Just Being Alive Is Enough

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The season. Vows. New Year's Resolution

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So many people. Where do they all come from? Welcome to Green Gulch. I'm Daigon Luke, Daigon Luke. My official position here is unequivocally, oh, fart on campus. And I have all the privileges thereunto. It's cold. I like it. Zen is cool, you know. Anybody ever tell you that Zen is cool? You don't find ecstatic people in Zen, whirling and dancing and so on. They're very cool, cold climate people. I think we're all born in the wintertime here.


Tassajara is the place where you should be in the dark of the year. How many people have been there in Tassajara in the dark of the year? Oh, you know what I'm talking about. It is, to say the least, elemental. I've never encountered darkness down in that canyon, in the Las Padres National Forest, at the time of the solstice, as I've never seen it or felt it, felt it, as I have or did there. It doesn't take much stretch of the imagination to feel how it must have been for our common ancestry back in, who knows when, how far back, in those caves, in the northern hemisphere, where it's cold


and there's only a little fire to gather around. What the return of the light, the night force beginning to wane and the day force beginning to grow, what that feeling of assurance and hope and faith must have been like. We still must carry that in our blood. It's not a mystery why we have so many celebrations, Hanukkah, Christmas, Rohatsu Seishin and Buddha's Enlightenment time. All of those maybe are symbolizing that sense of the dark night,


the extreme of the light, the extreme edge of things. It's about to turn and the light will come back again. The sea goat and Capricorn will climb from the lowest part of the ocean to the highest mountain. All those symbols that we have generated over time to commemorate that moment in this hemisphere when things become enlightened again. Well, you know, it's also a very stressful time of year, I think just for that reason and also because even before we were encumbered with lots of rituals about buying and spending and giving, just the absence of light, the absence of the sense of light,


the spectrum of the sun. It's an actual condition, right? It has a name. Anybody know what that is? Whether you don't get the full light spectrum in the wintertime in the northern hemisphere, there's a kind of depression that comes along with it. It's been measured scientifically, so it must be so. We feel it. We feel that too. It's an actual time for interning, for introspection, for crawling up close to the fire, lighting candles, snuggling up, hibernating. Instead, we go out and we get up even earlier so we can get out on the road to get our Christmas shopping done, get some zazen in, maybe. Do the rest of the things we have to do in the modern world. We don't take into account so much the rhythm of the season itself, which says, slow down. Things are dying in a new beginning. Of course, we could have the new beginning of a year around the equinoxes too, and we do.


The spring, when the light force gains over the dark force, is the time of, of course, resurrection. Finally, the light is resurrected over the darkness, and we have those ceremonies, like Easter, and so on. And in some cultures, I guess, actually autumn becomes the beginning of the year, in which the day force finally is overcome by the night force, and we turn inward again. But it seems more natural that in the rhythms of our life, the season of the year, the time that we would, that we would feel there was a completion, a cycle had ended, a full turn of something in our life. It would be a time of reckoning, a time of paying our debts, cleaning our house, both are metaphorical, and we'll turn, that's the word. And we do, quite naturally do those things. Patch up old quarrels.


In other words, drop away some of the superfluous baggage that we have accumulated over time, particularly over this last cycle, this last turn of the wheel of our life, of the four seasons, and actually ritualize a new beginning, together. Time of taking vows, for people. Good time for taking vows, actually. To take, we don't have so many weddings, maybe, in the wintertime as we do in the summer, but it's a great time, around the winter solstice. Things can only get brighter, right? Whereas in June, right, that's six months away, you're about to go into the decline of the sun. People don't think about that thing. But you have to hang out with those old sorcerers, alchemists who remember these ancient truths.


Oh, yeah. And of course, it's also the time where we make what we call resolutions. We resolve to change, and they're usually resolutions about self-improvement. Most of us don't make resolutions to be worse. I'm going to be a bigger asshole this year than I've ever been before, I promise you. We don't usually say that. We make some effort in the other direction. Now maybe in a perverse moment or so, we might feel like doing that, actually. But for the most part, we try to make positive vows at this time of year. So-called wholesome vows, if only to prove that we can't keep them. That life is bigger than our vows. That our conditioning is stronger than our momentary vow in the dark of the year. But it's a worthy practice. In fact, that's true of all of our vows that we take.


We take vows here all the time. And every morning, we also swear in front of one another that all our ancient twisted karma, from the beginning as greed, hate, and delusion, we now fully avow, going through body, speech, and mind, especially speech, we now avow. We try, but poor man, right? What does Shakespeare say? Man, but man, poor man, most ignorant of that which is most assured, his glassy essence, like an angry ape, plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep. Wonderful way of saying it, that part of ourselves. So we vow to be a little better, to get closer to the angels. Even I do that. Or as Mark Twain said, we actually should follow the rules when we're young just so we can break them with impunity when we get older. Particularly, he said, when we're elected to office.


If I were to sum up everything I've learned, let's say it's possible to find the quintessential words, sentence, phrase that would encapsulate the teaching or the truth, the heartfelt center of your life, after years of practice and after being alive quite a while. What would it be? And it's so simple for me, it's so simple and it's so obvious. It's something that everyone has heard, and it's something that grandma probably said to you when you were sniffling and complaining. Just being alive is enough. Just being alive is enough.


Suzuki Roshi has said that to my teacher, my root teacher, Sojun Mel Weitzman, Berkeley's endo. And when Mel was going through a particularly bad time, he said that Suzuki Roshi just came up, looked in his face, and said to him at that moment, that moment, the dark of the year for him, everything had gone into darkness. Just looked at him and said, just being alive is enough. And of course, if you've ever come out of a dangerous operation or had a real scare, then on the edge of looking into the jaws of death, in a sense, and have been snatched back into life somehow, at least for a moment, as you come back in, just being alive is enough. I don't know which is the most operable word in that.


Just, simply, or alive, of course, or the word enough. You see, there's the Rama. There was a survey taken once, not so long ago. It was a survey of people's needs, money-wise. I think I've told you this story. But I only have a certain number of stories, so I have to repeat them. Those stories that stick in our minds, and this one always sticks in my mind, because I think it points up the so-called First Noble Truth, which is that life is riven with dissatisfaction. Conditioned existence is riven with dissatisfaction. It was that the survey of people on the street from rather well-off, upper-middle class,


at least, even rich, this was in the day when, of course, millionaires were still considered rich, down to people who were on minimum wage and so on. And it came out that all of them thought they would be finally secure and happy with 20% more. That's not bad. 80% is pretty good, you know. 80% of my life is pretty good, but there's just this, if I just had a little bit, 20% more, things would be fine. 20% more health, 20% more money, 20% more faith, 20% more fidelity, respect, you name it. But anyway, 20% more in the physical or psychological or moral plane. And I would be in nirvana. I would be on Easy Street. I would be in the catbird seat with that.


Just being alive is not enough. Let's face it. I might think so for a few moments, and I might really appreciate my life for those moments. But sooner or later, sooner probably more than later, there would be something that's not quite right. And I go searching for what it is that I need to fulfill myself with. Just being alive is not enough. And of course, it's a relative thing, isn't it? If you're out in the cold, without any clothes, just being alive, in fact dying very slowly of a tortuous disease, just being alive, obviously, try to tell that to somebody who's dying like that in hospice. Hey, just being alive is enough, right? Maybe, maybe not. I used to worry about the fact that I didn't live my life that way.


Particularly in the dark of the year, metaphorically speaking, when I didn't think the sun was ever going to come back. In fact, part of me didn't want the sun to come back. What? To start this all over again? To keep going? In spite of losing everybody and everything, keep going? The time when you say, why? What for? What's the use? We're all going to die anyway, we're all going to sick and die, and the world has never changed, and blah, blah, blah. We know that one, right? It's true. No. Just being alive is not enough right there. I'm waiting for the light to come back. And, lo and behold, the light comes back. I didn't seem to do anything about it, but I don't feel that way a few days later than I felt a few weeks later, a few months later, as I felt at that moment. Something has shifted.


Something has always, always shifted, as we've gone on our 360 degree journey around the sun, and its journey, and its orbits in our galaxy, and its orbits in the midst of other infinite orbits, particles spinning in space. Why isn't it enough just to be alive? We wouldn't be sitting here today talking about this if it was. Would we? Well, maybe we do, maybe we would. Maybe this is part of just being alive. We like to get together and reassure each other that just being alive is enough. It's interesting also in Zen, particularly, I think, as Suzuki Roshi presented it, and as we chant here in one of the um...


It's a kind of treatise, actually. It's called Emerging a Difference in Unity, or Sando Kai, Emerging a Difference in Unity. It talks about how without light there cannot be darkness, and without darkness there can't be light. The two sides of the same thing. We can't imagine light without dark, and dark without light. In Zen, or in some of the later Buddhist teachings, darkness symbolized the unconscious, the undifferentiated continuum, if you want to call it that, where you can't find distinction between things, objects. And it corresponds to our unconscious, maybe. And it's a healthy thing. It's the growth of where everything is in seed state. And it's preparing to burst forth again. It's a very healthy place to go through the dark. And was that also true in my psychological life,


when it was a dark night of the soul and nothing worked? And life did not feel just as such being enough. Make her laugh at that, huh? Make her laugh. And I was hard on myself, as I was saying before, because I couldn't keep this dictum, just being alive enough, before me as a continuous mantra, way of life, until I realized that just part of being alive is the fact that, of course, everything is constantly falling apart, and we're constantly putting it back together again. As obvious as that is to us,


sometimes somebody has to actually say that. I once worked in a residential treatment center for youngsters as a counselor, thirty years ago. And we were having terrible times, of course, with disturbed young people, and we were fairly neurotic ourselves, as a staff. And we had a psychologist, psychiatrist, who oversaw our work. And I can remember very clearly saying at one of our staff meetings, that was filled with high tension, it's always falling apart. And he said, well, of course it is. It's your job and my job to put it back together. Well, that kind of creates a little bit of stress in our life. But it is always falling apart. And what's also falling apart is this idea that I can always be aware of the fact


that just being alive is enough. That too will come and go through its dark and light period. And so it's all right to forget our resolutions. It's all right not to be able to keep the precepts. It's all right to fail. It's all right to be eccentric. I understand also that Suzuki Roshi, one of the first ways he said that he met a person was to, I don't remember if he said evoke, but it was to kind of stimulate a little mischief. Take up a little mischief in the person. That doesn't sound like a Zen master, right? Zen master, you know, I think, or somebody who's involved in the cloth wants to come and clean up your act. You're a good little boy and girl. But he said, no, no. First stir up a little mischief,


then you can see how people are, what they do. The worst way to treat them is to ignore them. The second worst way, even more common, is to try to control them. The best way is to watch them, watch one another. I think it was Alan Watts who also concurred with that and said, there is in all of us an irreducible element of rascality. We come to church and Zen Dojo is a place to be edified by some ideas of ourselves, but we also need to remember this untamable aspect of ourself that does not quite fit in to the schema


of whatever is manifesting as a way to be. And we have to honor that. Just being alive is not enough. Therefore, just being alive is enough. This is a time of death and rebirth. Maybe on an international scale. Maybe that should be the political slogan for the coming election. Just being alive is enough.


Live and let live. It doesn't get votes. Of course it's falling apart. Says the poet, a time comes when life is in order, just life with no escapes. A time comes when life is in order, just life with no escapes. That's what Zazen is. If you sit long enough, doing nothing, crossing your legs and watching the world in front of you and the space, sooner or later you will have gone through about every change and every dimension of consciousness that may be possible within the framework of your psychology. And all at once you will simply be sitting there and noticing things exactly as they are. The floor is just the floor.


Everything looks very undramatic. It has no movie at all. It is ordinary beyond ordinary. And it is so real. But you know what? I like having 12% left over. I can't wait to get off the tan later, even then, to let that go, to get off the tan so I can get back into the 12% frame of mind. Why is that? Was it Dostoevsky who said, even if we were perfect, we could build this tower, this great tower to the heavens and so on. Wouldn't we, out of sheer perversity, to prove that we could, knock it down? There is that element in us. And instead of trying to control that


or ignore that, we watch it and use it. Here is a poem by the great Zborska, a Polish poet, woman, who won the Nobel Prize in the 90s sometime. She calls this poem The Real World. The real world doesn't take flight the way dreams do. No mother, no muffled voice, no doorbell can dispel it. No shriek, no crash can cut it short. Images and dreams are hazy and ambiguous and can generally be explained in many different ways. Reality means reality. That's a tougher nut to crack.


Dreams have keys. The real world opens on its own and can't be shut. Report cards and stars pour from it. Butterflies and flat iron warmers shower down. Headless caps and shards of clouds. Together they form what can't be solved. Within us, dreams couldn't exist. Without us, without us, dreams couldn't exist. No one on whom the real world depends is still unknown. And the products of his insomnia are available to anyone who wakes up. Dreams aren't crazy. It's the real world that's insane. If only in its stubbornness with which it sticks to the current of events. In dreams, our recently deceased are still alive. In perfect health, no less,


and restored to the full bloom of youth. The real world lays the corpse in front of us. The real world doesn't blink an eye. Dreams are featherweights and memory can shake them off with ease. The real world doesn't have to fear forgetfulness. It's a tough customer. It sits on our shoulders, weighs on our hearts, tumbles to our feet. There's no escaping it. It tags along each time we flee and there's no stop along our escape route where reality isn't expecting us. That's kind of hard la peau. It's reality with a hard edge to it. But it is the place, I believe. And I'll finally say this, if I had to say my final words, even that just being alive is enough. Just that way. But then that's my story, you see.


That's my maybe neurosis. There is no ultimate truth, said Buddha. At least, said the commentators, as I understand it. There's just endless context, process and interpretation, which is what we're doing right now. In the dark of the year, as we make resolutions for the coming turn of the wheel. How many of us will be sitting here next year? My favorite death poem of a Zen master, you know, Zen masters are supposed to write their death poems. When they don't die,


they polish them for years. But my favorite one is, I don't want to die. He screamed it out. I don't want to die. And the students were really upset with him. How dare a Zen master say that, that he doesn't want to die. That he's not, you know, part and parcel of the whole show, that just dying is enough. No, he didn't want to. I hope we're that honest. Actually, there are several poems, several parts of Zen, stories in Zen. Ganto. Wasn't it Ganto, who made the cry?


The cry when the bandits came and killed him? They told him to give up one of the monks who they were looking for. I guess he had been a bandit before he became a monk. And he wouldn't, the abbot wouldn't give him up. And so they said, well then, it's you or him. And they killed Ganto. And when Ganto was stabbed, he let out the scream that could be heard all over southern China. At least by the Zen, they all heard it, the scream. I woke up in the midst of the Zazen at that moment. So who dies when Ganto screams? We ask ourselves. That story makes me wonder if that fellow


who they wanted, maybe not politics, but religion is the last refuge of Skandro. Uh-oh. What if that's true? What if after we've tried everything, nothing works, we forget? Would it be funny to come to God? I'm supposed to talk until 11. I'm sorry if there's long pauses. You have to understand that this talk, actually, we have a talk now to kind of keep you busy. Because what's really happening is they're warming a huge kettle of water for tea. And it takes 40 minutes. And if I stop before the 40 minutes, I'll hear about it. They didn't get the tea out


in time because Daigon gave one of his 20-minute talks. So I'm desperately trying to think of anecdotes to plug up the time. Just being alive is not quite enough. It's too much. I didn't mean it. 20% more? 20% more of what? Time, yeah. Anybody know some good stories? Well, I'm always on the side of the eccentric. And for that reason,


Mark Twain is one of my Bodhisattva heroes. And I'm always quoting Mark Twain, so I'll quote you something from Mark Twain. It kind of fits in what I'm talking about. He's talking about keeping the rules when you're young so you can break them when you're older. And he said, I only have one rule myself. I never smoke more than one cigar at a time. And he said, I always buy the cheapest brand. It's $5 a barrel. No, he said, no, it's $5.50 a barrel. Yeah, $5.50 a barrel, he said, but that includes the barrel. He said, a man, he's talking about eccentrics, he said, a man or a woman, a person, who tries to carry a cat home by the tail is getting two or three times more immediate experience than a person who would only theorize about that. That the person who's doing so would not likely ever repeat


that experience again and would not grow dim or doubtful. But I say, if he wants to, let him. It's not easy being eccentric. So sometimes when we come to the Zindo on cold mornings in the dark of the year, I think about that. It's kind of like carrying the cat home by the tail. And I think that's why we do it early in the morning when it's cold in the dark of the year. When any normal person, normal neurosis would get up with the sun. We get up three hours before the sun even comes up. If you don't think that tests you, I invite you to come and try it. In fact, we have six or eight or ten people with us right now who are doing a workshop and we're actually trying that out together. Getting up early in the morning and coming here to sit. And they're actually paying to do it. So it must be valuable.


Well, I'm sorry you expected to hear the Dharma today, but you know, the other thing I must tell you, I still don't know what the Dharma is. Damn it. I don't. I don't. But I do know that whatever it is, it must have something to do with me. And the life just has to live it. Is that a fair assumption? Or should I test it? I'll go see the teacher and ask him or her later. That's my wife. That's my wife. I do ask her later. I go, she's like the teacher, I go and ask her. She'll say 20% more. Next week, however,


there'll be a real speaker here to answer your questions. I promise you. Who is it? Norman. Norman is a dear fellow and a great Zen teacher. And he's my teacher. As a matter of fact, he gave me this robe. And I hope I'm not embarrassing him by wearing it up here today. If I am, I'm sorry, Norman. But you can't control your devotees. He's a great poet, Norman Fisher, by the way. Great modern, post-modern poet. I really believe that. He has a great influence on poetry. Three minutes. Dan, are you getting up? Are you leaving? Are Zen


people always cool-tempered? Cool-tempered? Yeah. Well, they are until they blow up. They don't blow up very often. Actually, Zen people don't blow up very often. But when they do, it doesn't grow dim or doubtful. It's the cat again. It's like a boiler, you know. Zazen is supposed to be like this huge boiler and we build up all this pressure. In Zazen, it's kind of the escape. We let out some of that. We work that pressure. And then all at once when it doesn't all get out in Zazen, so we sit down in meetings and we have to work with our the excess. We have excess for each other. It wasn't used up in Zazen. Just like going to the office. Well, it's time.


And thank you for sitting here and indulging me. You know, in America, in most countries, I could have got up and just read a lecture. And everybody would, in Japan, for example, they would understand that. In England, for example. But in America, we're also supposed to entertain people. We're kind of entertainers. I'm not a very good one, but I'm working on it. Working on it. And every time they ask me to give a talk, I learn something about it. Being an entertainer in which something may, unbeknownst to myself, actually be said that will have some influence on someone else's life. And later they come and say, you know, you said something once that changed my whole life. And I think, uh-oh. And they say, yeah, you said just being alive is enough. And when everything went to hell, I remembered that. And it helped. So, who knows? Thank you.