Three Pure Precepts and Bodhidharma
I was first taught the meaning of the word "kai" my teacher
used the translation "aspects of life" instead of precepts"
and I prefer to think of the Kai as the aspects of our life. I would
like to talk about this in the context of the Three Pure Precepts
and a Koan. The Three Pure Precepts are Cease from evil, Do good,
and Do good for others. The Koan is a simple one , the 4th case
of the Gateless Gate. The main case, the koan itself, is one question;
"Why does the Western barbarian have no beard?" As you
probably know, it refers to Bodhidharma, who came from the west
(India) to China. As you probably also know, one of the metaphors
or expressions in our tradition that's very common is the question,
"Why did Bodhidharma come to the East?" It's a metaphor
for the question, "What is Zen?" We say that Zen is Kai,
is life. So, what is this Zen? What is life we are talking about?
If Zen is Kai, if it's life itself, then what's the point of talking
about bringing it from one country to another? What are you transmitting?
What is the Dharma torch that can't -shouldn't-be extinguished?
These are the questions in that Koan. Of course, Bodhidharma is
not some figure that lived many, many years ago.
Bodhidharma is us, all of us. It's our teachers that come from Japan,
from the west, carrying the torch. It's all of us coming from wherever
we came from, gathered here. Why did we come here? What are we carrying?
What are our teachers carrying? What is it that we want to receive?
And what is it that we don't want to receive?
There are a number of ways of looking at koans. One is that we use
them to illustrate points. We talk about them. I'm using one now
to illustrate something and I'm talking about it. Another, which
has to do with actual koan practice, is to become the koan. In this
case; Become the Western barbarian! Become the beard! Become Bodhidharma!
To pass the koan is to experience the state that's being presented,
This first condition of being brings us to the first Pure Precept,
ceasing from evil. Dogen Zenji in his instructions on the Kai says
about the first Pure Precept, "Ceasing from evil, this is the
abiding place of laws and rules of all Buddhas. "This abiding
place, this source, this is the state the koan wants us to experience,
the state of non-duality, the state of not-knowing, the state of
non-separation. The sixth ancestor in China, Hui-neng, defines Zazen
as the state of mind in which there is no separation between subject
and object, no space between I and Thou, you and me, up and down,
right or wrong. This ceasing from evil, the abiding place is the
state of at-one-ment, of being one, of being Buddha, of being the
Three Treasures, of Be-ing, of returning to the One. That's a very
difficult place to be in. This is the place where we don't know
what's right, what's wrong. This is the place of just being, of
life itself, of Kai itself. How many of us can say that we are open
to all the ways of all lives, of all beings and non-beings and sprits?
How many of us can say that we don't have the answer, the right
way? Or, how many us can say that every way that's being presented
is the right way?
Zen is a practice that pushes us to experience, to realize, to actualize,
what is. We human beings possess a number of characteristics that
separate us from that experience. One is the brain. The brain thinks
dualistically. That's the way it functions. Concerning some parts
of ourselves, for examples our stomachs, we don't think dualistically.
I don't go around being aware of having a stomach unless, of course,
something is wrong with it. If I have a pain, there is a sense of
separation. If you experience the oneness of life, you would not
ask the question "Is that the other or not?" If you experience
the oneness of life, you would just function naturally.
Recently a term that has come up for me and seems to have a lot
of meaning in my life is "bearing witness." For me, zazen
becomes a form of bearing witness to the Three Treasures, bearing
witness to life, bearing witness to the elimination of the denial
of the oneness of our life. As human beings each one of us is denying
something. Each one of us is aware of certain aspects of life which
we do not want to deal with usually because we are afraid of them.
Sometimes it's society that is in denial about certain of it's aspects
and we go along with it. Zazen in it's true state allows us to bear
witness to all life and, for me, that's the second pure precept,
Doing Good. Dogen Zenji says," Doing Good, this is the Dharma,
of Samyak-sambodhi. This is the way of all beings."
A symptom of separation, a symptom of duality is found in the word
"why". Many Koans start with that. "Why has Bodhidharma,
the Western barbarian, no beard?" Why! That's the symptom of
duality. Why do we put on the robe at the sound of the bell? Why
do we do this, do that ? Why do we need rules and regulation ? Why
do we need forms ? Why this form ? Why is grass green ? Couldn't
it be purple ? I like purple. Grass is green therefore I don't like
it. So why ? Eliminate the word "why" and again we come
back to bearing witness. Recently I thought of Shakyamuni's life
and I thought of his father trying to isolate him from suffering,
from old age and death, from renunciates. And for me that became
a metaphor for the denial of, or separation from, those aspects
of ourselves or of society that we are afraid of or not ready to
deal with. These are all those things that lead to the aspects of
myself that I've been in denial about and am afraid of and those
aspects of society that I'm afraid of or deny.
For me the importance of bearing witness to what is denied grew
out of my zazen, out of the bearing witness to life as a whole and
what arose out of that. When I bear witness, I learn, I open to
what is. There's a healing process in that. The root of the word
"ceremonies " is this "healing" and for me one
of the most important ceremonies is this bearing witness. This is
all the second precept. Bearing witness to things that I am denying
or that society is denying. Bearing witness to the things I don't
want to deal with. So in terms of our Koan, being Bodhidharma, just
feeling the beard, being the beard, we see all the problems-the
food that gets stuck in the beard, the molds that grow. We learn
how to clean it, how to comb it, how to become one with it, how
to be Bodhidharma. Taking care. It's a tremendous healing and learning.
The beard teaches us. And the things that we are in denial about
teach us. We don't go to them to teach them. They teach us. And
they teach when we can listen, can bear witness. And to bear witness
is, again, to me zazen, being one with those things.
A student of mine is walking, along with 70 other people, from Auschwitz
in Poland to Hiroshima,a 5,000 mile walk through many war-torn countries.
He told me that one of the things that was happening on the walk
is that many of the people with him are walking but not experiencing
the suffering going on in those countries. They are doing it but
staying out if it. They see soldiers and they are afraid to talk
to them. They see prisoners and they're afraid to talk to them.
He called it "spiritual correctness"- doing the right
thing, but not allowing oneself to become it. That's a danger of
our practice. We can learn all the right things. We can talk about
all the right things, but not allow ourselves to be them.
For me the flowering of zazen, the flowering of bearing witness
is the third Pure Precept, "Doing good for others." Dogen
Zenji says, "This is to transcend the profane and to be beyond
the holy. This is to liberate oneself and others." Many years
ago in L.A. I had an experience in which I felt-I saw- the suffering
of the hungry spirits. I was surrounded by all kinds of suffering
beings. Almost immediately I made a vow to serve them, to feed them.
How do we feed them? "Raising the Bodhi Mind, the supreme meal
is offered" are words in our liturgy. That's the food for the
hungry spirits. Raising the Bodhi mind the supreme meal is offered.
So there are two parts of our practice: Raising the Bodhi mind,
ascending the mountain is one, and the other is offering, descending
the mountain. What good is it if we just make ourselves more holy?
What's the point. The point is to serve, to offer, to be the offering.
Of itself the fruit is born. So out of our zazen, out of our bearing
witness, we don't have to worry about what we to do, if we cease
from evil, if we become that state of unknowing. If we become zazen,
the offering will arise. Fruit will be born. In fact, that's what
each of us is. We can appreciate all the fruit in this wonderful
garden that some call "the universe." There was a priest
from Korea who started working with the children who were retarded
orphans. And through the monastery he ordained the children. What
was beautiful to me of what he said was that the children he worked
with were Buddhas. He ordained them so he could take care of the
Buddhas, not so he could make the children into something that we
would accept. He accepted each child as he or she was, as the Buddha-and
served and took care. It could also be said that in the eyes of
the Buddha we are all retarded. In my case because of my Karma my
life has evolved into working or trying to work with society as
a whole, as a Dharma field. And I really feel it is directly out
of that experience I had. And this leads me into what I do.
As I mentioned earlier the first pure precept, "Ceasing from
evil," we can call returning to the One. And you know there
is another famous Koan, "Where does the One return to ? "
We answered it in the beginning and throughout this talk: The one
returns to life. Zen is life. And if so, what can be excluded? Always
questions come up, "how do we bring our zen into our life?"
But Zen is life . What 's there to bring? into what ? So the point
is to see life as the practice field. Every aspect of our life has
to become practice. What is practice? In the work I do, I take that
circle of life and I look at it in terms of the five Buddha families.
That's just a scheme. My background was mathematics and I love schemes.
You can have many different schemes for how to break up the circle
of life. But for me I use the five Buddha families, our mandala.
We call it the "The Greyston Mandala." In the center of
the Mandala, the center of the circle, is the Buddha family, the
formless forms, the state of non-duality, the first Pure Precept,
non-knowing. It's the foundation of the network of the work we do
that is represented by the other four families.
When we went to New York we first established the Buddha Family,
the practice of zazen, the practice of meditation retreats, the
establishment of an atmosphere of no- duality. The next family that
we looked at was Ratna, "right livelihood." The next was
the Karma family which I called "social action." Karma
as you know is action, right action The next was Vajra which I call
"study" not study abstractly but study of life as it is,as
we are doing it. And the fifth, Padma, I call "relationship"
or "integration." It's the energy that keeps it all whole.
As dualistically thinking human beings we think whatever we happen
to be doing is the right thing. Nothing else is good. It's the same
as we look at society. We create livelihoods and social action and
we think, "oh, this is essence, not that" How to keep
all this integrated as one circle of life-that's the Padma energy.
Being trained in a practice which comes out of a monastic model
whose forms make the environment conducive to our getting to this
state of not-knowing, to seeing the oneness of life, the question
for me is what are the forms in business or social action that are
conducive to seeing the oneness in society, in life? What are the
forms that exist now? What keeps us from bearing witness? What keeps
us from seeing oneness life, from appreciating everything as it
is ? What is it that makes us move toward that conditioning of thinking
that we know the right way? So my life at this point is dedicated
to trying to create an environment, a form, not just for us as individuals,
but for society, that deals with this issue. How do we create the
forms that will be conducive to moving each of us towards the realization,
the actualization of the enlightened way?
Just doing zazen doesn't necessarily lead into a position of non-duality.
So what else can we do? It's the role of the teacher to try to answer
What are the "upaya," the methods, the expedient means?
What are the forms that can help us get into that situation where's
it's easier for us to experience that state if non-duality? Almost
anything we do will cause more dualistic thinking. So how do we
lead ourselves, our brothers, our sisters into a state of non-duality?
That's the question. That's Koan. I can give you as a concrete example
a form that we created in business which I think helps people. Originally
our business were places for training our residents. And that is
still in some cases true. Then we opened our business to folks who
were homeless and unemployed and very poor. The majority of our
staff were folks who were either homeless or chronically unemployed
or people that had tremendously high-paying jobs selling dope, crack.
Some of theses latter made a fortune and then on their own decided
to change their lifestyle. We've hired many people like that . A
lot of them come in with the notion that what they need are things
for themselves. To help them get a glimpse of the interdependence
of life we created teams of people working. How they get paid is
a function of how their team produces. So if someone on the team
doesn't know the job very well, it behooves the rest to teach that
person , because then they all make more money. So we've created
a form to bring their consciousness just a little bit away from
thinking how they are going to improve for themselves. It's still
how they are going to make money, but now its in terms of the whole
group. Moving people into the framework of seeing the interdependence
of life then allows the next step to unfold the next and the next.
So those are forms we've developed in addition to the practice of
non-separation, of zazen. But that's the Koan; how do you do things
like that? How do you do things in the monastery to make sure that
you don't become attached to your way of doing it as the only way,
the best way- so that everyone else out there who's not doing it
your way doesn't know what's "doing?" How do you do that
? Those are, for me, the interesting questions.
To take another example, you know that "sesshin" means
to unify mind. I work with people who are homeless. For me that
meant that I need to try to unify the mind with those living in
the streets. To do this I started giving street retreats. It isn't
necessary, but I needed to do it. I have to make it clear that my
doing street retreats was not doing a homeless retreat. Many people
call these "homeless retreats," but to unify the mind
with somebody homeless you have to be homeless. Everyone I took
with me including myself knew that we were going back to our homes
in a week. We were street people but not homeless people. The ceremony
of ordaining "shuke tokudo" means "leaving home."
So in some sense if one can really do shuke tokudo then you can
do street retreats. But that's a separate story. So a street retreat
is being at one with those living in the street . How do you know
that? You live in the street. So that's what I did with everyone
who came. We lived in the street. Now part of life is breathing,
part of life is eating, part of life is doing zazen. I don't look
at them as special,. They are just what I do each day...I don't
breathe to live. Because I'm alive I breathe. I don't do zazen to
become something. Because I'm alive I do zazen. So a street retreat
has all those elements. It has eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom.
It has all the aspects of your life except you happen to be living
in the street. So the rules change. There are no Bathrooms, no showers,
no zafus, zabutons. You sit on the floor. We had no beautiful drums
or robes, so we used garbage cans or whatever we could find for
liturgy. But every day we had service. Every day we sat. But it
was difficult, even just to get people together again after they
had been separated to find food or bathrooms. I was amazed at what
happened on that first street retreat. There were people who joined
me, for example my senior disciple, my first Dharma successor, Peter
Matthiessen who has done many things in his life and has probably
done hundreds of sesshins. There are all kind of people, some came
for one day and some for five days, but everyone of them told me
it was the most powerful experience of their life. Something happened.
I think it's the immediacy. Sesshin also brings us to the immediacy
of life. But the street does it very, very dramatically. Issues
of eating, peeing, defecating, every aspect of our life is raw and
right there. And denial. One day on the street and people deny you.
When you walk into a restaurant they won't serve you, won't let
you in. When you have to go to the bathroom desperately, you go
into a restaurant and ask if you can use the bathroom and they say
no. People walk away from you because they don't like the way you
smell or look. If you truly experience this, you will never avoid
those people again, those people that were you. That's the power
of the street and what it can teach , the immediacy of now. It teaches
us to bear witness.
So if you can just feel "his beard and see all it's problems-the
food that gets struck in it, the molds that grow in it, its tangles-if
you can see how to clean it, comb it and then become one with it,
that's a tremendous healing and learning. The beard teaches and
the things you are in denial about will teach you. They will teach
you, if you can listen, bear witness and then become at-one with
them. This is zazen. This is the Three Pure Precepts.