One of my safety strategies is that I like people to like me. Claire came up to me this morning or yesterday and she said, “You have a choice between whether to do the bowing practice or the yoga practice.” And I said, “Andrew, take a risk.” Half way through the bowing practice I was starting to get worried that maybe I’d lost a few friends. Well, as you know, this is the first time I’ve given a dharma talk here in New York. I’m very new to giving dharma talks. There are a few of us here doing things for the first time today. I think Dave is doing serving for the first time. It’s great to be doing things for the first time at 57.
So I was really meant to do this last Saturday but then Barry said the operation’s changed, so I wanted to continue in the tradition of using a koan as the basis for the talk for these sesshins. Barry said, “Have fun,” and I will and I have so far. I continue in his tradition of playing with the koan in the free-associative kind of way, to bring out some themes I’d like to talk about. So I decided to use one from The Gateless Barrier, Case 45. “Who is That Other?”
Wu-tsu said, “Shakyamuni and Maitreya are servants of another. Tell me, who is that other?”
If you can see this other and distinguish him or her clearly, then it is like encountering your father at the crossroads. You will not need to ask somebody whether or not you’re right.
Don’t draw another’s bow;
don’t ride another’s horse;
don’t discuss another’s faults;
don’t explore another’s affairs.
And just by way of introduction I’d like to quote Aitken Roshi just a little bit. He says:
“In the present case, Wu-tsu tells us that Shakyamuni and Maitreya are servants of another, and challenges us to identify that other by personal experience. Shakyamuni is the great founder of our Way. After years of hard practice he realized all beings are the Tathagata and only their delusions and preoccupations keep him from testifying to that fact. Maitreya is the Buddha still to be born. In Chinese iconography, Matireya is indistinguishable from Pu-tai, the so-called laughing Buddha, with a big belly, his arms raised in the air, his generous mouth stretched in a warm smile. In the Ten Oxherding Pictures Pu-tai or Maitreya is the figure in the final frame: entering the marketplace with bliss-bestowing hands, consorting with publicans and prostitutes, and enlightening them all. Arrived at last!” These marvelous Buddhist figures are servants of another. Wu-tsu means that Bodhidharma in the whole lineage right down to Barry, and all our other teachers, are servants of another.
So -- my take on the koan is that it goes to the heart of our Zen practice, that is, how do we integrate our understanding of the oneness and interdependence of life, which we discover in zazen, with how we conduct ourselves in everyday life? That is, when we come down from the mountain of emptiness, how do we conduct ourselves in our relationships with our partners, our family, our friends, our work colleagues or indeed the homeless person on the street? Who is that other? Who? Who am I? Perhaps the answer is the same for both. If you’re doing koan Zen practice, you’ll probably just start with the question who… and we synchronized that with our breath. Whooooo...
In Zen practice we can easily err on the side of oneness. Many of the classical koans speak of the dangers of getting stuck in emptiness. It’s a pretty nice place to be. It can get pretty annoying when someone in distress disturbs our tranquil sitting. Sometimes it’s really nice to stay on top of the flagpole and say, go away, leave me alone. However, before Zen practice, most people err on the side of difference, that is, they are stuck in duality and separateness. There is I and there is you, there is us and there is them. In Zen practice we seek to understand difference through the eye of oneness and oneness through the eye of difference, mingling freely through the marketplace leaving no trace.
Let us start with the other as seen through the lens of difference, because this is the way we are conditioned to see the world. Not only are we conditioned culturally, we are also wired biologically from the presence of evolution, to be wary of strangers. Therefore we all start life from the position conceiving anyone from outside our family, assuming your family is safe, as the other. As a stranger we need to be a little wary of the other, just in case they’re the potential of a threat. This is particularly the case when the other is from a different culture, when they look a little different. Not only are they a stranger but they are also a foreigner. The word barbarian comes from the Latin prefix for beard, barber. Bodhidharma was a red-bearded barbarian. He had to hide in a cave. He had only a wall to look at so he didn’t care if he looked like a wild man. I was a gray-bearded barbarian when I came to New York until I shaved it off to remind myself what my face looks like.
Unfortunately we have a situation in the country in which I live, much like other parts of the world, where politicians use fear of the other to get elected. Over the past fifteen years, some politicians in Australia have demonized refugees and people smugglers in a climate of fear, fostering fear that our sterling borders are being swamped by thousands of immigrants, whereas in fact they are nearly all genuine refugees when they are processed. The politicians dress up their xenophobia as compassion, arguing they’re acting to save people from drowning, dismissing the desperation of people who must be at risk of a fate of drowning rather than stay in the country in the first place. It is rather an intentional and determined practice of exclusion, of compartmentalization into camps demarcated by barbed wire in the deserts of Australia, and now in the end, forced deportation to countries like Papua New Guinea and Cambodia where the camps they live in are not fit for habitation.
Fear of strangers, fear of the other, we’ve all at times of our lives experienced in-groups and out-groups, at school or at work, at therapy centers, maybe even in Zen centers. This is a fear that operates on both an individual and a collective level and is seen at its ugliest in the form of fascism. Unfortunately this is still the reality of the world we live in today: It’s a them and us world. This fear of the other, of difference, has been around since the dawn of humanity. We were never quite sure if the other clan was going to trade with us or kills us. Fortunately, in response to this fear, many ancient cultures developed a practice of showing hospitality to strangers. This is a practice of inclusion, of welcoming.
This was very striking in New Zealand when I was successful in applying for a therapy job in a community agency. The Maori people had traditionally practiced this ritual of hospitality to strangers and it is now being incorporated into the contemporary culture of New Zealand. There was a beautiful welcoming ceremony. On my first day at work my wife Annie and I were showed onto the hallowed ground near the place where the married members of the group we were joining narrated to us the story of the mountain and the river, the place that they called home. And then we were also invited to do the same, which we did, singing one of our songs from our first album, Scottish Gaelic, followed of course by the sharing of a meal together. By the end of the afternoon we were no longer strangers. Showing hospitality to strangers is the beautiful custom that exists in many cultures and is what helps to make us feel part of one big human family.
It is a practice that is saying at a deep level, that although we are different we are basically the same. Even though you have different colored skin and have different clothing from me, I recognize your face as a familiar face. We can also take this further, to recognize the sameness that we share with all life forms, this vast tapestry of interdependence. It is also true, of course, that we can be strangers to ourselves, dissociated memory fragments, intense feelings of loss that have been locked away, repressed sexualities, unwanted feelings from childhood traumas that were too overwhelming to bare, compartmentalized with internal defenses. If we have faith and persist in this practice that we share, this practice of just sitting, of being just this moment, gradually we are able to experience that which we couldn’t previously tolerate. This is the process of becoming intimate with the strangers within ourselves, recognizing and welcoming the parts of ourselves we have previously excluded. The Buddha sings and the Buddha weeps. As Joko said, when we maintain awareness, whether we know it or not, whether we know it or not, healing is taking place, a door that has been shut begins to open. As the door opens, we see that the present is absolute and that, in a sense, the whole universe begins right now, in each second.
So back to the case: Who is that other? Who are Shakyamuni and Maitreya both servants of? Are we not all servants of another? Do we have a choice? What is the consequence if we are not servants of another? The koan tells us we are servants, not masters. Please don’t read servant as slave. We are not speaking of enforced servitude, nor of self-sacrifice. We are not talking about a master-slave relationship. To be a servant is to provide service -- to whom? Who is it that we bow down to when we face the altar every time we come to this beautiful zendo? This koan therefore asks us to examine our relationship to everything and every person that we meet in the course of our daily activity.
How do we relate to each other? Are we welcoming? How do we relate to our colleagues at work? Are we understanding? How do we relate to ourselves? Are we kind? Or would we rather be the lord and master of ourselves and others? Do we wish to control or to serve? If we do wish to serve, how best do we serve ourselves and others? How do we care for ourselves and others? How do we give ourselves and others compassion?
Wu-men’s comment: If we can see this other and distinguish him or her clearly, then it is like encountering your father at the crossroads. You will not need to ask somebody whether or not you are right. Do you recognize him or her? Wu-men tells us that if you recognize this other, it will be like seeing the face of your father or mother. Whose face did you see when you were born? Who held you in their arms, smiling, gently rocking you into the world? Can you remember? Wu-men says, When you recognize this other, you will no longer have any doubts. No one will need to confirm it for you. You will know it for yourself. You will see your original face right there in the mirror of your unborn Buddha mind.
Donald Winnicott, British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, famously said “There is no such thing as a baby.” There is a baby in someone. Who is this someone? We now know that a self is born, amid the intimate dance of the infant and the primary care-giver, usually the mother. We come to know ourselves through the face of the mother. Our self is born through the thousands of regulating micro-interactions that go on between the mother or the care-giver on a daily basis, mutual eye-gazing, being picked up and held, prosody. Depending on the quality of the response, if it’s sensitive and consistent, the baby becomes securely attached. We are dyadic beings from the get-go. The self is always a self-other, and we take this relationship template into our adulthood. So when we look into the eyes of our beloved, who do we see?
Apparently Joko used to use an eye-gazing exercise in some of those sesshins. I came across a similar exercise when I took a personal growth program in Sydney called the Forum many years ago. I gazed into the eyes of a stranger for quite a long time. Initially this can be quite anxiety provoking but eventually, what do we see? If we can answer the question, who is the other? When we know the answer from the inside out and the outside in, then maybe we’ve already answered the question, who am I?
In the concluding verse, Wu-men advises us, don’t draw another’s bow. Don’t ride another’s horse, don’t discuss another’s faults, don’t explore another’s affairs. After recognizing ourself in the face of this other, Wu-men tells us we will no longer wish or strive to be someone other than who we already are. In fact, we realize that we have always been and always will be that which we are, right now. We don’t have a choice. Don’t even have to try. Like Barry says, in doing our zazen, our face naturally appears. We can’t do it right or wrong. There is no right or wrong when we let go of the mind road of constant judgment and evaluation.
So in whatever activity you are doing, do it wholeheartedly your way. No one else can do it your way, even if it’s been done a million times before. When I first contemplated doing this talk, I was worried that, you know, it’s all been said before, it’s all been done before, I’ve got nothing original to say, but then I realized it’s not what is said, necessarily, but who is saying it and who is listening to it. This could be the day when even though you’ve heard that said a thousand times before, something shifts. But don’t think you’ve got it. I’ve never given this dharma talk before and you will never ever get to hear this dharma talk again, at least not live. And I guess that’s why we still love to go to concerts, even though we can see or hear excellent recordings on our screens, there will always be something magical about just this moment, just this, because we know it can never be lived again.
When we were living in New Zealand I met a Japanese businessman who had lost his only child to cancer. Now, I don’t know if this is somehow related to Japanese culture or if it was his own unique ritual, but after his child’s funeral he sold his business and migrated to New Zealand, and for one whole year he continuously traveled up and down the two islands, north and south, taking photographs of sunsets and sunrises. He told me how this ritual helped him go through the grieving process. Sunsets and sunrises, such beautiful expressions of transience, as you see change happening before your eyes, moment by moment, whereas change is often much slower, so as to be almost imperceptible. We don’t witness it directly until one day suddenly it hits us. This can be a positive or a negative experience.
I remember once when I hadn’t seen an old high school friend for years, then seeing his face when I we met at the airport and being initially shocked when I saw how much he had aged and then realized how I too must have aged in the same way, only it was happening so slowly I missed it. I guess one day we will all wake up and look in the mirror and say, Oh my gosh, Who is this old man or woman in the mirror? Is this my face? Or is this everyone’s face?
I’ve spoken of the dangers of only seeing the world of differentiation and not the world of oneness. But the results are in the danger of being so immersed in oneness that we forget to respect differentiation. We have to come back down from the darkness of the mountain top into the sunlight of everyday life and make our home there, conducting ourselves with ease and grace. And Cohen learned this following Japanese poem from his teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, who died this year, age 107: “Husband and wife drinking tea. Your smile, my smile. Your tears, my tears.”
‘Tis a beautiful expression of oneness and unity in a romantic relationship, but I also quote it as a cautionary tale to remind us that we have to walk simultaneously in both worlds of oneness and differentiation. It is true, from the respective of oneness, your tears are my tears, but that doesn’t mean that your body is my body or that oneness turns into unwanted sexual advances. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we have heard so much in recent years about this shadow side of Buddhism because this oneness business can get pretty tricky in a teacher-student relationship, especially in a residential setting, where the teacher seems to radiate specialness, in the sense that he’s got it and I haven’t.
Every relationship needs an ability to balance togetherness and separateness. We need intimacies, and we also need our separateness, our own private space, respect for difference, respect for privacy, the recognition that sometimes each partner to the relationship has different needs that need to be recognized and negotiated. When both partners meet each other as secure and autonomous, we practice our interdependence intelligently. We don’t have to cling in the desire to merge or in the fear of abandonment, and we don’t have to avoid or distance ourselves out of fear of rejection or criticism. In a secure adult attachment relationship, both partners can take turns at being a secure base for the other. This is reciprocity, equal partners, each taking equal turns, not one person doing all the giving and in the process neglecting their own needs. We use our experience of oneness to realize the dance of difference, each person, each flower, uniquely themselves.
So as Wu-men says in his verse, don’t draw another’s bow, and don’t ride another’s horse. Just be yourself. He also says, don’t discuss another’s faults, and don’t explore another’s affairs. Respect their privacy and confidentiality and separateness. They don’t need to conform to our expectations. If they come and ask for help, then we can respond with compassion. And if they don’t ask for help, we can still respond with compassion.
So we started this discussion with the question: Who is that other? I talked about how the self develops in that intimate dance between the faces of the infant and the mother. Psychoanalyst and neuroscientist Allan Schorr tells us that emotional communication is primarily non-verbal, right hemisphere to right hemisphere using face and voice. Zen itself talks about face to face transmission, drawing us right back to the mythical scene in Case 6 of The Gateless Barrier, “The World-Honored One Twirls a Flower.” This is the scene where Sakyamuni holds up a flower to the assembly of monks as a full and complete presentation, and only one of the monks, Mahakasyapa, smiles and hence receives transmission, establishing the foundational myth of Zen as a special transmission outside tradition, not established on words or letters. So tell me, who is that other?