Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thanks, Mr. Li Po

Zazen on Ching-t'ing Mountain

The birds have vanished from the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

--Li Po (aka Li Bai, Li Bo, etc)
Chinese poet, 701-762

The poem is from the beautiful little book from Shambala Press entitled The Poetry of Zen selected and translated/adapted by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Emptiness & Form

Dear All, sometimes for my Tuesday night dharma talks, I jot down notes and sometimes these even become whole pieces. Like an essay. I keep them on my computer but I never get around to sharing them. I have excuses. Oh well. That's not right. I'm a writer. So as time allows I'll add my dharma talks here when I have them fully developed. Thank you.
  --Bobby Kankin Byrd
 Rio Grande Gorge Enso (see note)

This dharma talk, in a different form, was given April 19, 2011
Here’s something the Buddha said: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts, with our thoughts we make the world.” If you’ve had the opportunity to practice at the Clear Mind Zen Temple, you’ll see this statement on a nice piece of embroidery hanging on the wall hanging next to the altar as you round the far corner during kinhin. It’s a nice flag for remembering yourself.
Tonight I want to talk about the two fundamental laws, the central paradox, or koan, through which we come to understand our true nature. These are one, the Law of the Relative, and two, the Law of the Absolute. These two laws are expressed in our very breath, our bodies, our mind. Right here, right now. We say it this way in the Heart Sutra—form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
Zen uses silly stories and sutras to redirect our mind, to confuse us, to make us think differently, to make us set aside thinking. But these stories—the riddles, koans, sutras whatever—these should never be considered “the truth.” They only suggest the truth, point to the truth. Like the old Zen saying, they are like fingers pointing at the moon, but they are not the moon. If the sutras or the stories or the koans are the truth, then we would be bound to the law of the relative, to “the this and the that,” to the yes and the no. Truth would exist outside of us, over there. This is the dilemma of most Christian thinking, which tends to be very dualistic. Thus, the Bible becomes the word of God. A Zen practitioner would say, No, the Bible is not the word of God, but the Bible is full of good stories, sacred stories, through which we can study ourselves, gates through which we can perhaps experience our true nature.

So how do we make stories and commentary that point beyond the relative to the absolute, toward the inexpressible? No, that’s not right. Let me say it this way: how do we make stories and commentary that reveal the emptiness—the Absolute—in form? In that sandwich you’re having for lunch. In that broken down man who came up to you to ask for a dollar. In the breath that you take.

Many teachers talk about water, the way it flows downhill toward the sea, and then it evaporates and circles back again. Or the waves in the sea, each of which—when viewed up close—has an individual identity, but which quickly melts back down into the body of the sea. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi talked about his journey to Yosemite and witnessing the waterfall there. Each drop of water, as it tumbled down off that magnificent cliff, became a separate entity, just for a second, and then, when it hit the pool, it once again became one with the pool and the river below.
It’s important to note that in the metaphors that teachers and the sutras use, “emptiness” is not “nothing.” “Nothingness” is not “nothing.” These words simply don’t work, but they are what we have. We need to re-think our understanding of these words. Emptiness, the way it’s expressed in the Heart Sutra, has no boundaries, it contains everything. For some the word “God” might be useful here but only if you’re able to insure that you understand “God” not as something other than you. “God” or “Absolute” or “Emptiness” or whatever word you use—it must contain us all. It must contain everything. But without boundaries.  
So there’s the famous story about the two monks and the 6th Patriarch.
The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks started an argument. One said the flag moved, the other said the wind moved; they argued back and forth but could not agree who was right. The Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng heard the two monks arguing back and forth, and he said, "It is not the wind that moves, it is not the flag that moves; it is your minds that move." "Oh," they said, and they were then able to sit there in peace.
The monks were arguing about yes and no, about the ying and the yang, about the right and the wrong. They believed in the words they were using. Flag. Wind. Me. You. These were their truths. The 6th Patriarch pointed to their mind—the wind and the flag are a function of our mind. Like the Buddha said, we create the world in our minds. So for us to experience the absolute, to experience our true nature, then we must redirect our gaze and discover our true nature. Our Buddha nature. This is the practice of Zazen. We let go of our boundaries and we experience our True Self, our True Nature—little drops of water falling into the great pool of emptiness.
Thank you. 
Bobby Kankin
Note: I took this photo on Lee's and my journey up to Taos, NM in mid-July, 2011. Just as the highway enters the gorge north of Española and then the little town of Velarde, we pulled over the side of the road to pee. I climbed up a little arroyo for privacy and there was this rock carrying the pictograph of circle. New Mexico can be magical like that. The cactus--here with its miraculous blossoms--was a gift from my daugther and her husband Ed for my 69th birthday. /bb