(5 Day Intensive at Centre of Gravity, 180 Sudbury Street, Toronto, September 25-29, 2011. Talks by Michael Stone, notes by MH (with errancies, mishearings, conjectures. This is talk 2 of 5 on a Chinese poem (often chanted in Zen monasteries) called Sandokai written in the 1st century, strained through Suzuki’s commentary in Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness.)
If you took all the teachings and narrowed them down to one line, it might read: Come closer.
In The Heart Sutra the great student of the Buddha, Shariputra, is named. He was really smart and knew all the teachings, but he didn’t understand the wisdom of the heart. The thing that sutures the heart so that we can become whole. The phrase is usually translated, “Oh Shariputra…” but the “Oh” can be more literally rendered as “here.” This is an important emphasis. To be here.
Yesterday we finished with a koan based on Shitou that hung on this question, “Why aren’t I a Buddha?” And the answer was: because you’re not always human, because you want to escape the condition of being human by transcending this world, this moment, the miseries of your life. The most esoteric teaching is how to be a human. It’s esoteric because it’s a secret, it can’t be learned from books or dharma talks, it only arrives via face to face encounters. It’s right on the top of your head. Can you accept what’s showing up in awareness right now? Can you stay human?
Why aren’t you a Buddha? Because you’re asking the question. If you’re asking, you must imagine the Buddha as something separate, as something over there. As a statue at the front of the room perhaps. Perhaps you see your Emily nature or Dave-ness as somehow masking or covering up your true Buddha nature. But this conception only objectifies Buddha nature.
When you really get a sense of interdependence then you can become a student, instead of a seeker (someone looking for an idea).
We’re so conditioned to be a success, to try to go out and profit, to take your privilege or your lack of privilege and make something of yourself.
How can we share our imperfections? How can we show this with our whole bodies? When the entire expression is received – that’s Buddhism. When you split yourself – that’s when ideology arrives.
San: the world of difference, the many, plurality
Do: oneness, emptiness, unity
Kai: shaking hands
It means: the world of the one and the many shaking hands.
First line of the poem: “The mind of the great sage of India is intimately transmitted from west to east…” In other words, there is nothing outside of you. We take the world of san and make it do – we take things that are so plain – like rolling out our yoga mat – and make them holy. And we take things that are holy – like lighting the incense – and we make them plain… until both are shaking hands.
Footnote To Howl by Allen Ginsberg (Berkeley, 1955)
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy!
The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand
and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is
holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an
The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is
holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is
holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy
Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cas-
sady holy the unknown buggered and suffering
beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks
of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop
apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana
hipsters peace & junk & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy
the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the
mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the
middle class! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebell-
ion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria &
Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the
clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy
the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the
locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucina-
tions holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours!
bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent
kindness of the soul!
You could say (we are saying) that this poem is Ginsberg’s rewriting of the Sendokai. To read the poem is to rewrite it. It can only be read through the person you are. To read is to realize. To realize the poem. Like the oh that hangs in the mouth of the one who doesn’t know. Oh, that slack jawed amazement. This realization of this poem. Every sentence in this poem is recognizable as a Ginsberg sentence. He writes the Sendokai by writing his life, by following his self form, by realizing the one he touches the many.
Sendokai: Among human beings are wise ones and fools.
There are sharp and dull people, but being sharp doesn’t help one with practice or becoming awake. Actually, it can be a great hindrance. Sharp people might forget as quickly as they receive. Smart people might have a path that includes translating texts and studying languages, super, wonderful, but dull people also have a path, and it may consist of studying only a few texts. One is not a better way. Suzuki, who comments on the Sendokai, says that he is a dull student, but all the smart ones left so when his teacher died, the transmission went to him. Finally, Suzuki was willing to be himself. We’re so busy trying to distinguish ourselves, trying to be heroic, instead of being ourselves. Freud said that the ego can separate itself from itself. The greatest risk is to be yourself.
When I was a psychoanalyst people came to me who were suffering and they wanted to know what to do. How could I tell them what to do? I wasn’t so good at that part, but I could tell if they were hiding something, so we worked with the relationship in the room. Is the relationship working? This is the place where real healing can happen.
Sendokai: The subtle source is clear and bright;
The tributary streams flow through the darkness
The words “subtle source” are derived from Chinese ideograms that show clouds in water, the moon and sun together, purity. Picture a moist cloud seen through water, perhaps a reflection of clouds in water. It’s bright, but not burning bright. It gives off a mellow, soft light. Usually when we think of “the source” we think of a blinding orb or Bataille’s solar anus, but this is a soft light, a moist cloud, it’s not burning, it’s a quiet warmth. In Japanese the ideogram shows a cliff with a spring on the side, over time they added a few dots so you can see the spring more clearly. That’s how they defined “the source.”
Dogen (off the top of my head):
If you follow the river all the way back to its source there are clouds.
If you follow the clouds all the way back to their source there is the river.
Cup of Gravity
The source is do (unity). The branching streams are san (many). Norman Fischer says you can’t separate the source from the branches. The source is like gravity, there’s only gravity because of the things that gravity is acting on. They inter are, they inter exist. You can’t go fill a cup with gravity because you can’t separate gravity from things. You can’t have being outside of things that are being. Just like you can’t understand the earth without gravity – they go together. You are not gravity, but if I want to get a sense of gravity, I look at you.
The word for branching (“branching streams”) means sects, schools, viewpoints, proliferations. There is no word for streams in the original – this was added later to refer or rhyme with the mention of water in the previous line.
You can’t have schools without dharma, that’s why you don’t need to come to practice to figure it out. Or come to Buddha as psychology. There’s no psyche in Buddhism, a psychology dedicated to taking stories and integrating them into recognizable narratives. In the dharma we’re trying to see that process and understand that it’s empty of any fixed line, of any substantial or enduring self. Buddhism is not a psychology then, but a mindology. A logos of the mind. What is the logic of the mind? This is what we’re touching when we get quiet. Meditation is not about understanding but developing an interior consciousness, where your inner life becomes rich but not something to stick to. It doesn’t mean you become a slippery character. But simply that you create a body where things don’t stick so easily. Sticking to anything is the fundamental delusion. The essence of delusion is to be holding onto things. How can you let go? Through generosity. Giving. Whenever you are clinging, or feeling tight or small, the first thing that leaves you is your generosity. Sticking and clinging is the opposite of generosity. What do you have to give? What if you didn’t have to hold onto time, money, status?
Some people’s work is in the do – they need to give to others. Some people’s work is in the san – they need to take care of themselves so that they can give. You take care of yourself so you can give something away.
A Zen Life – D.T. Suzuki is a 77-minute documentary about Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966) by Marty Gross. The filmmaker asks, “You’ve been practicing your whole life. What has changed?” DT looks into the camera without speaking. The filmmaker asks, “Do you still get sad sometimes?” Suzuki answers, “Yes, but when the tears land they don’t grow roots.”
Michael and Heather Frise did a now lost video interview with Toni Packer. Michael asked her, “You come from Nazi Germany. How does that impact your practice?” Toni replied, “I don’t think it matters much. Those details of the past – I don’t give them much sun or water.”
Dying is the end of fear. When I die, I want to go with generosity, to give it as a last gift. I want to give everything back.
Shitau wrote a poem called The Song of the Grass Roofed Hermitage that described meditation as something that returned you to the world. Or as Bernie Glassman says, it plunges you back. Shitou writes, “relax completely, open your hands and walk fresh.” He also writes, “turn around the light to shine within and then return…” Don’t get stuck in the oneness, just sit, just return to this moment.
If you go really deep into difference you get oneness, if you go really deep into oneness you get difference. If I can recognize how we’re different than a closeness arises. Intimacy arrives through difference. How many relationships have ended because both people are trying to be the same? Usually when you fall in love with someone you fall in love with the sameness. Unless they’re really different and you think oh, this must be good for me. They like to sleep in until noon, I probably need that too.
Sometimes it can be hard to feel the oneness, because our culture is oriented to deliver the seduction of differences – so it becomes the job of religion to show us the oneness, or the practices that make its realization possible. At the Centre of Gravity we practice in language, with language, because solitary practice is not enough. Communication is a valid form of practice because it interrupts your view.
“Shitou called on Zen master Quingyuan, who asked him, “Where have you come from?” Shitou said, “From Caoqui (where Zen master Huineng taught).” Quingyuan held up a whisk and said, “Is there this at Caoqui?” Shitou said, “Not only not at Caoqi – not even in India.” Quingyuan said, “You haven’t been to India, have you?” Shitou said, “If I had, it would be there.” Quingyuan said, “That’s not enough – say more.” Shitou said, “You too should say a half – don’t rely entirely on me.” Quiingyuan said, “I don’t decline to speak to you, but I am afraid that later on no one will get it.” Shitou said, “It is not that they won’t get it, but no one can say it.” Quingyuan hit Shitou with the whisk, whereupon Shitou experienced a great enlightenment.” (From Transmission of Light by Zen Master Keizan, transl by Thomas Cleary)
After being whisked away, Shitou knew what he had to do, he had a purpose in life. He worked to stop animal sacrifices in 12th century China. Maybe if Shitou were alive he would open up this wall so we could see the abattoir on the other side of the tracks and work to stop what is going on there. The endless slaughter that is part of the fundament, the foundation, of this city.
Perhaps the Sendokai is psychological in the Greek sense of the term. In Greek it is the word for “soul.” Psychology literally means the logic of the soul. In Greek mythology Psyche’s first love is beauty. To have a deep psychological attitude is to have a deep relation to beauty. To know what is beautiful. What moves us psychologically, in a Greek sense, is beauty. Perhaps this is a question we should put to everyone who hopes to get elected. “What is beautiful?” It’s not inside or outside, it’s both. A beautiful road or sentence calls you. Have you seen Melina ring the gong? It makes me wake up. This is the way of psyche that is mindology. It takes a risk to be beautiful, it’s a risk to say what you think is beautiful. It also means: to say who you are.
The next time you feel a strong sensation, for instance pain, perhaps you could ask yourself this question: how old is this? Then you might glimpse the source. What’s your experience of it? The lineage of this sensation? That’s the do.