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'Good day for shoes'


Having it to see and listen to, to remember and accept, I vow to taste the fruit of the Tathagata's words. Good evening. So, the theme we've been pursuing in this practice period, if Buddhists pursue things, is entering the Buddha way, and the last time I talked, and the last time Blanche talked, we talked about frankly allowing what we are, and I think we were both inspired by thoughts of Kadagiri Roshi, Kadagiri Roshi said that Westerners should do repentance every day,


and he did in his group every day, they started the day with that, I think it's kind of interesting the way we do it, you know, we do a one day sitting, and then right at the end, we just tag it on, out of what? Just sort of comes packaged deal, Zazen, sore knees, repentance, you just get it, it's part of the style of our temple, maybe it's part of the style of Zazen practice, it's almost like you assimilate the practice through your body, directly through your experience, and not so much through the thought processes, the opinions that you go through in getting to it, I mean obviously they play a part, but I've noticed for myself, I can almost


describe it as like a feeling I have for things, like the feeling I have for service, just sort of develops as I keep sitting, I never think about it when I sit, I never actually think that, well sometimes I think about service, but to a large extent I don't, the feeling does not seem to be a consequence of what I've sat down and thought about it. So, this is a part of our way, part of our way is to enter not knowing how we enter, we just sit all day and then at the end we take refuge in Buddhadharma Sangha and we avow our karma, and strangely enough, the more you do that, in my experience, without even thinking about it, it sort of ties together, it makes sense.


I don't know if Katagiri Roshi spelled out in great detail into his group why he thought Westerners needed to take repentance on a daily basis, maybe takes, not the verb, and then before taking refuge. So what I was planning on talking about this evening was taking refuge, there's an English teacher Sangha Ratchita, and he said that in one of his books that he thought everything in Buddhist practice was simply taking refuge, that's what it was. And then he went on to divide it up into three levels, his words. The first level was where you have some understanding of what Buddhism is proposing, and it makes


sense to you, it makes more sense to you than any other proposition of reality. And you think, okay, well, I'll go for that, that makes sense, it makes more sense than anything else. It doesn't look particularly easy, or maybe it does look easy, but anyway, so that level, that level of, maybe we could say, allegiance to the proposition. And then the second level being willing to take it on, okay? And we all know what a big step that is, from agreeing in principle to allowing it into our lives. And if you think about it, that's why this, who are you, you know, this coming, establishing some familiarity, some acceptance of your life is so useful. I mean, how can it enter your life if you don't know what your life is?


So this is the usefulness of avowing, of investigating and accepting who you are, because it creates a ground in which to practice. And then, in the midst of this, we have a love-hate relationship with it. We're not quite sure whether we like practice or we hate practice. Once, many years ago, there was a teacher, a Japanese Roshi at Tassahara, Tatsugami Roshi, and at the end of Shishin, you know, he walked out of the zendo and roared at the top of his voice, �I hate Zazen!� So, you know, that was one of those love-hate days, or maybe


years. So, we want what it offers, and we don't want to lose what it seems to be taking away, in all sorts of different ways. And then, in Sangha, actually, there's a scheme of three levels. The third one is a deeper sense of acceptance, where the love and the hate have been worked back and forth until we start to realize the two sides of the same coin, that it's just one thing. And then, that's when it starts, we can embrace them both, the joy and the difficulty.


And then, that's part of what reminded me of a koan that I'd like to quote you, which is about young men. Young men is a little bit like the Leonardo da Vinci of koans, you know, like Leonardo to the Renaissance was just sort of so masterful, apparently young men was too. Young men said, �I don't ask you about before the fifteenth day, try to say something about after the fifteenth day.� And then, of course, everyone's dumbfounded, so he answers himself, and he says, �Every day is a good day.� And, of course, you first read it and you think, well, that's a sort of simplistic


notion that's confounded by reality. But really, it's talking about this sense of where our love and hate of practice come together, and as Suzuki Roshi called it, some sense of constancy. Suzuki Roshi described it by saying, �When events are embraced in emptiness, then there can be a sense of constancy in our practice.� So, what about when they're not embraced in emptiness, what about that? About a year or so ago, I was at Tassajara, and I went to visit someone who was in their


room, and outside their room, there were all these pairs of shoes, and it was great. There was a pair of shoes for... a pair of zoris for summer wear. There was a pair of clogs, wooden clogs, for winter wear when it rains. See, then they raise you up a little bit, and your feet don't get wet. Then there was a pair of running shoes. This person liked to go running. Then there was a pair of Birkenstocks. Birkenstocks are your good everyday wear, you know, sensible... what a sensible person would wear. And then there was Zendoatar. And then I think there was rubber boots for winter work. And I was thinking about that recently.


I was thinking about the world in which we live, and how it affects us, and the expectations it creates for us. And you know, someone was saying to me, well, things aren't going right, and I was thinking about times when I've thought that myself. You know, things are not going right. And wondering why it would bother me so much. Did I expect them to go right? And thinking about... and why the image of all these shoes came up for me, I was thinking, it's very interesting. And at a certain point, we just went barefoot. And when the ground was stony, you know, you felt it, and when it was dusty, you felt


it, or whatever, it was cold, you felt it, it was wet, you felt it. And I don't know, maybe it was all a problem. Maybe we all went around with the feeling that things are just not going right. Or maybe, or maybe we just felt like, this is how it is. We're not separate. We're not in control. We're not capable of taking control of the world and bending it to our will. So recently I was thinking, I wonder how much that sneaks in for us. I wonder how much does a thought sneak in that somehow, if we do it right, it'll have a high degree of comfort, or it'll work according to my strategy.


And of course, you can look at our endeavors, our scientific endeavors, and other endeavors, and see that passion within us. And we do have a different heritage, you know. As Kategorii Roshi pointed out, maybe it is more difficult for us when things go wrong. When we don't get the raise we expected. When we get mugged in the street, or whatever, or a relationship breaks up. Maybe it simply hurts us more. There used to be someone who lived here, her name was Helen Dunham, and I had the good


fortune to know Helen for many years, from when she first started to practice. And she was quite a character, a great spirit. And she caught breast cancer, and this was her first brush with death. And she didn't like it. In fact, as she said, it was petrifying, traumatic, terrorizing, and she survived it. It turned out to be not as intrusive as it could have been. And she lived for many years afterwards, about nine. I think, I'm not too sure, seven to nine, somewhere in that range.


Anyway, the years went by and she had another brush with death. And I remember about three months before she died, maybe three to six months, when her third, and she survived the second, obviously, to get to the third. And her third one was coming along, and we were having practice discussion, and she was saying, you know, funny thing, you'd think twice, I thought, my number's up. And it just knocked me for a loop each time. It just terrorized me, traumatized me, and here I am, third time around, and I'm traumatized and terrorized again. Wouldn't you think something would be easier or something? And I noticed, she said this, sitting cross-legged, sitting up straight, sitting still, clear-eyed.


And I thought, I don't know, if this is traumatized and terrorized, facing death, I'd settle for this. And it felt very, I felt very settled to be with her, the power, the straightforwardness of her statement. She just said it, that's how it was, that's what she felt, she put it out there. So it is. And very peaceful to be with. It's like a very, a sense of relief, okay? Every day's a good day. It's not easy. It's not, there's no pair of shoes that we can put on to protect us from it, no matter how many we have.


It brings up a weather condition that's going to penetrate us thoroughly. So this is part of taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. It's from the basis of the human condition, from the basis of who you are. Who you are being the parts of yourself you approve of, the parts you disapprove of. Your great joys and your great fears and your great difficulties, all of this is included in our vow. In some ways, whether we like it or not.


Your life becomes your practice, whether you like it or not. Chögyam Trungpa used to say, for those of you, when he was giving talks, he'd say, for those of you who haven't started to practice, take my advice, don't, once you start. Unfortunately, the alternative of ignoring your life doesn't seem to work too well either. So, so a young man's every day is a good day. It has this almost indescribable admonition. My Thich Nhat Hanh takes it in his wonderful, simple way, turns it into a very simple expression. He says, mindfulness, understanding, compassion.


And this is, this seems to be a very simple expression. It seems to be the appealing doorway that we, most of us, enter through. You know, we come to practice and we think practices about meditation, awareness. You know, few of us come to practice thinking practices about making homage and offerings to the celestial Buddha. You know, for most Westerners, that would be the exceptional person that would come through that door. So we come through awareness. We come through the practice of awareness. And our understanding, when we sit, comes along. Sometimes Suzuki Roshi, you know, if you read carefully in Zain Man, Beginner's Mind,


when he talks about constancy, he says, you can waste your time. You know, if somehow practice becomes a part of an equation where it's the celestial fix, you know, it's the pair of shoes that can hold off any weather, that can meet any condition, that somehow every day is a good day, really means that someday, every day will be a good day. And you'll have a smiley face. And so, if that's your aspiration, your practice can, based on that aspiration, can make your life difficult. Because every day won't be a good day. And then what will you do? Rebuke yourself for not having practiced properly?


Or think, someday, someday, every day will be a good day. When I practice longer, when I practice better, when I become more skilled at it. And so this is not, this is not the point. The point of taking refuge is, the word that just came to mind is to not stay separate. Our society is a coin. We have lots of shoes. We have lots of ways, lots of tools to comfort ourselves.


And to use a Buddhist term, this is our karma. So, should we all go and live in the jungle in Thailand? I don't think there's enough room for us all. And then, maybe we'd miss the point there too. So, so we take refuge where we are. Not to say that it's passive. There is also an admonition to work with your body, work with your mind, work with the situation you find yourself in, to be proactive. To look at our society and say, that's not okay.


I don't support that. I actively act against that. Or to say, my help was needed and I'm actually going to make an effort to be of assistance. So this is encompassed in taking refuge too. To be proactive. To take action. Action. To the best of our ability. But with a certain kind of spirit. To understand that the consequence of impermanence is that there cannot be created a safe, everlasting place. Not for anything.


That everything is subject to arising and decay. And then the question becomes more pragmatic. The question becomes more, how do I work with what is? How do I work with this body and mind? How do I work with these conditions in a way that supports me and others to embrace this life? To awaken. To be willing to engage in the dynamic interplay that surrounds me. I could say that maybe in doing this, bringing up that question, we're shifting. We're shifting from taking refuge to the Bodhisattva ideal.


Personally, I don't see them so different. I think they sort of come together. Here you are. You're in a society. You've got to respond. Even trying not to respond is a response. Even non-activity is an activity. It's inevitable. So this is, for me, how these two intertwine. This willingness to embrace the condition of what is and also to find a response to our world. One of Yunlen's other statements was when he was asked,


what is the result of a lifetime's practice? And he said, an appropriate response. So as we search for our appropriate response, we find our inappropriateness. And then one way to describe our practice is how do we create the container that allows our practice to contain our appropriate response? Our appropriateness and our inappropriateness and allows them both to be contained within taking refuge. So this is every day is a good day. How will it be for us?


How many of us will be blessed with three strikes in your right? How many of us will get three brushes with death and be able to have seven or nine years of Buddhist practice to allow us to question it, to explore it? How many of us will have Helen's courage? Her tenacity? In her mid-seventies, with not very good eyesight, she got up at four o'clock every morning and drove over from Army Street to sit at five o'clock.


She didn't know that a 70-something-year-old woman was too old to be able to do that. So in some way, we take refuge by not knowing it's impossible. By not knowing how much it asks of us. And we don't do it Helen Dunham's way. Each one of us does it our way. And we explore it through awareness. And we find out how to be


our way. You know, the Buddha's way that we enter is our own way. It can't be anyone else's way. So spontaneously, as we find the way and we find out that we're Buddha, that's how we enter the way. It's a very interesting proposition that as we sit cross-legged up straight and say, I'm still petrified that the person with us might feel a deep sense of calm. Thank you. May our intention equally penetrate.