Ordinary Mind Is The Way

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Shuso talk

AI Summary: 



Good morning. Today we are very happy to have an opportunity to hear the shuso, the head student for our practice period, Shinko Seiwa, Leslie Bartolak. Her name in Japanese means deep lake, clear, peaceful. And we're in the middle of our practice period here. kids end up, as you may notice. So the first part of the lecture will be for children of all ages. And then the second part of the lecture will be for children of other ages. Thank you. Thank you. First, I wondered if some of the kids wanted to scoot up a little closer. Would you like to move your valvetons and cushions up a little bit closer and sit on the floor right front. And that can be those of you that are a little behind, too, if you want.


Just so you can see the story that we're going to read together. You need a cushion? Here's one. You can sit right And if you need to move up a little, that's okay too. Thank you. I also brought something from home. This is an old turtle. And there's going to be an old turtle in the story. And this is a turtle I actually made about 25 years ago. And so he's old because he's That was a long time ago that I made it. And his tail's missing. You know what? He's missing a leg, too. But his leg's in here. He keeps it in case he needs it.


And I think he's hoping someone might fix it for him, but that hasn't happened yet. So I'm going to let him sit right here and hear the story with us. So the name of the story we're going to hear today is called The Three Questions by John Muth. And it's based on a story by a very famous Russian writer called Leo Tolstoy. He wrote a story with the same name. But this one's a little different. There once was a boy named Nikolai who sometimes felt uncertain about the right way to act. I want to be a good person, he told his friends. But I don't always know what is the best way to do that. Nikolai's friends understood, and they wanted to help him. If only I could find the answers to my three questions, Nikolai continued, then I would always know what to do.


So here's a picture of Nikolai. And you know, I see three animals. Hmm, I wonder if those are his friends. You think so, yeah. So here are his questions. When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? And what is the right thing to do? Nikolai's friends considered his first question. Then Sonia, the heron, heron is the bird, spoke. To know the best time to do things, one must plan in advance, she said. Then the monkey, whose name is Gogol, who had been living through some leaves to find something good to eat, said, you will know when to do things if you watch and pay close attention. Here's a picture of Gogol, the monkey. Then Pushkin the dog, who was just dozing off, rolled over and said, you can't pay attention to everything yourself.


You need a pack to keep watch and help you decide when to do things. For example, Gogol, a coconut is about to fall on your head. So we notice that little thing there. Nikolai thought for a moment. Then he asked his second question. Who is the most important one? Those who are closest to heaven, said Sonia. flying up into the sky. Those who know how to heal the sick, said Gogol, stroking his bruised noggin. That's the word for his head. His head was hurt. Those who make the rules growled Pushkin. Nikolai thought some more. Then he asked the third question. What is the right thing to do? flying, said Sonia. Having fun all the time, laughed Vogel.


Fighting, barked Pushkin right away. Then the boy thought for a long while. He loved his friends. He knew they were all trying their best to help him answer his questions, but their answers didn't seem quite right. Then an idea came to him. I know, he thought. I will ask Leo the turtle. He has lived a very long time. Surely he will know the answers I am looking for. Nikolai hiked high up into the mountains where the old turtle lived all alone. When Nikolai arrived, he found Leo digging a garden. The turtle was old and digging was hard for him. I had three questions, and I came to ask your help, Nikolai said. When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? And what is the right thing to do?


So here's Nikolai, and here's Leo the turtle. Leo listened carefully, but he only smiled. Then he went on with his digging. You must be tired, Nikolai said at last. Let me help you. The turtle gave him his shovel and thanked him. And because it was easier for a young boy to dig than it was for an old turtle, Nikolai kept on digging until the rows were finished. Here's a picture of him digging on this side. But just as he finished, the wind blew wildly and rain burst through the darkened clouds. As they moved toward the cottage for shelter, Nicola suddenly heard a cry for help. Here they're walking.


You can see the rain coming down. Running down the path, he found a panda whose leg had been injured by a fallen tree. Can you see him? Carefully, Nicolai carried her into Leo's house and made a splint for her leg with a stick of bamboo. And they're going into Leo's cottage. The storm raged on, banging at the doors and windows. The panda woke up. Where am I, she said, and where is my child? Uh-oh. The boy ran out of the cottage and down the path.


The roar of the storm was so loud. Pushing against the howling wind and drenching rain, he ran further into the forest. There he found the panda's child, cold and shivering on the ground. You see the baby? The little panda was wet and scared, but alive. Nikolai carried her inside and made her warm and dry. Then he laid her in her mother's arms. And Leo smiled when he saw what the boy had done. The next morning, the sun was warm, birds sang, and all was well with the world. The panda's leg was healing nicely, and she thanked Nikolai for saving her and her baby from the storm.


At that moment, Sonia, Vogel, and Pushkin arrived to make sure everyone was all right. Nikolai felt great peace within himself. He had wonderful friends, and he had saved the panda and her child. But he also felt disappointed. He still had not found the answers to his three questions. So he asked Leo one more time. The old turtle looked at the boy. But your questions have been answered, he said. They have, asked the boy. Yesterday, if you had not stayed to help me dig my garden, you wouldn't have heard the panda's cries for help in the storm. Therefore, the most important time was the time you spent digging the garden. The most important one at that moment was me, and the most important thing to do was to help me with my garden.


Later, when you found the injured panda, the most important time was the time you spent mending her leg and saving her child. The most important ones were the panda and her baby. And the most important thing to do was to take care of them and make them safe. See, they're back home now. They look a lot better, huh? Remember, then, that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world. And this is why we are here. You can see all the characters right there walking off together. Yes, Leo.


except for the panda who's home safe with her baby. Right. And your name was in this story, wasn't it? So I wonder if for any of you kids, if you can think of times where you weren't sure what to do about something and you had to figure it out. Maybe there wasn't a grown-up or maybe you did find somebody to help you figure out a situation. Or maybe you've seen somebody who was hurt or saw something happen to somebody. I saw a snail was being hurt. A snail was being hurt? What did you do? Yeah. All the snails were hurt. All of them were hurt? Oh. Was there anything you could do? Not really at that time, yeah.


That happens sometimes. Anybody else think of any times where they help somebody? Well, thank you all for coming. Thank you, Zach.


People feel free to come forward on these seats if you'd like. So the koan that Sojin Roshi gave me to study this practice period was Case 19 in the Mumonkan, Ordinary Mind is the Way.


Before I start talking about that, I wanted to tell you a little bit about the main characters, Nansen and Joshu. They lived near the end of the Tang Dynasty, and this was a time when Zen was really flourishing in China. Nansen was born in 748, And he left home at age 19 to become a monk. He did a lot of different studies of different types of Buddhism and became very familiar with Mahayana scriptures. And his teacher that he met and studied with was Baso. In Chinese, Matsu, sometimes called Master Ma. In our Thursday class that we just had a couple days ago, Sojin Roshi was referring to Masu, as described in the counter, between Baso and his teacher, who was Nangaku Eijo. Just to put that, there's a lot of different people we learn about in our studies and classes here, but I wanted to make that relation.


So Baso is Nansen's teacher, and he was already very learned in these studies when he came to Baso. And with Vassa, he studied Zen, and it was with him that he had his sudden enlightenment. And he became one of Vassa's most important successors. When he was 48, he retreated to Mount Nan, where he studied in seclusion and saw some students also. And he was up there for about 30 years. After this time, a government official came up to the mountain and asked him if he would come down and teach in town. And he did that. And many people sought him out as a teacher. He had hundreds of students. And his teaching was very direct, somewhat unconventional. He didn't always follow the rules.


And there's lots of stories about Nansen in the different Koan books. Joshu was born 30 years after Nansen. Like him, he began his studies at a very young man and he came to Nansen when he was 18. And at this time, he too had already studied Buddhism and other scriptures and was pretty learned in that. He had traveled from North China, where he was living, to South China, which is where Nansen was living on retreat. And this koan is going to be about Joshu's enlightenment experience. So that happens, and after that time, Joshu is ordained. And then he and Nansen study together for several decades as teacher and student. After Nansen's death, Joshu travels around the country seeking out different teachers. And then he's invited to live at Huanyin Monastery, which is in a northern city in China.


And he was 80 then, and he lived for 40 more years. So he lived to a ripe old age. And he became famous throughout China, and many people sought him out, too, to be their teacher. And Zhou Xun used very plain speech and few words to make his points. He was very unassuming, not out to impress anybody. And it's said that he often gave more recognition to people of lower status than he did to those of higher status when they came to meet with him. And the records also show that he had a number of women students, although they were outside the temple, but this was somewhat unusual at that time. And he had Dharma heirs, but his lineage died out, as did Nonsense. So, Joshu comes to Nonsense at age 18. He's done all this studying, but he wants to go beyond that. He has this yearning to go deeper and really discover true practice.


So he has this burning question. And here's the koan. 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 will 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 in the level of right and wrong? With these words, Joshu came to a sudden realization. Mumon's comment. Nansen dissolved and melted away before Joshu's questions and could not offer a plausible explanation.


Even though Joshu came to a realization, he must delve into it for another 30 years before he can fully understand it. Mumon's 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 what is the Wei? The subject of this koan is the Chinese character Dao, which is translated as Wei. Etymologically, Tao means a way or passage where people travel through, come and go, in a very relative way. But it can also refer to the absolute way, another word for Dharma, or the essence of Zen. Joshu wants to know, what is the Dharma?


What is the essence of Zen? He'd given up his studies and he'd gone to Nonsense Monastery because he wanted to realize this question of what is Tao experientially. Nansen replies, ordinary mind is the way. What does ordinary mean? Webster says, usual or normal. This word was first used in the mid-15th century, belonging to the usual order or course, from the old French ordinaire Latin ordinarius, customary, regular, usual, orderly. Akin Roshi says that the Chinese word's etymology is constant, eternal, such as the everyday is eternal. Ordinary refers to everyday activities, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving to work, talking on the phone, laughing and crying,


birth, death. Everything is ordinary. So how do we connect ordinary with the way? When Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century, the term Tao was applied to the arts and other everyday activities and became such things as the way of flowers, the way of tea, the tea ceremony, the way of archery, and other activities too. And all of these implied an activity where you had to give your full concentration to it and the activity and the person would become one. When I was studying the Koan, I used several different commentaries and one of them was by Yamada and he illustrates this idea using a fraction. And just to refresh our memories, the numerator is on top, and the denominator is on the bottom.


So I'm going to use those words. So Yamada says we can look at it as the numerator being anything in the relative or phenomenal world. So that's what's on top. And then he refers to the denominator as the absolute way, which he calls zero infinite. And if you remember your math, you can't divide anything by zero. So that means that anything in the phenomenal world can be the way, or is the way. And Thursday, Sojin Roshi illustrated this in a similar way when he said we divide or discriminate everything we experience into one, two, three, four, five, and so on. And he used the term virtue as the denominator But we talked about how that could mean essence or the way also. And he said, and as a zero, he used that term too, when you put that below any of these separate things that we've discriminated, things that we see or hear or touch or feel or experience in some way, that we find out we can't divide it.


It's just not possible. So Joshu asks, should I try to seek after it? He's asking, how do I realize this way of ordinary mind? Nansen responds, if you try for it, you will become separated from it. So for me, that made me think of when I'm trying to find my way or striving in some way. They're saying that this takes me away from the Tao or the way. So striving or trying implies a person trying to get something outside of him or herself. And it becomes a subject-object experience. Definitely a separation there. So I and maybe all of us sometimes look for answers outside of myself, but the way is right here all the time in this moment. And I and others, we all have what we need all the time.


I'm going to read an excerpt from the commentary of Shibuyama, where he illustrates this. There is an old anecdote of a Japanese steamship which went up to the lower reaches of the great Amazon River in South America. The width of the river was over 100 miles, and the crew thought they were still in the ocean. They saw a British ship far out and asked them by signal to please spare some drinking water for them. To their surprise, the British ship signaled back, put your buckets down into the water. Then Shibayama says, you are in the midst of it right now. If you try to direct yourself toward it, you go away from it. What a kind instruction this is. Yet such a compassionate teaching as nonsense cannot be accepted by those whose spiritual eyes are not yet opened. And in the story I read, the answers to the boy's questions were revealed just in his intuitive responses of what to do and the peace he felt afterwards.


And this story reminded me of an experience I had when teaching several years ago. I was teaching a small group of 8th grade students at a middle school. And this was in a special education classroom. So these were students with significant learning disabilities. And I don't remember the exact lesson at the time, but one of the boys got really upset because he didn't have a certain book that he wanted. And he was yelling and crying and just very distraught. And then there was a girl. I'll call her Julie, who just said, I'm going to give him my book. So she got up and did this, and then sat down and got very quiet. And she was a pretty chatty girl. And she had a different look on her, too. She looked like she felt a little nervous or just uncertain about what had happened. So I said, Julie, you gave Mark your book.


Do you know what that's called? It's called being compassionate. You did a very kind thing. I remember being quite taken by this moment that I witnessed. And it's not that she had never been kind before, but somehow I think it just struck her differently that time. And she, like a lot of kids, doesn't readily want to give up something she has, but she did it in that moment. And I think it's just responded in a way that was very instinctual. So I think, you know, I try to, this was also an opportunity for me to be reminded of trying to stay open to everything in front of me and know how to respond. And I feel like this isn't striving when this happens, it's just an intuitive response and it kind of joins you with the person who's doing the responding and whomever or whatever you're responding to. But how do we learn to give up seeking?


I think that's hard. And during mon-san, Sojin Roshi was asked about practice periods in Japan. And this reminded me of, I think this ties into this, how to work with not striving. And he said the young monks there had a very fast-paced daily schedule of zazen, meals, work, just no space in between. And he said the reason for this was so that they didn't have time to think about what they were doing, or what was going to happen next, or time when they were going to try to figure out what they were supposed to do. It was just time to do the next thing. So I think we don't always label such experiences as the Tao or the Way because they seem so ordinary. But I think there it is. So back to the koan. Joshu is still not satisfied. He's feeling really desperate. He wants to know the truth. How will I know the way unless I try for it?


Some Zen masters thought that Nansen should have struck Joshu with a stick or given him a really sharp reply and not been so grandmotherly as this following response turned out to be in their eyes. Nansen 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 Tao, 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 came to a sudden realization. I think Nansen is saying that you can't find the Tao in the relative world of trying or not trying, knowing or not knowing. And that he's saying, Joshua needs to see beyond discrimination, beyond a dual view of the world. Knowing something can keep us from seeing things as they are.


And not knowing isn't right either, because we have to know things to be able to function in our relative world. So I can think of a couple of incidents, again from my life as a teacher, to illustrate this. And I am noting the time, which is passing quickly. I'm not going to do this for another six minutes. Okay. I'm not sure that means you've got to stop right there. Okay. I'll do my best. I'll try to abbreviate the stories maybe a little. But the first one was when I was a new teacher in the district. And my role was an inclusion support teacher. The students I worked with had disabilities. They were in general ed classes. And I was about to meet with the teachers who had these kids. And my role was to support the kids and the teachers, too. And I had taken classes in my conventional program about collaboration and sharing information. And again, this was my first meeting with these people.


And I had come prepared with charts, handouts, everything. But right from the start, the teachers were talking about other things. They all knew each other, so they were talking about their classrooms and also some personal things, too. And they were friendly to me, but they weren't following my agenda. And I can't remember everything we talked about, but it wasn't at all what I'd planned. And I remember feeling that I'd failed somehow, because I wasn't able to tell them what they needed to know. So here's delusion, of course, and here's me stepping forward and trying to tell the myriad beings what they needed, and I had it. They just needed to take it, and everything would be fine. I can say that now, but it was a pretty upsetting experience at the time. But another time, I had a different type of experience, and this was an IEP meeting, which is an Individual Education Plan meeting, which we have for all students in Special Ed at least once a year.


And there were a lot of different people at this meeting, myself, and this was a meeting about a child who was going to be going into kindergarten the following year. So the preschool teachers were there, the parents, and different special ed teachers, because we weren't sure what was going to be the right placement for him. And I had never met him, but I was there because he might end up being one of my kids. So during this meeting, different people spoke about his skills and how he participated in class and what he needed. And the kindergarten teacher talked about what was expected in kindergarten. And it was really fascinating in that my view kept shifting about what was going to happen. At one point, I thought, oh, it sounds like he would be a good match for being a general in class with me supporting him. Then another point, it was, oh, no, the research teacher could do this. and could offer daily instruction. That sounds like the right thing. And then, I went through this a couple more times, because the other option we had was a special day class, and it was just really interesting to see how everybody talked about what they thought, and everybody was really listening to everyone else, and that was another thing that doesn't always happen, but it was happening here, and it just felt very organic, the way it developed, and kind of this evolution.


This process led to us coming to a consensual agreement right there. And I think not being stuck on what we already knew or thought we knew helped us come to that agreement. So nonsense talking about the way being vast and boundless where no discrimination exists. And again from Shibuyama, he says, in the Japanese language, the word for Tao is Michi, which has the meaning of abounding. When it is abundant everywhere, how can it be sought after? The seeking mind is already the sought-after Tao. If we try to know it, it turns out to be a relativistic objective and seems to be the reality. It is therefore said, Tao does not belong to knowing or to not knowing. So in that meeting, I thought the process was the seeking mind. When Joshu heard Nansen's reply, he woke up and he realized this.


Mumon's comment, Nansen dissolved and melted away before Joshu's questions and could not offer a plausible explanation. Even though Joshu came to a realization, he must delve into it for another 30 years before he can fully understand it. So Nansen was trying to point Joshu towards understanding. But as soon as he opens his mouth, He's leaving his base of understanding, but yet he realizes to teach, that's what you have to do. So he does that, he makes the effort, and he melts away in the process. Joshu has his realization, but he needs to continue to study for 30 more years. Eiken Roshi talks about this in his commentary. He says, Kencho is just the initial inspiration. It won't do your work for you. He likens it to having a wonderful honeymoon and expecting a happy marriage just to naturally follow. He says, get over your milestones and just practice.


That goes on forever. So Joshu has to keep practicing for the rest of his life, as we all do. In Mumon's verse, Master Mumon is describing what we enjoy in the four seasons, the spring flowers, the autumn moon, the summer breezes, and the winter snow. But we've been hearing nonsense talk about non-discrimination, so I think we also have to look at the less pleasurable aspects of the seasons. You know, the flowers do die in the spring, the heat of summer can be unbearable at times, and the freezing temperatures in the winter. But these are all ordinary aspects of the seasons. Ordinary mind includes good and bad, easy and difficult. The next line says, if useless things do not clutter your mind, you have the best days of your life. If we can clear our minds of discriminating thoughts, we can see things as it is, as Suzuki Roshi says.


And you can have the best days of your life if you're fully experiencing everything that happens. Nikolai in the story didn't stop to think about what he should do or make judgments about the situation before he responded. to the turtle and went to help the panda. He just paid attention to what was in front of him and responded. This can remind us of Master Uman, who said, every day is a good day. And last Saturday, Sojin Roshi said that he appreciates everything that happens in his life, good and bad. So both of them, to me, this meant both of them are accepting every day and every season with whatever it brings. Ordinary mind is the way and it isn't easy to do this I'm always forgetting my intention To be open to what's happening and and how to respond and in a lecture Suzuki Roshi says Said this So you may say that our everyday life starts from practice and our practice will be encouraged by our everyday life


So everyday life and practice are really two sides of one coin. That is why we say that everyday life is our koan. So I think I will stop there. I know it's time. Do we want to take time for questions? OK. Dean? Thank you very much. I just said something when I came in and sat down. Oh God, it's kids' endo. I hate kids' endo. And I looked around and there were about three or four people behind me. And I thought, well, if I get up and leave. So I felt a little stuck, but I actually really liked the story. When you said those three questions, I got it. I understood, oh, this is going to be a good story. And then when you started talking about the koan, then I thought, oh no, I'm not going to understand anything. But I really like what you said, and one of the things you said just now towards the end was that Sojin had said this in some of the story, that I appreciate everything that happens to me, good and bad, and I accept it.


And my question is, but is that the same thing as going along with it? Because if, say if you know it's a good thing to come here more often and sit, and you're not doing it, and you accept that you're not coming, So if I go along with it and I'm not coming, but I'm still accepting it and appreciating it, so how does those things make that change? Well, I think accepting doesn't always mean do nothing. Sorry, Dean. I think sometimes It might, but it means responding, and how do you respond? And maybe looking at those questions. Is there something in front of me? In front of me means any direction, right? Inside, outside. And what do I need to do here?


And trust your instincts. Maybe sometimes you do need to stay home and sleep. Maybe sometimes you might think it's the right thing to do an effort to come and just see what happens. But it's hard. It's hard to know sometimes what's the right thing to do. Or to do it. Sue, thank you for your talk and your story and your presence. I noticed the turtle behind you on the wall. Thank you. How serendipitous. I know. Wow. I don't know much about the art here, but I wondered if maybe your turtle could talk to that turtle. What kind of conversation are we having here?


Well, like in the story, the turtles might be just very quiet right now. I'm not trying to get out of these things. But I think this clearly seems to be moving. It's moving towards something. But I don't know what they would say to each other. It's nice to have company, though. It's nice to have two turtles. He's asking for a vet. Oh, to fix the leg. Walter. I have a cartoon of a turtle in my office, and it says under it, I may be going slowly, but it's OK, because I may be going the wrong way. So if he figures that out and he turns around, he hasn't gone long distance.


Exactly. That's good. That's good. Linda. There were some big ifs in the lines you were reading out of the Klan book. Like, if you clear the clutter from your mind, you'll be very happy. What am I supposed to do with that if? Maybe you need to change the if. What do you mean? Tell me more. Well, I think the if means there's this possibility, right? And if we're going to do something means we're not saying we're going to do it, but it could happen. So it's just, it's there, it's hanging out there. But to change that into something more personal... Well, what about ordinary mind is my clinic? Yeah, that's true. Okay, that sounds good.


I mean, would that work? That would work. Ordinary mind includes all those things. And as long as you pay attention to it, Which I think you do. Which I think you do. So we should probably stop.