November 19th, 2005, Serial No. 00975

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I am proud to taste the truth of God's target first words. Good morning. I was trying to think of just a short story to give you just a little sense of what my life is like these days and I was thinking, you know, I'm in this big transition in that I, you know, after being at Zen Center for many, many years, I then started and ran a publishing company for many years, for 15 years. And I left that company about a year ago and am now again in a kind of transition, although I'm consulting to other companies and coaching and I'm a Zen priest and I'm practicing.


But the other day I had just gotten off the phone with an old Zen Center friend and I went upstairs where my wife and teenage daughter, my 17-year-old daughter, were sitting and reading and I mentioned to my wife that my good friend Peter had just told me that their 22-year-old son was about to get married. And my wife said, well, how does Peter feel about that? I said, well, he's supportive, but he's kind of concerned, you know, because he's 22 and he doesn't have any idea how he's going to make a living. And my wife said, well, you know, when we got married, you didn't have any idea how you were going to make a living either. And I could see my teenage daughter was sort of, her ears were perked up about this conversation. And she waited a few minutes and then she turned and looked at me and she said, you know, Dad, and you still don't know how you're going to make a living. Can I put this a little higher because it's low on your chest?


Sure. Here as well. Sorry. It's okay. There we go. Is that better? Actually, what I want to, I have some very large aspirations for what I want us to accomplish here together this morning, which is that I want us to change the world. That isn't too much to ask, I don't think. And what I realize is that we can change the world by having conversations that haven't been having so much, haven't been happening in our world. And I think, you know, and that's how, I really think that that's how change starts. It changes by people having courageous and brave conversations. I'm going to use a Zen story to, which I hope isn't too much of a stretch to illustrate this point.


But the story, it's a traditional koan from the Muman Khan and it says, a monk said to Zhao Zhao, I've just entered this monastery, please teach me. Zhao Zhao said, have you eaten your rice gruel? The monk responded and said, yes, I have. And Zhao Zhao said, wash your bowl. And the monk understood. And that's the whole story. And then there's one of the traditions in these stories is that the collector, in this case, the great teacher Muman Khan, wrote, Muman wrote this verse, which says, because it is so very clear, it takes so long to realize. If you just know that flame is fire, you'll find your rice has long been cooked. So because it's so very clear, it takes so long to realize.


If you just know that flame is fire, you'll find that your rice has long been cooked. Yeah, so this very simple conversation that have you eaten your rice bowl? Well, yes. Well, then go wash your bowl. Very simple problem and solution. But this wash your bowl is, what does it mean to really pay complete attention to what we're doing? How is it that we can bring everything in our lives alive? So going back to some of these conversations that I started to talk about, one conversation that I want to research that I haven't researched is, most of you are probably old enough to remember that when you got onto an airplane, it was filled with cigarette smoke.


And I can remember that for many, many years, people just grumbled about it, that you got onto a plane and it was filled with cigarette smoke, and there were smoking sections and non-smoking sections, but this was an airplane. And I think that somehow there were some persons, I would love to trace it back, where was the conversation that someone said, this shouldn't be, let's do something about this? And how that conversation actually led to there's now no smoking on airplanes. I think it's one of the modern miracles. But skipping, I wonder, why is it, there's lots of conversations now about ending the war in Iraq. There's conversations, there's some conversations, although not nearly enough, about poverty and homelessness.


But I haven't really heard any conversations about ending war. Like, it's just one of those givens. A lot like getting onto an airplane filled with smoke. And so this is really the large view of what it is that I hope we can accomplish. One of the things that we chant, and we'll chant it today at the end of this talk, we say, beings are numberless. I vow to save them. And so if we chant that, why aren't we having conversations about ending violence? After all, we're vowing to save all beings. It's a pretty big problem, the saving all beings, especially since in our day-to-day lives, we're so involved in our, we all have so many other problems.


Like making a living and relationships, or for some of us, just getting up in the morning might be a major, major challenge. Big, big problems. But how can we live our lives in such a way so that we're living from this vow about saving all beings? Like, there's a big problem. So when Zhaozhao said to the monk, go wash your bowl, he was saying, I think both at the same time, he was saying, go deal with the problem that's right in front of you. Go take care of your bowl. Go take care of your dirty bowl. And I think at the same time, he was also saying, go save all beings. Because it's so very clear, it takes so long to realize. If you just know that flame is fire, you'll find that your rice has long been cooked.


Well, what is it that's so very clear? Well, one thing that's very clear is that we as human beings are so much more than we realize. We're just amazing, amazing creatures being a human being and having imaginations and having consciousness. I remember hearing this, there was a story I heard about this, I think it was a woman from Thailand who had been in this country for many years. And she said, I just don't understand these Americans. They all live their lives like football players. Every Sunday they go out and they have a football game. And whether they've won or lost, it doesn't matter.


They just go out and they keep striving to win again the next Sunday. And she said, in Thailand, we feel that the fact that we were born as a human being is complete and utter success. And that we've been given this amazing, amazing possibility to be born as a human being. It's also very clear and takes so long to realize that we've been given everything. That we have these bodies and minds and also this amazing sunshine that's coming in through the window. That we've been given this sunshine. And we have this amazing, amazing place to practice together. I also think of the conversations that must have happened with Suzuki Roshi and with a few other very sincere practitioners.


That were having conversations about, we want to build a practice place and how can we practice together. And out of those conversations grew this amazing place that we sit in. And grew Tassajara and grew Green Gulch. And grew the Densho Bell that rings that allows us and that calls us to come into this room. So that we can sit here and conspire together and breathe together. And begin this process of how we can start to have some of these conversations. And partly it takes so long to realize because our day-to-day lives and our day-to-day relationships really are difficult. It really is just like the conversation that I described having with my wife and my daughter.


And all of the, you know, we're so amazing. We have these incredible antennas that can pick up the energy of other people around us. I was thinking of an improv, I've mentioned I know the last time that I talked here that I've started taking improv classes. And again it's, you know, it's as though I need more places in my life to terrify myself. In addition to being up here and in addition to being a parent and husband. And trying to figure out how, you know, what my own place is in the world. But I find that these improv classes have been quite wonderful. And there was an exercise we did recently that I found really life-changing. Which was very, very simple. The teacher, our improv teacher had a stand at one end of the room.


And on the other end of the room she took a plastic water bottle. So we were standing about, you know, 20, 25 feet away from this water bottle. And she said, now just look at this water bottle and visualize it. Now close your eyes and walk with gusto, determination and confidence towards where you think this water bottle is. Stop and just swoop down and go to pick it up. And we spent a long time, each of us taking turns doing this. And part of the instructions were that this is how you should come out on stage when you're doing improv. That with this spirit. Because in improv on stage you never have any idea what's going to happen. You don't know. You could be asked to be an old man or you could be asked to be a woman or a child or a space alien.


You just have no idea what you're going to be asked to do. And these were instructions for how to come out on stage. And then as you swoop down to pick up this water bottle, if you got it, everyone applauded. And if you didn't get it, everyone applauded. That this was really a lesson. Although this was a lesson in improv, I thought, isn't this how I want to live my life? Isn't this how I want to enter each situation? What if I entered each situation with that spirit of gusto and confidence and made my best, most sincere effort in this vision of what I thought was going to happen. But then to just completely be there, to be present and celebratory and appreciative with the situation that I found right in front of me. Which may be holding this water bottle or may not be holding this water bottle.


That it wasn't about that kind of success. It was about the effort and sincerity. And this is one of the things that this wash your bowl story and that it takes so long to realize that everything in our life is story. And that one of the things that meditation practice can help us with is helping us to loosen some of these stories about what we tell ourselves. I even think of this story that I told about the conversation that I had with my wife and my daughter. Almost every conversation is taking place on at least three different levels.


There's the level of what the content is. There's the level of what our feelings are, how we feel about the conversation. And then there's a level of what our own identities are. I want to suggest that you maybe start to notice that in your conversations. Usually, we just get completely caught. We focus on the content pretty much only. And then we get caught by our own feelings. And then we weave a story about what our identity is based on what that conversation is. So what I love about this, you know, so much of what's so wonderful about this Zen practice is, you know, have you eaten your breakfast yet? Have you had your rice roll yet? Well, then go wash your bowl. Very direct. Learn everything, that you can learn everything you can from this washing your bowl.


There's this wonderful, there's a line from a David White poem that says, anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. And where I'm guessing your minds are going is the same place my mind went. Well, let's see, what friend should I get rid of? Or what activity should I stop doing? But this is not at all the intention of this poem. The intention of this poem is very much like this wash your bowl story, which is that each of us is responsible for bringing our lives alive. How is it that we can bring simple activities like washing our bowl alive? How is it that a simple, like one of my favorite activities is to do Zazen instruction here on Saturday mornings.


And kind of one of the turning points for me, I always think, oh, this is going to be very, this will be very simple. This is just very simple. We'll teach Zazen instruction. And we go downstairs to the Zendo steps and start to teach people how to stand in Shashu. Like the instructions for holding your hand around your thumb and putting it against your chest and then taking your other hand and holding it over these very, very exacting instructions. And then to tell people, well, you should stand, you should put your hands, hold them with some energy, but not too rigid, not too loose. And I realized that just this simple Zen form is this amazing instruction for how to bring your life alive


as you're about to walk into the meditation hall, that this is a reminder that I'm alive. I'm here. I have these hands. I have this body. It's not, I'm going to go sit another period of meditation. And then the challenge is how do we bring, to realize that we're always doing this posture, even when we're not. So if you happen to work in an office downtown, if you're on the elevator by yourself, you might just stand in Shashu. I don't recommend doing it with other people. You might find you're not employed very long, but you can do it by yourself and you can do it, you can remember it. You can do it with that spirit, you know, or little things like, you know, at all of the bathrooms here, there are little altars and just stopping and bowing to the altars is a fabulous way of bringing simple things,


bringing our lives alive. So it's so clear that it takes so long to realize that everything in our lives is just completely alive. You know, there's a way... You know, in Zen practice and in spiritual practice, we talk a lot about waking up. And it is this sense of waking up to our own aliveness, that there is a way, there is a way that we all get so easily kind of captured. And almost like, you know, there's a dream state of our being and our consciousness. It's almost like the dream state of that we get so caught in our own stories and the particular relationships and problems day to day that we forget that we're alive,


that we can bring our lives alive. Or we forget that we can live on this larger plane of saving all beings. One of the things that I sometimes do in my own coaching practice is I'll suggest to people that they write their own stories from three different vantage points. And this could be your past story or in a way it might even be... So it's your past story and perhaps your future story. And in some way this is... I think we're always living our lives from these three vantage points. One is to live our lives from the vantage point of being a victim, right? Because we're all victims. We were all raised by very... most of us by very, very imperfect human beings.


And we all have lots and lots of difficulties and problems and amazing, amazing tragedies and stories from all of our lives. So we can write and think of our lives from the vantage point of being victims. Then we can write our stories from the vantage point of overcoming being a victim. How is it that we, despite all of the difficulties that we have and that we face in our lives, that we've managed to overcome these difficulties? So we can write that story. And the third story is the story of this vow. How can we write our lives from this story of vowing to save all beings? What does that story look like? And I think of that as the great story of our life, the story in which we're beyond success and failure,


we're beyond victim and overcoming being a victim. It's the story of our own greatness. I'm realizing in my attempt here to change the world during this short lecture, I've planned way, way too many things, and I haven't done one thing here that I've written out and planned. But two things, I want to read something. This is from a book that I've written and that was published this year called ZBA, Zen of Business Administration. Actually, it's a title that started out as a joke. I was once eating lunch at Green's Restaurant, and the person who I was having lunch with introduced me as having my ZBA degree. And I want to read from this.


This is a chapter called Meditation, Letting Go of Everything. Living at Tassajara in the middle of a wilderness area provided me with constant lessons in giving up ideas about what I thought was supposed to happen next. During my first winter in the valley, a week of winter rainstorms transformed the creek that flows through Tassajara into a raging river. As the water came close to overflowing its banks, I, along with 60 residents, evacuated the meditation hall and quickly walked to higher ground. We stood together wearing black meditation robes in the pouring rain, holding our open umbrellas, wondering if the meditation hall would be washed away. The following summer, a huge forest fire surrounded Tassajara, and all the residents were forced to leave. I remember driving out on the dirt road, looking to the west, and seeing a tremendous wall of fire coming our way.


That fall, the 100-year-old meditation hall burned to the ground. A student had forgotten to blow out a kerosene lantern. Meditation practice is the practice of letting go. It is the practice of sitting still, not going anywhere, being completely present to whatever arises. It is the practice of giving up the quest for fame and fortune, giving up your ordinary view of yourself and the need to be, think, or appear in any particular way. It is the practice of giving up assumptions about who we are and what we are supposed to be or do. Meditation is the practice of open-heartedness. I'm going to skip a section here. One evening, while I was preparing to fill a bathtub at Tassajara, a bobcat entered the room. This was a semi-wild, semi-tame bobcat


that had wandered into Tassajara. A bobcat entered the room and took the rubber stopper that was needed to fill the tub. I followed the bobcat as it walked away from the baths with the stopper in its mouth. I followed it as it walked up a hillside. I was trying to coax it to drop the stopper. I picked up a long, broken branch from the ground, thinking I might use the stick to knock the stopper away from the bobcat. When the branch got near the bobcat, it put down the stopper, crouched on its hind legs, and began to move toward me. It was clear that this was time to let go of my perceived need to get the stopper. This rubber stopper and my bath no longer seemed important in the context of life and death.


I quickly backed away, no need for a bath this evening. Thank you. So the last line in this verse says, if you just know that flame is fire, you'll find that your rice has long been cooked. I love this image, and it reminds me of several different images. One is of, there's a beautiful Rumi poem where he says, why is it that you keep searching for a loaf of bread when there's a bakery planted on your head? So that's how, it's funny, it's so easy for me to see that in all of you, right?


All of you are like, and all of us, it's harder for me to see that in myself, but it's so easy to see it in you. This is a wonderful thing about practice and about relationships and why we, one of the reasons why we practice together, why we sit together, walk into the zendo, and it's just so completely, everyone looks like Buddha in the zendo. Everyone has this immense and enormous bakery sitting on their heads, this incredible ability and imagination and possibility. And then we sit down with our own, oh, did I forget to blow the candle out, or what did I get very easily caught in little things? I think of a, one of the things that I've been doing


for 10 years now is leading retreats for business people with Norman Fisher at Green Gulch Farm. And I was thinking of the last workshop, the last retreat that we did, we had this group of about 30 different people, and we usually start by going around and introducing ourselves. And each person says their name and the company that they work at and what they do. And it's usually pretty awesome to hear the companies that these people work for and these great and important jobs. And I'm sure myself and everyone is comparing ourselves to, you know, gee, I'm not working, I'm not doing something like that. And then after everybody introduces themselves, we break into small groups, usually like of threes or fours, and address some particular question about things that are difficulties that we're facing in our lives.


And suddenly this group of, you know, very important-sounding business people are sitting there, often in tears, but whether they're in tears or not... Ah, we have a visitor. I thought maybe we'd see a light, a little light dancing around, looking for... That's my phone, by the way. You know, it takes so long to realize


if you just know that flame is fire. So if we just know, if we just know that our breath is freedom, that this, if we just know that this Shashu posture is aliveness, if we just know that everything about, everything about our being, everything about our lives is completely immeasurable, right? That this idea, as I was saying about this company time workshop, that, you know, we start out in the lives, measuring our lives and being in that world, and then quickly letting that go and seeing that we're all, we're all in this same boat together, right?


We all, we all are and we have, you know, we have thinking minds, we have comparative mind, but how can we, how can we move beyond that and live our great lives, live in the lives of saving all beings? How can we bring our lives alive and have the courage to begin to have real conversations? And so I think it, in a way I think it starts with, right, it starts with washing your bowl. It starts with bringing the very basic and simple things that are in our lives alive. And then it's taking that into our relationships and being able to have loving, real, courageous relationships and conversations with the people in our lives.


One of the words that I've written for myself that is a reminder for me is the word outrageous. And I've been, it's a wonderful, I want to encourage all of us to try and live more outrageous lives. And outrageous doesn't necessarily mean to be wild or to not be responsible. What it means is living outside of the world of measuring ourselves and comparing ourselves and letting go enough so that we can bring the bowl alive that's right in front of us and bring our relationships alive that are right in front of us and start to have outrageous and world-changing conversations. I think I'm going to end with a David White poem


that I just recently discovered that I think goes, as you'll see, I think it goes really well with this wash your bowl theme. This poem is called Everything is Waiting for You. I heard David White speaking about this poem and he said that people, when they hear the title of it, that everything is waiting for you, they think, oh, this sounds very optimistic. But then he comes back and says, everything is waiting, including your demise. Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone, as if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings.


Surely even you at times have felt the grand array, the swelling presence and the chorus crowding out your solo voice. You must note the way the soap dish enables you or the window latch grants you freedom. Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. The stairs are your mentor of things to come. The doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you. And the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream ladder to divinity. Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink. The cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last.


All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you. Thank you. So I hope that you will wash your bowl a little bit differently when you wash your bowl and walk a little bit differently. Have some heroic conversations both with the people that you love and also with our greater sangha and community so that we can all begin to wake up and heal and change our world. Thank you very much.