Issue 10: Summer
Dharma Talk

Practice with everybody, fools and all!

A Dharma Talk given by Tenshin Reb Anderson at Felsentor, Switzerland in the Summer of 2008.
Transcribed by Frances Collins and edited by Chris Brown.

I recently spoke about the tradition of bodhisattva vows, these huge vows; and the practice of practicing with everybody - even practicing with fools. Bodhisattvas vow to practice with fools and with geniuses. I recently heard the statement that stupidity, unlike genius, or genius unlike stupidity, has its limits. Bodhisattvas vow to practice with everybody: - geniuses, fools, and murderers. This is the amazing vow of the bodhisattva; it’s so amazing – to promise to practice with everyone. But that’s similar to promising to enter the oceanic practice of Zen meditation. So, in my description I said we would practice to enter the oceanic practice of Zen meditation – the big practice of bodhisattvas. At noon service we chant about what it’s like in this oceanic practice - in the bodhisattva practice and wholeness of practice and equally wholeness of realization.

But another translation is: In this oceanic practice, each moment is equally the same practice and the same enlightenment as all beings. That’s what the actual oceanic Zen practice is. It’s not my practice. It’s not your practice. It’s the same practice as you and me and all beings. It’s the way we are practicing together with everyone. So the bodhisattva vow is to promise to enter that ocean of practice; to practice together with and in the same way as all buddhas, all bodhisattvas and all fools… and all frightened, violent people. That’s the actual practice that bodhisattvas vow to plunge into and to live in that practice. The vow is to promise to practice that way and that practice is the practice of buddha.

We also have two images that I like; one is that if you go out into this ocean or any ocean, you start at some point or place; you either get dropped into the ocean at some point or you start at the shore and move out. Where you put your foot in the water, that’s where you enter the whole ocean at some small point. Then if you move out into the ocean, where you can’t see the shore anymore, the ocean looks like a circle of water and that’s where we are now. We are in the ocean of the world; we are in the ocean of Zen practice and we see a circle of water. This is normal, a part of the situation of life, and bodhisattvas live in circles of water too.

Bodhisattvas have vows and their vow is to open to the whole ocean. Even though I can only see a little bit of it right now, I promise to open to the whole ocean. Opening to the whole ocean means opening to everything in the circle I am in right now and opening to all beings and practicing with them. It is practicing opening to the whole ocean, to every thing in the circle I am in right now, every being I can see right now and practicing with them. But it is practicing realizing that this practice is occurring in a vast space, though I can’t see the vast space; but all the forms I see are in the context that all these forms are empty, ungraspable, unfindable. I take care of everything in the little world in the context of vast emptiness, or I take care of things in the little world in the oceanic context of bodhisattva vows. I take care of this person and this person in the context of taking care of all persons. I am taken care of by this person or this person and this person but in the context of all beings taking care of me. The vows are the context for my little activity and the little activity of my friends. Again, someone may be rude to me or kind to me but either way that rudeness, that cruelty, or that kindness, is in the context of emptiness which is also in the context of all beings are helping me, not just this person; all beings are being rude to me not just this person. So it’s caring for things, attending to bodhisattva practice in this circle of water, taking care of things in the context of emptiness, in the context of this huge practice and in the context of these huge vows.

Bodhisattvas vow to live in circles of water. They vow to live in the whole ocean but because they are committed to the vow to live in the whole ocean, they also vow to live in each little circle that they wind up in. Again, if they wind up in the circle of being abused that’s their circle and they vow to live in that one. If they wind up in the circle of sickness, of getting old, that’s the one they vow to live in. They vow to be relaxed and playful and they vow to play with everybody in that circle. They vow to play with everybody in that circle and if people do not know how to be relaxed and playful in that circle, they vow to teach them. They vow to create a play area. They vow to develop a positive attitude towards play. They vow to promote appreciation and respect for playfulness. They tell people that playfulness is necessary in order to live in the circle of water, in order to open up to the bodhisattva vows. In order to open to the oceanic vows we need to open up to the circle of water and not try to get away. They tell people that playfulness is necessary and that I am relaxed here. Not only am I relaxed here but I am playful here. Not only am I playful here but all the other people who are tense and serious and frightened in this circle, I vow to teach them to relax and play too so that they too can open to the vast practice that surrounds us.

I heard a rumour that Switzerland is one of the most affluent countries in Europe, in the world. Since it is one of the most affluent countries in the world, people want things to stay the same. They want it to continue to be the most affluent country. They don’t really want to be playful. They don’t say, let’s be poor next week shall we? Or…That’s a nice thing to say but it’s not funny. We pay homage to playful Swiss people. Wherever you go, his animal is the otter. Otters are very playful animals. It would be good to learn about otters. They live in streams and also the ocean. The question is whenever they are fighting are they playful? It’s possible to fight in a playful way. It’s possible to play chess in a playful way. Part of creating a positive attitude toward being playful is to recognise that playful is always liable to become frightening. So in this retreat the bodhisattvas provide a playful environment so that you may feel afraid. Many people are feeling fear during this lovely retreat where you can be playful. We have some forms for you to play with and since you can play with them you can be wrong….and be punished (laughs). Someone asked me if I still have fear and I said yes. But actually, I would say that I don’t HAVE it but I feel it! There’s fear in this world and I feel it. The question is how do we deal with the fear? I would say that the way to deal with the fear is to be relaxed and playful. Then, if we are relaxed and playful, we are likely to have more fear. We don’t get to say, okay I’ll be fearful and then we won’t have fear anymore. No. If you’re playful, fear can come; if you’re not playful fear can come. In order to be playful you are opening to fear. If you are not playful, you are not opening to it. But it still comes, and you are not opening to it, necessarily.

So in this circle of water we have expectations and obligations, obligations and expectations, fear, tension. These things work together. In Zen we have practices to stimulate these intentions, obligations, fears and tensions to come out in the open where we can relax with them and play with them, not by ourselves but with others. We play together. That invites more to happen. We start to open up to the emptiness of the fear, the emptiness of the expectations, the emptiness of the forms. I am working on a book now and one of the publishers asked me what the difference is between psychotherapy and Zen training. I think one of the main differences is that it’s not really different. Zen is psychotherapy as a ceremony. You could say it is psychotherapy plus ceremony or psychotherapy plus ritual. But it is really psychotherapy AS a ritual. When you take care of things like fear and tension, you are attending to these things. Etymologically, psychotherapy means you are attending to the psyche. You are attending to your fear, attending to your greed, attending to your hatred. I am suggesting that if you attend to your fear in a playful way you will be healed – that’s psychotherapy. In Zen it is not only that you will be healed, but in the healing you will realize these things are empty and that what you are doing is a ritual. The things that you are doing, even the playfulness, are vast emptiness. You are playing with these people but you’re not just playing with these people; you are playing with ALL people.

When you realize that you are playing with all people, then you understand that what you are doing right now is just a ceremony. It’s a little ritual in a circle. It’s a ritual of how you are taking care of your fear. Your taking care of this fear is the basis of the entire universe. That’s the bodhisattva vow surrounding you. When the bodhisattva vow surrounds you while you are taking care of your fear, you’re not really only taking care of your fear, you are doing a ritual of enacting the cosmic oceanic practice ceremoniously in this caring for your fear. If I don’t take care of my fear in a relaxed way, then I am in the circle and I am afraid that what I am doing is not a ritual. Since I am not being relaxed with my fear, I am not opening to my fear. So I am not opening to the vow which is always surrounding me; I am not opening to the actual oceanic practice which is the way that I am living with everybody right now. When I take care of this fear in a gentle, relaxed, completely generous and upright way, I open to the emptiness of the circle. These little things I do, I keep doing in the midst of the actual practice.

Another thing I want to mention relates to countries where people are serious; in other words towns, cities or countries where people are serious or not playful. When you’re not playful, surprise is the triumph of the past over the future. When you’re not playful, and you are serious, something surprising happens to the serious person. It’s the triumph of the past over the future. In Buddhism, it’s the triumph of past karma over your life, because you’re not being playful. But when you’re being playful and something surprises you, it’s the triumph of the future over the past. If you’re playful when things surprise you, the past is always changing. We think that I am changing, but when I am not playful, we don’t normally think our past is changing. The point of surprise, when you are playing, is where you become free of your past karma which is producing this circle of water. You don’t have to get rid of the circle of water; the circle of water realizes the whole ocean. The circle doesn’t reach the whole ocean, but it is not separate from the whole ocean. But if you don’t practice the circle you don’t realize the whole ocean. If you don’t reach the ocean you don’t realize the ocean because the circle does not reach the ocean. It can’t because it’s not separate.

I have a story about a doctor, a mother and a little girl. The mother has a little girl who is very unhappy. She brings her sick daughter to see the doctor. Her daughter is not only really unhappy, but she is crying all the time. Some children cry but its like a happy cry in the sense of “You people are not doing what I want you to do and you’d better start doing it soon!” Other cries say “I am very unhappy, I’m really miserable and not trying to control my mother.” This girl was also having a lot of seizures – four a day and unable to sleep. The mother would bring the little girl to the doctor. One day the little girl got up close to the doctor and started playing with his tie and bit his knuckle really hard. Then she reached into his pocket and got a tongue depressor and started throwing it around the room. This goes on for a few visits where she gradually starts to play with him. She’s still having seizures when she’s a year old but when she comes to see the doctor, he is relaxed with her. The doctor knows how to play with little girls. He is relaxed with her biting his finger and playing with his tie. Little by little she dares to play. But there is fear all around this play. This little girl is frightened; she has seizures. She starts playing with her shoes. The doctor takes her shoes and off so that she can play with her feet. She plays with socks and takes her socks off. Then she starts to play with her toes and sees that they don’t come off and she is surprised. She discovers a surprising reality in the midst of play. People who don’t play meet reality too, but if they are surprised, it’s as if they lose control; it’s the past taking over their world. But if you are playful it’s the future triumphing over the past.

The little girl and her mother went away and the next day the seizures stopped and she was able to sleep. In five days she was released from the hospital. So it was a miracle. It doesn’t always work like that but this is one time it did. The Mother did not know how to teach the little girl to play! Not all children know how. Not all Mothers know how. Some children do know how. Some children are bodhisattvas. Some children do not know how; mothers and fathers do not know how and their children get sick. In this case the mother brought the daughter to someone who could teach her and she learned. Then the little world opened to the bodhisattva’s practice of being together with everybody. Even if it doesn’t cure the seizure, it brings happiness and peace to the circle of water which doesn’t reach the ocean. So that is basically Zen practice! We’re doing psychotherapy or physiotherapy. We are working with our body and our mind in a little field and we’re trying to be relaxed and playful with this. We are being taught that what we are doing is in the context of vast promises. To practice with everybody and to be playful with everybody is so that everybody will become free. We understand also that if we are relaxed we can be wholehearted in our play and we will realise the emptiness of our world. That too will open us to the real practice which is the one practice of all beings.

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