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Sesshin 3 Day 4 Teacher-student relationship

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I vow to teach the truth of the Tathagatagarbha's words. Good morning. This morning I'm going to comment on Suzuki Roshi's talk, which is entitled, Observing the Precepts, but it's also about student and teacher relationship, which is a big subject for Tassajara students.


Teacher-student relationship. So, I have to read this a little bit. I can't see without my glasses and I can't see with them. It's just that my handwriting is so bad. Okay, so he says, in the full lotus position, we cross the right leg over the left and the left leg over the right. It's very hard, you know, if you've been sitting for a long time in the half lotus position, to suddenly change into the full lotus position because your left leg goes over the right, traditionally,


and then you have to change and put your right leg over your left to begin with. Then you put your left foot over your right. So, all that nice training that you had of getting used to having your left leg over your right is wiped out and you have to start all over again. Plus, you have to put the other leg up, which puts a lot more pressure on that leg. So, symbolically, the right is activity and the left is the opposite or calmness of mind. It's interesting, you know, the different terms that mean the same thing. Activity is the relative and calm mind is the absolute. It's not just calmness of mind. Can you hear okay? It's not just calmness of mind, it's... Yeah, I know, because I can hear it sometimes, sometimes I can't.


Calmness of mind. Calmness of mind. Put it down. No. So, calmness of mind means the absolute, to rest in big mind is what he means. So, the left leg is like activity and the right leg is... The right leg is activity and the left leg is like resting in big mind, which is what he means by calmness of mind. The absolute. So, if the left is wisdom and the right is practice, then when we cross our legs we don't know which is which. So, this is Tozan's five ranks, right? We don't know which is which.


We don't know which is activity and which is... We don't know which is the relative and which is the absolute. This is like the last, the fifth rank. You just don't know which is which. Is this the relative or is this the absolute? Doesn't make any difference because it's all mixed up. If you say it's the relative, it's also the absolute. You say it's the absolute, it's also the relative. So, you don't worry about it anymore. So, even though we have two, symbolically we have oneness. Our posture is vertical without leaning right or left, backward or forward. This is an expression of perfect understanding of the teaching that is beyond duality. So, Zazen itself is the oneness of the absolute and the relative.


And not only symbolizes Tozan's fifth rank, but actualizes the fifth rank. It's not just symbolic. As a matter of fact, Suzuki Roshi used to say there's no symbols in Zen. Zen is not symbolic of something. And what we talk about in Zen are not symbols, but only the actuality, even though we do use symbols. He says, when we extend this, we actually have precepts in the study of how to observe our precepts. So, Suzuki Roshi didn't like to talk about precepts as 10 or 250 or 300 for women. That was not his idea of precepts, his understanding.


We say there are 16 precepts that we observe. The precepts that we observe, that were taken up by Dogen and probably initiated into Japan by Saicho in the Tendai school, are a kind of redaction, if that's the right word, a reduction of the 250 precepts for monks and 300-something for women, nuns. We can't observe all those minor precepts. I talked about this before, I think. Didn't I? Maybe not. So, precepts are reduced to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, three pure precepts, and ten what I call clear-mind precepts, sometimes called prohibitory precepts or grave precepts.


They don't seem very grave, but they're called grave precepts. They have two sides. One is prohibitory and the other is, well, one is kind of negative and the other side is positive. Of the ten precepts, we say, don't kill. That's the negative side. The positive side is cherish life. Take care of life. That's the positive side. So, for each negative side of the precepts, there's also a positive side of the precepts. And I think when we observe or talk about precepts or give precepts, we should do both. Not just the prohibitory side, because it makes us look like bad children. You shouldn't do these things, but you should do these things. You can do these things.


You're permitted to bring life to life. You don't have to just not kill. As a matter of fact, you can't not kill. No way that you can't kill, but you can't kill life. Anyway, so, the first precept is be Buddha. Act like Buddha. That's the first precept and that covers everything. This is Suzuki Roshi's precept. Just act like Buddha. And then you don't have to worry about precepts one by one. If you keep that in mind, so, the essence of precepts is act compassionately. If you act compassionately, then the precepts come forth from you instead of something stuck onto you. So, precepts are not chains to bind you, but they're guidelines to help us.


Because they come from ourself, not from outside. So, if you are always acting compassionately and acting as Buddha, then precepts naturally unfold. And they're your precepts. They're not somebody else's precepts which are imposed on you. So, this is Suzuki Roshi's understanding. Precepts that are imposed on you are what he calls dead precepts. Live precepts are the precepts which come forth from your own desire, your own understanding, and your own compassionate attitude. And they're not the precepts that are written down because they pop up new on each situation. This is called spontaneous activity. So, he says, when we extend this, we naturally have precepts in the study of how to observe our precepts.


This posture of zazen is not just a kind of training, but is the actual way of transmitting Buddha's teaching to us. Words by themselves are not good enough to actualize his teaching. So, it is transmitted through activity or through human relationship. So, this is why we have teachers and students. Sometimes people say, well, you know, zazen is the teacher, which is true. Zazen is our great teacher and teaches us everything. So, why have a teacher? Why have a person who is a teacher? Because even though zazen is our teacher, we learn from each other through relationship. Our practice has to be actualized through relationship. Our understanding has to come forth, actualized through relationship.


So, even though, yes, zazen is the teacher, our practice has to be transformed, tested, and developed through relationship. So, he says, in addition to precepts, we have the relationship between teacher and disciple. The disciple must choose the teacher, and then the teacher will accept the disciple. Although sometimes a teacher may recommend another teacher. Between teachers, there should be not any conflict. So, if a teacher thinks another is more qualified, she may recommend him or her to that other teacher. This brings up the whole question of teacher-student relationship in Tassajara. In a big monastery, it's unusual to have the abbot of the monastery or some of the other teachers to be, quote-unquote, your teacher.


It sometimes works out that way, but it's not always that way. In Japan, at Eheji, for instance, which is one of the big head temples, Eheji and Sojiji, two head temples, the monks, the way the Japanese system is set up today, the monks come from their family temple, usually the oldest son, and their father is their teacher, or someone else may be their teacher at another temple, or at their family temple may be their teacher. And then they go to the monastery to train, so to speak, for two or three years or whatever. And there are teachers there, and those teachers are everybody's teacher who is at the monastery at that time.


So they accept the teachers that are there as teachers, but not necessarily their personal teacher. So at the monastery, we train and we practice with whoever the local or the present teachers of the monastery are, and we take them on as our teacher. When I was studying with Suzuki Roshi, Suzuki Roshi was not my only teacher. He was my main teacher, and Katagiri was one of my teachers, and Chino Sensei came. He was one of my teachers. He was a very close teacher with me for many years, up until he died, actually. And Yoshimura, who nobody knows about particularly, was one of my teachers.


And Tatsugami, when I was shuso, was my teacher. Suzuki Roshi was back in San Francisco. So I had many teachers, actually, Japanese teachers, and each one of them had his own way of transmitting the Dharma. And each one of them was unique, and each one of them was wonderful. And when we say learn something, we do learn things, but learning something is not what our practice is about. Each teacher brings something forth from the student. Each teacher contributes to the student's insight.


So I appreciated having all those different teachers, because they gave me a different, a rounded picture, a more rounded picture of our practice. And I can see that although Suzuki Roshi did things in a certain way, Katagiri did things in a little different way, and Yoshimura in a little different way, and Chino Sensei in a very different way. Chino Sensei had been brought up, you know, very intelligent. And at Eheiji, they trained a few people to do, in ceremonies, do these elaborate ceremonies and so forth. And he was one of those people. But when he came to America, he dropped everything, and he wouldn't tell anybody how to do anything. He would not tell anybody how to do anything. And I remember practicing with him.


We used to go up to this little place, Spring Valley, a little house, and do sashins. And people were doing the serving, and he didn't tell them how to do the serving. He didn't tell them how to cook. He just let them do whatever they did. And it just took hours for the servers to get it together, to do it with everybody sitting there. Finally, I just had to take over. I couldn't stand it any longer. I just took over and made the servers get out there and do things and serve the food and get on with it. So, it's very interesting, you know, the different styles that different teachers have, and the attitudes that they have, and the attitudes they have when they come to America. So, I think it's good to not think that you have to have a special teacher when you're at Tassajara.


A lot of people look for a special teacher at Tassajara. Who is your teacher? They're the abbots, and then there are people who come down. That's good. It's all good. The main thing is how you practice. That's the main thing. If you want a teacher, the best way to get a teacher in Zen Center is to practice as if you had a teacher. To put your whole body and mind into single-minded practice, and a teacher will appear for you. Because what a teacher is attracted to is someone who has that kind of practice. In Korea, my understanding is, in Korea there was a lot of corruption in Buddhism,


and Christianity started taking over and filling the gap. So, Korea is a very Christian country, actually, and Buddhism is on the outskirts. So, Buddhism went to the mountains. Monasteries were established in the mountains. And the students, Buddhist novices, go from one monastery to the other looking for a teacher or a place to practice. And they find a teacher who, eventually, who they have some affinity with, whatever that affinity may be. And then they settle down to practice in that place with that teacher. But we don't know what a good teacher is necessarily, what a teacher for us is. Sometimes we feel, well, this is a good teacher for me, maybe because the teacher is easy on you.


But sometimes your teacher is a teacher who you don't particularly like, or who you feel a little bit scared of, or who doesn't particularly go for you. Maybe the best teacher for you. It's hard to say. So, sometimes it's just better to, when a teacher appears, just study with that teacher, whether you like it or not. Anyway, but it's really nice when you have a teacher who you have an affinity for, and who has an affinity for you, and you can feel intuitively, there's chemistry, that's good. So, I think everyone looks for that. We all look for the teacher that we have chemistry with. But being close to a teacher is not always possible.


The bigger the, I don't want to say institution, that's a loaded word, the bigger the sangha, the less time you have to practice with a teacher, and the less accessibility you have. So, difficult. So, you may not find your teacher for a long time, which doesn't mean that there's no teacher for you, or that you're not practicing in the right place. Just doing the practice at Tassajara with the teachers that are present is enough. So, it's not so much that there will be a teacher that will really help you a lot.


You have to help yourself. The main thing is how you help yourself, how you put the energy into your own practice. Then the teacher will appear, because somebody will want to relate to you. Oh, that's an interesting student, I'd like to relate to that person. And then when you talk to the person, something happens. So. Once you become a disciple, you should devote yourself to studying the Way. At first, as a disciple, you may wish to practice with a teacher,


not because you want to study Buddhism, but for some other reason. I don't know what other reason he's talking about, but it may be true. Still, it doesn't matter. If you devote yourself completely to your teacher, you will understand. You will be your teacher's disciple, and you can transmit our Way. This relationship between teacher and disciple is very important, and at the same time, it is difficult for both teacher and disciple to be teacher and disciple in its true sense. So they should both make their best effort. That's so. Sometimes it's very difficult for a teacher. A teacher likes an enthusiastic student. You know, I remember some of my teachers saying that the strong student,


it's like when a dog has a litter or a cat has a litter, the strong little pups get in there to get the milk. That kind of assertiveness is important in practice. Because the student has to get the attention of the teacher. The teacher is not going out looking for students. The teacher has plenty to do. Not looking for students, but the student has to go in and bother the teacher. Get the teacher's attention. But sometimes it's too much. But, you know, assertive students are good students sometimes. Sometimes they're too assertive.


Then the teacher has to kind of back them off, you know. So the main thing is keeping the schedule. That's why at Tassajara we have the schedule, you know. We just do our practice day after day, one thing after another. And so there's a kind of rhythm that makes for practice. And the students practice in that rhythm and the teacher practices in that rhythm. So everyone is doing the same practice. And by some kind of osmosis, the teaching gets transmitted. So, and that energy, that energy to, that assertive energy gets transmuted into practice. And at the right time, something happens.


But one has to be very patient. So, because timing is really important. It's, ambition is important, but ambition has to be subsumed into everyday activity. You know, I remember when I gave my way-seeking mind talk, I talked about how I had a lot of kind of mystical, spiritual energy, but it was not grounded. So I found my grounding in the practice. Without the grounding, all that energy just goes nowhere. So, I really understand the value of just day-to-day, simple, ordinary practice,


in which you put all that spiritual energy, and the spiritual energy just looks ordinary, but it infuses the ordinary, everyday activity with that spirituality. And it has some place to go, and it becomes useful in some mysterious way. So, teacher and disciple practice various rituals together. By rituals he means, you know, like a formal practice. Rituals are more than just training. I don't like the word training, and actually, sometimes it's okay, but if we say training, it means that there's something we're not doing that we should do, or we're going to learn to do something, which in the end will be beneficial. But, that's just utilitarian way of thinking.


We call it training, but it's not really just training. Through rituals, we communicate and transmit the teaching in a true sense. We put emphasis on selflessness. When we practice together, we forget our own practice. It is each individual's practice, yet it is also others' practice. For instance, when we practice chanting, we say, recite the sutra with your ears. Then with our ears, we listen to others, while with our mouths, we practice our own practice. Here we have complete egolessness in its true sense. I remember when he used his term as Sokoji, there was one person who was always just chanting their own chanting, and not listening to anybody else. And so he put up a sign, it said, please chant with your ears.


you know, ego, it's not that we eliminate our ego, it's that we contribute our ego and put it in the pot, so that it becomes mixed with the rest of the soup, instead of standing out, and actually adds something. So egolessness does not mean to give up your own individual practice. True egolessness has forgotten egolessness. As long as you believe my practice is egoless, that means you stick to ego, because you stick to giving up ego-centered practice. When you practice your own practice together with others, then true egolessness happens. That egolessness is not just egolessness,


it also includes ego practice, but at the same time it is the practice of egolessness that is beyond ego or egolessness. Do you understand? We have these problems when we think in dualistic terms. Dualistic terms bring up all these problems for us. The hardest thing is to find the middle way. We include the bad with the good, we include the wrong with the right, we include ego with non-ego. But we always want to be on one side or the other. That gives us a lot of problems.


And then when we are good, we feel very good. Because we feel very good, then whoever is bad looks very bad. The more good we are, the more bad the bad people look. And the more bad we are, the more good the good people look. But good and bad are just relative terms. True observation of precepts So this is true in the observation of precepts. If you try to observe the precepts, that is not true observation of precepts. When you observe the precepts without trying to observe the precepts, that is true observation of precepts. Our inmost nature can help us when we understand the precepts as an expression of our inmost


nature, that is, the way as it is, then there are no precepts. When we are expressing our inmost nature, no precepts are necessary, so we are not observing any precepts. On the other hand, we have the opposite nature, so we want to observe our precepts. So if you ignore precepts, that's not right either. If you ignore the precepts that are written down, that's not right. Even though true precepts come from within, even though true precepts come from within, it doesn't mean we should ignore the precepts that are precepts for everyone. We feel that the necessity of observing the precepts will help us, and when we understand the precepts in this negative or prohibitory sense, that is also the blossoming of our


true nature. So we have a choice of how to observe precepts, one negative, the other positive. Also, when we do not feel that we can observe all the precepts, then we can choose the ones that we feel we can work with. Sometimes, people say, Well, I'm afraid that I'm not ready for lay ordination because I really can't observe all the precepts. That's a very truthful way to see yourself. I can't observe all the precepts. But nobody can observe all the precepts. We don't wait until we can observe all the precepts to take the precepts. We take the precepts even though we can't observe them all. Precepts are always something that are beyond our ability to observe perfectly.


Or ideally. I don't know about perfectly. Perfection is another lecture. But, acceptably, it's hard to observe precepts acceptably. So, we're always falling short of our ideals. Like, I don't want to eat that cookie. But, when I see that cookie, I can't help taking it. I swore that I wouldn't keep any food in my room, but I found some.


I am so bad. So, we don't break the precepts easily. Breaking the precepts means that we don't care about the precepts. It's called, when we make some mistake or whatever, it's called staining the precepts, or coloring the precepts, spilling something on the precepts. And we can, even though we do that, we haven't really broken the precepts because we still respect the precepts.


Even though we stain the precepts, we still respect the precepts and have the desire to observe precepts. But, when we just totally say, you know, I have no use for that precept, that's breaking the precept. That's different. So, when we do something that we feel we didn't really want to do, we should understand something, you know. We make these vows, you know, that we're not going to do this, we're not going to do that, but we go ahead and do these things. And then, we really come down hard on ourselves, blame ourselves. Oh, you bad person. And that makes us, compels us to do the stuff that we didn't want to do even more.


Because, you know, if I eat that cookie, I'll feel terrible. Even though eating the cookie should make me feel better. Why not just enjoy the cookie? If you eat the cookie and sit down and enjoy the cookie, then blame yourself. If you want to. But, so, doing this thing that we want to do so badly, and not wanting to do, makes us feel even worse. So it makes us want to have another cookie, so that we can feel better. And then we feel worse again. And so the whole thing just keeps going on and on. So it's better to just sit down and enjoy the cookie. I shouldn't be eating this cookie. I told myself I wasn't going to be eating this cookie. But I'm going to eat this cookie. So, sit down and at least enjoy the cookie.


As a matter of fact, if you do that in a positive way, then the next thing you do is likely to be done in a positive way. But if you do it in a negative way, then the next thing you do is likely to be done in a negative way. Because positive follows positive. Negative follows negative. This is the law of karma. You add negativity to negativity to negativity. If you eat the cookie, even though it's transgressing your personal precept, do it in a positive way, then it's easier to not do it next time in a positive way, because you're in a positive mode. I don't know if that makes sense to you. I'm not saying that that's a formula. But that attitude is much more conducive to actually helping you not to do something the next time.


Anyway, this is a short, not such a long lecture, but it'd take a long time to go through it. There's a lot of stuff here. So, I'm going to stop there. So, it's interesting, though, how these little things become very big in our lives. When we get to Tassajara, because we have so little sensual input, in the usual sense, and we're not relying on the things that we relied on out in the larger world, small things become very important, like a cookie, because it's very important. During Sashin, it's even narrower, our attention is even narrower, and small things become very important,


like, why are they walking like that? Why is it serving me this way? Be careful, because this is magnified, our attention is magnified, because it's narrowed down. Our attention is narrowed down, and everything that we do is magnified and significant, more significant. So, be careful not to hang on to anything, and when these criticisms come up for us, to not take them too seriously. What does this training teach?


May our attention meet, may our intention be clear, and may our non-sense also meet it.