White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Wherever You Stand 25: Yoka daishi's (Yongjia) Shodoka: Song of Liberation part 14

by Ven. Shikai Zuiko o-sensei

Dainen-ji, August 10th, 2013

Previously "Wherever You Stand" looked at Chandrakirti's "Twenty Emptinesses",
that would be two Dharma Talks ago,
you remember that:
"Entrance to the Middle Way"
you remember:
"Emptiness of the Inner"
"Emptiness of the Outer"
"Emptiness of the Inner and Outer"
"Emptiness of Emptiness"
and so on...

Well, I'm raising this question again
so we can look at
how, in fact,
for Yoka daishi when he was writing the "Shodoka",
these occurrences were within living memory.

These Teachings were delivered roughly 63 years
before Yoka daishi was writing the "Shodoka".

Now, in 1950,
63 years ago from this year,
the first modern credit card was introduced,
there was the first organ transplant,
the first "Peanuts" cartoon strip,
the Korean War began,
Senator Joseph McCarthy began the Communist witch hunt in the US,
China invaded Tibet...

Now, even those of you who were not yet born at that time
have some knowledge, or hearsay knowledge,
or actual experience
from hearing these on the news
or from study of these events.

So of course we could call it "recent memory"
but given that human beings are essentially
the same
we can assume that Yoka daishi's knowledge
which had come down through the different experiences he had experienced
on his way to writing the "Shodoka"
that memory of events that occurred would be actually quite clear,
probably more clear than they may be for us
because there would not have been
the bombardment of information about events.

So previously also in the "Shodoka"
we met the girl of the dragon people
and the Buddha's half-brother...
How much is true?
Who knows?
How much is fabrication?
Who knows?
Because after all we all know that right in this present day
fabrication and distortion of the truth arises
under the most simple conditions.

That's just what people without integrity do.
Or maybe they have integrity
but perhaps they may have
oh, distorted that too,
so it becomes:

"I'm going to say what I think I want people to know..."

rather than an as honest as possible description of events.

But that's what we work with, isn't it?
In our practice?
We start to see our habits and patterns,
we notice them,
we remember to feel the breath
and to sit up straight,
we make effort and change things
that do not reflect well on our integrity.

So, a little refresher on Yoka daishi:

According to the "Jingde Chuandenglu, the Transmission of the Lamp",
he was born in 664 C.E.
left home at a young age to study the Tientai School's Teachings.

So we'll start with today's verses:

In my youth I collected knowledge,
reading the Discourses and commentaries.

Yoka daishi studied sutras or discourses
and their commentaries or shastras
and he apparently became adept
at understanding intricate systems of categorizations
and cross-referencing.

The next verse:

I fell into name and form, which makes as much sense
as trying to count the sands on the ocean floor.

And here a quote from research material provided by Anzan Hoshin roshi:

One day while reading a sutra, he (Yoka daishi) came upon a passage in which the Buddha spoke to his disciple Ananda, criticizing him as being someone who was only counting another's treasure. The words struck out at Yoka daishi and he felt the Buddha was criticizing him directly.

"What good is it to count and niggle over the fine details of the Teachings if one doesn't apply them?"

The next verse:

The Buddha was speaking about me when he said,
"What gain is there in counting another's treasure?"

What gain is there in counting another's treasure?
We're so used to,
social culture is so used to
defining itself
so used to hanging around with others it considers to be like-minded
so that it can reflect in their glory
or maybe be a quote on the back of their book.

We forget that no one else can do your practice for you.
No one else can breathe the breath that you're breathing right now for you.

You, the bodymind is breathing that breath.
That's a known.
You are the Knowing
that is why you can practise,

no one else can do that for you.

The Teachers,
the practice advisors,
oh they can do a little dance
a little song
a little soda down your pants...
they can do SOMETHING...

(Mary Tyler Moore, cultural reference)

...they can do all sorts of things to get your attention
to point to what you are doing
what you are seeing
to point to the patterns that attention will fall into...

but they cannot
do the practice for you.

Many times, I've wished that I could be like Tinkerbell
a little fairy with a wand,
I wish the Teaching stick could be a wand
and I could go around
or just sit there and shake it in front of people
and go "ting ting ting ting ting ting"
There! You've woken up!

That would be great.
Wouldn't that be great?
You can bet your ass that I'd be traveling around the world
to as many places as I possibly could go
to China where there are people right now eating puppies--
that's the least of the things that go on but I just happened to see a picture of some rescued dogs on their way to the slaughterhouse--
to Afghanistan where horrible things are happening,
to South Africa to stop the killing of endangered species
in hunts for pleasure.
I would wave that wand and people would go:
"Oh my goodness, oh my goodness!" rubbing their eyes
and changing their habitual patterns and behaviours immediately.

But guess what?
That is not going to happen.
It doesn't work like that.

The waking up of your Teachers
can only show you that it is possible
for YOU
to wake up
for YOU
to complete the Path

but YOU have to do it.

Everything about the environment of practice:
the grounds,
the cooking,
the art,
the poetry,
the Talks,
the chants,
the Teacher's gestures,
are all means to point out to YOU
your Awareness in this moment

and this moment

and THIS moment.


the Buddha's enlightenment
and the Transmission of the entire Lineage of Dharma Ancestors
is meaningless
unless you sit
and unless you realize your own
Actual Nature.

and that's a quote from Anzan roshi's research material.

Back to the verses,
Yoka daishi says:

I realized how for many years I had gone astray
and wandered lost.

Due to crooked inclinations and wrong views
the Thus Come's Direct Perfection is misunderstood.

Men of the Narrow Path practise without compassion,
worldly scholars have knowledge but no wisdom.

Foolish, with wrong interpretations,
they miss the pointing finger of the empty hand.

Now again, remember the transmission of information,
the passing on of information
through verse
through art
through storytelling.

Some 500 years later,
Dogen zenji,
when he returned from China
having studied and woken up with Tiantong Rujing
was asked what he had learned
and he said:

Ears over the shoulders, nose over the navel, empty hands.

He learned to sit zazen.

Without sitting zazen there is no practice.

Without following the instructions as to what to do
when you sit zazen,
there is no practice.

Yoka daishi,
500 years before Dogen zenji,
after understanding that he had, in his own words
"wandered lost"
devoted himself to shiguan or shikan
shamatha and vipasyana
developed by Zhiyi
who was alive from 538 to 597.

Shi or stopping
is the practice of developing concentration
to the point where all thoughts cease.
It's a state,
it's the creation of a state.
It may bring some relief as the flood of deluded thoughts and concepts ceases.

Guan or seeing or looking was the next phase,
seeing what arises and falls from the state produced by stopping.

Now I've talked about stopping and looking
in "The Tiny Book of Stopping and Looking".
It will take you about 15 minutes to read the whole thing,
so you might like it as a refresher.

I'm a very simple person,
it's a very simple little book
and you might find it useful.

Now Yoka daishi followed guidelines also
for retreats from the "Mahaparinirvana sutra"
and lived the solitary life of a hermit for many years,
trying to practise with what he knew
the practice that he would eventually come to practise.

When he wasn't doing that,
he traveled throughout the countryside,
practising at different monasteries,
listening to various contemporary Masters and Teachers.

During that time, the study of the Vimlikirti sutra
and contact with various Chan Masters
led him to take up zazen.

the practice you are being taught,
is not the cultivation of any state whatsoever,
it is the practice of direct insight
into the mind.

Anzan Hoshin roshi says:

Thoughts, conceptions, all mental and perceptual activity are not considered to be obstacles to be overcome but are simply released into the sheer act of sitting with the whole bodymind itself.

So that is what you do.

You sit.

When you notice anything
and that can be a tendency to want to sort things,
a tendency to want to argue with yourself
about what's going on,
a tendency to try and distance yourself
from the sensations of the bodymind,
ANY tendency,
that is noticed
that is known,
is a known,
a dharma,
a moment of experiencing
nothing outside of that...

you are the Knowing of those dharma
or knowns
or moments of experiencing.

At the moment of knowing,
of waking up to the Reality of the presencing of that known,

feel the breath
feel the whole bodymind
in the whole moment,

practise what has been taught.

Now here's an interesting thing,
there are lots of sutras,
there are lots of Teachings,
we're used to studying,
we're used to reading and memorizing
and coming up with arguments for and against,

that is not what this practice is.

This does not mean that you cannot read and study and ask questions,
but when you're sitting facing that wall
and there's an argument going on,
unless you're speaking it out loud,
in which case someone might come and ask you to
come with them outside the room
because obviously you might have--
how can we phrase it nicely?
Forgotten yourself...

If you're not doing it out loud,
you're doing it to yourself,
that's discursiveness:
a thought,
a response,
as soon as you notice it,

feel the breath
feel the whole bodymind
actually practise.

Here's a question for you:
did the Buddha study a lot of sutras about the Buddhadharma?
What do you think?

[STUDENT]: No, Sensei.

And why would that be?

[STUDENT]: There weren't any.

That's right! [laughter]

Right on! There weren't those sutras
because people started only about 200 years after the Buddha had died
to record what they thought might have been said.
So there could be gaps.

Keep the practice simple:
read and study according to your inclination
because it can be fun,
you can understand a lot of things,
but recognize:

without sitting zazen,
without feeling the breath and the bodymind,
without sitting up straight and opening the eye gaze,
all at once,
wherEVER you stand,
you're not practising,
you're fooling yourself.

Why do you want to do that?
Well, because you're used to it, that's why.
So that can be helpful to know.
There is no problem.

Keep it simple.

Have fun with it,
release yourself into the vast expanse.

Thank you for listening.