Secret Fidelity & One Finger Zen, Even in the Bardos


I think this is a time when things are kind of changing and incredibly uncertain, and that fidelity to what’s really true to us is important and valuable. And we don’t have to pretend that when difficulties are here, they’re not here. But also, we don’t have to pretend that they cancel the illumination, because nothing does, really. Even if we’re dying, the brightness of life is still there. And after we’re dead, we’ll worry about that later, [laughs] when the time comes in the bardos.

Link to Audio: Secret Fidelity & One Finger Zen, Even in the Bardos


Hi everyone. People are still swimming upstream to get online, and there’s difficulty with some of the links—what else is new—so welcome! Nice to see you—nice to be here together. I suppose what we can do now, is meditate while we’re waiting. [laughs] When in doubt—do nothing! So, I’ll hit a bell and we’ll just meditate while people are clicking on, and then we’ll stop, and other things will happen. Okay? [rings bell]

Just hearing the sound of the bell, one of the eternal sounds [rings bell] that makes us realize that all sounds are just pure. Any time we just show up, we’re here in the vastness—listening to a bell. [rings bell twice, laughs] Completely enfolded in life, in the vastness. [rings bell] Some of the old teachers used to say there was a brightness in everything. You see with your ears and you hear with your eyes. You see the brightness of the bell. [rings bell] 

Here’s a poem I think is about the same thing. It’s “Night on the Great River” by Meng Hao-jan—an old, old Chinese poem.

Dropping anchor at the misty island,
loneliness increases at sundown,
In huge space, the sky bends to the trees and
in the quiet river, and in the quiet river,
the moon comes down among us

Another feeling of the sound of the bell, “In the quiet river, the moon comes down among us.” [rings bell several times] “You’re hitting the bell all the time—I don’t know when to meditate and when not to.” Yes! [laughs]

So, hi and welcome—nice to be here. I’ve been thinking about the way—like with the poem about night on the great river—it’s really just an ordinary moment. Any time you’ve been by the water, and it’s sunset—and sometimes there’s that feeling of loneliness at sunset—when the day is gone, and will never come back. There’s a vastness—a huge space—and the sky bends and embraces the trees. And in the quiet river, the moon comes down among us. It’s just there. It’s that thing that’s always available to everyone, all the time—never not available. So, that’s what we have, you know? It’s kind of cool to have. 

Another old saying speaks of “the fresh breeze that arises when the great burden is put down.” When you’re just here in meditation, there’s nothing needed. I think we see it more when we stop and sit, the way we’re doing together now—but it’s also true that even if we don’t stop and sit, we might see it. We’ll stumble into things, and that’s a nice thing. I think there’s a way to think of our whole lives as being threaded through with that kind of illumination, or a kind of opening in the heart that happens. I’ve been thinking of that as a sort of fidelity. There’s a kind of trust, or faith, or sweetness that we’re sort of resting in, no matter what comes at us—and that’s a nice thing. I’ve been thinking about ways to describe that. And that everybody knows it! And there’s that funny thing we do, where we’re very alert to dissatisfaction. But when life is pure and sweet, we just have it. And we overrate the dissatisfaction and the difficulties, because the sweetness is just always here. It’s never not here, and it’s inside even the difficulties. 

This is a poem of Rilke—Rainer Maria Rilke. He was actually a pretty good French poet as well as a German poet, and he had this interesting thing he did, where he became a personal secretary to Auguste Rodin, the sculptor. In San Francisco, you can see his sculptures at the Legion of Honor, like The Thinker and The Lovers [sic, titled The Kiss]. He was a very physical, literal, and dynamic kind of sculptor—and Rilke was just the opposite. He was this drifty, intuitive, sweet soul—who would have the vapors and things like that all the time [laughs]—one of the geniuses of the next generation. Rodin told Rilke, “You need to look at things more, like go to the Zoo—look at animals, ” which was a kind of nice thing to remember. If you want to join life, you can also let life come to you by looking at it. That was the meditation he gave him.

And here’s a [Rilke] poem called “Secret Fidelity,” translated into English by Alfred Poulin: [reads]

In this life of neglect,
is there anything desired by
those who have never understood
how all things support, answer and attract
each other in an infinite exchange?

In this life,
is there anything desired by
those who have never understood
how all things support, answer and attract
each other in an infinite exchange?

Since childhood, however,
I have admired how,
in this open world,
no sustained glance, no smile, not one tenderness is lost.
All comes back to us, if it isn’t stopped,
each heart according to its own rhythm,
will run the whole course,
the complete tender round of its secret fidelity.

So, there you go. “All comes back to us, if it isn’t stopped, each heart according to its own rhythm, will run the whole course, the complete tender round of its secret fidelity.”

I want to tell a story. I think this is a time, now, when things are kind of changing and incredibly uncertain, and so that fidelity to what’s really true to us is important and valuable. And that we don’t have to pretend—that when difficulties are here, they’re not here—but also, we don’t have to pretend that they cancel the illumination. Because nothing does, really. Even if we’re dying, the brightness of life is still there. And after we’re dead, we’ll worry about that later, [laughs] when the time comes in the bardos.

I want to read an incredibly different kind of poet. I was thinking about how we have a natural fidelity you’ll find in your life, that’s always occurring and coming back to you. I noticed when I began to try and meditate in a formal tradition—like, “hold my mouth right” and things—and that was a good thing and a discipline that was a good thing for me—but it’s also true that I had to then recover the things I already knew. I was already making discoveries, and I sort of ignored them, which we do because we’re trying to find something new. And then I realized—I had this wonderful thing happen, when I went to study koans in Hawaii, and I lived in a temple for a few years. I realized—all the time, I’d been trying to find what I was finding in my meditation in my own way—for reasons that were never clear to me, either then or later—because reasons aren’t clear. 

But at a certain time, when I was 18 or 19, I worked in a smelter—an old fashioned sort of smelter in Tasmania—where everything was done with sledgehammers and pulled handcarts. I was telling one of my friends recently, and she said, “Wow, it’s like a gulag!” [laughs] Actually, we didn’t think that. We were fine with it. [laughs] It was just what you did if you were a young man. But I remember it was intensely boring to me, so I would memorize poems—and one of the poems I memorized was a Wallace Stevens poem. And I’d be swinging a sledgehammer, and have a line on each swing kind of thing. Then when I got to Hawaii, the teacher there said, “Here’s an American poet who’s very like Zen,” and he read one of those Wallace Stevens poems. I thought, “Wow, life really does have these rhymes!” [reads]

“Of Mere Being”

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands at the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

There you are. [laughs] I like the “fire-fangled feathers,” because working in a smelter, with flames coming out of the furnaces all the time, and molten metal—[it’s] a kind of “Dante environment.” Kind of exciting—until it was incredibly, terminally boring.

But there’s something nice about the poem—remembering poems and realizing there’s a light in everything—and I was trying to teach myself how to pay attention to life. And that’s what I did—I memorized poems while I was working in a smelter. Something is always there for us—a snatch of bird song or, you know, a child’s smile in the street or something like that. These small things. In Zen there’s a lot of emphasis on the little Haiku moment. The moment of “This!” The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangling down. So, I’m going to tell you a koan today. We’ll meditate, and then I’ll give you the koan, okay? Quick, don’t get ready! It’s already happening. [rings bell]

At the beginning of meditation, don’t even try to put the burden down—you just forget to hold it. And if it keeps going around and around in your mind, well—you forget to find that’s a problem. Whatever you’re worried about, it can come to peace with itself. It’s not really yours, it’s just the Universe chasing its tail. 

You just notice this, the “thusness.” The main thing about meditation, is not to find fault. It’s a great thing, when that critical consciousness is lifted off us. The Zen answer to that, what that’s about, is—it’s in service of making—if we feel like we’re in prison—we, I feel like I’m a “me.” Otherwise, I’m free. I don’t have to set my life to rights. I don’t have to—nothing is required at this moment, of you. You’re just here, in the vast “hereness” and there’s not really a problem right now. 

We’ve got a couple of stories today, an old story and a newer story. The old story goes like this: [narrates]

There was a person who had had some difficulties in their life—sorrows—and decided they would get involved with the meditation path, and then lived in a hermitage that had guest quarters. It wasn’t completely barbarous, and people would come through, and this person would meditate on the Bodhisattva—the deity, the archetype of compassion and mercy, Kwan Yin—the kind lady who takes people out of hell. He’d do this chant of all the different names of the goddess. So, he’d do that, and it wasn’t particularly a belief thing—it’s more like it transformed his mind. 

He was fairly kind, and people in the village would come along and ask him to help them. He’d give them bad advice about things when asked. [laughs] He’d do his best, and try to be kind. Mainly, he liked sitting out and chanting. He noticed it transported him, and his life felt very pure. Not in the sense of “against anything not pure,” but just felt simple, I suppose. The thusness of things became vivid to him. And so, he’s sitting and chanting, hanging out, and then—one day, while he’s meditating in his little hermitage, someone walks in and they just walk straight in. It’s a pilgrim, a woman—and she has a big old wide-brimmed hat on, a hat about three feet wide—and she’s got a big staff with rings on it, and it jangles. 

And she walks around him three times—and that’s what you do with monuments, you circumambulate them, chanting—[laughs] but she walks straight in, she doesn’t bow to the door. She takes off her shoes—but that’s it, and she’s got her pack on—she doesn’t say “hello.” She just walks around him three times, and stands in front of him and bangs her staff. And it jangles, and he looks at her dumbfounded, and she just looks at him and she says, “Say a word of Zen.” And the cat got his tongue, he couldn’t say anything. He was amazed and astonished, and was still in his sort of meditation dream and suddenly—a whole part of his life that he hadn’t noticed suddenly came to the fore, where he felt like, “Oh, I’m kind of stuck.” But none of that was quite conscious, he just couldn’t say anything. And so she just looked at him and nodded, and turned and left. 

But he called as she was going out the door and said, “We have guest quarters, you can stay the night, it’s getting late. I can give you supper,” and things like that. And she looked at him and stopped, and said, “Well, say a word of Zen and I’ll stay.” And again he couldn’t say anything. And she left, and he felt really shaken to the core, and he thought, “God, she’s inside this vast, illuminated world that I don’t even understand. Here I am trying to be a spiritual person, but I’m clueless.” So, he felt that, a common feeling for everybody. 

So then, he goes and says to himself, “God, I’ve got to get a teacher. I kind of don’t trust myself. I’d better get ready right now, because my resolve might weaken otherwise.” So, he starts to pack to leave and go find a teacher. And he packs, but suddenly everything becomes really hard to do. And even his clothes—when he’s picking them up to pack them—become really heavy and he can’t quite fit them in, and he falls asleep over his luggage as he’s packing. And then deep into the night he has a dream, and the spirit of the mountain where he lives comes to him and says, “Oh, you don’t need to leave. Somebody’s going to come—a bodhisattva is going to come pretty soon, and so if you leave, you’ll be going in the wrong way—you’ll be going away from your awakening. So just hang out for a bit and be patient.” 

And so when he woke up, he unpacked—and it was easy to unpack, and he went back to chanting along. Then, sooner or later an old teacher did arrive—and he gave tea, and the old teacher sat down. The old teacher called “Heavenly Dragon” [Tenryu] arrived, and he was a quiet, thoughtful older person. He was on pilgrimage from one place to another, and he had just stopped in to say hello and have a cup of tea, something like that. 

“Judi” [Juzhi or Gutei] was the name of the person chanting, and he said, “This woman arrived, and she told me her name—even that’s hard to remember—everything about that is hard to remember. I fell asleep, I couldn’t say anything. Her name was something like ‘True World’ or ‘True Boundary’ or something—there was something really true about her. [laughs] She did this—and she walked around me, and asked me to say a word of Zen, and I couldn’t say anything. So, what—?” And then the Heavenly Dragon just held up one finger, and with that, somehow, the guy in the hermitage—Judi—his dream just shattered. He felt great joy, and he wept, and felt like, “Oh, the burden has been put down—this is what it’s all about.”

After that, he became a teacher, a very eccentric teacher, as you can imagine. Any time someone asked him anything, he’d just hold up a finger. “What is the meaning of Zen?” He’d hold up a finger. “Why are you doing this?” He’d hold up a finger. [laughs] You can see it’s just entering through any gate. One old Japanese teacher used to say, “You awaken through uniting with something.” Your whole heart opens to something. In this case it was the finger. But there are many old koans like that. “What is Buddha? Three pounds of flax.” So, things like that. And you realize, “Oh! Anything will do.” Whatever’s in your room right now, a bare wall—that’s it. 

So, let’s just keep sitting for a bit. We’ll sit with this story about the woman, “True World,” who walks in and says, “Say a word of Zen!” and then you can’t say anything. We’ll all sit together, and as soon as you don’t put a requirement on yourself, you’ll notice that you can enjoy yourself. You’re not pushing your life around, or ordering things around— you’re just here. One finger, holding up one finger. “Say a word of Zen.” 

Just this. Whatever comes up. If you don’t disallow it, if you don’t find it wrong, if you just, you know, “Oh!—one finger.” What is a word of Zen? Just let your heart become still, and that’s the secret fidelity. No matter what arises, the fidelity is, we don’t have a stake in having something different arise, having a different past. We just do our best with what we have. There’s something about being very patient, and realizing that in a way, my whole life is like this moment of meditation. It’s the “One finger—say a word of Zen.” This, this and more this. [laughs] There’s always more of this. And it’s vast, and it’s here, and it’s yours. This. This. One finger. [rings bell] 

The thing about being here that’s such a trip—a memory came, of when I was first meditating in temples—I’d always think the meditation periods were too long [laughs] and how it would express itself to me was my legs would hurt—really, a lot. I was kind of wild, and I’d think, “Oh my God, I want to punch out the walls.” [laughs] and then I’d get myself through by saying, “Well, I’ll wait until after the next walking meditation, and I can punch out the walls next period.” And that’s how I got myself through. [laughs] And my knees were ON FIRE!

I thought people thought things about me—I didn’t even know what they were. The problem was, I thought things about myself. There was something about just letting all that happen, and thinking “Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with me.” That was really good. Whenever you say, “I have this problem in meditation,” you can think, “Well, it’s nothing to do with me,” [laughs] because it isn’t really, and it’s kind of a wonderful strategy. That’s kind of a part of fidelity, and I realized it seems so extreme—my knees didn’t hurt, my mind hurt! [laughs] My mind’s only way of expressing its objections to being present was to put fire in my knees. 

I remember this guy that I liked, he was an interesting guy. He was a surgeon, a very well-known, successful surgeon in academic medicine, and I was training residents.

I didn’t teach—I was teaching some residents, but not his—but I ran into him. He lived in one of those places where there’s a lot of windy curves, and a lot of little speed bumps to slow the traffic down so the kids could run around. A couple hundred yards—with a speed bump. And he’d get in his BMW to go to work in the morning, and he’d go over the speed bump and he’d think, “Maybe that was a homeless person, sleeping in the road!” And then he’d go all the way around—because it was a crescent—and come back, he’d see it was a speed bump, and he’d go over it again and think, “Maybe a homeless person got in there!” [laughs] And he had to go around about three times before he could go to work. [laughs] I said, “I think that’s called OCD.” It was a very endearing kind of thing, and his fidelity was—he had these nutty thoughts, but that didn’t stop him [from] being a wonderful physician. It just meant he had to leave earlier in the morning to get to work. It helps to have a sense of absurdity. Like maybe it’s this—one finger. [laughs] 

And in fact, Judi said, “I inherited this ‘one finger’ from the Heavenly Dragon. I used it all my life, but I never used it up.” That’s what he said, those were his last words before he died. So, there’s that. [laughs] So that’s Judi’s story, in a way. And you can tell that everything comes down to the simplicity of the moment. And it really doesn’t matter if it’s holding out your hand, or you look at the mountain—and it’s the mountain. 

I had a friend—I still have a friend, in fact— who was in Chicago in winter and miserable, and his relationship wasn’t going well, and his PhD was floundering. And it was winter in Chicago, which you know is winter in Chicago, some of you know. He was trying to do a koan, actually the koan “No”—which is the same thing as the “one finger.” Whatever comes up, you just say, “No!” [laughs] That’s all there is in the Universe, and if you think something else, or if you think this is silly, just say, “No,” or you just hold up one finger. 

He’s trying to meditate, and he thinks he’s not doing very well—which is probably true—and that he’s not very good at it, which is probably also true. But then you realize, that even my being “good at things” is just a category I’m putting on things. I don’t have to be good at it or bad at it. In Zen they say, “There’s no such thing as being an ordinary person—or a saint.” Each person is complete. Each person has the Buddha nature. 

So anyway, he was just looking at a sound system, and he’s looking at the knobs on the tuner—on the radio dial—and suddenly they became everything. And that was the gateway into the vastness for him—the knobs on the radio tuner. [laughs] So, it’s like—fair enough, you walk through any door. Another old saying is, “Knock on any door, someone will answer.” Look at something now—I’ve had you do this before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. If you look at something now in the room, or someone in the room—or even hold someone in your heart if you can’t see them—and just have that, and then you’ll see, “Oh, that’s complete!” I’m looking at the boards of a fence through a window—plain grey boards, with knots in them. The whole of the galaxy is needed for those boards, the whole of the galaxy is in those boards. Or the one leaf. I can see the leaves above it. Just feel that for a minute, that’s the one finger. 

Another story that’s kind of the same story, really, but I want to tell you—I like that fairy tale quality about the old stories, because it’s like, “Once upon a time, there was a young girl whose mother died, and her father married again, and she had two stepsisters but they didn’t like her, and they sent her out into the forest to get fire from Baba Yaga, the old witch”—and so the story goes on, and we’re there. “Once upon a time there was this man, and he wanted to help but he didn’t know what to do, so he meditated and then this woman came in, and she said, ‘Say a word of Zen!’ and he couldn’t, and then someone else came along, and then he had a dream”—and like that.  It’s our story. 

So, here’s another person who was working on the one-word koan, “No!” again. A friend of mine—and she said, she noticed—that when she didn’t worry too much about—and just had it with her as she went about her day—she had a management job and had to drive around a lot—and she felt like she’d go to familiar places, and suddenly she’d see them as she’d never seen them before, the way you see something for the first time. So, that’s something that happens. You see something and, “Oh, this is the first time I’ve ever seen something!” Or you look at someone you love, and you think, “Oh, this is the first time I’ve ever seen them.” So you’re not imposing on them who they have to be for you, just allowing them into your heart. It’s the same with an animal or a tree—allowing them to meet you, to come to meet you. 

She did that, but she still had the feeling that she didn’t know—and her teacher, who in this case was me—actually, she’d come in and say, “Here’s the answer, I’ve got it,” and I’d say, “Well, good—keep going.” And this went on for months, a year or more, but gradually she felt that everything became more pure and free and simple. And then when she thought, “Oh, I’ve got it now,” then she hit a really dry place and she said, “I don’t know, I just think I’m not suited for this—I don’t have a place in this mystery. I don’t have a part in this. I can tell there’s something real going on, but I don’t have a part in it.” So, that’s a kind of thing that comes up when you’ve been practicing for a little bit. And, “Why did I ever think I did?” 

But then she had things—she had kids—and she’d think, “I have to be ‘on’ for my kids,” and then she’d realize she didn’t. You don’t have to prepare, you’re just here. And then the kids are happier, and you’re happier. And then a lot of things happened—there was a bathroom at the retreat center we went to, where we could never quite get the fragrance of pee out of the bathroom. [laughs] We even did special cleaning and everything in that retreat center. And that came over her, and she felt, “Wow, the whole universe is in this smell. I can’t do anything about this, this is something I can just completely accept.”  

And so then, later on in the same retreat, she was doing walking meditation outside through cars, under redwoods, and she says to herself, “The redwood branches are just parting for me.” Everything disappeared—past, present and future were just one, and it was like she was seeing between the atoms. And she was just gone for hours in this deep peace. And then she came back, and somehow everything was changed. It wasn’t that she didn’t suffer or have difficulties—she still had to go through her kids’ adolescence [laughs] and things like that—but it was sort of like she wasn’t carrying around the burden anymore. That’s a great thing when you suddenly feel free of that, in that sense of kinship with everything alive—with matter and stars, anything at all. And she stopped trying to improve herself. I think that was the big thing, she stopped complaining to herself about who she was. 

So, let me stop there. I don’t know—often I ask people for a comment, to say something different, to get other voices in the room. We can’t get everyone’s voice in, so I’ll ask a few people—like I know Sarah Bender is here. And also, if I call on you, you’re allowed to do this [holds up index finger, laughs]—you’re allowed to say no. Sarah, did you want to say something? 

Sarah Bender Roshi: I’m noticing a lot of resonances with the koan we spent time with yesterday—”non-sentient beings.” Which feels to me—so much of that sense you brought in—of fidelity, and a kind of trustworthiness of things. And what came up for me suddenly, was—as I was spending time with this—was the Heart Sutra where “Listen, Sariputra, listen—all things are marked by emptiness,” started to be not, “Listen to me, I’m telling you,” but “Listen to them, they’re telling you.”

John: Ah, that’s great. Is there more? [silence] Thanks, Sarah. 

David Weinstein, do you want to say something to encourage us? I can’t see you, but I know you’re on here—I can unmute you—ahh, there you are, very good. 

David Weinstein Roshi: Oh, thank you. I’ve been sitting with the koan about “taking a step off a hundred-foot pole,” and the secret fidelity was something that resonated with me about that. And how taking that step—I can be taking that step with my head, or I can be taking it with something that feels deeper than that, my heart—and that speaks to me about that secret fidelity—just trusting that next step, even if I can’t see where I’m going.

John: That’s great, isn’t it? Like, if we can see where we’re going, it’s not really the next step. [laughs] A funny thing. You can feel how much richer it is—it’s fine that we take a step when we can see where we’re going—but it’s a rich thing when we’re in the deep work. And also, you get gifts from the universe, like that woman walking in.

DW: Yeah, and how I can be somehow in touch with that fidelity, even in the midst of feeling upside down—falling, and still feeling it.

John: Something about the gifts of things there. Thank you. That’s great. 

I haven’t asked you before—didn’t give you a heads up—but Andrew Palmer, a teacher in Colorado, is here. You want to say anything, Andrew? (Can somebody find him, or maybe I can find him and unmute him—here we are, I’ll unmute you.) Let me know if you don’t want to say anything. [laughs]

Andrew Palmer Sensei: Yeah, the secret fidelity got me as well, right from the beginning. Earlier today, a short time ago, I was on Facebook—and [saw] this shared post from Bill Porter—Red Pine’s page of pictures taken of the Yellow River landscape covered with fog—that looked like the landscape paintings that are based upon those scenes. So one thing was, the fidelity between the landscapes honoring the painting that were honoring the landscape—that kind of thing happening. 

John: Nice, nice.

AP: There’s also one particular scene with those mountains, that are oblong and vertical and rounded. When I was a teenager, I had lots of little scrolls and Asian décor that I got from Pier One, because that’s primarily what they brought in. And one of the scrolls I had, had that scene on it—so there was that fidelity in my life, that thing happening.

That sweet, secret fidelity—I already touched into it earlier today, and that was really great. And the other thing is that I got an email at 10:30, 10:31 your time saying, “Here’s the link for today.” I was like “Oh, I didn’t register!” [laughs] I’ve been looking after my Zoom diet, and had other things coming up. I thought, “I’m not going to come today,” but when it came, those thoughts crossed my mind, but then I was like, “Well, I guess I’m coming today.” I checked in with Wendy, and here I am—so that kind of secret fidelity as well. So, thank you to the email Bodhisattva. [laughs]

John: Thanks to Corey Hitchcock! [laughs] Corey, do you have anything you want to say? Corey also teaches. Where are you?

Corey Hitchock, PZI Admin Ops and Interpreter of the Wild: [laughs] 

John: Yeah?

CH: I was just putting my finger up.

John: You have to say something, or it doesn’t work. [laughs] Was that it?

CH: [laughs] Yes, I think that’s it for today.

John: I never sat with him, but one Roshi used to put his thumb up [laughs]. He had a very long thumb. Okay, Jon Joseph.

Jon Joseph Roshi: Yeah, when you said “fidelity” it made me think of fidelity in music, which as far as I know, means “true transmission” of sound—the quality by which sound is transmitted. I’m just impressed with Judi, and how true his transmission is of the dharma in that way. And Yunmen, when he holds out his arms—how true that is. And Linji’s shout, how true that is. And how almost—in this physical world—that transmission goes on and on and on, from thing to thing. So that was my impression.

John: Thanks. Allison Atwill?

Allison Atwill Roshi: Yeah, you said something very early on today, where you said, “There’s a part of the mind that’s alert to dissatisfaction, and how we overrate the dissatisfaction”—and that really caught me. I was speaking to some friends yesterday, about my early retreats—my early sesshins—how I remember a couple of times, where that part of the mind that’s always looking for something that’s not right—either in the past or the present or the future—actually it’s not even about the past, present or future, it’s just about the dissatisfaction! And that in a couple of early retreats, that just wasn’t there. Suddenly it wasn’t there—the dissatisfaction—and a part of the mind missed it. [laughs] There’s a kind of fidelity to my unhappiness, which is very interesting to note. 

And there’s a kind of tipping point, where I just wasn’t interested in—maybe that’s when I began on the journey proper—is when my fidelity shifted, no longer towards my dissatisfaction, and towards the other experience of—it’s not even satisfaction, it’s no longer held in those two. It’s simply “not two.” [laughs] I guess, like that. Just entering the moment that I have now. So, yeah, that’s all I have to say.

John: Thanks, that’s great. We know when we’re here. We know when it’s alive, and we don’t have to convince ourselves or anyone else. I notice when I’m trying to convince somebody about something, I’m not quite on board. [laughs] “Not knowing” is really such a mysterious and beautiful thing. I’m not sure it’s going to turn out the way I say it will. That thing, about how we hold on to our dissatisfaction because it thickens the plot, I guess. Karma. [laughs] 

Another story I think of—this is a more recent Japanese story, about a couple of friends. One was a tremendous musician, a koto player, which is equivalent to a lute—a very complex, beautiful instrument. And the koto player had a friend, they were good friends, and they were kind of tight, and they lived in the same town. Whenever the koto player gave a concert, the friend would sit there on the stage, and not say anything. And people would ask, “What’s he doing there?” and he’d say, “Oh, he listens.” [laughs] And they wouldn’t believe that, so they’d go and ask the friend and say, “What are you doing there?” “Oh, I listen.” [laughs] So always, the friend would be there listening. And then, actually, the friend died—you know—they grew old, and the koto player was very successful, and the friend died. And the koto player was always very reluctant to play after that, without his friend listening.

That’s another story about the fidelity. It’s also a kind of game—the sense of play—not like a game in a shallow sense. A deep sense of play we have with the Universe, like, “somebody is listening to me.” And if you listen to someone, it allows them to play, and it’s a beautiful thing.

I want to read another poem, if I haven’t mislaid it—which is my custom. Oh, here we are, very good—I didn’t mislay it, how about that? I’m fascinated by that ancient saying about, “the fresh breeze that rises when the great burden is put down.” One of my friends drew my attention to this a couple months ago. It’s one of the great ancient masters, it seems like the whole of the teaching was there. 

This is Naomi Shihab Nye. All of her poems were about fidelity, I think, in some way. [reads]

“Walking Down Blanco Road at Midnight”

There is a folding into the self which occurs
when the lights are small on the horizon
and no light is shining into the face.

It happens in a quiet place.
It is a quiet unfolding,
like going to sleep in
the comfortable family home.
When everyone else goes to sleep
the house folds up
The windows shut their eyes.
If you are inside you are automatically folded.
If you are outside walking by the folded house
you feel so lonesome you think you are going crazy.

You are not going crazy.
You are beginning to fold up in your own single way.
You feel your edges move toward the center,
your heart like a folded blanket unfolding
and folding in with everything contained.
You feel like you do not need anyone to love you anymore
because you already feel everything.

You feel like you do not need anyone to love you anymore
because you already feel everything.
you feel it, you fold it, and for a while now,
it will quietly rest.

As in “Night on the Great River,” the vastness—the moon comes down and walks among us.

This is Bai Juyi, another great Chinese poet—”Flower no Flower.” [reads]

Flower no flower
mist no mist

arrives at midnight
and leaves at dawn

arrives like a spring dream – how many times
leaves like a morning cloud – nowhere to find

So, I’d like to sit a little bit more. Just feel it all, feel the time, feel your life, feel what you love, feel this. [laughs, rings bell]

Feel it. The sound of the bell, the color of the bell. [rings bell]

It’s the sound, pure sound. And the burden being put down as the bell fades. [rings bell] When we put down the burden, [rings bell] it’s not just that we have a secret faithfulness, but things have a secret faithfulness to us, and people, too. The children, and those we love. And those who don’t like us, and we don’t like—still, we are faithful to all of them. [rings bell]

Say a word. And he could not, and she left—True World left. And whirled out like a spring breeze. And then you think you must change your life, “I must change my life,” and you start packing, but you fall asleep over your luggage and you dream. You change your life by staying and going deeper. Then Heavenly Dragon arrives, and you tell a story, “I did not know what to say,” and then Heavenly Dragon holds up a finger. And the burden is put down. Everything in your life has brought you to this moment. And what is this moment? This. One finger. This. 

Being patient with this life, being patient with this. There’s no point hurrying this, because you’re just in another this. [laughs]

Jordan McConnell, musician: [plays guitar]

John: Just this, right here. Just this. No other. [rings bell]

The secret fidelity. [reads]

In this life of neglect,
is there anything desired by
those that have never understood
how all things support, answer and attract
each other in an infinite exchange

Since childhood, however,
I have admired how,
in this open world,
no sustained glance, no smile, not one tenderness is lost. 

All comes back to us, if it hasn’t stopped,
each heart according to its own rhythm,
will run the whole course,
the complete tender round of its secret fidelity

So, there we have it, eh? I’m about to go into The Four Vows but I wanted to ask somebody else if she had anything else to say, which is Michelle Riddle. Ah, here she is.

Michelle Riddle Roshi: I briefly lost all the Zoom screen, and it all just disappeared. [laughs]

John: That’s good, good for you. [laughs]

MR: I don’t have a lot to say. I think it’s been a lovely program, but the thing that kept coming up for me, is just how everything is helping, and everything is teaching. And in the story about True World and Heavenly Dragon and the dream, it wasn’t like one thing or one person—there was the one finger, but there’s the one and there’s the everything. And Sarah’s mentioning the “preaching of non-sentient beings” fell right into that, and what Andrew was saying about his childhood pictures, and the pictures he saw today, and all of those things working on us all the time. So I was feeling that a lot. 

John: Excellent, thank you! [laughs] Okay, then. Let’s—Jordan and Amaryllis, do you want to launch into the vows and then I’ll say “this much” at the end. 

SB: It will work better if I unmute. [rings bell, sings] “The Four Boundless Vows”

Amaryllis Fletcher, PZI Cantor: [plays violin], SB: [sings]

I vow to wake with the beings of the world
I vow to set endless heartache to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way

AF: [plays violin], JM: [plays guitar and sings]

I vow to wake with all beings of the world
I vow to set endless heartache to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way

AF: [plays violin], MR: [sings]

I vow to wake with all beings of the world
I vow to set endless heartache to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way

[AF plays violin]

John: Wow. [laughs] Awesome. Thank you. And there’s something about—that’s what it is, isn’t it? Hearing each note, each voice. It goes right through us. Thank you, musicians, very much—and thank you, everybody else who spoke, and everyone else for turning up. If you want to contribute, go online—“”—and give us money! Or if you have suggestions, write to us. My name, “johntarrant” at will get me. Tell us what you like, what’s working, what suggestions you have. I feel like we’re all participating in this experiment together, and I’m grateful to you for that. It’s sort of a nice thing, sort of heart-touching—music, and meditation, poetry. Awesome possum. Cool. [laughs] 

So, thank you and what else? I just want to say thanks, I guess. Oh, and also—some of the teachers who spoke today are also doing meditation. Every day of the week we have something, except Saturday when we do training for leaders. But thank you, it’s a wonderful thing to do this together. So, you want more meditation? Come onto some of the other teacher’s events, and that will be wonderful. And thanks very much. [laughs] Thank you, Jordan and Amaryllis. Awesome. [laughs] Sarah and Michelle. 

Okay, bye bye! All my friends in far places, it’s nice to see your faces.