The Zazen of the Buddhas' Is Great Compassion

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The zazen of the buddhas is great compassion.The most common type of compassion is compassion towards suffering as it appears to us. It sees living beings and their suffering as independently existing beings and wishes them to be free. The second type of compassion sees sentient bengs in the light of the teaching that nothing exists independently and it liberates us from the first but it is not free of the view of substantiality or nonsubstantiality of the teaching. Great compassion does not apprehend beings or suffering or compassion as substantial. It is the intimacy of buddhas and sentient beings and it liberates the first two types.  It's not that the teacher is over here and the teacher is over there. It is the intimacy of the teacher and the student and the intimacy doesn't belong to either of them.  Zen practice is communion, an active intimacy.  The Han says "Carefully listen everyone, BIrth and Death are a great matter"...,   The teaching is not to skip over the world of suffering, the world of birth and death.  We live in intimacy but we have a tendency to try to skip over birth and death. The buddhas practice is to listen to the cries and not to skip over it.  In intimacy we're all calling for compassoin and we're all listening with compassion. That's reality.  If I try to skp over birth and death, I'm sorry.  Reality is intense and this practice is to not turn away from it and to not touch it.  "On Dec 10, 1068, I went to visit Suzuki Roshi and ask him about going to Tassajara. I was there and he was there and it was's one of the moments in my life that I will probably never forget."   There is a story about a humble sage (note: Pukkasati) who wondered about the limits of his understanding and started on a journey to meet Shakyamuni Buddha. The Buddha knew this  and went to meet him in the guise of a humble monk. They both found shelter in a potting shed but the monk didn't recognize the Buddha. After a while the buddha asked the monk if he would like to hear some teachings and while the buddha was teaching the monk realized this was the buddha and apologized for being so causual in the beginning of the meeting.   The Buddha is with us all the time but we have to be alert to it. This is hard to do because the meeting is intense. 


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description by Karen Mueller


Today is called December 10th around here and almost every year on December 10th I remember a December 10th in 1968. When I went to Suzuki Roshi's office at Sokoji Temple in the afternoon to ask him if I could go to the practice period at Tassajara, which was going to start in January, and he was scheduled to be the teacher for that practice period. I suppose someone said it would be appropriate for you to go and ask the teacher if you could


go to the practice period. So it was one of those moments that I remember and he said, okay. And I said, thank you, and that was it. As it turned out, not too long after that request was made, he became infected by what was called at that time the Asian flu. And so I went to Tassajara for the practice period, but he did not come. Maybe after about two months of the practice period, he tried to come to Tassajara, but


the road had washed out in the rains, and he turned back, and he never came to that practice period. So my first practice period, which I went to Tassajara to practice with him, he was not able to come. And were you at that practice period, Rick? Yeah, Rick Martin here was at that practice period. So this fall, here and over the hill at Green Gulch, and in other venues, I've been emphasizing that what is called, let's just say what


I call zazen, when I use the word zazen, what I mean is great compassion. I even go so far as to propose that the zazen of the Buddhas, the Zen practice of the Buddhas, or Buddha's practice in the Zen lineage, is great compassion. And I'm just now, again, the thought comes to my mind, you might not be surprised if someone said that Buddha's practice is great compassion. You might say, well, of course Buddha's practice is great compassion. And how about great wisdom? Yes. In great compassion, there is great wisdom. But I emphasized great compassion all fall in these different meetings.


In addition, I brought up that great compassion is, or I say great compassion does not have objects. There are other types of compassion which have objects. Like for example, the most common type of compassion is compassion directed towards living beings as objects, as somebody other than myself. Compassion towards living beings as they appear to me. Compassion towards the suffering of living beings as it appears to me. This is the normal way for the practice of compassion to start. But this compassion has the problem of seeing living beings as substantial, independently


existing living beings. And I see them, and I see their suffering, and I also see their suffering is substantial and independently existing. And I wish for these beings who I see as substantially existing, separate from me, I wish them to be free of suffering, and I wish their suffering to be liberated. This is the kind of compassion which is called compassion which has sentient beings as objects seen as substantial. The next kind of compassion which I brought up is seeing sentient beings still as objects but also seeing them in the light of the teaching that nothing is substantially existing.


So I look, I care for sentient beings, and I also remember that the sentient beings I care for are non-substantial. They do not exist on their own, even though they might appear that way to me. And their suffering, which also might appear to be substantial, might appear to be substantial, is not a substantially independently existing thing. And the compassion which I wish for living beings to receive, it is not a substantial thing. It's not an independent thing. For example, it depends on the suffering, and it depends on living beings. It doesn't have a substantial own being.


So I bring that teaching to my compassion practice. Great compassion does not apprehend beings as substantial. By the way, the second type of compassion, which is compassion in light of the Dharma teaching, that compassion liberates us from the first type and all the problems of the first type. The second type, however, does hold on to the image or the idea of non-substantiality. So it's not yet great compassion. Great compassion embraces the first two types without those types being objects or any beings being objects, and doesn't hold any views of substantiality or even non-substantiality. It doesn't hold on to the teachings of the Dharma about beings, and it doesn't hold on


to the appearance of beings. The great compassion is intimacy among all beings. Intimacy of Buddhas and sentient beings, that's great compassion. And great compassion liberates the first two types, and includes them, and liberates them. Doesn't push them away. It doesn't push anything away, because nothing's out there to push away. It is not separate from beings. Great compassion is the inseparability of all beings. It is the interdependence of all beings. It is the intimacy of all beings. Zazen is the intimacy of all beings.


Zen practice, in its mature form, is the intimacy of all beings. It's not the Zen masters over here and the Zen students over there. It includes Zen masters, and it includes Zen students, and it includes all beings and all things Zen practice does. But it is what it is. It's the intimacy of the Zen master and the Zen student. It's the intimacy of them, and the intimacy doesn't belong to the Zen student and doesn't belong to the Zen teacher, doesn't belong to anybody. Or you could say, it equally belongs to everything. And then another way of talking about great compassion, another way to talk about Zen


practice, is that it is communion. So it's an intimacy and it's also a communion. It's a communion, it's a communication, it's a meeting. It's an active intimacy. And we have the opportunity to make everything we do, in every moment, an offering to this communion. Right now I'm rubbing my little fingers together, and this action of rubbing these little fingers together is an offering to the communion of all beings.


My hand gestures, my voice, my posture, all my actions. I wish and I vow to make all my actions offerings to the great communion, which is great compassion, which is Zen practice. Something that recently came up in this little temple was that someone came to see me, and they told me that they read that, the words on that wooden block that's hanging there, which we call sometimes in Japanese, we call it han, which means wooden block. On that wooden block, she said, it says at the top, carefully listen everyone.


Another translation would be, great assembly, carefully listen. And the next line says, birth and death are a great matter, a great affair, or you could say, a great business. Birth and death are the great business. And this person, [...] told me that they kind of realized that what that was saying was, carefully listen, do not skip over birth and death. Do not jump over to great compassion or to great wisdom or to great Buddhahood.


Don't skip over the birth and death. This person said that they had a tendency in the past to try to jump over birth and death to the land of perfect wisdom, which sounds good, but this is saying, don't do that. Don't skip over birth, the suffering of birth and death. Don't jump over the cries of the world, which are in your own body and mind and coming from everybody else. Don't skip over it. Awake, awake, pay attention. Would you hit that board three times? We are actually, our actual life is communion with all beings. That's reality.


We are actually, our actual life is communion with all beings. That's reality. Now, another part of our life which is included in that communion is that we are heir to, or heiresses to, but also heir in the sense of E-R-R. We are heir to try to skip over birth and death. We're living in an intimacy and we're trying to skip over the birth and death part of the intimacy. We have that tendency. And when I try to skip over birth and death, at that moment, I have a lack in faith. What faith? Birth and death are not to be skipped over. When I try to skip over it, my faith is not very strong. And also my practice is, when I try to skip over, is not being applied to this suffering.


So, if we notice that we're trying to avoid any birth and death, any suffering, then we have a practice which we just chanted, which is to reveal and disclose any lack of faith in not skipping over birth and death, any lack of practice of not skipping over birth and death, any lack of practice of listening to and giving compassion to all the cries inside. Usually start inside, because that's the closest. Don't skip over what's closest. And then everybody else. I'm in pain and I'm listening to that pain. And I am joyful to listen to this pain, because that is the Buddha's practice,


is to listen to this pain and [...] not skip over it. And if I do skip over it, or try to skip over it, or even if I try and fail, still, if I try to skip over this pain, then I have a practice. And that practice is the pure and simple color of true practice. It's the true mind of faith, which is, I believe in not skipping over birth and death and also I believe in acknowledging that I just tried. And I am embarrassed that I tried to skip over birth and death, that I tried to skip over my pain. When I acknowledge it, then the faith is alive.


When I try to skip, when I acknowledge my trying to avoid suffering and closing my ears to suffering, when I acknowledge it and say I'm sorry, in the presence of the Buddhas who are inseparable from me, and the Bodhisattvas who are inseparable from me, and all beings who are inseparable from me, that melts away the roots, not of suffering, it melts away the roots of trying to avoid suffering. And avoiding, when we stop trying to avoid suffering and listen to it, then we don't get rid of suffering, we liberate it. Not we liberate it, the true compassion, the intimacy, the communion liberates beings. And the communion doesn't skip over any of the suffering. It embraces all of the suffering.


Someone told me about some practice opportunities that they had, some little assemblies that they attended to study Buddhist teachings. And while they were telling me about all these good opportunities, I thought of doctors and nurses who have opportunities. So, and what I was thinking of is that sometimes, maybe often, when people go to see a doctor or a nurse, they're actually open to and requesting compassion.


And they're going to let the doctor or the nurse be compassionate to them. They're going to say, yeah, I got a problem, I would like some compassion. Now, they might also be thinking, I want you to fix my problems. And the doctor or the nurse or the nurse practitioner or the physician's assistant, all these people might put a stethoscope on their heart or might put a tongue depressor on their tongue and say, ah, and say, say, ah. They might do that. But what I was thinking is that there's just an opportunity where people are going to let you be kind to them. And sometimes if we go to these people who are going to help us


and they do their thing, which we allow them to do, if they don't do it kindly, we sometimes feel that something was missing. They did test our blood, they did, you know, they did check us out. But maybe we didn't feel like, basically what they did was they loved us. And in some situations people are not so open for us to love them, which is sad. Doesn't mean you can't do it, it just means they say they don't want it. But the nice thing about a Dharma study group is the people kind of almost saying, would you people who are here help me? Would you listen to me? Somebody told me that they had an encounter with someone


and after the encounter they felt pain and guilt and they also had a thought. Something's wrong. And I said to the person, that pain was calling for compassion. That pain was calling for compassion. And he said, well, how was it calling? He calls like this, pain! You see? That thought, something's wrong, is calling for compassion. How was it calling for compassion? Something's wrong! Something's wrong! I wish somebody would listen to me say, something's wrong! Pain! Guilt! So I'm proposing to you that every experience is calling for compassion.


Every experience wants to be listened to, including the experience or the thought, I don't want you to listen to me. That thought, I don't want you to listen to me, which is sometimes shouted. Of course people also say, I do want you to listen to me, or you're not listening to me. But when somebody says, you're not listening to me, they're actually saying, listen to me, compassionately. Right now I'm talking to you, and I'm saying to you, please listen to me with compassion. I don't feel like I'm in excruciating pain, but I'm still saying, listen to me, listen to me, listen to my voice, listen to my body, listen to my words, with compassion.


I want that. But not only do I want it, but my voice wants it. Everything about me wants to be listened to. Also, everything about me is listening. That's reality. In intimacy, we're all calling for compassion, and we're all listening with compassion. Now, if I miss the opportunity to listen to something with compassion, then I have a practice called, I confess I got distracted, and I miss the opportunity to look with compassion and listen with compassion, and I'm sorry. And I so joyfully practice being sorry, and so joyfully practice revealing that I missed a beat,


that I tried to skip over birth and death. I'm sorry. I know it's foolish, but I tried it. I tried to skip over birth and death. I forgot that it's the big job. I went to sleep. Someone else said, in the renditions that person had of this thing, she said, after saying, birth and death is the great matter, awake, awake, she added, don't go to sleep. Once you hear birth and death is the great matter, don't go to sleep. It's okay to go to sleep at night, but when you go to sleep at night, don't go to sleep. In your dreams, listen.


And even when you're not dreaming, listen. So again, the healthcare professionals, they have this great opportunity of observing whoever comes to see them with eyes of compassion and listening with ears of compassion. They have this great opportunity and these people who come and also animals that come,


they kind of, a lot of them are saying, yeah, go ahead, go right ahead and look at me with compassion. It's such a great opportunity. But also the more difficult ones are when we meet people who are not open to it. That's another great opportunity. It's equally great. It's just, you know, you could say, anyways, equally great. The people who come to us and say, I'm in pain and I don't want you to listen to me. Or they come to you and say, I hate you. And they don't know they're saying, I'm in pain. They just say, I hate you. Or you're so unkind. When somebody tells me that I'm so unkind, they're actually saying, would you please listen to that


with your whole heart? When I tell you you're unkind, would you kindly listen to that? They want me to kindly listen to them telling me that I'm not kind. Don't you think so? Of course they do. Everybody wants me and you to listen to them kindly. That's going on all day long. And it's so intense that you might try to get away from it because, jump over that too, that intensity, that birth, that birth, birth of what? Birth of intensity. What's the intensity? I want you to listen to me. And the way I ask you that is by saying, don't look at me. I often tell this story about my grandson when he was about six I was visiting him. He lived in L.A. and I was visiting him


and it was breakfast time and he was eating his cold cereal with milk. And his grandfather was, you could say, staring at him. I was adoring him as usual. I was whole, I was wholeheartedly looking at him. I wasn't kind of like, well, I wish I had something better to do than look at him. I was happy to look at him eat his breakfast. And, and, then I noticed his, his forehead was furrowing, his brow was furrowing and he said, would you please stop staring at me? And I said, okay, and looked at the ceiling. I did not leave the room,


I just stood there looking at the ceiling. And I think that was good enough for him. This, he, my grandson, just like everybody else, is calling to me for compassion. Whenever we meet, he's calling for me from compassion. And I have easy time, most of the time, giving it to him. In this case, he was calling for me to give him compassion. I wholeheartedly gave it, but he couldn't stand the intensity and said, give me a break. And I said, okay. I listened to him and took these eyes away from him up to the ceiling. And then with that little break from the intensity, he could talk to me again. And I was, he could stand for me to look at him again. He just needs to know that he can take a break


from the intensity if he needs to. And he can. I didn't say when he said, would you stop looking at me? I didn't say, I'm just looking at you wholeheartedly loving you. I didn't say that. I said, I'm just looking at the ceiling. And now I must have confessed to you when I look at the ceiling, I was not thinking, oh, the ceiling is calling for compassion. I didn't know that at the time. I'm sorry. I can stop looking at you and look at something else. Birth and death is intense. Birth is intense. Death is intense. It is the communion of all beings. That is like intense. The intimacy of all beings is intense. Reality is intense.


This practice is to learn how to not turn away or touch the intensity because it's like a massive fire. We're trying to learn how to not touch it. That's not good. Too hot. Or run away from it. That's too cold. How to be with it. And when we're not, oh, oh, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, please witness my confession. I tried to get away from the intensity of birth and death. I'm sorry. Somebody told me I was kind in a very intense way and I tried to get away. I'm sorry. Somebody told me I was not kind and I tried to get away.


I'm sorry. But when I, when I'm present with it, when I'm present with it, what? With the suffering inwardly and outwardly, when I'm present with it, I feel joy that that's what I'm here for and that's my, that's my, that's life is when we're present for this intense communion. I went, Angela, on December 10th, 1968, I went to visit this priest named Shunryu Suzuki. Ever heard about that meeting? I went to see him to ask him about going to Tassajara.


And I think I said something like, I'd like to go to Tassajara, may I? And he said something like, okay. I, [...] I don't feel like, I don't feel ashamed of that meeting. I don't feel like I turned away from asking him and looking at his face and listening to him when he said, okay. I was there. He was there. It was intimate with, with nobody saying it, but this young man saying, I'd like to go to Tassajara, may I? Okay. That intimacy I did not turn away from and it's, that's one of the moments in my life which I probably will never forget. And I'm sharing with you


that moment of meeting, of communion with the teacher. And but we were together in that room on that evening and I want every moment to be just that simple being present with whatever. Of course, it's harder when somebody screams at you or slaps you or when a pain, a great pain shoots up in your body or mind. It's harder to just say, may I go to practice period? May I, may I practice? May I learn to be with pain, with this pain? Yes, you can. So I think,


I have the thought, here's the thought, the thought is, I think everybody wants to be in accord with reality. I think so. In other words, everybody wants to be in accord with great compassion. I think so. In other words, everybody wants to be in accord with this communion which is reality. I think so. And I think to the extent that we're veering away from it, we miss the great joy of the communion and we experience a range of misery. So we miss the great opportunity and we don't feel good about it. However, however, however, however, if we embrace that not feeling good about it, we enter the communion again. That practice realizes the communion. The great Bodhisattvas,


when they turned away from the communion, they confessed it and said they're sorry. I'm laughing because there's this funny story about Shakyamuni which I've told many times, which is kind of funny. And I think I have time to tell it, but maybe I'll save it for later. What do you think? Okay, I'll tell it now. So, there was a a yogi, an adept yogi who I think had many students and he was like meditating one night and a thought arose in his mind, I wonder if my understanding is actually correct. I wonder if my understanding of reality is authentic. And he was blessed with a visitation. In the scriptures it says


a deity came to him and said, no, it's not. However, there is somebody on this Indian subcontinent who does have authentic understanding. His name is Gautama Buddha. He can help you. So this humble sage who wondered about the limits of his sagacity and was told, yes, it is limited, but you can get help. He headed in the direction where he heard that the Buddha was living. And somehow the Buddha having certain powers understood that this person, this sincere person was coming to visit him, to meet him, to have communion with him. So the Buddha it's a funny story. So the Buddha told his assembly,


I'm going to take a walk and I don't want you all to come with me. And the Buddha took off took off what? His glamour. So part of his glamour is to be walking around with a huge group of followers. That kind of a glamorous thing. No followers. And he took off his personal body glamour. So he's walking along and he looks like a monk. But you can't tell it's the Buddha because there's no golden aura and no great assembly. He's walking along, walking along and he walks a long ways to a to a city called Rajagriha which is where he gave some of his talks. And he knows that this guy is going to be in that town.


So he's meeting him halfway from where he was in this town and when this guy got to to the town he searched around for a place to stay. And one of the places he went to ask for shelter was a potter. And the potter says, Oh yeah, I guess in India people would give wandering monks, they would give them places to stay. He said, Can I stay? Do you have some place I can stay? And the potter says, Yeah, you can stay in the potting shed. So he went and stayed in the potting shed. And then the Buddha came to the city and somehow the Buddha found his way to the same potter's shed. He went to the potter and said, Do you have a place I can stay? And the potter says, I do, but there's already somebody staying there. But you can ask him and if it's okay with him you can both stay there. So the Buddha went to see this person


and the Buddha said, Excuse me, monk, would it be okay if I stayed here with you? And the monk said, Whatever, man, fine. And so the Buddha stayed with him. Now here's this guy, you know, I would say he's quite well trained, but he's not yet ready for the intensity of intimacy, for communion. So when the Buddha comes he's not ready for the communion that the Buddha just came to bring to him. He doesn't see it. So he says, Okay, whatever, man. And then they sit together. And after they sit for quite a while into the evening, the Buddha's impressed by the meditation practice of this person and he asked the person,


Under whom have you gone forth onto the holy path? And this sage says, Under Shakyamuni Buddha, under Gautama Buddha. He's on his way to meet Gautama Buddha. He's gone forth on the path to meet the Buddha. That's who his teacher is. And then the Buddha says to him, Have you ever met this person? And the monk says, No. Would you recognize him if you saw him? The monk says, No. In other words, this is an honest person. He is looking for his teacher who he has not yet met. Now he's meeting his teacher but he doesn't recognize his teacher because he's not yet ready to open to who this person is. Which is understandable. It's a lot to open


to what a Buddha is. It's a lot to open to this communion. And the Buddha didn't say, Open to me. Don't you realize who I am? He says, Who's your teacher? Have you met him? He didn't say, Would you like to meet him? And the Bhagavad Gita said, Well, yes. Well, here he is. He didn't do that. He just said, Would you like to hear some teachings? Perhaps you'd like to hear some teachings. He didn't say, Well, I'm the person you're coming to study with. Would you like to hear the teachings? He said, Would you like to hear some teachings? And the guy didn't say, Teachings? What do you mean teachings? He didn't say that. I'm a teacher. Who are you to give me teaching? He said, Yeah. And the Buddha gave him teaching. And in that teaching, this very noble student started to open to the intimacy. The Buddha giving him


this nice teaching. And he started to open. And then, before the Buddha was done talking, he opened to it and realized that this is the Buddha. But he didn't interrupt the Buddha and say, Hey, I... He just kept listening and enjoying the communion. And then the Buddha finished the talk and then he said, I found my teacher. I was looking for my teacher and I found my teacher. My teacher came to me. Which is... But he couldn't see it at the beginning. The Buddha is with us all the time. But we have to open to it. And it's hard to open to it because it's intense. Yes. But he did open to it. And then he, after he said, he rejoiced in meeting the person he wanted to meet and really meeting him,


not just seeing a person, but seeing the Dharma and the Sangha and the Buddha. Then he said, I'm sorry that when you asked to stay here, I said kind of informally, Sure, man. Rather than, Welcome, teacher. Thank you for coming. That was a mistake. And the Buddha didn't argue. He said, Yeah. That wasn't appropriate but you didn't know any better. But now you're acknowledging it and saying you're sorry. And this turns the Dharma wheel. When we notice our shortcomings and we acknowledge them and say we're sorry, the Dharma wheel turns. We're doing the Buddha work when we admit our shortcomings.


That's Buddha work. That's Bodhisattva work. So you asked for that story and you got it. So is there... Is that enough for this morning and maybe we could have question and answer this afternoon? How about... Is that okay? And maybe today question and answer will be sooner than usual because of the rain. We'll see. But I wanted to tell you that one of our Dharma sisters in this little community who is also a member of Green Gulch community and so on named Marie Murray. She passed away last night, right? Yeah. So she came here quite a few times.


I listened to her here quite a few times. She listened to me quite a few times and now she's passed away. So if it's okay with you after we conclude this Dharma talk perhaps we could do a memorial ceremony for her. Okay? She was a very dear person, a very dear Dharma student. She loved Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. She really did. And she also loved her grandchildren and her husband and all of us, the Sangha.