Dogen's Vow

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So good morning. Lately, I chanted this verse today because it's very special to me and very meaningful and always encourages me in my practice and helps me to renew my faith in practice. Lately, I've been feeling really stretched and challenged by the demands and stresses of my life. In the midst of the impact of the pandemic on every aspect of my life, in the lives of all sentient and non-sentient beings, in the midst of confronting racism in myself, in others, and in all of our institutions, in the midst of California burning and hurricanes multiplying as a result of climate change, in the midst of adjusting, to ways that Sojin's illness affects us personally and as an institution. More personally, I've experienced periods of feeling depleted.


My intention is to be energetic in enacting my priest vows to save all beings, to be compassionate, generous, and patient with all beings. I feel I want to support others I encounter who look to me for support. I want to support my husband who copes with serious chronic illness, my two sons and their wives struggling to support their family in difficult financial times, my stepson going through a very painful divorce. And I also want to be able to support Sangha members who I engage with, who have been directly impacted personally because of personal illness, death of loved ones, mental health issues like depression and trauma, financial problems that affect a lot of people.


I also hold a demanding position at BCC. administratively. So I've been really working with that feeling of depletion, that feeling that when it comes, that feeling of sadness and how do I hold all this? How do I sit with it? How do I hold it? I feel like I have taken the Bodhisattva vow to save all beings. I've studied for years. And yet with all this and with all these challenges, I still fall down. So how do I not, how do I get to not get discouraged? How do I not blame myself or get angry with myself or get angry with others? Um, how, how do I, how do I manage to, uh, fulfill my vow in a skillful way to be compassionate for all beings.


What about the conventional me who's really feeling depleted, feeling dis-ease, sometimes called disease? Sometimes I even wonder if I'm getting sick. And I'm sure many of you have had a sore throat or some tiredness and you think, is it now? Is it my time? So my question to myself and all of you is when we feel overwhelmed, overextended, stressed, exhausted, what is the most important thing? What is the most important thing? What is it? What is my deepest aspiration or desire? When we reach deeply into our inmost place to answer that question over and over again, it reminds us of how we want to live our lives. Do I, at the deepest level of my being, aspire to commit and recommit to a practice that supports me in going beyond my discomfort zone, to respond skillfully and compassionately, to cultivate


to access, open to my compassionate Buddha mind and fulfill my vows, how do I do it? So I chose this chant, which is also called Ehe Dogen's Great Vow in English, to remind myself of how to articulate what is the most important thing for each of us. What is the thing that I remember when I reflect deeply? And what is it that I remain committed to and act throughout my life? The first verse states, we vow with all beings from this life on throughout countless lives to hear the true Dharma. That upon hearing it, no doubt will arise in us nor will we lack in faith.


That upon meeting it, we shall renounce worldly affairs and attain the Buddha Dharma. And that in doing so, the great earth and all living beings together will attain the Buddha way. Later it says, may all Buddhas and ancestors who have attained the way be compassionate to us and free us from karmic effects allowing us to practice the way without hindrance. May they share with us their compassion, which fills the boundless universe with the virtue of their enlightenment and teachings. Buddhas and ancestors of old, whereas we, we in the future shall be Buddhas and ancestors. So the heart of this for me is how to look deeply into what it means to be compassionate to self and others. and to encourage others to be compassionate to themselves and others. So one of my favorite Zen koans is Dongshan is Unwell, case 94 in the Book of Serenity.


I look to it in times of distress sometimes to encourage me as one of the stories that encourages me. A lot of you attended Ross's class on Dengxian, but I just want to remind us that he goes by a number of other names, Mianxie of Dengxian. And in Japan, he's called Tozan Myokai, and when we chant the ancestors in our services, that's the name we use. And he's considered to be the co-founder of Sodo Zen Buddhism. He lived in the ninth century during what's called the golden age of Zen. So I'll read that. So I'm gonna read the case and then talk about how it relates to my questions.


The preface of the case, the lower do not discuss the higher. The base do not move the noble. Even if you can control yourself and follow others, you still cannot toil the heavy by the means of the light. When physical elements are out of tune, how does one attend and nurture? So this is the main case. Once when Dongshan was unwell, monk asked, you are ill teacher, but is there someone who does not get ill? Dongshan said, yes, there is. The monk asked, does the one who is ill look after you? Dongshan said, I have the opportunity to look after him.


The monk said, how is it when you look after him? Dongshan said, then I don't see that he has any illness. Or sometimes it says, I don't see the sickness. And the capping verse is rather than heal the body, heal the mind. When the mind is at peace, the body Whoops. The body is at ease. When the mind is at peace, the body is at ease. When the body and mind are both free, the dragon roars in the withered tree. So although the dialogue speaks of illness, this question of the monk suggests that he's that we're exploring something more universal.


We could be talking about any kind of suffering. Is there anyone who doesn't experience sickness, old age, and death? Is there anyone who doesn't experience greed, hate, and delusion? So he answers. Yes, there is. Doesn't this monk know? that why does he ask that question? Doesn't he know that part of the Four Noble Truths is that we all have suffering? Of course he knows that. So he's pushing Dongshan to go deeper, to look for a deeper teaching. He asked, does the one who is not ill take care of you? This is a question that asked the master to respond to the conventional world understanding. Doesn't the well one take care of the sick one?


Isn't that an expression of compassion? But this conventional view implies that there is a well one separate from a sick one. And this is the realm of duality. Is the monk still caught in the realm of duality or perhaps he's just pushing Dongshan who's been ill and maybe getting older and closer to death to teach him the way of a realized practitioner. So Deng Xian quickly makes it clear that he's not talking about the conventional world, but about the realm of the universal or absolute. By answering, I had the opportunity to look after him. This is the most interesting part to me. Who is the I who is looking after? Dongshan here is pointing to something beyond the eye of the ego. He seeks to steer the monk to the eye of no self and the activity of someone who is awake to reality.


It kind of reminds me of Suzuki Roshi's interdependency or Thich Nhat Hanh talks about inner being. There's no, self alone. There's no self alone. There's only a self with all beings that are continuing interacting. So when we even though these questions may refer to his illness, he's really speaking in a much more, much more profound way about how do we handle suffering? How do we handle disease? How do we handle sickness and old age and death? And how do we find the one who's well, who dwells in equanimity and tranquility? So in this place of disease, how do we look after the one who's well?


In this story, he seems to be telling the monk to devote himself to a practice that reads, that leads to realization of ultimate reality. When he meets suffering, he'll have the opportunity to practice and manifest the one who is not suffering. In the commentary to this, Wang Song says, this is where everyday practice empowers you when you're dying. The monk wants to know more about this. How is it when you look after him, Dongshan says, then I don't see that he has any illness. He's saying that when you practice in a situation of suffering, you can move beyond suffering. So when I read this koan, I ask myself, is Dongshan practicing compassion towards his own illness or the suffering of all beings? Is he instructing the monk about the practice of compassion? And what does this have to do with my original question about practicing compassion?


What is it? What is compassion? What is passion? And what about dispassion? The dictionary definition of passion is suffering. The others include being overtaken by emotions as distinguished from reason, intense feelings like anger, hatred, and desire. This sounds like Katagiri Roshi in Returning to Silence, who talks about thirsting desire, or even worse, obsession with thirsting desire. So the definition of compassion then is literally as being with passion or with suffering. But there's a further aspect. The dictionary also teaches, in a very Buddhist way, that compassion is also a conscious awareness of another's distress together with the desire to alleviate the distress.


Thich Nhat Hanh says that compassion or karuna is the ability to remove suffering and transform it. If we see deeply into the nature of interbeing, that all beings inter-are, that this is like this because that is like that. In this state, so let me say that again, that this is like this because that is like that. In this state, we can be with suffering being without judging and actively practice with the one who is not suffering. What does it feel exercising this kind of compassion? Is it joining the suffering? That's more like empathy when you feel the suffering, when you get caught, perhaps, in the suffering of others.


So it's not empathy. Compassion is not as different from empathy. At least it seems that way to me. So how do we be compassionate and not get caught in the suffering? And I wonder about the word or practice of dispassion. Wonder to me, this idea of dispassion along with the practice of compassion is that the I is not caught in suffering. When I take the opportunity to take care of one who is well, I do this with tranquility and at the same time with the intention to end suffering. So this is dispassionate compassion.


I remain in my well mind and I'm able to accompany, I'm able to be with I'm able to encourage. So this to me is a great challenge. How do I be with all, I started off talking about how do I be with all the suffering around me? And what is it? What's my deepest, when I look, what is my deepest intention? I remembered as I was doing this, a time about 12 years ago, When my husband suffered a major heart attack associated with pneumonia and septic shock, and he was in the hospital for eight weeks and for four weeks in the intensive care unit. Often he was experiencing pain, inability to breathe, weakness, fear, sadness.


At times he was overwhelmed by it. It was very, I was very terrified watching all the medical procedures done, not knowing how to help him. And at first I felt that I was caught. I was caught by all of his emotions. I was caught and kind of trapped in the hell realm, overcome by emotions. And after a while, I had to learn how to be compassionate and supportive and to be the calm, compassionate presence to hold that. For a time, for four weeks or so, he was in and out of near-death experience. I didn't know what to do. Sometimes I would just


sit and breathe with him, try to coordinate my breathing with his breathing. And then I realized that in order to be beneficial, I needed to do something else. I needed to take care of myself or I absolutely could not stay there. I was staying there 18 hours a day. I couldn't sustain that and sustain the compassion. and really I couldn't support him. So I started to take long walks, ate a lot of ice cream, walked down Ashby to sit in Sazen at BCC. Sojin came to visit Paul several times during this period, and I usually left them alone. It gave me an opportunity to go out for a walk or take care of myself. When I asked Paul what happened, He said, Sojin taught him how to breathe and they would breathe together for a half an hour.


Hearing this, I began to feel okay about just sitting, just sitting with Paul and abiding in this place, in this space of holding it all, holding all the possibilities that were happening. and be companioning him in whatever state he was in, being able to watch my own breath, to try to breathe, to try to remind myself to breathe, to try to remind myself what my intention was. What was my intention? My intention was to be compassionate, to be a presence of tranquility and equilibrium. After a while, time passed really quickly, it seemed. Those 18 hours, if I spent my time in mindfulness, in breathing, in meditation, hours would go by.


And I found that I suddenly had energy. I had more energy. I had more to give. And there was no separation. There seemed like no separation. My life was just continuous if I could concentrate and remind myself over and over again. Watch your breath. Go look at the sky. Take a walk. Sit quietly. Sing a song. As Paul started to experience less discomfort and became more lucid, I just remember this. I asked him what it was, what had it been like for him because he was unconscious part of the time off and on. And he said he could remember a place that was peaceful, where he experienced a wonderful light and felt joy.


So there was one who wasn't ill despite what appeared on the surface and perhaps Sojin sitting with him, Mai sitting with him, some other Sangha sitting with him. Perhaps that was part of it, holding that space for someone who was ill and really desperately ill. So it seems to me that as I go back to look at my original question there is something essential for practicing compassion and that is always taking care of the one as well in me so that I can take care of the one who's suffering in a dispassionate way that I can take care of that suffering if that's


Suffering is me my suffering and I can also take care of that suffering in others and I can also Companion others and finding the one who isn't suffering When I fall into when I know that I will still fall into Overwhelm I still will be caught occasionally in fear, anger, outrage, self-righteousness, or sheer overwhelm. And very importantly, when I experience this disease, I have to look deeply, remember my deepest intention. My deepest and maybe my deepest intention when I find it.


And when we all find it, we all have to go. There is no one deepest intention. We all take the same vows, but our lives are different. Our realities are different. The circumstances are different. And yet, what is it? How do we see those? How do we see those vows? How do we see our vow? to save all beings? How do we see our vow? To do what is good and avoid what is evil. How do we see our life in terms of wholesomeness? Less divisiveness, less judgment, anger, less fear. How do we do that? What's our intention about it? Sometimes our intention could be just to notice, to always notice when I'm falling out of balance.


Sometimes an intention is to look at the other as the self, or look at the other with understanding, to always be completely open to everyone that we meet and be compassionate with them. That's one that recently I encountered when reading an article in the New York Times just before election. There was an article on the front page and I talked about this for those of us who were in the election session here. The article said, there's great anxiety in a whole group of people who, for the first time in their lives, had four years of feeling like they belonged.


And I thought, Wow. I had been otherizing people. I wasn't looking at people with that depth of compassion. That's my deepest intention. A whole group of people never reported that they never had experienced feeling like they belonged to anything, that they were part of something, that they could do some good, that they could change things. So all of a sudden I had a new thing to challenge me. Want to be compassionate.


I think I want to be compassionate, but do I have limits on who I'll be compassionate with? What if I just open my eyes and my ears and my heart to everyone I encounter? Because maybe they were the ones that never felt seen or felt part of anything. So I invite you all to take a moment before we do the vows, maybe, to think about what's your deepest intention? What is your truest aspiration? How can we be open-hearted and compassionate and generous and patient when all around us things are falling apart?


Thank you, Jerry. So you can do the chat now. Well, we'll have Q&A first. If there are any questions or comments that you would like to make, please raise your blue hand and or you can send a message to me in the chat box and I'll relay that to Jerry. It looks like Judy Fleshman, you can unmute yourself. Thank you, Jerry, for a stimulating talk. I was wondering, because you brought in Dogen's Great Bow, that Dogen's context, as I have understood it, is he was in a very tumultuous time.


He in so many of his teachings would talk about or express on the one hand this true reality of all beings, all interbeing, however you want to say that. And then in the next breath, he would have strong, strong critique for other schools of Buddhism. And, you know, I might ask myself, well, how does this connect to his deep vow, the seeming paradox of having a very strong opinion of perhaps on the surface could seem like not very open, not very compassionate. And yet there's a deep purpose in it. And it's not separate from also saying one with all beings. I was wondering how you see that in modern context, and particularly what you just said about, you know, you read in one news outlet, not the only one, of that particular piece.


Well, that's a little bit two different things. I find that a lot of, I guess I, I used to be troubled by Dogen's judgmental, what I called his judgmental side, because there was a lot of times when he made critiques and they weren't kind. I think that I kind of accept them now as just shaking things up, that it makes us look at things, makes us question things, So for me, I take it as not necessarily, I don't know if words kill. I think a lot of his talks were to co-practitioners. And so he was talking to his, he had two different kinds of talks, talks that were public discourses and talks that were to his monks.


And I can imagine those being different. that so many of his things are very inspirational, but then he does lapse into this kind of judgment of our practice is the best and everybody else's practice doesn't work. So I can't know what was in Dogen's heart, but I think the overall message is to be able to sit in Zazen and openheartedly except the totality. So that, I think, occurs over and over. So I give them that. And then the second one was what? I lost the second part of your question. I don't know. What's coming up for me is that I'm wondering... Oh, the people. I'm sorry. The people who...


I don't, and I'm not going to, I can't, I wouldn't say anything. They just interviewed this group of, they went out and interviewed people who were developing a lot of anxiety about the election because they were going to lose that place of safety, that place of belonging. And those people were afraid that the election would impact that. I guess I'm concerned that what you're calling a lapse, that it's important for me to be open to, I don't really see it anymore as a lapse on Dogen's part. I think he's pointing to something that's really important about it's all included. Well, I think, I mean, I think ultimately he does, That's what he does.


But I think that there are, when you're reading certain things, you can get a certain feel from it. And the feeling isn't compassion and openheartedness and love. You're not getting that. He's using this as a technique to open your mind, right? So, I mean, I've been talking about compassion. There's more than compassion, obviously. There's also opening your mind, blowing your mind, if you will, or pushing your mind till your mind explodes, which is different. That might be compassion. Like when it's tough love. Thank you very much. Other Sarantis, please unmute yourself and ask your question. Uh, good morning. Thank you so much, Jerry. Um, this is a wonderful talk and I, I have to guess that many of us can relate to overwhelm.


Can you hear me? Yeah, okay. So I have that feeling of overwhelm and the intersection with practice I've always thought about go back to the basics. And for me, overwhelm often comes from a physiological place where when I reached that, that zone of, I don't know, just overwhelm is a good word. Um, I often realize that, I need to go to the Redwoods or I need to go swimming in the Bay or I need to drink less coffee or like really, really basic problem solving things for the overwhelm. And I just wonder in your experience, how you've held that intersection of deep practice with the physiological response to stress and how you support yourself.


Yeah, I think we all have ways. You know, you heard, I can't remember on what discussion was with Sojin that he was encouraging one of our priests who's having chronic, really serious medical conditions to go back to doing pottery. As Sojin himself goes back to playing his recorder. Or listening to Bach. And I think we, there are ways of replenishing ourselves. We're practicing zazen in the redwoods. We're practicing mindfulness when we chop vegetables. We're practicing mindfulness when we write a poem. You know, these are all part of our practice. It's not the form, it's not that you have to go sit, you know. Although personally for me, one of the things that, I think the reason I'm having more difficulty now than I did in the past, perhaps, is that I used to go on long retreats.


I did go on long retreats because it was important to me to get away from, you know, that's why we have monasteries. That's why there's Green Gulches three week January intensive every year. I used to go every year. Because if you're putting out a lot of energy, I did that as a physician, as a practitioner, whatever, you're putting out a lot. And it's hard to get yourself, if you don't take yourself away, it's hard to get yourself to be able to separate from, wait a minute, that needs to be done. That person needs something. I really need to take care of that. So I think that there are times when we take our practice in whatever way, We take our mindfulness, our breath, our posture, our tranquility to these other activities, and then we're replenished. And I think what's happening now, what's been happening now, I mean, during the fire, you couldn't go outside.


So, you know, it's been that bad. So all your little go-to compensatory mechanisms are shot and you're stuck with just you sitting. or you writing a poem or you listening to music or something, but still, the news is happening, the emails are happening, the Facebook posts are happening. So, it's really a, it takes a conscious effort. I think that's what, that's what Dung Chung's talking about when he takes, he's taking care of the one as well. He's also taking care of the one. Taking care of the one. Taking care of the one. Whoops. Whoops. What's that? Is this some other hacking? No. So he's also, you know, looking at the monks and taking care of them. There's a later story of Dongshan where he's dying and the monks are wailing and renting their clothes and whatever.


And he's sitting there, he's shaved his head, he's been ready to die. And the monks are just suffering and suffering and suffering. And so he kind of gets up and makes them dinner and he calls it the stupid meal, the stupidity meal. He makes them a stupidity meal because they can't get that Dongshan is sitting there dying and the one who is well is sitting there. The one who is well is sitting there. And he ends up showing the monks like making them a meal, taking care of them, how to behave in extremists. Wonderful. Thank you. I saw Sojin's hand. You did? Well, there you are. I can't hear you though. Well, you know, it goes on and off.


Okay. So, I want to clarify something about compassion. Compassion isn't necessarily to be nice to people. That's true, yeah. Compassion means to be accurate and helpful. And sometimes it's painful. You said tough love, something like that, right? So in the instance that you, your example of what I did, this is where someone is hiding from themselves. And when someone is hiding from themselves, then


to bring them out in the open and to do something they can do well. You know, we think that practice means sitting zazen and all that. To be able to express yourself fully and totally without reverting to dharma. you ask them to do something that they do well, so that they have that success. Once a person has a success, even the smallest success, then they can build the next moment on that success. And then they build the next moment, it doesn't matter what they're doing. That's the dharma. So, I have high hopes. Well, so with you, actually, when you were with Paul, Paul couldn't breathe.


He was struggling. Yes. And you sat with him, and you said, this is how we breathe. Breathe with me. Yes. And that's all you did. You just said nothing else, right? Yes. That was one of your greatest teachings to me. That's the greatest teaching of all. Yeah. Breathe. Breathe. Every moment in any, in any space. Thank you. So thank you for doing that. I always remember that that was because again, it showed me what I could do or, you know, how I could be in that situation, flailing around, trying to make things better. Just, just not try. just working with what I had rather than trying to work with something else. Yeah. Don't try to make it better. Just try to work. Yeah. Thank you.


As always. Hika, you want to ask a question? Yeah. Thank you, Jerry. I really appreciate your talk and your teaching, always. And your adherence to Sogen's teaching, I really appreciate that. When you ask, you know, what's the most important thing right now, or what's the most important thing as we go through this, what you may call a difficult time, what came to me is just devotion to this moment right here. Devotion to this body-mind right here, and to what's right in front of me. The 60, 62, 63 people right in front of me. And so I feel like that's the most important thing. I'm not distracted. I have my mind on my posture. How important is that? How important is that right now? It's everything right now.


It is. It's everything right now, because that's the one who is well. Now, it doesn't mean you have to get, obviously, you know, you have to hold that. We're talking about living in the Buddha mind, right? You hold that with you. You bring that with you. You don't stop. Right? Yes. That's the thing. And then we fall down and we say, oh, I'm, oh my God, I did it again. I, whatever. When I bring my Buddha mind, I bring my suffering and everything. Everything with it. So there's no, there's no escape. It's not an escape. It's an inclusion. It's a, it's expanding to include. Yeah. That's what we mean when I hear that you must include everything. That's always a kind of an interesting idea to me. How do you include everything? How do you include everything?


I think sometimes, you know, everything has gotten so close in these days. You know, usually you can, feel that there's some separation, some freedom somewhere. And getting locked into your house, and getting locked into a Zoom space, you feel trapped like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you know? Where's the wizard who's gonna get me out of this? And there isn't any, right? You just have to go back to the moment. right where you are and do what you're doing. I am my own wizard. The wizard is all there with you. Thank you, Terry Song. There are two more hands up, Jerry. Well, we have until 11.15, so that's okay. Okay.


Nico, do you want to ask your question? Thank you. I'll be very brief because I see Sojin has his hand up. I'm very excited by the rigor of Dogen. And in these times, it's been Dogen's urgent cry that we practice fully, you know. Judy and Jerry, you guys answered my question, so that's all I wanted to say. I really appreciate his vigor and his rigor, and I used it on myself during very tough times recently. Get to the seat, and I'm finding compassion and the dharma, you know. So thanks to Dogen, thanks to this practice, and to you and Sojin Roshi. Thank you. We have, Hozon wants to say something, I guess, and Sojin. We'll let Sojin have the last word after Hozon. Sure.


I really resonated with what you were describing when Don, between Paul and Sojin, and how you reflected on it. And I think I've spoken about this before, about 20 years ago. when I was in very, very dangerous health circumstances in the hospital for a long time, drifting in and out of consciousness, what I learned and was fed by was this kind of mysterious, just this alignment, which I think is what Sojin was offering to Paul, was an ability to be in alignment with each other, just in the simplicity of the breath. And sometimes it's even simpler than that. What I discovered was very powerful was that some people were just, they could come into the room and be at ease without feeling that they needed to do something to put me at ease, but just to be there.


And they could sit there and read a book. But they could sit there and there was some mysterious presence that they manifested that put me at ease. And, uh, then of course I could put them at ease that, that we were all okay in that moment, even though, you know, it wasn't necessarily lasting. Uh, this was very powerful and it didn't have anything to do and it, It didn't have anything to do with love, in what we usually think of as love. The people who love me most, or who are closest in relationship, sometimes we're not capable of that. Whereas some people came in, and they manifested that, and now I love them forever. There's something, some connection that I never saw there.


You know, what we talk about in chaplaincy basically is non-anxious presence, instead of reductionist approach to it. But it really means, how do we bring our ease? How do we find our ease to be in difficulty? Because then that sets up an incredible feedback loop. I think that's what you were talking about in terms of watching Paul and Sojin and also what you learned from that. Yeah. Yeah. And sometimes you can be, I want to say this quickly because I want to hear Sojin's. Sometimes in Dokasan, you know, you can just sit and look at somebody, you look at each other and that's all that happens. You know, you're not, you're just breathing together in Dokasan. There's no question. And yes, something's happening. Right. Thank you. Sojin? Well, I just want to offer a little something from Dogan.


I don't want to overuse him, but yes. He said, when you stumble and fall to the ground, you use the ground to help you up. That's, yes, you've said that, that's really, that's always, that's really helpful, especially to those of us who've been stumbling on the ground lately. And feeling badly about ourselves, because we're supposed to be better than that. It's supposed to do something. Yeah, yeah. Bad, bad. Okay. Thank you, Surgeon. You're welcome.