What To Do With This One Great Life?

A student recently reminded me of this talk, posted here a while back. With thanks to Steve and Mark, I’m reposting it today:

Today we will be wrapping up our work on Dogen’s Tenzokyokun (Instructions for the Cook), focusing on the joyful, nurturing and great minds. These three minds answer the question, “What is mature practice?” Dogen gives us many ideas about what mature practice looks like, how we could cultivate a mature practice and then condenses it to just one word. More on that later.

Before we get into the three minds, though, let’s look back. In Instructions for the Cook, Dogen’s makes a number of important points for embodying the Buddha Way. At the risk of over-simplifying, I would summarize the flow of the text so far like this:

Allow yourself to be polished by others. Sort and clarify “rice and sand” (the sacred and mundane) in the midst of the work itself. Lift a single vegetable and make a golden body. Intimately consider the details of your work. Take full responsibility. Know the one flavor of Zen through the abundance of blessing shared in community through the joyful, nurturing, and great minds.

As I studied about the joyful mind this time, one point that stood out for me was the importance of looking for those things for which we can be grateful. Dogen suggests, for example, that we reflect on the three treasures (buddha, dharma, sangha) and appreciate how we have an opportunity to practice in this very life.

Joyful mind goes against the grain of the untrained mind that clings to the sensations arising when we cycle, swirl and wallow in that which is negative. By attaching to those things that we think we should have but are not getting and attaching to those things that we have but we think we shouldn’t have, we create an unjoyful mind and a tormented heart. If we just leave the mind to its natural course, we might be caught by habitual negativity.

Naikan practice helps us look closely at this life in the particulars of our relationships. What we are receiving? What we are giving? What trouble are we causing? This is one powerful way to cultivate the joyful heart.

I remember being tenzo at Hokyoji. Especially in practice period we would get up 4am and work hard all day. I’d often be in the kitchen after evening zazen preparing for the next day. I saw my mind slipping into complaining about the stoves not working, or the little tiny refrigerator, or my assistants that weren’t following my directions like I wanted them to. The conditions were so challenging that it became clear that I simply didn’t have enough energy to complain. In the midst of being hungry, tired and hot, energy to complain was a luxury that I couldn’t afford. What a relief! Quite the contrary, cultivating appreciation brought energy and the capacity to carry out the work.

I notice this too in my present work as we approach the end of the school year. It is still very easy for me to sink into complaining about my circumstances and difficulties. Cultivating a happy heart by noticing the positive and letting go of my obsession with negative factors is also still a relief.

“Letting go” does not mean to deny or repress the negative in a thin spiritual masquerade. Issues that impede our functioning together need to be addressed. But how much do we really need to focus on the negative in order to productively address them?

Dogen says that in the Universal Recommendations for Zazen that right zazen is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease. That’s not what’s happening when we sit and bitch. That’s the dharma gate of torment and depression.

When we entered this practice, most of us were in various stages of desperation looking for something. I was 21 and had been looking for at least five years, searching for the meaning of life. I was very fortunate to have a friend who sent me a copy of Three Pillars of Zen. That led to my seeking out Katagiri Roshi and practicing with him. When I started out, I knew something was lacking in my life but I expected somebody or something else to do the work. I thought I’d discover some meaning out there somewhere. Thanks to the buddhadharma, I found that the lack was me expecting it to be done for me. Meaning wasn’t going to be actualized by sitting back with some kind of “do me dharma” attitude, as Daido Roshi used to say. Thus, the buddhadharma has been a wonderful gift in my life.

Returning to the passage on joyful mind, Dogen makes a couple of other points. First, what a drag it would be to be born in heaven and have perpetual bliss! What a drag? If we were born in a heavenly realm, we wouldn’t have enough rub, enough difficulty, to arouse the determination to practice, to live a creative life, to take responsibility for our life and to hold up a “single wilted piece of lettuce and make it into a golden body.” We might just sit back and wallow in god or goddess realm indulging in sense pleasures.

I saw a documentary this past week that reminded me of one of our god realms – rock-n-roll fame. The film was about the rock group the Doors and Jim Morrison, a gifted young guy suddenly reborn in a heavenly realm. He could have anything he wanted so he went completely crazy indulging in excess in all kinds of wildness – alcohol, sex, cocaine, and fast cars. He soon crashed and burned, dying in a bathtub in Paris at twenty-seven.

A related point comes to mind from the Diamond Sutra. It says that when we arouse way seeking mind we can expect to be blessed with a great deal of difficulty in a short period of time. Blessed? Wouldn’t true practice ameliorate our suffering? The Diamond Sutra says, no.

Instead, rather than our unwholesome karma coming to fruition over a long period of time, what we might get when we really arouse a clear and bright way seeking mind is a lot of bad karma arriving and maturing in a short period of time. And that’s a good thing. We’d be blessed with not suffering mildly for a long period of time but intensely for a short period of time. That intense suffering might be just what we need to burn our bullshit.

Just sit a sesshin and you will see your unwholesome karma manifesting in a hurry right in front of you.

Take up the way-seeking mind, our inner-most request, and there is a push-back from the universe. What is pushed forward is our unwholesome karma from timeless beginning and it blooms right now. We have the opportunity to meet it directly and burn with and through it.

For me this was expressed by Bill Murray’s character, Carl Spackler, in the movie “Caddy Shack.” Carl tells a story about caddying for the Dali Lama and after the 18th hole, he asked the Dali Lama, “Hey Lama how about a little something, a little something for the effort, you know?”

The Dali Lama said, “There won’t be any money today, but when you die, on your deathbed there will be total consciousness.”

Carl said, “So I got that going for me too, which is nice.”

It is the joyful mind that accepts difficulty as “…I got that going for me too, which is nice.”

More so, the happy heart invites difficulty. For example, when I was at Bukkokuji studying with Harada Tangen Roshi, it was very cold, 30 – 34 degrees day and night for several months. We priests wore robes with only thin long underwear and no jackets. Nothing on the head, nothing on the feet. One day I came into dokusan and just said, “C-O-L-D!”

Tangen Roshi said, “DIFFICULTY WELCOME!”

When difficulty arises … nice … we got that going for us too.

The second of three minds is the nurturing mind, often translated as the parental mind. Obviously, though, Dogen isn’t saying that only parents can know this mind. Dogen, after all, wasn’t a parent – as far as we know – and neither were most of this monks. He talks about the nurturing mind in the metaphorical sense.

It’s a good metaphor. Humans, as we know, feel deeply for their children. I’ve seen research indicating that we are hardwired to give our lives for our children but not for those near and dear to us, like our partners or lovers. So “spousal mind” would not be such a good translation!

Nurturing mind, attending to all of the things in our world, is a very important part of Zen practice. I think now of a time I went to Japan with Katagiri Roshi. We flew in, of course, and had long flight with big delays. When we finally got to Tokyo we had a few hours of jet-lagged sleep and then took a bullet train to a monastery on Shikoku Island. An hour after we arrived, we had a ceremony and went up the mountain to a shrine and had a complementary Shinto ceremony.

There were three American students with Roshi and as we marched up the mountain and all of us were in culture shock, exhausted and oh, so crabby. “This is Zen – what the hell?”

On the way up the mountain, we were supposed to bow to every one of what seemed to be 108 Jizo Bodhisattva we passed. Jizo is the bodhisattva of beings in hell realm so it seems funny now that I was creating hell in resistance to Jizo and didn’t get the irony at the time.

We made it to the top of the mountain, took off our sandals, and crammed into a tiny shrine and did some very fast chanting of something that we didn’t recognize. When we came out of the shrine, Roshi was standing by our shoes looking down with a big scowl. All the monks’ sandals were in neat rows and then there were three pairs of American sandals scattered about.

“Sandals must be neat!” Roshi said and then he turned and went down the mountain. I had all sorts of justifications for my sloppy sandals that I rehearsed on the way down the mountain, all coming down to this: “You are asking too much!”

And the sandals didn’t care. Whatever excuses I had, how could I take care of the sandals’ life?  This is nurturing mind.

There is also a story that I reread recently about two of the founders of Soto Zen in Japan, Dogen and Gikai. Gikai became a monk in the Daruma School when he was young, studying with a monk named Ekan. When Gikai completed his study with Ekan, he went on a pilgrimage. When he came to Dogen’s monastery, he and just stayed there. Later, Ekan joined him, also converting to Dogen Zen.

Gikai was known as a very strong, practical, effective practitioner. When he first came to Dogen, he volunteered for the most difficult job – carrying water from the mountain to the temple. He worked so hard and he had such a strong way seeking mind that Dogen made him both Tenzo and Temple Coordinator at the same time (and I thought I had it bad!).

Before Dogen died, he called Gikai to him and said he wasn’t going to survive for long. Gikai would have been about 34. Dogen said he didn’t think he would be able to recover but that he had great joy in his heart for all the gifts he’d received from the buddhadharma in his short 53 years. Then he told Gikai that he wanted him to keep working at the monastery. Whenever Gikai left, Dogen told him to return to the monastery because he was very important for the long-term success of Eiheiji.

However, Dogen told him, he had not yet aroused the nurturing mind, the heart of grandmotherly kindness. Gikai was moved by this feedback and both men cried until their robes were wet. With his hands in gassho, Gikai thanked Dogen.

Interestingly, in the Record of Final Instructions it says that Gikai didn’t know why Dogen told him that, even though it was the third time that Dogen urged him personally to arouse the grandmother mind of kindness. Gikai was left with the question of how to arouse and manifest nurturing mind.

Some years after Dogen died, Gikai did resolve this issue. Rather than seeing everything as the buddhadharma, he found that nurturing mind was to engage in each thing through the buddhadharma. In other words, rather than sitting back passively with a willy-nilly notion, groovin’ along with “everything is beautiful in its own way,” he discovered that he must take responsibility to uplift this great life through the specific forms of the buddhadharma.

The third of the three minds is great mind.  This is the finale of Instructions for the Cook. Dogen exhorts us to study and realize this one word Great.

As for what is called great mind, this mind is like the great mountains or like the great ocean. It is not biased or contentious mind…. On this single occasion you must write the word Great. You must know the word Great. You must learn the word Great.

It is only through becoming Great without remainder that we can know Great, not from the outside looking in at Great. Knowing Great from the outside isn’t intimate enough, it’s just an idea of Great, the witness consciousness of Great.

Dogen throws up a barrier gate here just like the Mu koan. It is not everything-is-groovy Zen. Great must be realized and actualized.

Within the practice itself, within just this one great life itself, we have the opportunity to discover the single word Great through being just who/what we are. Incredible!

And so ordinary.

Finally, I leave you with a modern Zen story that brings the three minds together. One day when Katagiri Roshi was at San Francisco Zen Center with Suzuki Roshi they were standing together at tea time. A man that Katagiri Roshi called “hippy man,” came up with tea cup in hand and asked Suzuki Roshi, “What is the universe?”

Suzuki Roshi said, “Please look in your cup.”

Immediately the hippy threw the cup on the floor, shattering it.

Suzuki Roshi quietly said, “Poor cup.”

What is the universe? What do we do with our lives? It is up to us! Do we nurture the joyful mind and realize the one word Great or do we take our life and throw it on the floor? Together have this opportunity. I’m inviting all of us to pick up this life, to hold up the cup.

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  • Aaron Caruso

    Ah. I’m so glad “Caddyshack” is getting the Dharma props it deserves. A few other great lines to ponder:

    Judge Smails: “I’ve sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn’t want to do it. I felt I owed it to them.”

    Ty Webb: “Don’t be obsessed with your desires Danny. The Zen philosopher Basha once wrote, ‘A flute with no holes, is not a flute. A donut with no hole, is a Danish.’ He was a funny guy.”

    Al Czervik: “Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!”

    Deep Bows,
    Aaron

  • Oreb

    Thanks that was very very good.

  • http://Treeleaf Taigu

    Hi Dosho,

    Great talk, very inspiring.

    Thank you.

    Taigu

  • ericmattingly

    Thanks Dosho! I can’t help but think how difficult nurturing a Joyful Mind is, much less the other two. Do you think that when we arouse the Way Seeking Mind we become more aware of the effects of Karma on our lives, and so it seems like we are all of a sudden afflicted with more suffering than before? Maybe just seeing our own behavior, and comparing it to the Dharma, shows us how deep our suffering really goes. Anyway, just a thought. Good night!

    eric

  • doshoport

    eric
    Yes, I think so … and as we arouse the Bmind again and again. Maybe with sitting we just become more sensitive to the pain that we’ve caused and as the mind quiets, the roughness of ourselves and the world becomes more and more vivid.
    Thanks for your comment,
    Dosho

  • http://nyoho.com Koun Franz

    Dosho–

    I appreciate the thoroughness of this talk. The story about Dogen and Gikai is a favorite of mine–it says a lot, and raises a lot of questions about, this nurturing mind (or parental mind). On one hand, there’s a lot of tenderness in that exchange, but on the other, it’s really, really harsh to tell the guy who’s been giving you his all that he lacks a fundamental quality, no less one that we often (perhaps mistakenly) associate with just being a good, kind person. It also feels like an historical re-enactment of the Buddha/Ananda/Mahakashyapa triangle, which had a lot of similar pieces. It would make for great theater, even if it weren’t true.

    Gassho,
    -koun

    • doshoport

      Koun,
      Thanks and yes – Dogen’s feedback is rough … and yet so focused. Germaine to the discussion on your blog lately – no need to grab someone by the chest hairs and throw him into a wall. There’s a kindness to letting Gikai figure it out for himself – no 3 hour dokusan.
      Palms together,
      Dosho

      • http://buddhafyer.blogspot.com/ StoneCutter

        Agree about the historical echo. Nice parallel to draw.
        Who knows what precisely was transmitted in the intimate language of their exchange? Yet hard to resist the impulse to imagine the total set of Gikai’s qualities and character which Dogen may have been observing over time, and out of those the admonishment was about nurturing mind. We imagine Gikai had energy and drive in spades, yet… What did Dogen most need Gikai to succeed in, if he were to insure the preservation of Eihei-ji? Nurturing not just the institution, but each of the members of that community, such that all could flourish. If, over time, that quality seemed somewhat lacking in a potential successor, it could eventually become quite important. All this in addition to the initial, obvious assumption that Dogen had noticed nurturing mind was something Gikai needed to work on for his own practice realization.
        I find the exchange even more interesting now that I have gone and looked at the actual historical succession and immediately subsequent history.
        Another question occurs, mainly due to my own limited exposure to Dogen’s canon. But as I think through what I have absorbed of Enlightenment Unfolds, it is intereisting to consider what sets of experiences allowed Dogen’s own nurturing mind to ripen initially, and over time.

        • doshoport

          Stonecutter,
          Thank you for your thoughts. As you may know, Gikai did become abbot of Eiheiji and there was a major schism in the third generation succession. See Bodiford’s Soto Zen in Medieval Japan, p. 70ish for what is now known about this (available on Google Books … and an important resource for any serious Soto Zen student, imv) – very human discord, apparently, maybe due to lots of nurturing issues!
          Dosho

          • http://buddhafyer.blogspot.com/ StoneCutter

            Appreciate the book recommendation and have ordered a used copy. Looking forward to reading it.

  • Fran Shalom

    thank you Dosho for this inspiring piece!

    Bows,
    Fran


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