Ordinary Mind - Practice and Composure

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Shuso talk

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Good morning, everyone. Good morning. Is the volume OK? Yes. So today, I'm going to continue talking about the koan that I've been given to work with this practice period, which is Ordinary Mind is the Way. And today, I'm going to focus a little more on the poem that's at the end that Moomin wrote. So I'm going to begin with reading the koan again. Joshu asked Nansen, what is the way? Ordinary mind is the way, Nansen replied. Shall I try to seek after it? Joshu asked. If you try for it, you'll be separated from it, responded Nansen. How can I know the way unless I try for it, persisted Joshu. Nansen said, The way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing.


Knowing is delusion, not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong? With these words, Zhou Xu had a sudden realization. Then Mu Man's comment. Nansen dissolved and melted away before Joshu's questions and could not offer a plausible explanation. Even though Joshu came to realization, he must delve into it for another 30 years before he can fully understand it. And then his verse. The spring flowers, the autumn moon, summer breezes, winter snow. If useless things do not clutter your mind, you have the best days of your life. So I've been thinking about this spring as a season in our lives for each of us.


How do we each experience it? What is ordinary for us? What are the useless things that can clutter our minds? Is there a way that these can be our best days or our best seasons? as another translation says. How do we experience spring? What are its ordinary aspects? The poem mentions flowers. We also think about warmer weather, planting gardens, and if you are a teacher or parent, sometimes you think about the final weeks of the school year. This spring weather that we experienced was not what many of us expected. How can we say what is ordinary? It seemed it rained almost every week for a very long time. I work in some schools on the other side of the tunnel, and this was disorienting, especially for the adults at the school.


There is a rhythm to the school year, and the end of the school year has a certain feel to it, and it's usually accompanied by warmer weather. And when one aspect of this rhythm is missing, people feel kind of out of sorts. I heard ongoing complaints about the weather and the rain, but along with recognition that other places in the country were experiencing far worse circumstances. Rain and cloudy weather had become the everyday, ordinary weather. But our memory was of something different, and many of us were holding on to this. A couple of weeks ago, on a rainy day at school, I heard from afar a teacher humming a tune from a winter holiday song. And I'm not really able to hum, but I'm going to try to sing it, and maybe you can help me. a few lines, okay?


Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And then, since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. So someone heard her humming this and said to her, really? And she replied rather cheerily, why not? And I just thought that was a really good lesson in just accepting what's happening in the moment. So she was just going with it. So back to the poem. A season of the year and a season in our life, or this very day, all contain ordinary, everyday events. But what is everyday or ordinary? This frame shows us not to rely on our past experience to define that.


As Suzuki Roshi said, not always so. I think to discover the true ordinary nature of things, we have to pay really close attention and that this is practice. A topic that came up at the TEAS that I've had the privilege to attend and do these past weeks is that of effort or intention. What is that? And I think effort or intention is paying attention, bare attention, as simple as that. But for me, I find that very difficult, especially in circumstances where I have time to think, which, of course, pretty much all the time. So I practice zazen as a way to practice letting go of thoughts, ideas, and feelings. I notice my posture and breath, and I come back to my posture and breath over and over. When we practice letting go of our thoughts, we can see their impermanence, and they can start to seem less substantial.


And this applies to good and bad things that happened. and the sun and rain in the spring. How's that? Can you still hear okay? Okay. So I think this letting go that we practice with in Zazen can help us see beyond the mind of thinking and not thinking. And is this what allows us to unclutter our minds, as the poem says, so that we may experience the true way? The poem says, if useless things do not clutter or cloud your mind, you have the best days of your life. So useless things or idle worries could point to the workings of our discriminating mind, judging people or circumstances as right or wrong, good or bad.


It could refer to getting caught by the conditions of everyday life, such as getting stuck in traffic and wishing I was somewhere else, or worrying that this will make me late for an appointment. It could be receiving criticism from someone and feeling they're wrong, and making me feel really small. Or it could be receiving praise and feeling puffed up about that. So not getting caught by everyday conditions made me think of a well-known quote from Joshu, who was the young student in this koan. At another time when he was older, he said to someone, you are used by the 24 hours. I use the 24 hours. I think he's talking about being in control of your life to the extent that you can and not being pulled around by circumstances. How do we work with the useless things or worries that clutter our mind? In a talk about this koan, Suzuki Roshi says, in Shikantaza, which is just sitting, we do not try to attain enlightenment.


True practice is beyond right. the idea right and wrong. And he goes on to say, the important point is to always have composure within ourselves, whether we are successful or not. To have deep mind, to include everything within ourselves. That is the true way, or Tao. In the Thursday night class that Sojin Roshi has been leading with us, we've been studying Dogen's zazen shen. Dogen's poem in this fascicle, The Needle of Seated Meditation, is based on a poem by Hong Zhe, the Chinese master, who practiced silent illumination. Hubert Neerman from Shasta Abbey says, Dogen's poem refers to the use of seated meditation to spur one on and to help trainees unblock themselves spiritually.


just as an acupuncture needle would unblock them physically. I really like that image. He goes on to describe Dogen's use of the word zazen. He says, the word zazen is used by Dogen in this discourse for two different states. The first refers to sitting in meditation, that is, physically sitting down in order to practice meditation. The second refers to seated meditation, that is, being spiritually centered no matter where one is or what one is doing, neither pushing away nor denying anything as it arises, nor clinging to anything, including some specific form of meditation. To truly do seated meditation is to be, as Dogen says, seated Buddha. This is the acupuncture needle that can spur one's practice and unblock us spiritually.


So this seat of meditation is another term for the composure that Suzuki Roshi speaks of, and I think of Nonsense's true way beyond doubt. Nonsense says, the way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion, not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong? From Suzuki Roshi's Ordinary Mind Buddha Mind, which is in Not Always So, he says, So when you sit, you are independent from various beings, and you are related to various beings. When you have perfect composure and practice, you include everything and you are not just you. You are the whole world or the whole cosmos and you are a Buddha. So when you sit, you are an ordinary human and you are also Buddha.


Buddha in a true sense is not different from ordinary mind. An ordinary mind in its true sense is not something that is apart from what is holy. This is complete understanding of ourselves. When we practice Zazen with this understanding, that is true Zazen. We will not be bothered by anything that we see or hear. To have this kind of feeling, it is necessary to become accustomed to our practice. If you keep practicing in our way, you will naturally have this understanding, and this feeling will not just be intellectual. you will have the actual feelings. A couple of things caught my attention in this text. I used to think that the word composure meant the ability to deflect unpleasant things, to remain calm in difficult situations and not be bothered by anything. Now I think it means including everything difficult and easy, pleasant and unpleasant,


and facing these things without being pulled around by them. It's the seated meditation in Dogen's Zazen Shin, and it's the true way beyond doubt. Soju gave me my Dharma name during lay ordination, Shin Ko Se Wa, which is translated as deep lake, clear, peaceful. My first thought was of the clear mountain lakes that I see when I'm backpacking. During Dokasan, he told me that a deep lake holds everything, nothing excluded. It is Big Mind. So I thought about the mountain lakes again. They can have clear water or silty water. There may be fish swimming in the lake or dragonflies hovering on the surface. There is often mud at the bottom. And if it's a lake close to town, there might be garbage in the lake.


So the clear peaceful part of the name is what to work with. How do I hold everything pleasant and unpleasant in this lake and in my life in a way that is clear and peaceful? How do I maintain composure in every moment? If I or any of us can experience this truth, of being an ordinary human and Buddha, then we can experience this way of no doubt. Everything that comes my way or our way can be included, and composure is possible with this. This composure means not acting just from one side or the other, not just from discriminating mind or the mind of emptiness. We need to be able to move freely from one understanding to the other. We don't want to get caught in a very specific understanding and think that that's the only way to respond.


For me, a concrete and quite literal example of this comes from my teaching experience. I work as an inclusion specialist, which means that I support students with disabilities such as autism or Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities. And these students are included in general education classes rather than being educated in a separate special day class. So the kids that I work with have differences in how they communicate, how they move around, maybe how they see or hear. and always how they learn. When I was in my teacher credential program a long time ago, we learned about the importance of educating the typical peers about the students they were going to be with who had differences. At first, the emphasis was mostly on what all the children had in common, how they all liked the Lion King or whatever the current movie was, how they participated in different games or swam together,


maybe doing it differently, but they all did these activities and all liked them. We called these ability awareness lessons, so the focus was on the ability of the kids. And we'd answer questions about the disability, but we would always point back to what the kids had in common, what they could do, not what they couldn't do. Later, these activities and my approach became more balanced. We talked about similarities and differences, both in general and specific ways. And the name that one of our schools uses now is Diverse Abilities Awareness. So this approach acknowledges the reality of the disability in the children and its impact on them and maybe on others, but also works with the commonality of the kids, because they're going to be educated together, and that that's important, too, and things that we can experience together.


For me, this relates to Suzuki Roshi's ideas about composure, not holding to discriminating or fixed views, but responding as needed to what's in front of you, seeing the whole picture. He was also talking about something bigger, about how we live as individuals in this relative world, and at the same time we can experience this deep way that we are the whole cosmos, that we are Buddha. The other line from Suzuki Roshi that caught my attention was that to experience this feeling of true zazen, we need to get accustomed to our practice. I was puzzled by this at first. But I think he means that we need to develop a strong committed practice. We sit here with Sangha, we talk to our teachers, we do Zazen wherever we are. Practice is how we learn to make the effort to pay attention moment to moment. If it's really fresh each moment, then we can experience what's often referred to as don't know mind.


This way of no doubt is beyond knowing and not knowing, as Nonsense says. There is another koan that speaks to this. Fa Yang is asked by Master Di Zhang why he is on a pilgrimage. Fa Yang replies, I don't know. Di Zhang says, not knowing is most intimate. Not knowing in each moment allows us to meet each moment fresh. and express ourselves completely in that moment. Not knowing is most intimate. In the koan, ordinary mind is the way, I think not knowing is referring to the true way beyond duality. It is not just the not knowing that is confusion, it is beyond knowing and not knowing. The word intimate is defined by Webster in a few ways. One as belonging to or characterizing one's deepest nature.


Another is marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity. Also intrinsic or essential. So I feel these definitions are all true of how we use the word intimate to describe not knowing. It is essential, part of our deepest nature, and it is close and familiar, which to me means it's right here, no separation in any direction. I'd like to tell you about my experience of being with my father when he died. This was a December afternoon in 2005. My husband Jake, my sisters, and I were all visiting my dad in the Borden Care Home where he lived in Walnut Creek. He was in the last stages of Alzheimer's disease. He was in a wheelchair, not talking, and needing everything done for him.


We visited him and we visited with the other folks that were living there and also the caretakers. At the end of the visit, I felt compelled to come back later that evening. So I went home and had dinner and then went back prepared to spend the night. There was a spare bed in his room because his roommate had died recently. I just sat with my dad as he lay in the bed. I called hospice a couple of times to get advice and to ask about his breathing. I was aware that I was getting very tired as it got later. I wanted to go lie down. I could feel this fatigue in my body, my whole body, my arms, my legs, my eyes. It was very powerful. But I told myself that I needed to stay alert in case something happened.


I didn't want to miss anything. So I sat with my dad and held his hand. Sometimes he looked at me very steadily and I held his gaze. Other times his eyes would close. His breathing became more interrupted. There were longer spaces between his breaths. And the hospice nurse had told me to expect this. We continued like this, my dad and me, for a long time. Although the idea of time wasn't really present, this was most intimate. There was nothing else in the universe except for my dad and me. I couldn't turn away from him. Yet at the same time, the space felt wide open. Then his breathing stopped. Had it really stopped? I got up close to check, listening and looking for any sign of breath.


This felt very matter-of-fact, almost clinical. I just watched him for a while. He had died. I sat with him and chanted the Enmei Juku Kanengyo and the Heart Sutra. I called my sister and hospice. My sister came over and so did a hospice nurse. The three of us watched his body. The nurse and my sister left, and I crawled into the other bed and fell asleep. Later in the morning, Jake and my other sister came over. Then someone came from the mortuary to take my dad away. This entire experience felt very intimate and very ordinary. I remember that when he died, I felt that his dying was simply the next thing to happen.


It felt very natural. The next step. I didn't really know what was going to happen when I decided to go back to his place that evening. But I had a sense of that being the thing to do. And I followed that instinct. And I experienced something that was very profound and very ordinary. with someone who I love very much. To return to the poem, the spring flowers, the autumn moons, summer breezes, winter snow. If useless things do not clutter your mind, you have the best days of your life. Several years ago, I was walking with one of my students at school when she looked up to me and said, My grandfather died, and she looked very sad. And then right away, she quickly smiled and said, but I have a new baby cousin.


And I remember thinking, here I am at school, birth and death. And she was about nine when she said this to me. So we practice Zazen for the sake of Zazen. And we trust our teacher's words to sit and pay attention in our daily lives. I always pay attention when we chant the four vows at the end of lecture. Beings are numberless. I vow to awaken with them. Delusions are inexhaustible. I vow to end them. Dharma gates are boundless. I vow to enter them. And Buddha's way is unsurpassable. I vow to become it. Ordinary mind is Buddha's way and the Dharma gates are boundless everywhere. We just need to pay attention and enter it wherever we are. So I try to remember this and I'm very grateful for our Sangha practice so that we all practice this together.


So that is what I have to say today. I want to see if Sojin has anything he'd like to add. Well, I felt a divinity for what you were saying about the clarity that you felt when your father died and that everything else just dripped away and it was total clarity. And then later stuff comes up which is reminiscent But I think that clarity is a pure mind. There's total connection. But it's beyond our shaky mind. So, I extend that. So, we have time for questions or comments if anybody has anything. Peter? Thank you very much. I think I have to agree that useless things don't clutter the mind over the best days.


And yet, saying so is troubling. My mind instantly clutters with, what about the useful things? Is it a problem to be distinguishing between the two? Can you say something about that? I found it helpful to think about the clutter or cloud part of that line, too. I mean, I think things partly become useless when they are clouding the mind. so that they're covering up something that we need to be seeing or paying attention to. So it's kind of linked to me, what is useless and maybe what is useful could be something just like remembering our intention or it can be just when we're in the flow of an activity and we're just doing the next thing sequentially and it is, we're paying attention, we're being very mindful.


Yes, I think that's a good way to put it. Because I was really struck by the clutter piece of it. Like, you know, if our desk gets filled with too many things and we can't really see what's there to work with. And that's how my minds can get. And I find that just kind of stopping and pausing and maybe let them take an exit. Or become not so So, thank you. Yes, Jeff. Leslie, that was a wondrous journey. Thank you very much for your wisdom. And thank you for reminding me about the relationship between presence and intimacy and how linked they are and how critical they are to one another. It was wonderful. Thank you. Thank you. Linda. That was a very beautiful talk. I said it was beautiful.


And near the beginning of the talk, I had some typically, Linda, dramatic idea of something I was going to throw at you. Bring it on. Good. But it really dissolved as you spoke. So thank you. Kate. Thank you. I agree. It was a wonderful talk. Thank you very much. I'm nitpicking again. But this was about these could be the best days of your life, right? Well, the thing is, if you do it all the time, then there are no best days of your life, because they're all the same, right?


So describing it as the best days of your life presumes that you're going to screw it up at least some of them. Well. We're human, and there's going to at least be a moment, Kate. Colleen? I really liked what you said about composure, and I wondered if you could just encapsulate that again. I used to think of it this way, now I think of it this way, because I'm trying to remember how you put it. Well, I used to think it was more like you were kind of like Teflon. You know, everything would be deflected and not stick, and that that's what it was about. And I can remember times in my life when people would think I was very calm and say things, you know, in a difficult situation, if you stay calm, they say, I don't know if the word composure was used, but it's like, these things weren't really bothering you.


So it was like, they stay external. And now, I think of that differently. I mean, I think the similarity is things don't maybe stick as much, but they're part of you. They're not separate. And the idea of practicing in a way where composure can be experienced, I think, is including everything. And very difficult things are things that make us very happy and with some equanimity. It's not that it's easy. I think composure also needs a bigger kind of definition to kind of hold that. So when we're grieving or when we're really upset about something, what is that like? And can we just experience that and include that in being composed? Laurie.


I have a very silly comment, which is we could all aspire to be inclusion specialists. I know, that name, that title is, in another district it was called inclusion support teacher, which sounded a little more practical and really what we do, and it's kind of a name. But yes, it's about, and that's actually related to the composure piece, because everything is there and we're not taking anything out, whether we're talking about things, or people, or anything like that. Salani? I do work in inclusion, and this year they said I was sent to a middle school. In September, I was called every name in the book. I did any and everything there is to be. At first, it used to bother me. But now, I really, really enjoy the kids, and I've learned a lot, and I've made a difference in a lot of their lives. I want to thank you. I was just taken by your talk.


Well, thank you. Maybe we can share some stories sometime. I want to take this time because it really helped me to work in that job every day. Are you still working in it? Yeah, well, where were you schooled? You know, I've worked in I figured I've been doing this for a long time now, more than 30 years, and I've now worked with every age group except for infants. So, middle school is, I liked it a lot, actually. It's very, it's a happening place. And each grade is so different from the other in terms of who the kids are. Yeah, well now they have lunch with me and they say, you're the best teacher. Oh, that's great. Good. Vegetarian. We're going to be a vegetarian. I'm getting this phrase from your talk, and also thinking about the lake, of intimacy with turbulence.


I'm imagining your lake. I don't know if there's anything you can share about that particular piece. Well, the first thing that I thought of was that the turbulence does come and goes, so remembering both those parts. And I know in my daily life, I have times that are more turbulent or more things to do in the same amount of time, so very busy. I can remember a long time ago, too, or maybe not so long ago, thinking, this isn't right, it shouldn't be like this, and how to change it. And now I think, because I've seen it come and go, and remembering that part of it, that it feels more like, I can do this while this is happening, or I can face this if it's something difficult to face.


But I'm not saying it's easy to do that at all. But it's like seeing a little bit more of a big picture with it helps me. If I can remember to do that, because that sometimes is the hard part too. Thank you. Catherine. Thank you so much. I was really touched by everything you said. And I'm just hearing everybody's beginning to speak. to my question, which was when you used the phrase, just maintain composure moment by moment. And I think, but, but, and we're all talking about that difficulty. And what you just said, thinking of the lake and the turbulence, that makes a difference between naturally arising turbulence and the turbulence I create by resisting such arising.


And I think that's... Yeah. That's what I'll say. The naturally arising turbulence is going to happen. And I will resist it. And it will make it worse. And then it's up to me to let go of the resistance and accept it before it will probably pass on. Yeah. I agree. Thank you for sharing that. Resist? Resist? Diane. Sorry. That feeling that you had when you were with your father when you passed, that clarity, do you find that you do? that feeling of being able to be in that place is translated into your life after experiencing it there that you've been able to cultivate it and have that clarity and openness and kind of have everything fall away and other times in your life after that or do you think it was specific to that science?


I think it was very specific I mean that was that was a moment um that was very unique. It doesn't mean that... So it doesn't mean that that can't happen in other ways and other circumstances, but I think that was that moment, and I'm probably not going to say that that can be replicated, but having had that experience, Perhaps there's something that happened that can help me open up in other situations to be present. I guess I was thinking about how that could be part of the ordinary piece. Yes, and I think the composure piece and


just maintaining composure really gets back to our practice here and just paying attention in each moment and how are we going to face what's in front of us, whatever it is. And that's linking in a way, you're right, it's linking a death with cleaning the bathrooms or chanting or eating lunch. I think you're right. Thank you. Jake? For me, a lot of the inner turmoil, I suppose, is brought about by judging. Judging myself. Really judging myself. How do you work with judging? Well, I try to notice it first before I'm too far along the path of really making a case for whatever it is.


And if I can do that and then stop and then maybe take a second look at what's going on, that can help me to remember if it's about a person, to see the person as another human being first before I jump to making judgments about something that happened or what they said. And often not saying something because I find that that can allow things to shift. if it's an interaction with someone I'm with, that just not saying anything, sometimes that person will say something that changes how I feel or do something, or if I step away from it and there's just a little bit of time and space, that that can be useful too.


I don't know if that answered your question. Or self-judgment. Yeah, the self-judgment. Yeah, the self-judgment. That's the tough one because then it's right all internal. But you know what's really, one of the things that's really helped me this practice period is really from the very beginning just thinking moment to moment and not doing more than that. So then I wasn't thinking about all the things that one could be thinking of that could go wrong or that will happen and how is it going to be. And I just I've been able to do that somehow, which has been fortunate for me to really let go of that, at least a lot of the time. I think we need to stop, so we'll be outside for tea. I'm happy to talk some more with folks. Thank you very much.