All Around, All at Once

Lotus Matrix Ocean of Worlds

All Around, All at Once Part 1

Presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge osho

Dainen-ji, August 25, 2018

If you were to take a moment to think about the last ten thoughts that you thought, could you even remember what they were with real accuracy? The last nine? The last three?

Most of your thoughts are just echoing back to yourself what you already know. For an extremely simple example, you hear the sound of a bird and you think "bird". You already knew it was a bird, before the word came up, and the word doesn't give you any more information about what that sound was. But you say it to yourself anyway, as though it were necessary, as though it actually means something about the experience of hearing the sound. You're no longer hearing the sound because you're listening to yourself talking to yourself about a bird that at this point exists only as an idea in your head. Or you hear someone cough and you think "I hope I don't get what he has". But you already know that, right? Let's say you're anxious about something. You might think something along the lines of "Oh I am so worried about so and so". But you already know that too, because before the words formed, there was a feeling of anxiety, which you then described to yourself in words.

How much of your intelligence is tied up in closed recursive loops like these? The "content" of the storylines, your thoughts and feelings about various topics you tie yourself in knots about, are always occurring within a larger context.

When you are sitting zazen, you can make the choice to open to the widest possible context, the open expanse of vast space, which not a place or a certain kind of space and definitely not a state of mind. It cannot be imagined or thought of or about. It is a coming and going of infinite ever-changing details, open to the ten directions. It has no edges or boundaries because it is your entire experience and of the Nature of Experiencing as Such. And even these are just the contents arising within various contexts which are all just contents within the ultimate context of Experiencing in itself. Even Suchness is just the radiance, the shining, of the luminosity of Awareness in itself.

Anzan Hoshin roshi provides a wonderful explanation of the necessity of opening around recursive loops in a series of classes he presented on the 8,000 Line Prajnaparamita sutra in 1991:


"Although we might name something, the name doesn't refer to anything and the name in its own nature is also empty. A way to understand this is, as I often say, you might look at the wall, you might look at someone; you might like them or dislike them. But who they are is completely apart from your liking and disliking them. It is just that, of course, their meaning for you is the fact that you like them or don't like them and so that is all that you see, that is all that you are open to, that is all that is going on. So that feeling tone and that texture become how you interpret your world to the point that when one is embedded within a texture, within a feeling tone and within a category and a thought, then there is very little room for anything else. Not only does that person only have meaning in terms of whether you like them or don't, you don't feel your feet, you are not aware of your breath; you don't really see the colours or hear the sounds. Everything becomes limited because you have taken this texture and used it as your standpoint, as your basis, as your perspective from which you will encounter experience at that moment. And since you are taking contraction as the basis for how you will experience your experience your experience is contracted.

Now, the thing is that although we might only be aware of someone in terms of whether we like them or whether we don't, that has nothing to do with who they are. That is simply our category for them and if we attend to what is going on at that time we will see that that feeling of hatred and loathing is very, very powerful, however, that is not who and what this person is. There is much more going on other than just this feeling. There is the person's eyes and the colour of their skin, the colour of their hair, the colour of the clothes that they are wearing, the look in their eyes, what they are saying. We start to get some sense that they stand outside of our world of thought. When we start to realize that, we start to have a little bit more room and so then we might be able to begin to experience more of our experience more fully and completely and so then the texture starts to break down a little bit. Now, just as the person stands independent of our feeling tone, our feeling tone and the person and the wall and the floor and the tree are all arising within experience. Each of these things are independent of each other and yet each of these are components of experience as a whole. Each of these are how experience is displaying itself. So in that way, each thing is what it is but it is also intimately a part of everything else because that which presents itself as the sound of a bird is the same thing that is presenting itself as the thought, as the colour, as the sound. That which is living each being is living all beings. Each being is all beings. The nature of each dharma interpenetrates every other dharma."

End quote.

Each thirty-minute round of zazen that you sit is a time-out from the usual mutterings of self-image. It's not a time to rearrange the twigs and sticks in the nest of old views. It's not a time to keep checking with yourself about what you think or feel about everything and everyone or your life as a whole.

Any thought that comes up should be used as a starting point from which to open all around and all at once. In practical terms that means that when you notice you are thinking about something, don't complete the sentence. Just drop it and come back to the breath at the diaphragm and tanden, the sensations of the rest of the bodymind sitting, the seeing and hearing. Open to the details of reality all around the thoughts.

There is no one doing the thinking. The thought is the display of the Luminosity of Knowing, just as a ripple on water is the display of water. From the point of view of the water there is no ripple, there is just water. Practise like water and as soon as you notice a ripple, come back to the Knowing in which they arise.

When you are sitting zazen, this moment can seem to be something to ignore and avoid in order to try to be somewhere and someone that is more fun, more interesting, more like what your stories tell you it should all be like.  But this place and moment is where and when your life is actually taking place. Practise this and let the understanding of it extend into the rest of your life because it is always true.

Thoughts and feelings bubble up out of the chemistry of bodymind all the time. But that does not mean that you should follow them or believe them and it certainly doesn't mean you should act on them. All states, all thoughts need to be opened to the context in which they are arising. If you're not doing that, anything can seem to be true, any conclusion justified.

When we open to the spaciousness of experiencing, there is a wholeness that we experience. And when we practise this enough, we also begin to recognize when we are sitting, but the rest of the time too, that the dulling down and narrowing of our perceptions has a texture to it, a quality of unwholesomeness that we can feel. There is a distinct difference between being contracted and allowing oneself to open to the spaciousness of experiencing. But as the Roshi often says, "If it is closed, open around it. If it is open, open further". This is because it isn't enough to open around thoughts and feelings and states.

This is not at all a matter of looking for a sense of equanimity about thoughts and feelings and states, a bit like 'being patient with yourself', not being bothered by thoughts and feelings and states. That can become our new identity. We are dealing with the thoughts, coping with them, taking up a stance about them. That is not the same thing as truly opening around them because it excludes them. It's like building a wall of attention between yourself and the thoughts and feelings and states. Your "mindfulness wall". That is not the same thing as fully penetrating them, seeing through them and beyond them and allowing the energy of the states to open into expansiveness.

As the Roshi says in "The Pathless Path":


"When the Perfection of patience devolves into a stance like this, the fine details of each dharma's arising, dwelling, and decaying are glossed over and obscured. There is only a state of calmness without insight, like a heavy rock pressing down weeds. If the rock moves, the weeds spring up again. Or, if the rock is simply kept there for a long time, then the weeds will die off, but the soil will also be barren of growth of any kind; it will be dead."

End Quote

So just let go in each moment of the inward turning loops of thoughts and feelings and imagery and open to the openness that is already all around. All at once.

All Around, All at Once Part 2: The Whole World is Already Ready

Presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge Osho-ajari

Dainen-ji, September 22, 2018

If you're not already feeling the breath and the body, why is that?  

Mindfulness is not a matter of making something happen. The sensations of the breath and body are already there because all of the nerve endings are already working. You don't make the sensations happen. The whole bodymind is alive with sensation moment after moment, so if you're not feeling the breath and the body what is it that you are doing instead? Whatever that is, stop it. Open all around it, all at once, all in the same breath.

As Anzan Hoshin roshi says, "The whole world is already ready."

Right now, are you feeling the breath at the diaphragm and tanden? Are you feeling your hands in the mudra, your legs and feet as well as the breath at the diaphragm and tanden? Are you feeling the sensations of the whole posture of zazen while simultaneously feeling the breath at the diaphragm and tanden? Are you opening to seeing and hearing as well as feeling the sensations of the whole bodymind, together with the sensations of the breath at the diaphragm and tanden and your hands in the mudra, together with the sensations of your legs and feet? 

If not, why not? What else are you doing? Are you thinking about your practice? If so, stop that and actually practice, by opening attention to the sensations. Begin with the sensations of the breath at the diaphragm and tanden and use that as a starting point to open all around, all at once. Are you talking to yourself about how you can't do this? If so, stop that, and come back to the sensations of the breath at the diaphragm and tanden. Anyone can do this. If you are breathing you can do this because the sensations of the breath are already there. You're not making them happen. You just need to allow attention to fall open to what is already going on. Allow yourself to experience the whole of your experiencing instead of bits and pieces of it, filtered through the contraction that is self-image. 

The habitual narrowing of attention on fragments of experiencing, on thoughts and feelings and storylines is very, very strong because that narrowing is what it has been doing all of your life. Narrowing and focusing is easier than questioning into what is actually taking place. And it's certainly easier than questioning how YOU are viewing things, let alone giving up the sense of certainty that contraction provides. 

You can see this so clearly when you start sitting zazen. You sit on your cushion and you start off with the best of intentions to be mindful and before you know it, attention does what attention usually does. It focuses on a thought and away you go for five minutes or ten minutes, propagating and contracting and the focus becomes so strong that you don't even know that you are sitting in a room. But that can only go on for so long and no matter how deeply enmeshed you become in the storyline, eventually you will find yourself back on the zafu in a room that has nothing to do with your storylines. It's a bit shocking at first to see how completely you can be fooled into thinking reality is a certain way only to have that completely fall apart. And there's that wall again, exactly where it was when you checked out five minutes ago. 

Students tend to alternate between narrowing and focusing attention into concentration states and spacing out. An example of a concentration state would be counting the breath or making up little lists of 'things to notice' - Telling yourself to "feel the breath, feel the mudra, feel the feet, open to seeing, open to hearing and watching and monitoring yourself mapping the bodymind and following the list. As though there were something that could roam around the bodymind flipping switches, twiddling dials, and making sensations happen. The antidote to this is to drop the list. There is no list. This is just part of the same habit you have of talking to yourself about everything. If you notice you are telling yourself "feel the breath", all you need to do is recognize that you are already feeling the breath, that attention was beginning to open to the sensations of the breath before the little voice came up that said "feel the breath". Attention is far more intelligent and expansive than the list-maker. The list-maker can't keep up with the myriad of details that attention can open to all at once, all in the same breath. The list-maker is a symptom of being too heavy-handed in your practice, too ponderous. Let attention be as light and quick as it actually is, able to open round and wide, able to attend to many details simultaneously.

And then there is the spacing out. Sometimes that is due to following thoughts and feelings and storylines quite aimlessly. And this is not as the Roshi would say, "sitting a round of zazen; it's just sitting around". And sometimes the spacing out can be the result of a deliberate effort to cultivate a state that is spaced out, as though that were some sort of goal.

For example, some people come to us saying that they are doing shikan-taza. They have read or heard Dogen zenji's phrase. Even the Japanese Soto Zen Church says that shikan-taza is sitting and just having faith that sitting is realization. But this usually means that they are just sitting around lost in their old nest of views, following the closed circles of self-concern as Dogen zenji warned against.

It would be nice if we could all sit "shikan-taza" or "just sitting", but this requires a LOT of sitting, a lot of practice both on and off the zafu. It requires practising the discipline of learning to open all around and all at once to what you are actually experiencing instead of following thoughts and feelings and storylines. I have a quote from Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi on this topic, taken from the teisho series  "The Person and World of Zazen, part one".

The Roshi says:

But there is a way of talking and thinking about zazen that I have seen some contemporary Soto Zen Buddhists do, especially in Soto Shumucho, in which zazen is treated as if it were a sacrament. It is an approach that says that "one moment of zazen is a moment of being Buddha" and so when one sits in zazen for that moment one is Buddha, regardless of what the bodymind is actually doing in the posture. For one thing, this can lead to a fixation on the posture, especially kekkafuza 結跏趺座 or sitting in full lotus, as if it were the only possible posture and that other than sitting in that posture, there is nothing else you need to do to be practising zazen. And if it doesn't feel like "you are Buddha" then you just do not understand the mysteries of zazen. It is like the Catholic Church's mystery of transubstantiation in which a piece of bread miraculously becomes the flesh of Jesus Christ. The fact that it is physically and in every way still a piece of bread and not human flesh, thankfully, is in that view actually the point. The confounding of rationality and making the leap of faith to believe that the bread is not bread is the point. And so when zazen is viewed in this way, it is not seen or understood as it is, as well.

It can look like zazen. Someone in black robes and a shaved head is sitting in perfect lotus posture facing the wall in a beautiful ancient hall surrounded by exquisite garan buildings on immaculate grounds with the song of a hototogisu wafting through the window from the surrounding bamboo forest. That looks exactly like zazen. What could look more like zazen? But if the person is just sitting around there thinking about breakfast or bukkake or even listening to the birdsong and is not open to whole bodily feeling and all of the other sounds, and the sensations of temperature and pressure, and fragrances and the play of light and colour on the wall and all of the other ten thousand dharmas that are straining to be experienced but are being shut away by that focus of attention, then it is not zazen. Not at all. Let alone shikan-taza and shinjin-datsaraku. It is just mild symptoms that are unrelated to the disease, whatever you might call it.

Zazen is not a sacrament to be received passively which sanctifies someone. It is a practice that is realized when it is actively engaged. This active engagement is releasing the someone and receiving the sacred totality of zazen through zazen with zazen. Then each moment is of equal merit if we allow them all to be equality without equal or mutodo 無等等 .

In our practice, we practise with our attention, with whole bodily sensation and with all of our sense fields. We practise in, as, and through the whole bodymind, opening all of the capacities of bodymind and the instructions for zazen are very clearly set forth by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi. 

But our practice is not limited to sitting in zazen. What we are really practising when we sit zazen is opening attention all around, all at once, into the vastness of open space. Zazen has no limits. True zazen is each moment in which we sit beyond limits and then stand and walk and talk without ceasing zazen. Vastness is never hidden away or roped off from ordinary life. Ordinary life is always already vast. And so we must practise "Gyoji" or "turning the wheel of continuous practice". Gyoji is all-embracing practice without any sense of distinction between formal and informal situations because wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you can make choices about how open or closed attention is. You can make the choice to live with intentionality or just allow yourself to be swept along by the currents of discursiveness and contraction. This is true when you are sitting zazen and it is true when you are doing absolutely anything else that you do. 

True practice is not creating or fabricating something new. It is stopping what you have been habitually doing, playing the role of the self you tell yourself, and have been told, you must be.

To practise more deeply, more sincerely, more openly, it is essential to practise the posture. First and foremost you are sitting and this is more important, more "real", and more revealing than any thought or feeling that might come up. This is what you are practising - the posture - because doing just that will show you what you need to see: how you drift, how you get lost in thought, so that you can stop doing that. Zazen exposes all of the ways in which you are not really doing zazen and so it exposes all of the ways in which you do not do all of the other things that you do. Nothing else will show you this as clearly as zazen will. The point of the posture is to sit in the reality of this moment. The posture points to the open space of reality all around and within and as the bodymind. So, feel the fingers and thumbs in the mudra, actually feel the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, the teeth lightly touching; feel the breath, the balance and alignment of the bodymind on the zafu and stay with that, moment after moment. Anything that pulls you away from attending to the posture is exactly what you need to release. Release it into the colours and forms and sounds and sensations and renew your effort to practise by opening all around it, all at once, again, and again, and again.

All Around, All at Once: Part 3: "Unfabricated"

Presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge Osho-ajari

Dainen-ji, November 17, 2017

Each moment unfolds as a display of richness, of colours and forms and sounds, as a myriad of sensations. Sincere practice is allowing the whole bodymind to live as the brightness of seeing, the depth of sound, as ever-changing sensations, as the Luminosity of experiencing as a whole. And when we allow ourselves to do even a measure of this, there is a quality of questioning, of interest, of intimacy with everything that is being experienced. But to do this requires that we choose to stop following the congealing of attention into fabrications that lead to further contraction and inevitably, suffering.

Anzan Hoshin roshi says, in the series of classes on "The 8000 Line Prajnaparamita sutra":

Fear is the underlying mechanism of self-image, the attempt to reify reality in the most basic kind of way by simply freezing it and contracting. And the conventions of consensual experience or the experience of those who are unlearned, those who have not studied their experience, those who have not heard the Dharma, who have not practiced it, those whose lives are based on the understanding of a culture which is itself founded on contraction, will allow themselves to fall into that fear and will allow themselves to be held back by that fear from their own freedom.

What this points to is that we must wordlessly examine absolutely everything, taking nothing for granted: not who we think we are, not our memories, not what we think the body is, not what we think the mind is, not what our tendencies and habits tell us to do, not what our anger or fear is telling us to do. Any state you experience, any stance, any structure of attention you experience is not necessary. They are all recoil. They are all self-inflicted damage.

As the Roshi explained in Class 4 of the series "The Development of Buddhist Psychology:

All conditioned existence gives rise to dukkha or unsatisfactoriness, suffering, contraction, confusion; that this suffering, this dukkha, is fueled by the mechanism of grasping, of trying to hold on to something when it cannot be held and by continually misunderstanding the nature of our experience.

"Dukkha" does not describe one particular kind of state and the "suffering" isn't necessarily traumatic or dramatic. I mention this because sometimes students will describe a particular kind of state, such as boredom, as dukkha. For example, a student might describe a state of sinking mind, of disinterest, when what they really mean is boredom, and boredom is the result of stupidity klesa. In other words, boredom is a way of experiencing that is poisoned by a flattening of attention that you are fabricating, following, propagating. It is a kind of pouting that one is not being entertained. It is not as dramatic as the tantrums of anger or grasping. But it is still a childish tactic.

But dukkha refers to all  states which are the result of conditioned experience, and all states create suffering, unsatisfactoriness and bondage.

The roots of the Pali word "dukkha" are "jur" and "kha." "Bad" and "space". The root metaphor behind this is the hole in a wheel through which the axle passes being blocked. So the word means obstructed space.

We need to learn that the space of who we are, which is present as seeing and hearing and just the fact of experience is already open. When you are in a state, you think you have no choice about that, but the truth of the matter is that you are not choosing. You are following compulsion. Choose to actually practise and open attention and the axle will turn freely.

It's easy to cultivate states when you are sitting - states of boredom, states of calm, states of quiet, states of euphoria, shiny, shiny states. But all of these are dead ends because whatever is experienced within the state can only be the product of the state. The context is narrowed to the kind of content that suits it. And this is why such states can seem so convincing, and so compelling. This is why you fixate on them. There is no one who is better at lying to you than you are, and the thing that's convinced by the lie is the same thing that's doing the lying. It's not magic once you understand how the trick works. The states define who and what is imagined as a self but is really just a process of obstruction and fabrication.

In Zen practice, however, what we are doing is attending openly, rather than fixating. You can't 'fix' a state from inside of a state. You have to open around it and release it first. Anything you experience when attention is arranged in a structure (a state) is going to be biased and therefore cannot be true. Seeing these structures and learning to attend to them more and more openly with the whole of your experience is part of the many truths that zazen reveals. In the Class Six Outline in the series, "The Development of Buddhist Psychology", the Roshi said,The Buddha has clearly seen that the root of dukkha was clinging to what  could not be clung to. This clinging was the result of conceiving of the impermanent and dynamic exertion of experience to be a collection of real and permanent objects and entities, believing that this clinging will bring pleasure and satisfaction whereas it results only in suffering and confusion, and that what is selfless and beyond the personal is self and personal. The succession of these moments of grasping and confusion he called "samsara", the "flow". He called the cessation of this useless struggle and strategic approach to experience "nibbana", the "blowing out". In many places throughout the early texts, we find the Buddha again and again asking students to give up their spiritual and secular strategies and just understand something so obvious that it is often missed.

This is why we ask students to sit according to a schedule, why the Roshi has said so often that "the schedule IS Buddha". The dreaded committed sittings and the schedule you have promised to follow is important because you have to make choices that go beyond compulsion in order to do it. It is something in your life that will insist that you go further than your habits and tendencies dictate and can invite you into the world of the Buddhas. The world of the Buddhas is unfabricated and unborn and you arrive there by releasing yourself into it.

We sit zazen and we do this practice because moment after moment, we do not understand. Any snippets of understanding that come and go are not enough. We cannot afford to entertain ourselves with our states, our thoughts, our interpretations, our fabrications. These are all part of how we misunderstand and will not help us to clarify our understanding. We cannot afford to be lazy. So this morning and throughout this Dharma Assembly, please make the effort to really practise the richness of colours and forms and sounds, the nuance of sensations. Allow the whole bodymind to live as the brightness of seeing, the depth of sound, as ever-changing sensations, and as the Luminosity of experiencing as a whole, by opening all around, all at once.