Zendo Lecture

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.

This talk will not appear in the main Search results:
AI Summary: 



I bow to this the truth of the Tarkatar's words. Good evening. It can be a little lower, I think. Well, is it me, or...? Well, I think it can be a little lower. I'm bumping and grinding over here. Not often do passages from our sutras, our scriptures, come into my mind.


But sometimes, sometimes things do. And one of them that popped in a couple of days ago that made me realize that I might have something to say was the end of the Sandokai, or the merging of... well, whatever we call it these days, but something like the merging of difference and unity. And it goes, I humbly urge you who study the mystery, do not pass your days and nights in vain. And ordinarily that wouldn't be so interesting to me, because usually the first thing that my mind would jump to would be, don't pass your days and nights in vain, don't waste time, you lazy, good for nothing. But this time it was the front of it that caught my attention. I respectfully or humbly urge you who study the mystery. And I thought, oh, how fitting, how fitting, to describe the people who, at least the people who live here,


and maybe even some of our guests. Because what we dedicate our lives to is studying the mystery. And in Zen it's often called the great mystery of life and death. It's studying the mystery of what it's like to be a human being. So, in one way, each of us is a mystic, and there aren't many around these days, I think, but when there were, they were strange. And still are. They didn't fit so well in ordinary society, and usually had to go off by themselves for a long time and study the mystery. And, of course, what that study involves is facing incredible suffering.


But once they go through it deeply and come out on the other side, then they usually have just nothing but beautiful wisdom and tenderness to share with everybody else. If you've ever read any of the stuff by some of the mystics, if it's not been ruined with Victorian language, it's usually very beautiful and very right to the point, and goes right to the heart. And no monkey business. So, each of us has come here, and with some of the work we've been doing lately, I've been noticing how different we all are from each other. I'm sure that doesn't come as any surprise. But I was talking with one of our practice leaders, and she was saying how each person who comes here comes with their own world system.


And I thought, oh boy, isn't that true? Each of us does come with our own world system, which nobody else lives in, in a way. You know, it has its own seasons, it has its own way of thinking, its own way of seeing things, its own temperament, its own addictions, its own freedoms, its own suffering. And isn't it amazing that we can live together such as we do? I think that's amazing. I often thought that I'm so glad that we here aren't armed. But here, in this valley, we do try to live together in a spirit of honor and cooperation and tolerance and compassion. And the differences that we all bring to this valley


enrich the life here. Somebody the other day said how wonderful it might be if everybody were just like them. And I said, you think so. Actually, it's boring and dead, although I enjoy people who are just like me very much. But I do know that the life we create together has no vibrancy and no vitality. So it's only in our differences and our strangenesses that life is truly creative. Otherwise, there's no need for creativity. There's no need for growth. Then I was thinking how not only do we have different peoples, persons, but we have different groups here too. We have the people who live here year-round, the year-round students, who have to make that difficult transition from the quiescence of practice period


into the hustle and bustle of our summer program. Some of us don't make it. I'm kidding. We all make it. But it's very hard. And sometimes we feel like we lose our way. I remember going to the Tanto not so many years back, and Otanto is the head of practice. And I was saying, I think I need to speak with you. And he said, How come? And I said, I think I've lost my bearings. I didn't know who I was or where I was. I mean, I really did, but you know, it wasn't like a psychotic break or something. But I wondered, who am I supposed to be in this strange configuration of people? We talked about it, and I felt better. We do feel like we lose our way


until we realize that our practice of the fall and winter, that practice of quiescence, has to be refined and purified where the action is. And summer is where the action is. It really is. The winter has its own action, but not like summer. And then we have the summer students here, just here for summer, for the summer, who only know this bustling side and who try so hard to navigate the hard work, trying to find their place in the practice and having to deal with the strong social pull and the pull of practice. In the winter, we're not so social, thank goodness. But in the summer, it's very social, very social, even for us students who live here. And trying to balance that with a practice and the hard work, there's hardly anything left.


We're pretty much wrung out by the end of the day. And so trying to get to Zendo and then eat and then work, it's very difficult. And sometimes the summer students lose their way. Is this a monastery or is this a summer camp? Do you know? That's a question that often plagues us. Nobody... I'm sorry to say, nobody this summer has come to me and said, I'm so disappointed, I thought it would be stricter here. Because as I thought about that, we are very strict here, but only for those who are willing to do it. We don't have... police yet. And then we have the guests


who come here apparently to find some peace, who need a break in their lives so they can just come here, relinquish the need or the demand to control everything and relax in the plunge. And when we hear from guests, we hear that they do find it, they do find peace, they can relax. And what the guests do for us is that they continually remind us that our practice and work here are not in vain, that we're not wasting our time, that whether we are aware of it or not, our practice does deepen us enough that it provides an atmosphere of welcome and peace for our guests. And here, hopefully, the guests find their way.


So, in terms of all these differences, we're not really here... our task isn't to erase those differences, but in fact to enhance them and to hone them in the cauldron of Zen Buddhist practice. And one thing I've learned over the years is that a lot of the folks who come here excited about Zen practice really don't have any idea about what it is. It's because it's not like... it's not like Vipassana practice, it's not like Tibetan practice so much, and it's not in any way like Esalen practice. So I just want to say a few words about practice. And for me, practice is facing... working up the courage to face whatever arises.


Allowing whatever arises to arise. In other words, relinquishing all control, no matter what arises. And of course that allowing is another word for compassion. To me, that's all compassion is, is allowing to be what is. That would seem a simple thing to do, because it's so obvious. Maybe, you know, could you turn this down just a little bit? Thank you. Well, this facing business is not only does it mean facing pleasant sensations or pleasant images or pleasant thoughts, but it also means facing the more unpleasant ones,


our dark side. And that's not so much fun, because I think in our culture today, well, maybe always, there's a taboo about suffering. We don't like it, we don't like to see it, and we don't like to suffer it. But that only leads to rather an empty life. Somebody has said that only when one is convinced of the immensity of suffering can enlightenment occur. Isn't that odd? Only when one is convinced of the immensity of suffering can enlightenment, freedom, occur. I ran across this book the other day at City Center Bookstore, and I bought it. By John Snelling. It's an overview of Buddhism. And he describes this much better than I could. So I want to read a little bit of it. And whenever anybody who's lecturing starts to read to me,


I instantly don't listen to a thing. I don't know what it is. But, you know, I notice that it's fine if I'm doing the reading. So I'll be okay. He says that there is something in us that staunchly resists facing the dark side of life. We have a dogged determination to continue in pursuit of worldly satisfactions even though enormous discouragements are put in our way. Our feeling is that with a few modifications and adjustments here and there, we can overcome our problems, realize all our dreams, and enjoy heaven on earth. Bad times are always provisional, and sooner or later we're going to get over the hump, and then it will be downhill all the way. In a way, this shows spirit and could be regarded as entirely commendable, except that there's a quality of willful blindness about it,


a refusal to squarely face the true facts of the human condition. The results of this can also be very destructive. How many times have we hurt ourselves and others in the crass pursuit of our own fantasies? Good things do come to us in the course of events and should be accepted and enjoyed while they last, but we tend to want only the good, and resisting all else, pursue it exclusively and cling to it desperately if we do get it. So the beginning of the road to wisdom begins with a realistic, not pessimistic, but realistic recognition of the fact of suffering. Life usually has to have bit... I love this. This is terrific. I wish I'd thought of it. Life usually has to have bitten us quite deeply and often many times over before we reach this stage, but when we do reach it, we have, in a very real sense, come of age as human beings,


for an immature butterfly existence in pursuit of mere happiness is unsatisfying in the final analysis. Now, too, we can start to do something about changing our lives and putting them on a deeper, more authentic footing. Is that good? Well, so we here have decided that we are going to accept the notion that there is suffering, to accept that others do have it, and lastly, that we actually do have it ourselves. It took me quite a few years to even notice that. I would hear people say, when asked, Why are you here? Or they would say because of something awful that happened to them or some other kind of suffering, and that never occurred to me that I suffered, too. It never occurred to me. I just thought it was my life. So we acknowledge that there actually is such a thing,


and then we start to practice with it. And how we do that is, for us, in the Zen tradition, and it involves facing it, but not facing it like in an open field, facing it in a container, a relatively safe, privileged container. Tassajara is a very privileged place. It's been built and paid for to be that container. We don't have to cook for ourselves, and if you tasted my cooking, that would be suffering. If I had to eat what I cooked, that would be suffering. So I'm spared that kind of suffering. We have a place to sleep. We really don't worry that we're going to lose our job. It takes a lot to lose a job here. You call it money.


There's no need for money here. So that container is built of this place, and things that are called precepts, and things that are called guidelines. And I wouldn't be earning my pay as Tanto if I didn't talk about the rules, but I'm not going to talk about it much. The precepts, there are ten of them, and they are things not to do, like don't kill, don't lie, don't steal, don't be really, really mean to each other. And as far as I can tell, if we follow those, then we're not creating nasty, sticky karma, and it's unnecessary suffering. So anything we cannot do to create nasty karma means we don't have to do that suffering, because after all, doesn't life have enough for you and for me?


So we have the precepts, and then we have something called the guidelines. And I would be a miss as Tanto if I didn't say a few words about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Sex, the guideline says, actually what it says is if you come here to practice and you're not in a relationship, a committed relationship, then we'd like you to be celibate. That's what it actually says. When I first saw that, this was 17 years ago, when I first heard that rule, when I came to Green Gulch to do a practice period, I had second thoughts. I don't know if I can do that. I never have. But I did, and have ever since. And the reason is that sex, as some of you may know,


is a very, very powerful disturbance in the mind. Sometimes very pleasant, sometimes not very pleasant. And it's so big a disturbance in the mind that it spreads out ripples into the whole community, especially if you live in a small crevice like we do. Big, big ripples. Nothing is secret. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Which can make you honest in time. So, even in the Buddha's community, something happened. There was a sexual indiscretion. They didn't have a rule about it. There was a sexual indiscretion, and the Buddha apparently flipped out and trounced the monk who had made the indiscretion and said, OK, from now on, no sex. Well, what do you mean no sex?


Well, as it turns out, not only are you not supposed to do it, you're not supposed to see it, think about it, hint or flirt or think about it. I think I just said that. So, in other words, no, nada, never, not at all. I actually talked with one of the monks who follows those rules these days, and I asked him, what do you do about sexuality? And he said, oh, we don't. We don't talk about it. We don't think about it. We don't flirt. We don't intimate. What do you do? I guess that's flirting, isn't it? But it just doesn't happen. It's a non-happening. Great, I thought. Terrific. And so we have that rule. And drugs?


Buddha, I think maybe they probably had alcohol, but he saw that that tended to cloud the mind a bit before it made you go crazy. So he said, well, listen, we're not going to do that either. I'm sure there must have been some event that happened that cinched that one. And then rock and roll, which I doubt that he had to deal with that. But for us, we have this thing about if you listen to music, we don't listen to music in the wintertime, in those six months. But in the summer, it's different. You can listen to music with earphones outside the central area or in your room or something. But I prefer to think of rock and roll as students do not go to the bathhouse after 840 in the evening. So these precepts and rules do create a container, a safe place in order to practice,


because it's very difficult to study the mystery with all kinds of distraction. As those of you who live over the hill no doubt know, it's very difficult to contemplate deep things when you can turn on the TV instead, not that you do that. And I think what I want to say at the end is that it seems to me there are two ways to practice with rules. One is the path of purity. That's the path where you have 365,000 rules and you keep them, which means that your life is becoming more and more pure, presumably, and that you're not creating any new bad karma


so that your meditation practice can then start to dissolve the old karma so that what results, at least I think, is a pure being who can much easier awaken. Thank you very much, what they said. In other words, you're removing hindrances, vast numbers of hindrances. But ours is not a pure practice. We are not looking for purity in Zen, as far as I can tell. Ours is more about transformation. I don't think I could last ten minutes in a practice of purity, but I can definitely last for years in a practice of transformation where mistakes are valued. It took me many years to realize that mistakes were okay.


I'd never heard that anywhere else but here. What happens is that the more deluded we are, the bigger the mistakes and the more suffering we create. In this life, at least my experience of it, I'm not so sure what is real, but I'm pretty sure where I'm deluded, where I make mistakes. For me, that's enough because those I can work with. Thankfully, this life provides just vast opportunity to make mistakes. How we deal with mistakes is to employ Zazen mind,


which is the mind we cultivate when we sit, a mind which is open, a mind which notices when it's grasping and clutching and wanting to hold on to its last nail, or the mind that is angry and hateful and wants to push away the unpleasant, the unwanted, to notice that and to keep opening, to be vulnerable and to keep becoming more vulnerable within the safety of sitting upright and not moving, not moving no matter what happens. So in other words, we not only practice life, we encourage life, real life. And I thought of an example of this from my own life, the power of compassion, the power of acceptance, the power of openness to transform a mistake.


Some of you know that I am still an Episcopal priest as well, and that's a denomination of Christianity that comes from the Church of England. And you go to college and then you go to seminary for three years or so, three years or more, and when I finally got to seminary, it was in New York City, in Manhattan, in Chelsea. It still is there, actually, and it's a very Victorian place. The buildings are all Victorian, very beautiful and very sumptuous, and it was all I could ever want. When I opened the door and saw the place, it was like, oh, I was home. And at that time when I was there, in the 70s, not only were the buildings Victorian, but so was everything else. The lifestyle was very Victorian, and the faculty pretty much was still Victorian.


We wore academic gowns all the time and were very good boys. It was all boys, no women, all men. But we were good. We were respectable. We made no mistakes. Of course, that obviously was a facade, a mask. But at any rate, so me coming in there from a working-class family from Maine, I didn't fit in so well. Most of the guys had little gold pinky initial rings, which told me something. I didn't have one. I got one, though. It didn't help. So at any rate, so it was the last semester, the next to last semester of seminary,


and we took big exams. And I, for reasons I still don't quite know, I broke a really big rule, a really big rule. And one of the professors caught this breaking and had me hauled before the faculty. And we were, in those days, we were really in awe of the faculty. They wore gowns and square hats, mortarboards and things, and they're very kind of proper. And so here I was in the faculty room. All I remember is the table and my accuser across from me, a professor of history, a priest, a professor of history. And so they asked me their questions, and I said, yes, yes, I did.


I had no defense because there wasn't one. I don't think I've ever felt so defenseless. And so they said, okay, go wait outside and we'll tell you our decision. I don't remember waiting outside, but I did. And the dean, who was the head honcho, came out and said, we are expelling you. I don't remember what I said, but went and packed a small bag and I was gone. This was difficult for me because whatever this meant, it meant that my life as I knew it was over. I only wanted one thing in life, and that was to be a priest. And what they told me was that life is dead, is dead. And so I called up my bishop in Maine and told him that I was coming back.


I didn't tell him why, but he said, come see me. And so I went home, and I was remembering this this evening, and I never told my parents. I still haven't told them. So deep was my shame and hopelessness, hopelessness. I mean, I didn't even have enough hope to kill myself. So I think my parents may have asked, why are you back so soon? I probably made up something. But so I went to see the bishop, and just as I was, having thrown in the towel, and I don't think I was expecting anything. I just went and sat in his office and told him what happened, all of it. And with no defense, as I said, there wasn't one. And he said, I think he got up and hugged me and said, we will work this through, which was not what I was expecting.


And that gesture changed my life, thankfully, from there on. I wasn't the same person ever again. That kind of acceptance and kindness I had never seen before. And so we did. We worked it through. I got ordained and went back to seminary. Went back there and finished the last semester swallowing about the cubic centimeter of pride that I had. And finished and got the degree. So only because I had become transformed by my mistake. That wouldn't have happened if there hadn't been that. I think it took two things. One was to be frank and honest and honestly contrite.


And accepted. Having that accepted. And honored. So I think that's why I've been attracted so much to this practice, because that's exactly what we do, hopefully. Hopefully. So, as we practice and continue to enter that great mystery, embracing our suffering, celebrating our joy, may it always be this way. Thank you very much.