--- Namandabu - Namandabu - Namandabu ---
Next week we’ll have our Moon Rabbit Cafe and share food and community with 150 guests. Bring friends, invite anyone.
The title of my talk is “Chop Wood and Carry water”. As I prepared and studied, I found an interesting effect. I would do some writing and then I would see those words “Chop Wood and Carry water”. And I would think of some chore or project, and off I would go to do just that. Then I'd get back to the Dharma talk writing, see the words “Chop Wood and Carry water” and - you see where this goes - the Dharma talk isn't exactly finished - But wow! I sure got lots of chores done!
Here is what I have….Buddhism is often called a religion of enlightenment. A way of enlightenment is better for some - The Great Natural Way. The way of Suchness. How to approach this idea of Suchness? Have many of you heard this term in Buddhism before? Ok - some. You’ve heard the word “Tathagata”? That's the Buddha: “He who comes from Suchness”. Suchness = Tathata in Pali. Maybe that's not helping.
The Buddha taught that we are not seeing reality around us in an accurate and honest way. We see through the distorting lense of the self. Our self tends to be very centered on only its interests and has the nature of clinging. This is the source of all our sorrows and difficulties. This clinging of the self to a dynamic universe. An analogy would be if we grabbed on to things that are moving, trouble follows. Grabbing onto a moving car is unpleasant. - If you’ve ever tried that [I have] - It’s moving and you're not, usually your hand is the thing that breaks.
Suchness then in my analogy is the motion of the car. The true nature of reality. Dynamic, vibrant, energetic. My self delusion sees the car as static. We could say that the actual reality of the car is conditioned by my self and so I have a distorted picture. What we call a conditioned view.
We see things as more complex than they are. We conjure up subject and object out of what is really just suchness. We condition this reality with an extra dimension that doesn't really exist. We are “dimensionally challenged”. Even the Buddha had difficulty explaining un-conditioned reality to conditioned beings? Language and vocabulary are not suited. Both Suchness and our selfish delusion are exist in the same space and time. They are not separate. They are interpenetrating realities.
Suchness is the true mode of being that underlies all. It is non-duality. “Diving into the oneness of reality!” as we do in gassho.
This might start to sound a bit cooky. Since we believe our selfish perceptions are “reality”, then for our world to be real, we have to perceive it as something. It can’t just BE. We have to judge it, or name it, or describe it in some way. The self thinks we perceive the world through words, through ideas. But in fact that is chattering of the monkey mind, drowning out the harmony of reality that lies before us.
Have you noticed, everybody is taking pictures of things lately. I made fun of Selfie-ness last time. Somehow if I have a picture of me with the cake, it makes the cake more real - right. This obsession with posting pictures is just the self wanting to freeze things, capture moments in data, petrify them in time, and make them fixed - a wish that comes counter to the fact that everything is moving and changing. But Suchness, is right now. Before we name it or describe it or form an opinion about it. Suspend the monkey chatter and you will be relating to Suchness, each moments the as-is-ness there to experience.
Where can we see this Suchness? Everywhere. Everyday. When life is simple it's much easier to experience Suchness - a pre-conceptual oneness with reality. It lives in everyday moments. Tiny moments. Like our breath. Or dew drop on a blade of grass. Those little teeny tiny baby toe nails! In the “Chopping of wood and the carrying of water” we all must do.
Too often we approach life looking for the next “big thing”. When really, what we seek is there all the time.
“Chop wood carry water” comes from a Zen Koan. A word puzzle give to a student to shake them out of a conditioned view. Once a Zen student in China asked his master. “What do I need to do to follow the Buddha's way?” The answer he got was…
“Before Enlightenment , chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment chop wood carry water”.
Often students would practice for many years in the monastery before the teacher shared an insight like this. The tendency is for us to think that Buddhism is a thing we do - Like chanting, or meditating or studying the Dharma. In this message is a clue. A hint that the grand experience of a life free from suffering - What the Buddha offers us - is actually right here. Right now. But we don't notice.
If we are mindful in daily acts that sustain life, we can we forget our self-centered strivings. Koans are supposed to be puzzling. They hint to us. The Pure Land is not far away. You don't have to die to go there. It is right here in your chopping and your carrying. It will be here once your mind changes. We encounter suchness everyday - the true nature of reality - undistorted and immediate - but we don't allow it in.
What usually happens is we fall back on bad habits - Called The 5 bad habits of the self - they have kept us bound and blinded for so long. These old upside-down views are what we use to explain and categorize our experience whole life. As the Lotus Sutra described us “dried-out living beings, abiding in suffering and without peace and bliss”
The many troubles in our lives exist because we do not live in harmony with the Suchness that surrounds us. The Buddha warns us against The 5 Bad habits of self -
competition - to believe I must win and you must lose for me to be happy is a grave delusion. Really win-lose thinking is actually lose/lose thinking.
deception - we tend to deceive others and ourselves. We compromise and rationalize to avoid criticism or acquire some gain.
dependency - We look to others to provide our livelihood and basic needs. We look to others to tell us how to think, feel, and be.
egoism - thinking and acting as though only my way is right results in unfortunate Karmic fruits.
laziness - we think that we can succeed without exerting our own effort in life.
These are all unnatural and calculating acts. Our small mind believes we have to do these things to survive, but like the monkey caught in a trap. To be freed we have to let go. These five habits blind us to the love and compassion that is here, everywhere for us. We can’t see that we are ok just as we are. When we return to chopping wood and carrying water these five habits can melt away.
In our Shin Buddhist tradition we have the example of the Myokonin - these wonderful sincere people. Their lives are without these five bad habits. In contrast, they show us how to live a peaceful life in a Buddhist way. By following the natural flow of life. By listening deeply to the Universe around us. By accepting the predominant effects of Other Power. And by living in a state of True Entrusting. They live without calculation or pretense. They cultivate a habit of profound trust and confidence. That is what we can call faith in the Buddha - Shinjin. The Myokonin show us how to align faith with confidence in the Dharma - To just Chop wood and Carry water.
Myokonin are people like Doshu, Saichi and Issa. Doshu of Akao traveled with our second founder -here- Rennyo Shonin. He was his bodyguard at times. These were tough times and as Rennyo revived Shin Buddhism, he experienced growing popularity and violent jealousy from older schools. Doshu was a protector.
He is famous for many things but I will share his New Year's resolutions 1501. He made 21 of these, but we’ll just hear a few….
The Resolutions Made on 24th December, 1st Year of Emperor Bunki
The Myokonin way of living follows the flow of life. Being in the flow of the universe - Suchness. An infinite universe that is full of compassion and wisdom. Naturalness is the way. Accepting the gentle Dharma Rain where it falls. This simple mindful living allows Deep hearing - Monpo- to develop. Deep hearing of the light. Hearing the call of Amida Buddha. Infinite love is here, calling to us all.
The Myokonin life of naturalness answers the deepest question: "Who am I? with this...
"I am nothing but this moment in the flow of life. I am nothing but this moment in the flow of life. This flow is not in our control. It is the flow of the universe itself. The life of the universe flows in me and I just flow with life and that is myself. We do make plans. We have to. And we do make good efforts, but in the end what happens is not our own doing - It is Life's doing." - Rev. Kiyozawa
For Doshu everyday was a good day because it flowed from within naturally. Without pretense - no false front was necessary. He was sincere and earnest in living himself as he was. Many of us worry because we are hiding something. We live double lives and that causes our worry. What if they find out my secrets? I am not that smart? I am not that strong? Will they still love me? But does it help?
And Saichi the Clog maker, he was a simple man in the 1800’s. A wonderful person for whom Suchness was accessible and available in his daily life. As he literally chopped wood, making wooden shoes, for a living. He would work and all the while say the nembutsu. When a poem came to him, he would write it down on one of the wood shavings from his plane. He wrote thousands of poems. Here are a few….
No clinging to anything
No clinging to the small self,
No clinging to the Teaching.
This is in accord with the Dharma
And writing about his realization of Suchness...
My eyes change, the world changes.
This place turns into the Pure Land.
How happy I am! Namu-Amida-Butsu.
And writing about his experience of Suchness...
How happy I am!
I cannot see Namu-Amida-Butsu with my eyes,
Because it is too vast a gift to see with my eyes.
To see Suchness
I have to be embraced in Suchness.
Everything is entirely in Suchness.
And Kobayashi Issa was a myokonin of the 1700s. A Shin Buddhist poet/priest who some of you have heard of. He was a master at seeing naturalness. He captures an essence with this insight into cherry blossoms…
Simply trust simply trust! Cherry blossoms in bloom
Simply trust, simply trust! We can experience Suchness every day. As we chop our wood and carry our water - we feel it. We can simply trust. We can let go the calculating mind. Avoiding the 5 bad habits of self and allow ourselves to hear deeply. The Dharma Rain is there. It comes to us in the form of the Nembutsu. We can let love rain down on us as Saichi did. If we take refuge in the Buddha. Our simple trust is important. It is profound - trust that you are ok just as you are. The Great Vow is for you.
A very insightful definition of happiness is to be "in the flow" where we lose our self in suchness. This happens to artists, and athletes, and moms washing babies. You and me [duality] melt away. There is life happening. We do glimpse Suchness when we “Chop and Carry. "I am nothing but this moment in the flow of life". I need to let it flow over me. I melt away. It rains down everywhere. On good and bad, without distinction. Good will flow when we continue to chop wood and carry water. Present in each moment of the simplicities of life. Mindful of the wondrous miracle the enfolds us. We hear deeply the patter of Dharma Rain - it is wisdom and compassion of the Buddha gently falling.
In the flow of a the task at hand, our Chopping and Carrying we Simply Trust. With deep confidence in the wisdom and compassion of the universe that wishes us well. In those small moments reality calls out to us and says these words…. Please repeat after me...
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart