October 21st, 2007, Serial No. 01005

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I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Happy Sunday to you all. Well, welcome to Aspects of Practice, and welcome to Sashin.


Alan asked me to give the first talk of our practice period, and I'm going to attempt to give an overview of the Paramitas, which is the theme of our practice period. I may talk a little bit about the particular Paramitas, but I don't want to spoil it too much because other speakers will be giving individual talks and elaborating on those teachings of the Buddha. I asked John before coming in today, I said, do you ever think about the Paramitas much? And he looked at me and smiled a little bit and he said, no, not really. And I said, me either. So with that, I now begin to share with you some of my thoughts and reflections on the Paramitas.


The first thought I had about the Paramitas is similar to the other teachings of the Buddha, which were encouragements to learn about the self, learn about oneself, and to look into the source of one's suffering and how to deal with that. I've always liked the image of a bamboo tube in our stories in Zen where we come to practice and we wiggle a lot and our practice is like a bamboo tube and our wiggle room is restricted somewhat and we learn to see ourself more clearly by not wiggling around. When I encountered people who don't practice or don't have a practice like ours, I think, what do they use to stop wiggling?


Or does that question even come up? I'm sure on some level it comes up. They might not use wiggle, they might say uncomfortable, dissatisfied or what have you. So, I feel grateful to have stumbled into this practice and to find a bamboo tube with which to practice my wiggling with you all. Before coming into Zendo, I was on my computer Googling and I wanted to look up the word Pamsuwa, which is a term in Buddhism where we use discarded things and make use of them.


And specifically, the robes were made by Buddha and his disciples of discarded rags and such. But the article that described this was not so much a definition, but actually an account of my teacher in New York's remembrances of his wife who had passed away. And there was a part of their practice place called Pamsula, which had something to do, I think, with making use of discarded things and giving it away and kind of refining things in a way, making it more useful as a way to help one's practice. And I thought about this discarded toilet paper tube here that is wrapped around my notes.


And yesterday on the community porch in the garbage can there was a paper tube And I thought to myself, that doesn't go there. That goes in the paper recycling. So I moved it over to the paper recycle bin underneath the mailboxes. And then later on, at the end of prep work period, I took the paper recycling buckets and took them over to the alleyway and discarded, took all discarded or moved the paper over there. And then this morning during the first period of Zazen, I had this thought of making use of this paper tube. So here it is resurrected in front of you all. Now some of you might be wondering, when is he gonna get to the paramedics? I wonder about that too.


I think John might be wondering, He clunked the bell before I even put my hands together, so I think you really want to hear what I got to say. Well, after another sip of water I will begin that part. And it goes something like this. Without wiggle room, you get to focus on all the people in your life and all the things that comprise your life. Hey there Tamar. Hello Post with Ron behind it. And so much of our practice is about just that, about focusing on things.


That if we really get to see the source of those things and how they affect us, we get a glimpse into our life and our life is subsequently enriched. We actually might get to see a little bit of our suffering. But there's a tendency not to have a a focus that's so close, we take in a wider field and we get distracted quite easily. And we actually perpetuate our suffering in that experience of wandering around with our minds and our eyes and ears and nose and tongue and body and mind. I was talking to Christy yesterday about this question of wandering and focus and how in our zendo it's like a laboratory and we get to focus in on things and even though we're suffering here it doesn't feel so bad.


There's a collective support of individuals but there's a container for it and when we leave the zendo you lose this container and then you start seeing the energy just dissipate out and we return to our, to that place again of discomfort and disease. So for the rest of the Sashin, I would encourage everyone just to sit as still as possible and not look around. And just receive what's being offered to you. Food comes, a thought comes, whatever it is.


There's really no need to look around. And really enjoy just being present and still. Well, there's not very much literature out there on the Paramitas. We have a Xerox on the shelf about, with some reflections on that part of our teaching by Akin Roshi. And you can read that, so that takes up much of what I was going to say.


Well, what can I say now? So I'll kind of glaze over some of that. So paramita means, or one meaning of paramita, a common meaning, is that which has reached the other shore. And perfection, perfections, six perfections. And that raises the question, well, where is the other shore? And the answer is here. It probably feels closer to realization here in the zendo. this here than out there in the world with his distractions.


But we have to go outside the gate. So we cultivate a practice here inside the gate and hopefully we can bring it outside. So when the Buddha discovered this source of suffering, he turned the wheel on Vulture Peak and laid out the Four Noble Truths. Life is Dukkha. There's a cause to Dukkha. There's a way to deal with Dukkha. And the way to deal with Dukkha is following the Eightfold Path. There's lots written on that. There's lots of commentary. And in a way, it's a lot easier to talk about. I found that it's more black and white.


Suffering, that's pretty clear. Right speech, that's pretty clear. Well, the Buddha and his disciples were working very strongly on practice of purification. So there's a large emphasis on how do you live your life in practice with the precepts. And if one actually masters this understanding, one could become an arhat. which was the ideal back in the early days. The Paramitas, while they were noted in the old sutras, they were kind of generalizations and they were offered in a more broad context.


They weren't so specific. And according to the research I've done, the really, really, really old Theravada texts don't mention the parmitas at all. So what are the parmitas? Well, there is dana, which is giving, shila, which is the morality code, kshanti, which is forbearance, viriya, which is vitality or zeal, jnana, which is zazen, and prajna, which is wisdom. And the Theravadins, or just the older school of Buddhism,


categorized the first four of morality, giving, forbearance and vitality and zeal as a world of morality. Zazen or meditation was the samadhi facet and prajna was the wisdom facet. Around the turn of the millennium Four more paramitas were added. Upaya, or skillful means. Pranidhana, which is aspiration or vow. Bala, which is spiritual strength, or the ten powers. And jhana, which is knowledge of the true definition of all dharmas. These four probably were added because this was around the time of the decimal systems invention and the power of 10.


And 10s were figured in quite prominently in the literature and 10 being symbolic of infinities, one expression of that. So there were these 10 paramitas. But generally we talk about the six. And if you look at those extra four, so-called extra four, you can see how they're contained within the first six. Some people look at the paramitas as inspirations. not specific rules or guidelines to follow, but something to be inspired by, or to inspire or evoke and bring out.


The Paramitas are listed in the Lotus Sutra, which is one of the seminal texts in Mahayana. And as the Paramitas became more reified and spoken about in the Mahayana, according to the stories, the Theravada reworked their old texts and commentaries came forward illuminating this. And my sense of that is that whereas in the earlier schools of Buddhism with the stress on purification and following these particular precepts as a practice, the Mahayana who had some questions about that style of practice which were raised after the Buddha died and of course the Mahayana is where the Zen school comes from, to me it feels like And when you say something like this from this particular seat, it seems like being the other one is wrong, right?


I'm not saying that, I just want people to be open to the idea that within the Mahayana tradition there was an emphasis more on the feeling of practice. And that the Paramitas give a place for us to look and feel the practice. How does it feel to give? How does it feel to forbear? How does it feel to have vitality or zeal? What is the feeling of Samadhi and Zazen? What is the feeling of preset practice?


It's very difficult to talk about that, because it's very subjective. And with subjectivity, everybody's got an opinion, and it takes more time to listen. So the Lotus Sutra, where these paramitas are listed out for us to study, has numerous teachings in it. And one of them is the teaching of the three vehicles of liberation, which in this story are told as a father is trying to save his children from a burning house.


And for us, this study of the Lotus Sutra and the Paramitas is a way to save ourselves from our burning house. When I put this paper tube around my notes, I remembered or reflected on napkin rings, which seemed kind of superfluous. And there may be of another era, but occasionally you'll find yourself sitting in front of one and you have to deal with it. So it's of another time, it seems, the formality of putting a napkin in a napkin ring.


Then I started thinking about orioke and these claws which tend to be kind of unwieldy and they're flopping all over the place. And it's like our mind. Our mind is flopping all over the place. And this napkin or our mind You could finish the metaphor probably, you know, you put a ring around it and it keeps it together. Okay. When we think about these stories that have been handed down to us, it's easy to get discouraged if they don't appear to be factual.


So when I was reading about the Paramitas and this sort of rewriting of that teaching in within the Theravada school, I felt a little discouraged. And then I started thinking about the Chinese pilgrims who kind of reworked the Indian sutras, which predated them, and how we rewrite the sutras. We rewrite our understanding of these paramitas. So there's nobody that's right and nobody that's wrong. But we can check in our gut about the feeling that we have that arises as we explore these paramitas together. You're typically, Dana or giving is the first paramita that's listed.


And I think it's there for a reason. Because, if you give something, you are taking the first step into the world of non-self. You might have a gaining idea about, if I give something, I'm gonna get something back. And that happens. But the initial step to give is offering something up to another person, a place, thing. We have to have a moral code. What would we have if we didn't have a moral code?


We'd think one up pretty quickly, I'm sure. I appreciate your patience. How often have we lost it because we've been out of patience? We couldn't bear it any longer. we have the joy of having music with our zazen today. It's pretty good. And the wisdom of the other shore


for me seems to point at because that other shore is here that when we get to practice that we take off the little focuser and we get to include everything. So the music or the car alarm is not a distraction or a hindrance to my meditation, my practice. It's just part of the fabric of our life. So even though we've taken off the napkin ring, and the napkin's in our lap, there's still a napkin ring there. And it's available to us to put back on and keep everything together. It seems to me that if we practice the Paramitas, we are cultivating an intuition


We start seeing with our ears and feeling with our nose. It's very evident in the Zen Do during Sashin. It's harder to access that when we're not sitting. And I think that there's a link between this intuition that we cultivate in our practice and our liberation. How often have I thought, if only, if only that person,


If only that place, if only that thing over there on the other beach. No, it's here. It's here. Trungpa Rinpoche's first book, I think in English over here, was called Meditation in Action. And it was a book about some of the paramitas. He didn't go over all of them, but some of the paramitas. That's a great title for a book. Because everyone knows what meditation is, right? How do you meditate in action? Well, these six paramitas are practicing that.


And these perfections are a process. There's no end in sight. We can say that also about the precepts that they're a process, but it's a little harder for us to accept that completely because we have fixed ideas about what right speech is as opposed to wrong speech, right livelihood versus so-called wrong livelihood. And in this process, I like to think of our individual expression as the earth and its axis. And what I mean by that is that the earth spins and it's tilted on its axis.


and it goes around and around the sun. And each one of us has a particular tilt or bent. And if we look at the precepts, or if we look at the paramitas, it's pretty easy to see, more often than not, where people are leaning toward, what they're leaning toward. by disposition, by experience, what have you. I don't know why we're oriented that way, but we seem to be. But the importance of action, the importance of energy and moving is like this rotation of the earth. Because in order for us to illuminate all the sides of ourself, even the sides that are not so well seen, you have to keep moving.


And if you go around the sun enough and you get old enough, you might create a nice tan and a patina and live with a little less difficulty and not make it so difficult for others. and we get stuck. And we don't feel like the earth is moving, but actually it is still. So, in the remaining few minutes that we have, we can begin a discussion about the Paramitas. Anything I brought up, or anything new that you have a question or comment about that you'd like to share. Thank you again. It's changed over the years.


I think the Zazen Paramita is what seems to be carrying the and helping me the most. I think a lot about energy. And if I get to talk about that a little bit more in class in a few weeks, to me, while we say Zazen is at the center of things, I'm thinking energy is at the center of things. Because if we don't have energy, it's really hard to practice. Yet, if we fully accept that I have very little energy today, we can still practice with that. So maybe Zazen's still at the center, but energy certainly figures in.


Do you have a favorite? Well, Prajnaparamita takes many forms, and one of them is the image on our altar here, in front of the Buddha, that our dear friend and sangha member Rebecca Maeno made many years ago.


So it's a nice symbol, represents this transcendence. Sue? Thank you for your talk. I see that there's a structure of support between the two. Yeah, that's one rendering of it. Well I'm reminded of the question that someone asked Suzuki Roshi When does Zazen begin?"


And he said, it never ended. So even though we do set time aside for giving, for instance, at the end of the year, you know, cutting checks to charitable institutions and whatnot, there's opportunities 24-7 for that when we think about it. As far as the structure, Well, it's a container, isn't it? And I think that's what Christie and I were talking about yesterday. You know, the container of the practice, these things come into much more focus. And how do we create these containers or structures outside the gate? That's the real challenge. Well, I just want to say that I noticed that because I have regularity about something, I can bring it out elsewhere.


Because I have the regularity now. You can cut contributions in time and money. And attention, actually. So, expanding my... Well, I think when you give, it sets up a venue, and the venue of I think it's a whole other talk, you know?


But I think when we give, the other five parmitas come together because they don't exist without giving. If you give, you've taken a moment to see yourself in relationship to another. And that's what Zen practice, that's what Zen is about. And you have to have patience to do that, and that's the forbearance side. and you have to have energy or zeal or interest or excitement or juice about that. And with that giving, you have to relate to the other person, place, or thing in a way which feels harmonious and not objectifying, which is part of the moral code. And I think when we see that, we get a taste of what Ron's going to talk about in his class about prajna. And it's a process.


I think it's an ongoing thing. It's not something that's fixed. We tend to attribute and aggrandize the Buddha and the people in our lineage who've made these huge contributions and rightfully so. They were warriors, or warrioresses, to persevere. And, you know, we're all doing that. Our stories might not sound as grand as the sutra books, sutras, but we're all doing that. You know, the 40th celebration, you just kind of feel it. You can taste it. You know, it wasn't just a party. It was like an expression of all this stuff coming together.


Yeah, yeah. And there's going to be another one. It was so good. November 3rd, I'll be there. Linda? Well, I was thinking about some of the structures and computers and stuff and how I'm going to ask about the way we do this chant, which came up at some point before which it didn't used to be. homage to the lovely, the holy, you know, she is this and she is that, and they like her. I'm down with that. Well, I've always been wondering about going to that kind of, what strikes me as kind of excess of personifying Prajna, you know, as this goddess.


I know it's happened in the tradition. I feel more comfortable having the statue, because the statue keeps kind of quiet. Really, I'm sort of bothered by that. I wonder what you think of it. Well, personally, I like it. I like women. And personification of women in the myriad forms are to be respected, admired, and appreciated. And over all the years of that not happening, which we're all very well aware of, it's nice that it's getting brought to light now. And even that image there, made by Rebecca Maeno, who has Alzheimer's and is not here in a particular plane of relationship that we've known for so many years.


And her model for that, Karen Dakotis, who's not here, living in Montana. to hear with us. So the images are nice because they're reminders and they evoke something that many of us feel inspired by. When I looked up Pamsula in the When I googled it, I came across this story of my first teacher's wife, who was having a very hard time with this patriarchal lineage and the Japanese forms and all of that. And she began a process with other women teachers to formulate a lineage.


of women teachers who were inspiring to them. And it seemed to help. Yes. To have a lineage of women, inspiring women, ancestors, who would be then saying, homage to the lovely, the holy, the holy, you know. I'm inspired by God and say loving, holy, you know. So creating a transcendent Sheesh. Yeah. Well, I think it's both. Because we have, as Ron, why Ron was so, he likes the, that paschal parmita is because it's a transcendent quality and yet there's the ordinary quality of just us. And we have to say something, well we don't have to, but when we say something we're going to make a mistake on one side or the other. So hopefully we can have a continuing dialogue and forbear with these discussions and bring up these various sides.


And depending on our tilt, we're gonna tilt one way or another. And that's the way the world goes around. So, thank you for your questions and your attention. Colleen, maybe the last, yeah, last. So you might think that I didn't have those thoughts in my mind. Well I had those thoughts in my mind and I have those thoughts in my mind at work where I'm rescuing all sorts of things and because I think this is really holy and I want to have an echo


Maybe that's what today's talk, I want to echo about this toilet paper roll. But some people might laugh at it and laugh at me and think that I'm wasting their time. And I'm saved by that realization because it all goes back into the earth, whether it's moved to this bin or that bin or just goes directly here, directly there. It all goes back to the earth, just like you and me. Yeah. So, a bigger question, saving these things is, does it go over? Thank you very much. Beings are numberless.