We stop relying on the worry—on knowing who we are, on sorrow, on anxiety, on “if only I could get something.” Or get through this time. We stop relying on those things, and start relying on being here. A koan is something to put in your mind so that you have that there. So instead of Fox News or “Oh my god I’m afraid,” or “I’m sick of being confined”—gradually freedom starts to appear by itself.
Just feeling the time, feeling the moment. Whatever our circumstances, we have this moment, and it’s for us. So here we are. For the time of the meditation, there’s nothing we need to do. The world has to go on, do itself. We can let our mind take care of itself, we don’t have to fuss with it. The endless burden can be put down. If we’re just here in this moment, whatever comes, it’s just here. And we’re going to be OK. Where the universe holds us. And here we are.
I want to talk now a little bit about what’s going on and things I’m noticing. Maybe share a little bit of a master class that I’m working on. I’ve been noticing what people tell me about the middle of the night—things are going along fine in the day, and then suddenly they’re not. That can happen. So there are sudden abrupt changes and people get overtaken by dread or fear, or worry about work if you’re in a medical situation. Wondering if the thing that’s happening to your body is dangerous or not. Wondering how crazy it’s all going to get. The mind just does this. One of the things you’ll notice is that it does it, and then it does it again – so it’s clearly not necessarily developing a theme, it’s just going round and round. In it’s little track.
The old meditation methods were developed for this, and so one of the great Chinese teachers had a friend, and the teacher said to the friend, “Suppose that out of the blue someone asks you, ‘All sentient beings have only disorderly consciousness, one thing after another, endlessly and with no foundation to rely on. How would you conduct an inquiry into this?’” Disorderly consciousness, one thing after another, boundless and with no foundation to rely on, how would you conduct an inquiry into this? The friend said, “If a student like that came I’d call out, ‘Hey! Sally or Bill!’ and when they turn their head I’d ask, ‘What is it?’ And then I’d wait while they think about it a bit. And then I’d say, ‘Not only is consciousness disorderly and boundless, there’s no foundation to rely on.‘“ And the teacher said “Oh, good!” Disorderly consciousness; one thing after another, nothing to rely on. It’s really just a description of the nature of mind. It’s like that.
And one thing you’ll notice when you have a mind, is that we get on board the different buses that come by and we climb on, this one and that one. One of the nice things is that if you’re really worried about something, something terrible, like you’ve got cancer or something, after a while you think, I wonder what I’m going to have for lunch? It just tumbles, so in a way it’s not to be taken seriously, and the meditation tradition has always known this, so don’t take it too seriously. But we do. You’ll notice that the mind just does.
We get stuck, and you get different things—some people have images, some people have grudges, story forms, fears, different themes—novels going on all the time. Some people have “Look at me”, or “Don’t look at me.” Two things the meditation tradition does, one is that it allows us to appreciate where we are. That it’s good to appreciate where we are, no matter where we are. Always a good thing. Something to be relied on.
And the other thing is the fact that everything changes—even what people dread—that everything changes, is on our side. Because wherever we are, stick around, it’s going to change, if we’re still here. The other thing is that the notion of practice becomes noble. The practice is doing something so that we’re not completely identified with all the stuff that comes through, but we’re open to it. If we need to know there’s somebody knocking at the door, we’ll notice and do something about it. But we don’t need to be tormented by the thoughts we have. So when we come home from work we can put it down. It’s not that we put it down, it’s just that we don’t keep carrying it. One thing that the meditation tradition does is it describes this stuff—”Disorderly consciousness; one thing after another, no end to it and no foundation to rely on.”
One of the great causes of suffering is that we think we‘re supposed to explain it all and there’s supposed to be some foundation to rely on. I can find something to rest on that’s true. I can find a narrow me—I got here this way. Any time you’re defensive, notice you’re explaining who you are and what you are —and then we can’t learn. There’s not anything wrong with defending yourself. But we do notice that we build this narrative. We’re all trying to get back to the old narrative – or let’s start a ‘new normal’ and accept that. And we don’t know. Much of the difficulty and pain of the mind comes from we’d rather fight with things than have not knowing. And not knowing is kind of on our side.
So this is the beginning of a master class on the nature of mind. I just want to stop that there, and have another meditation and another koan. We’ll have a journey, take a walk together. Okay are you ready? No need to be ready, we’re just going to go anyway. [Rings bell]
At the beginning of meditation, feeling the sound. The sound of the bell dying away, the sounds around you. Noticing, what is it like to be me? What is a me? What’s it like to be me? This is it. What is it? This is it. For the time of the meditation you have no tasks. You are in the universe and you’re in communion with the universe. The universe is here just for you. And you’re held by all the galaxies.
So here’s our story koan for today: Times were hard and difficult and there was a lot of conflict and madness in high places. There were a couple of friends who decided that one of the good things is friendship. They decided to spend time together. Each moment of friendship and kindness somehow fills the universe and is a moment of meditation. One of the friends was a poet, and one was a Zen teacher. And the poet actually hadn’t much interest in Zen. The Zen teacher didn’t find that a problem.
They liked to hang out, they were interested in each other’s company. They were old friends. One day the poet went to visit the Zen teacher. They were having tea in the afternoon. You know the way conversations just shift gears – suddenly the poet began to wonder about his friend. And said, “What is Zen, anyway?” The teacher said, “There’s an old saying, ‘Friends, you think I’m hiding something from you, in fact I’m hiding nothing from you.’ Zen is like that.“ “I don’t get it”, said the poet. And they left it there.
The poet stayed the night, keeping six feet apart from her friend. In the morning they went for a stroll outside in the grounds in the small hills. And the scent of orange blossoms and spring filled the air. The sweet scent. The teacher said, “Oh, do you smell the fragrance of the orange blossoms?” “Yes,” said the poet, “I do.” And the fragrance just filled the heart, and everything else disappeared. The teacher said, “You see, I’m hiding nothing from you.” And suddenly the words just went into the poet. The poet felt completely alive and joyful, and had the tears of joy. And they left it there.
Time went on, and they would visit and have tea and hang out and talk about mainly poetry. The poet had another friend who was also a Zen teacher, and the poet went and visited that teacher. They were having tea too in the afternoon. The conversation took one of those turns, and suddenly the teacher said, “In the end I’ll die and you’ll die, and we’ll be two heaps of ashes – where will we meet then?” The poet went to reply but couldn’t get any words out. Everything stopped, and the poet froze and had nothing clever or beautiful or true – nothing at all to say, and felt completely stuck and helpless. And they left it there.
Later, the poet was traveling with a party of friends, and they would write poems about the trees and the moon and things. It seemed pretty good to them. They were traveling, and they stopped on a grassy bank above a river in the afternoon. The poet took a nap. When she woke up, she understood what her friend had meant. And after that she was pretty much happy.
So just let any part of that story touch you. You see, I’m hiding nothing from you… Do you smell the fragrance of the sweet blossoms? I do, I do…. You see, I’m hiding nothing from you… And they left it there.
And the thing about meditation, is that really the thing is just not to oppose yourself, not to criticize anything that appears – if it appears in the world or in the mind. And then you’ll find that meditation is really something that you can’t do wrong. In a sense, you just rest in the beginning of things. Before we did all the things we did to make ourselves and the world. There’s a kind of freedom.
You see I’m hiding nothing from you. Do you smell the sweet scent of the blossoms? And whatever appears in the heart, that’s the blossoms too. I’ll die and you’ll die and we’ll be two heaps of ashes…where will we meet then?
When we can’t answer a question like that, we’re just stopped. And being stopped is alright, that’s always the beginning of meditation. When we’re stopped, we’re not building – we’re not building a house of pain any more. Do you smell the scent of sweet blossoms? Why yes, I do. You see, I’m hiding nothing from you.
You can feel as meditation deepens, you just let it happen. You’re not doing it. Gradually we’re not quite so much in the way, but we’re not even doing getting out of the way. It’s just, do you smell the sweet scent of the blossoms?
Then we can be really patient. When we meditate, we’re just in the vessel of transformation. All we have to do is hang out with the blossoms. And if we forget to do that, we notice and then we just hang out with the blossoms. One old teacher said, “It’s not so hard.” Just in this moment, just be patient with yourself. That just means – oh, I’m here. That’s good enough. [Rings bell]
I’ll say a few things about this journey koan. A couple things I like – I like that these friends are just wandering along being friends. Suddenly the conversation – there’s no limit on where it can go, “What’s Zen, anyway?” The Zen teacher friend doesn’t explain or not explain, just provides a gate. Says, “Well, you know that saying, ‘Friends, you think I’m hiding something from you, in fact I’m hiding nothing from you’” – which is kind of great.
There’s another old Zen story about some guy who says to his teacher, “You must tell me, you must tell me what it is!” He can’t understand the koan, “I’m hiding nothing from you”, and he can’t understand what’s not being hidden. He says to the teacher, “You must tell me!” The teacher says, “Well, I could tell you, but you’d blame me later.” And the student says, “You must say! You must tell!” He says, “I won’t say”! The student says, “If you don’t tell me, I’ll hit you!” The teacher says, “You can hit me, I still won’t tell you!” The student hits him, and then has to leave the temple because he beat up the teacher, and then there’s a loooong journey.
But that impulse is not alien to me, like, “You must tell, you must explain it to me!” and we see oh, what the teacher does in this case just immerses, sinks us into here. The blossoms. The scent of the blossoms. And the inescapable quality – how, if we stop insisting, then the universe comes to us. Everything we’re looking for out there, if we go in here, it’ll be dark or disturbed or the disorderly consciousness, boundless one thing following another. And I can’t find anything to rely on. Can’t find anything that’s still, to stand on. In a way, that’s freeing because I don’t have to keep carting the thing to stand on around with me.
A little bit of the master class on the art of meditation is that you’ll find some koans will give you an image, and that’ll open the heart. Like, Do you smell the fragrance of the blossoms? (you see, I’m hiding nothing from you). It could be, Do you see the sorrow of the grieving person? (I’m hiding nothing from you). And the heart goes out to the grieving person. In a way, we can also bless them because we’re not making them wrong. We’re not making the blossoms wrong. We’re just accepting the way the universe comes to greet us.
The one thing is the image, and you’ll notice that if you have a practice when your mind starts going around in circles, it doesn’t really matter what it does. It sings songs, sad songs, happy songs – or it tries to work out problems that it doesn’t need to work out, or objects to things that really it has no power over. We’re always dragging things in from the world to sustain our ‘who we are’. That’s the official explanation, but I think it’s kind of a mystery really. We just do. If you notice your mind just does that. Disorderly consciousness, one thing following another, no foundation to rely on.
And you notice how that’s one of the great teachers, and that great teacher doesn’t say how to fix it. It says, Oh, if you just start to see it, you’ll find nothing is being hidden. You’ll find that in the middle of the night, when I’m worried about something. It’s the middle of night and even if I’m right to be worried, I can’t do anything about it. That’s what practice is for. We stop relying on the worry—on knowing who we are, on sorrow, on anxiety, on “if only I could get something.” Or get through this time. We stop relying on those things, and start relying on being here. A koan is something to put in your mind so that you have that there. So instead of Fox News or, “Oh my god I’m afraid”, or “I’m sick of being confined”…gradually freedom starts to appear by itself. We don’t manufacture it. It’s hard, because we’re incredibly fond of our delusions. Our delusions are, “I can’t do it, it’s terrifying”, etc. They’re really just our descriptions of reality, and there’s nothing wrong with a description of reality. It’s just that’s all it is. The map is not the territory.
I like, “Oh, do you smell the blossoms?” It seems better than the worry. To have in my mind. That’s step one of a practice—is to do that, so whenever you’re walking around during the day or doing anything, and you notice your mind is doing something, all you have to do is notice that your mind is somewhere. You don’t try to bring it back, you just have “Oh, the scent of the blossoms”, and then gradually that becomes the underlay of the mind. That’s the art of meditation, really there. And then things start to open up as they did for the poet in the story.
So I want to advocate for – if you’re really concerned about freedom internally, freedom of the heart and mind, then having a practice like that is the thing. So that’s why we come here. That’s why we have this today. That’s why it makes me really happy just to see people’s faces. I like the gallery view, because I get to look at your faces and. Oh god, everyone’s beautiful, so great! And nobody can help it. Whether you approve or think you’re beautiful, none of your business – it’s a beautiful thing and here we are. You’re alive, you’re alive!
[Comments from other teachers… several poems… rings bell.]
Do you hear the sound of the blossoms? You see, I’m hiding nothing from you. If we’re bored we don’t need to do anything about that, if we think we should be doing something, we don’t need to do anything about that. If we’re sad, we can accept it with grace. We don’t have to make our lives wrong. It all starts with the moment – this moment is the right moment for me.
And you see, I’m hiding nothing from you. You see, I’m hiding nothing from you. Sweet blossoms. [Jordan plays guitar].
So letting the time touch us and hold us. Letting the time transform us. The sweetness of the blossoms. You see I’m hiding nothing from you. [Rings bell.]
We’re going to go out with the four vows. We have a couple people to do that. Just before that, I just want to say thank you – it’s so nice and sweet to sit together. It’s a profound thing, and when things are going crazy, if we can just not go crazy it affects more than us. So I would say, we’re FOR that! And you know, the time is going into inconceivable places – that’s all we know. You can tell it’s changing now, it’s changing from a week ago. We’re learning, things are transforming. The sweetness of the blossoms, you see I’m hiding nothing from you.
The vows are the last thing we’re going to do. Just to say a tiny bit about the vows: The notion of the bodhisattva – You know, it’s kind of crazy but we can show up for each other – and in a way, not to recoil from the difficulty of life. And also to embrace and be drenched in life, and the scent of the blossoms, or in each other’s eyes. That’s the bodhisattva path, it’s that we’re not here just for you, we’re here together, we’re in it together and there’s blessing in that. So that’s what we’re doing. Our little part in that, is that every night of the week, somewhere in the world we have one of our teachers teaching. I learn, it transforms me. We’re in a kind of strange dark, beautiful time.