Transcribed from a talk given Tuesday November 24, 2009. To hear the podcast of this talk, click HERE.
Eshu is giving a Dharma talk in the third sit. Radical! Ah, what a great opportunity! Thank you all for your patience. I sometimes am thinking, “Oh, Brad Warner was here last week, I’ve really got to say something good this week, really impress people, what am I going to talk about? No idea… and then all of a sudden, situations… circumstances arise, and like magic a talk is delivered. Mmm.
So tonight we have this situation where – you know, we say, “Oh, people should arrive at 6:45 so they can receive an orientation”…and then, a few minutes after seven, somebody arrived – Ah! What to do? We find our preferences rise up. And we say, “Damn, I was just starting to get into my sit and here comes a bloody newcomer, ah man, I have to go help this person. Aw.”
Practice is a really hard thing. We live in a culture that really encourages us to not spend time doing practices like this, to not spend any time looking within, looking at ourselves, looking at how we relate to the world around us. It encourages us and offers us all kinds of opportunities to distract ourselves, to make ourselves happy by grasping at other things. You know, “watch this” and “do that”, and “eat this” and “drink that”, and “smoke this”, and “screw that”, and it’ll all make you happy.
But sooner or later, for most of us – well for many of us, at least for some of us who have arrived here, it comes to a point that we say, “well maybe we ought to do something else. Maybe the resolution or the solution to our difficulties doesn't lie out there, doesn't rely on us grasping things that we take as being out there and trying to bring them inside.” We start to say, “Maybe I just need to look at why it is that I'm having difficulty”.
So when I see somebody come in the door, even if they're a little bit late, I jump up and I say, “Oh geez, here’s somebody who in spite of all the money and all the effort and all the myriad opportunities that are being thrown at them to pursue their happiness in external objects, here’s a person that's got up and made an effort to go and sit and look at the floor in the zendo for an evening”. So all the sort of ‘self’ stuff, all the “Oh, but I’m just sitting”, “Oh, how am I going to figure out what I’m going to talk about”, all “me”, kind of drops away. And I go “Oh, shit, I’ve got to go talk to that person and help them establish this practice”.
And this is really strange sometimes, I think, for people who sit with me, students of the Victoria Zen Centre, because I'm also the person that will close the door on a Zen student who’s five minutes late for a sit – “No, you can’t come in!” This is a different situation. And I hope – I don’t want to go on for too long about this but I hope for the members that you can understand…that you can grasp the difference in these two situations. One, the situation of a person who has committed to training, the other, a person who is curiously making their first step. Their first step to investigate what it is that brings us to suffer.
On the weekend during the zazenkai – once a month we have this crazy thing called zazenkai. It’s a one day intensive. We sit from six in the morning until five in the evening and the whole day is an immersion in formal Zen practice. And this weekend we had a guest teacher, Brad Warner. Brad spoke a little bit about anger and I wanted to bring up one particular aspect that he spoke about because I think it's something that goes far beyond anger. Anger, in my opinion, is – is one manifestation of suffering. Something that brings us to suffer. And what Brad was talking about is something that I think is really at the root of so much of how we suffer, whether it's anger or whether it's grief or whether it's self doubt.
Even – physical pain – which, you know, giving me the opportunity to speak in the third set provides an ample opportunity for us to experience this physical pain. And this is the gap that comes up between what we figure things ought to be like and our experience of them as they are. So I wanted to talk a little bit about the difference that we have between our experience of pain, difficulty, and what we can recognize as suffering.
Now the members – several of the members of the Victoria Zen Centre are headed towards sesshin. Sesshin is something that we do twice a year here in
and it's a five-day intensive where we go from four in the morning until around nine-thirty at night. During this we have lots of opportunity to investigate pain and suffering. And usually when we talk about pain and suffering they’re synonymous, they’re the same thing. And what I want to talk about tonight is how we can understand them as being different, and that by clearly recognizing these two things – pain or discomfort, and suffering – as being not the same, as being different, I think it's an important window into practice. Victoria
Buddhism is focused at liberation from suffering. And I think that this is a really important thing to understand. Because when we come into Zen or Buddhism, we can think, “Oh, I’m going to be free from suffering, and that means that I'm never going to be uncomfortable again”, or “I'm never going to have anger again”, or “I'm never going to have grief again”, or “I’m never going to have self-doubt again”.
So I’d like to talk about this from a physical perspective, because it’s something – form, our bodies, are something that we can really look at quite easily. In our day-to-day activities we can understand, we can experience this, and we can experiment with it a little bit. When we’re sitting – you know, I think the most common places that we have pain is in our knees and in our back. And as we go through our lives we’ll have all kind – we’ll slam our fingers in doors, and all kinds of stuff. And when we do this what I want you to do is investigate that and look at the experience of it.
When pain arises in the body we become aware of it as a physical sensation. As the first sort of layer of awareness is just this general awareness, this sort of tingling experience. Just as when – if we close our eyes for a second, just sort of allow ourselves to relax, and then we suddenly pop our eyes open, the first thing that hits our eyes is light, color. And then there's layers that sort of pile on top of these experiences. We start to recognize shape, movement. We start to identify and name, compare, contrast. And then we start to judge, we start to discriminate between things.
And the same goes with physical sensation. When we first become aware of physical sensation there's no assessment, there is no comparison, there is not even a real clear identification of it. There’s just this awareness. Then as we start to investigate it more, as we start to think on it more, we begin to identify it– is that a tickle, or is that an ache? Is that an acute, sharp pain or is that a low frequency kind of a numbness that’s going on? We start to make these kinds of assessments.
And then beyond that we begin to judge. We begin to make value assessments. We begin to say “Pain. Oh, that’s pain. Pain is bad. I don't like pain”. And still we haven't entered into the round of suffering. This is just still this very physical experience, this experience of the faculty of form, physical sensation.
Suffering enters into it when we say, “This is what I'm experiencing and it should be otherwise”. We’re sitting there feeling pain in our legs and our expectation of the situation is that we should be comfortable, is that we should be free from difficulty, is that we should be at ease and away from pain. And the degree to which we fixate on that idea, that we fixate on that expectation, freedom from difficulty, freedom from pain – and its distance from our experience – is the degree to which we suffer.
And so it's the same when we are in a relationship, when we have a work situation, in our environment that we're in. If we're hot, we’re really hot. This is a great one if we're in a hot climate in
or something like that, it’s really hot. If your expectation is to be cool but you're hot, it's suffering, it’s miserable. “God, it’s humid, God, it’s hot, this is terrible”. California
And you can also experience, you can practice this… breathing and letting go of our expectation, our assumption for things to be other than they our. Melting into the experience of heat. And we find that in a moment – and usually, only for a moment – the experience of suffering disappears. Haaaa [breathes out]. And then we separate again. We say, “But wait! I should be cool!” And the experience of that suffering comes up again.
And it’s the same with the physical body as we do zazen, as we're sitting for longer periods of time. If we practice, if we investigate this experience, we can find that as we let go of the expectation for things to be otherwise, as we let go of the anticipation of the bell, waiting for the period to end, we find that we can feel our legs, yeah, they’re sore. But that's it. There is no suffering attached.
We find that if we are in relationship and we can, even for a moment, let go of our expectation of what the other should be or should do or should say and just completely embraced or witness what it is that they’re doing or saying or being at that moment, then this suffering is diminished.
This is a difficult, difficult practice. It’s something that we engage in over and over again in formal Zen practice. We expect the bell to ring here, we expect so-and-so to walk there, and our practice is to investigate it, in the form of practice. Because what we find over and over again is that that expectation that we have, the way that we bind ourselves to an assumed or expected outcome, is not different inside formal practice as it is outside formal practice.
We have the opportunity to experience letting go into things as they are. The opportunity to embrace and become intimate with this moment as it is in our life. To let go of what things ought to be and for a moment experience our lives as they are. In doing so, to be free from suffering.
Having gained insight into this practice, having met with our expectations, having found ourselves stuck and attached to them and practicing haaaa [breathes out], just letting go, dissolving into things as they are, as we go forward into our lives we are encouraged and have some practical experiential basis to go forward into our relationships and into our work, and to do the same practice.
When we find ourselves getting tied up by what we expect, how we think things ought to be, we can remind ourselves, “Ah, this is no different. Breathe. Let go into it. Allow the suffering to drop away and to experience our lives just as they are”.
Yeah, OK [laughs]. Enough experiencing pain and suffering.