November 30, 2009

Sorrow, Rohatsu, and Compassion

The photo is of a plaque at Olympia Zen Center along the Path of the Ancestors.

We are bombarded this week with more sorrowful events so close to home with the four officers gunned down while sitting in the coffee shop on Sunday morning just miles from where we sit Zazen in Olympia. Nine children have lost a parent needlessly. It's hard to hold such grief. Our society suffers so tremendously. It's hard not to feel we have become lawless and ungovernable. Such suffering that would act with blatant disregard for life. How do we address this in a sane and balanced way? How do we stem such violence? All these thoughts run though me on this yet again rainy day. It seems as if the invisibles in the sky are continually weeping for us. The sorrow of our collective performance is great.

At such times, I must always remember the heroism of simple men and women and children everywhere so that I am not demolished by independent acts of violence. Everywhere in our neighborhood, people are going about life, holding themselves together as best they can, enduring difficulties, making the best of what they have, raising their children in goodness, helping their aged parents survive, sharing food and money, raising their consciousness, thinking well of their neighbors. We have to stand on this and not believe that all is grim and hateful. There are good people everywhere. We cannot lose trust in our ability to hold a collective goodness and worth. If we are Buddhist, we have to see Buddha Nature in everything and everyone. This is not easy when so horrendous an act can defy belief. But, this is what we do. We weep in sorrow for our stupidity. We go forward in the intention to be better.

But, what of people in war torn countries who are enduring continual acts of violence. What about their neighborhoods? Do they have anyone they can trust? Do they have the ability to just go about their business in goodness? There are hundreds of wars going on. There have always been wars. We have to do the best we can wherever we are with what presents itself. But, it does seem sometimes as though lawlessness is winning.

After this post, I'm posting a talk from last Wednesday on Compassion. I'm aiming to have the Dharma talks posted on the Olympia Zen Center website and I will just keep talking here hoping to encourage my own self and anyone else who cares to read. But, I'll post this one.

I'm busy getting ready for Rohatsu Sesshin from Dec. 2 to the 8th. Please do join in with Zazen at home if you happen to be far away and cannot get here. All over the world, people are sitting Rohatsu Sesshin. Do feel the strength of this and be comforted by this worldwide goodness and effort to lift ourselves up. I have no answer except to point toward the Buddha, Dogen Zenji and the practice of Zazen. Please take heart in bearing witness to the world's suffering. Please let us all put ourselves in the pathway of Compassion to open ourselves to greater good.

Dharma Talk by Eido Frances Carney

Olympia Zen Center, November 18, 2009

On Compassion

On such a blustery night, it is a great opportunity to sit Zazen with such a wind and to feel the mind waving, not out there, but really feel the wind as your mind. Waving so brilliantly. These tall big leaf maples really sway a great deal and they creak and talk and moan in this kind of wind. They are very talkative on a night like this!

This particular week, Karen Armstrong on has promoted and is sponsoring, a week on the subject of compassion. The Dalai Lama among others was also a part of this sponsorship. So this evening's gathering here in Olympia, this evening practice, is listed on the website as one of the events that is part of a worldwide participation of people talking on the subject of compassion. This also turned out to be a very good evening for it, because we had the Bodhisattva Ceremony, the recitation of the Precepts, and this fits very well with the discussion on compassion and the Charter For Compassion, written by Karen Armstrong, which you can also find on the website.

When I think of speaking about compassion, I look to Dogen Zenji first, our great teacher and founder, who has a chapter on Kannon the Bodhisattva of Compassion. You can see a statue of Kannon sitting right outside this zendo. This is the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, the one who is named at the beginning of the Heart Sutra which we just chanted, “Avalokiteshvara Bodhisatta when practicing deeply the Prajnya Paramita…” This is the one who hears the cries of suffering in the world, holds and listens to the cries of suffering, transforms suffering, and responds with the heart of compassion.

Dogen Zenji's chapter on compassion, on Kannon, is very difficult. I hesitate to enter it during the limited time of this talk as it deserves a longer explication. Dogen Zenji takes the positive way to say what compassion is, and then he moves into a negative, to say what it is not. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish, because Dogen Zenji speaks from a very elevated and Absolute standpoint. Sometimes when he's saying something you find yourself agreeing, and then he'll spin around on you and he'll say “ No , no, no, if you were thinking what I just said, that's not it at all !”

From our limited view and understanding, I speak for myself, we might feel this experience in reading Dogen Zenji. He'll spin around and say “No, that's not it ! That's a very common holding on it, but that's not it.” So this chapter is very difficult, but I will read the opening piece and we might get a feeling for how it is and I can speak briefly to it.

It starts with two people speaking together. They are both Dharma Heirs of Yakusan Igen Daiosho who is in our lineage.

Ungan Donjo once asked Dogo Enshi

What use does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion make of his ever so many hands and eyes ?

He’s speaking about the thousand armed Bodhisattva of Compassion. You might have seen the depiction of the Bodhisattva in statues , literally there are a thousand arms which point to all possibilities coming out of the body, and eyes all over them. So he's speaking about this.

What use does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion make of his ever so many hands and eyes ?

Dogo replied “He is like someone in the night who reaches behind himself, his hand groping for his pillow.”

Ungan remarked “I get it, I get it !”

Dogo asked “ What did you get ?”

Ungan said “That his whole body is hands and eyes!”

Dogo replied “What you have said is very well put, still it only expresses 80 or 90% of the matter.”

Ungan responded “Well, so much for the likes of me, how about you my elder brother in the Dharma, what do you make of it ?”

Dogo replied “That his whole being through and through is hands and eyes!”

So, the questions is: what use does the Bodhisattva make of his ever so many hands and eyes ?

First of all I want to comment on the pronoun “his.” The Bodhisattva of compassion can be represented in a masculine or feminine representation. It first appeared as a masculine representation and then, as it came through China and Japan it acquired a feminine expression. The one we have on our alter is clearly a feminine statue that was given to me from the treasury of Entsuji, my home-temple, when I received Dharma Transmission. In the feminine context, it's the action of compassion and in the male context it is very typically the personification of compassion, or the embodiment of the quality. Whether it's a masculine or a feminine appearance doesn’t matter so much since within either masculine or feminine is the complete balance of personification-action. The translator of this particular SHOBOGENZO chose to use the masculine pronoun because that was the original depiction of the Bodhisattva. We can also refer to the Bodhisattva as she.

So, his ever so many hands and eyes. Ever so many, refers to the uncountable. perhaps thousands and thousands. It demonstrates that they're uncountable, there could be another millions and billions, but a thousand is about as many as we need to depict the uncountable.

He's like someone in the night who reaches behind himself, his hand groping for his pillow. This is a very difficult one because Dogen Zenji points out that if we are to understand what that means we have to ask what is “groping,” and what does “in the night” mean and what does the shape of the pillow or no shape of the pillow mean? Or is there a shape of the pillow? When Dogen Zenji is explicating something he will open every single word. He will unpack all of the words that are given in any koan like this.

In the night, (this is me talking, not Dogen Zenji), could refer to that which is indistinguishable from one another. When the lights go out, when all of the lights are out and we see nothing, everything is equal. So he could mean this. Or he could mean “in the night” in the sense of the Dark Night of the Soul. In the night when all is in darkness and we don't know, we cannot answer something, or we are in the night searching for the hand of the bodhisattva. Maybe you have woken up in the night, I certainly have, literally groping for my pillow. Your neck starts to ache, you feel for you pillow, and you wake up and you find your pillow, and you come back, and there is no thinking in any of this. There is just the reaching for the pillow, without having to turn on the light, we find it and we resettle the neck and we're back to sleep again. This is a kind of an abstract meaning, that Dogen Zenji is getting at here. In this writing he does not answer this for us. He keeps asking the question, he keeps saying, “we have to understand what In the night means, we have to understand what groping means,” he never comes to an answer for us, so we are left having to answer this for ourselves with the idea that ultimately we will realize the Bodhisattva.

Perhaps that is what he's after, that in the end everything is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. In the end that is it completely, and of course in the end there is His all being through and through are hands and eyes. That in the nature of compassion we are the nature of compassion, through and through as the bodhisattva appears in and through us.

Many people are using the word compassion these days. And it's not so easy a word to actually describe, or to say what compassion is. I'm sure we've all had experiences of compassion in our lives, and it isn't always this sweet, loving, tender thing, that we are often told that it should be. An act of compassion can seem as something severe. I have to say, in my own life, those who have in a sense rendered the sword who have cut through my own blindness, were people I have so deeply valued in my life. How hard it was for them to cut through like that, and how problematic I must have been to push them to that point where they had to be so straight with me. In a deep act of compassion they said, “You need to listen! This is It” Maybe you don't know and don’t listen immediately, you keep going with ego as you were before or maybe even more so because they addressed you so strongly, then later in your life you realize the gift they gave you, so you let go of what you are holding, and you bow very deeply to those who gave you that kindness.

We’re all called to do this for one another. I'm sure if you are a physician, I'm sure you have to walk into the room sometimes and you'll have to say what people don’t want to hear. The patient is saying, “Save me, save me, doctor!” and you have to say to them in a straightforward way, “Look, your best bet is to get your life together, assemble all of the papers that you need, get it together, because from a scientific standpoint, this is it. It’s nearly over.” And this is a merciful action, this is a compassionate rendering at that moment. Maybe not what somebody wants to hear, but yet they are the words of compassion. It would be quite unkind to pretend otherwise. Sometimes we have children and we have to discipline our children in all kinds of ways that they do not understand. We know, we know what it means, and yet they cannot see. Often we are not able to see what true compassion is and yet we know we have to guide someone in a direction. We cannot hear the words of compassion because we ourselves are suffering. Compassion of course is deeply related to suffering.

Compassion is realized in the context of suffering. Sometimes if our holding on to a personal sense is so strong, then we are continually feeding our personal sense with our own suffering. And we cannot step out of the way to allow the heart of compassion to open, which is within us and without us, meaning inside-outside, no-interior, no-exterior. Sometimes we are just used to suffering, we simply cannot see the construct of what we have made. This merciful practice, this whole practice given to us by Dogen Zenji is itself the whole Body of Compassion, because it gives us the Way to sit in silence and to allow ourselves to see how we work, how the mind works, how we generate our own suffering. Our practice helps us to see directly how we create suffering in ourselves. When we are able to sit in silence, just let go a little bit, a little bit, something can open, and we become aware of the person sitting next to us, and we say “Oh! I have been so selfish! Here I have been thinking that I am the only one suffering and it is this person next to me who is truly suffering.” And the heart of compassion opens wide, and we see through ourselves. We can let go of the sense of personal holding that it’s Me, Me, Me!

Buddha’s teachings are the Bodhisattva's Precepts that we recited tonight. Within this is the Four Noble Truths, and Buddha doesn't say “O, I am suffering!” He says “Life is suffering! There is suffering in life.” It’s not just me. The discovery of this is a whole life's work! Just the first Noble Truth. This is a life's work to really realize the construct we have made in our own selves around suffering and to release ourselves from that. We never have to go beyond the Four Noble Truths in Buddha’s teachings, we never have to get fancy around any other books. The Four Noble Truths will give a full life's work, and this is the whole gift of compassion that the Buddha gives to us. He shows us the whole structure of suffering and he says we can go past that. That's what’s so wonderful about the Buddha as he says, “Here is the problem (First Noble Truth). This is what makes the problem (Second Noble Truth). There is a way past it (Third Noble Truth). Here is The Way, The Eightfold Path (Fourth Noble Truth).” Buddhism is so hopeful, it is so wonderful a way to go, but it's not easy, not easy, and it takes work, and it takes the willingness to stand in the very center of our own suffering, that we think we have, to not move ourselves out of it until we see through it. For many reasons this is why Zen practice is called, “The Final Practice!” Really, not because we’re going to die, but because we have to be willing to die. We have to be willing to sit on that cushion as if we were going to die, because that's what it might feel like when we push through that personal suffering. What dies is the personal suffering, not this life. We enter life, we enter true healthy life when we take ourselves into this gift of compassion. Actually we're here in it. We are here in the very middle of it. You came, you sat Zazen tonight, you did it. We do it again and again.

But, this basic seeing through, must be accomplished if we are to begin to be happy. I think we know, that this word happiness has also become quite trite in our society but when we talk about it in a Buddhist context we mean something very deep and rich, that makes life really worth doing, makes it worth hanging out for, makes it worth having long life.

So we need to step beyond our small self, our personal notions. In doing so, that's when the quiet tiptoeing of the bodhisattva enters, and throws light into our own hearts. I mean literally throws light into us when we just are opened with the heart of compassion. That stepping back has to happen, that willingness to step back and shine the light back onto and into ourselves.

I feel so bad about you having to be out in this dark night, this blowing dangerous night out there, even when the wind sounds wonderful. You will all get home safely. I always worry about the trees and some of you have a long way to go. Thank you.

November 17, 2009

Winter in the Form of Winter

June McAfee, one of our members, gave us a new statue of the Buddha. It's about 2.5 to 3 feet tall and is placed now in our entryway. Every time I pass the statue I'm sure it's a real person sitting there because it's as tall as a human would be sitting down. The statue may be from Indonesia where many Buddhist statues originate even though Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. What's interesting about statues from Indonesia is that they often have mudras that are unusual. They might be slightly incorrect when considered in relation to Chinese, Japanese or Thai statues that carry rigorous standards for design. The head of the Buddha, for instance, must have particular relational measurements for the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The mudra too follows standards of correctness so that the whole statue falls into a cultural/physical prescribed balance considered to be perfect for an expression of the Buddha. Statues from Indonesia may often be made by someone who is not Buddhist and therefore may either not know of stylistic requirements, or doesn't have to follow them. These statues then become quite interesting and unusual. I've no doubt that when Americans begin to make statues with an American Buddha look, unusual features and postures will begin to emerge. Americans love to break rules and I'm sure will not feel themselves bound by Asian cultural rules.

Form, of course, often comes up as a question in America. American students ask, "Why are you doing this? And, in that way? What is that for? Who says you have to do it that way?" Well, I can only answer that that is Zen practice. Even when students don't get a good answer for themselves, they may continue to practice and take up the forms. Still a year or so later they will begin to want to discard them. The forms have been around in Japanese Zen for about 8 or 9 centuries and yet after one or two years of intermittent practice, that is, coming to sit once or twice a week, the student will itch to change things as if they had mastered the forms and had some right to make it the way they want.

Imagine going to take tennis lessons to try to improve your serve. You find someone who has mastered tennis pretty well and after several lessons you say, "I don't think the serve should be done that way. Why are we serving the ball that way? I don't think we should include the serve in the game of tennis." No, we couldn't imagine that in most of our activities. We might learn the form quite well and then discover that if we toss the ball a little higher or a little lower, we serve better. But we don't discard the basic serve. We allow the body to play tennis and to learn what works well within the form of tennis because that's what tennis includes.

Zen forms are similar. When we learn to bow, in the beginning it may feel awkward and we can't easily master getting up and down. Slowly we begin to realize that if we bend our ankles a certain way, our knees don't pound the floor, or if we throw our weight a certain way on the rise, we get up more easily. These things take time, and slowly as we practice we fall into the ease of the form. After all of that, we might fall into the bodily understanding, the bodily wisdom of what the bow means and why we bow. That is, the body itself, realizes itself as the body of practice. The body gives wisdom to the mind and the mind to the body. These go together as one body, one expression. Maybe after 25 or so years, we can consider whether we should discard this or that, but by that time it's too late. After 25 years of bowing, one could never give it up.

It amused me that there was such fury over the president bowing to the emperor of Japan. When I saw the picture of the president bowing, I felt very heartened that he could follow the culture of Japan because that's what's done in Japan. I felt glad that our president was not too proud to bow to his elder, to bow to an ancient culture, and to bow as a man of reverence and not hold arrogantly to having to be the head of state. The emperor in Japan is not the government. After all, it's often American arrogance that has gotten us into such messes around the world feeling that we are more important than anyone else and our way is the only way. But, you know, I'm often in the minority and have a view of things that will never quite fit with the mainstream....thank goodness. I think, how lucky we are to have a president who can bow. This means he can restrain himself, that he has humility, and that he can step back with deep consideration and discernment when making unbelievably hard and problematic decisions. We always hope that a true leader has these qualities. Let us hope so, indeed. But, here we are in the press embroiled over the form of our president bowing.

Well, enough on this. The rain has a mind of its own and insists itself on us, inch by splashy inch. Slowly the moss turns bright green and the soaked downed branches fall apart in the hand. Winter in the form of winter.

November 13, 2009

If You Want to Attain Intimacy

With gratitude for Josepha Vermote's transcription that allows this Dharma Talk to be published here.

Dharma Talk: Olympia Zen Center, November 11, 2009

Rev. Eido Frances Carney

“If you want to attain intimacy, don't approach it with questions”

Last week we were talking about Guishan's “You have to find out for yourself!” and a very interesting line comes into the Commentary: “If you want to attain intimacy, don't approach it with questions!”

Most interesting line don't you think! This question of intimacy, this word “intimacy,” and what does it mean? The whole of the koans are questions, and we ourselves come with questions. What then does it mean? “If you want to attain intimacy don't approach it with questions!

The very first meaning of this word intimacy, if we look it up in the dictionary, it will tell us that it is belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature. That's its very first meaning, about our very own deepest nature. Of course, there are a whole bunch of meanings that go on from there, about relationships. Intimate, but not sexual by the way. The sexual intimation doesn't even come into the dictionary that I use (Merriam Webster) as one of the meanings. It means a deep, relational exchange between people, in which we reveal ourselves to one another, in the deepest possible way.

Of course today, if you say intimacy - not always, but very often - we are meaning a sexual relationship between people. That’s a popular cultural take on it. It doesn't necessarily mean that because people have sex together that there is any intimacy at all between them! When we are talking about the Dharma, and we're talking about intimacy, we are talking about our deepest nature.

Dogen Zenji has a chapter in Shobogenzo called “Mitsugo.” “Mitsugo” can be translated as ‘secret’, and it can also be translated as ‘intimacy’. Sometimes if we use the word ‘secret’ in what Dogen Zenji is alluding to in this chapter, we can perhaps not get the clear meaning. In a translation where the word ‘secret’ is used, it may imply that the Buddha had some kind of secret language, or when the Buddha held up a flower and Makakasho smiled (the Buddha Transmitted the Dharma to Makakasho) it could imply that there was some secret language between them. That was not the meaning at all. The meaning was that their total heart-mind had understood one another completely. There was no gap between them, there was no separation. So the Buddha could hand the Dharma to Makakasho and Makakasho smiled. Makakasho's smile is not to be misunderstood as though there was some secret going on between them, some secret language.

The chapter title “Mitsugo” can be translated as, “On the Heart to Heart Language of Intimacy.” Dogen Zenji uses different levels of meanings throughout the chapter. For instance, it can indeed mean some kind of secret language maybe one teacher to another, or teacher to student and student to teacher. Only those who truly understand one another would be able to understand what is being communicated. If we had not been initiated into what their exchange was, we would not understand it. So it would seem like some secret language, not necessarily intended to be secret at all.

This kind of intimate language is very natural between us, in our daily lives, in our family relations. One of the distinguishing factors in tribes is the ability to recognize who your tribal member is by a particular language that the tribe uses. Language is the deepest aspect of any culture. So we use a particular language to distinguish where people come from, or who they are, whether they are actually members of the tribe. This practice has been going on since the beginning of language. You know in your own families, who is a member of your family by your language together. An outsider may come and they don't participate in that same language as you have with your family members.

Dogen Zenji refers to that as “secret” language, because there is an intimacy that occurs in the families, that occurs with people with whom we live our intimate life. There are many things we don't have to explain because we live together and we understand one another at the deepest level, living out our deepest nature together. We don't have to explain so much. We can say a few words to somebody, we are that intimate, and have that be understood. Of course we also get into trouble if we do that sometimes because the communication misfires and we make assumptions thinking that the person understood us when they really didn't. That kind of communication sometimes misses its mark.

But, when we have language as we see in the koans, or when we have an exchange between teacher and student, language can be very intimate and it can use kinds of words that would not be understood by anyone else. That's what Dogen Zenji is meaning, using a secret language that hides meaning from the uninitiated. So there is a kind of protection of understanding that occurs between teacher and student, when they are facing one another and the True Dharma is recognized, eye to eye, face to face Transmission, when it is completely recognized. Somebody who is not initiated would not know. The teacher and student may be talking very plain language, not even talking at all, and yet if we are not initiated into it we wouldn't know the meaning.

Another level that Dogen Zenji refers to is the use of particular language. The Buddha used particular language in a particular way to contrast meaning from usual discourse. He may be referring to something special with a heightened meaning, and will place some emphasis on something to distinguish it from our everyday language so that we understand the meaning and depth of the Dharma.

A language between teacher and student, which they may have together, shows closeness. It arises from being of one mind and heart. When Dogen Zenji is speaking about intimacy, he may be meaning those various levels and usages.

What does this intimacy mean ? When it is used? What is Dogen Zenji meaning in this chapter called “Mitsugo”? By the way, Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo is available to you online for free. Go to the Shasta Abbey website and download the entirety on a PDF file in about two minutes. Then you can read for yourself any time.

So Dogen Zenji says,

“The principal of intimacy is a principal of closeness. It means there is no gap. It embraces Buddha and Ancestor. It embraces you and it embraces me. It embraces our practice. It embraces those of our generation. It embraces our meritorious deeds. It embraces what is most intimate. Because intimacy resides all around you, everything relies on intimacy. Each thing, or even half thing, relies on intimacy.”

So where do we begin with that? Where do we begin to ferret out what that is.

One thing we know, when Dogen Zenji is speaking of this, he is speaking about our experience of Awakening, our experience of Realization, our opening to the experience of Zazen. When we sit Zazen, there is no gap in our intimacy with all of existence. And Dogen Zenji says whether you know that or not, that is the case. Even if you don't know intimacy, intimacy is around you. And, intimacy is not anything secret. Intimacy in not hiding. Even if you do not know it, intimacy is right in front of you!

As newcomers to practice, we come to this sacred gift given to us by the Buddha, and handed down from one teacher to another, which includes you, handed down from one to another, face-to-face Transmission from the Buddha to this present moment. The seeing intimacy of the Buddha is present at this moment. So we come new to Zazen and we wonder how do we see that? How can we see that? How can we be that intimacy, that truly we hunger for? All of us have had relationships of non-intimacy, unsatisfactory relationships, maybe we have now, unsatisfactory relationships where there is no intimacy. We can't reveal ourselves because we can't really see one another. How do we do that, when we come to practice? Hungry to truly know ourselves, to know our true nature, to know our deepest nature and to want to know that, before we die.

So the Commentary in the koan says, “If you want to attain intimacy, don't approach it with questions.” On the other hand, we are told that asking, seeking questions, going into questions, entering questions is the heart of Zen practice. When we do come to Zen practice for the first time, we're also riddled with questions. They're just so many sometimes we just can't deal with ourselves. Yet, “if you want to attain intimacy, don't approach it with questions.”

Somehow we have to come to this cushion and place ourselves in this posture of the Buddha and we have to be the question, and at the same time not have the questions.

This is not an easy thing at all, because we have to stand back and allow, continually allow everything that is before us to reveal itself. The myriad things come forward, and allow all that is before us to reveal itself. Which means in a way to come as an innocent child and to place ourselves at the bounty of Emptiness, and open our hands. In the Commentary right after “You'll have to find that out for yourself” we read: “How touching in a single phrase the old master opens up a path for him to follow.” “If you want to find out for yourself,” means of course...if we want to find out for ourselves we're going to have to cease putting that small self out in front, that small self that continually interferes with intimacy that is waiting, that is waiting and surrounding us moment by moment, forever, eternally.

“In a single phrase the old master opens up a path, for him to follow!”

“If you want to attain intimacy, don't approach it with questions.”

Listen and wait! Of course in this “Mitsugo” chapter Dogen Zenji is talking about the mind of practice, and the placing ourselves in the threshold of practice. Allowing practice to reveal itself, practice to show us our true nature. Practice will do that all the time. Every gesture of practice will reveal our true nature, if we but step out of the way. In this intimate realization there is no gap between us. Complete heart-mind, complete stepping through the heart-mind. Complete walking through one another, such that we don't know who's who. Can we give ourselves away that completely, that we don't know who is who? This is the work that the teacher and student do together, such that they walk through one another, so that there is seamless intimacy. So that nobody knows, neither one knows who the student is and who is the teacher. Teacher and student completely disappear in that intimacy of walking through one another. Complete recognition. This is also what is said: “You too are like this, and I too am like this.” This is the hearts and minds of the Buddhas speaking to one another, in recognition of our true nature. We recognize, you are that! I am that! And there is no difference between us. Well there is difference, there is no distance between us. We remain who we are, and that intimate language that we speak together comes out of our own being, comes out of our own style and our own language and our own way of being. We express ourselves in this make-up of this lifetime. In superb intimacy and recognition of one another in the Buddhadharma.

So that's a little hint at this. Dogen Zenji says. “Exploring through our training, means not intentionally trying to understand everything all at once.” As we come new to Zazen, sometimes people come in the door and say, “I don't know how to find the Sutras and don't know this and I don't know that.” Of course we don't! I don't understand everything in practice. I can spend fifty lifetimes and I would not understand all of Zen practice.

Not intentionally trying to understand everything all at once. But taking great pains in striving a hundred or even a thousand times, as if you were trying to cut through something hard. Do not fancy that when someone has something to relate to you, you should immediately understand what is being said.”

In this way, we step back, and we do that really for the people we love. We step back and we wait, and we don't jump on them for what they say. We wait and we try to understand first what they might mean. We walk into a room and we see somebody and we don't jump at them and say “what's the matter, what's the matter ?” No, we wait and we try to assess the situation and quietly see what's going on here, and allow the intimacy of a situation to be revealed so that we don't jump on others. There is no way, we can possibly understand everything about anything all at once. And yet we want to when we come to practice. We expect to get on the cushion, to have some brilliant opening immediately, at least within three or four weeks, and if we don’t get it, we give up.

Yet the more we are able to allow, simply allow this moment to be this moment, we can feel the intimacy of the entire surroundings, of everything that is around us. There is no distance between us. There is no time in Zazen. There is no place where we are sitting. There is the myriad things coming forward. If we step out of the way, we have some taste of intimacy. There is no end to the depth, no end to the myriad things.

November 06, 2009

"You Have to Find Out for Yourself"

There were a number of requests for a copy of this Dharma talk so I'm publishing it here. We had the good fortune to have Josepha Vermote transcribe it so quickly to make it available. Thank you.

November 4, 2009, Olympia Zen Center

Dharma Talk by Eido Frances Carney

Guishan’s “You Have to Find Out for Yourself”

When I first came to practice, I had a koan and a question. These are two very different things to me. The koan that I had was the same koan that Dogen Zenji had. I knew nothing about Dogen Zenji, but I had the koan that Dogen Zenji had, which was, if we are already enlightened, why do we have to practice zazen ?

I was just a beginning practitioner but I already had that question from the very beginning. I think many people must feel the same way. I had already made the decision to get up every morning and drive to the zendo, it was about 12 miles, and I drove every morning, and I sat in that cold darkness. It wasn't as cold as here, it was in California, mind you, but it was dark and my bones ached and my knees and ankles were on fire, and my head drooped and all those things that we feel when we first begin to sit zazen. Why do we have to do this?

And I just dreaded getting onto that cushion because the bell would ring, and then it sometimes seemed like the abyss of zazen that would go on forever. And when would that bloody bell ring? You know you just have that feeling when you are in that miserable situation. My koan was also “why am I doing this?” along with “why are we doing this if we are already enlightened?” And I fully believed we were already enlightened. I had enough experience to know that we're enlightened. And there is no easy answer to that koan except to sit through the practice to understand why Dogen Zenji continued to sit zazen. And I guess I am still here too. So this is forty years later.

So I had that koan, that was very difficult, and a painful one to go through, but nevertheless a very incredible koan to have.

But my question was a little bit different. My question was, “So what can I rely on?” What can I count on? Okay, I have this practice where I'm doing it anyway even though I don't know why, because we're already enlightened. So then in the middle of that, “What can I count on?” What can I rely on? It was the very first question I asked my first teacher when I began practice. It's very deep a matter, a serious question and even though it may not be a burgeoning spiritual question for you, I certainly know you've all had that question in your mind at one time or another. When the chips are down and there is nothing else there, and when you don't have anybody else to call on, when you just don't know anything else, what can you count on? You feel maybe a little friendless, you feel everything is falling apart. What can you count on?

Although I have certainly answered that for myself, I haven't answered it forever. That is to say, that question returns because we don't come to some strong realization in practice and never have it occur again. We may realize something one day, and then a year, five, ten, how many years later, it comes back and we review it again and we discover a new depth. So we explore it again and again. Even if we have an awakening experience, we give that away, and we continue to practice zen, we come to something deeper again. There is no end to the depth. Like driving in the mountains. If you enter the mountain range, you see the mountains and you enter the first mountain and you think, oh that's it, and then you see another mountain range, and they go on and on. You come around that curve and there is another mountain! On and on like that. Of course it depends on which mountain range whether you get past that mountain range pretty quickly or not.

There are numerous koans that speak about this, “What can I rely on?” One of them I'm sure many of you have read before.

Ruiyan, practiced at his temple, Ruiyanji, and he climbed up the hill and he sat on a rock and he called: “Master!” He himself answered “What?”

He then called, “Stay alert!”


“And in the future, don't be deceived by anyone!”

“Yes! Yes !”

So, Ruiyan would do that everyday, talking to himself. He would go up on the mountain, sit on the rock, and call, “Master!”


You yourself can do that every morning. You can wake up and you can say,

“Joan !” or “Mary!” or whatever your name is.

Then you can answer, “What?”

“Don't be deceived by anyone. Stay alert !”


You can do that to remind yourself.

Remind yourself! That's the very first answer that I got from my teacher when I asked that question at a morning practice. We ask the question in Sanzen, we go down and kneel in front of the teacher and give the question. I asked, “What can I rely on?” Of course the answer was, “Well, nothing.” There's nothing, nothing. Just like that, “Nothing.”

That is very hard to hear, when perhaps, as in my own case, I came out of a very, very different spiritual context from Zen Buddhism, in which I had an old man in the sky in Christianity whom I could call on and I could say: “God!” and then no voice would come. But still you continue: “Help me, help me, I think I'm fading.” Nothing comes, no answer comes but you think some kind of answer is coming, and you feel better because you called up into the sky, you called upon this God that you have faith in. I'm not making fun of this by the way, I'm addressing it very seriously. There is great solace in that calling upon God and feeling that somebody is with you. Feeling that you're answered in some way, by that calling.

My very first teacher used to address this matter. Now in the U.S., even though we have a very strong fundamentalist country, I think that the people who came to practice in those days, forty years ago, were somehow closer to their religious practice than folks today. I could be very wrong about that, that's how it seemed. People came to practice with a very deep question about God and about this calling upon somebody and its presence.

Kobun Roshi used to pose questions. He would say: “When you are playing the piano, and no one is there, who are you playing for? When you are praying, when you are calling into the sky, who are you calling?”

This master Ruiyan knew that answer. He knew who he was calling on. He knew where that question of God is. “Master! Master! He immediately answered: “What?”

Not very long ago, at Panorama City, we were having a discussion about this, about who do you rely on, is there some comfort, and what happens and where do you go? Where do you go for solace? I admitted in front of all of them that there are many days when I do wish I had an old man in the sky that I could call on. That I could see there is just somebody there to say, “Hey, could you listen for a minute?” And it isn't that that old man in the sky is not there either. Because who are we calling on when we are saying, “Is somebody there, hello? Master, is there somebody there?”

Well you know, the koans all, don't give you an old man in the sky answer!

I'll read another koan from the THE TRUE DHARMA EYE, ZEN MASTER DOGEN'S THREE HUNDRED KOANS (Translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi and John Daido Loori. Shambhala, 2005). Dogen Zenji, who is the founder of our stream of Soto Zen, culled these three hundred koans from the Chinese that influenced his teachings, and some of them appear in his SHOBOGENZO, and other teachings. This particular one is Guishan's “You have to find out for yourself!”


Guishan was once asked by commander Lu in the monastics' hall, “Among these advanced monastics, who are meal servers and who are meditators ?”

Guishan said: “There are no meal servers and no meditators.”

Lu said: “Then what are they doing here?”

Guisha said: “Officer you will have to find out for yourself!”


Commander Lu was a frequent visitor to mount Gui and often engaged in dialogs with Guishan and his successor Yangshan. Here he asks which of the monastics are servers and which are meditators. Guishan can see that the real question is still hidden and tries to bring it out, saying that there are no servers or meditators. The real question appears, “Then what are they doing here?”

Haven't you heard the saying: “If you want to attain intimacy, don't approach it with questions?” Guishan says, “You will have to find that out for yourself.” How touching. In a single phrase the old master opens up a path for him to follow. From ancient times to the present, buddhas and ancestors have never spoken a word for the people. This practice of not helping people, should be investigated thoroughly. Even an answer that is sweet as honey, when clearly understood, turns out to be just another poison. You just have to find out for yourself.


Buddhas and ancestors have not appeared in the world,

nor is there any truth to be given to the people.

They are just able to observe the hearts of beings

and dispense medicine according to their ills.” (1)

This is a big koan, “You have to find out for yourself.”

It is a big koan because it is certainly a lifelong one that goes with us forever, that no matter where we go, and what we do, no matter how many times we call on God, and even feel the solace of that calling, we are thrown back unto ourselves. Even the teachings, in all the religions that have God, we are thrown back unto ourselves. That God throws us back onto ourselves to say, “Well, where are you? Show yourself!”

This is one of these things that makes our Buddhist practice so difficult, because when we truly want some solace, it is a difficult matter. Yet we think that there is no solace in calling, “Master” and answering, “What?” And yet if we really, really do that, when we really summon ourselves to respond, there is tremendous solace in that! Because we know that's the truth. We know the truth lies only there and not outside any place else. So there's tremendous solace in it, but it doesn't look like that until we do it. That, of course, is the action of finding out for yourself. An action of calling, “Master!” and answering “What?” Truly answering, “What?”

In our hearts that next question comes up. That next gut level, wrenching, suffering, miserable moment in ourselves comes forward, if we are really willing to do that. And it's only in passing through that, in pulling that up out of ourselves, and saying “What?” that we are able to bring it into that moment in which we can address it. And that is true solace.

So, who do you play the piano for, when there is nobody around?

Who do you cook for when you are alone ? You're cooking for the master.

You're playing the piano for the master. So it's all there! It's entirely all there!

So what can I rely on ? Can I rely enough on the true practice of Emptiness? The true practice of responding to the question of “Master” with a true “What?” when the chips are down and I'm miserable and I'm down and out, and that's it and I can't go on? I've been there, otherwise I would not talk this way.

So this incredible koan, “You have to find out for yourself” is so lifelong and spectacular and affirming, truly affirming in its potential to show us our Way. We know the Way is not found outside of ourselves. We will all come to this. We will all come to this spectacular moment in which we will find out for ourselves. It's just really nice to do it while we're still alive, before that moment of death. We will find out, but it would be so much greater to really live for the sake of living. It is so rare. It is so rare an opportunity to have this life. It won't happen again. This life will not happen again. How much more wonderful to really enter that koan, really look into it, and when you get up tomorrow, well everyday, you say “Master!” and you answer 'YES! What? What?”

The next question comes, but you have to drive to ask what is the next question. Not Guishan's question, not Lu's question, 'What are they doing here ?' that was his huge koan. What is your question? And how much better to do that while we’re alive, than to face “I have to find out for myself” at the moment of death when there’s no more time to enjoy yourself when you see through it! We are clearly going to find out at the moment of death. We'll find out what life is all about at the moment of death. I suspect that that spectacular moment of death, should we be so lucky as to be conscious. has that moment of finding out. Even if we're not conscious for that last breath, anybody I have ever been with who's dying, has a last moment of consciousness, and in that moment they see it. They see it, their whole life just goes whrrrrrrrrrrr, just like that, flashing before them. Their whole precious life spread out, and they just have it all right there. In a single moment, which is what happens when we awaken. Story after story after story, people will tell you about that moment of kensho, everybody they ever knew, everybody who had impact on their lives, just flashes before them in a moment, whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! just like that. And they are reconciled with everyone.

We have to do that for ourselves. We have to find out for ourselves. Nobody can do it for us. Nobody can live your life for you. Nobody can ask you a deep question and have it penetrate unless you move the question into your being. Nobody can do it except you.

I remember that moment. I remember it very clearly, when I go back to it now and then, to remind myself, what am I doing here, and why should we have to sit? I remember that moment and I remember where I was. I was standing in the doorway, between the hallway and my bedroom. It was five- thirty in the morning and I’m thinking, “The bed or the car? The bed or the car? I can’t to go back to bed? No, I have to sit zazen, I want to go back to bed, I want to sit zazen!” Back and forth, back and forth. And I remember the resolve that washed over me in that very moment, that said, “If I do not go and sit, I will never know!”

So, I went, and that resolve stayed.

It’s that kind of care of our lives that we engender, that we nurture in zen practice, that we foster, that we cultivate. This is it, this is it! You have to find out for yourself.

One more little piece that I wrote down here, that came as a capping verse from another koan:

“If the student’s understanding equals the teacher’s

the teaching is diminished by half.

Only when the student has surpassed the teacher,

has the teaching been truly transmitted.” (2)

Thank you.

In Gassho

(1) Koan #275, page 374, in THE TRUE DHARMA EYE.

(2) Koan #273, page 372, in THE TRUE DHARMA EYE.