Perfect Effort, Blind Faith

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Shuso talk

AI Summary: 



So, good morning everyone. We're about in the halfway point, the middle part of our spring practice period. And I think all the ingredients are here. All the ingredients are here. And we're simmering right along in the stew of our practice of divine light. I think everyone must be attracted to the light because we have a full house today. And whether you're here on an occasional Saturday during our practice period or whether you're sitting every day, I think the energy is apparent and we're all contributing and making this practice period happen. So I wonder at this point in practice period, how is your practice? How do you experience your Divine Light? Is it something that's within you? Is it something that's without? We started this practice period by studying Case 86 of the Blue Cliff Record, which is Yun Man's kitchen pantry and main gate, where Yun Man says to the assembly, everyone has a divine light.


What is yours? No one can answer him. And so he gives them an instruction and says, the main gate and the kitchen pantry. Whatever our activity, wherever we are, whether it's the mundane or whether it is the holy, that is our divine light. Wherever we are, whatever it is, whether it's the something ordinary or something extraordinary, it contains within it the divine light. And so now we'll return to the pursuit of understanding this ordinary way with the case that I've been given for the practice period. The title of the second talk on this koan is Something Like Perfect Effort and Blind Faith. And I'll read again for you case 19 of the Mumonkan, but to set the stage, let's remember the protagonist.


We have Don Sen, who is a great teacher. one of the greatest of his generation. He lived in the mid-700s to the mid-800s. And he's here with his young man who will go on to be his preeminent student, Zhou Xu. Zhou Xu lived to be 120, and we have more koans and more of his records than we do of any other teacher. So he turned out to be great. There's a wonderful little book of his sayings called I think the sayings of Joshu by James Green has many. This is the first one, this case in the Mumonkan is the first of them. It's very interesting because a lot of them are exchanges with his teacher and there are these wonderful banterings where they're each really sparring very playfully with the other. You can't really tell who's the teacher and who's the student in them, I think. But in this case, Joshu is an earnest young man, maybe not unlike ourselves, wondering how to find his way on the path.


Joshu asked Nansen, what is the way? Ordinary mind is the way, Nansen replied. Shall I seek after it? Joshu asked. If you try for it, you will become separated from it, responded Nansen. How can I know the way unless I try for it, persisted Joshu. Nansen said, the way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion, not knowing is confusion. If you have really reached the true way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on a level of right and wrong? With these words, Joshu came to sudden realization. Mumon's comment, nonsense dissolved and melted away before Joshu's questions and could not offer a plausible explanation.


Even though Joshu comes to realization, he must delve into it for another 30 years before he can fully understand it. I think this is really a wonderful koan and one worthy of 30 years of deliberation. And in it, there are multiple koans, multiple questions that I'd encourage everyone to consider sinking your teeth into. What is ordinary mind? How is it when we're our most ordinary that we're also our most extraordinary? What is the effort that brings that which is already our natural birthright to fruition? How do we know who we actually are through what kind of effort when it's already there? What is the knowing that is not reached by feelings and deliberation, words or letters? These are all the koans of this koan.


So Zhou Xu has the answer. He's given it up front. Ordinary mind is the way. And yet he knows that he still wants some kind of specific instruction. Don't we all? We come to practice and we have some inkling of what we're looking for, but we don't know how to find it. And he asks this question in such a way that he really knows that there's Nothing he's going to be given, but still he has to ask, shall I try for it, he says. The answer, there are different translations, and they all point to similar things in a different way. If you turn towards it, you go against it. If you seek it, to seek it is to deviate from it. The more you seek after it, the more it runs away from you. And if you try for it, you become separated from it.


I like the idea that I think the separated from is very helpful. There are echoes here of what Dogen Zenji will write 400 years later in the Genjo Koan, when he says, when you first seek the Dharma, you stray far away from the boundary of the Dharma. When the Dharma is correctly transmitted to the self, you are immediately your original self. Moving towards things, we're evaluating, measuring, comparing, setting up a reality compared to ourselves. Seeking and seeking to attain something, even that which is wholesome at first, such as an end to our suffering or to become a Buddha, we set up a duality. This dissolution and separation of the intimate knowing of the true reality of all being, which is our own original nature, is the way.


But the paradox is that in wanting it and going after it in the usual way that we go after things, by knowing, by attaining an experience, we risk corrupting our very sincerity and in losing our way down some foxhole chasing after it. So what then is right effort? Now we usually think of effort as some kind of exertion or strength of will, some kind of mighty force and that's often misplaced. I have to say I've had a lot of effort and put forth a lot of effort in my life and a lot of it has been misplaced trying to do the right thing or to get it right. It's kind of like trying to tighten the screw down too hard with a screwdriver and stripping the threads. That's a certain kind of effort that we sometimes make. Or it's a valiant filly running the Kentucky Derby with all of her force and breaking her legs because she doesn't know her limits.


There's also, Suzuki Roshi tells us we should make perfect effort. Perfect effort is also a kind of a catch, I think, and I think he was a master at giving us, putting words together in a way that challenge a little bit, there's a meaning underneath. So perfect effort, you know, there's a kind of striving that is inherent in the idea of perfection, or at least there can be, there can seem to be. That's the catch. He also says we should make pure effort, pure and perfect effort. Effort is one of the factors of enlightenment, one of the requirements that we have in order to become enlightened. The pure effort is kind of like having all of the ingredients that you need, meditation, moral conduct, patience, wisdom, it's the baking soda.


It's what allows it to rise, this pure effort that we make. Pure effort is what I'd like to call nothing special added effort, the NSA of our practice. The NSA of our effort is what Suzuki Roshi says is the right effort is to get rid of something extra. So that something extra is that which we add of ourselves to try and make some particular outcome, to try and make it good, to try and get it right. But actually, we don't have to do that. All we have to do is apply ourselves with complete and sincere and perfect effort and it will be exactly as it's meant to be. Maybe you've had that experience of doing that, I think being in the kitchen is one of the best ways to apply oneself that way.


When you're the tensor in the kitchen, you have multiple things going on and many people helping and you yourself are in the middle of doing some kind of activity, giving your full attention to it and multitasking, thinking ahead with the meal, being present to where you are and with all the different workers in the kitchen. And unless you're completely giving your attention and all of your energy to what you're doing, something will go wrong. The tempeh will get burned or the oatmeal will boil over. We have a wonderful practice period dinner that's in the offing right now with many hands that are in it. And you can feel that kind of activity. where everyone is completely focused on what they're doing, giving their full attention to it, not really anticipating the outcome. Can you feel that energy as you're walking through the courtyard here, maybe as you're doing, as you're cooking here together today?


So I think one of the important factors behind the effort is the kind of intention that you have. What is the right intention or the quality of intention? Who am I doing this for? Who am I in this or just who? Really what's behind the intention is your attitude. is the additive with which you do things. Sojin Roshi says, present yourself like an offering. In order for your practice to come alive, you have to offer yourself completely to what you're doing. So you are in the center of the mandala, and the offering is everything that you put forth, all of the activity that you put forth from the center of your mandala. The effort is an offering to what it is that you're doing. It's not for you.


And from that unselfconscious place, Buddha nature arises. Robert Aiken talks about in his Zen instruction, giving your full devotion to the breath. It's like that in everything we do. Effort is like that. It's to give your full devotion Full devotion is like being a parent when your child needs something, or at least a good parent. When your child needs something, you don't ask what about that. You just give yourself over to it. This is right effort. This is effort with nothing special added. It's just doing completely out of your full heart. So Joshu still doesn't know how to proceed. He says, if I'm to know the way, how will I know the way if I don't move towards it?


And Nansen says, the way is not subject to knowing or not knowing. When you truly know the way beyond doubt, it's as vast as space itself. What is this knowing? Knowing is delusion, not knowing is blankness. We all, now this is another place where in Zen, in the lexicon of Zen, knowing has two sides and not knowing has two sides. The knowing that we are commonly accustomed to is when we know something, right? You know, you just, and we have a lot of experience with needing to know things and the way in which knowing things can get us into difficulty. In medical training, we're taught to make diagnoses by gathering information and based on what are the most common scenarios, having a differential diagnosis, a list of things that are possible, and then zoning in.


There's a problem that we teach medical students about that's called premature closure. And what that means is, maybe you know this from other realms, you get enough of different pieces of information, they have a pretty good idea, and then you hone in on it before you've actually examined everything in great deal. And you can make really serious mistakes. What sounds like hoofbeats isn't always a horse, sometimes it's a zebra, and you don't want to miss it. In our class, as we've been studying light, I think many of us were quite captured by the story of Jacques Laceran, who writes about being a young man at age eight and going blind, and how in his blindness his senses to the whole world opened up and he could experience things that he had never experienced before as a sighted person. Our brain


The whole posterior part of our brain is what we use to process visual information. And it's meant to process that information by pattern recognition, by ideas that we get used to seeing certain things. And we know that something that's about six feet tall that has wheels on it and moves at a certain speed is likely to be a car, so better jump and get out of the way if it's coming for you. It also is what allows you to recognize your friends quickly at a distance. You have some sense of the nose and the glasses that they wear and how they walk. So this is very adaptive to survival, but it's not so good as a Zen student because we have a lot of inherent biologic neurology that's about jumping to conclusions and knowing things. We also have the circumstances of our conditioning.


For example, as a Greek-American middle-aged Caucasian woman who is a physician and has lived a lot of her life in California, I have certain beliefs and behaviors that are assumptions that are just the starting place that I will always inherently have. And we'll need always to be aware of that kind of cultural coloring. And more than that, more maybe than all of these, the place where we have the most opportunity to change is our preferences. Are there things that we like and we dislike? And the way the things that we like and we dislike color the way in which we see the world. And I'd like to give you an example of that. Some years ago I was off on a long Vipassana retreat. Vipassana retreats are silent. They're very silent.


And I was in the midst of 30 days of silence and spending most of my time in my room, deep in meditation. and coming out only for meals and people would eat their meals in the same dining hall family style. So you come and you would serve up and sit down and quietly eat your meal and then go back and return to your meditation schedule. There was one in the meditation hall that you could keep your own if you wanted to and I was at a full boil in meditation. This particular day I had taken it as a practice to examine some a certain kind of mindfulness or certain kind of present moment awareness and that was on feeling tone and being aware of whether I was experiencing things as positive, negative or neutral. And whenever I was aware of being positive or negative, I would invite myself just to be neutral about it.


And that was very intent and concentratedness all day. So I come in for dinner in the dining hall and there's this cacophony of noise going on. People are pounding their forks, you know, as they're eating and their knives are going and they're dishing up their plates that the spoons are clanging against the serving dishes, and it's just so loud. And I look up, and there's someone who has this bright orange, fluorescent orange sweatshirt on. You know, if you've been really quiet. Vipassana is not Zen, but still, people don't wear loud colors. And I was aware of having this really strong aversion to what was happening. And I said to myself, not positive, not negative, only neutral. And in that moment, it's as if someone took the volume and turned the sound way down, and it became relatively quiet.


And I looked over again at the person who had the bright orange sweatshirt on, and I could see that it was more of a faded peach color. So there's so much to knowing, huh? Not knowing is also something in Zen that has two different sides to it. And it's used in this koan, and we think about it usually as ignorance, confusion, a lack of discrimination, or stagnation. But I'd like to introduce another kind of not knowing to us. And this is what I thought I had remembered, what I thought I knew, what I thought I had remembered from a dokasan that I had had at Tassajara. And I was really sure it was a particular koan. And after looking at just about every one that's ever been recorded, I realized that it was a combination of two different stories that had gotten put together during a dokasan.


So I'm going to tell you a modern day Tassajara koan. A young Zen student, not a young woman, but a young Zen student decides to go for a practice period of Tassajara and is extremely excited about it for months and makes all the preparations for many months to leave work. to make arrangements for bills to be paid and the home to be looked after and rented out and most importantly that her faithful dog be well cared for while she's gone. And she arrives down at Tassajara full of light and energy. And up sits the first five days of the entrance layer, Tangario, to begin the practice period, and dutifully signs up to sit down with the abbess for the first dokason, or formal interview. And says to her teacher, I'm really so excited to be here, but I really have no idea why.


I'm here. I really have no idea why I'm here. Do you feel that way sometimes? Do you have a reason why you've come here? Maybe the first time or the first few years. It's out of some kind of suffering or distress or loneliness or you know that something's missing but you don't know what it is. But after a while, if you keep coming back, you kind of keep coming back and you don't always know why. And it's not just that it's socialization or something to do at 540 in the morning. There's something else, but you can't always put a finger on it. I'm so happy to be here, but I don't know why I'm here. To which the teacher says, not knowing is most intimate. Not knowing is most intimate.


It's the most intimate thing to your heart to be able to ask that question, why? Why am I here? What is this? Who is this person? Not knowing allows all the possibilities in the world to be right here, right now with you. But the young student is not so different from Zhou Xu, and she says, Can you tell me anything else that will help? To which the teacher says, how do I get there? To which the teacher says, the vast blue sky does not prevent the white clouds from flying. The vast blue sky does not prevent the white clouds from flying. The blue sky, traditionally in the Zen lexicon, is the mind of enlightenment.


What is this? It's ordinary mind. It's beginner's mind. It's the child's mind, when she's out playing, doing something for the first time, having no idea what it is, but just doing it for the pure joy of it, pure effort, nothing extra added. And white clouds are our delusive thoughts. Or maybe they're just our thoughts. You know, there's nothing to get rid of here. It's just to recognize things as they are. Things for what they are. Not positive, not negative, not neutral. Whatever the feeling tone, whatever the emotion, whatever the thought is, just with an open hand to allow it to drip by like clouds unencumbered in the vast blue sky. Nansen says, I think taking a line from the Xin Xin Ming from a poem that was written a hundred years earlier, you truly realize the way of no doubt.


It's just like the sky. wide, vast, open emptiness. Kanchi Sosan, our third ancestor, says in the Shinshin Ming, the way is perfect, like vast space, where nothing is missing and nothing is in excess. And so when you hold on to nothing, when you're not caught by your, by, when I'm not caught by my aversive, grasping mind, Everything is just the way it should be. Nothing is out of place in the harmony, is out of place in the universe. Nothing is missing, and nothing is in excess, and I can trust in that. I think that is our blind faith, the faith that doesn't see, but it senses everything completely as being where they should be, that does not jump to conclusions, but recognizes the rightness of


things as they are or things as it is. And so when I remove my own clinging, wanting, and aversion, I see that everything arises out of a natural harmony and a natural responsiveness to factors and conditions. It's the early experience that we have as children where we're completely unencumbered. To make that effort, just offering yourself of yourself with no expectations of the outcome, I'd like to come close to the end by telling a story of May Weaves. And it's actually a story that someone told at her memorial service here, so I don't know it firsthand. She was out, these two people were out on the patio, by the patio bulletin board. And there was a sign posted for a protest or a march of some kind against the first bombing, the first Iraq war bombing.


And she was going to go sit a vigil there. Then this man walked up to her and said, are you going to go do that? Do you really think that it'll accomplish anything? And she said, I don't know, but it's most important that I do it. That's pure effort and that's blind faith. So Konyo says the entire world is reflected by the eye of a monk throughout your body, your everyday conversation, your own divine light, throughout your own pure effort. your own perfect effort, you reflect your own divine light. So before I open it up for comments and conversation, I'd like to ask if Sojin Roshi has anything that he would like to add. Thank you for your talk.


I don't have anything to add. Will anyone else be so bold then? Linda? When your mind and your body are restless, nervous, and impulsive, and uneasy, where is the ordinary mind? It's right in those activities. It's not resisting them. the resisting them, this is something extra added, this is something special added it's to be willing to bear your own discomfort and go ahead and make the chaos go ahead and let it, trust yourself, go ahead and let it unfold


Oh, there might be a voice saying, I hate it. Just notice that as the voice. Don't believe it. Alan? Well, the last story about Bailey is really, it dovetails with something I've been thinking about lately. Where is the right effort there? Actually, what's... I think the right effort was actually in the conversation that she had with that person who was questioning her, quite irrespective of whether whatever result And this, I think, just to go off on a hint, this, I think, is a problem that we have with looking at social action, thinking that it's the demonstration that is going to be significant. Actually, it's the conversation.


It's the discourse around face-to-face with people who have these questions, and that was actually mainly went to these demonstrations because it was a matter of principle for her, but what her real gift was, was being able to have the conversation about that with people. That's where people move. I really appreciate that comment, and I would say, at least in my experience of her and how I understand this kind of exchanges, there was something about her bright faith that was very encouraging to people. So it's the conversation, but it's also just the example. It's how she embodied that bright faith as an example to people. And she did it by the way in which she sat, and going to the demonstrations, and the conversations that she had. But it was something, it was her divine light, really, that people responded to.


Yeah, I think that that's right. I'm just coming down on one side. That light is more visible in an intimate setting than in the crowd of thousands of people. And yet, in order to generate that light, that her intention had to be to be part of that larger thing as well. It's something. Thank you, Alan. Lois. Thank you for your talk. Good things to think about. I appreciate it. On a more domestic note, in your being a physician and dealing with these kinds of questions, how much effort do you think Where is pure effort or the balance of effort in trying to save a cat's life?


My son went right away to, well, what are you going to do? How do I know what to do? And so on. But I try to bring it back to the cat and try to understand how many headstands I should do because I don't know which is the right. effort and you hit it for me because pure effort values. It's a question that's very intimate to me because Ananda is 15 now and I watch the ways in which she's slowly unraveling and ask really it's an intimate question because they can't tell us. With the human being I can have a conversation with people and have a very clear idea of when enough is enough But with an animal, we're in the position of making those decisions for them. And I think animals know how to die. They are not attached to their lives.


It's us that are attached to them. And I think that's the place where we have to have clarity and then have respect for their animal nature. The animals were not meant to suffer. and the way that we can bear suffering because we know outcomes, we can weigh risks and balances and see the future, but animals are not programmed that. They're programmed to accept their lives as it is, as they are. Well, the information, when you talk about knowing, I experienced that so many several of my cats at a time when I'm at the sagaki, you know, so there's a right standing and so on and so forth. But I'm not sure, I don't want to project onto the cat or not read the cat right. My tendency is to overdo and make heroic efforts and so on.


And I'm trying to read that in the light of what you're teaching this morning. Knowing. What is knowing here? And who is knowing? And doesn't she know more than I know? And how do I check in with that without making a big deal? You know, what is ordinary mind there? I'm suffering. Well, that's right. for us as the humans to get out of the way. Our attachments, our love, our feeling of loss, our feeling of concern, our wanting to do the right thing, all the things that obscure our vision about what's really happening for our animal. If we can find some calm in the midst of that, then it becomes much clearer, I think. You also said something, I disagree, that the self was the center of the mandala and This is kind of a tangential thing, but I don't think it's the self.


I think it's the Dharma, or it's the meaning that's the center of the mandala, and that we are attaching or connecting to it and have to find our place. Maybe it's the next level mandala. So, putting that in the center of what is the Dharma, what is the cat teaching, me, and, you know, so, you don't have to go through all that. I'm sure somebody else Well just, maybe just to speak to one point of that, if this is helpful, which is the self isn't separate from the Dharma. So, you know, we talk about small self and big self, but really I don't, I don't, I'm not so drawn to make that discrimination because I think big self isn't small self and small self isn't a big self. Yeah. Thank you, Lois. Sue. Well, if we have time for another question.


Thank you so much for your talk. And I was thinking about light, that your focus is light, and that you remember the light in people and in me when I forget it. And I go, eh, eh, eh. Managed to listen to that, and I, and it's like you can include it, and I'm not just out whining or complaining or confusion. You see, and I think that the light is in our relationships. So if I don't have anything else, about ordinary mind but that's that's about it life's both personal and it's impersonal and the impersonal is the life that we all share with each other and it's always there even when our life seems further away the impersonal life that is generated


you know, that is generated through everything and everyone is always there. Yeah. Catherine? I think this is related to what you've been speaking about. When I first found and started practicing Buddhism, I was in a stage in my life where I felt that I was suffering a lot and in a lot of darkness and resisting and was not happy. And things that I read and heard spoken around Zen teachings seemed to be things that I already knew. They were ringing bells. It was like being allowed to admit that I believed this instead of having to hide that that was what I thought. But it's just like coming home in a lot of ways. And as my life has gotten progressively calmer, I feel like these days I have a very blessed, wondrous, beautiful life, I still notice in myself that I have this tendency to be kind of a drama queen about my own suffering.


You know, it's like, it's something that I almost like, you know? And I was wondering if you have any advice or thoughts about letting go of liking suffering. Am I hearing that you also get pleasure out of it? I used to more, I think. But yeah, there's something still that I kind of hang on to about it. Like it helps to define who I am. So it sounds like it's a habit. probably so maybe it's helpful just to see it as a habit like smoking or anything else and just examine whether you're happy with that habit or not and maybe it will continue to fade maybe you'll feel like you have more choice within it


with habits. Habits are pretty ingrained, right? You kind of push a button and they go off and you might notice under certain kinds of condition you're more drawn to that habit pattern under certain duress or whatever the situation is that triggers it. When you have awareness of what triggers it and you can see it evolve, it loses its special grab on you because you see it. Oh, this is just what I do under these conditions. And you can make a choice about whether you really want to do that or not. So it loses its specialness. Yeah, it does seem to contribute a specialness somehow to my life. Nothing special out of it. Do we have time for any more, John, or are we done?


I think we're done. Okay, so thank you all very much and there will always be time for more questions elsewhere.