The Whole World Is Medicine

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"The Four Nourishments"

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So, today in our lovely Zen Center, we're having a one-day sitting where we're meditating all day, and that starts what we call our fall practice period. The idea of a practice period goes back to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, and so in our own way, we are reliving, keeping alive a tradition that started over 2,500 years ago. It's very much the spirit of Zen practice, that we're still practicing the practice of Shakyamuni, even though the conditions are a little different, and how we're doing it is a little different. But we're still human beings, just like he was, and we're still obliged, whether we like


it or not, to deal with that, so in a way our practice is that fundamental. What is the human condition, and how do you deal with it? What is the intention of life? How is it expressed? So, here's my notion of a Dharma talk this morning. I'll read a koan, a public case, a traditional Zen story, and when I read this case, see what your mind makes of it, see can you just notice what comes to mind, what understanding, what associations, or lack of associations, come into being when you hear this.


And then I'll start to talk about it. And then see can you track, I mean, do you throw away your ideas and understandings and take up mine? Do you say the same thing? Do you contrast them? Sometimes I think nobody can teach us anything. All they can do is offer us the encouragement to realize what we already know. So it's a tricky proposition to give a Dharma talk or to attend a Dharma talk. Does it enable that process or does it hinder it?


So see what you make of this. So, over a thousand years ago, in a mountainous region in China, a Zen teacher said this to his students, medicine and disease subdue each other. The whole earth is medicine. What is the self? Medicine and disease subdue each other. The whole earth is medicine. What is the self? So what does that bring up? Is there some part of that that stands forward more than others?


How does that relate to why you're here today? Maybe it doesn't. What is it to practice with this? How does this inform your practice? Medicine and disease subdue each other. The whole world is medicine. What is the self? So in Buddhism there's a number of formulations and one of them is shamatha vipassana.


And in simple terms it means becoming available. Shamatha and vipassana, engaging and learning from your experience. So that's what a one day sitting is about, becoming available and engaging and learning from your experience. And then each part of that in Zen practice, in Buddhist practice, is something we examine carefully. What is it to become available?


Were you available when I read that koan? Or did you get caught up in some thought? Did it register? Did it resonate? So in Buddhist teachings, in the study of availability and engaging, in the study of availability, we look at what is it to become available for our own experience. And it's interesting, the formulations that I'm about to describe probably were written


up somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago. And yet anyone who looks at their own state of being can see they're still totally relevant. We haven't changed that much. The first one is habit energy. When we go on automatic, when we drive our car and listen to the radio and think about this or that, how available are we to the driving? When we eat our breakfast and read the newspaper or whatever else we do, worry about what's going on at work or the night before, how available are we?


We have this amazing capacity to sort of do what we're doing and to multitask at the same time. So in Buddhist practice we say, do what you're doing and do it completely. A kind of a stark, simple resolution, admonition. So in a one-day sitting, that's the agenda. Do what you're doing. When you're walking, walk. When you're sitting, sit. When you're eating, eat. But it's not an easy proposition.


In Buddhism there's a concept called the middle way. So on one hand we can say to ourselves, well the way to do that is through discipline, determination, a certain rigorous, determined effort. Simplify your life. And then the other extreme is the way to do that is to make your life exciting and interesting so that it draws you in with its allure. So Buddhism proposes something in the middle. If we really want to confuse ourselves, we can say sometimes one, sometimes the other, or a mix of them both.


But something in the middle. In the middle between asceticism and overindulgence. So finding that place of balance in our life. That we're not increasing our own suffering either way. That's it. So taking on our habit energy is not an easy proposition. It creates its own kind of anxiety. It's like when we go with our habits, it's like going with the flow. It's like, oh this is me being me. When we start to interject something different, we get stirred up.


We get either very anxious or a little bit anxious. So as you practice, it's helpful to realize that that's one of the possibilities. Sometimes we might ask ourselves, well is this practice really helping? Or is it making things worse? It might be making things worse. But our habits tend to limit and lessen our life. They tend to narrow it and restrict it. And from the point of view of awareness, they tend to put us to sleep.


We're not quite there. We're not quite here. So the second formulation is numbness. There's a way in which we tend to just space out, disconnect. Zone out. It's an antidote to suffering. If this is not so pleasant, just disconnect. Stop feeling. Stop feeling. So I think pretty much anyone who's ever meditated experiences this.


The way in which they dissociate from here and now. So awareness practice is a gentle persistence. Connect, connect, connect. That's what samadhi is. Constant, continuous connection. And the third formulation is a kind of desperation. We have to make this enormous effort to make things okay.


We create for ourselves some unrelenting agenda. Sometimes it makes it hard to sleep at night. We just feel the buzz of the agenda. Sometimes it makes it hard to relax. Hard to just be here with this. So these are formulations that were drawn up by people who practiced over 2,000 years ago. Seems to me they still work pretty good. The way we get caught in our habit energy,


the way we get caught in our disconnecting, and the way we get caught in our over-striving. Sometimes when we meditate, we find ourselves trying to control the mind, trying to control the breath, control the experience. You go to the person in charge of the meditation hall and tell them, open the window, close the window. Change my seat. Change my cushion. So normally in our lives, our lives are happening at a pace, at a level of activity. It's hard to see this. Maybe we get glimpses of it and then we leap back into action.


So shamatha, availability, is about discovering how to make connection with what's already going on. Usually it has something to do with slowing down and calming down. Not always. It's not the only way. But often that's a helpful way. Becoming available for what's stirring us. And to recognize in some ways we are a little or a lot afraid of what's stirring us. And to recognize that in some ways what's stirring us is a mystery. It's a mystery to us.


We're a mystery to ourselves. Just try sitting for 20 minutes or 30 minutes and say, I'm going to notice and take in everything that I think and feel for this 20 or 30 minutes. It's an amazing thing. So these three activities that come up so readily and persistently for us, when we look closely we see that they cause either a very painful, immediate discomfort,


dissatisfaction, dis-ease, or sometimes just a subtle. It's just there in the background. This is the dis-ease of our life. So what is the medicine? What is the medicine of our life? If that's the dis-ease, what's the antidote? What's the remedy, the cure? What's the cure? So the koan says, the whole world is medicine. The whole world is medicine. So what does that mean to you?


How do you relate to that statement? The whole world is medicine. How would you meditate with that understanding? How would you engage in your relationships with that understanding? What kind of values would you have direct your life with that understanding? So actually in Zen, the process of Zen is just to get us looking and asking.


And then the rest is up to you. Up to me. Up to each one of us. It's your life. You're the boss. You're the expert. Can anyone else do it for you? Can they tell you who you are? How to live your life? But maybe there's something, some guidance, some advice we can glean from the teachings on the Dharma. So here's a formulation with regards connecting. It's to see it, acknowledge it, engage it,


fully experience it and learn from it. See it, engage, see it, acknowledge, engage, fully experience and learn from it. So that's the activity of meditation. That's the activity of our practice. To be what is, to do what's being done, to feel what's arising. And with that disposition, whatever comes forth is medicine.


That's medicine. Although our life, our experience of being alive is not this, then that. They interweave. You know, our moment of awareness is then followed by a return to our habit energy, to a return to our disconnect, a return to our issues around control and safety, our efforts to reach some place, some way of being of satisfaction, of alleviating our anxiety. So medicine and disease intermingle. And the amazing thing is we learn from both.


We learn from being distracted and we learn from rediscovering awareness. Sometimes our deepest learnings are really touching the passion of our emotions, both positive and negative. Sometimes our learning how to practice is about truly and completely taking responsibility for our own practice. Of course, when you come to a practice center there are all sorts of formulations, and regulations, and traditions. But they're only


setting the stage for each of us to take complete responsibility for what we are. So in the formulation of medicine in early Buddhism, all these teachings come from the early Nikayas of Buddhism, formulated somewhere about 2,000 years ago. So the four forms of nourishment for human being. So the first form of nourishment is very simple. It's physical nourishment. It's how our physical body is nourished. It's food and drink. So when we eat in a practice context,


we try to remember that this food is to nourish this life and our life. So our practice asks us to notice what we eat, and what we drink, and how much we eat, and how much we drink. Very simple admonition. The second form of nourishment is how we nourish our mind. What we take in through the senses. What we look at. What we smell. What we touch. What we think about. So this also nourishes our being.


And then there's two more forms of nourishment, which are maybe a little more complex or sophisticated. One form is nourishing our intentionality, our purposeful engagement in our life. In religious terms we would say vow. We might also say living our own truth. So this nourishes our being. And not living our own truth separates us from something. It separates us


from our own quest. Recently I've been reading a lot of psychology because I'm actually going to start teaching a class on it, which is one way you get yourself to read something. And it's very interesting when you look at all the different schools of psychology in the West. Will, intention, vow don't come up so much. There's not so much attention towards our capacity to cultivate our commitment to something, to engage purposefully in what we're doing.


But this is a capacity that we have. In our practice we intentionally renew, restore that and cultivate that. I think for most of us, whether we realize it or not, when we go into the zendo or into the buddha hall or just come into the building or some place in our own home that we set aside as a place of practice. It engages our intention. So in Buddhist thinking this is a kind of nourishment. Nourishing intention. And then the fourth kind of nourishment is nourishing our consciousness. You know what we think, what we say, what we do


creates us, it re-creates us. We're nourished by it. So those are the four kinds of nourishment. Simple food and drink, what we take in through the senses, nourishing our own volition and nourishing our consciousness through what we think and do and say. So what makes the medicine or what makes the medicine? Medicine is a poison. And who is it that administers the medicine and who is it that administers the poison?


So these are the teachings of early Buddhism. I don't know how it is for you, but for me they still seem very relevant in my life. When I study all these modern psychological theories these teachings seem just as relevant and modern and contemporary. So young men said, medicine and disease subdue each other. The whole world is medicine. What is the self? So how does the last part fit in? Who is the self?


Thank you.