Gracious Attention to StoriesĀ 

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If I talk like this, can you hear me in the back? So I've got this device which I can clip on here and speak to you about a bond between all of us, between all humans and between all humans and non-humans, a bond, a bond between all beings, enlightened beings and unenlightened beings, a silent bond between all beings, and the silent bond is what we call enlightenment.


Enlightenment is the silent bond among all beings, and that's it. And so the enlightenment has a form of being, and the way it is, the way it comes into being is through all of us being related. However, we're not necessarily awakened to this enlightenment, to this bond. So, there's a practice of awakening to this bond among all of us. And, again, the way we're all related is very intense, so intense that it gives off


a great light. So, the English word enlightenment is a nice translation of this Asian concept, this Asian discovery of something about the way we're related which can enlighten us. When we see this light, we become free of delusion. We become free of delusion, which is the cause of our suffering. And we become free of the delusion that we're not working closely together. We even become free of the delusion that we have about working closely together.


So sometimes we feel like we're working closely together, sometimes we have an idea about how we're working closely together, which is a pleasant idea, maybe. Sometimes it's not pleasant, I guess. Some people feel like they're working closely together with people that they'd rather not be working closely together with. So then they feel like maybe they'd like to get those people to go someplace else, because they don't want to work closely together with them. They think there's an option. So any idea we have about our relationship doesn't reach our relationship. And if we grasp the ideas we have of our relationship, that is the cause of suffering. If we grasp what we think our relationship is, and we do usually think our relationship


is this or that. If we grasp that, this is the cause of suffering. If we think we're together and grasp that, we suffer. If we think we're separate and grasp that, we suffer. And there is a practice of simply graciously observing the stories we have about our relationships. Like if you think you're separate from anybody, if you think anybody's life is separate from your life, if you have that story, if that's how things look to you, they might look that


way. If you can graciously observe that story, graciously and thoroughly observe the story that somebody is not your close friend, if you can graciously observe the story that someone's separate from you, or a lot of people are separate from you, whatever the story is, through such a contemplation there will be an opening in the story and the actual light of your relationship will come through and set you free from believing your story about who you are, about who other people are, about what a tree is, about what a mountain is, about what a republican is, about what a democrat is, about what a buddhist is, about


what enlightenment is, you'll become free of all your stories, you'll become free of suffering. So this basic practice of aimlessly loving all your stories, every moment stories arise in your mind, love them, generously love them, without trying to get anything from them or give them a big field, as we say. They will evolve positively under this aimless love, the stories will then be allowed to evolve more and more positively, but also your vision will get more and more ready to


see the light in all your stories. There's a light in all your stories about every being, and every being has light. But because we have a mind which gives rise to a story about people, the stories we have about people somewhat obscure their light and obscure our own, even though it's being communicated back and forth, moment by moment. This kind of practice is a practice, in a sense, it's a means, or it's a practice of initiation, it's an initiatory practice, to initiate ourselves into the actual enlightenment, which is our actual relationship with beings, and it's their relationship with us.


The actual relationship is the actual practice that we wish to enter. So, the practice of the Buddha is the way we're all practicing together now. There's a scripture called the Lotus of the True Law, the wonderful Lotus of the True Law, and it teaches one path of enlightenment, or one vehicle. It teaches the vehicle of the Buddha's meditation, or the Buddha's practice.


And the Buddha's practice is the practice of all beings supporting each other and being supported by each other. That's the Buddha's practice. And in the school of Zen that is closely associated with this temple, we have a practice which we call in Japanese Zazen, or you can say sitting meditation. And we teach this sitting meditation in different ways, but today I would like to mention the speaking of the actual sitting meditation of the Buddha. And in this sitting meditation, this practice, we say sometimes that in each moment of this sitting,


each moment of this sitting is equally wholeness of practice and equally wholeness of enlightenment. But another way of saying it is that each moment of sitting is equally the same practice and the same enlightenment for both the person sitting and all beings. So the one vehicle, or in some sense the one practice, is the practice which is equally the same practice for each of you and all beings. That's equally the same practice for all of us and the same enlightenment for all of us.


That's the practice of Buddha's meditation. And we go on to say that such a sitting meditation, such a practice, such a practice which is the same practice, equally the same practice for you and all beings, that that practice is not limited to sitting. It's like a hammer striking emptiness. Before and after, it pervades past and future. It's not limited to this moment. So you don't have to understand it as sitting, but just that in each moment of practice,


the actual Buddha's practice is the practice that's the same for you and all beings. And that's the same enlightenment for you and all beings. When I say this, my mind, hearing what I just said, it kind of says, well, how can I get a hold of such a practice? How can I get a hold of the way I'm practicing the same as you?


And I don't think I can get a hold of it. I can't get a hold of the way I'm practicing the same way as all of you, and all trees and bears and mountains. I can't get a hold of that. But if I open to it, if I open to what I can't get a hold of, I can be free from the story of me practicing in a way that's different from you. I do have a story that I practice differently from somebody. So like I have a story that I practice differently from my grandson, or from a Muslim, or from an atheist, or from a terrorist.


I have a story that I practice a different way than them. And if I believe that story, I suffer. And I hear other people tell me stories, and it sounds to me like they have a story that they also practice differently from other beings. And I hear them say that they're suffering because of the story which they have about the way they're practicing, about the way they're living. They're suffering. And I see them suffering because they're holding on to their story, that they're practicing better than some people, or not as good as some people, not as well as some people. But basically, different. Basically there's some discrimination in their story which they're caught by,


or that they're grasping, and they're suffering because of that. So basically what I'm trying to practice and encourage is an aimless loving of the story that we're caught in moment by moment. An aimless loving of our story. Graciously observe your story right now. If you have a terrible story, graciously observe it. If you have a lovely, pleasant story, gracefully observe it. If you have a terrible story, don't tense up around it. If you're tensing up around it, be gracious towards tensing up around it.


Aimlessly love yourself as you tense up around your story. If you have a lovely story, a story of how skillful you're being, how kind everyone's being to you, how supportive everyone's being to you, and you feel real happy and joyful, graciously observe that situation, that story. Love that without trying to make it continue or end. Aimlessly love it. And my proposal is that if we can consistently treat this story-making function of our mind, if we can consistently treat it in this open, gracious way, all of our stories will turn into light. And we will open to the actuality of our relationship with all beings.


We will open to the light. And this light, which is the light emerging from our relationship, is the face of the Buddha. It's the face of the Buddha's practice. And if we can relax with our horrible stories, and relax with our magnificent, gorgeous stories, that ability to be that way with our stories will prepare us to be that way with the light. We will not be grasping our stories, we will be giving close care to all of our stories without grasping them. We will develop a relationship with our stories where we will give up being able to get and grasp our stories. And in that mode we can open to another reality


which we can't get or grasp. But we can be realized by this actual relationship. So in a sense I'm offering the possibility of the practice of the Buddha, not the possibility, I'm offering the proposal that the practice of the Buddha, we're already in it. We're already in the relationship with all beings. The practice of the Buddha completely surrounds us. But because we have a mind which creates a limited version of our relationship, which I'm calling stories, we're blinded to it. So in order to open to the infinite practice that we live in,


we have to take good care of the limited practice, the finite practice that our mind is creating, the finite world that our mind is creating. But in a sense really there is only one practice. It is the practice that we're doing together. And we have dreams of other kinds of practices. But caring for our dream practice opens us to this unlimited practice. And not caring for our dreams, or caring for them in a tight way, in an ungracious way, attaching to our limited version, is suffering. What is suffering?


Someone just recently came and talked to me about a story that she had, a story that she was a failure in her work. That was her story. If someone had come to me and told me that they have a story that they're a success in their work, that would be an equally good example. But this person's story was that they were a failure in their work. And different people would have different definitions of what would constitute failure in their work, and what would constitute success. So this person had her story of being a failure in her work, and she asked me, what is right effort?


And I started by just saying what I told you. I said, well, right effort would be to graciously contemplate the story that you're a failure. If you have a story that you're a success, then right effort would be to graciously, thoroughly contemplate the story that you're a success. And then in both cases, you would become relieved of the story of failure and the story of success. Once again, if I have a story of failure, maybe it's easy to understand that if you have a story of failure and you tense up around it, you suffer. But it's also, I propose, if you have a story of success and you stiffen around it, you suffer. And in both cases, and in all cases of any story that you stiffen around,


not only do you suffer, but you blind yourself to your life with beings, to your unstoried life with all beings. The story attached to it blinds us to our unstoried, untold, unspoken, silent bond with all beings. It blinds us to enlightenment. Once again, being gracious with your stories, the terrible and wonderful, you will open to this light. You will meet Buddha face to face. And this face will not look like a man or a woman. It will look like light. And the light will not look like light.


It will be light. It won't look like anything. It will look like freedom. And freedom won't look like anything. But then I went on further to say to her, but technically speaking, right effort is one of the elements of the Eightfold Path that the Buddha taught. Right view, right intention, right action, right speech, right livelihood, right mindfulness, right effort, right concentration. Right effort is the seventh of the Eightfold Path. And it has kind of a technical, I always feel kind of uncomfortable, because it's kind of technically presented by the Buddha. It has four parts. The first part is,


I'm going to say this slightly different than it's sometimes said. I'll just say how it's usually said and try to say it another way. The first one is to prevent the arising of unarisen, unwholesome states. A lot of un's there. So I'd like to say, I would say to encourage the non-arising of unwholesome stories that have not arisen. And the next one is to encourage the dropping or letting go of unwholesome stories that have arisen.


And the other is to encourage the arising of wholesome stories, of skillful stories, that have not arisen. And to encourage the development of wholesome stories that have arisen. Once again, the first one is to prevent the arising of unwholesome stories. The other is to drop the unwholesome stories that have arisen. To promote the arising of wholesome stories and to promote the flourishing of wholesome stories that have arisen. The way of preventing the arising of unwholesome stories that have not arisen


is to deal with whatever story you've got in a gracious way. So, for example, move on to the next one. If you've got an unwholesome story, like a story, an unwholesome story, we can't be sure, but you might think an unwholesome story would be to do something that would hurt you and hurt beings that you really love. You might think that there was an unwholesome story, an unskillful story. Like, get drunk and pile all your loved ones in the car and then drive off a road. You might think that's a story of unskillfulness. Or, be cruel to someone who's being kind to you. You might think that's unskillful. It probably is, but we can't be sure, but it probably is. Let's say you've got a story like that, let's say.


Or you've got a story, I'm a failure at being a good helper, and I want to be a good helper, and I'm a failure at it. That's a story of unskillfulness. Now, if you practice generosity towards this story, you really let this story be this story. You love this story without trying to get anything from the story. You're not trying to get rid of it. You're trying to give it away. You're not trying to get rid of it. You want to give it away. You want to treat it in such a way that it turns into a gift, that it turns into a light. If you treat this unwholesome story that way, that eventually will turn the unwholesome story into light on the spot, and it also will prevent the arising over time. It will gradually encourage the non-arising of further unwholesome stories.


And then again, whether you're dealing with a wholesome story or an unwholesome story, if you practice this the way, this encourages the arising of wholesome stories. That's the third one. You've got an unwholesome story, you treat it graciously and lovingly without trying to get anything. Just give yourself wholly to it. That promotes the arising of a wholesome, of a skillful that hasn't arisen. And then if a skillful state has arisen and you treat it in this way, it tends to reproduce, or not reproduce, but it tends to be a condition for another wholesome story, even a more wholesome story. So the unskillful treated graciously are abandoned, and skillful treated graciously flourish. Unskillful treated graciously, lovingly, are abandoned and tend towards


being a condition for wholesome. That's a description of right effort, working with the different types of stories that we have. And this kind of practice is a practice of initiating ourselves into the light of Buddha's wisdom. Initiating ourselves into the practice of our actual relationship with each other. I'm going to say wean ourselves from living in our stories and holding to our stories. Wean ourselves from practicing in a way,


I'm not going to say wean exactly, but to learn how to not hold on to our story of the way we practice by ourself. And to open to the way we practice with all beings in the same way, which is the definition of Buddha. To open ourselves to Buddha, which is not me and not you, it's the way you and I are practicing together in the same way. That's Buddha. That's enlightenment. I heard a story about a French boy,


and I think when he was about eight years old or something like that, he might have been a little older, over a fairly short period of time his eyes started to become dim and dim and dim. I think in a week or something, he went blind. So he had been able to see, in the normal way of seeing light, he could see until he was about that age. So when he went blind, he had some, in a sense, experience of seeing. And then, not too long after he went blind, I don't remember exactly, does anybody know? Not too long after he went blind, he realized he could see. And so he wrote a book, he dictated a book, called And Then There Was Light.


So, I don't know how this happened to him, but somehow he opened to this light. So I could tell the story that what happened to him was that he had a story that he was a little boy, living in France, and that he could see, and then he had a story that he was going blind, and then he had a story that he was blind. And then he graciously observed the story that he was blind, that he couldn't see, and that he was French, and that he was a boy. He observed his stories. Somehow he was able to do this. By the grace of his relationship with all beings, he was able to be gracious with his story of being blind. And in that graciousness,


he opened to the light, which blind people can open to, and sighted people can open to. And he said that once he saw the light, he always knew what to do. He could just see what to do. And he could also actually move around, to some extent, in the physical world. Pretty well, without using one of those little canes. He knew what to do all the time, because he saw this light, which he hadn't seen when he could see. Then he had some troubles, and before he saw this light, he had some difficulty knowing what was appropriate to do. But once he saw this light,


when he saw that light, he always knew what to do. Except that when he became frightened, or angry, the light went away. And then he didn't know what to do. But then, I would guess, I don't know what he would say, I would guess that when the anger came, and the fear came, and the light went away, that he was gracious with the story of the light going away, of there being no light, and him being afraid. Afraid in the dark. Afraid in the dark. Afraid and angry in the dark. That he was gracious with that. And in that graciousness,


the light came back, and the fear... Actually, I think it's more like this. In the graciousness, the fear goes away, and the anger goes away. Not being gracious with your story, rather than liking your story. Rather than liking your bad stories, or liking your good stories, or liking your good stories, or hating your good stories. In the graciousness towards your stories, the light comes back. But if we flinch and go back and lose our graciousness, the light goes away again. In the light we're freed, but it doesn't mean our habit to be ungracious is totally dropped. So we can flip back into being ungracious and gripping our stories about each other and ourselves. And then the light goes out and we become afraid. Or rather, we become afraid and angry


and the light goes out, along with the grasping. He then joined the French Resistance and was taken to... He got caught by the Nazis and was taken to a concentration camp. And in the concentration camp he was... He tells this story about him being this great helper to all the other people in the camp because he could see what to do. And he brought the vision of light among the other inmates. And he helped. He helped them deal with this terrible, not this terrible, but all those horrible stories He helped them be gracious with them so that even in the midst


of the most horrible stories they could see the light and help each other. And so he did this through the war. And actually there was one time after the war was over and the Nazis wanted the... The Allies were coming and they didn't want them to see these people in these camps so they released the people. And the way that they were going to release them, he could see, was death to them. So he advised his inmates to not go the way that they would be told to go. He saw another way to go. And he saved... Because of his vision, because he could see, he saved thousands... I think it was thousands of inmates from what they would have done if they followed the instructions of their captors


who were trying to hide the situation and also have these people all die. If you come to Zen Center and get instruction in sitting meditation, we have an introductory sitting meditation here at 8.30 and I think in the city center also at 8.30 and at Tassajara it's 4 in the afternoon. So we give these introductory instructions to people, but we don't usually say in the introductory instruction that the practice of sitting meditation,


each moment of it, is equally the same practice and the same enlightenment of you and all beings. We don't usually say that in the introductory instruction. What we usually say is when you come in the room we usually put our palms together and bow and then we hold our hands in a position like this where the hands are folded at the chest and we walk quietly to our seat and when we get to our seat we again join our palms and bow towards our seat and we turn clockwise and bow away from our seat and we sit down and turn clockwise to sit and then we have very seven points of posture to check on while we're sitting and then we also, while being aware of our posture, we notice our breathing and so on. This is the kind of instruction we give in sitting meditation to beginners. It sounds a little different then.


Please, you may come in here and practice the same practice and the same enlightenment as all beings. So the teaching I'm giving is complementing the other teaching and the other teaching is a way to tune into a story. A story of you coming into a room and sitting in a certain posture and you paying attention to your posture and you noticing the story and the stories that arise while you sit and meditate in a room with some other people and you may notice then the story of that you're doing a different practice from the other people and then as you practice you notice that you're suffering because you have a story and you're more or less holding on to it. Or, you might notice that you have a story


that you're sitting and practicing and you're not holding on to it for some reason and you're opening to the light and you know what to do. But most people don't actually open to it right away. They actually get somewhat caught in their story and then they go to see a teacher and they tell the teacher that they're caught and then the teacher might help them or might try to help them be gracious with the story that they're caught in the story of being a Zen student or being a meditator or being a good meditator or a bad meditator. Some people have the story that they're good meditators and the people next to them aren't. And then they come and they say, I feel so terrible. I think I'm a good meditator and my neighbors are lousy meditators. I feel so bad to think of them that way. I mean, I know they're not bad meditators. I know they're not worthless Zen students and I know I'm not better than them


but I keep thinking that. Over and over I think, why did they let these people in here? They should have a policy against people that aren't as good as me being here. Now I know that's stupid but I keep thinking that way. The story keeps arising and then when it's so horrible that I tense up and I kind of feel totally stuck in this story that I'm the best Zen student in my row or at least in these three seats. And I have another story that there's somebody else sitting way down at the end of the row who's been around a long time and they're better than me. I have that story too. That they're a really good meditator. They're even better than me and I tense around that one too and I suffer with that one. As a matter of fact, I'm afraid to go talk to that guy who I have the story that he's better than me. And you're encouraged to go talk to the one that you think is better than you


that you're afraid of and that you're tense around them being better than you. You're not necessarily encouraged to go talk to the one that you think is worthless and you're tense around that. Go talk to the one that you think is really great and that you're stiff with that story and don't want to talk to them or have them see you because if they saw you they would know how inferior you are, etc. Or you could have the story actually there's one other person in the room who is as enlightened as me and that's the Master. That person actually is enlightened. I think I will go see the Master and let them know that they've made it to my level. But actually, if you're feeling like that and you're kind of relaxed about it and feel okay about going to Zen


you might also notice that that's not true. That everybody is equal to you. Everybody is doing the same practice as you. You might notice that. So I'm partly telling you that when you come to a Zen center you'll hear two kinds of instructions. One kind of instruction is instruction in becoming aware of stories. And those are good instructions. And I'm in addition saying try to be lovingly, graciously aware of all your stories that everybody is helping you become aware of so that you can become free of them and enter into what isn't a story. A silent place. An unconstructedness. In silence and stillness where we're working in perfect peace and harmony with all beings. Like that song goes


I see, I see friends shaking hands saying, how do you do? They're really saying I love you and I think to myself what a wonderful world. Like that. You want more? I don't know what else to do. So please be gracious. Be attentive and gracious to the workings of your mind as it creates moment by moment a story of your relationship with the world. Please take care of that. And


there will be light someday and you will be set free of all your good and bad stories.