Intimacy with Birth and Death: The 39th Yearly Memorial for Suzuki Roshi 

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It seems that it's still December 4th, and we have respectfully performed the 39th annual memorial ceremony for our dear teacher, and we had a lovely day together, and I thought I might just bring up again for your consideration how to paint the portrait of a bird, and invite you to think about if you'd like to paint a cage for you, yourself to enter, and perhaps


some others to enter too. Imagine a cage that you would like to go into, imagine a cage that has something inside that's pretty, that's beautiful, that's so attractive that you're willing to go into the cage. Many of you have entered cages in the past, now I'm asking you to think of what cage you'd like to enter maybe next year, and also suggest to you that cages exist in time and space, or space and time. There can be a cage of space and a cage of time. So like


Tassajara this fall, we had a three-month time cage. We have seven-day, within the three months we have seven-day session cages. We have many forms we commit to, and part of the commitment is a time commitment. So when you make your commitment, if you do make a commitment, if you do make a cage, think of time as part of it. Where, what, and how long can be part of the cage you make for yourself to enter, settle down, and then paint away and sing. Another image which I didn't talk about so much, but I offer you also,


is the image of boundaries or limits, formal limits, which you offer in your life. Limits in regard to your work to become intimate with something, like your body, your bodily challenges. And I, recently at Tassajara, I used the example of the practice of becoming intimate with cold water. So I have done that practice of going into cold water. I've done it for quite a few years. There are some stories about me going into cold water at Tassajara.


Which I'm not going to, what do you call it, I'm not going to destroy the legend. But anyway, I also went into the San Francisco Bay. I've been doing that for about 30-some years. And I started to go into the bay in August. So, by going in in August, in some sense, I recognized my limits and worked with my limits. I thought, well, August is maybe a good time. The water's cold, but not so cold. So I went in in August. And then I went in regularly in August. And then I went in in September. And then I went in


regularly in September. And then I went in October. And I went in regularly in October. Then I went in November. And so on, in December. And then January. And then February. January and February, the bay is at its coldest. And I did that regularly so that I could go into colder and colder water. I work with my limits carefully so I could go in colder and colder water. If you go into really cold water and you're not used to it, I heard you can cause an over-activation of your vagus nerve, which can cause cardiac arrest. Not a heart attack, but cardiac arrest. Even it could happen to a child. So the same with entering your own disease, or your own pain, or difficult relations.


It's part of becoming intimate and finding peace with our challenges of our diseases is to carefully honor our limits work with our limits and then find that now we can move beyond them to another limit, different limit, and do the same with that. In this way, we have an ongoing flow of limits to work with. And it's also, this is part of becoming intimate. So if some people are not ready to get into the cage, it's too, it's too, they can't think of a cage, or they think of a cage and they become terrified. So maybe you're not ready, or maybe you need to make a different kind of a cage.


Some people maybe only can do a one-day cage, or a one-minute cage, or a five-minute cage. So by working with these images of recognizing and respecting your limits, together with the understanding that we need some form to test our limits, and become intimate with them, and become free of them, maybe you can think now for the rest of December, for the rest of December, maybe think about what forms, what ceremonies do you wish to become intimate with in the next year? Or maybe for just the first part of the year, and then reconsider and commit to other forms for later in the year. But we do need some forms to nurture our, nurture our meeting ourselves, nurture intimacy with ourselves.


And nurture intimacy with each other. So I will be doing that myself, I will be, and I have been working on it all year to figure out what cages I'm going to get into next year. People invite me to come into various cages. Some cages I've said, I don't think I'm going to go in that cage this year. And that has caused considerable response. For example, when I went to Tassajara this fall, and I'm still at Tassajara this fall, but I had to work quite a bit to get myself in that cage. For example, in March, five priests were ordained to train with me, and I didn't want to go,


and for me to go into the Tassajara cave or cage without those five priests, I was not attracted to that. That was one kind of beautiful thing I wanted to have in the cage. I didn't want to leave those people behind when I went into the cage. So that was a limit, I said, I would be willing to go into the cage, but only if you send those five people down with me. And it was a big deal to get them in the cage too, or have them be part of what was in the cage. I didn't want to commit to train them and then go away and do a training experience without them. So that was part of what I needed to feel okay about going to Tassajara. And all of Zen Center was more or less involved in making that possible, because for those five people to lead Green Gulch was a big change in Green Gulch, because they're kind of like, most of them had positions of responsibility in the community.


But apparently it's worked out okay, but it took a long time. And so I went. Because I kind of knew what I needed to get myself interested. And the needs were met, so I could go. So what do you want? What kind of a cage are you being invited into? What kind of a cage do you want to enter? And what do you need to make the commitment to a particular kind of training experience next year? And maybe some of you say, I don't want to go into any cage. Well, I accept that. It's a cage. Yes.


I'm not too clear on this, but I think that there are not no cages. You think that there's not no cages? Yeah, there's a cage always. That's right. There's a cage always, and there's also always a cage that's painted away. There's that too. And there's a bird singing beautifully all the time too. So I have some pain feeling that came up when I thought about painting, not so much about painting away the bars, but realizing that the cage is our own fabrication. This is something we do to ourselves. But once you realize that there's some fabrication, or something that we're participating in,


doesn't that kind of blow the cage story? Anyway, there's some pain in there, thinking about how I created a cage, maybe unbeknownst to me, and then realizing, oh, I kind of know we're involved in our own suffering. And then I think, no more cages. Anyway, I think somehow when I see that I painted it, then it seems like, I don't want to, but we don't paint the cage anymore. That is a possibility, but that's not what we call the Buddha way. The Buddha way is the way of the Bodhisattva, who, if anybody's in cages, the Bodhisattva paints cages and goes into the cages. And most people are not clear about their cages,


so they are kind of, in a sense, they're trapped by their lack of consciousness of their cage. Bodhisattvas say, I want to go into the cage with those people. I willingly and knowingly enter into a cage in order to help people wake up to the fact that they're in a cage. But they don't go into the cage, they go into the cage because there's something very attractive in the cage, and the thing that's attractive is these suffering beings. The Bodhisattvas are attracted to these beings who are trapped in these confinements of mental construction. The cage is a mental construction. Beings are in those constructions and they're not able to see their construction and study it skillfully. The Bodhisattva willingly enters the construction area to teach people to become aware of it,


so that they can paint away the construction and sing and then enter other constructions in order to help people who don't know how to sing yet. First of all, help people wake up to their enclosure and then... But in order to get them to wake up to the enclosure, they've got to get them to willingly enter their enclosure. If they don't think they're in an enclosure, they don't think they've made a commitment, then they need to go into their enclosure and get them to commit to enter their enclosure. And when we enter the enclosure and become aware of it, then we close the door so we can settle down in it and then we paint away the bars by understanding that they're just mental constructions and we start singing. We start singing.


So it's not just to get rid of the bars, it's to get rid of the bars so you can sing and then attract other people who are in cages to become aware that they're in cages. And part of the way they become aware of the cages is to willingly enter a cage, a practice cage, a practice commitment. The cage is already there, but also the cage cannot be found. But if you don't recognize that the cage appears to be there, you don't really understand that it can't be found. When you realize that it can't be found, then you realize, actually, we're all singing. We're all free of the cage and we're all singing together happily, which was always the case. But because we were in this confinement which we didn't recognize, we were cut off from it. The bodhisattva just goes around and around in that way until everybody is singing and knows it. But since it may take a while for everybody to realize that,


so bodhisattvas have, as I often say, job security. And I want to say one more thing before Carolyn speaks, and I forget, and that is Suzuki Roshi kindly died on the 4th of December instead of the 8th. He could have died on the 8th, then he would have died on Buddha's enlightenment day, which would have made things kind of ceremonially intense. Pardon? Which is your birthday? Which is your birthday? Yeah. Well, that works out quite well, actually. Yeah. Which is what I was going to say. We say that Buddha's birthday is on April 8th, we often say. Or in some traditions they say May 15th.


But anyway, in Japan they say April 8th is the Buddha's birthday. But it's not actually Buddha's birthday. It's the bodhisattva's birthday. It's the birthday of the bodhisattva who became the Buddha. Really, Buddha's birthday is the same as Simon's. That's when the Buddha is actually born. The Buddha is born on December 8th. The birth of Buddha is enlightenment. So when Buddha attained the way, that was the birth of Buddha. So again, Suzuki Roshi didn't die on Buddha's birthday. But Simon... Simon got in there and had his birthday the same day as Buddha's birthday. But, you know, I think in the spirit of celebrating your birth and Buddha's birth are quite compatible. Celebrating your death and Buddha's birth is, you know,


a little bit hard to be really that cheerful about it. So today we're not depressed about Suzuki Roshi's passing. We're inspired by his life. We're grateful for his life. We honor his passing. And we're inspired by his coming and going. And we're getting ready for Simon's birthday. For the birth of the Buddha and the birth of Simon. The birth of enlightenment. Now, Carolyn and Jane. I just saw a movie that many of you may have seen that perfectly illustrates what you were just saying about everyone singing and knowing it and the verses of the page being painted away or disappearing.


It's called As It Is in Heaven. It's extraordinary. One of the bodhisattvas, perhaps the main one, is a conductor who comes back to his village after a heart attack. And he no longer wants to conduct orchestras around the world. But he ends up conducting the village choir. And he is the bodhisattva who, through his presence and interaction, they recognize their pages, the different pages they're in. And they move in, offered with him. And then things open up. And at the end of the film, As It Is in Heaven, the entire sangha, which is immense, they're all choristers, sing at what was to have been a competition. And that is that image. It's in the bodhisattva world. They're all singing in the room. The room may well have lifted off.


So, I recommend this beautiful Swedish movie. Enter the cage of the theater. And hear the birdies sing. Pardon? You want me to sing the robin song? You mean... When the red, red robin comes bop, bop, bopping along, along... That one? There'll be no more sobbing when she starts throbbing her old sweet song. That one? Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head. Get up, get out of bed. Cheer up, cheer up, the sun is red. Live, love, laugh and be happy. Though I've been blue, now I'm walking through fields of flowers.


Rain may glisten, but still I listen for hours and hours. I'm just a kid again, doing what I did again. Singing a song. When the red, red robin comes bop, bop, bopping along, bop, bop, bopping along. Yeah. That one? That one. Thank you for bringing your blessings to know Bowen. May our intention equally extend to every being and place.


With the true merit of Buddha's way. Beings are numberless. I vow to save them. Visions are inexhaustible. I vow to end them. Dharma gates are boundless. I vow to enter them. Buddha's way is unsurpassable. I vow to become it.