Friday, October 19, 2012

Two Sides of the Same Thing

Hello good friends,
Today we will be looking at sections 2-5 but I will also slip into sections 6-9 in this writing. "Good friends, purify your minds by reciting the teaching of Mahaprajnaparamita. Then he stopped speaking while he purified his mind." Red Pine tells us how Hui-neng purified his mind. I think these gathas are a lovely way to do this. I also think, taking your zazen seat under the bodhi tree, rocking gently back-and-forth a couple times, taking one or two deep breaths and then taking up your counting, also purifies the mind. This particular type of purification is helpful when off the cushion too, because anytime you take a deep breath or two, your muscle-memory remembers the bodhi tree that you have practiced under and you immediately enter the field of practice that you cultivated while sitting with your legs crossed.
 At the beginning of each sitting period, I recite the gatha, 'Listen, Listen. That beautiful sound brings me back to my true self.' When I am sitting in a more lovely and open space, I say at the beginning of the period, 'Listen, Listen. That beautiful sound is my true self.' This first gatha finds a parallel in the precept teacher's poem: 'The body is a bodhi tree/ the mind is like a standing mirror/always try to keep it clean/don't let it gather dust.'  These two expressions represent or are articultions of the  practice side of zen. Each thing brings us back to breath, to mu, to Who Hears. In this way the entire world becomes our ally as each thing reminds us to come back; to come back to this place, here; to this time, now. For some, this is the practice for 29 of each 30 minute sitting period. Coming back again and again and again. As you can imagine, this weeding of the practice garden, this cleaning of the mirror, this returning with each sound arouses Kshanti, the third paramita. Aitken Roshi writes, "Kshanti has three aspects: gentle forbearance, endurance of hardship, and acceptance of truth." It also allows a deep seated humility to arise. These attributes are the building blocks for a true, clear and deep compassion, first towards yourself, but then towards all beings. The Chinese ideograph for Kshanti is formed, Aitken Roshi says, with a sword over the heart. So the practice side of zen and zazen can create a soft and tender heart. I am reminded here of Dogen's last words to his successor, 'please cultivate your grandmotherly heart.' If your practice feels arduous and unproductive at times, please have heart. If it feels lonely and unforgiving, take heart. If it is dry and rocky, open your eyes, touch the ground and look around at the beauty of your heart--the flowers on the altar, the golden glow of autumn's setting sun, your friends and companions sitting by your side. Your heart is growing and it is putting roots into the fields of practice that you are tending. The seeds are planted and now the conditions are developing. Have heart.
       Last week, I asked you to muse on the formless precepts. The practice side of zen takes the precepts as forms that we need attend to. This is the perspective that the precept master, Shen-hsiu, adhered to and we see in his gatha. They are taken, in a sense, as prescriptions for living a life of compassion. We memorize and take the vows to heart and we carry them into our day finding help and guidance as we walk the dusty paths. They, like mu, like Who Hears, like counting, help us remember to return to this place, and this time, and this body. They become allies but are not held tightly as rules.
       "Bodhi really has no tree;/ the mirror too has no stand;/ from the beginning there's nothing at all;/ where can any dust alight?" This gatha is sister to 'Listen! Listen! That beautiful sound is my true self.' For some this is what the last minute of each round of zazen breaks into. Inside and outside are known as concepts only and the autumn hawk calls from a branch of your very own heart. This is the essential side or aspect of zen. The precepts are formless because they are expressions or articulations of your very own mind, but that mind is not located only in your head or body. It is located in, actually it is... the trees, bushes, clouds and mountains. It is the bugs and mitochondria. It is the hills,valleys, sands and dry wheat of the Palouse. And it is looking out of your eyes this very moment. Look! Look! That & That & That & yes, even THAT. There is nothing outside it. There is nothing left out. How could there be. And because each thing is it, why would you steal, or cheat, or lie.  From whom? To who?
       Case 29 from the Gateless Gate goes like this: The wind was flapping a temple flag. Two monks were arguing about it. One said the flag was moving; the other said the wind was moving. Arguing back and forth they could come to no agreement. Hui-neng, just coming down from his long stay in the mountains said, "It is neither the wind nor the flag that is moving. It is your mind that is moving."
       Enjoy these cold crisp nights and short chilled days...for
      they are your mind--take care of it.



  1. Why practice Buddhism, if not to become a Buddha?

  2. Myotai Treace once said, “You can’t live a bunny life and write tiger poems.”

  3. Why not practice Buddhism to become the Buddhas that we are already?


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