White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 133: Praising the Virtues of the Buddhas

Dharma Talk Presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko o-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 19th, 2012

[sound of an airplane is heard from outside] 

So you've notice perhaps attention moving to the sound of the airplane...
no problem!

Feel the breath,

sit up straight, 
practise that moment of noticing clearly a dharma,
or moment of experience. 

As long as the breath is moving in and out and,

importantly,

in again... 

you're alive! 

The bodymind is alive and you can practise. 

It's spring right now and all sorts of things are coming alive after being dormant.
There is all sorts of activity in the grounds.

We can hear the birds tweet tweet tweeting: 

"I'm a good catch, baby, I'm a good catch!
Come and look at my nest!
Look at how I can fly through this alley!" [laughter] 

All sorts of things going on. 

But there is also
throughout the world,

beings breathing out for the last time,

untold numbers

numberless as the sands of the River Ganges
are breathing their last breath,

releasing it into the air. 

Some quietly,

some not so quietly,
some peacefully,
some in great agony, 
some in palatial conditions and environments,

some in conditions and environments that would horrify us. 

So as it says on the han:

"the great matter is

birth and death,

life slips past and time is gone.
Right now, 
Wake up!
Wake up!
Do not waste time!" 

Today's verse in this Every Breath You Take series: 

Praising the virtues of the Buddhas,
"May all beings

Fulfill all the virtues

So continuously extolled." 

We'll try that one again: 

Praising the virtues of the Buddhas,

(and it's a plural, Buddhas)

"May all beings

Fulfill all the virtues

So continuously extolled." 

We can name three virtues,
three primary virtues of Buddhas, or Awakened Ones,
those who have woken up to the actual nature of experiencing:

prajna, karuna, and upaya. 

These work hand in hand and are the virtues of the activities of the bodhisattvas,
the Buddhas, who have all vowed to guide beings to liberation. 

Prajna is direct insight, wisdom, or perfect knowing.
Breaking the word down: "pra" means transcendent,
"jna" means knowing, 
transcendent knowing, 
knowing which encompasses everything.

In Zen this is often referred to as "awakening". 

Here, in our teachings at the White Wind Zen Community,
this is often translated as "radical insight"
or "perfect knowing"

because it is the direct experience of the Awakened Nature,

and it shatters the terms and reference points of self-image,
of that contraction into a sense of a self

with its belief about how the world is and how it is. 

Before those contractions into a sense of self—

and again, this is not, self-image is not referring to one thing,

it's not referring to a higher self, or a different self, or a evil twin self,
no it's just a phrase

just describing moments of experience

which are a contraction into a sense of a self

with a belief about how things are,

belief about how it is
and how the world is. 

And we do believe them 
until we see them

through the actual practice of sitting down in front of that wall,
learning to see the actual nature of experiencing,

learning to recognize that each moment of clear seeing

is a moment to practise, and,

as with anything,

as we practise, guess what? 

Hey, we get better at it,

bodymind gets better at that clear seeing. 

So we have prajna as a virtue of the Awakened Ones,

those who have woken up to the Actual Nature of Reality,

which is what we're teaching here,

the means,

the method, and

the monastery

so that you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and oh, not you.
[Sensei and students laugh loudly]
Just kidding! 

...can wake up yourself
and find that whatever you are doing is guided by the virtues of
prajna, karuna, and upaya. 

Now,

karuna:

compassion, active sympathy, gentle affection,

all actions that help to diminish the suffering of others,

and this is an outstanding quality of all bodhisattvas and Buddhas. 

Compassion extends itself without distinction to all sentient beings.

This is not about being compassionate to someone because they're your boss

and you'll get a little something out of it,
(there is another name, involving a colour for that type of... but we won't go there.) [laughter]
We definitely won't go there. 

All beings. 

And so that's birds.

We had a little bird that Ryoshin found in the basement of all things the other day,

and she picked it up, she brought it to me, we looked at it,
it seemed quite lively.

We put it in a box and got information and called the Wild Bird Centre,

and then it was taken out to the Wild Bird Centre and treated.

Unfortunately the little bird died because it had been internally wounded.
Maybe it had been bitten by something. 

But there was the little bird, so what's the other choice?

The choice is you can leave it there flopping around in the basement
so that its life is extended for perhaps a little while,
but it suffers, there is no question about it.

Birds, fish, cats, dogs, cows,

they suffer when they're injured,

they need to be taken care of. 

We have karuna which extends to all beings,

and often we have to make choices as to what we're going to do.

That can make life interesting, and there are all sorts of things,

as you progress through practice, as it were,

and as you enter into it more deeply, you have guidelines.

The precepts are templates or guides
that you can use to look at situations
as you decide what is the most appropriate action. 

With karuna, well, 
it must be accompanied by prajna, by wisdom, radical insight,
because if it's not, the quality can become merely a feeling tone.

We can be very sympathetic, passive about how we are in situations.
We can feel pity,

which is not pleasant no matter which side of that you're on,

and it is disabling,

it is not compassionate. 

So, karuna and prajna, principle virtues.

We hear this "continuously extolled" in many different ways in the teisho, in Dharma Talks,
in things that we read, texts that we read,
so these virtues are continuously presented.

They're not virtues in the sense that you put them on like little brownie badges,
"Rescued a bird? Here you are, here's your Bird Rescue Compassionate Being badge,
and when you get six, you get a free trip to the movies." 

Doesn't work like that. 

But karuna with prajna can help each and every one of us
make better choices about the actions that we take in situations.

Often situations occur very quickly,

so as you become more and more steeped in practice, 
as you read and study and involve yourself in conversations

and questions

and answers about practice,

it starts to permeate every aspect of your experiencing. 

So we have karuna, we have prajna,
and there is always something going on that has to be dealt with.

What do we need?

Upaya: skillful means and methods. 

This requires prajna to have the wisdom of adapting action to circumstance, and

this is according to the four aspects of

person, place, appropriateness, and amount. 

Like anything, this is something that is learned through the doing of it.
You can't really write down in your little book everything

that you're supposed to do in every situation because

you will recognize that what you are doing 
is trying to institutionalize life.

That's not useful to anybody.

That is self-image acting out its usual stuff. 

It doesn't want to make a mistake.
Self-image never wants to make a mistake and when it does,

when something happens

it does its very best to point its fingers

at anything around

other than itself. 

So it's a blamer. 

Person, place, appropriateness, and amount.

Upaya: the ability of a bodhisattva or a Buddha to guide beings to liberation 
through skillful means,

and this involves all possible methods from

straightforward talk

to pointing

to perhaps in some circumstances raising the voice,

perhaps yelling,

whatever is necessary

to present the Teachings. 

Now, the historical Buddha, it is said,
made great use of upaya,
adapting what was said or done, how it was presented,
to those whom were being presented with the Teachings.
Those of you who have chanted The Vow of Samantabhadra
at the close of every day of a sesshin or O-sesshin
will have noticed of course that many of the verses say quite explicitly,
once you understand the code,
that this is what is being talked about. 

In the languages of shining beings and naga dragons,

of demons and of humans,

whatever form of communication there are amongst all beings,
in all of these may I unfold the Teachings of Reality. 

Now this is interesting because we start to find,

as we notice what's going on around us,

the closer we come to the Teachings 24/7,

that there are many ways of teaching beings being presented.

A Teacher may ask us to do something, 
and self-image will look at its little social calendar and say
"well I really want to do this thing..." 

It takes a while—

and I'm saying this from my own experience, okay?

I'm not pointing my fingers at anyone in this room, okay? —
it takes a while to recognize
that the Teacher is asking you to do something for a reason,
which may not be apparent to you in the moment.

And why is that?

Because you're being invited into,

as it were,

the mind or the space of the Teacher,

but that is not yet your space.

Not that anyone can claim it as such. 

Sometimes the Teacher will ask us to do things
that we may not understand the full ramifications of,
and we may resist,
self-image may come up with all sorts of reasons why
this is not a good thing and say insanely stupid things like:
"but what if you asked me to kill somebody?"
Well that's just argumentative and it's not surprising that a Teacher might look at you and say: 

"Tsk tsk tsk. Poor thing." or
"Are you crazy? What do you think you're doing?"
or, quite simply:
"well, if it were me being asked to kill somebody by the Teacher, I think I would call the police!" 

So we sometimes can involve ourselves,
self-image can get itself involved to the point where it might lose any sort of rational thought.
But these things can all be quite amusing

and can go down in the history of practice, 

who knows,

maybe showing up one day as a koan. 

Another verse from The Vow of Samantabhadra: 

As I move through all realms of Being,

may I learn inexhaustible virtue and intelligence,

may I be an unending treasury of radical insight and skillful means,
of the harmonies and of freedom. 

So once again, we're reminded,
each time we chant that verse or come across it,
or read it just for fun, what's going on. 

Another one: 

May I always understand the pure speech of the Outshining Ones,
and how they adapt the Teachings of Truth

to what seems to be true to the various being,

and so in a single sound set forth an ocean of tones. 

So taking the Teachings of Truth, reconfiguring it in a way

by whatever means possible,

to reach the intended student or recipient. 

So this, we can see again how flexible the Teachings actually are,
and how self-image wants to get in there

and freeze that flexibility.

And that's okay, that's just a pattern. 

When you see it: 

feel the breath

feel the whole bodymind
actually practise. 

So there is a constant rhythm and flow, rhythm and flow,

constant questioning,

constant observing, 
and this is not an effort, it's just how things are. 

You're alive in the moment.

You have eyes and ears and a mouth to speak,
you're breathing in and out,

you can practise. 

Through the power of completely pure Richness,
the force of unobstructed Knowing,

the power of insight, skillful means, and of practice,
may all the forces of Awakening gather. 

So again, an expression of how things are
a recognition of the power of insight, prajna,

the power of upaya, 
skillful means,

the power of compassion,

together are the forces of Awakening. 

And that's what you're practising,

each time you notice anything whatsoever about your experiencing,

and practise that moment. 

The verse again: 

Praising the virtues of the Buddhas,
"May all beings

Fulfill all the virtues

So continuously extolled." 

So go for it!

Here you are, have fun! 

Thank you for listening.