Issue 17;

Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi

Dharma Talk

Facing the Wall for 9 years - At No Abode Hermitage, September 18th 2010 - Transcribed & edited by Frances Collins

By Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi

Someone came to talk to me recently. I heard before he came to talk to me that he was about to leave this country and go over the ocean to another country. I think I asked him if there was anything he wanted to tell me and I think he said something like… I don’t believe that this is it. He might have said, sometimes I don’t believe this is it or I have trouble believing that this is it and I said something like… I don’t go there. I could have said let’s put that aside for a little while and let me say that I believe in giving wholehearted attention to this. So I’m not going to go as far as saying that I don’t believe this is it. I’m just going to talk about what I do believe in rather than what I don’t believe in. There are quite a few things that I don’t believe in but what do I believe in? I believe in giving attention to this.

Now, if I give attention to this I might find out that this is it…..or that it  is this. I might find that out. As a matter of fact I believe that if I give wholehearted attention to this I will find out the truth of this. I don’t believe in this but I do wish to realise the truth of this. What this is… is to some extent my idea of this or my opinion of this or the appearance of this. I have to deal with the appearance of this or this is an appearance.

When I meet you this meeting is partly how this meeting appears to me. This meeting is partly my opinion of this meeting and it’s partly your opinion of this meeting. You might think this is really an above average meeting or you might think that this is not a good meeting and that this is a really unwholesome meeting. You might think that. Without getting into if you trust your opinion of this meeting I’d just like to say that I believe in giving wholehearted attention to the appearance….to your opinion of this meeting.

Now, many people have opinions about the meeting between me and this priest trainee. I believe in giving attention to it. My faith is not one hundred percent perfect so I occasionally forget to pay attention to this. When I do pay attention it has never been regretted by me. I never say that I wish I hadn’t paid attention to that. I never felt that way. As a matter of fact I think this is good and what I suggest to you is that I believe it would be good for you to pay whole hearted attention to this. I think that sounds good. I think I’ll pay attention to that myself right now. I might even propose to you that there’s a theory in the Buddha dharma that if you give wholehearted attention to this you will find out that this is not this. When you find out that this is not this you realize that this is it. When you realize that this is not it you realize the dharma. If you don’t give wholehearted attention to this you’re going to keep thinking that this is it. You’ll keep believing that you’re right or you’re wrong or in between. That’s what I said to this person who was about to leave the country. Then I said to him are you going on a pilgrimage? Well actually, he said, I don’t know. I’m going to celebrate a wedding of some friends of mine. I said I hope you’ll make it a pilgrimage. What I mean by pilgrimage is that I hope and pray that you give wholehearted attention to every this from here to England and every this when you get to England. Then going to another country is a pilgrimage. It’s not a pilgrimage to the country. It’s a pilgrimage to being present while you’re moving or while you’re still.

One of our ancestors on pilgrimage said no matter where I go I meet him. Wherever I go I study what’s going on. No matter where I go or who comes to me, no matter what place I go to or what place comes to me, I study it. The term that is used by one of our ancestors for pilgrimage is a Japanese term Hensan. Literally ‘hen’ means everywhere or everything and ‘san’ means practice or meet. So the word for pilgrimage means everywhere, practice meet everywhere. As you move through the universe if you’re on pilgrimage, everywhere you will meet your self…everywhere you will meet him or meet her, everywhere you meet it. Another translation for this term for pilgrimage is through exploration. So wherever you are you continue the exploration of truth. You don’t just study the truth at the bus stop. You also study the truth on the bus and you study the truth at the café. You’re thoroughly exploring life and your life becomes a pilgrimage even if you’re not moving. You’re thoroughly exploring. As you know sometimes when you’re travelling you have to sit still and wait in order to travel. Sometimes people complain they want to travel but actually they’re being required to not move…to sit and wait for the train or the plane or the bus or the car. Part of the travel is not to move. But do they enjoy it? Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they forget that they’re on pilgrimage. They think that they are actually just trying to get some place other than where they are. So I prayed that he would give attention to where he is.

I’d like to relate this to some other ways of saying the same thing. One of them is that I was travelling from the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range where it has snowed travelling west toward San Francisco. On the way up to the mountains my spouse said that she wanted to go car shopping at a Toyota place. On the way back she reminded me. So when we came to the Toyota place we went in and looked at their hybrid cars and we got into the process of purchasing the car. They offered to finance it at 0% interest …the Buddhist rate of interest. But also I think it’s the Christian rate of interest. Then they checked my credit and the guy said that maybe we were getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here. We checked your credit but, one way to put it is, you have zero credit. You don’t have good credit or bad credit….you have zero credit. Another way to put it is in the realm of credit you do not exist. The guy said it’s like you’re a ghost. Where are you? Where have you been? I almost got proud! This person who said, it’s like you’re a ghost man, also found out I was ordained as a priest about 40 years ago and he thought maybe its appropriate for a priest to have zero credit. Maybe that makes sense!

I think in order to verify or realize a thorough exploration we need some form. When thorough exploration is realized we have what is called a bodhisattva. We have the kind of people who attracted me to the Zen bodhisattva training programme. Because they had explored thoroughly they were not attached to any forms. They weren’t attached to the forms of Zen practice. They weren’t attached to the forms of Buddhist practice. They weren’t attached to the forms of bodhisattva practice. They weren’t attached to Buddhism. They weren’t attached to Taoism. They weren’t attached to Christianity. They weren’t attached to Catholicism…… When I saw them behaving in their unattached way I thought I want to be like that. I want to be the way a person is when they don’t attach to the self and other. Then I found out that these people went through a training programme where they were offered forms. When they were offered the forms they were trained to not be tight about the forms or loose about the forms. They were advised to study the forms and thoroughly explore the forms. But it’s kind of difficult to thoroughly explore a form if you don’t have anything to do with it….if you don’t look at it, if you don’t hug it, if you don’t kiss it, if you don’t pat it, if you don’t pick it up, if you don’t set it down, if you don’t enter it, if you don’t leave it. If you don’t relate to it in a formal way it’s hard to prove that you’re not attached to it. A lot of people say I’m not attached to Zen practice, I never even heard of it and I never went near a Zen Centre so I’m not attached to it! Well, maybe so but zen practice is sitting there waiting for you to come and verify that if you engaged in zen forms that you could do so in a thorough way, which is the same as saying you could do so without being tight about the forms.

Tight rope walking is a form you could use. For some people it is possible if they could get up on the tightrope the first time, step on it with no attachment to the tightrope, just put their foot on it without attaching to the tightrope and maybe walk for a little while on it without attaching to it. It’s possible but unlikely that they could walk very far without attaching to it. Let’s say they walk just for a few steps without attaching to it and then they fell off in an unattached way. They stepped on in an unattached way and they stepped in the air in an unattached way. When they fell, not too far but far enough so that the next time that they got on it they started to attach to it because they didn’t like falling that much. So then they tried to stay on the thing. How can you balance without being attached to balancing?  You actually can attach to being balanced without attaching to being balanced. It is possible to learn. But it does take quite a bit of training. You can do it once or twice or a few times without attachment but eventually you start getting attached to it. Then, if you train more and more you finally find a way to walk on the tightrope and not fall off or fall off either way without being attached to falling off or not falling off. But it does require quite a bit of training.

All the forms in zen like sitting for a period of time with a group of people, forms like bowing, offering incense, studying scriptures, cooking breakfast, bowing to people, shaking hands, talking….all these forms are setting a context for you to not attach to anything…starting with the forms. All these forms are set up to help us to give up trying to control our life. Most people are trying to control their life which means their life and their relationships with other beings. Most people are trying to control. What attracted me to this tradition was seeing some people showing what it looks like to not be trying to control…not some people who are not in control. I’ve seen a lot of people who are not in control. I wasn’t attracted to this tradition because of seeing somebody driving off the road and kill her self. What attracted me was somebody not trying to control the car and the wonderful way of life that is… not trying to control her thoughts, not trying to control her speech, not trying to control her body….giving it up after many years of training in caring for her body, her speech and her thought. This is where having zero credit comes in handy.

One of the things I have noticed in this practice with these forms which offer an opportunity to give up trying to control our life is that sometimes we feel like the forms are controlling us or that the people that are giving us the forms are giving us the forms to try to control us. I want to point out a pivot here and that is that when we give up trying to control our life we readily become fearless. To put it another way, most people’s attempts to control their life comes from fear and when they act to control they perpetuate the fear. By learning to give up trying to control we open the doors to fearlessness. Part of the way to open it is, as we begin to give up trying to control, we become more in touch with our fear. When we start trying to give up control it helps us get in touch with our fear. By getting in touch with our fear we have a chance to give full attention to it. If we give full attention to it we’ll realize among other things that fear is not fear. So, fearlessness doesn’t mean there’s no fear. It just means we understand that fear is not fear, I am not me, and you are not you. You are me and I am you and everywhere I go I meet it.

Now I’m on the verge of going down to Tassajara for a practice period and so are some other people in this room. Some of you are probably not going to Tassajara. I wanted to speak to those going to Tassajara but they are going to hear this again when they get there. To those of you who aren’t going, I encourage you to create forms in your life to support you to give up trying to control your life. Here today we have a form of sitting and walking together and I hope for the rest of the day you use this form when you’re sitting and when you’re walking as a context for giving up trying to control your life. In other words, give up trying to control your life today here. We’re all here to support you to give up trying to control your life today here! I’m here to support you today to give up trying to control your life here today. I’m here to support myself to give up trying to control my life here today. When I think about it and when I embrace the possibility of giving up trying to control I do feel more intimate with fear and fearlessness.

Someone might ask a question and the person might not respond very well. Because of being so sleepy they can hardly understand what the person is saying. People might look at you and ask what’s the matter with you? You look sleepy. You shouldn’t be sleepy. Then they think, I should drink some tea and I won’t be so sleepy. But if I’m drinking the tea out of fear of sleepiness am I trying to control my sleep level? Maybe I should give up trying to control my sleep level. How can I drink tea without trying to control my state of mind? I’ll drink tea to get strength so I can give this talk.

Here’s the tea. Should I throw it away?

Whether I drink the tea or not, with caffeine or not, I’m saying thoroughly explore what I’m doing. Am I doing this to try to control my state of mind? Check that out! Now how about trying to give up trying to control my state of mind? If I don’t drink this tea do I feel fear of my ability to give this talk? Yeah, I feel afraid I won’t be able to give this talk if I don’t drink this tea or it wont be a very good talk and then that wont please the sangha…they might say that  he came in there and he was kind of sleepy and he didn’t say anything that was interesting. It was really boring. I’m not going to go hang out with him anymore. He’s no fun. He used to be fun because he used to drink a lot of caffeine and say funny stuff…..but no more. He’s lost me. I’m going to go somewhere that it’s more interesting. If I’m afraid of that and I can feel that and I try to control that, do I try to control myself so that I make myself more entertaining? That’s my job to look at that, to explore myself and see what I’m up to here.

A few minutes ago I asked those of you who are not going to go to Tassajara to create some forms that will support you to give up trying to control your life. This is the same as finding a form that will support you to be kind to every experience you have. Chapter 14 of the Lotus Sutra describes how to practice with your body to help the Buddha transmit the dharma. One of the wonderful practices there is giving up trying to control. It says that whenever you meet phenomena, a person, a feeling, a smell, a touch, a taste, a colour, inwardly or outwardly whatever phenomena you meet ….give up trying to control it. Be patient with it. Be non violent with it. Create a structure that will support you. One thing you could do is read 2 or 3 paragraphs of that chapter every day. Then you could talk to yourself and ask yourself if you committed to practice that today. Then you could answer your self and say yes I will. That’s a form you could create to support that. Then you could notice if you try to control yourself into doing that practice….and you probably would….

The forms you use to support yourself to give up forms tend to attach to those forms but that’s part of the training. The people who are going to Tassajara are going into a place where there are a lot of forms being offered to help them to not be attached to the forms. So, I’m suggesting to you who are not going to be at Tassajara to create some forms and then see if you can be with them in a relaxed and playful way. Have the forms to see if you could be that way with them. One person told me recently that she has trouble following long days of sitting meditation and walking meditation without getting tight about them. She said that when she does a few periods of sitting she can do these without getting tight with them. Then it is beneficial. But if she does a lot of sitting she starts to get more and more tight around it. Then if she spends a lot of time tightly following the schedule this injures her. So I suggested that she start experimenting with this on her own outside the community context, walking and stretching and other things until she finds a way to relate to these forms. Practice without getting tense means probably discovering that you didn’t get tense and then just stop and do a different form. Then maybe you attach to that. So, when you notice that you’re starting to get distressed because of tightness around the sitting, get up and walk. In my case I’m not as good at standing as I am at sitting. Walking I’m okay but I have a problem standing without getting tight about it.

I think we do need a form to surface to see our innate tendency to tighten around things, to grasp things and to attach to things. These forms are opportunities to discover this by your attachment to the forms. Work with the forms in such a way as to learn through the forms how to be relaxed, playful and creative. It might be difficult to do that in a situation where there are a lot of other people involved. So you could try that on your own and have some extended period of practice in your home where you feel comfortable sitting for a short time, walking for a short time, walking for a long time, sitting for a long time, sitting for a long time, walking for a short time….. you could try all different patterns like sitting, walking, stretching until you find a way to be formally engaging with your body all day long. When its over you might say that was really wonderful and I enjoyed that and no harm was done. One form I would suggest to help try to give up trying to control life is to walk around your house silently for 10 minutes. Find your own rhythm.

When I first started sitting I could not sit full lotus for 40 minutes. So I sat full lotus for less than 40 minutes. When I actually started sitting I could sit full lotus. I wasn’t very good but then I worked at it and it got more healthy and authentic. So I sat a lot on my own and not in the zendo. I found that I could sit 25 minutes outside the zendo and then I could sit 40 minutes in the zendo. That was just one period and then gradually I was able to do more and more out of consistent practice. But I didn’t push myself too hard like some people do…actually sometimes I pushed myself too hard and then some days I didn’t. I didn’t push myself so hard that I quit.

The goal here is to benefit all beings and to transmit the truth which will liberate all beings. In order to be able to receive the truth and transmit the truth one needs to try to give up trying to control life….your life and my life. You need to give up trying to control your life and my life in order to transmit the Buddhist teaching. The point of transmitting the Buddha’s teaching is for the welfare and happiness of all beings. The goal is the freedom of all beings. This is a requirement.

You might intend to receive and to transmit the Buddha’s teaching in order to benefit all beings. That’s an intention. You might also promote that intention to a vow which is what happens when you receive the bodhisattva precepts. So, you had the intention before you received and promised. Then you did a formal ceremony where you received the precepts and you promised to practice from now on. Even after realizing the Buddha body you promise to practice these precepts. A vow is the highest level of intention. So you had the intention of practicing these teachings of compassion. In promising to practice them, that is intention. One of the precepts which you vow to practice is to embrace and sustain forms. That’s one of the vows you made. The point of practicing those forms is to learn to practice those forms without attaching to them. You vow to practice forms so that you learn how to practice the forms without trying to control the forms. For example, you vow to learn how to sit in a traditional way without being tight about sitting in that traditional way of sitting. In Zen we have formal sittings which we practice in order to practice sitting without getting tight. In fact people try to do them and they do get tight. Then they practice more and more and they get feedback on their tightness until finally they can sit without being tight about the sitting.

Another thing I was going to mention was that in the toilet earlier today I noticed a magazine called Martha Stewart or was it Whole Living magazine? On the cover it said outward order and inner calm. It had a picture of a flower in a vase. The flower in a vase is an outward form. It is an outward form in this temple when we put flowers on the alter with an intention. We offer these flowers in order to promote inner calm but also to promote outer calm. We use outer forms to make inner calm, inner forms to create not being tight with the forms. If you’re tight you’re not calm. If you’re tight you’re not tranquil. We use forms like this stick, like incense offering or like a posture in sitting. The whole point is can you do them wholeheartedly? Wholeheartedly can you do them without being tight about them? When you clean a closet is that an outer form or order that you’re doing to be calm or are you trying to get your closet under control? This afternoon we are going to put some debris in a dumpster. We’re going to clean the temple but I’m not going to clean this temple to get this temple under control. I should say I vow not to take care of this place in order to get it under control. That would be antithetical to No Abode. No Abode is to clean the place so that we cannot dwell here. Clean this place so that we can be calm here! Don’t clean this place to get it under control because if you get this place under control then we’re going to be sitting here afraid that it’s going to get out of control! We don’t do that here and that’s why you people like to come here. You don’t come here to get this place under control. You come to play here! You come to take care of the forms and closets here. There’s a big closet project that we have been doing here. Some people might get in those closets to get peoples stuff under control, I don’t know. But I’m not trying to get your stuff under control. I’m just letting there be a form where there’s a closet where you can put your stuff so that you can give up trying to control when you’re here. When you go home and you clean your closet, don’t do it to get your closet under control…clean your closet to be calm. If you notice that you’re cleaning your closet to get it under control then stop and go do something else that you can do to promote calm. Take a walk and don’t go anywhere. Just walk in a circle around your living room. Or go sit on the toilet and read Martha Stewart. Now I have cleaned the bathroom and I can sit calmly.

Cleaning your house is a traditional Zen practice. But the point of it is not to get the house clean. The point of it is so that now you can sit and give up trying to control. It’s the same as the tight rope walking. So I would like you to find some forms between our one day sittings. I’d like you to think about the forms that you will be practicing that will support you, not to get that form under control but to do that form to see if you can do it without tightening. Clean your closet without tightening around it to get it clean so that if someone comes in and dumps a load of garbage in your closet you can welcome them. You might welcome them by saying could you dump this stuff someplace else? They might say no I’ve got to dump it here! You might then say that you can’t believe how Reb got these bodhisattvas to come and dump garbage in my closet as a test for me. You might open the door to a delivery of garbage that says Reb sent us to test if you’re trying to clean your closet in order to get your closet clean or if you’re cleaning your closet to test your fearlessness. That’s why he asked me to bring this garbage to you. However if you really don’t want us to put it there we wont. We’re not attached to getting it in the closet either. Our assignment is to deliver the garbage and your assignment is to welcome it. But you can welcome it in many, many ways. The point is, are you practicing this precept which you vowed to practice, which is forms and ceremonies?

This ultimately means that everything you do all day long is a ceremony. When you clean the closet it is a form and ceremony. It’s not done to get the closet cleaned. When we offer the incense it’s not done in order to offer the incense. It’s to test non attachment. In giving this incense away are you trying to get this incense into the bowl to make sure it stands up straight. I remember one of the first times I saw Suzuki Roshi offer incense I was struck by the thought that when he put the incense in he was kind of surprised at what happened. He put it in and it sort of stood there as if he put it in saying I wonder what’s going to happen now. Oh wow it stood up! Actually, sometimes he would tilt it over a little bit and that was a surprise too. You don’t put it in and think now that’s the incense offered what’s the next thing to do? I give the incense and I do the bow. It’s not like I do the bow to do the bow. I do the bow to see what the bow is and not to get this bow under control. I don’t say now I have that bow under control I’ll cross my hands under control or I’ll walk in control. Some zen monks slip into that and the teacher and the sangha say you seem to be kind of tight. It’s a really beautiful gassho. It’s lovely but I feel you wouldn’t be willing to do an ugly gassho. Is that right? Well, no I can’t do an ugly gassho. I would be terrified of an ugly gassho. I’ve got to do this perfect one. I might say, could I please change your gassho a little bit and make it a little less beautiful? Could I push your hands a little tighter together? Could I push your thumb down here or pull it back? No! No! I might say that’s fine. See you later! I might say that I thought you asked me to give you feedback on your forms. You might say yes you can give me feedback but not this one.

Have I told you about the guy one time who came to serve me at Tassajara in the meals and stood in front of me? I was looking down at my bowls and I could see his feet. I noticed that every time he came one foot was straight ahead and the other one was turned off to the right. I thought it was sort of funny since he didn’t seem to have walking problems. Yet when he stood in front of me one foot was straight and one was turned to the right. So I asked him one time outside the zendo if I could ask him a question about this serving form. I said that when you serve almost always one foot is straight ahead and one foot is turned out to the right. I asked, do you do that intentionally? I thought it didn’t happen by accident and if he was doing it intentionally I was wondering why and what was his motivation? I asked do you do that intentionally and he said something like well what difference does it make to you or … so what? So I said, okay, I’m going to go swimming. The next time he came to serve both feet were straight. I wondered what happened. Ten or 15 years later when he left Zen Centre he moved back to his home state. One of his close friends told me that he saw him and they were talking about his time at Zen Centre. He said that the most important time at Zen Centre was when I asked him that question. That was the most important thing that happened to him there! So these forms….we get tight around it when someone asks us about it. It can have a big impact. We can get very frightened when someone is telling us how to put our feet, our hands, how we wear our clothes, whether we are leaning to the right or leaning to the left. These are ways for us to be intimate with ourselves and intimate with each other.

As we become more intimate we go through various layers of fear. The forms that are supporting us to be intimate with the forms are offered to realize intimacy. We usually start with being too relaxed or too tight with them and we are too relaxed or too tight because we are afraid of what would happen if we weren’t too tight or too loose. So being too tight or too loose with the forms are ways of trying to control them. When you’re not trying to control them you’re not too tight or too loose. You just do them. But almost nobody hits the mark every time. Most people are a little too tight or too loose. Most people are trying to control their life through what they’re doing. As we get deeper and deeper there are more and more subtle levels of trying to control. At the grosser levels of trying to control you get more and more subtle levels of trying to control. It’s virtually endless…this thoroughness of the subtleness of the controlling.

When I’m doing calligraphy it takes a while to warm up until I’m in a place where it’s going pretty well. Sometimes it goes too long and I start to make mistakes. Part of what helps me do it is if I feel like I’m crying when I’m doing it. I’m surrendering into it rather than getting it done, surrendering to a process rather than getting a process under control. If I’m sort of crying into the process it’s pretty easy to pick up on the signal that its time to stop. But if I’m bulldozing the process then I keep going beyond when I should stop and that’s when I start making mistakes.

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