No Self – Embodied Self – Leland Shields, Intensive Day 3, April 12, 2022

Posted by on Apr 20, 2022 in Zen Talks | Comments Off on No Self – Embodied Self – Leland Shields, Intensive Day 3, April 12, 2022

Today I’d like to share some passages from Dogen’s Keisei Sanshoku “The Sounds of the Valley Streams, the forms of the Mountains.”

Now with regard to your practice and vows, whether or not you have aroused the thought of enlightenment, whether or not you are practicing, do not let others know about it. Practice in such a way that it is not known. Never speak of it yourself.

Dogen, Eihei; (translation) Cook, Francis Dojun. How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo (p. 75). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

And a sentence from a little further in the same essay:

Thus, in seeking the Way, you should hope that you will not become restricted by the respect and honor of [people] men and gods.

Dogen, Eihei; (translation) Cook, Francis Dojun. How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo (p. 76). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

In the first quote about not affirming or denying your practice when speaking to others, Dogen is cautioning us so we don’t fall in the trap of losing ourselves as we would if Zen becomes an identity. Zen isn’t special in this regard; any concept of ourselves that is not fully and richly inclusive of the unbounded totality of who we are, is restrictive.

In another passage, Dogen observed that from the time of the mythic Buddha to Dogen’s time, there were people who practiced Zen for fame and fortune. And so he also warns us against becoming restricted by seeking or receiving the honor of others around us for this very activity we are in, as I speak.

In our world today, it seems like an overstatement that what we are doing here will lead to either fame or fortune. But it’s easy to recognize how seductive it can be to seek respect of others for any activity in which we participate. I don’t want to look like the weak and stiff person in the Yoga class. I don’t want my yard to be the one neighbors resent for being unkempt. Though for the latter, it has not been sufficient motivation for me to act.

We can believe all we do and all we are is being measured by those around us. More insidiously, we measure ourselves frequently, while getting dressed, in how much hot water we used in the shower, in the amount or quality of the food we eat. In the actions we find to take in response to this difficult world.

Not speaking of practice, can help us foster engagement that is for its own sake, for the sake of hearing that sound that now resonates through the air. For the support of Ukraine. In reading his words with common understanding, Dogen offers practical advice.

Lay practitioners all, many of us will rub against others in our own homes who do not practice. For many, our activities are visible, our priorities discussed. What then does it mean to never speak of it?

Lin-chi uses many words when not speaking of practice, some of which are these:

“As for those who go off to live all alone on a solitary peak…sitting in meditation for long periods without laying down…such persons are all just creating karma. Then there are those who cast away their head and eyes, marrow and brains, their domains and cities, wives and children…throwing all away…Better to do nothing, to be simple, direct, with nothing mixed in.”

Lin-Chi; (translation) Watson, Burton, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi [Linji], Page 69.

Lin-Chi describes a manner of austere lone practice that creates karma – that is, done self-consciously, and another that casts away head and eyes, marrow and brains. Without head and eyes, marrow and brains, who is left to speak about practice, and what practice is there when lacking these fundamental elements?

Breathe simply, speak directly when telling a housemate when you’ll be done sitting. Nothing mixed in of measuring and comparing.

Ejo Takata Roshi trained with Yamada Mumon, before moving to teach in Mexico City in 1967. He attended an event at Dai Bosatsu Zendo with many teachers and students in 1976. In contrast to the robes we all wore at that time, he wore a western suit, with rakusu around his neck. I’ve been told he made a keisaku- on which he wrote: “Learn by yourself, I can teach you nothing.” I’ve also been told he saw the Mexican culture as having its own traditions in keeping with heart-mind, not needing the Japanese words that can be mistaken for Zen. Monks would come from Japan to study with Takata; when they used Japanese words or displaced traditions he would yell, “Leave Japan in Japan!”

Takata had his own way to implore us to never speak of practice.

There is a short piece within a recent edition of the satirical news journal, The Onion, I think could fit with me or you:

NEW YORK—Saying that when he looked in the mirror, he no longer saw the man he once deceived himself to be, local man Ron Stockton, 37, told reporters Monday that over the years he had become just a shell of his imagined self. “Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of my [wholly invented] purpose, and the [completely untenable] dreams I had just slipped away,” said Stockton…

February 22, 2022
article from The Onion

Though I found this both hilarious and eerily valid somehow, it’s also good Zen teaching. Can I look in the mirror and see the reflection, without expectation, no matter the mistakes I perceive I’ve made? Can I see you as you are, no matter the accomplishments and mistakes I perceive you’ve made? My stating it with these words is deceptively neat, so I’ll make a mess of it.

Long ago I knew a woman who was terrified on her wedding night. After an awkward period of time in the bathroom, she went to bed with her makeup on, knowing her new husband had never seen her face without it, and not knowing what else to do. What face do you think she saw in the mirror before going to bed? An utterly human one, I trust.

I regularly hear the parents of deeply troubled young or adult children grappling with the expectation that their love should be, should have been, enough to protect the child. Seeing love was not enough, of course the empathic and personal pain are undeniable. We can understand a parent’s pain arising from their compassion, and understand they carry a harsh expectation that this world cannot bear. Sometimes we cannot protect our own children from themselves and the world. We can’t protect them from cancer, not from hate. We can’t protect ourselves, nor other vulnerable people.

What are the ways you believe the world should have been better? What are the ways you believe you should have been more, or better? Is it related to a deep and unmet need to protect someone whose pain could not be separated from your own? Or related to race, climate, politics? For therapists, the suicide of a client can demonstrate such an idea. Surgeons can lose a patient. Some people live with the knowledge of having made an error driving and killing someone. Or is your negative self-evaluation stemming from a need to better respond to this world of so much need?

I don’t pretend that these examples are representative, though I hope they might offer a foothold such that you can hold your own fears of showing your unembellished face as tenderly human. As no more and no less than human, look in the mirror and see, Zen practitioner or not, tenderly human.

Standing back from all beliefs, we see. Someone recently sent me a one-frame New Yorker cartoon. The picture was of a referee holding a microphone, standing in a boxing ring, gesturing to a tight-lipped man in street clothes standing against the ropes. The caption read, “And in this corner, still undefeated, Frank’s long-held beliefs.”

For me, you, and Ron Stockton, there is an idea of ourselves we generally call, “I.” The words of our esteemed ancestors on the Way may sometimes sound obtuse, as if intended to baffle. We read and speak their words still as pointers to an “I” which is not the one to which we identify. An “I” which cannot be identified by measure or comparison. There is no description that defines it.

Our regrets and self-consciousness are the helpful reminders to release attention from the conclusions of who I am, who I am not, and from who I think I should be. In the way we meet the world as it is, we are called to show up as no more or less than we are, in this moment.

And so Dogen tells us:

Thus, in seeking the Way, you should hope that you will not become restricted by the respect and honor of [people] and gods.

Dogen, Eihei; (translation) Cook, Francis Dojun. How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo (p. 76). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

Dogen is remarkably open in this statement – saying we hope not to be restricted by respect, and lack of respect. We have room to be restricted now, or sometimes, but understand sometimes restrictions are unavoidable.

I spoke of no-self yesterday as a topic stimulated by Dogen’s expressive words – to study the self is to forget the self. Forgetting the self leads to – or from –  absolute immersion in the myriad dharmas. Coming to today’s words, to practice without it being known, it is best if we ourselves don’t know we are practicing the Buddha way. To forget we are practicing the Buddha way as we practice the Buddha way, is to forget ourselves, practice, Buddha, and Way. What does that leave?

Dogen’s sentence, “Do not let others know about it” has another meaning. Perhaps there is nothing that can be known about it, just as there is no way to define “I.” There are many things we can and do say about Zen practice, our own and generally. That we are sitting for seven silent days; the week includes bowing, talks, chanting of old texts, and meetings with teachers. I can describe more activities, and even the luxurious hours of trial and error as my mind adapts to the task of no task.

If you were unfamiliar with zazen meditation, I suspect these and any words I could conjure would leave more unsaid than said. And worse, give an image that is fixed, and therefore mistaken. When hearing about all the studies of mindfulness and meditation in psychology, Robert Aitken said, “Can they measure the joy I feel when hearing a thrush?”

Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps retold the story of our lay ancestor, Hotei, who carried a linen sack through town in T’ang dynasty China. He didn’t call himself a Zen master and spoke nothing of it when asked. In his sack were gifts which he gave to the children who he played with in the streets. As the story goes:

Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: “Give me one penny.” And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others, again he would reply: “Give me one penny.”

Once as he was about his play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: “What is the significance of Zen?”

Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer. “

Then,” asked the other, “what is the actualization of Zen?” At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.

Senzaki; Nyogen; Repps, Paul. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings (p. 20). Caramna Corporation. Kindle Edition.

It is enough to put down the sack of our ideas of Zen that are not Zen, and lay in the dust and play with children – if that is your Way. No fear that dropping the sack means we do nothing for those we love, for the world, or ourselves. Hotei picked up the sack and walked on to play with the children – engaging in his place in the world.

Zen practice is not something we pick up; it’s a practice of putting down. It is enough to put down that there is one who carries the sack. Forgetting that one, leaves room for the whole world of laughter and tears, thrush song and mud.

No self is the water flowing through the thawing creek that leaves towns behind. Flowing forward as it goes, leaving behind the fish resting out of the current downstream of the log, just moving. Ride your breath like this. Ride your breath-water and set your sack of self, Zen, and practice down, into the creek bed, falling away just for now. Ride the creek down, down, down. When all that’s left is breath, mu, there is no self, no idea of self, just breath. When sweeping, there is no idea of a sweeper, no hands holding a broom just sweep, sweep, sweep. This is not a philosophy, it’s an engagement. Sweep. Make a bed. Drive. Melted into the activity, just here just this. Abandon yourself to this activity; there’s no need to be forceful. Just here. Just mu

To finish, I’ll share a few more words of Dogen’s:

In earth, stones, sand, and pebbles, there is to be found the extremely inconceivable Mind that moves the sincere heart.

Dogen, Eihei; (translation) Cook, Francis Dojun. How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Raihai Tokuzui “Paying Homage and Acquiring the Essence” (p. 102). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.