to strain they have to push, they have to try too hard and get tense like, this is serious, I have to prove myself, all these kind of ideas that way down. So much, though, that if you hear a talk about action, you feel exhausted. Just hearing about our own No, and to have to do more, I am just you know, I'm been that's all I do is do you know, I, you know, I just need meditation as a break. So yes, meditation can be a break. And to get that break, some people love meditation teachings, Buddhist teachings, that talk about not, don't do it just be it can be very profound to hear the instruction just be and don't do, as an antidote to all the being and doing and proving that goes on in this culture. But as good as this, that the teaching is, it doesn't really represent the fullness of what the Buddha had to teach. The Buddha taught about action, and how to do it wisely. And one of the ways to do it wisely the ways we pay attention, we start learning from the feedback loop, when and how our behavior adds stress and stress, how and when our behavior is refreshing and brings ease. We started recognizing the extra attitudes and that we pile on top that make it kind of heavy and difficult. And we are learning other attitudes, that our behavior acting in the world can be light and easy and fresh. And you know, there's not we don't we don't carry so much at stake. It's just, Oh, I'll do this.
And I think this is one of the important things to learn is that as we recognize that actions can be our own refuge. How do we act so that it's not a burden? How do we act? How do we live and behave in the world so that there's an ease and it's beautiful? It's a It's enjoy, it's meant we enjoy to do so by fenit When we finish or doing something, we're not exhausted by it. We feel revived by it, it's possible to do that much more than most people realize. So that means again, mindfulness, to keep the mindfulness turned on oneself, and track carefully, the extra attention, the extra stress, the extra straining, that goes into what we do. And to learn how to, to act, the solution is not to avoid acting, the solution is to act without all that extra stuff. When I was at that Zen monastery, they, there was stories about the founder of a Japanese monk named Shunryu. Suzuki, he was pretty short, I think he maybe was five foot tall or something. And he was in his late 60s, and, and this young American, strong, tall, he really he kind of loved having told Americans bail students. And one of the things he liked about them was they would come to him and help him they'd have to help him with his rock garden. And they had these big, that is big boulders. And, and the stories from those people who worked with him in the garden was that when when Suzuki Roshi was going to move a big boulder, he seemed to use no extra effort, more effort than it was needed. His body seemed to stay relax, and he knew how to engage in move to Boulder without any extra strain. So I wasn't there. So I don't know what they actually saw. But, but that principle stuck with me, yes, you can even move boulders without adding extra on top of it. So beings are owners of their actions, errors of their actions, bound to their actions that originate in their actions, and have actions as their refuge. You have actions as your ref can be your refuge. And it's your choice. Which those to you whether you make it a refuge, or make it something that keeps you bound up and caught in a certain kind of prison. So those are my thoughts this morning. So we have a few minutes if any of you want to ask some questions or comments or testimonial, testimonials about actions or complaints.
For anything else,
it seems to me very hopeful, because they get a new chance all the time.
Yes, it's hopefully you get a new chance all the time. Yes, you do carry with you the effects of the past. But you always, always can see, okay, now it gets stirred over. So you don't have to be weighed down by it, then yes.
Well, I do try to do the best I can, most all the time. But since I can't guarantee that I will not offend you. Because I don't, I'm not there and you're being I asked the people around me that if I offend them in any way, please tell me. Because then I can look at maybe and correct my mistake. But if I don't know about it, I can't.
So I think that's a really wise, that's really wise he he has, we have a lot of, you know, unconscious behavior and a lot of foolish behavior and you know, all kinds of things we do. And so how do we take that into account? You don't want to be in a straitjacket. And so with that what you just six Blaine was is a really important way of having a community to support us in finding our way. And so to make make agreements or arrangements with people you know, or to choose friends, who can offer your feedback and places where you've saved to make mistakes and be told about it and find your way forward. This is a really, really useful
Yes, it's difficult for people because people don't want to offend you, right? Yes. Thank you
if you would say your name, so it'd be nice as sweet.
Oh, my name is Jeannie.
And I'm Suzanne, I just had the thought that what you were talking about living with a teenager, you start a new every day. Because now that I'm in there, the the teenagers mood changes from day to day, sometimes moment to moment, you're seeing a new person each day or each moment. And having to learn to flex and change with that and decide you're going to do things differently, is probably very good, Buddhist practice,
fantastic, because maybe you'll then learn to do it for yourself. Because you probably change more than you realize. Great, thank you
thank you, girl for explaining actions as a refuge. It was confusing to me when I first saw that statement, but now it's very clear that good actions can become certainly a refuge for going forward. Great, great
and beautiful actions do. I'm inspired by this idea of calling, you know, calling it beautiful actions, rather than good actions. And I don't quite know what to do with it. Is it honest, to be honest, but it inspires me quite a bit.
Hi, my name is Abu Sheikh, and can you please explain what's the difference between a good action and a beautiful ledge?
That's how they can distinguish between a good action and a beautiful action. You know, the word good? Probably both words, the need defining be use it so lightly, would use the word good so easily as if everyone understands what we mean. But I think you can ask him what do you mean by good I would like to use the word good. That it means that it's useful and a bit beneficial for some purpose. Rather than focusing on the morality of it, it's good action is an ethical action, which soap it is for some people is that it's useful, it's healthy and beneficial for certain things. And whereas a beautiful for me, is that there is a it's certainly pleasant. It's, it's almost like like looking at art that just is so nice to see. Someone says something beautiful to another person. It's not just useful, but there's a kind of a grace, there's kind of a pleasure delight kind of inspiration. It's kind of that this you know, that wow, that was well done. That was a nice thing. So, you know, if I don't know if this you'll forgive me for being so poor examples. But if I just said something like, Well, you know what, thanks for that question. That was great. That was a good question. That's, that's the one thing right? But if I say wow, that was a really great question. That was important. You know, it makes me reflect on it now and it kind of gives me something to think about even more that difference and and I hope my answer was was was good. But thank you. So maybe the first was not so beautiful. Maybe the second approach to beauty is that how is it my getting an amended ballpark for you?
Yes. So it's what I did is like, how we do things, relates more to beauty and what within what we do relates more
good. Oh, the beauty has to do with how Yeah, I like that. Very nice.
Okay, so I guess. Okay, and thank you all very much for coming. And you know, we used to when we met before the pandemic, we would often periodically ask people to turn next to each other and say hello and all that. And I feel, you know, a little hesitant to do it now with the pandemic and all that and how we are with masks and be closer together. But if you go outside in the gravel or under the tree or something, and, and just maybe some of you would be like to say hello to each other, and maybe people you've never met before, and you're standing in the gravel or you're available to say hello to and maybe chat a little bit. Yes.
If anyone's new I'd be happy to show you around are building
the perfect Genie used to do that before the pandemic So, yeah, so so she so for anybody who is new or relatively new and would like to just say hello to an old timer and hear a little bit about what goes on here. Yeah, go see Jeanne. You'll be outside to write. Great, okay. Down the hall just outside. Great. Okay. Thank you all