Three Stories About Love

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Good morning. I'm pleased to welcome my Dharma sister and long-time BZC person, Ryushin Andrea Thatch to give the talk this morning. Andrea did many years of practice with our BZC's Elder Maile Scott, late Elder Maile Scott. She began to practice here and was ordained by Sojin several years ago, and also studies with Shohaku Okamura Roshi. She's been at BDC for a while and has held pretty much all, most or all of the major positions here. And in her other aspects, in her other lives, she is a physician, most recently, I guess, of elders, mostly. and also a dog lover. So let us hear what she has to say this morning.


Thank you, Mary. Good morning. It's a beautiful spring morning and a perfect morning to talk about love. Today I'd like to give you three stories, share with you three stories about love. Where Greek distinguishes the sensuous heiress from the spiritual agape, English makes do with only one word to describe the feeling of love. But in the Buddha's language Pali, like in Sanskrit, there are many words covering many different nuances or distinguishing features of what love is. The word chosen by the Buddha for his teaching is metta, which is derived from mitta.


Mitta means friend, or more accurately, the true friend in need. So this is a story about Sangha practice. and how we practice with each other in love. Leslie brought up the topic of Sangha practice two weeks ago. In the Supana Sutta, Ananda went to the Blessed One, went to the Buddha, arrived, bowed down to him to one side and delighted said to him, Blessed One, I understand Sangha practice is half of the holy life. And the Buddha said, no, no, Ananda, no, don't say that. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, he can be expected to develop and pursue the Eightfold Noble Path.


And so these stories about love, are about how we opened this Dharma jewel, how we hold up this Dharma jewel and warm it in our hands, how we polish each other, not by removing the edges actually, but by revealing and shining, shining a light on the completeness of who each of us is. So story number one. A monk goes to the abiding teacher in the monastery. to talk about the Dharma jewel of Sangha practice. And she says, actually it can all be encapsulated in just one sentence. She says that sentence is, I want you to be your authentic self, even if I don't like it. I want you to be your authentic self, even if I don't like what I see. I want


I want is spoken from big mind. It's spoken from the mind of non-attachment. It's spoken from our Buddha mind. I want is our vow. What we want for each of us and what we want for ourselves is to be our genuine, true, just who we are self. And when we talk about saving all beings, taking that vow that we just did in our Bodhisattva ceremony, it's really to support each other in coming to their true nature. So I want is I vow to help you do that. The authentic, I think we know, but it's interesting to look at the different nuances of what that word means. Authentic means genuine, undistorted, unpretending, unsimulated, unfaked, unadulterated, 24 karat pure, just who you are.


I want you to be that. Now, even if I don't like it, it's spoken from our personal self. It's spoken from the egoistic self. It's the self that creates opinions, judgments. It's the self that creates separation. I'm me, I'm you, and you're you. And there's always bound to be some hierarchy in that. So we could almost say, don't like it or like it. I want you to be yourself if I like it. We could almost say that because it's about preferences. It matters to me exactly what you look like, whether I like it or whether I don't. And that's not the purpose, that's not the function of this vow. Our usual way when we see something that we're uncomfortable with or we don't like, we all know this, our usual way is to think that the other person or context is the problem.


If only that person didn't wiggle so much in Zazen, I'd really be able to concentrate. If only the window were open or if it were closed, or there had been more juice today, or the coffee had been less strong. or the traffic move faster, whatever it is, then things would be all right. If only you would change or the situation would change. That's the context of preference, of judgment, of discernment, of hierarchy. The way out of that predicament, of course, is to turn around and shine the light on ourselves. and come and see what's really going on. When Ananda asked the Buddha about how to live happily in the order, the Buddha said, if one is virtuous oneself but does not blame others for lack of virtue, if one watches oneself but not others, if one does not worry about lack of fame and then has a strong meditation practice, then one can achieve the holy life.


So he says the first step, finally, is not criticizing or watching others, but only on turning yourself, your practice to yourself. In my first meditation retreat, the very first instruction I can remember us receiving was a simple phrase of do your own practice. I've certainly got a lot of mileage out of that. Whenever I'm in difficulty, whenever strong feelings come up for me, the first question is, what's going on here? I think in a way that's why gossip and slander are so insidious, because immediately they take strong feelings and they have the potential to create ill will or separation with another, but they distract us. Those thoughts distract us from coming back to our own work, which is to see what's going on inside of ourself.


So, when I don't like it, when I want you to be yourself, but I'm not so sure about you doing that, when I don't like it, the question is, what's going on? Sometimes it's purely a habit. It's a habit like when you want to pick up a cigarette or the suite that you go to when you're under stress. It's a habit with your own reaction to whatever the annoyance is. Or it may be a certain kind of storyline that you easily go to when you're under distress. I recently was talking with an elderly friend who had just was briefly ill with a bit of a stomach flu, but she still was quite bothered by the fact that she had been ill. And she said, my son's been bringing these things home to me since he was a toddler. This is a woman in her 80s. It seems obvious, but I think we all have those little kinds of stories that we tell ourselves that we don't necessarily recognize.


Sometimes when we don't like something, it's about something within our own selves that we're uncomfortable with. Recently, two close friends of mine who've been together for 17 years separated, and one of them had been really growing beautifully. Her spiritual life had opened up. She was grounded. You know how people get big and full of life and unafraid and grounded in a way that's very inspiring. And her partner, who loved her very much, was frightened. She was frightened by the beauty and power of her partner and her sense of independence and connection with the wider world. And she got scared and had an affair. And the relationship fell apart. She didn't really realize how scared she was. So sometimes when we are uncomfortable, there's something deeper going on that we may not even recognize.


And sometimes what we don't like or what we're uncomfortable with has nothing to do with us. A senior teacher told me a story of having had a long-time teaching relationship with a student that she felt very close to. And at some point that student just stopped seeing her and stopped talking to her. And there was clearly some kind of difficult energy that was there and the teacher had no idea what had happened. And even making attempts to have conversation failed. And three years later the student came back and said, it wasn't about you. Sometimes those things happen. People pull away or they seem different or something happens and we of course question, did I do this or what happened here? Sometimes it's not even about us. So I want you to be your authentic self even if I don't like it.


I think this means that I'm committed to seeing myself. I'm committed to surrender even the precious parts that might define me as standing out as special. Because giving them away, they return more authentically, untainted, by needing some definition. And also I'm committed to seeing you. I'm committed to connecting with you. Because actually, it doesn't feel so good being separate. even for people that we're in conflict with or we have some difficulty or disagreement or distance with, it doesn't feel so good to be separate from them. Because the truth is, we're not separate from anyone. And so even though that's hard, to keep a space of openness within yourself for connection really is what we all want. us energy, and it deprives us of something precious, which is each other.


Now, there are some things we just don't like. My mother's liver is one of them. You know, there are foods we don't like, there are kinds of art that we don't like, there are music that just aren't our preferences. The Buddha said, you know, it's not, our experience isn't all just cause and condition. Maliya Sivaka Sutta, he outlines at least six different reasons besides the causes and conditions we normally think of karma that creates our experience, things like forces of nature and weather, but also personality types he actually mentions. And so we all have our personality type and we're drawn to some people, not others, some forms of art, some forms of activities, and not others. So there are affinities. But affinities aren't really about liking or disliking. Affinities are just about being drawn to or not being drawn to.


All of the diversity in the world we need. We need it not just because we need healthy ecosystems, but we're enriched by all the cultures, all the languages, all the plants, all the animals, all the creations, and we're enriched by each other. We need each other. Even if so-and-so isn't exactly my cup of tea, the fact that that person is who he or she is and offers themselves as they do, that enriches my life. And so, can we wish each other well and see the Buddha and the enlightened nature? You might say the bodhicitta or the way-seeking mind in each person. At Tassajara recently, I was on a serving crew for a while, and in serving crews there, you serve with the same group of people.


all three meals in a rotation. So you actually spend a lot of time with each other and you get to know each other really well. And there was one person on my serving crew who always had to do just what she was doing. You couldn't help her. There wasn't this kind of give and take. You couldn't help. And she always saw what other people were doing wrong. I was very painful because in the serving cruise there's this really lovely harmony with everyone and this person stood out as being contracted and shut down. At one time she chastised me for doing something that I hadn't really done and I just saw her. I just saw the suffering. I just saw the complexity. I just saw what I couldn't know about this person. Whatever it was that fuels this behavior, I too have my own behaviors, right?


And I have some understanding of them for having studied them. But so I could see her and I just held the space and let go. No reaction. Just a feeling of kindness, although I didn't say anything, I didn't do anything. And a couple of days later she came up and thanked me. I don't know what for exactly, but the point is just to have an open, soft heart makes a difference. We're so close with each other here. We feel it whether you say it or not. How we are with each other is experienced by each other. I find that holding seeing each of you as a beautiful gem, seeing existence in that way, creates a happiness, a joyful mind, a sympathetic joy, a joy of the joy of what's happening around that has nothing directly to do with the small Andrea, the small person here.


Ed Rocanze actually says that sympathetic joy or unselfish joy is a prerequisite for compassion and loving kindness. It's a starting place. By generating an appreciation and openness to each other, we generate a heart of love and compassion that's deeper. Story number two. Mountain seat ceremony at city center. And the Abbess is about to be installed. She's gone to all the altars around the building and she comes into the Buddha Hall. Buddha Hall, if you haven't been there, is a big room. And it's all the senior teachers and senior monks are seated on either side of a wide open space. And there's a built-up mountain several steps up to a platform above the rest of the sangha, the rest of the congregation.


And she climbs the mountain seat and receives questions from people. So people come up, much as like we do at the Shosan ceremony, if you've ever been here. In Gassho, with energy to ask her a question, she answers it and they turn around and she says, thank you. So the first person, Her Jiso, walks up and says to the abbess who's just returned after living out in the community in Marin for some years, has just returned to live at City Center. She says, what's the most important thing about community residential practice? And the abbess says in a clear voice, be kind. Magisha turns back around and says, congratulations. And then Christina says, always. Be kind, always.


So what's the big deal about kindness, right? It's the foundation of what we do here. The Dalai Lama says, my religion is kindness. We all believe that. We want to be kind people. We are kind people. The Buddha said there was nothing higher than kindness, no quality that was even 1 16th the value of kindness. Well, I think it's helpful to look at the different meanings of kindness. One is to be a friend. What's it mean to be a friend? My dad was a terrific salesman and a good judge of people. Whenever he would meet someone, he would shake their hand and call them a friend. Whenever he'd finished a conversation with them, he'd say the same to them. And he wasn't just trying to make a sale, and that wasn't what it was about.


He grew up poor, he grew up in the Depression, and his mother was the neighborhood saint. My grandmother was a godly person. My dad had an understanding of the interdependence between people, and he knew his livelihood was dependent upon them, and he knew that he was there to serve them. Friend, he meant it. And he was an optimist. He saw the potential. He saw the goodness in people. A friend is someone who has goodwill for you, an intimate. If you look around the room here, is there anyone here who's not your friend? Or at least your Dharma brother and sister? Your Dharma friend? Last week when Megan was ill, when she recuperated, she called me and said, there's nothing like Sangha.


There's no nothing better than Sangha to depend on. It's like that. No matter what, we're there for each other. It's what a friend is. The Dalai Lama said, be kind whenever possible, and it's always possible. Now that may not seem so easy all of the time. At Tassajara, when we're sometimes in conflict with someone, And it's inevitable in the presence of sleep deprivation, a lack of distractions and sensitivity that there will be some conflict. And sometimes it's not even possible to have a cup of tea or take a walk, but we bow to each other. We always bow to each other. We always bow to the enlightened nature, to the inherent goodness in each other. We bow to each other to that and because we all know that we all want the same things, peace, ease, and to live an awakened life of non-harming.


So this friendly also means amicable, peaceable, harmonious. Tsuki Roshi would say, like milk and water, we harmonize like milk and water. So friendliness is a recognition that we are connected. This is the most basic of Buddhist teachings. There is no separate and abiding self. Our entire lives are moment to moment created by the flow of everything before and everything present. Kind also means favorable. Favorable means to cast in a positive light, to align with, well-intended, well-meaning, Being kind means always giving the benefit of the doubt. When we think something is off, when we feel stung by something, when we feel triggered to be willing to look again, to look at our own part, to sit for a moment with our own reaction.


What's going on in me? Why did this land like it did? But also curiosity. curiosity to know what was going on with that person. Coming from a place of giving the benefit of the doubt. What was this? Now you might not be able to do that right away. Sometimes you have to get your balance again and spend some time with yourself. What's going on with me? What got activated? To be willing to hear the other person. But with time, taking a walk having a cup of tea, making the effort to reconnect human to human is really important. We don't know. It's hard enough to know ourselves, isn't it? It's hard enough to know the workings of your own mind, let alone to understand what's going on with another person. So why do we need to say, be kind always?


What's that always really about? It means that even when we don't feel connected, we acknowledge that we are connected. It means when we feel sometimes when we need to say the always it's because we feel hurt, harmed or missed in some way. Sometimes we want to retaliate or react even if it just means by withdrawing or withholding. It's like when your hand gets put in a flame. So it is time. Let me step back for a minute. But then let me take a look. It's a flame. It's hot. But what are its components? How did my hand get there? What looks like a flame to me might actually be cool water to someone else. Can I take a moment back and take a moment and think with a mind that doesn't know? So the feeling of being


Somehow her excluded or missed calls up another definition of friendly or another dimension of friendly which is forgiving. Friendly is forgiving means beyond, it's beyond the curiosity but it's actually really born out of a sense of humility. Of humility knowing that I fall short too. I don't know also. So there's the space to be able to forgive. It also comes out of an understanding of karma. Karma, not just the causes of conditions, meaning everything came together. You know, this hit, and this hit, and oh, that happened. Okay. Okay, so now what do I do? but also in that we all live with our own karma. I've told this story, I can't remember if I've told it in here before, but it's a favorite one for me.


A Tibetan monk is taking some reporters and showing them palaces that have been razed by the Chinese and talking about what happened to the monks and the nuns, the atrocities committed, and he begins to cry. And the reporter goes to comfort him, thinking that it's in the memory of the people who have suffered, his comrades, his friends in the monastery. And the monk says, oh no, I'm prying for the Chinese. The amount that they'll suffer for what they've done. So friendly means we understand that, we share this with everyone. everyone, that we're all creating our own karma. Story number three, because I'm going to run out of time.


The monk says to the shuso, how can I meet unkindness with kindness? The shuso stops and says, What do you do now? And this monk says, I usually give back what I've been given. And she says, why don't you keep it for a while? Why don't I keep it for a while? Sometimes your immediate response is the best. But if there's a visceral charge behind it, Don't push the send button. What can I learn by what's come up with me? Who am I here in this? Can I take what's been given and climb the mountainside


leave the work practice, climb the mountainside, stay up there until dark asking, asking how do I find kindness in the midst of this? Even if it means missing evening dinner and missing evening Zazen. Sitting, sitting, sitting, how can I find who I want to be in this? Who is the person who wants to be in this? Can I stay connected with this other person? Can I know myself well enough? Can I just keep this for a while? So, I want you to be yourself, even if I don't like it. It's an admonition not just for ourselves, for our Dharma brothers and sisters, but it's an admonition for ourselves for ourselves. It means, can we take whatever comes up within ourselves and just accept it?


Can we hold it for a while? Can we hold it with tenderness and attention, the same tenderness and attention you would a crying child and say, what's happening here? I take you, I accept you, you don't have to change. What is the true self? This is our koan, it's our question. What do we give away or try to change? Koan is often translated as case, or a governmental document of a certain value, but it can also mean to make unevenness even. So ko in this way is to see our lives from the absolute, to understand that what makes us different unique even from our difficulties is the very ground of the absolute on which we stand. It's our very own Buddha nature.


So the true self is not someplace else. It's not after we clean up the bad or polish the good. It is not beyond good and bad. It is good and bad. It is all of it. Live with full acceptance and clear seeing. What is clear seeing, it is the compassionate gaze that knows the habits, pulls the vulnerabilities of human life and is not surprised, abhorrent, enraptured or caught, but admits to it all with a non-nonsensical tenderness." Ah, this too, this too is Buddha. Our life, as it is, is perfect realization, to quote Maizumi Roshi. So I want you to be your authentic self means I take all of you, like and disliking, without reactivity of wanting that part and not wanting this part.


When I first heard this instruction, I realized that this is what our Bodhisattva vow really is. thought about all those to whom I have resistance in accepting the parts I didn't like or feel affinity for, but then I realized, of course, the first obstruction is to me, to be my true self, even if I don't like it. Katagiri says, compassion is the great and generous warmth of the heart that goes beyond the common notions of kindness. I think it arises spontaneously out of a deep empathy for what it means to be human. To have the tail of the ox get stuck trying to jump through the window, the part we want to hide or that we wish would go away if we just practice long enough.


For this is the human predicament that we all share, and in celebration of this human life, unknowable, mysterious, and containing all potentiality. So that's what I have to say today. I don't know if anyone has any comments or if anything comes up for you. Peter? Andrea, thank you for a very beautiful exploration. I want to come back to kindness for a moment. You alluded to a kind of problem in the midst of that section, and it's about, I wonder if you could say something more about acknowledging connection when you don't feel connection, alienated. How is that possible? Well I think the very first, it's important to be friendly with yourself.


And so part of what comes up is the sentient being of your mind that feels unfriendly. And so to give that space and attention and recognize that that's also present. And to know that that sense of unfriendliness in a way is a delusion, you know, it's a creation that comes out of suffering, and that the link, the connection with the other is that they too have those delusions and are suffering. So, as I say, you might not be able to sit down or have a cup of tea or even be in the same room for a while, but when you pass by, you can connect through that place. We're both human and we both want the same thing. Charlie? Could you say why the oxen try to jump through the window?


To get away from his tail. Thank you. I don't know if you purposely didn't say this, but were these stories that you told, was that you talking to the Abbot in the beginning and that was you talking to the Shusang? Yeah. Were there answers to you? Yes, yeah. I could have said it was me. It was some way to not make that a distraction, but to make it more universal. So what's Sangha practice like for you all? Did this have any resonance with your experience? Yes, of course. I don't have more to say about it. I appreciate your exploration of the difficult, not necessarily joyful side, but the work side of our practice, the hard work side.


It is hard work. We're a lot of very different people. As I say, liver and Picassos and other things among us for each other. People that you might not choose to be with and spend time with otherwise, but you have a deep connection with. And so that kind of paradox of, I feel very close to people I don't feel close to, in a certain way. How are we connected to be open to that? And it's very rich. And the doorway is, how do I know myself? Lisa? Thank you very much. Sangha, as seen in a small sense, seems directly addressed, if I would extend,


where I am going to try to be fermenting your ideas is about the larger world of humanity, and specifically our own country in matriarchal political time. I find this a deep challenge to practice. And specifically at a recent dinner, there was people who I was getting to know the first time. And they were strongly of the opposite political convictions. They had a lifetime worth of experience that went into making those. And yet, I was learning about the compassion and kindness they had manifested in their lives for people in need, specific people whom I knew, which I I felt like I couldn't even come close in my own life to what they've done.


This I've been trying to come to terms with. In some ways it's very easy here because we know we share some basic values. Anyone who gets up at five in the morning to sit Zazen and does this practice has certain values that they adhere to. that it's a language or a currency that we feel very comfortable in exchange. But what you just said has real meaning for me, that the ability to see the generosity, the kindness in the actions of these people and know that that's very inherent in who they are, even though there are other fields that you don't connect with or that you feel in grave disagreement with. The question is, coming from a place of knowing where you're connected, is there a possibility for conversation? Or just sharing of your own experience?


Change happens by example, I think. In the first question that you asked, in the first story, where you said, could you repeat that? What? The line in the first story. Yeah, what Leslie James said to me is, I want you to be your authentic self even if I don't like it. So, I wonder with that, when she said, even if I don't like it, Was she requesting any change in her attitude or was she saying that that sense of not liking it was also something that was just accepted or could be accepted in that?


That's a really wonderful question, Sue, I think. I think she would answer that saying, it's okay not to like it, to say, you know, just no affinity here, unless it's an impediment, unless it hinders the relationship or it hinders the flow of your well wishes in some way. So if you have a lot of, if there's prejudice or opinionatedness or some reserve in your wholehearted well-wish for the person, that's a problem. But if you just say, you know, liver. Don't like liver, but hey, be the best liver you can be. Ross, am I out of time? Well, it's 11.10. I'm not sure about that.


Sally, director, what do you think? Yeah, it's time. So before you clunk, if I could say, I have one more word. Ken Nabb, who's been organizing and leading our Mountains and Rivers Sachine tirelessly for 15 years, has asked me to plug the sangha practice of Mountains and Rivers Sachine for you all in this beautiful spring two weekends from this, if you'd like to escape into Point Reyes, and the beauty there, and practice with each other, there's still time to sign up, and Ken was available to answer any questions after the program. Thank you.