The Daoist idea that came into Chan and Zen is that we harmonize with things. We don’t try and subdue them, although that’s a very strong human impulse. The great koan masters pointed out that the heart has a place of ease, and that there’s an inner freedom and a path we can walk no matter what we’ve suffered or are afraid of or are afraid might happen.
Nice to be here. It’s such a nice thing to have something that just makes me happy. It’s like, who knew? All I had to do was come on and see your faces. Meditation starts to occur. So, thank you. The vast temple, all over the world. The ancient temple. So, what’ll I do? Let’s meditate a bit. In a way that’s what today’s talk is about—meditation.
The temple bell.
So, I suppose there’s not really much of an entry to meditation. At some stage we just notice we’re here, and that’s alright. That’s good. And just notice: what is it like to be you on the path right now? If you’re here, you’re on the path. What is it like to be you? Just feeling the time. Feeling what it’s like.
I just noticed at some stage that certain things just really made me happy in spite of the fact that I had a strong story that I wasn’t happy or there’s things wrong with life, the world and myself, which is always the case. The world never does just really sit still and behave any more than the human heart does. But then I noticed that I suppose I just let myself be subjected to the koans and the meditation. I let the koans have me in some way. The way we have to let life have us. I couldn’t deny that some things were good, no matter how grumpy I wanted to be. Great things. And in a way I started cataloging them.
And I noticed a lot of poets spoke about such matters. Anna Swir [Swirszczynska] has this great poem about the joy of falling asleep. She has another great poem about the joy of being old and falling in love. People around her she knew were saying, “Old fool,” and you can tell she’s just happy. The great Anna Swir.
And so, hearing a bird, you know. And then at some stage, our meditation is just … we’re just in that moment of joy. And then we’re not. But then it’s never far away. It’s down in. It’s here already; that kind of thing. So you’ll notice this in your own way, which will be quite different from mine. But just to say, it’s worth catching up with. Or else noticing that this moment might be it. There might be nothing wrong.
One of my friends, when he started teaching, I said well, “What do you feel when you begin to teach?” And he said, “I think they hate me.” I thought, That’s great! And I thought, Wow, he was just trying to do it right, was all it was. And I thought, Oh, so one of the things we know: that meditation must be some time when you don’t have to do it right. So that can’t be right. You know, I look at you and you all hate me? That can’t be accurate accounting. And then I’d ask, Well, what do I feel? And then I noticed, I would get anxiety, too, you know. Somehow, at some stage, I started to feel the joy of just being in the temple together and meeting. And what a marvelous thing, you know, what a marvelous thing to do.
So there we are, here we are. And I think if we can just in a way feel that, then it goes out to the people we touch and people we love. I don’t think we can ever guarantee that the Mad Emperors will make better decisions. There’s a lot of evidence that they don’t. But nonetheless, we will get unexpected help along the difficult paths. And who knows what goes beyond us.
So the koan this week that we’re sitting with … there are a couple of koans actually. I’m going to give you two, but I’ll start with this one, which is from The Book of Serenity, which was maybe the second or third of the great koan collections. And it has a noble history in that it was collected at the behest—according to the legend—of a great statesman who was one of the people who saw the sack of the great city of Beijing and the suffering and the terror and the massacres. And he felt like he’d like to help things happen better. And he worked with the rulers. And so the Chan legend goes that his teacher collected 100 koans and sent them out to him with poems, out on the steppes in the yurts. And he and his other ministers sat up all night reading the koans when they arrived. So in a way I suppose, it’s a story about how we could possibly be free in any circumstances and helpful, you know.
The legend is that after Genghis Khan died, the statesman had a close connection with Ogedei Khan, the next Khan. And every time the statesman came to see him he would say, “You’ve come to talk to me about the well-being of the people, haven’t you?” And he’d say, “Yes, I have.” He’d try to persuade him to be nicer—less taxes, less massacres, you know.
A student asked Jiashan, “If I sweep away the dust and see the Buddha, what’s that like?” And Jiashan said, “You must wield your sword. If you don’t, it’ll be like you’re fishing and caught in a nest of reeds and you can’t catch a single fish.”
The student went and got a second opinion from another nearby teacher, who was connected—that was Shishuang.
“What if you sweep away the dust and see the Buddha?”
And Shishuang said, “Buddha has no country; where will you meet her?” T
he student then went back to Jiashan with this and reported the story.
And Jiashan stepped up—they would teach from a teaching platform—and said, “As far as tools in the garden go, Shishuang is much inferior to me, but as for discourse on the deepest reality, he is a hundred steps ahead.”
What if you sweep away the dust and meet the Buddha? You must wield your sword, you know. Practice goes on forever, always meditating. And then Shishuang says, “Buddha has no country; where will you meet her?” It’s already here. You’re free already. There are no steps to the way. You’re on the way.
Let’s just sit with that just a little bit.
Just let it come to you. Whatever is in your mind, we don’t need to hold on to it—whatever sorrow or disappointment or fear or whatever’s going on, or in a way a grudge against life. Whatever reasons we have, we don’t need them. They might fall away. Happiness might appear. Without consulting you, happiness might appear. In this, the difficult time, when the world itself, the forests and the waters, are troubled and hurt, happiness nonetheless might appear, because the vastness is always here, and it always underlies everything. Here we are. Even for you. Even for me, even for you. Especially for you.
So you know, the Daoist idea that came into Chan and Zen is that, in a way, we harmonize with things. We don’t try and subdue them, although that’s a very strong human impulse. And you can see it very anciently: these wonderful, ancient Assyrian bits of loot in the British Museum that show vast troops of soldiers with spears attacking a walled city. And we remember, Oh, such an ancient thing. That’s what the great koan masters experienced. They saw that, and were inside that, you know. And so they thought it was really good to point out the heart has a place of ease, and there’s an inner freedom and a path we can walk no matter what we’ve suffered or are afraid of or afraid might happen. There’s a path. And that’s something, and we can do it together. So there’s a kind of friendship on the path. It’s a good thing. And that even when we reach for something good, the reaching itself is the thing.
There’s a kind of great story: in the era from 713–741 in China—more than five minutes ago—there was a meditator called [Mazu] Daoyi, whose name was Ma. His family name was Ma—which means horse—so he was a horse person.
And so, he was meditating on the grounds of a notable teacher who looked at him and thought, He seems to be getting something, and went carefully and said, “Noble meditator, what do you want? Why are you doing all this sitting meditation?” And Ma replied, “I want to become a Buddha.” And the teacher sat down. And China being what it was, there were always broken tiles on the ground. It’s like Arizona where there are always broken pot shards, always broken tiles on the ground. He took a tile and began to rub it on a rock in front of the hermit’s place.
And then Ma asked him, “What’s up with the tile? Why are you rubbing a tile on a rock?”
Little bits of pottery dust falling off on the ground.
And the teacher, Nanyue, said, “I’m polishing it to make a mirror.”
And Ma said, “You can’t make a mirror by polishing a tile.”
It just burst out of him. He didn’t notice he was being taught or anything like that.
“You can’t make a mirror by polishing a tile!”
And he said, “Well, maybe rubbing a tile won’t make a mirror. How can sitting meditation make a Buddha?”
Ma then said, “What would be the right way to go?”
And he said, “It’s like the case of an ox pulling a cart. If a cart does not go, do you hit the cart, or do you hit the ox?”
Ma didn’t reply.
“Do you think you’re practicing sitting meditation, or do you think you are practicing sitting Buddhahood? If you’re practicing sitting meditation, meditation is not sitting or lying. If you’re practicing sitting Buddhahood, Buddha is no fixed form. In the midst of everything that changes, you don’t have to grasp or reject. If Buddha’s always seated, Buddha is deformed. If you cling to the form of sitting, you miss it.”
“So how should I concentrate so as to merge with formless absorption?”
He had very technical kinds of questions about meditation.
And the teacher said, “Circumstances are right for you. You will find the way.”
Which is kind of nice, isn’t it? Just encouraging. There wasn’t anything he could say to make him… There wouldn’t be an explanation. There wasn’t anything to say to make his heart open right now.
You can see that with some people. We can see that with each other. If you look at each other and see, “Oh, that person’s doing better than they think they are.” And if you tell them that, they’ll deny it vehemently. One of the old Zen sayings is: you’re hiding the loot in your pocket and you call yourself innocent.
“If the way is not color or form, how can I see it?” said Ma. “The reality of the mind ground can see the way. Formless meditation is also like this.” And he said, “The mind ground contains various seeds. Where there’s moisture, all of them sprout. The flower of absorption… the flower of meditation has no form. What decays and what grows?”
This seems unlikely to us, but Mazu heard this, and his understanding was ready and opened up. And he served the teacher for ten years, going deeper and deeper into the inner path. So this was in the 730s. And it was said that Mazu was the person who realized the heart. And then all the marvelous koan tradition really came out of Mazu. He’s the person who said, “The whole meaning of your life is in this current moment.” It’s not in the next moment when you’ve polished that tile or become Buddha. It’s now.
So if you look at this moment, you know, and just feel the time, feel what it’s like to be you. Maybe look around your room, or your garden. And you might see that there’s nothing wrong yet. This is a moment in which nothing has to be wrong. No matter how afraid you are of what might be coming, or how unsatisfied you are about the things you’ve done, or things you feel sad you’ve done, or the things you haven’t done and feel sad about that. Here we are. Right now it’s kind of perfect, actually. And there’s a kind of modesty and simplicity in that, that we don’t reject what we have, you know. There’s nothing wrong with the room you’re in. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re feeling and thinking. That modesty and simplicity sort of allows the universe to work on us, allows us to receive things. And there’s nothing that doesn’t contain the flow of the universe, you know?
You see that in paintings. I saw somebody lift their arm, and there it was, you know. And I thought of Vermeer with somebody reading a letter. But it’s everywhere in all the old paintings—the moment in which you can see Buddha’s present. And that moment spreads out forever.
And so, somebody who sits with us, said she was annoyed because she had gotten some place in her practice, and she felt she hadn’t gotten very far. And she kept telling me things, and I’m saying, “No, that’s not it.” And she was annoyed with me too. And I said, “You’re allowed to be annoyed with me, but that’s still not it.” And then she had a dream about getting a divorce. And then she told me, “Well, you know, my husband and I have some stuff, but I don’t think it’s that.” And then it came to her that her dissatisfaction and complaint about life and the moment—that was what she was divorcing.
And so here we are. We don’t have to have something in the way. And we don’t have to polish a tile to get a mirror. We don’t have to do anything. We’re here already.
Who’s the guy who … some of you may know about him. He’s dead now, but he was a really interesting person who was training to be a kamikaze pilot and fly a plane off and crash into the deck of an American ship, hopefully, to sink it
and die doing it. One of those strange, horrible kinds of things, you know. Sort of thing you imagine … kind of like suicide bombers or something like that. And he was being trained to be that. And then the war ended; Nagasaki and Hiroshima happened. And so he was released from this mad dream into … and he didn’t know what to do. And he felt the tremendous sorrow and the crime of the war, actually, and became a poet. And he sort of wandered about a lot and had very long hair and shamanic figure, but he was also very funny. And here’s a poem he made. It’s called Sit Quietly. [reads]
If you have time to chatter,
If you have time to read,
Walk into mountain, desert, and ocean.
If you have time to walk,
Sing songs and dance.
If you have time to dance,
Sit quietly, you happy, lucky idiot.
Nanao … yeah. And that notion of “sit quietly”—the modesty of that.
Everybody in the Bay Area knows this, but I’ve always been intrigued by the name of the city, Modesto. Seems a wonderful name for a city. The modest place, you know. And it was named in this unlikely way. The plan was to name it after a great financier who was anything but modest and who had one of those Gothic lives and made a fortune, lost a fortune, perhaps committed suicide when he lost his fortune, that sort of thing. But the city itself was called Modesto, because they were going to name it after him, and he said, “No, no, I don’t think I want you to name the city after me.” And so that act of kindness in a way, led to the naming of Modesto. So there’s no dissatisfaction in being modest; no complaint about life.
Kay Ryan’s a local North Bay poet who has very unusual and odd poems, and here’s one of them. It’s called Home to Roost, about what kind of things are in the way sometimes. [reads]
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
Now they have
the same kind
at the same speed.
One of those days when every mistake you’ve ever made seems to pile on you like chickens blotting out the sun. Your chickens have come home to roost.
And here’s another. This is just a random kind of thing. But I’m always interested in how people who have no particular connection to the Dharma nonetheless, you know, are tuned into such matters. And this is an Australian—a very unusual Australian author—called Murnane [Gerald Murnane] is his name, and he’s suddenly just become visible to the New Yorker. He’s a person who lives within 100 miles of the place he was born, and he never traveled overseas. He never got on a plane. He was a househusband who just wrote novels, and then gradually the novels became world famous. And when his wife died, and his children were grown, he moved further into the country to a smaller town. I looked up the town, and it’s got like 300 people in it—in western Victoria, which is not a place that children yearn to go when they grow up. It’s a very remote provincial place.
[reads from Last Letter to a Reader]
I was reassured yet again of the truth of the claim that no such thing as ‘Time’ exists; that we experience only place after place; that remembering, as we call it, is no sort of rediscovery or recollection but an act performed for the very first time somewhere in the endless place known as the present.
So, a little bit of the Dharma in that. The endless place known as the present. You’re always inside your Buddha nature. Mazu said, “For countless eons, no being has ever fallen out of the deep meditation, the samadhi, of their Buddha nature.”
And here’s another thing … this is Jung in favor of silence and solitude: [reads]
Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.
That’s particularly great because he spent a lot of his life explaining things. So, let’s sit again with the koan. So, if we prepare to sit—you notice you don’t need to prepare, you know? Oh, I’ve got to get ready. I’ve got to get my body right. I’ve got to get my mind ready. I’ve got to get rid of the things in my mind. But actually, meditation does everything for you.
Just listen to the hawks. [cry of hawk heard in background]
They’re not disturbed about the quality of their mind. We’ve been researching why the hawks scream so much. And one of the things they’re doing is they have fledglings and they fly around, screaming and saying, “Here, catch this gopher like this.” And so it’s like seals hunting and sort of shoving fish at their young ones. So yeah, there’s no need to prepare for any of that, you know.
We have a koan that goes: Quick don’t get ready.
[bell] [cry of hawk]
The ancient temple bell. The bell itself is part of the eternal present.
What if we sweep away the dust and meet the Buddha? We have to keep practicing; we have to brandish the sword. Otherwise we’ll be like … it’d be like fishing in a nest of reeds; we’re tangled and can’t catch a fish.
What if I sweep away the dust and meet the Buddha? Buddha has no country; where will you meet her? Where will you meet him?
Underneath everything we want, there’s a spaciousness and a vastness. And the nature of that vastness is not just chilly; there’s a warmth in it. And it holds us and carries us. And gradually, less things snag us and make us unhappy, and we realize that our joy or sorrow is not related to the things outside.
Jordan: [plays guitar improv for meditation]
What if I sweep away the dust and meet the Buddha? Buddha has no country; where will you meet her? Buddha has no country; where will you meet him?
Sweep away the dust and meet the Buddha.
So in some sense we find ourselves doing less and less. The other thing is we’re not trying to get away from anything or manufacture anything. The music is good apart from being beautiful because it teaches us just how to let it overtake us, let it have us. And the koan is the same. Just let it come to us, and it will teach us everything we need to know about it without us working it out, which is why sometimes you might live with a koan for years. Not because you’re slow, but because it’s rich. It’s the world and the universe is rich and just to feel it come over you— that’s the thing. Life, life.
Nothing is needed. It’s alright if we are here for the next 1000 years. In fact we are here for the next 1000 years, and we’ve been here for the past 1000. Each moment fills the universe, and the joy of the moment cannot be contained. In the fullness, you know, sometimes the joy is the sorrow. Sometimes the joy is many things, and we just enter here.
Whatever appears in your mind, if you don’t find fault with it—let me guess—that’s good. What if nothing is wrong?
And then eventually the compassion appears, and then we find it’s just like the blue sky. It’s always here. Or it’s eternally here. Like you … perhaps you have always been here—not being born, not dying. Strange, but we can’t find a seam in reality. It just unfolds, and it spreads everywhere.
It seems there’s no end to just taking it in. Being here. Feeling it. Taking in your faces. No end to having reality touch us. Tess, do you have anything you’d like to say about sweeping away the dust and meeting the Buddha?
Tess: Well, I was noticing just how seductive having problems can be—even in things I really like. Like how my current problem at the moment is that where I live, the cats like to be outside. And the birds like to be at the feeder. And the raccoons have figured out how to shake the line that the feeder is on so that the feed goes everywhere. And so I try to get the cats not be eaten by coyotes and other people. And I try to keep the birds and chipmunks from being eaten by the cats and decide when the cats can go in and out. And it’s so quickly my mind can think [exasperated exhale] you know. [cat meows] You hear one now who’d like to go out. And in fact, it’s like the no-country part, the sweeping away the dust, is actually fun most of the time because it’s this invitation to enter much more deeply into the landscape and into the creatures and into what’s going on and feel the rhythm, so that I actually can just move with things a little more easily than if I’m always pushing against each piece.
And you were saying at the beginning, practice is really a path to harmonizing with things. And I notice when my own mind just gets quiet and my being is much more in touch with each element, it’s not really a problem. I kind of know when to open the door and where the cats are and what needs what, and it’s not a problem. Yeah, maybe just that.
John: Very good.
Todd, what about when you sweep away the dust and meet the Buddha?
Todd: You know, today I was thinking about a lot of chickens flying around. Things like dust, like my car—just filthy because, you know, here we get the morning fog coming in and getting everything wet. And then, of course in the summer in California, it’s really dust season. So the car just gets covered in dust, which sticks to the car. And you know, just a lot of little complaints like that; little dissatisfactions that I was just sort of cataloging earlier today. And at the time, I was thinking, you know, I was aware that this was happening and saying things to myself, like, even in this, there’s freedom.
But what I noticed sitting here was that the different types of complaints that I have, or the different types of negative emotional states—I judge them differently. So things like pain and grief, or even just difficulty—these are character-building things. So it’s like, yes, they’re hard to go through, but they feel somehow noble or worth it. But these sort of mild dissatisfactions that I have with things—I can’t find anything noble about them. So I’m passing judgments on these things. And, you know, it’s just sort of interesting. And what I was really feeling—as you were talking and listening to Jordan play, and I was looking out my window at what’s happening in the garden—was that these mild dissatisfactions or these minor complaints are still really part of the rich tapestry, right? And somehow that each of these little flavors, these distinct flavors—even the negative ones—are really part of everything, you know—woven, and interwoven, and not interwoven. And each thing, each flavor is standing in its own place. So, maybe just that. Thank you.
John: The idea that some suffering is more noble than others is kind of great. Actually, the thing about modesty, you know, is part of modesty is sometimes the stuff in my mind is not very elevated. It is not profound. If I think I’m profound or successful or something, I’m thinking my mind is silly. I think that’s alright. I think, part of it, you know … the dust we have is the dust we have. Allison, do you have anything you’d like to say about sweeping away the dust or gathering dust?
Allison: A couple of days ago I was rummaging through the refrigerator for something to eat and saw some smoked salmon, which was like getting close to the end date. And I thought, well, I better just eat some of this before it goes bad. And then that night, I felt so terribly sick to my stomach and was up most of the night. I have this thing where I won’t throw up. I’ve only thrown up once in my entire life which, when I tell people that, it seems like that’s odd. So, something in me would rather be sick. I’d rather be really sick than throw up. And so I was just sick. And you know, just feeling worse and worse and worse.
And then the next day it wasn’t any better. And I took my temperature, and I had a temperature. So my temperature starts rising, and the more it rose, it started to eventually feel like, I don’t know, like the higher it got, the more successful I was at being sick. Like my GPA getting higher or something. And I really started to enjoy the chills, and I hadn’t had a fever in years.
And what I loved particularly about it was the way it utterly annihilated my usual habit of sweeping away the dust and all of those endless feelings of this compulsion to get something done. Each day is sort of in the service of sweeping away the dust. And because none of that was possible—I was so sick— that I was simply … there was such a pleasure in not having that—in just having the fever. And as I started to feel better, some of that started to come back—the desire to pick up a broom and start sweeping again. I want to try to stay in that open space for a bit. I really enjoyed meditating today. I could still feel the fever on me a little bit, and it was so lovely. That’s the report from here.
John: Very good. Jesse Cardin, do you have anything to say about these or any other matters?
Jesse: Sure. I think I’m feeling the generosity of the world during this talk, which I hadn’t really noticed I was feeling before. But this place that we’re renting has blueberry bushes and raspberry bushes and strawberry bushes and an apricot tree—all things that I don’t think I like. So when we moved in here, I thought well, I don’t care about that—whatever. But as the stuff’s become ripe, just going—and I still am not a huge fan of any of those things—but there’s something incredible about plucking it from the tree and eating it. And it’s less about whether or not I like it than it is just receiving the gift of what’s coming out. And there’s more of it than I know what to do with. We’ve got an apricot Armageddon over here where they’re just falling out of the tree. They’re rotting faster than we can eat them, which is just incredible.
And I felt that too when we were out on our walk around the lake this morning. There are all these people out with their dogs, and each little dog coming by was a gift—big dog, little dog, snippy dog, old dog. And what is that thing that the generosity can push through my opinions about what I like and what I don’t like and what I want and what I don’t like. The world just goes, “Well, I don’t care. I’m just gonna keep giving you things.” It’s wonderful when I’m in the place of receiving. And then, just like Todd said, I like that, too. It’s that, then also the place where I feel like I can’t receive, or I’m pushing something off—that’s also a thing too. That’s a generous place as well. That’s all.
John: Thank you. Let’s see if I can find someone here. Amanda, do you have anything to say?
Amanda: Sure. You mentioned something about not manufacturing. And that’s something that’s been really alive for me lately. My school year in grad school’s about to start and also I work for the San Francisco School District and that’s about to start up also. And things have been going wrong. And I’ve been feeling pretty stressed out. And first of all, noticing that, I don’t know, that that’s fine. And it’s fine to just kind of feel squeezed and wrung out like a towel, and I can just kind of surrender to it and let those feelings happen.
And then also noticing that I always feel like, I have the habit of feeling like I’ve got to do something in meditation like, Oh, I should open to this. I should just open to the stress. And like, that’s fine, too. But then it feels really good to notice that I can go the other way and just notice, Well, what’s already open? It’s great. And then it just feels like there’s a hole inside of everything kind of and, yeah—just noticing it right now. Anyway, yeah, that’s all I’ve got right now.
John: Thank you, Amanda. Very good. [rings bell]
More meditation. [rings bell]
The sound of the bell.
There’s an old koan poem: The sound of the cuckoo calls us to come home. And the sound of the bell is home, I think, really. I like being called, too, but then suddenly, [rings bell] here we are.
It’s magic. It’s home. [rings bell]
Ma was meditating day and night, and the teacher said,
“What are you trying to do?”
“I’m trying to become a Buddha.”
And the teacher sat down, took a stone, and began rubbing it on a tile—little bits of pottery dust falling down.
“What are you doing? What are you up to with the tile?”
“I’m polishing it to make a mirror.”
“How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?
“If rubbing a tile will not make a mirror, how can sitting meditation make a Buddha?”
So any part of the koan—you know how it is with a koan. Who knows what part of it will come to you. There’s not a right or a wrong part. You can’t do it wrong. Maybe you think, I don’t like this koan, I liked the earlier one. That’s not wrong either. Have what we have, and the world comes to us and blesses us and touches our hearts.
So just let it come to you. The stillness and the peace spreads out in every direction.
Michael: [plays saxophone improv for meditation]
How can polishing a tile make a mirror? How can sitting make a Buddha? Nonetheless, if we sit a lot and walk a lot—that’s basically what retreat is, you know. Wherever we are, we have that light with us, in us, we’re in it. It’s a marvelously refreshing thing to be free like that—like this.
So again, just to feel the time. As a great old poet, Du Fu, said in his famous poem: feeling the time. Feeling your own life, and how infinite it is. It goes out among the stars. So I’m maybe going to ask a couple people to say brief things if they have anything to say. Michael Circeo is on from Florida by the look of it, because I can see the wind ruffling his hair. Do you have anything to say?
Michael: Very little. Hello.
John: That’s good. That’s perfect. Thank you. Lora, do you have anything to say? Maybe I’ll just go through and everybody will say, “No.” That’d be kind of perfect, wouldn’t it? “No, we’re all Daoists here.”
Lora: Well, I’m loving how there’s no end to the sweeping even if there’s no sweeping in what people are saying. And earlier today, when I was meditating, the word untethered came to me. And it felt like that was maybe the sweeping. Like, I was thinking that it was the sweeping having been done, because there was nothing tethered to sweep. But, and then there was, of course, the sweeping of that thought. And it just seemed endless to me, and then appreciating the endlessness and not appreciating the endlessness. That’s all.
John: Nice. Thank you. James A., on the Big Island, I think.
James: I’m actually in Honolulu. But recently, I found myself in a strange country. I finally after many decades allowed myself to enter one of these sensory deprivation tanks—this isolation chamber. And it was so good for my meditation, because if I’m just on a cushion I get up every two minutes to check my phone—well, maybe every 90 seconds. But I was in a room with a closed door, and there was this huge clamshell that I got into full of salty water. And I was lying there and it was dark, but it wasn’t scary. And it was kind of like meditation, but there was nowhere to go. And I could kind of bounce back and forth. And after a while I settled down and I was haunted by a number of koans. And then finally, I noticed that I had a sense of shame for existing—for having manifested out of the vastness. Like, the temerity to like have an individual self. And I got a very, very clear, enveloping sense from the vastness that, Hey, man, really, it’s okay, we forgive you.
John: Thank you. I suppose there’s a lot of zazen in that: Hey, it’s really okay. Courtney, do you have anything to say? About how it’s … is it really okay from your world, too?
Courtney: I didn’t have anything to say. But actually, what James just said reminded me that I’ve actually been having a moment of forgiveness for myself too. Usually, I realize I fucked up in a million ways, and then I try to like scramble to figure out how I haven’t. And really, it’s felt more like, Yeah, you did, and I forgive you for it. It’s all right.
John: Well, you know, I think the next step is: what if there’s nothing wrong with that, you know. What if it’s fine—that the perfection of life brought you here. Excellent. We’ll take it. Thank you. Thanks for coming on.
So I suppose what we need to do now is go into the, you know … the other thing about being on the Dharma path is we have friends and companions, and that’s why I ask people to speak because we see that the voice of the Dao is in everybody. So everybody’s got it, you know? And, as Mazu, who was trying to make a Buddha by meditating eventually said:
The whole meaning and purpose of your life is in this current moment.
So nothing you did that got you here could be wrong because here you are. So, there is that.
Amaryllis, I think you’re gonna take us out of here, because the next thing is the vows, which in a way acknowledge that whole … Mazu, said:
Make a way out of no way, make yourself a raft to carry others to the other shore.
And how you do that is, I don’t know, sit down, shut up, be happy—like that. That’s the beginning—as the heart opens and the mind empties. Amaryllis.
Amaryllis: [plays violin]
Jordan: [plays guitar and sings the vows] The Four Boundless Vows …
Thank you, Jordan, that’s wonderful—kind of marvelous.
Those vows are quite something. As I listen to it, I think, Wow, we chant them all the time. And they give us a path—they open the way if you put out your foot, in the Irish blessing, a path opens, rises to meet it—it’s like that.
So thank you, everyone. And next week, I’ll be here. The week after, Jesse Cardin, who spoke today about fruit, will be here. But next week, I’m here. Excellent.
—John Tarrant & Friends
Sunday Dharma Talk from August 7, 2022 in the PZI Online Temple