July 29th-30th Treeleaf Weekly Zazenkai - Sincerely, Doing What One Can

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  • Tokan
    Treeleaf Unsui
    • Oct 2016
    • 1230

    July 29th-30th Treeleaf Weekly Zazenkai - Sincerely, Doing What One Can

    A dharma talk given by Jundo Cohen at the weekly zazenkai, 29th July 2022

    For a PDF version of this talk, please click here: Treeleaf Zazenkai Transcript - 29.07.2022.pdf

    Jundo speaking:

    So this talk is called “sincerely doing what one can,” and it's very fitting today that I had a little asthma attack, or as we say, I became a little verklempt. That's a nice expression. During chanting, I think it's the heat, boy, it's hot here. I was doing my one-man band chanting, and suddenly I had a bit of asthma attacks, like I've had since I was a kid. That's one of the things I live with, not so bad. By the way, don't worry about me too much. I had what they call here, well, it's my full body checkup here. Very extensive here in Japan. All kinds of tests and x-rays and blood work and I came out with flying colors this week. So generally, I'm in pretty good shape. The doctor was even impressed. He said, for a man your age, you're pretty good. So that's always good to hear. But I've lived with this since I was a kid. Sometimes I get a little out of breath. That's okay.

    So many people in our sangha are in our sangha because they're living with various health conditions and aging and all those natural things that the Buddha talked about - That's what set him on the road! Old age and sickness, you know, that was part of it. So, it's okay. Even the Buddha had times when his back hurt so much, he had to say, “Ananda, you take the talk today, man. I can't handle it.” Even Master Dogen, I'll talk about in a second, had those times. But I'm going to call this talk, “sincerely doing what one can.”

    There's another tendency I found in the Sangha sometimes, to either do too much, or maybe not push yourself enough. Ours is the middle way, and you have to find out what sincerely is right for you. I'm going to talk about that. We have a priest training program, and I've seen this with some of our priests, but I've also seen it with many of our lay folks, and they think that they have to do the whole thing, you know, with a lotus posture and sitting and pushing themselves and doing the full bows. Whatever it is they're going to push themselves. And I think that's great, assuming your body allows, and that is truly something you can do in a healthful way. Sometimes I hear folks who say, “oh, I had to do it, I wanted to do it, so I fell over six times and eventually became sick, I had to sit down, it was terrible, but I got through it.”

    I said, no, no, no! Was that truly what you needed to do?

    Then we have another priest who's going through chemotherapy right now, and what he does is he just does the entire ceremony sitting, moving his hands in a graceful gesture as he flows through the ceremony, as if he was walking up to the altar and planting the incense, but he doesn't move. He does it all just with a gesture of his hand, a fine ballet of his fingers. That's lovely because that's sincere and that's what he can manage.

    So, I don't like people who do too much. It's wrong. Now in Japan, this is a big thing about our Sangha by the way, we're breaking down doors. This monastery of open doors we're doing, welcoming people to say, “you do what you can do sincerely.” This would not pass muster here in Japan. They were you know, for our Spanish speakers, I'm going to talk about the, you know - the lotus posture in Japanese is Kekka Fuza, so I'm going to call it the Fuza Fascistas, the Fuza Fascists, who insist that everyone must sit in the lotus posture otherwise it's not real. Zazen, little asterisk, even my lovely teacher Nishijima was a little bit in that way. He loved the lotus posture, never quite got the point of sitting in a chair, kind of. Some of us got him to look the other way when there was need, but he was part of this Japanese tradition. It's not found in China, not found in Tibet. From what I've seen, boy, those people, those people, when they sit zazen are big slumpers, big slumpers, over there in China. When I've seen videos and when I went there myself and joined in some session, maybe too much.

    Okay, here I am, the middle way again. I believe in an upright stable posture. Something that's balanced but upright. I watch some of you at home, I'm looking right now and it's hard to tell with the camera, and maybe some of you really need, but I see folks leaning forward like the Leaning Tower of Pisa there. Okay, try to get your back a little straight and your head nicely balanced on top, if you can, if you can, if it's right for your body. That's one of the reasons I recommend that fellow I did a couple of weeks ago again, Mr. Johnson, with his finding the posture right for you program. It's very good. You judge your own body. If it feels right and stable and comfortable, it's a good posture. It doesn't have to be the fusa fascista lotus posture.

    Okay, enough about that. So do what you can, don't do too much. You don't have to be the perfect monk or the perfect Zen practitioner if the body does not allow. Sincerely do what you can. Know your own body. On the other hand, I'm going to go the other way now, part of our practice is ‘gaman’. ‘Gaman’ is a Japanese word that means kind of sticking it out, hanging in there, toughing it out, biting the bullet. There's a lot of that too. There's a reason for that and that's a good thing too. Sometimes we're too easy on ourselves or we psychologically talk ourselves into, “I can't do that, it's too hard.” That's not good. And some of our practice is intended to be a bit miserable, boring, and uncomfortable. Truly, zazen is sometimes boring. It's meant to be. It's meant to be repetitive, boring, sometimes uncomfortable, a little bit tough, because we learn the lesson that a lot of the resistance is between our ears. If something's boring or uncomfortable or you'd rather be doing something else, that's your judgment between your ears. You can change that.

    If something is uncomfortable, there's a difference between having a real medical need to move and just convincing yourself, ah, I just need to move, move, move. Sometimes I watch you guys at home here too, I see, compared to a lot of zazen folks I know in America or Japan, a lot of people who seem to move a lot. Always changing, always kind of jumping. Now some people may have a real need to do that and if you have a real need to do that, that's your condition, either some kind of health condition, whatever it is, and you really need to move, move, move like that, that's okay here.

    In Japan they come over and hit you with a stick. They saw that. I'm not going to do it, because they're the fuza fascistas here, I'm telling you. They come over, the guy with the stick would say, “stop moving, you know, I hit you with that.” I'm not going to do that. If you need to move, you move, but ask yourself, can I put this need to move out of mind and just sit here upright, straight and balanced and just forget about it? Am I really so uncomfortable that my legs are now in some physical danger of true injury to myself or is this just a little thing that I can just kind of put aside? I told you I had medical tests this week. It comes in very handy. I had a couple of, you know, the barium test and a couple of things. You know, I don't like it, you know, they jug you up and down. I put it out of mind.

    I go to the gym, I do my weight machines, I don't like it sometimes. You know, about the 13th or 14th repetition, it gets a little achy, you know, no pain, no gain, you know. I do it the Zen way. No pain, no non-gain, but that's another story. But anyway, I'm on the 14th repetition, it really hurts. I've learned to put it out of mind, put it like I'm picking up the pain and putting it aside from me so I can get through the repetitions, the medical tests. That's part of our practice, the middle way. So, what I'm saying to you is when you're sitting, don't move too much. Don't move too little. If you need to move and there's a real reason, move. But if it's just you doing it to yourself and you can put it aside, the need to move, I would like you to ‘gaman’, sit up straight and a little bit try not to move. Get through it.

    If there's medical need, like someone just said to me they had a back operation, they need to move, move, move all you need, move every 10 seconds. I don't care in our sangha. But if you don't really need to move, practice the art of dropping it from mind, dropping body from mind, and just sit with it. And don't do too much. I don't want anyone falling over like I almost did during the chant today. And don't do too little. Like the lute strings, not too tight, not too loose, and then the beautiful music comes out of the guitar, comes out of the lute, that middle way, okay? All right, let's practice that now. Let's just sit.

    This is a transcribed version of the dharma talk given by Jundo in either the weekly or monthly zazenkai. The spoken word has been left untouched and the only omissions are those arising from the use of Japanese or Chinese language, which I am unable to faithfully transcribe. Punctuation and layout has been edited simply for ease of reading. If you believe there are any errors or omissions that require amendment, please send me a private message detailing the issue and it will be given due consideration. Some matters may be referred to Jundo (or other speaker), for clarification, to ensure their original message is conveyed accurately.

    Heidō Tokan (unsui)
    平道 島看 Heidou Tokan (Balanced Way Island Nurse)
    I enjoy learning from everyone, I simply hope to be a friend along the way