August 13th, 2005, Serial No. 01341

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I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Morning. I'd like to talk today about communication. My mother once told me a long time ago, you have a mouth, so use it. I didn't think so much about the comment back then when she mentioned it, because I tended to be rather quiet and somewhat reticent.


And I took a little bit after my father, who's mostly that way. And my mother's mostly the mouth and use it way. So I found after practicing these past years that the importance of communication is something that We talk about a little bit, but mostly we talk about silence. Funny that it sounds talking about silence and cultivating silence. So I looked up communication in my dictionary and it said to impart knowledge or make known. It's an interchange of ideas. And communion, which is a part of communication, is an act of sharing, holding in common.


I'd like to read a little bit of Suzuki Roshi's talks from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, the chapter called Communication. and comment a little bit as appropriate, and then return back to my notes. Communication is very important in Zen practice. Because I cannot speak your language very well, I am always seeking some way of communicating with you. I think that this kind of effort will result in something very good. Well, when I first read that, I thought about, well, yeah, he came over from Japan some years prior to this talk, and English was not his first language, so of course he struggled with trying to communicate with people who didn't speak Japanese. And subsequently, while that's true, I've realized that we don't really speak the same language if English is our first language.


I thought we did, but actually all the causing conditions that have made up you and made up me have influenced the way that we think and the way we share ideas and the way we express ourselves and communicate. So while it's true that Suzuki Roshi was trying very hard to communicate with these new students of his here in this country, I think that we're all truly trying to communicate with each other and be intimate with each other. The beauty of Zazen is that we communicate most intimately and most connectively just sitting still and sitting quietly. But at some point we have to get up off our cushion. and communicate the old-fashioned way. And that's where we quite often have some struggles. We get misunderstood or there's miscommunication.


But I've found that returning to silence and stillness has enabled me to what I think is to better communicate with others. Because in that place of stillness and silence, it all comes together. All the disparate thoughts, all the opposing views, all the opinions of wanting to convince, wanting to feel heard, all the various facets of communication come together in silence. About a week ago or so, I was having a conversation with a friend and I got very animated. And I started talking very quickly. And my friend said, stop and take a breath. And that was a little moment of zazen to kind of return back to clear communication. I was thankful for that reminder. When we say something, our subjective intention or situation is always involved.


So there is no perfect word. Some distortion is always present in a statement. In Zen, we put emphasis on demeanor or behavior. By behavior, we do not mean a particular way that you ought to behave, but rather the natural expression of yourself. We emphasize straightforwardness. You should be true to your feelings and to your mind, expressing yourself without any reservations. This helps the listener to understand more easily. When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions. You should just listen to him or her. Just observe what their way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him or her and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other.


Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You're actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion, you may accept it. But if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even really hear it. That is one danger when you listen to someone. The other danger is to be caught by that statement. In reading that, I thought of two things. One was trust and my ability to be able to communicate with someone or even come forward to even attempt to communicate often involved looking at what my relationship is with that person or this institution, that institution, and whether I have enough trust in coming forward to say something about it. At work, I have things that come up that I don't feel so good about, and I have to look and see whether I want to communicate my discomfort around a particular procedure that I've been asked to do or something that's going on there.


And it ties typically into trust and how comfortable I am with my relationship with my boss and whether I would get fired if I spoke up too much. So there's like, how much communication is permissible in this situation? And how much investment do I have in this relationship? And quite naturally, the more investment one has in the relationship, the more sensitive one has to become about how much to speak up or how much not to speak up. And another thing is, Writing things down, while I really enjoy eyeball-to-eyeball communication with people and feeling the body language and the energy between myself and another group of people while talking, I found that writing things down and writing letters has been helpful to me. in that it enables me to reflect on my thinking and another person's possible thinking, and then subsequently having further communication to find out, well, what did you mean by that?


And quite often, when that happens, people go a little deeper to say, well, what I meant to say was, or that was just a figure of speech or something further along. So while everything is impermanent, even letters on a page, more so are the words that we express out into the into air. So this communication thing is a really, something that we take for granted, I certainly take for granted, and when I think about it more closely, it's extremely precious because it's the way we connect, or a way that we connect. So as a listener or a disciple, it is necessary to clear your mind of these various distortions. A mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits is not open to things as they are.


That is why we practice zazen, to clear our mind of what is related to something else. To be quite natural to ourselves and also to follow what others say or do, or do in the most appropriate way is quite difficult. If we try to adjust ourselves intentionally in some way, it is impossible to be natural. If you try to adjust yourself in a certain way, you will lose yourself. So without any intentional fancy way of adjusting yourself, to express yourself freely as you are is the most important thing to make yourself happy and to make others happy. I think what he means here by happy is feeling complete. He's not trying to make someone happy in the sort of cliché sense, but a sense of completeness and communication that is a complete relationship there.


You acquire this kind of ability by practicing Zazen. Zen is not some fancy special art of living. Our teaching is just to live, always in reality, in its exact sense. To make our effort, moment after moment is our way. In an exact sense, the only thing we actually can study in our life is that on which we are working on in each moment. We cannot even study Buddha's words. To study Buddha's words in their exact sense means to study them through some activity which you face moment after moment. So we should be concentrated with our full mind and body on what we do. And we should be faithful subjectively and objectively to ourselves and especially to our feelings. Even when you do not feel so well, it is better to express how you feel without any particular attachment or intention. So you may say, oh, I am sorry. I do not feel well. That is enough.


You should not say, you made me so. That is too much. You may say, oh, I am sorry. I am so angry with you. There is no need to say that you are not angry when you are angry. You should just say, I am angry. That is enough. True communication depends upon our being straightforward with one another. The best way to communicate may be just to sit without saying anything. So we cultivate silence here.


And we don't cultivate talking in the sense of learning how to talk, but actually that is something that's central to our practice, that we don't talk about it in such explicit terms. So when we communicate verbally, we communicate to either inform, just provide some information that may be positive or negative or neutral, or we may communicate to convince. We have a point of view that we're trying to convince someone of understanding or being on our side. But actually, the world of communication is central to the basic tenets of Buddhism. Within the Ten Great Precepts, there are particular points that touch on this.


There's no lying. There's no speaking of the faults of others while raising oneself up. There's not indulging in anger. And there's no slandering the three treasures. So those are all admonitions or guidelines around speech. One of the folds of the Eightfold Path is right speech. and one of the four methods of the Bodhisattva is kind speech. So my hunch is that when the Buddha was establishing his Sangha, that he saw that While there may be harmony in the spirit of Zazen, that disharmony may have arisen when the monks began talking to one another and trying to convince them of a point of view or some such thing.


Not too unlike what you do and what I do. So the guidelines were put in place to try to keep that at a minimum. And then there's a world of communication with the inanimate. We're surrounded by inanimate objects. And the thrust of practice in relationship to inanimate objects is to commune with them and to learn from them. There's a story about Suzuki Roshi toward the end of his life where he was with a student


And the student, knowing that his teacher or her teacher was very frail and toward the end there, was maybe a little bit too preoccupied with being attentive. And there was a teacup that the student grabbed or knocked. There was some, I'm not sure of the details of it, but the gist of it was that the teacup got knocked and I don't think it broke, but there was some momentary lapse of connectiveness to the teacup. because a student was perhaps rushing to grab Suzuki Roshi if he was maybe faltering from getting up from a chair or some such thing. And Suzuki Roshi said, when you take care of the teacup, you take care of me. I think in our usual sense of relating to people and things, we tend to put people up on a higher pedestal, if you will.


And I think that that's important to look at things differently. There are people and there are teacups. And in another sense, it's all one thing, which is what Suzuki Roshi was trying to bring to the students' state of awareness. I think that's why we spend so much time with mindfulness practice and to be aware of our surroundings and caring for them. Because if, in fact, you care for your surroundings, they take care of you. And when you really get into caring for things,


your world opens up and enlivens and is enriched. I heard John giving Zazen instruction a moment ago and he was talking about hearing the work in the kitchen. You hear the sounds of the knife chopping away. So there's a sense of connection to what's going on around you. The first question I ever asked a Zen teacher was, why is there so much dirt and graffiti and mess around?


I don't like looking at it. I don't remember what his response was. But the second question, I asked was more of like a statement, like I thought I had some sense of what Zen was about. I said, well, it seems like Zen is about going forward, stepping forward, in the context of this talk, saying something. And he smiled and said, yes, and also knowing when to step back, and in this context, when to be silent. So that's what our practice is like, coming forward and saying something. and stepping back and receiving and just being. And that's ongoing, like the foot before and the foot behind and walking, as is quoted in our Sutra. So there's a lot going on here in this quiet place. And I encourage people to come forward and communicate what's going on with themselves in the formal context of say Dharma groups or during a question and answer in a formal setting like a Saturday talk.


Or even more informally, just communicating with each other on the patio during Saturday tea and cookies or after Zazen. Because we're all practicing together, and we're here to support each other. And we also need to respect the silence. And some people may be a little shy, a little reticent. They don't want to talk. And that's okay, too. You don't need to force people to talk. But if we truly communicate together, then we're communing. And that's what I feel this practice has the most to offer, is actually communing, communing with ourselves and communing with others. Thank you, and does anyone have any questions or comments they'd like to communicate?


Dean? Thank you, Ross. Communication is a little bit uncomfortable in the beginning but towards the end I was sitting here thinking about I think that one of the things that we do in this practice is we sort of hold silence on a pedestal and yesterday I was sitting here with some folks who were and who was moving in and this and that, and someone started to say something and said, no, no, I'm not going to say it. And it was sort of like, oh, okay, there's this information that someone knows, and feeling a little mouthy at the moment, I said, no, say it, we're not going to have any secrets around here.


And I was, I mean, I was sort of being, I was being reactive, but what I realized is that when we decide we're not going to say something because and we're going to be silent is because we feel like by saying something might not be supporting right speech. There's something in it. It's kind of like we're supporting maybe it's almost like we're supporting having some kind of power in silence, that silence is the right thing. And, I don't know, it was just, I didn't think about it until right now when you were talking, and I realized that it also implies lack of trust, because if there's four of us sitting there, and one person decides, oh, I'm not gonna say this,


it's almost like that person doesn't trust us that we will hear it in a fair way and that we're not gonna judge someone because of some reaction. I don't know if I've explained it very well, but it's something that has made me really uncomfortable is that sort of silence. Someone made a comment to me one time about Oh, you're probably going to cry all the way home now. Well, it was the truth. I was in a spell where just about everything made me cry, and he was making a comment about it, and I was, and I did. And if that would have been something that would have felt that it needed to be suppressed, it was kind of like not trusting me that someone could state a truth and there wouldn't be judgment in it. I don't know if that's anything of what you were talking about, but it's sort of what came up in my mind.


Well, thank you. It touches on a few things. One is, what is the intention of the person withholding some information? Are they trying to protect somebody else who's not in the room or in the space? Are they afraid of being misunderstood? Is there a lack of trust and all that? So there's an opportunity to dialogue about that, or how appropriate it is to say something. I think in some venues, not everything is necessarily appropriate to talk about. I have been in rather intense conversations with some people of late, and I found that it makes me very vulnerable to say what's on my mind in relationship to these particular people.


And I think in some sense of the word, maybe I had more of an investment in how I was going to be perceived and I would hold back from relating to them so honestly and so frankly. But I don't feel that so much anymore. I mean, I still want to be loved and liked and all that stuff, just like probably everybody here, but it takes a lot of trust. And I remember It wasn't even so much what impressed me so much about the energy between us as we were talking, in both cases I'm thinking of in particular, it wasn't so much what was said from them, but the body language that was being expressed by them as we were talking. And there was a sense of vulnerability on their part, having to actually express themselves on some points that I was kind of pushing for them to share with me. or not really knowing and being a little embarrassed of what to say.


And it was important for me to be sensitive to that and not push too hard to say, come on, fess up, what's going on here? So it's moment by moment, as Suzuki Roshi says, that we have to look at what feels like the appropriate thing in this situation with this person or these particular people. And I also think that there's a certain amount of power that is held appropriately or not by not communicating. And that's something that kind of rubs me. And I have to work with that because I don't want to coerce someone into saying something that they don't want to say for whatever reasons. But nevertheless, it feels like there's a disparity in the relationship. So I'm


I'm often looking at how to make the relationship feel more, more horizontal. And this happens here at Zen Center. It happens at, and it happens at work. Those are my two main practice places. And, um, I have to say that in both places that people are pretty good about communicating, uh, and it could always be better. So I would encourage you to express your feelings, and if you get into a situation where a person doesn't want to say something, to actually just ask the question, do you feel mistrust here, or do you feel, what's going on that's creating some reticence? Just so then you would feel settled, and everyone else in that group would feel settled, that there's not this big white elephant in the room that's about to trump over everything. Good luck with that.


Yes, Ashley? I wanted to ask you a question about urgency and timing of communication. Like, I find for me that it's very easy to get swept away with a real sense of urgency that whatever this is must be communicated right now, and that it seems like there are occasions in my life where I could do a little damage prevention if I was able to not have to communicate everything right now. And I guess I just am really curious about the line between between self-discipline and self-control and awareness and then expressing oneself and saying what needs to be said and where self-discipline becomes self-censorship and just sort of like knowing when to speak and not I don't know, not suppress yourself and also not create big extravagant messes that could have been avoided. That's a really good question.


Well, the word that kept coming up in your question was self. self-awareness, self-reflection, self-control and self-expression and all of that. So if we remember that the Buddha taught that the sense of self is just a collection of aggregates that come together and fall apart moment by moment, we realize and wake up then that nothing is fixed and that we may have conditioning to respond a certain way, but we're not beholden to that particular tact. So, for instance, in my own life, being somewhat quiet and not so forthcoming, that was kind of my way. And now I tend to be more on the other side, so I have to reflect on myself. Am I coming forward too much in reaction to a response to how I've been and how am I being received? That's one thing that I try to self-monitor, self-regulate. There's a traditional saying about


When something comes up, when do you say it? And it's to wait three times. If it comes up once and then wait, comes up a second time, wait, comes up a third time, well, then ask the question or express yourself in such a way to convey that. I think that's pretty helpful, because that's probably something pretty important. Of course, what's overridden is if your child walks out in the street, then you don't wait three times. You just take care of that. So again, it's what's appropriate in a given moment. And there's no knowing. It's, as Suzukuro, she said, you know, we make a mistake on purpose. We talk, we express ourselves, we ask questions on purpose. And when we, the karmic effects of expressing oneself are gonna be felt. And so then you get to look at what are the effects of me being so forceful, for instance, and have it be in people's face about a particular point? Or what's the effect of me not speaking up when maybe I should have? It's a lot to look at.


So I think it's important to reflect on the effect we're having when we have a particular bearing in the world, and also not to think too much about it too, because either way it doesn't feel so great. Is that helpful? Thank you. Yes, I can't remember your name, I'm sorry. It's Patricia. Patricia, thank you, yes. I felt relieved to hear you name this as a theme because I find myself considering it often. And I've had the privilege of living outside of this culture in another culture up north with the Eskimos. And their language, when using English, is village English, so it embraces a different system of being with other people and other animals and so forth.


And when I'm in this culture, I often find that there's a lack of courtesy towards other people only because I've experienced it in another way. But one of the things that stands out in my thinking often is the beauty of spontaneity that's found in communicating, that you can't plan necessarily what you're going to say, and it just emerges. And there's beauty to me in that, a passion. And because I really have an affection for that, you know, as in storytelling or just being with friends, The bottom line is everybody wants to be approved of, accepted, and loved, and cared for. And so one of the ways that we do that is how we are with each other and how we communicate. Several of my friends have recently taken various kinds of workshops, and they no longer speak the way they used to speak.


I am most uncomfortable with this and I try to be courteous and respect that this is their desire and on the other hand I've chosen to raise how manipulated I feel sometimes and how when they do certain things or try to elicit certain responses from me based on this workshop format. It drives me pretty nuts. It's kind of like nice-nice? What's that? It's kind of like a nice-nice talk that they're trying to... I don't really know how to categorize it. I mean, there's particular examples, but... Yeah. But you feel manipulated. I do. Yeah. Yeah. And I've tried to dance with this, you know, because I love them. And so I'll let them know, well, when you do X, Y, or Z, you know, I feel this way and it's really hard for me. Sometimes that softens it and sometimes it doesn't.


But I notice that this is not just with these particular friends. And I feel often very isolated in this culture at times when I see an absence of just kind of just being who you are and talking to each other. So my dilemma has been to do what you say, which is to explore the silence and explore just being and explore talking. And also notice when I Yeah, well this is a workshop here in a way, you know. No, that's not what we... No, no, it's not what we do.


As Suzuki said, it's no right or wrong. There's sort of guidelines, but it is a workshop here that we cultivate silence. As Dean was mentioning, this is a thing that's held up pretty highly because our general mode is talking and getting into all these things with people. So to counterbalance that, I think it's that container of just silence that we can draw from and then hopefully the next moment communicate better. I hear what you're saying. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And what you mentioned about being isolated, it reminds me when I started riding a bicycle around and how much more connected I felt to people around on the street. And it was a very vulnerable feeling and a feeling of safety, of course, in riding around, too. we live pretty isolated. And I think with that isolation comes sort of an atrophying of being able to communicate. So touching the intimacy of practice, I think, helps us work on that and to fix some of that atrophying that's taken place.


Lee, do you want to communicate again? Yeah, I want to communicate again. I think that the other thing, though, that in listening to Patricia talk, in her talking about her friends who have this certain sort of talk, I feel like I know what she's expressing, and that's probably what has kept me away for the first 45 years of my life from any of these practices, is that there seems like there's a formula. And I think one of the things with this practice, that we need to pay attention to, not putting silence on a pedestal. And I think that to talk about, oh, that's, you know, you said something in the beginning about that's where you come back to, or that's where things come back to get together. And I don't really want it to be that way. Because I want it to be a place for me to come and certain things come together.


But you and I have had some differences about things. And I got really mad at you because I felt like you didn't communicate with me. And I've come back and said, I'm not going to talk to you because you don't tell me anything about this. And I keep coming back. But what's happened is that when we do communicate, I just love you so much I could pinch your little cheeks. But then when we don't, so for me that talking is just immensely important and I'm finding that the silence is giving me, is slowing me down so that I can come back and talk and be more open. But I don't feel like for me things come together in the silence and so and that's one of the things that's hard that I feel like sometimes we think oh silence is this and that and this and that and I mean I just said to someone who's in the Sashin and it's supposed to be silent and I just said ooh guess what we've got a family of Phoebes living here two babies and two adults and it was there's a Sashin going on and I felt like that's a really cool thing that we've got this family of Phoebes living here and


I did that, and I get caught between, oh no, I'm supposed to be silent, and that's a great thing, and I love the idea of sharing it with someone, so I think that we gotta really be careful in our practice, and it's easy for it to go really far into the silence thing, and I have to be really careful to not go into the chatty thing, because it just, you know, that's my thing, as you can tell. Well, there's lots of expressions here. And I think if everybody was doing the chatty thing and talking about these Phoebes and whatnot, the climate of Berkeley Zen Center would be very different. So the container of Berkeley Zen Center, and one of the beautiful things about this place is that there's numerous expressions here. And so there's room for some people to be very silent and not talk much. to talk a lot.


So there's lots of ways that we can accept our various expressions. These two people that I made reference to that I've been in communication with, I'm not agreeing with a lot of the things that we're talking about. In fact, there's a lot of disagreement. But I feel very intimate with them in that process of talking about this stuff, which is sort of surprising. And I wouldn't have been able to do that before because I'd want to be in agreement with them or some kind of congruence, but the fact is we don't see things the same way. But there is a certain level of trust or okayedness about this sharing of ideas. So it's true. It's not I appreciate your bringing up the silencing, being on the pedestal, and maybe it's not so great. But it's hard to know how much silence and how much communication as Ashley was addressing. So I think having it all together as a piece is the best thing that we can do. And it feels like when we sit silently,


It comes together in that one's able to see and feel the silence as well as the expression. I think when we're talking and communicating, it's a little bit harder to see the other side. It's not impossible, but I think it's a little bit harder to recognize the value of that stepping back and being still. Thanks for the reminder. Well, thank you all for your attention. And thanks for coming to support our sashin. I guess there'll be an announcement afterwards about what to do. But for now, we can just chat. Thank you.