A Candle in the Dark

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Good morning. Good morning. It's my pleasure to introduce our speaker today, Ryoshin Andrea Thatch. Andrea's a longtime Zen student and has practiced here at BCC for a number of years. She's held a variety of positions here and has led study groups and taught classes. She was ordained by Sojin Roshi in, I think, 2005. and was Juso in 2009. Outside of the gate here, she practices as a physician at the Over 60 Clinic and is currently the clinical director there. And we're looking forward to hearing her share words of the Dharma today. Thank you. Thank you, Leslie. I don't know if this is a little bit too loud. It feels it. Up here? So good morning everyone on this beautiful bright day after Black Friday.


It's a terrific way to spend some anecdotal time and a wonderful day also to all turn out and celebrate our dear friend Anne's 90th birthday, which will happen right after the talk here. The title of this talk is A Candle in the Dark. Whenever in our lives we run across something that has power for us, something that we read or something that happens to us, it is, at least for me, a very fruitful place to stay a while and to understand what that connection is. Not long after Sojin Roshi gave his talk in which he referenced a book of collections of remembrances of Kogon Chino, who was one of the people who brought the forms and practiced Tassajara in the 1960s.


Some of you may know Kogon Chino Roshi. I was able to read that book and there was one story particularly that stood out for me. And so this talk is my offering to you of my understanding and relationship to that story. So I'm very indebted to Kobin, Chino, and Carol Atkinson, his student, who relayed it. This talk is also an expression of my gratitude for Zazen. And I have come, maybe I'm still in the midst of it, but I've been in a kind of fallow period in my relationship to Zazen and in a pilgrimage that I took recently to a number of temples up in Oregon and in Texas and Arkansas I had the opportunity to sit in a very rural, very remote, very tiny monastery that's completely devoted to the practice of Zazen and I found my little Zazen heart reawakened and opened so I wanted to offer this as a kind of


expression of gratitude and also maybe something, well you'll find out in a minute why. Because the subtitle, if you will, of the talk is, Why Do We Sit Sazen? Why do we practice? Sajin Roshi says that why isn't really the question, it's what, and I think that's my experience too, except here. I think the why, what's underneath our motivation, our intention, is a very powerful place to stay close to. And I think that why has as its source yearning. It's a yearning for freedom or salvation, connection, truth, really at its heart, wholeness. It's that kind of yearning that brings us here and keeps us here, I think.


There are different seasons in our relationship to Zazen. There are times when we have pain in the body and the mind, a lot of joy and ease. We have times of stagnation and dullness, times when we're totally free, times we wonder why we're here. what's the allure of that white wall again. Some of these prepare us for others. Some of these seasons of sitting prepare us for others. But I don't want to encourage you to hear the talk as a kind of progress of experiences through Zazen. And I recognized as I was thinking about it again that there are echoes of Tozen's Five Ranks in here, but please don't hear it as that either. Just relate to it out of your experiences in Zazen.


So, how we usually come to Zazen, probably everyone in this room is here because Like Hetagiri Roshi says, Zazen is the basic practice of human life that is connected to the problem of life and death. That just like Siddhartha, before he attained Shakyamuni, we've had some experience of sickness, whether it's physical sickness or sickness in our minds, just quiet, just ease, suffering in our minds. old age and death and we need to do something about it. We need to respond to it in some way. We need to meet it in some way and we're looking for that way. So we usually come here because we're suffering in some way or we're seeking the truth. And when we start, often it's hard, isn't it? Physically it hurts to do it.


And you wonder when that next bell is going to ring because your knee just hurts so bad and you're sure that you're going to tear a muscle if you stay in this position any longer. Or if you're a little bit settled, maybe your emotions drive you crazy. You don't know whether you can stay in the anxiety or the restlessness or just face to face with the person that you're seeing. But always, I think, if you're able to just quiet enough, there's just a little bit of space around that. Or maybe there's the startling discovery that the bell actually does ring and you are actually able to stand up and the catastrophe didn't happen after all. And that's just enough to hook us. And we start coming back. Because we see that in the darkness of our experience.


There's a little bit of light that shines and we have seen that little bit of light through our sitting with Zazen. And then pretty inevitably we have the experience of some kind of disillusionment or disenchantment. We look around and we see that not everyone who comes to a Zen center is a Buddha, right? Boy, they don't all line their shoes up perfectly. Or they don't not talk until they get off the Zendo porch after Saturday. How could people behave in such a way and practice here? And we realize, geez, Zen centers are just communities of deluded beings. And it's not going to be such an easy fix, just showing up here. continue to sit, again, we start to see actually that it's the way in which we relate to what's happening that's part of the picture here.


It's part of the discomfort that we have. It's the mind that sees too much and judges it, for example, that causes a kind of irritation or disquiet. And we start to recognize, well, there's something in here for me. There's something in here that actually is related to my yearning for freedom. And we start to realize that we can just do our own practice. It was, as some of you heard me say, an instruction I got in my very first retreat, and it served me in really good stead. Whenever something's powerful or strong, or I think there's a problem out there somewhere, the first place to look is right here. to right here, to come back to it in Zazen with a sense of space around it, and then something else is inevitably there besides what I thought was there. So it's out of that kind of willingness to come back to and be quiet with that we start to generate Samadhi.


We really start to develop a kind of concentration and presence to whatever is coming up in our mind, in our body. And out of that kind of stillness and presence, stability in our Zazen, we find joy. Joy and lightness, like a feather on the breath of God. Just floating in space, that kind of ease and lightness can happen. It's pretty good stuff, right? That really keeps us coming back. That kind of luminosity, I think, has I'm just realizing I'm saying this. None of these are experiences that you need to have in Zazen or that you necessarily are going to have in Zazen. They're just things that can come up. They're kind of touch points. They're just experiences and encouragements. And in those encouragements, it's rather like


If you've ever read the Lotus Sutra or the Avatamsaka Sutra, there are pages and pages of fantasia, fantastic descriptions of flowers raining from the sky and light shining everywhere and the streets being made of all the different gems. It's kind of like that, that experience of brightness, of freedom, really being able to be present to what is. And so we make a commitment to this Zazen. We make a commitment to do this and we keep showing up and maybe we decide to take the precepts because we're really committed to this way of life. In one of his talks that are really well known, Kobin Chinoroshi says that we practice in order to be a transmitter of light. this light that we have experienced, that when we really take this practice to heart and we find it's an enormous encouragement in our lives, and so we want to offer that out of our lives in whatever way manifests for us, we become a transmitter of light.


It's very beautiful, very complete. kind of idealistic. Everything is possible. So maybe at this point we think we've had some kind of taste of enlightenment. And maybe we have had some kind of taste of complete freedom and clear seeing. But sometimes we kind of get stuck at the idea that we know something. and we revolve around that kind of stuck idea that we know something, or that that's the place to go and stay, and that we can stay and reside there. And so, we realize that this Zazen isn't because we can't, you know, we don't, and we recognize that too, we know that this


This Zazen is not always, this practice is not always exactly what we think it is. If we sit Zazen, it isn't necessarily what happens, this lovely experience all the time. And there can be another kind of, I won't say disillusionment or disappointment, maybe confusion or just kind of getting lost because we practice. and yet something may not happen. Or we're looking for some kind of target we can aim for, but there's really no place that we can hit. We do our forms, we sit Zazen, we chant. Is there a correct way to do a talk even? And you find that there's not. There's no place to land. Actually, there's no way to get it right. Because it's not about getting it right. It's about showing up and doing it.


There's another wonderful story that some of you will know about Covincino. He was an archery student, a Kyoto student, and quite accomplished at it. Maybe some of you know that about him. And you may also know this story that he was at the Pacific Coast at Esalon with his teacher. And his teacher was a great master. And his teacher, they're doing a little exhibition for the people there, and the teacher pulls and pulls his bow and aims and hits a bullseye right there. You know, there's no other more perfect place in the dead center of that circle. And Copeland's next. What's he going to do? What are we going to do when we There's no perfect place to hit, because it doesn't exist anymore. He pulls his bow, turns to the ocean, and says, bullseye.


And we realize on some level that's our practice too, but what is that? What is that? And sometimes in this period with our Zazen, we're waiting for something to happen, you know, I've had these deep experiences, or I'm really practicing sincerely, and I'm doing these positions or that position, but nothing seems to change. I'm the same old person that I've always been. We see the same old problems in our Dharma friends. We even see that our teachers are no longer perfect, and we get confused about what this practice is about, you know, why we're here, you know, is it really going to answer our question, our yearning? And then sometimes it's kind of like middle life, we realize we've got better things to do, meaning it's a nice day outside, where is everyone?


Meaning you have a family to raise and a job to do and it's really hard to work Zazen into your schedule unless you're really committed to it. And so we can loosen, our relationship to Zazen can loosen during this time period. But if we keep sitting, if we keep sitting and returning to this posture, returning to this breath, and really at a point where we have some stability and some experience of encouragement, Our sitting becomes more subtle, it becomes more settled. You may find, I remember during this time period, something shifted in the way that I held my mudra. Something opened, and it was like all of a sudden my sitting was so much more settled than it ever had been, and it was a kind of energetic flow. You just keep coming back and settling in, settling in in the midst of these questions about


Is it worth it? What do I see happening? How do I get it right? And just keep coming back to sitting, zazen, and not knowing. And there can be the experience of our relationship to things, and it may come by surprise, this relationship of interdependency. Nothing happens without everything else in the world there supporting you too. It might be that the knife just slices through the carrot, just so. How did that happen? Or your sensitivity to the way that fresh, the skins just slide off of fresh beets right into your hand when they're dipped into ice-cold water, not five minutes after you pull them out of the oven, but ten minutes, and you just see the relationship between all the elemental factors And then the mind opens and sees the relationship to a little bit of smile on the face and a sense of open heart in an interaction changes the way in which you pass the street with someone who you might have otherwise been afraid of.


All of those subtle changes become an awareness, the rise out of the experience of just deeply sitting. And then you may notice that this kind of magic happens in your life. You know, these things that you used to just call kind of, well, that's kind of surprising that that happened when that happened, that so-and-so called me today. Or that I thought that I needed to take care of something and someone was there and took care of it for me. May Lee Scott, who is a teacher here, used to say that the deeper into practice you go, the more serendipity there is. And that's what I mean during this. There's an awareness of how there's a kind of flow of things that just kind of fall into place as they, you can't quite say that they're meant to be, but there's a natural kind of harmony and flow of the way that things happen, that work, that nothing is out of place.


absolutely nothing is out of place. And you begin to have some faith in that and some joy, some joy because there's a force that's so much greater, so much sees, you know, no one sees, but there's something that's happening that you can't see and that it's really all okay. that your job, my job, is to show up to it, to recognize it, to take off the filters, which is arzazen. It's arzazen that gives us, that helps us, that helps us drop away the veil from our eyes and see. So dark becomes light and light becomes dark. The unknown becomes most beautiful. A truth. The darkness is the light illuminating our lives.


The relative that we see, the light is revealed in the mysterious that we cannot know. And our strange and wondrous faith in this ordinary life is affirmed and we know it to be something so much bigger. And so we keep sitting. We keep showing up for Zazen. We keep coming to Sashins, and it's a good thing that we've had those experiences because I think it's pretty common at some point to have a dry period, what Norman Fisher calls a dry period. Nothing's happening. In our Zazen, nothing seems to happen. You get up, you do it by rote, it's kind of fruitless. Of course, it's always fruitless, but it really doesn't feel like anything is happening. I think in this time, it's kind of like showing up and going to work every day in a job that's kind of routine, or when your family life has become kind of the same old thing day in and day out.


You just keep doing it because that's what there is to do. And at moments you kind of wake up to the question, why am I here? What is this? And you open out a little bit more widely. You put a little bit more energy into connecting. And it's not that anything's going to happen. But you connect with your Zazen. And I've come to see this kind of time period I think is like the farm field when it's fallow in the winter. Actually, something is happening. The dirt is being mulched, the insects are turning it over, the debris, the earth is breaking down, and the bulbs and seeds in there are germinating somehow, but we can't see any of it. We don't necessarily feel any of it, and we don't know when it is that something is going to manifest itself.


But we just keep sitting in it. We just keep going on and living our lives. And it's also in this time period that we recognize, you know, all this light and sense of interconnection. It's beautiful and it's real and it's one place that we live. We can't hang out there. We can't hang out in the space of emptiness. We have to live in kind of the dirt of our everyday lives. And I don't mean just what we do, but I mean the dirt of ourselves, the dirt of who we are as a person when we are being human, when we're being completely human. And I don't mean the human side that's naturally Buddha nature. I mean the human side that gets tripped up on its ideas about how things should be, what it wants, and its fear. Now, this time period may be marked by a kind of complacency.


You know how to do things. You do them. Maybe you have a, you know, a senior position, and you're doing them, and you're proficient, or you've been around for a long time, and you know the show, and, you know, it feels like good, and it looks like good, and that's an okay place to live in. Or you might be kind of bored, bored with what it is that you're doing, or kind of lazy in your relationship to Zazen. All of those things might be going on. And maybe, for many of us, I don't know. This is actually, I don't know if it's everyone. I think Norman Fisher thinks that it's everyone. But at least for some of us, there's fear. There's a fear that kind of is like a layer of ice that keeps us from breaking through to something else. That kind of layer of ice where there's a part of ourselves, I think, this I do think, this is my experience, there's kind of a layer of ourselves that's really, really hard to be intimate with.


It's really hard to kind of go down through. We don't see it. Oftentimes you don't see it completely or it's too painful to see. Maybe some old experience or maybe just some constellation that you know is difficult. You can't see. And I think also maybe some of that fear is a recognition that there's nowhere to land. You know this one? There's no perfect life you're going to wind up with. And I see that kind of transformation take place in a lot of the patients that I take care of. I work mainly with older people. And I work a lot with people who have very challenging physical conditions or life-threatening diagnoses, certainly life-changing diagnoses. And the people who are able to actually


go on living their lives are the people who can completely accept what's happened, and they can completely accept how that has had a modifying effect on how they need to live their lives, but they keep on being themselves through the midst of it. So that willingness to say, you know what, it's going to have to be different now, or it's going to end. it's going to end, or it's never going to be the life that I thought I was going to have. If only, you know, tomorrow I'll wake up and be the person I wanted to be, right? It's never actually going to be like that. And people who can see that and say, okay, so what is it? Where am I? And what am I working with now? Those are the people who actually are quite successful, if you will. They're able to hold it all.


I think this is really, for me, this is the kind of fear or one of the ways in which this kind of, gosh, I'm really going to have to accept things as they are. Suzuki Roshi meant it when he said it. That it's really all about just accepting it as it is. It's very subtle. It's very subtle. Many years ago when I was a newbie to Zen, a long-time practitioner said to me, Andrea, whatever you do, don't ever stop sitting Zazen. And I didn't really appreciate what he meant, but I get it now, I think. But no matter what's happening, it's not something to get something out of. It's not that you're necessarily going to notice how much your life is changing. These talks always turn out differently than you think, but I'll tell you another story.


I recently had a reconciliation with one of my family members who had disowned me 13 years ago. This family member asked to be back in touch, and we spoke on the phone and had a wonderful, just totally connecting conversation, as if no time had passed at all. I knew she knew a little bit about what had happened in my life in these 13 years, and I said, you know, this is about being honest with each other and reconnecting. I'm saying to myself, I said, Aunt Mary, do you know, I think you know that I've been very, very seriously involved with my faith community and that I'm a priest now. And she put on her her best accepting voice and said, How wonderful, dear, I've heard you're a Muslim, aren't you?


And she said, You've changed a lot. I can hear it in your voice. You don't necessarily know how you've changed or the what. But something happens. So, we're not free from our ordinary lives, but we're actually drawn to be more intimate with them. into the whole mess of our lives, to integrate in with our family, our work, our outside-the-gate life, the whole mess of our life. That means a radical acceptance.


It means accepting all of it. All of our limitations, the leg that's shorter than the other, our colorblindness, the families that we're born into, all of our limitations that will mean that we'll always be here and not there, the chronic anxiety or fears that we may have, the experiences in our life that cast us in a certain stream of our life, the school we went to, the one we didn't, the person we married instead of the one that we thought we should have, the life that we wound up living instead of the life that we thought we were going to eventually get around to. We have to accept all of it and as we do that and we peel back the layers of the onion of our life and see, become more and more intimate with the kind of gristle that we're made out of.


and really be willing to digest all of that and accept all of it. Being big enough in a psychological term means being able to accept all of it. And being a success, I think, means being able to fully accept that we're a failure first. I know that's strong language for some of you, but what I mean by that is that you have to completely accept your humanness. The part of you that's Buddha that requires another Buddha to complete it. The part of you that is not complete by itself and never actually, or actually only is if you fully recognize that and inhabit it. So we drop our embarrassment. and our ideas of what we can and can't do and just be ourselves. I think that's why in our practice we always say, I, yes, whatever we're asked to do, no matter what.


It's our practice to just shine up to whatever it is and say, yes, yes I will. Accept all of it, the sybarite, the renunciant, the kind, the generous, the compassionate, the self-protective and judgmental. the silly and the sexual, the serious. Mix them all together. You mix it all together and I realize, well that's the color brown, isn't it? And brown is what the Buddha touched when he sat Zazen and he realized that his life, he realized that all of our lives are about this connection. It's accepting all of it. And it starts with accepting all of it. right here and then it gets really not so hard to accept all of it out there and by accepting all of it I mean being able to connect with all of it, to see all of it, to bear all of it, to know how to respond to all of it.


I want to read, trying to figure out the timing of this exactly, so I'm going to finish by reading something of some of Coben's words. So what that means is, it's time. Get real. Just do it. Make your bucket list. Know the yearnings that you had when you were a kid, the things that you knew were most intimate, that meant the most to you. Make your list. Do them now. Don't wait. Be yourself. Be yourself. Don't be afraid. Set out on the possibilities. Polish your little corner of the world. Tsukiroshi was right. Polish your little corner of the world. It's not that it's not only enough, but actually it's the only thing that we can do. And don't ever stop sitting zazen. So this is a story of Colbin's last teaching with a number of his long, long time students.


Of course, they didn't know it was going to be his last teaching because, for those who don't know, he died tragically and suddenly. And it was his distillation of an answer to this question of why do we sit Sazen? Why do we practice? This is what he said in his last talk to them. We sit to make life meaningful. The significance of our life is not experienced in striving to create some perfect thing. We must simply start with accepting ourselves. Sitting brings us back to actually who and where we are. This can be very painful. Self-acceptance is the hardest thing to do. If we can't accept ourselves, we're living in ignorance, the darkest night. We may still be awake, but we don't know where we are.


We cannot see. The mind has no light. Practice is this candle in our very darkest room. So that's what I was going to say. I think there are a few minutes for questions or observations or experiences, celebrations, bucket lists. I thought of you a lot this week because I saw this film. I don't know if you're familiar with it. A Kurosawa called Redbeard. It was just a very powerful film. Somehow I thought of your life and what you do. I just wanted to share that.


Will you say something about what the film's about and how it moved you? It's a very profoundly moving movie to me, but maybe in a different, maybe the same way, maybe not. Well, it's kind of about the talk. It's about a young man who goes off to, he expects to become a doctor, a famous wealthy man. But he's sent off to a clinic in an extremely impoverished area of Japan, where he encounters experiences of poverty, suffering, death, and evil, really. And he resists it greatly. He stubbornly refuses to participate for quite a long time. And he's eventually won over by his experiences and by this very powerful doctor


I guess, the founder of the clinic. Anyway, there's many levels of it. But I think it's just I'm thinking a lot about caring for the ill, for some reason. I've been thinking about that a lot. And what it would mean. And dying and being with death is about that. To me, it's about what? At one point, he says, doctors don't really know anything. They really don't know anything. All they can do is witness what's happening. And I love this. It meant a lot to me. Yeah. Me too. Is that anything like your experience? Yeah. That was very beautiful. Thank you very much. Now everyone will go out and rent it.


Not only that, it's just extremely beautiful. The photography and acting are so wonderful. Megan. Thank you for this talk, Andrea. I'm very taken with your expression, the color brown. It'd make a wonderful title for a book or a lecture. And brown, it can be considered a very dull color. And it can also be considered a very rich color because of all that it contains. And maybe it's a wonderful thing that your robes of transmission are brown. Beautiful observation. Our lives can feel like they're very dull and ordinary and mundane.


And on the one hand, they are. But that's kind of like, I often take care of people at the very end of their lives. And they look like little old lady and little old men. Or I can even say, I have a 19-year-old dog. A 19-year-old dog is very old. She doesn't move very fast. She doesn't see very well. We ran across someone who had owned her once recently, and that person said, that doesn't look anything like Mira. That's nothing like the dog I own. But I know she's still in there. I know that whole life of experience and beauty And that's kind of like what you're saying. Please.


Hi, Andrea. Thank you so much. It was lovely to hear that talk. I, too, was struck by the image of brown. When I was a child, I was considered very contrary. My fraternal twin sister and I refused to wear. I only would wear brown clothes. It's impossible. It's so shocking. I didn't have brown shoes. I don't know what that was about, but I really identified, for one, with nature. And one of the things that I've been learning in my life and through the process of sometimes very resistant process to practice, but I practice, is to let go of delusion. And my delusion recently has been that it would be difficult to give up drinking wine And I gave up drinking wine just to see if that was true or not.


And it wasn't difficult. And it was like such a revelation. And what it was for me was being with the ordinary. And the ordinary is quite amazing. So to me, that's part of the practice is to allow yourself the gift We have this construct about who we are, what we need, what it's supposed to be like. What's it like just to try and do something that you think is totally off your radar, what's possible and what you're about? Right, right. And it's because it's part of a lot of the social experience with many of the people that I socialize with. It was going to be difficult, I was sure, but amazingly, I realized it's not needed. So much is not needed. Congratulations.


Thank you. I think that's it. OK, thank you very much for your attention.