Tosotsu's Three Barriers

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Sesshin Day 1


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Good morning. So this is, uh, the first day of our, uh, June Sashin in 2019. And it's our spring practice period. It's a, uh, lovely day for Sashin. It's nice. It's a crisp, crispness in the air, in the late spring air. When I walked in this morning, you know, the room was pretty full. There were a lot of people in here. And I don't know, it was an exciting feeling. It reminded me, it brought to mind the first time I walked into this room when Sashin was going on. which was in the early 80s and it was, it must have been,


like day two or three of a Rohatsu Sashin. And I had been coming, I think I'd been coming for about a month or so in the afternoons, in the late afternoons, I would come over from my place in Oakland and come to Zazen. But I walked in on that day and it's like, whoa, there's something else happening here. You know, it just was, it was an energy in the room that I had not experienced before. As I look around, probably the only person here who was there was Ron, maybe James, which is remarkable staying power on, you guys saw a part.


And when I, as I was sitting Zazen, it just, the room had a lived-in feeling. It had this energy that, you know, people were living there and people were, there were, you know, bedrolls underneath the tans, but it was just more the living of people throwing themselves into the practice for this period of time. And that's what I experienced this morning. My second thought, if I can recall back then, was that, oh, I'm not going to let an opportunity like this pass for me again. And, uh, basically I didn't. Then I, I went to the next, I think it was a one day Sashin, uh, that later in January.


And, uh, then there've been all the subsequent, uh, Rohatsu Sashins and Jun Sashins. And pretty much I've been at all of them for a long time. And, uh, This is the feeling that I had when I walked in the room. So this word Sesshin is roughly translated as to touch the mind. Mind, heart is the shin part and Setsu means touch, but it also means to receive. and it also means to convey. So not only are we touching the mind, which would be touching our own minds, touching big mind, touching little mind.


We're going to, in the course of the, of a five-day Sashin, all of them arise, not necessarily in that order. But we're also receiving. Mind is being given to us, the mind of this room, the mind of the cooks, the mind of the servers, the mind of the Shuso. We're receiving all of these minds and ingesting them, taking them in and ingesting and digesting them, making them our own. And we're also simultaneously conveying the mind. We're conveying our own mind in small, mostly non-verbal ways.


we convey our mind, you know, each of us becomes pretty attuned to how the person next to us gets up after a period of zazen, or the person across the room, you know, you see how their legs ache, or you hear them yawn, you see them stretch, you watch the person across from you bow, and their mind is being conveyed and ingested into our own. It's a wonderful, rare experience to be able to take the time to really do that. It stays with us in different ways. I mean, I think that there's so many people who have sat sashin here over the last 30 or more years, and some of them


There's a lot of people in this room who've said a lot of sashins. And I'm sure that each of you, like me, also carries images of people who are not here, how they bowed, how they moved, how they carried the pots when they were serving, all of that. Their minds have been conveyed to ours. So I, I honor that, you know, and I really appreciate it. I appreciate having this opportunity in my life to go deeply and really confront, to confront fundamental questions without trying to necessarily work on them. I went back and I was reading something from Robert Aikenroshi about Sashim.


And I think this is good advice. He says, there's two ways to get through a Sashim. One is to concentrate on survival. These will all be quite, these both will be quite familiar to all of us. One is to concentrate on survival and the second is to focus on each moment as it comes up. Either way will get you through Sashin. But only the second way will give you an effective Sashin and we may get, we may dispute or expand on what effective means. But if you focus on survival, then you will be disappointed after your Sashin because you will know that you have wasted your time just thinking about getting through it.


Forget about getting through it. Just focus on one, two, three, that's all, nothing else. He says, have a good Sishin. The other thing that you may find yourself doing in the course of Sishin is so-called working on something. I would recommend you don't do that. That's another survival mechanism or it's a distraction. It's like what you really need to do to touch the mind is to trust that whatever needs to be worked on is being slowly chewed on by your mind without you having to make the effort to do it.


But it's hard. This is hard work. There's some verses from a poem by W.H. Auden. that I came across last night from a poem that he wrote in 1947 called The Age of Anxiety. So this is, I offer this as a, perhaps as an admonition. We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in dread then climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die. I'll read that again. We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.


If you didn't take issue with these vines, you would not be in this room. We're here to climb the cross of the moment, to end up like in Carol's Koan, we'd climb the cross and we end up being a man up a tree. And we're all putting ourselves in that place to do that. And you can imagine that it's a it's a forest of crosses or a forest of trees. And we're all climbing these trees together and we're all sort of hanging up there and we take one hand, you can let go of one hand and wave at each other. So, I wanted to offer a relevant case from the Bhutan Khan for you to hold in mind, not to work through, but to let it be a kind of guide for you, to let it work within you.


This is, And this is how we use, how we tend to use koans. We're not using them necessarily as an object of meditation. If you want to do that, that's fine. But we use them as an instruction, as a guide, as a way to lead us into deeper places. So I want to read you this case, which I find quite wonderful. It's known as, it's case 47 in the Mumenkan, in the gateless barrier. It's known as Tosotsu's Three Barriers. And here Aiken Roshi uses the Chinese name, Doshuai's Three Barriers.


The priest Doshuai set up three barriers in order to examine his students. First barrier, you make your way through the darkness of abandoned grasses in a single-minded search for your self nature. Now, honored one, where is your nature? You make your way through the darkness of abandoned grasses in a single-minded search for your self-nature. Now, honored one, where is your nature? The second barrier. When you have realized your self-nature, you are free of birth and death. When the light of your eyes falls, how are you free? When you have realized your self-nature, you are free from birth and death.


When the light of your eyes falls, how are you free? And the third is, when you are free of birth and death, you know where to go. When your four elements scatter, Where will you go? When you are free from birth and death, you know where to go. When your four elements scatter, where do you go? And Mumon has a comment. He says, if you can rightly give the three turning words here, you will be master in all the varied circumstances and would deal with your affinities in accord with the Buddha Dharma. If you have not yet resolved the matter, the food you bolt down won't sustain you. So chew it well and you won't be hungry.


I think that's the invitation to our practice is chew it well. So, Toshoi or Tosotsu, there's not a lot known about him. He seemed to have lived around a thousand around the year 1000, and he was in the lineage of Lin Chi as a disciple of one of his disciples. And he died young. He died at the age of 48 and left no successors and left no other trace of his teaching. but this really singular story.


So three questions, right? These are the pressing questions of our lives for almost everyone. So, you know, first question is, in the face of what's going on, how shall I live and what shall I do? What is your true nature? Which means, what am I supposed to do on this planet? This is actually a question that directly led me here. When I was in I was out here in a band in the very early 80s and, uh, wasn't working for me.


It was very difficult. And fortunately I found a very good psychotherapist. I've told this story before. Uh, and one day, you know, after a year or two of therapy, I, I went in to see her and I said, uh, What am I doing on this planet? You know, what's the point of my life? I feel like there's something, but I really don't know what it is. I feel like I have something to give, but I don't know what it is. And she was very direct and kind. She said, well, that's not a psychotherapeutic question. That's a spiritual question. Why don't you try to find a spiritual practice to answer that question?


And I said, oh, okay. And And because I had previously read Dharma books and because for a brief time, 15 years earlier, I had come to Berkeley Zen Center, I thought, well, maybe I'll go back there. And I tried to do that, but you may know it wasn't where I had left it. It was someplace else here. And I did find my way here. And that was, in a sense, I mean, I had never thought of it until just this moment that walking through the gate here was passing the first barrier.


Because I knew when I came in through that gate and as soon as I came in here and sat in some really mysterious way, I knew that I was home. And I also was attuned to myself enough and at that point, I was like 35, I think, old enough to be able to reflect, how do I know I'm home? And I didn't have an answer for that. I just knew that that was true. Just as I knew when I walked into that evening session for the first day that I wanted not to miss any other. I never imagined that I would be sitting here, talking, sitting in this kind of seat was enough to just sit.


So that's the first question. The first question is, what is your true nature? This is a really pressing existential question for many people. And if not, it probably should be. The second question is, what will it be like And it's an interesting question, what will it be like when I die? I think it's safe enough to say it won't be like anything. But we have anxiety about it, which is understandable. And then the third question, which is the source of all really common to just about every religious tradition is, what happens after I die?


So these are three, these are Tosotu's three barriers. And, you know, they've certainly resonate with the theme of our practice period, the theme of birth and death. And I am not given to be particularly glib about this question. You know, Zen speaker, Zen Dogen and other teachers often speak of no death, no birth, which is all very well. Sometimes it seems like kind of Zen speak to me. I'm not willing to say that there is no death because I've seen it, because I've come close to it, because


We grieve it. You know, we can say, well, it's just all process and transformation. And it's just one form of energy and matter transforming into another form of matter and energy. And that's all, you know, that's just abstraction to me. There is also loss. There's also grief. There's also letting go. There's also a sense of what is unfinished and what is finished. There may even be things worth dying for, whatever that means. We may do that intentionally. We may do it intuitively. You know, you read, you hear in some of these school shootings of teachers and others who would leap in front of a student and take the bullet.


That's a deep human, it's a deep training in being fully human that didn't come from any necessarily from any discipline, came from the discipline of being alive and connected. So what we think of as the self or what we think of as the individual, we reckon with it dissolving. And, uh, there's nothing to hold on to. And if there was, we couldn't hold on anyway because the forces of dissolution are too strong.


Whether or not there is something to fear, I can't say, but, you know, fear and anxiety come up. And then, you know, as I sang during Skid Night, this song, Everybody wonders what and where we all come from. Everybody wonders where we're going to go when the whole thing's done. No one knows for certain. It's all the same to me. I just let the mystery be. That's great if you can do that. But even if you can't do it, you're sooner or later going to have no choice. You're going to cross that barrier. But this is what we can do in Sashim.


We meet these barriers. In Akin Roshi's commentary to the first barrier, he says, you make your way through the darkness of abandoned grasses in a single-minded search for your self-nature. This is actually a description of Sushi. Here, what he says is the darkness, sometimes darkness is kind of the all-inclusive absolute. But here, the darkness of abandoned grasses is referring to a kind of chaos. It's like, think about, and we can get lost in there.


We can get lost in the weeds. And these abandoned grasses are the, they refer, he says, they refers to the wild quality of the everyday mind. Higgledy-piggledy at sixes and sevens. Like the mind of the youth in the first of the 10 ox-herding pictures, who sees only the forest and hears only the singing of insects. Then he says, the next line says, now honored one, where is your nature? And there's a clue in that line, which is honored one. What he's suggesting is if you recognize yourself as the Buddha, if you recognize


the arising of your Buddha mind, your Buddha nature, then you're never lost. Then you know where you are, even in the darkness and even in the abandoned grass, the abandoned grasses. So the first barrier is actually all three barriers. If you can, when you cross, not if, you can cross, when you cross that first barrier, all the other gates are actually open. including the fact that, which includes the fact that you may have some anxiety.


Akin Roshi, again in his commentary, he asks about the second barrier, he says, now for the second barrier, how will you free yourself at the ultimate point? Everyone who has ever lived is put to this test. Yamada Roshi told me that Lungton, the teacher of Dushan, Lungton was, you remember the story of Lungton and Dushan. Dushan came to Lungton and they spoke all night. At the end of the night, Lungton, as Dushan was leaving, Lungton just leaned over and blew out the candle. And with that, in the dark, Dashaan awakened. But when Lungtan was dying, he died crying out, it hurts, it hurts.


So are we ready to say that he failed the test? I don't think so. He met the moment. So it's not that the moment is going to be easy. It may not be easy dying. It may. I don't think it's so easy being born, but I can't remember, fortunately. or, and regrettably, I can't remember what it was like before I was born, but I'll bet it was really comfortable. So it's not a question of having some cosmic equanimity. It's not even a question of choice.


It's a question of meeting the moment. Do we have the composure to meet that moment, painful or not painful? I remember when, and I've told this story, I'm getting to an age where I repeat the stories a lot. When I had sepsis in 2001, I had a tremendous amount of pain. I can't even imagine it now, but I was in, I forget whether I had gone from the emergency room to the critical care or whatever, but it was just, terrible. And I said to Lori, I don't think I can do this. And she said, you don't have a choice. And then she said, you know, in this archetypal Zen instruction, which happened to be the right message, you have to do this one breath at a time.


And I thought about this for a moment and I think what I said was, okay, but I'm going to groan with every out breath. And I did, you know, until that kind of wore off. But I didn't have any, that's just, that was just meeting the moment. I had no judgment about that. Just groaning felt good or the groaning stopped the bad from feeling bad. I don't know. And the third barrier is Where will you go after you die? So I'll read this little story that Akinroshi tells.


Several years ago, one of our members, an old friend and college classmate, was dying of cancer. I had been away and came back just two days before she died. I called on her and was taken into her sick room. She was blind with her illness by this time. I took her hand and she said, Bob, where am I going? I said, wherever your toes will lead you. She took a big sigh and repeated the words for herself. Wherever my toes will lead me, wherever my toes will lead me. And then he says, I think she died expectantly. Perhaps you could say she died. Maybe we die wondering where the mystery will lead us.


And of course, we don't know whether we find that out or not. Or if we found it out in a past life, if anyone remembers, they should write it down for us. But to have this sense of inquiring, if you can carry that, even in your pain, I think that's a good thing. And in Mumon's comment, he says, if you've not resolved the matter yet, The food you bolt down will not sustain you. Chew it well and you won't be hungry. We have five days to chew it well. But of course, we're always chewing it.


We're always chewing on this. We're gnawing on the barrier. And that's our work. All of us carry these questions. All of us have these barriers, these same human barriers. And here we have an opportunity to dig down and see if the gates will open of their own. So I'm gonna stop there. Linda looks frustrated. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. I think it totally has to do with these barriers. To love oneself and to love others. I'm trying to think what the line is.


Love, I believe in love and I live my life accordingly. So I think for me, I would say that coming to trust love from, of course, we all want it. And also we've all experienced it in different ways, but maybe we have our own wariness about it, but learning to trust it has been, I think that's like the necessary lubricant to open the gate. Ross. You said that, Yeah.


I don't exactly know how it works, but I really trust it. It works in the same way, for example, you see somebody on the street and you can't remember her name. And you try and try and try to remember her name and you still can't remember it. And I guess in time what I've learned is I can't let this go. And I'll continue on my walk or my errands and trust that. And then mysteriously the name appears because the mind has actually been very deeply and subtly working on that. So that's sort of a simple question.


I think that Zazen is a way of allowing the mind to do its own work, trusting that big mind is doing its own work. There are different things, you know, there are things where we really need the help of a psychotherapist or a friend or whatever. this is where we need, we need friends.


And this is where we need love because there are things that we need to work on that we may not see. And if we don't see them, then consciously or unconsciously, we're not necessarily working on them. because they're barriers themselves to the arising of our big mind, of our Buddha mind. So we really need help in that respect. That's why we do this practice together. Jerry. I think that Sashin gives us a lot of practice in dying. facing these things and going through them. The first session I ever did at Green Gulch, I had a falling to my death experience.


The woman next to me was crying the whole time. I went to talk to one of the teachers, Yvonne Renn, and I explained what I was experiencing. She said, that's fine. Somehow I landed. Somehow the falling stopped and I landed. And so I experienced the support. There was another suffering being next to me. It turned out I found that after this morning love affair that had ended. And it was just the whole container allowed me to let go of. this support and love. And so I think that we actually have experiences like that. It also allowed you to allow the other person to have their own feelings. Yeah. Which is, that's pretty good. That's, yeah.


She wasn't bothering me. Right. Yeah, she was included in the whole experience. Yeah. Judy. Speaking of that, you know, I noticed sometimes in terms of being that container. So we have these beautiful Sishin guidelines, I've already read some of them. And then like now, we have folks that are also Sangha, who are here, eating this container of Sishin, and then they'll be invited. to maintain silence until stepping outside the gate. That's a guideline too. Sometimes it's hard not to talk, to discern when to write a note, when to have someone step to the side, or just forget all of that.


And I was wondering if you could say something encouraging about those guidelines and how we can support each other. I really try to trust that everybody is doing their work and allow them to do that without interfering in their space. you know, without, it's why we don't talk. It's why we don't, we minimize eye contact and we maximize just the kind of body to body physical meeting without all of the usual cues that we're, it allows us to be sensitive to those cues, but allows a person to be within him or herself


and simultaneously within the body of community. And it's a deep sign when we have to have these guidelines. because we're always tempted to break them, you know, because we like our communication. But it's a deep sign of respect and trust to allow ourselves to interact without the usual methodologies or approaches. And it's quite wonderful. Two other hands and then I'm going to end. Aiko. My question is, what would it look like if we failed that test? I'm not sure that anyone fails that test.


I think that we have opinions about whether they failed that test. And if we have an opinion about them failing that test, then we have failed the test. Does that make sense? Yeah. Every moment is complete, however it is, which is not necessarily great. But it is complete and every moment will become the next moment. And that's absolutely an unavoidable law. But the very thing, it's like what's our, you know, what's Jerry's, does she have an opinion about the person who's weeping next to her for three days? You know, it's, it's, uh, Often, one does. Often, one can have an opinion. You could say if the person's breathing really hard next to you, which has happened, you feel like, well, they're failing the test.


They're not paying attention to their breath. You know what? They don't actually have to pay attention to their breath because you're doing it. So let's all really turn towards ourselves and love each other and help each other for the next five days. Okay, James, last one. I was about to end. Didn't you hear that was an ending? I'm kind of interpreting what you were saying and it sounds like to me what you're saying is that our true nature is love. Our what? I wouldn't reduce it to that.


I think it's more than that. It includes that. I don't know. On that level, I'm not sure what that statement means, but we need to train ourselves in love, which means to get out of the way of the natural arising of connection. So if that fits the bill, I'll settle there. Does that make sense? Oh, you didn't. Okay. Why do you say the basic nature of our life is unsatisfactory?


Love is very, you know, it's all nice to, it's nice to characterize things as love, but we also understand the arising of unsatisfactoriness. We see it. We see it every moment. I see it. You know, it's like, for example, we had Shosan the other morning, which I felt very good about. You know, I really I felt very good about the questions and I felt comfortable, I would say, answering them and being in that place. And I felt filled with love, if you will, as I was doing it, whether I did or didn't hit the mark on answers.


And it was very interesting. Then I went up to our apartment. And I was sitting there and I felt, oh, that moment is over. What just happened to that moment? I felt so good and now I feel sort of empty. I don't know if that's, does it make sense to anyone? You know, I didn't dwell on it, but I felt There was something and it went away and there was a feeling of unsatisfactoriness there. And our training is such that I was really okay with that. I know that's the nature of reality. But I think on an organic human level, those kinds of things happen. You don't have to believe it.


You should believe what you experience. And I'm not going to get into the linguistic analysis of what he said, because I don't think that's exactly what he said. But you should believe what you experience. You know, and the Buddha said that, too. He said, don't believe something because you've read it in a book or because a teacher told you, you know, or anything like on the basis of any other authority. You know, and I don't want to get into a long discussion about what is or is not dukkha or unsatisfactory, but you're not obligated to believe that. What you are obligated to do while you're sitting in this room is to really closely, moment by moment, be aware of and investigate your experience. That's it. You may find positive and negative will arise, but there's a whole


The Buddha's teachings are an entire and very elegant system. And that's a really good question. Your question is a really good question. You should hold on to that and work with it. I mean, I know you are.