Intimacy and Attention

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Sesshin Day 4

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Good morning. It's a really beautiful late spring morning and there's a little coolness in the air. It's really quite wonderful. We are very fortunate to be here. Thank you to Sojin Roshi for inviting me to give the talk today. We are in the depths or heights of Sishin. This is day four of a five-day Sishin. I'm remembering my first encounter with the Sishin environment. I think I began to practice in the autumn of a year in the 80s and


I was mostly coming to afternoon Sazen. I came in one afternoon which was in early December and everything was really different. It was Rohatsu Sishin and I suspect that among us today Sojin Roshi, Ron, Raul and maybe Megan, if I look around, were in that Sishin and it made a really big impression on me because things were the same but different. It was Sazen in the usual way but the Zendo had a feeling that was electric and it felt like people were living in it


which they were, you know, living in it and the stuff was sort of people's things were kind of stuffed away under the tans and but it just and the Zendo was full and I just said, oh, this is really something different. And I think I made a kind of promise to myself that I would not miss another one of these. And actually, for the most part, I haven't. I think I've been, except when I was, I think in Japan, I've been to almost every five and seven days Sishin that we've had for the subsequent 35 years.


A lot of good has done me. But I still come back, that's right. I don't know why. So, the word Sishin means something like to touch the mind. And I have to say, this is a Saturday talk. This is not a Sishin talk as such. So being a Saturday talk, I'm going to give you a kind of sales pitch so that the next time we have Sishin, you will really want to come. I've not been that great at sales in my life. So, if you come, great. And if you don't, I can understand it's my fault. So, to touch the mind means to me to touch the big mind, to touch big mind,


to touch the mind that is, in a sense, that doesn't come and go. That's beyond coming and going. But the fact is that even if we momentarily glimpse big mind, it's necessary that we understand it, we understand that big mind expresses itself, it manifests itself as small mind. The small mind does a lot of coming and going. You may have noticed if you've been sitting Sishin, you may have noticed your small mind, but you're noticing it, I think, from the perspective of the big mind.


So the mind of Zazen, the mind that Sojourn Roshi is always reminding us about, and Suzuki Roshi is reminding us about, and the ancestors are reminding us about, is the mind that includes everything. It includes coming and going, and it doesn't go anywhere. And it's precisely as we view these comings and goings of our mind, that's the activity of Zazen. We sit and our thoughts come and go. Our sensations come and go. Our likes and our dislikes come and go.


We may get rid of them for a moment, but we'll never get rid of them, period. They are part of the activity of having a mind and a body. And we come to terms with that. And so we create this thing that we call Sishin. Now, how far back this model of Sishin goes, I'm really not sure. Maybe there's some of you who have done the scholarship who know, I mean, we're always like, we have a tendency to say, oh, well, this was Zazen, this was Dogen's practice, or this was so-and-so's practice, but I don't think so. I don't know where Sishin was invented, but I suspect it was invented


sometime in the middle of medieval Japanese Zen. As a sort of formalized practice. But I could be wrong about that too. But Sishin, as we do it, is a peculiar model of everyday life. So in Sishin, we sleep, that's part of Sishin. We eat, we cook, we work, we sit Zazen, we walk, and we rest. So all of these are activities of our everyday life, right? But something is a little bit different. What is that?


What's different? Well, first of all, we try not to talk. And this is the hardest thing of all. We try really to contain ourselves, to contain our thoughts, to contain our opinions. And so, along with trying not to talk, we are encouraged to say yes to everything that is offered us, which is not the way of our usual everyday life. So we're encouraged to say yes to the schedule, to the food we're offered, to the work we are assigned, and most deeply, to say yes to the pain as we sit.


Sometimes we have to say yes to the joy. That's okay. That's not so hard. We're happy to say yes to the joy. But to the pain in our knees, the pain in our mind, the pain that says, when is this period going to be over? When is this Sishin going to be over? The painful question, the fundamental painful question, what the hell am I doing here? This is really crazy. You know, but we're encouraged to say yes. Yes, this is what I've chosen to do. And even though I don't really understand the reason, I have faith. This is something Ellen was talking about. She was talking about faith. I have faith that this is something really worthwhile doing.


So another thing that's different is, we really don't control our schedule. The schedule controls us. So instead of having a kind of inner process of preferences, we have an exoskeleton of schedule and we follow it. And that leads to the next point. The thing that I think is really unique and wonderful about Sishin is that we do everything together. The reason that we follow the schedule is because we do everything together. We form one organism.


And that's the, I think that is the gift of the, particularly of the Chinese and Japanese Zen practice that we've been given is the formation of this larger self. That includes one's individuality and yet is beyond that. Now, some of you of a certain age may think, well, that's really like being in the army. That's true. But it's an army with a different purpose. You know, that army, the U.S. Army, for example, it teaches you to defend and kill.


The Buddhist army teaches you to connect and love. And yes, there's discipline there. And there's also the challenge of setting aside your individual ego or self. Towards something larger that includes yourself. That validates it, that reinforces it. So you could think of it as that. I don't emphasize that army business, you know. But it occurs to me that it's worth mentioning because it can be taken that way. This kind of selfless group operation.


But never in that do we let go of our sense of the precepts or a sense of ethics or a sense of larger purpose and function. Because it comes to this, what is the point of doing Sashi? And in a larger sense, what is the point of Zen practice? I come back to two points, if you will. Intimacy and attention. These are completely connected. I think it was yesterday that Ellen spoke of the discovery


in recent times that a forest can be seen as one huge living organism. Is that right? And what we discover in Sashi or what we create in Sashi is something along that model. One living organism. And it's really amazingly complex. And we're pretty good at it. It was interesting to watch like the first day. There were more rough edges, you know, the meals went really long and people didn't quite know what they were doing in their positions. And here we are, day four, we've sort of settled into it


and it's just clicking along. And if you really think about all the moving parts and it has a conductor, there's two conductors. One conductor's name is Gary. But Gary can do that because we all cooperate with him, theoretically. Most of us cooperate with him most of the time. And with Sojin Roshi, who has created this form with us. But we agreed to this form and we cooperate. And so we make this huge, complex organism. It's a social organism. It's like we have to do the cooking. We have to do the cooking. We do the serving. We do the cleaning. We clean up the grounds. We clean up the zendo.


We straighten everything up. We set ourselves up. All of this stuff is involved and there is no external staff that's doing this. We are serving ourselves. It's a self-fulfilling samadhi. It's self-fulfilling practice that establishes itself. And it's quite wonderful because it doesn't set aside, oh, meditation. That's really what it's about. And so let's get a staff in to support these people to do their meditation. No, we are supporting ourselves. We're doing it all ourselves. And in the midst of this,


our teachers say these simple things to us. That seems so nice. And so simple. Language is very simple. You know, like, you yourself are Buddha. Very simple. Sun face Buddha, moon face Buddha. Very simple. But very difficult to understand. And then even really difficult to do. And this is what seshin allows us to do. It allows us to really dive deeply into this practice that's been given us by our ancestors. So you could say that seshin is a matter of life and death.


The koan that that Arjuso Ellen has been lecturing on in sun face Buddha, moon face Buddha. It's about how we live and how we die. This is always going on, right? It's always going on. And it's kind of parallel to the fact that babies being born is always going on. I remember when when Lori got pregnant with Sylvie, who's upstairs now, unbelievable.


It was like, I felt we had been initiated into a huge club that was an open secret in the world. And now we were in it. So that's one, that's the generative side of life. And now, although all of us have had our losses, now that I've come to the age of 70, it's very clear to me that I'm at the end of, I'm at the point in life when a lot of people are going away. You know, there were accidents along the way, untimely deaths.


Then there was the loss of our elders and our parents. And some of us are lucky we still have our parents. And it comes to, you get to be, now I'm 70. I can't believe that. Because actually, I'm like 19. Wrong, it's really wrong. But that's the delusion I operate under sometimes. But now, this kind of inevitable harvest of friends and loved ones is unfolding. So three weeks ago, you know, I was away recently, three weeks ago,


I was with my oldest friend, who was a Zen student, Tanzan John Cho. We've been friends for 56 years. And we've been playing music for all that time. He was an astonishing musician. And I went back to be with him as he was dying. And I thought that we would have some, I sort of figured we would have like a week or so. I went back as early as I could. And there were so many things I wanted to talk about, to reminisce and laugh. And that just, that was not what was happening. And I got there. I actually got there the day he was dying.


And as Helen spoke of yesterday, you know, thinking about whether I arrived late or I arrived early, it's no problem. I wish it had been some other way. But it was not a problem for me. And each of us has our losses in our families and our friends. And we also, in small ways, we see the changes in our bodies, the changes in our minds, the changes in our circumstances.


And they're these small losses that we actually have to contend with. So this week, last month or so, I've been having pain in my left knee. And I'm nursing it along, trying to figure out a way to sit. And now this problem has a name, right? This is really this interesting thing. Once you give something a name, then it becomes a whole lot more real when you call it arthritis. Or when you get the email from the doctor that says, severe arthritis. And I wrote back, said, what does severe mean? You know, I can still use it. You know, so it's okay. It really is no problem. Do I like it?


No. Would I prefer to be otherwise? Yes. Will I do what I can to take care of it and maybe heal it? Yes, slowly, carefully. And that is what Sashin is about. It's about living and dying in Zazen. Small deaths, great deaths. My mind is so much. It's so much with my friend, John, this week. That's the, kind of undercurrent of the Sashin for me. Thinking of the painful images that I carry from his last day.


Thinking of the innumerable joyous images and great sounds that we celebrated over 56 years. And stopping to hear the bird call outside. Which has now gone silent. And then returning to our own words and practice. I think like a lot of you, I was really struck by that section that that Ellen read yesterday


from Suzuki Roshi's lecture, Sun-Faced Buddha, Moon-Faced Buddha. My understanding is that that lecture dates from, he had been away from the Zendo ill and he returned after a time. This was in the spring of 71, is that correct? Right. He was dying. And I think he knew that he was dying. And in a sense, he was telling people about it. Sort of, I think his intimate students knew, but others not. But he was talking about his attitude. And I think that the frame of the comments early in the lecture, he says, the point is to attain complete composure.


This is the point of Sashin. This is the point of our practice. It's a really interesting word, composure. It's like you take the elements of your life and you put them together very thoughtfully, mindfully, to make a whole life that is unified. That is composure. To compose yourself like you're a work of art, because you are a work of art. So,


even though I die, it is all right with me and it is all right with you. I'm not sure about the all right with you part. But this is what a teacher does. I mean, I think this is what I was thinking about yesterday after the talk that a teacher is a teacher because he or she tells you the truths that you want to hold at arm's length. They may be very simple words. They may be even simple, simple truths, but really difficult. And you don't want to hear them. I don't want to hear them. I really don't. I don't want to hear that even if I die, it is all right with me. Actually, I have some experience of that.


Having almost died several times. And each time, I had enough consciousness to think, to speculate that maybe I was dying. And if so, it was okay. Because it's what was happening. It was not a problem. But it would be presumptuous for me to say that it's okay with you. And I think I'd like to get up and argue with Suzuki Roshi and say,


what do you mean I'm not a Zen student if it's not all right with me? But this, what I appreciate is he's pushing us to think about that, which is a useful thing. In those moments when I was close to death, I recognized that it was, and I recognized I could go that way. And there was this little part of my mind that, this voice that said, but I prefer not to. Really, quite literally, I felt that turn. I prefer not to.


I mean, if that's what was going to happen, okay, but I prefer not to. And circumstances were such that I could turn, I could remain in this life. It could have been, I prefer not to. And the universe and the Buddha said, oh, we hear that, sorry. And sooner or later, that is what's going to happen. But I don't necessarily assume that my preference kept me alive. It just was a preference. And as a preference, it was neither real nor unreal. I wish my friend, John, were alive.


I wish we could play another song. I wish the people that we've done memorial ceremonies for this week were alive, so that each person could be with and enjoy with them something that much longer. But they're gone, and we are here, and we're in this Zendo, and we are going to return to Seijin. And the fact of Seijin is about the celebration of life, which includes death. And that's what we're going to do for another day and a half. So I'd like to sing you a song to close, and then we'll have some discussion. I recorded this song a couple of years ago.


Yes, he was on it, and other friends who were singing with me. Susie Thompson, Kate Brislin. It's a song by Bernice Johnson Ragan. Some of you may know, she's in Sweet Honey in the Rock. And it's a song of hers that I always loved. And it's hard to sing. It's not so much hard to sing. Everything's hard for me to sing. It's hard to sing because of the meaning. It's called They Are Falling. They are falling all around me.


They are falling all around me. They are falling all around me. The strongest leaves on my train. Every letter brings the news that. Every letter brings the news that. Every letter brings the news that. The teachers of my life are moving on. Death comes and rests so heavy. Death comes and rests so heavy.


Death comes and rests so heavy. Your face I'll never see no more. But you're not really going to leave me. You're not really going to leave me. You're not really going to leave me. It is your path I walk. It is your song I sing. It is your load I take on. It is your air I breathe. It's the record you set that makes me go on. It's your strength that helps me stand. No, you're not really going to leave me.


So I will try to sing my song right. I will try to sing my song right. I will try to sing my song right. Be sure to let me hear from you. I know that may be hard to follow, but if you have any thoughts or questions, please, James.


What if your life is like a jigsaw puzzle and it's a piece of shit? What do you do, James? What if you're this big? What if you're this terrible? What if you've got more? You can't even put one piece together with another piece. If you're sleeping with one piece, you just don't come to get it.


Because that's what it sometimes feels like to me. The fact that you're here is because there are pieces that fit together and have been fitting together for 40 years, and if they didn't fit together, James, you wouldn't be here. And if they didn't fit together, you are welcome, because we see how they fit together. You may not see it, but they do. You have to accept that. Sometimes you do. Right now you don't. There's a lot of love in this room for you.


Just let it in. And people accept you as you are. Yeah, it's painful too. Thank you. I'm really glad you're here. I'm always glad when I see you show up for Sashim. Because if you're not, there's a piece that's missing. Gary? Can you say something about the life force? And how, you know, when you're here and you're dead, your mind wants to live.


All the people in your life, right? That one aspect of wanting to live. I think there's something even more at our core called the life force. We'll just cling no matter what. Desperation. Not necessarily. I mean, I think that's chi. So when I was with my friend John, the image that came up, he had a lot of chi. And he was a big soul. That day, what I kept feeling was, oh, this is like a clock that's winding down. And in the course of the day, it just wound down and it stopped. It was painful to see that, but also it was very natural.


There is an end to each of our life force. Sometimes it's interrupted abruptly by an accident or disaster, but in a natural sense, it has its own rhythm and pace. Where does it go? I haven't the slightest idea. Yeah, Cheryl? Yesterday, we talked about the counterpoint of death being working. And I wondered if you had something you could share about John's work. Yeah, thank you. I can share about his rebirth. His rebirth was practice. I know him for so long. He's the most gifted musician that I've ever met. And many really, really gifted musicians said that about him.


And he was tremendously, he was not happy. Not only was he not happy, but he was kind of cantankerous. And people weren't thrilled to work with him because he was too cranky, even though he was amazing. When he played, it was great joy. And about 17 years ago, after his mother died, and he was really faced with deep questions, he took up practice. He went to a retreat that I did, and then I introduced him to a couple of teachers, and he found his teacher. And what I saw in those last 15 years was he turned his life into a whole fabric.


There were healing that happened in his family, healing that happened with himself, and a whole bunch of the musicians that I saw in the week after his death said, you know, he was really different. The practice really changed him. So that was a birth after, we can have birth after birth. That was a birth. So thank you for reminding me of that. Maybe one or two more. Yeah, Jose. So I was thinking that practice seems really wonderful and helpful when you're facing, I don't know if you use the word, degenerative states. But how about when you're healing life and facing really degenerative places in your life?


Yeah, that's great. Then, well, in both states, I think the applicable principle is regulate your life. So you're able to deal with the lows and you're able to deal with the highs. But to regulate them means to create a structure, it's composure, you know? So to compose your life so that you can really get your mind around your activities and the values that you wish to create. And that's generative. So I think in that sense, it's a similar process, but it may have a different emphasis. Yeah, Denise. Thank you for your beautiful talk.


This set of questions that come up around death and around actually James' question really brings up this question and part of an answer, actually. For me, Zen isn't about composure, it's about attunement, maybe with composure, but not primarily composure. So to attune means to be present with what is. And you can say that's a form of composure, but attuning to what is really going on for you. And one of the things that historically in this lineage that has been a big question for me and is part of, you know, actually kind of like some of the powering through, not feeling comfortable, I actually believe in attuning to how we feel on the cushion


and taking responsibility for that. And so I'm actually practicing the different lineage and teaching that. And so when I look at Suzuki Roshi, who's a fine master and a great teacher, the place where he didn't listen to his wife the night that she came to him and said, I'm afraid of this, I'm paraphrasing because I don't know what conversation, I'm afraid of this guy that's staying in our temple. And that night he did not attune to her and she lost her life. So when you practice in this lineage and there's this subtle lack of attunement to how we feel, whether we're sitting uncomfortably, or whether we're not paying attention to our wife, who's telling us that she's afraid, how do you make sense of that


from the lineage master? I really fundamentally agree with you and I don't make sense of it from the lineage master and I don't valorize that in any way and I don't valorize pushing through. To me, composure and attunement are the same thing. And that is what Sojan Roshi was talking about in his lecture on Thursday and if I had another hour I would go back and talk about what he was talking about on Thursday, which had to do with save all the sentient beings of your mind, which means be attuned to and aware of all the parts of you that you're experiencing not to deny them or repress them. So my mother almost died of a blood clot. It was in her thigh and it left her with extreme, not very long, but it put her in extreme pain


because it can kill you and not only that, it can kill you. So that's a form of losing circulation to your leg and there are several doctors here who would probably tell you losing circulation to your leg is not really that great for your well-being and we've now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that sitting for long periods of time actually can lead to an earlier death. So I guess the question I have is... I don't accept that premise and what I would say is to people who have I'm very attuned to the state of my... the problem of having my knee is not from sitting. Right, I know, but I'm just saying you need to attune to your body and you need to listen to your body and there is nothing in this practice that I would advocate to deny the physical effects


that you're experiencing. If you are, you need to be doing something about it. I really, I just don't want to do that. Really? Only because I feel like the guidance is to stay put be still, don't trust what you really need for yourself. Don't trust what you need for yourself? You know, I think you need to listen harder, honestly. I don't think there's ever a message coming from anyone in this seat or in that seat that tells you


not to pay attention to what's happening within you. Let's do that. Let's do that together. I want to be clear. Everybody got that? Do not do things that you sense are harmful to you and discuss it with somebody. I just want to be clear about that. That's a whole different question. Why you have to move is a question between you and your teacher. You need to discuss it. I'm not telling you to repress it. I'm telling you to attune to it and look at it and look at why you may feel you need to move. We may disagree and this may or may not be the practice that suits you.


But it's not one side and it's not exactly the other side. All of Buddhist practice is like that. What is the middle way? How do you find the middle way? It's a really good question. It's a really live question. We should move on. A couple more and then we have to end. Heiko and then Dean. I can't say how many things have been said here that I didn't hear. Because of my delusion, because of what I expect you guys to be helping me about. I surely missed tsunami of brilliant support. Watch out for that tsunami. It'll blow you off the beach. Dean. So how much of our practice, what we do here, changes us?


Or how much of it is about, gives us the opportunity if we can't embrace it to become closer to who we really are. Can you explain what the distinction is between those two? I feel like I've always been a pretty good person. But now I feel like I'm different. But I feel like that goodness in me it's more accessible now since this practice. As opposed to, I haven't changed. I'm not a different person. And I hear a lot about change, but for me, I think I just got, this practice has helped me be more of who I am without as much fear and as much of all the things that surround me.


Change must come from within. So I think to go back to what Denise's point is, and what Sochin Roshi was saying on Thursday is, and this is what I'm saying about intimacy. Intimacy means really attending to all of the voices, all of the sentient beings of your mind. And then figuring out how you want to relate to them. It's not a structure that's imposed from the outside or a set of values that's imposed from the outside. It's a methodology for really looking at yourself and deciding, oh, what do I want to do? How do I want to live? Because the basis for that is already, if you yourself


are Buddha, all of that stuff is right there. It's all there inside you, but it's covered over. So that's not change, that's becoming your true self. That's what our objective is. And everybody's true self looks really different than everybody else's. It's not about making us all the same. I think that's where we'll have to stop. I think that's where we'll have to stop.