Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Sound of the Bell

Talk on Chapter 11; from "No Beginning, No End" by Kwong Roshi

"During the more intensive practice periods one of the things you will feel in the sangha is a kind of intimate bonding and communication. This communication is not based on our sitting around telling one another about our lives. It takes place almost without speaking, without touching, even without looking at one another. This intimacy manifests itself because of the awareness we bring to our activities. This presence is the manifestation of our Buddha nature. The communication expressed is pervasive, it includes everything."

On Wednesday evenings, we come together for discussions that may seem to be the opposite of this. We are asked to share experiences and aspects of our lives to communicate something, to give something. But these evenings are meant to be a part of the intimate communication- in spite of our talking. These meetings are not meant to be ‘off the cuff’ chats. Particularly during council practice, but also each evening, we want to create a sense of deep intimacy, transparency, and protection- nothing less than that which is created during intensive practice periods. It is a practice of the heart not the mind. Speaking from the heart we seek to use the stories of our lives to deepen our understanding. It is an opportunity to cultivate deep truth and deep listening. When we arrive, we should sit in silence for a few moments and use this silence as a border crossing from our busy lives to the intimacy of council, the intimacy of this space. Do not fear the silences or gaps that will present themselves. It is not necessary to ask someone to speak. The gaps need not be interrupted, they need not be filled. When these gaps arise, rest in them. This moment is Buddha birthing. Recognize the silence as nothing less than the communication of the mountains, the rivers, the butterflies and the stones in the garden.

The Sandokai “Each thing has its own intrinsic value.” Our translation says, “Each thing has its own being which is not different from its place and function.” It is in this very spirit that we approach our life. We realize the self within each activity because the self becomes the activity. We surrender the self to the activity. If our activity is listening, by listening with devotion to non judging and absolute tolerance we can listen with and in the speaker. No listener, just listening. If our activity is speaking, speaking from the heart and being lean of expression- delving to the very marrow of the matter- intimacy is created. No speaker, just transmission, water pouring over rocks. Another way of bearing witness, we reflect back to the speaker her own heart. This practice dissolves the false barrier between observer and observed, the barrier between you and me.

Kwong Roshi:
"The whole world is a single flower is just another way of saying san do kai.
“San” means "many."
"Do" means "same" or "together",“as one”.
“Kai” is a word that means "intimacy."
There is an intimacy that is beyond measure, between the one and the many. This is the big theme in Zen. "The whole world is a single flower" is the same conclusion: it is one. But how do you get to one? We must remember that the river within us longs to return to the ocean. And not just once, but many hundreds, thousands, even millions of times. When you arrive, the whole world is a single flower. San do kai."

In speaking of prostrations and the need to do them completely, Roshi states: Surrender with the body- the mind and breath are in accord. It is not meaningless ritual, it is a body teaching that orients you toward the path of the dharma, of giving birth to the Buddha. Surrender yourself completely to the task at hand- this is the complete spirit, attitude and understanding of zen. i do not know the reason behind each ritual we do in the zendo, i only recognize that each one is necessary and devote myself to doing them fully- with my body, with my heart. For example,when the speaker is finished we bow to each other. In this gassho is everything, our gratitude and respect fully offered. So when it is our turn to speak, we don't need to thank or compliment the speaker, we allow the gassho to be everything.

Young Morita’s father communicated to him that the spirit and attitude and understanding of zen is to give yourself completely to every activity. And as he rang the bell, it sounded with the inspiration and compassion of his father. The sounding of inspiration and compassion arose naturally, of itself. A manifestation of heartfelt practice. It was not preconceived, nor hoped for, nor decided upon.

The world comes to us “As it is” can we accept it without condition? Can we hear it, see it, smell, taste, and touch it as it is, without our judgments and demands? This possibility is the gift of our life and practice--To receive each moment as new, fresh, unencumbered by the past or expectations of the future. The world in its entirety presents itself over and over and over again. It never tires of my rejection, every moment it offers itself and asks nothing of me. Why do I wrap myself in Buddhas robes?

This is from a Transmission Speech of Zen Master Dae Gak (Guiding Teacher Furnace Mountain Zen Center)
a koan from Zen Master Man Gong:

"All Zen Masters say that in the sound of the bell they attain enlightenment, and at the sound of the drum they fall down. Anyone who understands the meaning of this, please give me an answer."

A student named Song Wol stood up and said, "If the rabbit's horn is correct, the sheep's horn is false." Man Gong smiled.

Zen Master Seung Sahn's comment: "If you cannot hear the bell or drum, you are free. If you hear both sounds you are already in hell."

This thinking mind, always comparing- how could you possibly know God? Intimacy breaks this habit of “one thing is better than another”. It is possible for us to be free from our conceptualization and our suffering. Surrender.

Master Seung Sahn's comment: "If you don't hear either sound, you are free; but if you hear either sound, you fall into hell."

Master Dae Gak: But what if you make the great mistake of falling into hell? What can you do? Of all the animals on earth, humans don't know what they are supposed to be doing. We have technological advancements that exceed our wildest expectations. We can walk on the moon. But, in the history of man there has never been a period without war. We live in conflict. We are attached to our opinions and ideas, the result being that our fellow beings are in a constant state of suffering. So if you fall into hell and are confronted by demons every day, what can you do?

This whole world is turning, turning, turning.
Before this world existed, there was only silence.
After this world disappears, only silence.

Silence before, silence after,
Then where does sound come from?

The sound the bell gives birth to the Buddha. Wakeup- this Buddha is you! What on earth are you waiting for?

(the bell sounds)

Listen, listen,
this wonderful sound brings me back to
my true home.

The sound of the bell is the voice of the Buddha calling us home, calling us back. Each of us has the capacity of the Buddha. When we hear the sound of the bell, we touch our true nature, the peace, love and joy within us.

(the bell sounds)

Body, speech, and mind held in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness
and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.

(the bell sounds)

May the sound of this bell penetrate deeply
into the cosmos
so that beings, even those in dark places,
may hear it and be free from birth and death.
May all beings realize awakening and find
their way home.
Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya

(the bell sounds)

This Monday past marks the 62nd anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima by our nation. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. It is not the last time we have used nuclear weapons. What can you do?

(the bell sounds)

Saturday, August 04, 2007


In the zendo in the early morning, i notice as the sun rises and streams through the windows throwing brilliant light and deep black shadows across the floor. As i sit, breath gently rising and falling, i notice weaving in and out of the light the shadows of butterflies. Only now, as i write, do i wonder the brilliant colors of their wings flashing in the sunlight. While sitting, i only notice the interplay of shadow and light, and the gentle rising and falling of my breath.

This morning i noticed that the butterflies were dancing inside my head, throwing shadows on my skull while they were simultaneously dancing outside the windows and on the floor before me.

This has left an impression. Have you ever been walking in brilliant sunshine and a bird crossing the sun suddenly sinks you in shadow? Startled, you search the sky. It reminds me of hearing the sound of F-16’s ripping across the heavens. My heart racing, i look up, searching and wondering what comes next.

All day the dancing butterflies inside my head have passed behind my eyes and in that instant everything falls to black. My heart cries out, all is lost. Just as suddenly the shadow is lifted, light pours in and all is illumined.

©Johnny Barber 8/4/07