White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Wherever You Stand 17: Yoka daishi's (Yongjia) Shodoka: Song of Liberation part 6

by Ven. Shikai Zuiko o-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 18th, 2013

So this bright, very sunny, bird-filled morning,
we will continue looking into
this treasure box written by Yoka daishi,
the "Shodoka: Song of Liberation"
"The Song of Freedom".

Previously on "Wherever You Stand"
we have looked at
the six senses,
the five kinds of vision,
the five strengths or powers,
and been assured that following this ancient Way,
bones hardened,
no one will notice you."

But of course that's not what self-image wants,
is it?
It wants to be noticed,
to be praised,
to be the best,
to be the worst,
to be perfect,
to be the only one who never makes mistakes,
but I guess that doesn't sound familiar to you...
[laughter from students and the Sensei]

Ok now...

Back to the "Shodoka":

The poverty of a child of the Buddha is obvious,
but this poverty doesn't include her Zen.

Patched robes show one's poverty
but the mind of Zen is beyond all value.

So look around you,
look at the monks.

Now, we're not necessarily mendicants,
we don't go with our big begging bowl to the neighbours
and beg for some rice,
or whatever it is they're having to eat,
a Harvey's burger, [laughter]
slice of pizza...
(but I have noticed in this neighbourhood there is a lot of food lying around on the street...)

So, look around,
it's too cold, for example,
for us to be mendicants,
it's too cold
for us to be wandering around
most of the year,
except for those three or four months that we've just entered into.

So everything that we have has been given to the Dharma.
That's just a fact.
Crazy as it might sound,
that's what has happened,
so we can't say we're poor
because we're practising.

We notice that words lose their meaning,
descriptions lose their meaning,
there just is what is,
but the mind of Zen,
the mind of practice
is priceless,
it can't be bought or sold.

You sit and you sit
and you sit...
You wear out zafus
grinding away at those patterns
and then one day
you recognize fully and completely,
and for all the time,
that there is only this vast spaciousness,
there is only the spaciousness of Reality.

So throw all your crap into that, okay?
While you're sitting here
you notice a pattern,
feel the breath,
feel the whole bodymind,
get rid of it,
you don't need it.


This priceless jewel can be used without hesitation
in caring for beings and ripening potentials.

So what happens with this priceless jewel
that at a certain point
people such as all the individuals in the Lineage,
including Yoka daishi,
each and every one of the Lineage Ancestors
have used the meat
the bones
the marrow
the blood
the breathing in and out
to teach whoever shows up
and wants to be taught
tries their very best to follow the instructions,
maybe impeded by obstructions of patterns,
but then they show up again
sometimes not knowing why they're actually showing up again...
and self-image going: "No! No!"

It's a good audience this morning!

So people show up
and we do our best to pass on
what's been given to us
the priceless jewel of the Dharma.

The vow is to practise and teach beyond convenience.

Anyone who shows up,
as long as they answer yes to the first question
after an introductory workshop which is:

"Did you sit?"

And that's one of those questions that's either

yes or no.

[more laughter]

There is no wiggle room.

The three facets of Experiencing and four wisdoms are complete
in this treasure;
the six subtle perceptions and eight liberations are marks
from this seal.

So this is a drawer in that treasure chest or box that
as soon as it's pulled open
releases all sorts of information
that's been packed in there,
and it releases it like an over-packed suitcase,
or even a drawer
when it's pulled open and the garments within want to spring loose.

"The three faces of Experiencing"...
now, hmm...
There are a lot of threes...
Could it be Buddha, Dharma, Sangha?

Could it be past, present, and future that's being referred to?

No, actually it's the Trikaya in Sanskrit,
the three bodies,
the three facets of Experiencing.

You've heard these words before:
the Dharmakaya,
it's described variously as "the truth body"
as "one's mind"
as "Reality"
and "The Total Field"
as "Awareness itself".

It knows no limits and it embodies Awake Awareness.

So one who has completely and truly woken up
oh, what...?
there are no limitations
living as Awake Awareness,
a Buddha.

The Sambhogakaya.
Some describe this as being mental powers,
some describe it as the ability to communicate,
some say "the body of enjoyment",
so there's an interaction between bodymind and world,
world and bodymind.

This is the aspect of a Buddha,
according to some,
that one meets in visions and deep meditation.

So here we start to be maybe a little off...

But since these are descriptions,
they are as Lin-ji said in "The Zen Teachings of Rinzai":
they're not to be taken as absolutes...

The scholars of sutras and treatises take the Three Bodies as absolutes. As I see it, this is not so. These Three Bodies are merely names or props.

So what they are according to me...
they point to the
process of practice.

There's the Nirmanakaya,
the physical body of the Buddha,
or a Buddha,
one who has woken up.

The Nirmanakaya, the Sambhogakaya, the Dharmakaya,
and there is lots of information available
if you care to read more on these topics.

Then we get into "the four wisdoms".

The Theravadin School say this refers to the realization of the Four Noble Truths.
The Yogacharya School of Mahayana Buddhism says that
bodhisattvas strive to attain the four wisdoms in order to save sentient beings.

That's the job:
"All beings without number, I vow to liberate".

And the four wisdoms are:
.the great perfect mirror wisdom: the ability to see Reality, to see all things as they actually are.

.the universal nature wisdom: the ability to see that all things are undifferentiated and equal, leading to the compassion of a bodhisattva—

and remember,
the process of being a human being is the same for all human beings.
The process of being a being is the same for all beings,
beings are born, they live, they die.
The process is the same.

The third:
.the ability to see and evaluate the needs of beings, of all sentient beings.
And out of this comes the ability to teach the Dharma as appropriate with upaya or skillful means. It means appropriate to person, place, appropriateness, and amount.

Number four:
.the perfection of action wisdom: the ability of a Buddha, one who has woken up, to take on any physical form necessary to instruct sentient beings.

"Well what would I like to be?"

Now here we get into storytelling territory. However, perhaps what is being spoken of, perhaps what really happened and perhaps what was noticed was that Teachers like Bodhidharma and Huike travelled around, eyes glaring, raggedy robes, hanging out in various places, including taverns, brothels, palaces...
So this ability to be present and do what needs to be done in circumstances that were not one type, speaks of an ability to take on different physical forms.

So in a way, we can say we all do it to a greater or lesser degree,
we go here, we come here, and we have on the clothing of a Zen student.
We may go to work dressed differently,
but there really is no difference in the individual.
How they are perceived by those around is what differs.

Since the perception is there of those around us,
there is no need for us to go to the effort to pretend
to be anything other than what we actually are.

That's a great freedom,
we don't have to dance,
we don't have to let those little puppet strings
move our mouth and our arms and legs
in ways that we figure are appropriate for the situation we're in...

Let the others do the job
of seeing you however they want to,
there's nothing you can do about that,
and we've all
—or maybe we haven't all
—we may have been surprised at times
to have people tell us things about ourselves
that don't resonate at all with us,

but it's their view,
and it's as if they're talking about an entirely different person,
which of course
they are!

It has nothing to do with you!
It's all about them.

So perhaps this ability to take on any physical form,
perhaps this description of the perfection of action wisdom
perhaps the stories that grew out of that
stem from situations where people did things differently.

Next we have the "six subtle perceptions".

Uh huh.

"Attributed to a person at the level of an arhat".

First one: clairvoyance.

Oh yeah, we can jones a little bit after that...

What is it?
It's clear seeing,
that's what it is:
clear seeing.
And we may think:
"Okay, I can clearly see what's going on around me..."

Bear with me,
close your eyes for a moment,
get a picture of the front hallway...
of the monastery...

What do you see?

Take a second or so,
and after the sitting,
go down and compare what you remember
with what's actually there.

When we are wrapped up
in the stories of self-image,
the ability to see clearly what's going on
can escape us.

We've all had experiences of that type of thing,
ending up in the wrong place,
wondering why we're in the Zendo
doing kinhin,
and there's no one else there...

Things like this can happen.

.clear seeing,
seeing clearly,

hearing clearly.

Now this one is a big one, really,
we all think we hear clearly,
unless we think we're losing our hearing,
but think about how many times
each one of us has misunderstood instructions we were given about something.


Well, we weren't listening...
That's why!
Listening is a skill.

We may be standing there in front of whoever is talking to us
and we might to the unskilled eye appear to be listening
but if the top of your head were lifted off,
there would be a whole other conversation going on.

So the ability to hear clearly
is one that is cultivated and polished
quite effortlessly
as you're practising with those thoughts,
those habits
of paying attention to self-image
and what it is saying
rather than listening to what's actually going on
in the environment.

Then we have number three:

Well, I'm not sure exactly what is meant by this one,
because it's slippery...

It could mean making better choices
because you have more information available
and so it can appear to others
that you might have some sort of
"sixth sense",
or "seventh sense" I should say
because there are six subtle perceptions.

That you have something
is totally ridiculous
because nothing is "extra-sensory",
anything we perceive is perceived
with the senses.

It's a no-brainer.

It could be
knowing where to find things.

It could be
able to have a grasp of a political situation
and make a comment that actually happens to come true...

It's one of those areas that
as I said
is actually very slippery.

"Super feeling"

And we've all noticed that,
we've all noticed that as we practise,
and as our habits and tendencies get worn out,
we start to notice that we can actually
feel someone moving by,
we can actually feel
the air on our face,
we actually feel
the feet on the floor,
the clothes on the body,
we can actually start to feel
the difference in textures...

"Super taste"
Yes! We start to notice that we are actually eating,
we are able to taste more completely
the many subtle flavours that go into dishes.
This is just true,
and you've all experienced it.

"Super smell":
Same thing.
You start to know who's been in a room.
They're no longer there
but you know
because little molecules let you know.

So this all comes about through practice
and waking up to the Reality
of the experiencing of the bodymind.

But of course as soon as an individual hears

"I want it! And I want it now! I don't want to do any work for it...
I'd rather have an 'Iron Man' magic suit!"

Ka-dang! Ka-dang! Ka-dang! (evoking the "Iron Man" suit clanging onto our hero)

And then you could go off flying through the air
doing wondrous deeds...

So people really are very keen on wondrous deeds,
they want instant miracles.

There are folkloric tales about flying through the air,
being impervious to heat and cold,
changing size,
well we've all done that haven't we?

But from teeny weeny to giant...??

That would be fun,
to be weightless...

.getting anything you want...

.controlling others,
these are biggies...

they are very appealing to people;
getting everything you want,
and controlling others.

Now, vast industries have been built up
on selling the means that people can achieve these things.
Well, it just doesn't work.

That should be obvious,
and it is folklore.

That should be obvious as well.

Now, the "eight liberations"...

I'm going to quote from "The Eightfold Path" by Anzan roshi:

The Eightfold Path is often pictured as a wheel, the Dharmachakra, the Wheel of the Dharma with eight spokes. So the eight parts of this path are integral to each other but they don't exactly follow a developmental sequence. The eight parts of this path, the eight factors of this path are:

(—an aside from me:
I have chosen to leave out the Sanskrit and Japanese terms here...)

Number one:
complete view

Number two:
complete thought

Number three:
complete speech

Number four:
complete activity

Number five:
complete livelihood

Number six:
complete effort

Number seven:
complete mindfulness

Number eight:
complete practice.

Here, "complete" is how I prefer to translate this word "sama" which has also been translated as"right" or "true".

So Right View, Right Thought, Right speech.

But it is characteristic of our practice to realize that what is needed is not to be "right"
but to be "complete" and to look into how we might realize this completeness, this wholeness,
through seeing and developing insight into how we scatter and break this wholeness into fragments of hope and fear.

And so we say "complete", which means, unbiased, thorough, whole.

I encourage you
to go to the website
and read "The Eightfold Path" part 1,
"Complete View"
by Anzan Hoshin roshi,
it was presented at Daijozan February 27th, 1989.
I think you will enjoy it,
and I think you will be quite amazed by how much you understand,
and how much you have learned over the time that you've been practising.

Back to the verse:

Excellent students go right to the source.
Fair and poor are hesitant to reveal
and give up their soiled veils,
and are proud of their external struggling.

The "fair and poor students" really are reluctant
to give up their veils...
the curtains,
the obscurations,
the strategies, and struggles, and patterns
and all that gets in the way of experiencing
the actual Nature of Experiencing.

There are stories about "free will",
there are stories about how
"everything's been okay for me up to now Jack
what are you talking about?"

There are stories about:
"There's nothing wrong with me!"
"Why are you saying this to me, I'm doing the form perfectly!"

And it goes on and on and on and on...

So we want to hold onto—
the "fair and poor students"
—onto these things,
rather than releasing them into the vast expanse!
Rather than actually practising when actually noticing them...

And an interesting thing is that, this is,
this struggle is often a source of pride!

And this has sort of gone into the general culture too,
this "struggle",
so we have "Boot Camp This.."
and "Boot Camp That..."

You know,
we're going to make is as
fucking difficult for you as we possibly can,
because that is our job!

The more you suffer,
the better it's going to be for you!!!!

Got it!!!!!!!!

Jeez, well,
this is NOT what Yoka daishi's talking about!
[lots of laughter!!]

And in fact,
it's exactly the opposite!

And again, I'll quote Anzan Hoshin:

It's interesting that Yoka daishi points out that complete practice, thorough and sincere practice, has nothing to do with having an attitude of "no pain no gain". I have heard these words used by some contemporary Teachers to describe the kind of practice that they teach as part of a "boot camp" style of Zen. We must be completely dedicated to our practice and to the Four Great Vows of the Bodhisattva if we are going to practise Zen, but this has nothing to do with gritting our teeth and bearing it, or counting up the hours of zazen, or the number of sesshin that we have sat, it has nothing to do with showing off our battle scars or with congratulating ourselves for being such heroes because we have survived training under Anzan roshi. It is true that facing ourselves as we are, without barriers and without convenience and without strategy is the most difficult thing that any of us has ever done. In fact, no one on the earth right now, and no one throughout all of the history of life on this planet, has ever done or will ever do anything more difficult than to take up the practice of Buddhadharma. But so what? What choice do we have if we want to realize our own limitless freedom as Buddha, beyond all the apparent arising of body and mind, self and other, time and space? What else is there to do?

There is only this moment,
this bodymind,
this breath...

I mean
this is it...


So practise any time you notice anything at all,
release anything that arises
into the spaciousness
of experiencing...

[loudly, forcefully:]
"Or we'll talk about it later!!!!"

Just joking...

Thank you for listening.