Beginner's Mind Zen Center
   northridge, california

the 11/6/10 dharma talk transcript

The Pali Canon is a collection of teachings that are among the earliest words of Shakyamuni Buddha. In a section called "Life is short and fleeting," he quotes, as part of his teaching, the words of a teacher named Araka, who was said to live at a time when the life span was 60,000 years.

He said: "Short is the life of human beings, O Brahmins, limited and brief, it is full of suffering, full of tribulation. This one should wisely understand. One should do good and live a pure life; for none who is born can escape death."

I bring this up today because some of you may wonder why we have a picture of Darlene Cohen on the mantel. Not long ago we had a wellness ceremony for her. Recently she was told by her doctor that her cancer has spread to her liver and she has only a few months to live. About a week ago a letter from her was sent around telling about her plans to continue working, to go white water boating, (she missed seeing the seals) and other things she wants to get done, including giving transmission to two of her disciples. That doesn't sound like the words of someone who has been given such serious news.

We might be tempted to think, 'Poor Darlene," but that would be a big mistake. Darlene life expresses a pure practice of helping others, of fulfilling the Four Vows. We chant the Four Vows after evening sittings:

Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
Dharmas are boundless, I vow to master them
The Buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.

Instead we can look at Darlene and think, "She is so lucky. She has the caring of her community, and the larger Buddhist community. Because of her practice, she is leaving no traces. How can I be like that?"

We can follow the words, "One should do good and live a pure life." What does 'doing good' mean? What does 'live a pure life' mean? And especially we should meditate on the words, "None who is born can escape death."

In Buddhism, what does 'leaving no traces' mean?

Every thought, word, and deed creates a trace, good karma, neutral karma or bad karma. If we make an effort to do good without a personal agenda, we create good karma. We don't create obstacles for ourselves. If we act in selfish ways, we leave big traces behind, and have to contend with them again. They become obstacles. If we do nothing particularly good nor bad, we have no hindrances, but also no help.

The Sangha we have here is the result of good actions, of everyone's desire to sit with strong intent to understand our lives. It is born out of our desire to help others, to help ourselves. When we sit, we aren't waiting for someone else to solve our dilemmas. We are facing them directly. When we are mindful in everyday life, we are doing the same thing. In mindfulness we aren't creating negative karma. We are taking care of our reality.

The difficulties we have in sitting, and in our lives in general, we can change, just by rearranging our priorities in the midst of everyday living. We each can discover through practice that we are the architects of our hindrances. Through ignorance of the real effects of body, speech and mind, we make many problems for ourselves. Through meditation we can come to see where our words hurt us by hurting others, our actions hurt us by hurting others, our thoughts hurt us by hurting others. Thoughts don't seem to have much bearing in our physical lives, but they help to form our reality. When we see reality from a self-defensive egoistic viewpoint, undisciplined thoughts can cause much harm by maintaining untrue feelings, emotions and beliefs about the world.

The karma of our deeds of the past and present can be learned from and changed by not being self-absorbed in thought, word and deed. That won't get rid of the bad karma that we have already created, but we can learn to stop creating new obstacles. And we can face our present obstacles without engaging them further. In practice we can "find ways to do good" and "live a pure life."

Leaving no traces is to put aside self-clinging and relate to the world as-it-is.

It is to let go moment by moment: letting go of bad moments, letting go of good moments. It is to see our life here, now, in the words of Shakyamuni Buddha such as "a line drawn on water with a stick," a "water bubble," "a dewdrop"; "here and gone without a trace." If we want to make a difference in the world, it has to be done, as-we-are, now, and then let go without a trace. We can't depend on anything or anyone to free us from self and the round of suffering caused from self-clinging. If we want to understand what liberation means, we have to do it ourselves. Everything we need already lies in our own hands.

I want to leave you with these words that Darlene read to everyone at the end of one of her teachings in a SPOT training session. It was a poem by Barton Stone.

Meditation on Grasping and Clinging
by Barton Stone

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva addressed the assembled beings
With great compassion:
Birth and death are relentless and you are right to tremble
As you behold them, for all things are void of self nature and
Your alkaline diet will not save you
Your workout routine will not save you
The Beatles will not come back to save you
Organic produce will not save you
Your vows will not save you
Mutual funds will not save you
Poetry will not save you
Zazen will not save you
Tree-planting will not save you
Washboard abs will not save you
A clean car will not save you
Psychedelics will not save you
Your teacher will not save you
Big Mind will not save you
Your family will not save you
Neither wit nor charm will save you
Rare gold coins will not save you
Jesus will definitely not save you
Virtue will not save you
Solar panels will not save you
Fame and fortune will not save you
Your super comfortable Sharper Image Styrofoam pellet zafu will not save you
Not even your mate's love will save you
Hearing aids will not save you
Expatriation will not save you
Degrees and credentials will not save you
Hope will not save you
Extended orgasms will not save you
The Great Mother's arms will not save you
No amount of vitamins and supplements will save you
Art will not save you
Meditations on grasping and clinging will not save you
Giddy episodes of gratitude will not save you
Anti-oxidants will not save you
Your grandchildren will not save you
Your reputation will not save you
The people's eventual uprising will not save you
Extra-terrestrial entities will not save you no matter how high their vibrational level
Beauty will not save you
Modesty will not save you
Invisibility will not save you
Hilarity will not save you
Clever turns of phrase will not save you
The esteem of your colleagues will not save you
Being debt-free will not save you
Hope for one more sunrise will not save you
Many of the assembled beings on that day, hearing these words,
And taking them to heart,
Immediately attained complete, unsurpassed, perfect life-as-it-is,
trembling and all!

So the point he is making in this is that everything depends only on each one of us. If we want to free ourselves, it all depends on our own efforts.