Recorded talks from the New Year and Zazenkai – Queens Birthday Sesshin Teisho coming soon…
New Year Talk – I’m not ready – Benevolence itself
Zazenkai Talk – Form that is no Form; Thought that is no Thought
Zazenkai talk August 2018
Here we are sitting zazen, not doing something. Letting breath be breath.Zazen although not something to create struggle over, still, isn’t easy.
We give up our habit of being somebody, of being a me, and exchange that positioning for a single breath. We exchange our sense of me for the quiet of the room; for the Tui’s song; the feeling of sore legs.
We take up the way of allowing what is to step forth, regardless of form, shape, colour, sensation and indeed our feeling about it and our opinion about that! We learn to trust not having to insert ourselves into the picture of perception.
When we sit with the breath, this single current breath is all. We allow the full compass of this breath, its live habitation as this very body. Taste the breath in its presence and flow as it arises in its full cycle of uniqueness.
The swell of the breath in, the non movement as the body transitions toward release, the ease of the breath escaping, the so soft urge to move to draw in. The unique movements of body expressing as breath.
When we have honed the meditative skills of being able to have attention remain on a single matter, through this sustained attention we unite with breath, we become intimate with breath having left ourselves aside. In this way we practice beneath the level of our overt concerns about ourselves and find a place of rest, of openness, of easeful arising with no need to be.
At first when we practice, and through the busyness of life, this territory can seem very far off, or indeed entirely cut off from us by our swiftly rejuvenating self concerns. After all that’s how we ensure our sense of self continuity. But with faithful practice this eases and we ease. Breath breathes, body accommodates air, we find our place with and as all things as they are.
Without Zen practice this is territory is hard to even imagine, particularly as such imagining still centers on self concern. Thus already when we set about imagining these things the image is all set wrong.
Practice brings personal experience beyond thought, beyond conjecture, beyond hope even. We simply cede to this current breath, to what steps forth as the immediate, this immediate expression of the current.
We form ourselves, as we must do in order to be viable social creatures. We must form ourselves in order to represent ourselves to others as well as our self. No one else forms the ‘me’ of myself. This is of our making through self-narration, relating to the locus of experience to this one here, to give ourselves a point of reference in our experience even our thinking. It allows us a shortcut to append whole processes of perception and orientation that occur to this me, with the outcome that we don’t have to repeat these processes every time we encounter a situation, we not only remember the outcome of how it was last time, but critically we relate it to ourselves and so we know what to do for ourselves rather than have it as some academic conjecture.
However, because we form ourselves we are also quite deluded about ourselves too. We form ourselves and then rightfully attached to this sense of self and its fictional territory of me. And this is entirely natural. As social creatures we need to be able to form ourselves to be someone, to present as someone. If we are not someone in this sense, an identifiable person, how could we live as social beings? Without created self this simply couldn’t happen at all.
Even animals (including you and me) have self, but depending on the animal it can be more or less developed. We have developed self along with other tools of intelligence to such a degree that we are also self referential and even self-conjectural, for example this very talk.
We use many tools an events to form ourselves and to continue to refine this self we form. We use identity, how we know about our individual arising; we use personality and its continuance, to reassure our own self continuity; we use memory and narration to recount who we are and to shore up the story our life and life experience.
We use sovereign events to hold to being a self; thinking, body, mood; things which we are solely privy to as individuals. All of this is like a constellation of events that dance around a central core, a core which is entirely empty; empty of anyone at all. It is this space into which we plant the ‘me’ of my self. After all who is it that experiences these matters, who is listening to this talk? Not someone else, so it must be me. We assume ourselves into being.
There is no other option here, no other punter in view, no other to clearly locate experience to. There is nothing that is solid and enduring and singularly isolate that can be subject to this experience; that we can say is having the experience of listening, or reading. I wonder why that is?
So naturally experience is allowed to be appropriated by this sense of self, the closest element to be found to stand in for me myself. This sense of self becomes a matter to continuously uphold, after all nothing else creates it but our referral and relating to it as if it is the real solid perpetuating me.
We reflexively refer to ourselves and relate to ourselves for the very purpose of maintaining a relatable image at the center of the constellation of events. An impression to make sense of experience as me experiencing. But with practice another option that is not either me nor sense of self can arise as vast as the constellation of experience itself.
As Dogen says, ‘When the self advances and confirms the ten thousand things that is delusion. When the ten thousand things advance and confirm themselves, this is realization.’
Before this matter arises personally though, we suffer the repercussions of creating and forming our selves where there is only space in the center of everything being in flow. We have self doubt, we sabotage ourselves, we hurt others, we withdraw our interest for others and our self. We even withdraw our care for ourselves and those around us; we worry about how others see us, and what will happen in the future. We try to manipulate others so we feel safe, or acknowledged, or superior or even inferior. It seems our lot to bear these things, and here we are, just trying to get by as best we can. The troubles we suffer through come from being required to maintain being someone when fundamentally there is no me to exist as the center to our life, and never has been.
Denying or trying to cut off from our self doubt, our failings our manipulations is to keep them close but unseen. Better to let them be as they are, and include them as the experience of this one here, so we can make better use of the opportunity and gift of life, whatever this is. In practice we let the difficulty be what is it, and not what we imagine it to be. When we look at pain and suffering, the real difficulty often turns out to be not what we are dealing with but the fears around it, the ‘what ifs’ of our imagination no matter how well informed. In such speculations and attempts to preempt the future we at least have ourselves, yes? Well that is exactly what such speculation is seeking to shore up in the face of a whole universe constantly pointing out that this isn’t so. And we are very very good at it.
Our full range of responses to this very upside down and unexpected situation that we inherit as life, our life, come at a cost. The cost is that we use our generated self to attach to and thus secure for ourselves a sense of separation from the world, others, and even ourselves, that assures us that we are the self that we uphold for all, including ourselves, to see.
So my point is that this is a conundrum, an upside down situation were in order to be we betray our birthright of inherent clarity and this cannot be fixed or resolved through thinking or re arranging perception, but through practice. My point is to assure you that you are doing fine, even as it doesn’t feel like it. This is a ridiculous situation…
You are truly alright as you are and with all your life’s difficulties are perfectly formed for practicing the Zen way, as you. Only as you can you find the treasure of the mystery of this one here, the one that sees and hears, with nothing but the revolving constellation of the current to show for it.
© Glenn Wallis 2018