to the Marketplace
I was first taught the meaning of the word "kai" my teacher
used "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
know, it refers to Bodhidharma, who came from the west 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 this 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 is the very
source 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 unknowing, the state of non
separation. The sixth ancestor in China, Huineng, 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 and 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 the lives of all the beings and non beings
and spirits? How many of us can say that we don't have the answer,
the right way? Or, how many of 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 he way it functions. In relation to some parts
of ourselves, for example 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, if there is an illness
with the stomach, I become aware of it. So in a sense our awareness
of others as separate from ourselves is our illness. It's the illness
of separation. If you experience the oneness of life, you would
not ask the question "Is that my brother or not?" If you
experience the oneness , 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 of 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 I have to do this, do that? Why do we need rules and regulations?
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? Take away 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 "why's".
In the last five to ten years I've felt a need to bear witness to
those 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
"ceremony" is 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 that 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 of 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 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 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
the 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 Kai is life. It's the whole circle. 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 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, unknowing. It's
the foundation of the work we do that is represented by the other
When we went to New York, we first established the Buddha family,
the practice of zazen, of sesshins, of an atmosphere of non duality.
The second family that we looked at was Ratna, "right livelihood."
The next was the Karma family which I call "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 "communication"
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 the essence, not that." How to
keep all this integrated as one circle of life - that's the Padma
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 unknowing, to seeing the oneness of life, the question
for me is what are the forms in business or social action that are
conductive to seeing that oneness in society, in life? What are
the forms that exist now? What keeps us from bearing witness? What
keeps us from seeing the oneness of 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
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 this. What are the "upaya," the methods,
the expedient means? What are the forms that help us get into that
situation where it's easier for us to experience that state of 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 the koan. I can give
you as a concrete example a form that we created in business which
I think helps people. Originally our businesses were places for
training our residents. And that is still in some cases true. Then
we opened our businesses 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 these latter made
a fortune and then on their own decided to change their life-style.
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
just for themselves. It's still how they are going to make more
money, but it's now in terms of the whole group. Moving people into
the framework of seeing the interdependence of live then allows
the next step to unfold and 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 like that? How do you do things in the monastery
to make it such 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 he'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 needed 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 who is homeless means 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 "shukke tokudo" means
"leaving home". So in some sense if one can really do
shukke tokudo then you can do homeless retreats. But that's a separate
story. A street retreat is being at one with those living in the
street. How do you do 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 were
all kinds of people, some for one day and some for the 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 re. 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 their
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 stuck 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.