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A Dharma talk by Tenshin Roshi for a gathering of the No Abode community

AI Summary: 

In the Dharma talk given by Tenshin Roshi to the No Abode community, the central thesis explored vulnerability as a necessary condition for growth, drawing analogies between human emotional development and the physical growth of trees. Here's a detailed breakdown of what was discussed along with the references made:

- The concept of vulnerability associated with growth was likened to the cambium layer of trees, which represents potential and sensitivity but is prone to damage. This vulnerability is necessary for genuine growth and transformation in both humans and trees.
- The talk posited that humans often resist growth due to fear of this vulnerability; however, embracing it is essential for personal evolution and forming deeper connections with oneself and others.
- Throughout the discussion, a poem by Philip Larkin was alluded to, which explores the cyclic nature of growth and renewal in nature, with lines that metaphorically connect to human experiences of renewal and vulnerability.
- Insights from the animated film "Inside Out", based on Paul Ekman’s work, were discussed. This reference underscored the personification of emotions, proposing that viewing feelings as sentient beings might aid in dealing with them compassionately.
- The overall discussion emphasized observing and responding to feelings and karmic impulses with compassion rather than outright trust or rejection, suggesting this approach aligns with mindfully navigating life's complexities.

The talk not only offered philosophical reflections but also practical advice on handling emotional vulnerability and growth through compassion and mindfulness, illustrating these concepts through an interplay of botanical metaphors and interdisciplinary references.

AI Suggested Title: "Vulnerability: Growth's Cambium Layer"


Today, one of the people I was talking to, what came up was the possibility of growing, and when the person said that, I thought of a tree. I don't know if this is true of all trees, but many trees have a trunk, and then around the trunk, at the edge of the trunk, is where they grow, and it's called a cambium layer. It's where the tree is most kind of vital, and protecting that sensitive, tender part of the tree is the bark. But that place where the tree


is growing, the tree is very vulnerable there, because lots of insects try to get in there, and eat all that growing, living part of the tree. And then birds and other animals peck through the bark to get the insects and other animals that are living on the cambium layer. So, the place where the tree is growing, it's most vulnerable there. In the center, where the grain is of the trunk, it's not so vulnerable. But where it's growing, it's vulnerable. And that's true of other animals and plants. Where we grow is often where we're most vulnerable. When we're learning something, we're quite vulnerable. We're tender, because we're doing something or learning


something we don't know yet. It's not our strong suit, because we're growing. We don't grow into our strength. We grow into new territory. Strengths are okay, like the strong part of the tree is fine. But where it's growing, it's vulnerable. And so, with trees, I don't know so much about, but with humans, we often hesitate to grow. We kind of resist growing, because we're afraid of being vulnerable. But that vulnerability in our growing is to be encouraged and protected. Now, the trees are coming into leaf, like something almost being said.


Recent buds relax and spread. Their greenness is a kind of grief. Is it that they are being, are born again? Is it that they are born again? And we grow old? No, they die too. Their yearly trick of appearing new is written down in rings of grain. Yet still, unresting, castles fresh in full-grown thickets every May.


Last year is dead, they seem to say. Begin afresh, afresh, afresh. Philip Larkin So, that's very dynamic. We are called to be refreshed, or to refresh, and right there is where we're vulnerable.


We somehow are less vulnerable in death, but in afresh, afresh. There we grow, and there we're vulnerable and tender. And might even try to back away from that tenderness and that vulnerability. And we should encourage each other to be upright with this vulnerability and tenderness. Not go towards it and looking for it, but open to it as it comes to us. Because it does come to us, freshly, every moment. So the poet tells us, so the trees tell us, so the tulips tell us.


Yeah, those tulips, their blossoming was a kind of grief. And especially since they were blossoming without humans present to observe them very much. You, this community, planted them, but then you didn't get to see them very much, except today. As you see, they passed away. They were so beautiful, and they died. Anything else?


Thanks for telling me before it's too late. I haven't sang this poem for a while, so maybe some of you won't find it too repetitive. Are you ready? Ready? I can do what I want, I'm in complete control. That's what I tell myself. I got a mind of my own, I'll be all right alone, don't need anybody else. Gave myself a good talking to, no more being a fool for you. But then I see you,


and I remember how you make me want to surrender to Buddha way. You're taking my bark away, Buddha way. You're making me want to stay in Buddha way. Etta James. Never heard that one. Hmmh?? Never heard that one. No, she didn't sing that one. Never say never. Yeah, it's called, the name of it is, maybe, Those Damn Eyes.


I think the way she does it is, But then I see you, and I remember, How you want to make me surrender, Those damn eyes. That brings up a question, may I ask? So, I have difficulty dealing with feelings sometimes, Like maybe someone's eyes, or all kinds of feelings, Because, on the one hand, it's such a fundamental personal expression, a feeling, And on the other hand, it's so subject to karmic conditioning. Okay. So, what do you advise about that? Are you talking about advice when you're having difficult feelings?


How to be with them? Difficult feelings, and sometimes kind of happy, giddy feelings, too. You mean sometimes happy, giddy feelings are difficult to be with? It's not that they're difficult to be with, but I'm not sure that I can trust them completely. Trusting feelings? Are you talking about trusting feelings, and you're not sure if you should? Yes. Okay. By trust, I mean acting on them. That's what I'm hearing you say, and that's what I mean by trusting. Do you think you should act on your feelings? Sometimes. Like when? Like when should you act on your feelings?


Oh, lots of times. All right. What's an example? Well, I asked you a question because I had a feeling of an impulse to ask a question. You had an impulse to ask me a question. That is an action. Yes. So I don't understand what you're saying. Because an impulse to ask a question is an action. It's a mental action. And you didn't tell me anything about feeling. Oh. Well, the impulse is a feeling. Asking the question was an action. But before I asked a question, I had a moment of, am I going to ask a question? I think we're using language differently here. The impulse or the intention to ask a question is not, I don't call that a feeling. Feelings are like positive, negative, and neutral. Pain and suffering and indeterminacy, those are feelings.


But the intention to do something, that's an intention, that's volition. That's the definition of karma. So I don't know exactly what you're talking about when you say feelings then. Hmm. But anyway, if it is feelings, positive, negative, neutral, you can say, should I trust them? And if it's karma, if it's an intention, you can say, should I trust it? Karma, you're equating karma with an intention? The definition of karma is an intention. Like, the intention to ask a question, for example. That's karma. Okay. So, when I used the word karma just a few minutes ago, I meant kind of conditioning or old habit or something not entirely conscious in terms of my action, in terms of my intention.


Again, intention is the pattern of your consciousness. Your karma in a given moment is the way your consciousness is shaped. So what is your question? And also, that shape of your consciousness conditions your life. It has consequence. So every moment of consciousness has karma, and every moment of consciousness has consequence. So I don't know what you're getting at. Well, say a relationship, I'm kind of in a relationship, which hasn't worked out the way I would like. Uh-huh. So, feelings of attraction, but at the same time of feelings of not wanting to act on that attraction because...


Uh-huh. So, to what degree should I act on that feeling? So, again, if you have a consciousness and it has some attraction in it, and some maybe carefulness about maybe this attraction might not be good to act on it, that pattern is your karma at that moment. The whole pattern? Like, for example, I'm attracted, but I'm not sure it's good. Those two can be in the same consciousness. Okay. And that has a certain pattern. So the karma is always in the moment? Karma is all... The structure of your mind at this moment? That's the definition of karma, is sort of the structure of your mind in the moment. The way...


Like, for example, you could have, I'm attracted to be kind to this person, but also they weren't nice to me in the past, so I'm not going to be kind. And that not being kind, kind of like, is very influential, so the overall pattern of the consciousness might be, I'd like to be kind, but I'm not going to be. So that would be kind of like an unwholesome karmic pattern in the moment. And then you also brought in, I don't know if I should trust this. And basically, you know, I don't recommend trusting your karma, but I do recommend looking at it and seeing what it is and being upright with it so you can learn from it. Your karma is... It's very dangerous. It's going to have consequences. And so those consequences could age you in your practice,


or make it more difficult in your practice. So I don't really trust karma, what I trust is observing it. I don't really trust feelings, I trust observing them with eyes of compassion. Karma is a sentient being. Feelings are a sentient being. They're calling for compassion. I don't trust sentient beings. I trust compassion for sentient beings. I trust that sentient beings are calling for compassion. That I trust. So I think of a sentient being as maybe having feelings. I hear you, that most people do. So sentient beings do have feelings, and feelings are sentient beings. Of course, feelings is a sentient being that has feelings. But a sentient being who...


All sentient beings also have feelings. And feelings have feelings. And anger is a sentient being. Confusion is a sentient being. Pain is a sentient being. Fear is a sentient being. All the things in your mind, each one is a sentient being. And all the patterns of them are sentient beings. And you're there with all these sentient beings every moment. Your life is crowded with sentient beings. How do you define a sentient being? Something that is aware and has feelings. You think anger is aware? Yeah, it's aware. I hate that. That's an awareness. You could say that something else is aware of it.


Like there could be awareness of anger, and I'm saying, yes, and also the anger is aware. It's a living being. All these things in you are living beings. They're all calling for compassion. It isn't just that your whole body and mind are calling for compassion, which is true, it is. It isn't just that your whole conscious mind is calling for compassion, but everything in your conscious mind is calling for compassion. I get that part. I just don't know why you call that a sentient being. I get that everything is calling for compassion, but why? Well, I guess I do it so you realize that you're being called, that your anger is calling you for compassion. Something that can call for compassion is a sentient being. And also, by the way, things that can call for compassion also can give compassion.


So anger can give compassion. Fear can give compassion. If there's fear there, the fear is calling for compassion for me and you. But I'm also calling the fear for compassion for me. It's mutual. It's intimate. There's no boundaries. There's no place where life stops. There's no exceptions to life calling for love. Everything is. Not just big kind of conglomerates like a human. A human is many sentient beings. Are you saying a rock is a sentient being?


Am I saying that? I'm not sure you're saying that. If I say a rock is a sentient being, then I think I have to get into discussing something that's a little bit not quite ready to get into. Did you mean human or not? Humans are sentient beings. In this explanation? Just no. I'm saying humans are sentient beings and I'm saying my arm is a sentient being and I'm saying my feelings are sentient beings and my confusion is a sentient being and my confusion is calling for compassion. Now I'm living in the same neighborhood as my feelings, but I'm not saying that my feelings do not, my fear does not need me to call for compassion for it. It can directly call. Like if you're afraid, I don't need you to tell me that. Your fear can tell me directly.


Yes? There's a Pixar movie called Inside Out, which is actually based on the work of Paul Ekman. But inside this person's head there's these five characters that are emotions personified. And at first when you watch it, you're like, okay, this is animated, this is a fantasy. But when I learned it was based on Paul Ekman's work, and you start looking at it, and you're like, well, that's not exactly false to treat these emotions as characters, as beings. And then as I was getting ready to, as I raised my hand, I was thinking the same thing, but I kind of thought of the other animated movies you see where your arm has a face and it's talking to you, or the rock has a face and it's talking to you, and it's sort of like, well, there's a reason, maybe, why that kind of feels like, why people watch that.


Why this tree, the trees in Lord of the Rings have personalities. And I don't think it's completely delusional to animate these things and to give them personas and to treat them as beings. And so maybe that's like, there's the truth there in that personification. The resonance. I just told you a poem about trees, right? And was there any resonance between the language about the trees and us? There's no limit to delusion. It's not like delusion is over here and then over here is just not delusion. Delusion is all pervasive


and so is the Buddha way. The Buddha way extends everywhere and everywhere it extends also extends back to the Buddha way. So Buddha way reaches every delusion, but the delusions are right there with the Buddha way. There's no difference. They're not separate. The Buddha way doesn't just save humans or trees or dogs. It saves every living being, it saves every aspect of, for example, a human or a dog or a tree. And human beings are deluded. But their delusions are completely not separate from Buddha's. There's no Buddha other than sentient beings and there's no sentient beings other than all their feelings and emotions.


There's no Buddha other than our anger and our confusion and our fear. They're not separate. The difficulty is to be present for all this sentientness. That presence opens to the fact that Buddha has reached whatever this is. So Erin, what's next? So what you're saying comes like from all kinds of systems and all the beings inside of us. What is that thing that's present? Say again? What is that thing that is present to all these sentient beings? What is that? Is there a name for that?


The Buddha way. Buddha is present to all the sentient beings. There's a perfect fit between Buddha and all sentient beings. But not just all sentient beings in this level of organization called a human. But also with all the things that make a human. The Buddha is present with those two. It's not just present with the whole what's called the whole works of Karin. It's also present with every aspect of Karin. When you put it that way, I can kind of see that one is present with Buddha. Pardon? Well, we can say when you're present your presence is not your Buddha but your presence is Buddha


because that's what Buddha is doing with you. If you're present with yourself, that's Buddha. Excuse me a second. And you said something and not something. You said and not something? You said my presence is Buddha and then you said you went like this. But the wandering around, the presence is with that. So the wandering around is a sentient being. Sentient beings wander around. Buddha is present with our wandering. Yes? Pardon? Not everything? You can say, if you want to say Buddha is everything, that's fine. But then sentient beings are everything too. And I'm okay with saying sentient beings are everything.


Everything is sentient beings. Buddha is... But we also say Buddha is perfectly in solidarity with all living beings. And when we are in solidarity with our neighborhood sentients we are doing what Buddha would do under these circumstances. Now, in that presence like a Buddha would be we awaken, we sentient beings are illuminated by understanding that this sentientness is not separate from Buddha's. So we can settle before we understand that there's no separation. But we're not going to understand there's no separation if we're unwilling to settle with all the sentient beings that we are. And so the cambium layer of our thing is sort of like where we're growing into opening to more


varieties of ourselves. Or more varieties of our life. And that's a very vulnerable thought. Like if I would open up to being a woman, a trans person, a black person, a white person, a yellow person, a child, a really old person, a demented person. As I open to these things which is opening to where I am I become more fully present like a Buddha. And as I said earlier, this is hard. Okay, so I see Vivian and Karen and Gene and Denise. But did you answer Oscar's question?


He said, I don't know about trusting my feelings and I'm saying I wouldn't recommend it. I trust being compassionate to your feelings. I don't trust my karmic impulses. I observe them. I trust observing them. I don't trust a sharp knife. I observe it. If I'm careful with it, it can be useful. If I'm not, I can get hurt. Our karma is a potentially beneficial opportunity and also dangerous. Crisis is opportunity and danger. I don't recommend danger or opportunity. I recommend both of them together and observe them. And you can't have sentient beings without feelings. You can't have feelings unless you have sentient beings and Buddha is


all of those relationships at every level of organization. Yeah, we say sentient beings are numberless and afflictions are inexhaustible. There's no place where the afflictions don't reach. Got a Buddha someplace? It's not like the afflictions don't reach the Buddha. It's really the Buddha is also reaching the afflictions. They live together. We're in this together. But that doesn't mean we trust our afflictions. What we trust is relating to the afflictions the way a Buddha relates to them. Which is look at them, listen to them, call to them, open to them, and sit in the middle of them. That's where we wake up. It's in the middle of all these. Yes? I was going to ask if you think bark is necessary. Say again?


Is bark necessary? The bark. It seems to be, yeah. I mean, if you take the bark away from the tree it'll die very quickly. As a matter of fact, that happened. My wife and I planted a magnolia in our backyard and the deer came in and ate part of the bark and it almost killed it. And now, many years later, it's kind of recovered. But it's had a hard time because part of its bark was taken away. If you take a whole bark away, it's just, it's like just... There would be a feeding frenzy on it very quickly. All these animals would come and eat all that delicious, high quality tree stuff. So we do need skin. We do need protection so our vulnerability isn't too raw. Vivian?


I'm not aware of the time. Let's see how fast we can do this. No, I was glad. The chat that we did, I think it was very appropriate to the conversation. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I was thinking how that current question, how the precepts help us support the confusion because somebody can be very nice or very nice in turn, they can be your enemy, they can call you things. How do you navigate all these sentient beings doing different things and you just feel like this and like that, like this? So you say that the precepts is being upright. Yeah, precepts will help you. The precepts will help you embrace all these wild fields of sentient beings. The precepts help us respond appropriately to all these calls which might seem like attacks, but really they're calling for compassion


in this startling way. Jean? I actually never knew I was present. I don't say I'm present. I just say I want to be. And I'm trying to be present with you right now. And I'm not distracting myself by judging my level of presence. Presence, presence, presence. I'm here practicing presence with you. But I don't know if I'm present. Do you? Karen? I was thinking that this whole conversation about presence and sentient beings is a more articulated, detailed version of that calligraphy for a sentient being to be a sentient being. Was it a full translation?


There's a teaching which is that the nature of a sentient being is awakening. And there's a calligraphy. The calligraphy says the nature, this sentient being nature is immediately awakening. So when a sentient being is just a sentient being that's the way a Buddha would be a sentient being. The Buddha is just there. The Buddha is not something in addition to a sentient being. The Buddha is a sentient being being a sentient being. In other words, Bodhi is a sentient being being a sentient being. Which of course they always are, but they usually don't realize it. Because it's so dynamic.