The Self

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Good morning. I would like to introduce our speaker this morning, Susan Marvin, who has been a member of our saga for many, many years. And who has, for me, has always inspired my practice, actually. I think that she's referred to as a wonderful example, not just of layperson, but of any, either lay priest or priest. And so, this morning I would like you to listen to her wonderful dharma. Thank you very much.


Can you hear me? Welcome, everyone. And I'd especially like to welcome anybody who's here for the first time, or hasn't been coming to Berkeley Zen Center for very long. I'm usually teaching on Saturdays, and though I enjoy that work a lot, I'm always really happy to be able to come here on an off Saturday and practice with you all. So it's good to be here. A couple of weeks ago, I woke up thinking about the Genjo Koan. I'm not really sure why, but I decided to go with it to explore why I had woken up thinking of it. So I read it again, and I started carrying around a couple questions with me about the Genjo Koan, and just kind of sitting with them.


And the first question was just kind of like, what is it? What is the Genjo Koan? And the second question was, what does it have to offer us in these times as we practice daily? And I started to read a lot, mostly Suzuki Roshi. You can go to Google and just type in Suzuki Roshi on Genjo Koan and get many, many transcripts of his lectures, his comments in lectures, and then whole lectures devoted to the Genjo Koan. And I kept carrying that question, what does the Genjo Koan have to offer us? Because no matter what our political persuasion is, we can all admit that we're living in a time of great division in our country.


And it looks like that division seeps out into many parts of our lives. We can see reaction and conflict all around us in supermarkets, in airports, on the street, maybe in our workplace, maybe even right here in our sangha. So before I want to read a little bit to you, I want to talk just a little bit about those words Genjo and Koan. Gen, I think, means something like manifestation or present. And Jo means something like become. So put together, I think of it like present being or being as is. And Koan, if you're new to Zen and you're not familiar with what a Koan is, it's, in my understanding, it kind of can be a story or a dialogue or a riddle or a kind of puzzle that has some kind of issue under consideration.


But not consideration from our kind of regular, usual way of reasoning. But the Koan, we can't get at it through our usual kind of reasoning. It's inadequate in some way. So the Koan kind of throws at us a kind of paradox and can give us the opportunity to, I don't know, be aroused, awakened, wake up to some truth. And the thing about a Koan is we can keep coming back to it over and over, over a lifetime, actually. And each time we come back to it because of the changing nature of our own lives and life itself, we can meet it in a new way, a fresh way, see something new. So I kind of want to make it really clear that what I'm saying today is coming from a limited perspective, a limited understanding.


The Genjo Koan was written by Dogen, our ancestor, in 1233, and it's widely read and studied and famous and often quoted. So the Genjo Koan is called Actualizing the Fundamental Point. And I want to just read a very small part of it as a way to kind of inspire us and see the great optimism in it, its encouragement to us, and that encouragement offers inspiration. And also as a way to kind of set the stage for what I really want to talk about, which is the self, the self that Dogen talks about. So to study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.


When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind, as well as the bodies and minds of others, drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no trace continues endlessly. When you first seek Dharma, you imagine you are far away from its environs, but Dharma is already correctly transmitted. You are immediately your original self. Here is the place. Here the way unfolds. The boundary of realization is not distinct, for the realization comes forth simultaneously with the mastery of Buddha Dharma. Do not suppose that what you realize becomes your knowledge and is grasped by your consciousness. Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent. Its appearance is beyond your knowledge. So actualizing the fundamental point, what does that mean?


Well, I think of actualizing in the way that Dogen's talking about it as realizing in action. So there's movement or change. And fundamental point, we all know that word fundamental or foundation. We usually think of as some kind of basis, foundation, but it can also mean original. And actually I was thinking about in music, the fundamental note is the root of a chord. It's the lowest note in a chord. So for me, there's a feeling of something that's underneath. So something like realize in action or realize in original place or realize in body, mind, or realize in Buddha, Buddha nature.


Something that's underneath. And what is it underneath? I think it's underneath this self that he's telling us to study. And what self is that that he's telling us to study? Well, isn't it the self that we all work with? The self that attaches itself to an idea? The self that discriminates self and other? The self that has preferences? I think that's the self he's talking about. And that self is not unique. It's in all of us. So in that way, that's a breath of fresh air. It's not unique. So we can notice it, study it, and not move away from that state of observation because we feel embarrassed or upset or we take it so personally.


When we study the self, we're really studying everything, I think. So we don't separate from what we observe and we don't judge and we drop the commentary. I'd like to share with you what Suzuki Roshi has to say and maybe comment on what he says. I have a few passages. We'll see how many we have time for. So according to Dogen, but in Suzuki Roshi's words or his translation, he says to study Buddhism is to study ourselves. Notice he doesn't say the self, he says ourselves. To study ourselves is to go beyond ourselves. To go beyond ourselves is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to free our body and mind and to free our body and bodies, the bodies and minds of others.


No trace of enlightenment remains and this no trace continues endlessly. So now his commentary, he says here he, meaning Dogen, says direct understand, explains direct understanding in realm of subjective and objective objectivity. There is no subjective understanding or objective understanding. In direct experience, there is no subjectivity, no objectivity. So to study ourselves is to study everything. That is the study of Buddhism, to take everything in. To study ourselves is to go beyond ourselves. To go beyond ourselves is to be enlightened by all things. So Suzuki Roshi says enlightenment comes from all things to us. I think this is a really important point.


When we attain enlightenment, everything comes. You know, enlightenment comes from all things. You might say, and then he says quote and he laughs, they made me enlightened or I attained enlightenment. That is the same thing in direct experience. But in intellectual understanding, it's not the same. I understand something, but in direct experience, I understand something means a truth came to me. It's kind of a nice way to say it. A truth came to me, although I didn't expect it. I didn't try to understand it. He laughs, but they made me understand. So I think all of us have this experience. We could probably go around the room and everybody tell some experience of the truth coming to us. It's not so unusual, but I have some images that came to me.


One is if we have the chance to be out in a wild place and we're settled and there's not much human activity. We're in this wild place and we can really see our place in the whole environment. Our place is so small, but it's not a bad feeling. It's some kind of understanding of our place in the world. It's not a bad feeling. Another image that came to me when I read this was like an orchestra or a symphony where all the parts come together. No one part can be puffed up or it ruins the whole thing. There's a sense of that in the practice of all those musicians.


We know the feeling when we're in the audience and someone's talking or someone's on their phone or someone's coughing or whatever it is. But those moments when it doesn't happen, something happens. We can't really talk about what is that that happens, but some truth comes to us. Even in a Sashin, when everyone is working together in the various positions and not any of us are thinking my position, my job, my territory. But when we're all working together harmoniously, it's a wonderful, mysterious moment. I think it's the kind of enlightenment that Dogen is talking about, this direct experience, experience in activity.


The last image that came to my mind is when we have the opportunity to sit with someone who is at the end of her or his life. In those last few minutes where all there really is, is breathing and we have that opportunity to simply follow the breath of the other person. Something may happen. We may lose sight of our fear or our feeling of loss or sadness and there's just breathing. It can be a wonderful, intimate experience. Let's see. So no trace of enlightenment.


He says no trace of enlightenment means it remains because there's no subjectivity or objectivity in our enlightenment. And I think he meant enlightenment activity. So there's no trace, nothing to see. If you think about it in direct experience, we can't say I'm being enlightened or I am enlightened. The minute we say that, we've fallen down. We're off the mark. This no trace continues endlessly. So when we know, when we think we know what is truth, that's not enough. That is far away from its environs. When we discover that the truth has already been correctly or correctly transmitted to us, we are ourselves at that moment. And that ourselves that he's talking about is that deeper self, the Buddha nature.


When we find our true nature and our way of life as the most suitable way to our inherent nature, that is what is, that is enlightenment. When we find our true nature or our way of life, I think he's talking about everyday life, just regular, ordinary, everyday life. Nothing special, nowhere to get, meet what comes up in our lives. At first, it looks like, you know, you're trying to do something. When you understand what is the purpose of practice, you will understand that that was my nature, but I didn't know. That was my nature, but I didn't know. How often do we remind ourselves this very being is Buddha? That's not a puffed up statement.


We know what a puffed up statement is. But that's not a puffed up statement. This very being is Buddha. I must take this life seriously. What what is already there is something I can access. It's not outside myself. It's not something I can get. I don't need to improve myself to get it. It feels like a breath of fresh air, doesn't it? When you discover that the truth has been transmitted to us inherently long before, and now I have found it, that is true understanding. You have to continue it until you find your true nature in your practice.


That is realization of the truth. What you study is, as Dogen says, to study Buddhism is to study yourself, ourselves, you know. When we find out ourselves in our study, in our practice, that is realization of the truth. So that, you know, he stresses that over and over ourselves. He wants us to get away from talking about me, myself, mine. To train ourselves that way. So as long as you try to find out your true nature by practice, you know, you cannot find out. But if you find out your true nature in practice, or if you think the practice itself is your true nature, that is enlightenment.


When I read this statement, you know, I teach English as a second language, and Suzuki Roshi, of course, his first language is not English. And it's amazing to me that he can pinpoint this difference between by and in. That if you think you can find your true nature by practice, so the implication there is that you're going to practice to get something. Then he says, no, no, no, change that preposition. You can't find out, but if you find your true practice, your true nature in practice, or if you think the practice itself is your true nature, that is enlightenment. So again, he's talking about activity, enlightened activity, not enlightenment as an end, but the activity itself.


And direct experience of merging, connecting. The practice is not some means to attainment. And in practice, you should find out your true nature. When you're busy working on something, it's not possible to see what you've done. If you want to see, you have to stop doing it. Then you will know what you've done. Even though it's not possible to see what you've done, when you've done something, there's attainment. There's no doubt in it, but usually you're very curious about what we have done. That's okay. But when you see it, you have already put your practice in a limitation. And you are comparing it to some attainment. When your attainment is better than what you did before, or better than what someone else did, you will be pleased with it.


If it is not, you will be discouraged. But that is not because your attainment is not good enough, or is not perfect. This made me think of something that our daughter told us recently. She's studying dance in college, and when she was home over the semester break, she did a several day long intensive at San Francisco Conservatory. At the end of the intensive, the last evening, there was a kind of sit around Q&A period. Some of the students were interested in how to audition well. The question was, as best I can recollect, something like, when you're auditioning, how do you give the people who are judging you what they want? How do you figure out what they're looking for, and still be true to yourself and who you are?


And so she said, one of the teachers said, stop thinking about what they want. Stop focusing, stop trying to figure out what they want. And be the movement. Be the movement. Be yourself. Who you are is already enough. She said that about three times to us. Mama, she said, who we are is enough. So be the movement. And I thought, wow, what a wonderful thing for a teacher to tell a group of dancers in such a competitive field. One of the other teachers is a professional dancer, and he's danced all over the world. And he spent, before teaching this intensive, the last nine months in a monastery.


And so he said to them, what I learned in the monastery is you have to be yourself. And so if you want to be a good dancer, be yourself. And of course, I don't know what self he was talking about, but I like to think he was talking about this very same self that we're talking about. The one that's underneath, the one that does all the worrying and reacting. The one that's solid and observant and understanding the world around us. Though we have already attained supreme enlightenment, we may not necessarily see. Some may and some may not. After we read that, some may and some may not.


We might feel deflated like, oh, I might be one of those. Right. I know for myself, I'm a very slow and methodical person as a personality. So I could really see, oh, yeah, some may and some may not. I'll be in that last crowd. Some may not, but really, who cares? It doesn't really matter, Dogen's saying, and Suzuki Roshi is certainly saying, don't worry about that. I remember when I first came to practice, and it's probably the first time that I went to Dokusan, and I wasn't sure about the practice, and I said something to Dogen like, I'm not sure this practice is for me. And he said, oh, really? And why not? And I said, well, I'm not very intellectual. And he just laughed. And I said, why are you laughing? And he said, don't worry about that. Just practice.


So I think he's saying the same thing here. Don't worry about you're going to be in this group or you're going to be in that group. That really gets it, that really deepens practice. Just practice. This is a very important point, and it's the secret of teaching. Don't suppose that what we realize is knowledge in terms of concepts. We have already attained supreme enlightenment, that secret attainment, attainment which is more than you understand, cannot be seen by you. The way it appears to you is not necessarily the same. So even though we get discouraged, we should continue practicing. As you know, we live in a world which is mostly perceptions. It's difficult for us to be satisfied with everything


when our understanding accords with what we see or think. But we have to know that everything we see or think is under some limitation. You are not seeing or thinking about the thing itself. This point should be remembered. What you see, what you understand in terms of concepts is not always true. This is the secret of Buddhism. This point should be remembered completely. This point seems important, especially when we consider conflict and we consider criticism, that our view is limited, that our perception is limited. I find this a really good reminder as someone who is highly opinionated. So don't be disturbed by the ideas you have in your mind.


This does not mean that you can ignore your thinking. Thinking should be systematic and should be right. But even though it's right, it's not complete. And what you think is right is not always actually right. Most people attach to the truth which they understand. The confusion arises from this hasty understanding. This is a very, very important point. I think this is why Dogen encourages us to study that self that loves to discriminate between self and other. In short, the point is in our practice whether you develop your idea of self, you know, or you develop Buddha mind.


You develop Buddha mind in your everyday practice. It is the difference and the point of whether which is Buddha's practice. We should always put the self you know next and Buddha mind first. We should always follow Buddha mind. To follow Buddha mind, it is necessary to realize what is Buddha mind. How to realize Buddha mind is our Zazen practice. This is a good question for us to carry around. How to realize Buddha mind is our Zazen practice. This takes time, right? Listening, paying attention to what's already there originally,


reminding ourselves that it's already there, believing that it's already there, not looking outside ourselves, we don't need to fight, we don't need to seek after. One thing this made me think about in music, in singing actually, there's a word audiate that means you hear the note before you sing it and you can train yourself through practice and a series of certain kinds of exercises, so a kind of training. Train yourself to hear the note before you sing it and in singing it's quite helpful when you're jumping from, you know, intervals when the notes aren't close to each other so that you keep the pitch so that you're not flat or sharp.


But I thought, oh, the idea of audiating Buddha's voice, how would that be? The idea of listening for the voice underneath the clutter, underneath the discriminating self that's already there. We could practice with that image because that place is the place that guides our actions and our speech and actually that place is where the precepts come from. They don't come from outside of us. They come from that place inside us where Buddha nature resides. So paying attention and listening to that voice helps us to know what to do next.


So, for example, if there's something that I really want to do or something that I really want to say and I can see that it's not appropriate so I don't say it or I don't do it, well, then that's a moment of actual enlightened activity. And it's informed by something inside us. And the more we can access that and trade places with other people, put ourselves in other people's places, move around the table and see what the perspective is like from different places, the more that will help us to observe more keenly.


Well, I think I'm going to stop because we started kind of late and I would like to hear from some of you. But also, Sojin, is there something that you would like to say about the Genjo Koan? Or the self? Because it's almost 11 o'clock. No? Okay. Does anybody have a comment or question? Yes. Thank you so much. You're really welcome. It's always so wonderful to get to listen to you. I find such great clarity in the way that you speak about the Dharma. Oh, thank you very much. Talk about a nice Dharma gig. It's true for me, everything that you just said. And the Genjo Koan isn't something that I understand very well, nor that I can remember very well. But it's absolutely true for me that the question I always want to be asking myself is, Who am I and what will I do? This seems to be the Koan that sticks with me most closely in practice. And it is absolutely informed by what arises and what I listen to in each moment.


Manas always speaks to me, right? I want to be grasping and avaricious, and all of those things I think are going to keep me safe, but none of them are true. The truer self is that thing that I speak to from that place that I do not understand and I do not know anything about. When I first came here, I asked Sojin if I could sit and drain my cancer cells, and she said, We don't do that. I said, Are you sure? But it was true. And from that arose an understanding of birth and death for me that came from nowhere and came from nothing. It is in practice that I discovered all of that, not by practice. It's revelatory and it's not revelatory. It's understanding and not understanding. What will I do? Thank you so, so much. Thank you. That was nicely stated. Ross, you're welcome. My understanding or sense of enlightened activity is when self and other disappear.


So while I can certainly see and feel the merit of whether to say something or not say something, whether it's appropriate or not, that feels or seems separate. Like I am thinking about what I should or shouldn't say, even though we're taking into consideration the other as self. I wonder if you could help me understand the inspiration for the appropriateness of when to say or not to say and how that activity is so-called enlightened. Yeah, I think it's something about the nature of language and saying it out loud. Like I think what you just said is true. And I don't know how to answer that except to say that the minute we talk about it, we've already ruined it. So it's some place that's going to come from Buddha nature, from that place that's below the small self,


that's going to inform the activity. And the activity just comes. I don't think it's so much a conscious thought, even though I kind of explained it that way. So maybe we can work on that together. Maybe it's like an intuitive sense of to say or not to say. It comes up intuitively. But when you have to make a mistake on purpose of explaining it, it sounds very dualistic. It has that component to it. Right. Yeah, Mary, you're welcome. I think this is related. I think we never escape our relative grounding and our delusion that we're separate at the same time. So I've always been in my own concrete thinking with this teaching about to study the self. And part of me says, but I thought you couldn't keep. You couldn't actually catch yourself in Buddha mind that one is so embedded in the perception of delusion


that it's only through the corner of your eye or sort of elusively that it comes. And I recently asked the question of someone, what can I rely on? And the answer was Buddha mind. And then the answer was, well, you can hear it in the minds of people around you. Oh, that's nice. You can hear the wisdom when you register wisdom in Buddha mind as expressed in your cohorts. Then the self can follow. Well, Suzuki Roshi says in one of the lectures I read that, of course, we see it in others. And I think that's why we practice together. That's the gem of Sangha, isn't it? That we inspire one another. That we see ourselves in one another.


And what good is it to go home and sit alone? I mean, it's okay. It's not that it's bad. But just like he said, we're seeing ourselves. We're not seeing me. We're seeing ourselves. And so at some point that helps us, I hope, because I see it around me, to be more kind. Thank you. Yeah, Jerry. ... posture and breathing and how your body is feeling in dialogue. And I struggle with keeping myself paying attention because if I don't, I don't get that I'm being reactive, for example.


To me, being reactive, I can feel that in my body. Yeah. And I can feel anger in my body before it comes out of my mouth. So I just wanted to see if you felt that way. Yeah, that's a great question. Again, I think our practice is a gradual practice. It's a slow practice. I think it takes years to appreciate what you're talking about. To really learn and accept and believe that this is a comfortable posture, that nobody's making me do it. It's comfortable. And however we sit, some of us sit in a chair and some of us sit on stools. It doesn't matter. But the posture itself, I think that's the beauty of giving Zazen instruction, is to be able to say that.


This is a comfortable posture and you might not be able to do it today. But if you practice it, so that's one part of it. And then, I don't know, the other part of it, I really work with this idea of me, mine, myself. I think that's related to body-mind. For example, as a teacher, when I first started teaching, I used to take very personally students' successes or failures. And at one point, as a result of this practice, I just decided to train myself not to use the words, my class, my students, my whatever. I would change it so whenever I had to talk about it or even in my head, I would say, the students, the class. And over time, it made a big shift in how I viewed the relationship with the students


and also my investment in their success or failure. I don't think I worked any less, but somehow it cleaned it up in some way. And somehow, I don't know if this makes sense. But somehow, I think that's related to body-mind is not to take it so personally, this body. Over a long period of time, we get to stop moving. Don't you think you can feel that when you're coming from an ego place? Yes. When you're coming from just an authentic place, there is a difference. Yes. In how it feels. Yes. And sometimes, it can manifest by changing words. Right. So you have your idea about seeing if you can feel it before you say it. Yeah. Does that work for you? Yeah. Yeah. And also, Sojin tells us to give ourselves instruction.


Even after all these years, I'm sure a lot of us do that. I do that at my job. I love teaching English as a second language, but sometimes on the way to work, I don't really feel like going to work. I'd rather take a bicycle ride or whatever. But the minute I walk in the class, I give myself that instruction, like, get with it. Walk in, pay attention, wake up, forget the bicycle. And I think that's really important, just to keep giving ourselves instruction and also not to berate ourselves when we blow it. That also takes a long time. I don't know if it's natural or normal, but we seem to all do that, you know, as we compare ourselves to others. Yes, John. Something that you said seemed to be clarified in the my class discipline


that you've taken on, not my class, my students, but some other way of discussing it. When you were talking about taking the perspective of another person, how do we get to see it's the same idea, at least as it seems to me, that it's not my breath, it's not my body, it is what I'm experiencing. And as I have that experience, I start to experience the breathing and so on of others. And I have insight, I have understanding, I have something that is not my insight, not my understanding, but it comes to me. And it's also not like firewood for the fire, it's just what happens. And that's getting the other perspective, it's no longer my breath, no longer my class, no longer my practice. That's good. That's great. I see the striker and I just want to say thank you very much.


I thought somebody was going to ask me about the president. I'm glad nobody did. Thank you.