2008.02.10-serial.00229

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How are you doing? February, sunny day, Arbor Day. We're going to plant some trees today here at Green Goats. I feel pretty good today. I don't know what it is, and I feel happy actually to be here. I don't know, accurately or inaccurately, I feel like I'm among friends. This is a little bit of a surprise to me because yesterday I spent most of the day in a kind of terror, in the grip of terror. What will happen? What kind of humiliation will I suffer when I go to give a lecture at Green Goats? I decided to

[01:07]

come anyway. So, as I mentioned, today is Arbor Day here, and we've been having Arbor Day for many years, 20 years more? 30 years now. 30 years. So I was remembering a passage from Suzuki Roshi, one of his talks where he said, I am a tree, and each of you is a tree. You should stand up by yourself. When you stand up by yourself, we call that tree

[02:08]

a Buddha. In other words, when you practice Zazen meditation in its true sense, you are really Buddha. You are a tree, and you are Buddha. Buddha, tree, and you are many names for one Buddha. Of course, in another lecture he said, and there's no Buddha. But it will do for a word. You are Buddha. So when I come here, I believe this. When I'm not here, and I'm just imagining being here, then I don't remember that you're all Buddhas. So I worry

[03:15]

about not being good enough. I started going to see a chiropractor recently in Mill Valley. She has many little signs and aphorisms around the office, so we were talking about some of them. And she said that years ago, she had done many workshops with Stephen Levine. Some of you may have done workshops with Stephen Levine. He and his wife, Andrea, did many workshops for a while in a lot of places. And I actually have been to them. We probably have been to the same workshops and didn't meet each other. Stephen Levine studied Vipassana meditation and also had an Indian guru. I don't remember, but I wish I could have conversations with Suzuki Rishi in the afterlife. I don't know. I'm not good at that sort of thing. Anyway, we were talking, and my

[04:20]

chiropractor, Nancy, said her favorite Stephen Levine quote was when he said, if we each told each other our deepest, darkest secrets, we would laugh uproariously at our lack of originality. So I think it's pretty common to, as I do sometimes, worry about not being good enough and not being able to get up here. Now that I'm up here, it seems like my mouth is working and words are coming out. But the day before, I'm up here and no words are coming out. I've forgotten what words are. And I go to use my mouth and nothing comes out. And so I start to worry, you know, people will say, loser,

[05:23]

incompetent. We heard you were actually funny. And now you can't even say anything. And that's not very humorous. And you know, that if I have a poem, I won't be able to remember the words. So sometimes, you know, just in case, I bring them. In case I get up here and I can't remember. And then that would be very embarrassing. Actually, I'd have to use my notes. Excuse me. And then I'd have to get out my glasses. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad. Maybe a little later in my talk, I'll try it. So one kind of, you know, shame I have, possible shame is, you know, incompetent, loser. And then another one is, you know, to say something then be attacked. How could you say such a thing? That was so hurtful. That was so mean. And

[06:38]

nowadays, you know, you never quite know what's going to be hurtful or mean. We all apparently need a lot of, you know, politically correct languaging skills. So, you know, there's another possibility. And then, you know, I worry about not being Zen enough for you, of course. Some people, you know, some critics saw the movie I'm in, and that said, Edward S.B. Brown is moderately enlightening. There's nothing profound in this movie. Why don't you watch MTV or the Cooking Channel if you want to know anything? So in my world, you know, I have certain kinds of things I rely on or come back to, you know, and one of them is, well, all I can do is, you know, what I can do is

[07:40]

offer what I have to offer. I think this is also what trees do, you know, offer what they have to offer, share what they have to share. And, you know, Dogen Zenji quotes a line from an old poem, you know, the plum tree, the old plum tree blossoming is its offering. I didn't notice, is the plum tree blossoming? It's starting over here between, behind the office over towards the dining room there, there's an old plum tree that usually blossoms about this time of year with this, the warm time in February. Offer what you have to offer and, you know, it's pretty, you know, this is very simple and also it's

[08:41]

very challenging for us, you know, it's also to, you know, share what we have to share. And it's difficult, I find, in our modern world, you know, to do this. Oftentimes, you know, our friends aren't living right next door and people that we might get together with for dinner, you know, we have to drive, we drive an hour or two. And it's also, it seems so challenging really, you know, not to have, I spent 20 years at Zen Center and then your friends are next door. And you walk across the path or the road and there's somebody to have tea with or to say hello to. So it's very sweet having an actual, you know, community. When I say this, of course, I think about

[09:49]

trees, which seem to have a community in trees. One of the things that trees have to offer, you know, is habitat. As you know, pavement doesn't offer habitat. It seems like pretty simple, but trees actually offer habitat. And various creatures can live in the tree. When there's trees, there's usually, you know, birds. And the trees offer shade and fruit. And a home. And they share, you know, very graciously, you know, their wonderful height. And of course, nowadays, some people say, for instance, you know, you don't notice the sky unless

[10:53]

there's a tree. Partly we notice the sky because there are trees, which is also the same as the silence in the mountains is deepened by the song of the bird. I try to remember that when I'm at my writing retreat on Tamalus Bay, and the cars are going by, just deepening the stillness. And from one of my windows, there's a huge, I don't know what kind of tree it is, but huge awning of a tree. This time of year, hasn't yet, but again, but it's a magnificent, you know, being to have in my vicinity. And of course, nowadays, we know that trees are, you know, it's not just burning

[11:57]

carbon fuels, but cutting down trees, which is part of what's led to global warming, because the trees were all those acres and miles of trees and forests that were turned into newsprint and everything, you know, were otherwise turning carbon dioxide back into oxygen. So, you know, it's interesting, for me, I've been thinking about, you know, what to offer. And, you know, there are certainly various possibilities. And, you know, each of us has, you know, various things to offer. And sometimes we think it needs to be a skill. And many of us, of course, have useful and important skills to

[13:05]

offer. You know, doctors and lawyers and some of the people, you know, who were at Zen Center years ago, we had, you know, a couple weeks ago, a reunion. And one of our, you know, graduates, is he a graduate or a Zen dropout? We're not sure if anybody's succeeded at this business just yet. This Zen business. But one of our graduates, you know, he restores rivers. So people hire him. He went back to Harvard after Zen Center and finished his degree. And now people hire him to restore rivers to their natural flow and natural habitat from having been, you know, having industrial things come down and, you know, various things that have degraded the river. And another one of our graduates is, you know, working, lives in Japan.

[14:15]

And then is working to combat global warming. And some of our students are, you know, have started a Humane Farming Association and, you know, anti, you know, cruelty to animals and farming, also in Europe. So some of us, you know, and some people, one of my one of the things I have been interested in studying is, you know, communication skills. So some people have pretty good communication skills. And they actually seem to be able to listen and hear what you have to say. And, whoa, what a concept. And, and are able to say things to you that, you know, aren't off-putting and don't cause me to be defensive and, you know, feel small. And humiliated. So some of us have, you know, we have various skills, so-called skills. And some of us, you know, we have the capacity to be of service. And so, you know, we can, and we can be of service in various ways to, like, you know, today planting trees.

[15:41]

And we find ways to be of service to cook for one another or to garden. And to offer our efforts, you know, to benefit other people, other people, plants, gardens, the world in various ways. And some people, of course, you know, are gifted, you know, in terms of writing or in terms of playing music. Sometimes I think, if I have a chance next life, a musician, if only I could be a musician. It seems so otherworldly and mysterious. I asked musicians, how do you do that? And they just said, well, you just do it. And I say, no, you just do it. I don't just do it. I just cook. And people say, how do you do that? Well, you just do it. But now, Oliver Sacks, you know, has a new book now about musicians, about music and how not everybody has an ear. So at last, I'm vindicated.

[16:51]

Because my music friends, you know, just tend to say, oh, you can do it. Everybody can do it. It's not true. Anyway, but I mentioned this because also, finally, you know, our great offering, you know, is our own presence of mind and our own good heartedness and our good hearted presence that can, you know, help us to be of service to other people, to others, [...] come into this moment, show up here in this moment and be awake and alive and responsive to what's going on. What's going on in our own being and what's going on around us, we can, with our presence, we can show up and respond. And we can be awake and alive. And And sometimes, you know, it will be like a tree in winter. It won't look like much. And sometimes there will be fruit, and there will be birds in the branches.

[18:00]

So our presence doesn't always look like much, and it's easy to overlook this capacity that we have to show up, to be present, awake, alive, and respond. When I was, many years ago, at Zen Center studying, our Japanese teachers used to use an expression, I'm not sure, actually, how literally it's translated, but me-mitsu-no-kafu. And they used to translate it, kind, considerate, compassionate, attention to detail. And I realize with all the things that I knock over and spill, I must not be practicing this. And it's not just things, you know, but people, and my own awareness. You know, I want to move more quickly and get something done, rather than just being

[19:10]

present and responsive and kind and considerate. You know, taking the time to say good morning and how are you, and taking the time to sit quietly, taking the time to, you know, prepare food, to clean the floor. So, I'm endeavoring to renew my practice. We'll see how it goes. And this, you know, apparently Buddhists, I didn't know this, but Buddhists over the centuries, in Tibet anyway, you know, there's actually a doctrinal debate between two schools

[20:10]

about the nature of emptiness, which is Buddha's technical term for the fact that things do not have any inherent self. So this is why we can say when you stand up by yourself, you are Buddha, you are truly Buddha. You are a tree, and you are Buddha, Buddha tree, and you are many names of one Buddha. And sometimes we get, you know, caught by some momentary description we have about ourself, you know, not good enough. So, apparently this, you know, emptiness or, you know, no inherent being, you know, there's been a debate whether this is absolute nothingness, emptiness, nothing, or if there's a presence. So I guess I'm in this school of, you know, there's presence in this emptiness.

[21:15]

And I'm also now practicing, you know, having that, you know, presence that's there, you know, smile. Do you understand? And to respond and to take care of things. So I want to share a poem with you today, which is, you know, it's my favorite poem, one of Rilke's sonnets, one of the sonnets to Orpheus.

[22:19]

And I thought about this poem because someone mentioned to me that one of the things being planted today is some, you know, apple seeds that have sprouted. And apple seeds are very interesting because, you know, they're what's called heterogeneous. In any apple, the seeds are not, you know, nobody knows what apple will come out of those seeds. And most of the apples that grow from seeds are not very good. The trees that grow from the seed and then the apples from the seed are, you know, often sour and small. And Michael Pollan, who now has, you know, a new book out, he did The Botany of Desire and then a book called Omnivore's Dilemma, which is tracing different meals. And now he's written a book about food and eating. So he's summarized, this is a little bit of a side, but don't worry, we're going to get

[23:26]

to the poem and everything else, but I love it. You know, he's now summarized in his new book, apparently, you know, food and eating in seven words. Eat food, less of it, mostly plants. This is because, you know, a lot of what we eat is so manufactured and processed, you know, he's not calling that food, food, plants, things. Eat food, less of it, mostly plants. But in his earlier book, you know, Botany of Desire, which shows how apples are one of these plants that has managed to get humans to help it along, just like corn is another one of those plants, you know, that corn can't grow unless somebody takes it out of the husk and puts it in the ground. So corn has completely died its destiny to human beings, wanting to plant it.

[24:32]

And with the amount of corn we're growing now in the United States, you know, it's very successful at this, it's colonized us and gotten us, and so we're now become, Michael Pollan suggests, you know, corn people. And you can tell this by looking at the molecules and cells in the body and the kind of carbon it is because corn has a very distinctive carbon, whatever it is, molecule or something. And of course, in the Omnivore's Dilemma, you know, he says that nowadays, you know, we don't care about corn, you know, we're so affluent, you know, we don't take care of small things like grains of corn. Now there's whole corn, you know, by the roadside and in the gutters and gullies and by silos and things, and in the mud and the Aztecs or Mayans, you know, who grew corn wouldn't want

[25:42]

to waste a grain, they felt the corn god would be angry with them if they wasted anything. But in Botany of Desire then, you know, Michael Pollan explains how apples, Johnny Appleseed really was appleseed and he took the apple seeds and he went out beyond the Western movement and started growing apple seeds in little orchards and got land ahead of others so that when they showed up, he could sell them little apple trees. And everybody wanted an apple tree for their front yard and it wasn't so you'd have apples to eat, it was so you'd have apples to juice. And in those days, in a few days, any apples you juiced became hard apple cider. So you wanted to have your own apple tree so you too could have hard cider and plenty of it. So Johnny Appleseed, this cultural hero, was actually helping people to get drunk.

[26:52]

Interesting man. So anyway, the apples, we don't know what this apple will be, but if we plant an apple tree from seeds, and any apples, like now Fuji apple is fairly recent, you know, somebody discovered it and then all the Fuji trees are from the same tree and taking branches and grafting them onto other rootstock. That's how you get Fuji apples or Gala apples, which when I was growing up, there were no Fuji apples or Gala apples. So somebody planted some seeds and they got lucky, they found Fuji or Gala and then you can sell them all over the world, the world switches over to your apple if you find the right one. So I mention all of that because we're planting at least one apple seed or tree from an apple

[27:55]

seed today. Okay. And so this poem, Broca's, is about presence and actually being, showing up, being present, observing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching. I think we have some confusion, you know, that to be, you know, a good, sometimes a good Buddhist or a good human being would mean, you know, we didn't have any, you know, so much feeling and that, but feeling is actually what connects us with ourself and with one another and with the world. So in this poem, there's also, you know, feeling. So here's the way the poem goes, round apple, smooth banana, melon, gooseberry, peach.

[29:04]

How all this affluence speaks death and life in the mouth. How all this affluence speaks death and life in the mouth. I sense, observe it in a child's transparent features while he tastes. This comes from far away. This comes from far away. You are a tree and you are Buddha. Instead of words, discoveries flow out of the flesh of the fruit, astonished to be free. Dare to say what apple truly is. This sweetness that feels thick, dark, dense at first, then grows clarified, awake, luminous,

[30:08]

double-meaning, sunny, earthy, real, oh knowledge, pleasure, joy, immense. So for me, it's, you know, our presence, our good-hearted presence that brings life to life, brings life to our own life, to our own body and mind, our capacity to respond to life and brings life to the world, you know, to apples and to trees. And you know, if we understand, as Suzuki Roshi says, when you understand more deeply, you will see how you are a tree, each of us is a tree. A tree and Buddha.

[31:09]

He says, when you experience enlightenment, you will understand more freely. You won't worry about what people call you. I guess I have a ways to go. Ordinary mind, okay, I'm ordinary mind. Loser, okay, I'm loser. You know, say the wrong thing, okay, I'm Buddha, yes, I'm Buddha. So we're all like this, you know. Ordinary mind and Buddha. And when I come here, I do feel, you know, this, you know, energy in the room, presence, our presence together, you know, good-hearted people who have, you know, this capacity.

[32:18]

We all have this capacity to be present, awake, alive, and respond to things. And of course, this responding to things, you know, is different than, you know, controlling them, or telling them how to behave. It's more like a tree providing habitat for birds and various insects, you know, in its branches. And again, you know, so again, I want to encourage you to offer what you have to offer, regardless

[33:24]

of, you know, what it appears to be or whether it appears to be valuable or not so valuable or skillful or not so skillful. So, you know, this is finally all we have, you know, is to offer what we have to offer, share what we have to share. And, you know, whether it's skills or resources or our simple good-hearted presence. Thank you, blessings.

[33:57]