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Thread: Drivin' Dogen - Understanding "Open Spacious Awareness"

  1. #1

    Drivin' Dogen - Understanding "Open Spacious Awareness"



    Come take a little drive ... sorry if the road is a bit winding ...

    I have encountered a few people in recent days asking about the "Open Spacious Awareness" of Shikantaza. I always try to describe things in clear terms that modern folks can relate to. So, although Dogen surely did not own a car (he did sometimes talk about oxen and carts), I would like to try the analogy of driving down the boundless highway.

    First, what is "Open Spacious Awareness"? In Zazen, we may place the mind on following the breath, the posture, the belly, in the palm of the upturned hands or (as I recommend when people can, after having developed a bit of settled stability in mind and body) in "Open Spacious Awareness." This "Open Spacious Awareness" is simply to have the place of attention on everything, and nothing in particular, with equanimity. In such sitting, the mind can move from and to anything in experience amid the field of awareness, or it can take in the entire field of awareness at once (or just a slice) ... but the key is equanimity. One is observing without judging, not thinking about, getting tangled in chains of thoughts about what one is experiencing. (In fact, even following the breath or focusing on the posture etc. should be a kind of "Open Awareness," because one is not really thinking about the breath or posture etc., just lightly centered there in equanimity).

    It's actually not so complicated.

    Really, it is just an exercise in developing the ability to access equanimity, and to drop analysis and pondering about things. Everything is "just as it is," and a sense of flowing wholeness about all life events results. The frictions and division, opposition and the resulting mental reactions drop away. The hard borders of self and the world soften, perhaps fully drop away ... all just flowing wholeness ...

    But how to convey the experience in a way that folks can relate to?

    I can describe the experience as something like driving a car, radio off, down an empty highway or quiet country road, not particularly thinking anything yet attentive. I sometimes see everything out in front of me, or maybe notice this or that as it passes. I am not particularly thinking anything, and the mind is clear, alert, just watching the road. I am not daydreaming, I am not sleeping, I am alert and paying awake attention -- but to no one thing in particular. I may notice briefly some things as I pass ... mail box, cow, pretty house, laundry on a line ... but I don't really think about them, and I let them pass from view and keep going with eyes observing everything and nothing.

    Just like driving, it is okay to see objects that are sometimes appearing through the windshield, but just don't get lost in trains of thought about them that will distract you from attention to the road ("Oh a mail box, I wish I had a mail box like that, it is a beautiful mailbox compared to my ugly mailbox at home, stamps are too expensive, too many bills in my mailbox and my job is a pain, reminds me that I need to go shopping, I will buy eggs too ... "). If seeing the mailbox ... it is just a mailbox, and don't particularly think about it or judge it ... neither beautiful or ugly mailbox ... it is just a mailbox. Maybe don't even think about its "mailbox" name at all, and let it just be some thing in view. Repeat as other things and sounds etc. come to the attention. Return your attention to the road. (I suppose that the wall or room in front of us as we sit Zazen is the windscreen).

    If you do find yourself lost in thoughts about mailboxes and eggs or anything else, let them go and return your full attention to observing the road and keep going.

    Of course, we all do daydream and think about things, hum tunes and ruminate about our problems, both during Zazen and in driving when, in fact, our attention should be on the road (I must confess that I myself was in an actual "call the insurance company" fender bender recently when I was distracted momentarily behind the wheel). This is just to be human. Thoughts come. It is natural to think things during Zazen, as we do while driving without our full attention on the road. HOWEVER, when catching yourself doing so, return your full alert attention to the road ... again and again and again:

    Thus, mailbox comes, and if you find yourself thinking about the mailbox, immediately bring attention back to the road and "pass" the mailbox and let it fade back into the scene, returning all open minded attention to the road ... When next a cow comes, and you start ruminating on "cows," repeat ... when next a silo comes, repeat ... this is the natural process of Zazen. One does not need to force them to pass, for when one simply ignores, they pass on their own. Just return to open eyes driving, not particularly thinking anything but wide awake, head clear and alert, focused on the road ahead, taking in the whole scene out the wind screen ...

    Open spacious awareness is a very good practice too for when we actually do get off the Zafu, back to the world and in the car. Perhaps a little of that equanimity will be felt in the bones when one actually has a flat tire, encounters a pot hole, is stuck in traffic, get's cut off or (like me) has an actual fender mender or (as life will do) a more serious accident that is truly life or death.

    So, if that is the case, what is different from worldly "heading to the mall" or "Sunday" driving? Why don't we just get in our car and hit Route 66 rather than wasting our time driving to Zazen meetings?

    Oh, "Zen Driving" is a bit different from ordinary driving. First off, when we are "driving Zazen on our Zafu cushion" there is no destination or, better said, no destination apart from right here, on the cushion, this inch of road. Every inch of the Buddha Highway is total arrival with no road ahead nor road behind. That is very important. Usually, we drive our Chevrolet to get somewhere, with places to go and people to see, eggs to buy because the pantry is bare. In Zazen, there is no place to get but Zazen, no other place to go in the whole universe and not one more task to do but be right here on the Zafu, in the driver's seat ... sitting for sitting's sake, driving for driving's sake with each instant as both departure and arrival at once! In fact, there are no people to meet or eggs to buy because, when sitting Zazen, nothing is missing and nothing lacking during the time of sitting. Sitting meets sitting, and the pantry of the universe is full!

    As well, when we are driving down a modern highway, we are typically full of judgments, that flowers at roadside are lovely but that trash heaps and potholes are bad or dangerous. In Zazen, we actually "drive" with equanimity regarding both flowers and potholes and trash heaps too. Actually, we sit with "equanimity" regarding all the world and life passing in front of our eyes, but our attitude is not completely just neutral and dull. So, it is not some blank "equanimity." Why? My teacher, Nishijima, like to say that our attitude deep down as Buddhists is that there is something subtly positive and beautiful about this world. So, it is "equanimity" but with a sense that there is something nice, pleasant, beautiful and peaceful about the drive and the world one sees. Even when we pass the ugly scenes of the road ... the garbage dump, the crash, the road kill, the flat tires of life ... our heart can still know this equanimity that is also someway subtly "okay" somehow. Even the ugly and painful, frightening and tragic ... are just more cows and mailboxes and laundry on the line for the heart in Zazen. Zazen is a bit different from worldly driving this way too.

    Further (and this is where I get all "Dogen" on ya ... Drivin' a Dodge Dogen on Genjo Koan Blvd.), as one sits, one may soon realize that driver and road and car and wind and sun and cow and mailbox and path ahead and present and beyond are all ONE! You drive the road as the road drives you, as the sun and silo drives the road and the driving drives driving ... the whole universe driving. Even trash and crash and coming on the 'on ramp' of birth and leaving from the exit of death and flat tires and bumps ... all Buddha Highway. All Buddha driving Buddha, the whole trip Buddha all Along! The hard borders that separate driver and driven and drive and driving, inside the wind screen and outside ... and the wind itself ... all soften or drop away. I will slightly modify Dogen's famous passage from Shobogenzo Zenki:

    -----
    [L]ife is the manifestation of the Whole Works Driving ... There is nothing at all, not so much as one time or one phenomenon, that is not together with the Driving. Even be it a single thing, a single mind, none is not together with this Driving .. Life is like when one drives a car: though in this car one works the wheel, the shift, and the pedals, the car carries one, and one is naught without the car. Riding in the car, one even causes the car to be a car. One should learn this precise point. At this very moment, the car is the world is the road-even the sky, the blacktop, and the passing scene all have become circumstances of the car, unlike circumstances which are not the car. For this reason driving is our causing life to drive, the drive causing us to be ourselves. When driving a car, the mind and body, object and subject, are all drivings of the car; the whole earth and all of space are both drivings of the car. We that are the drive, life driving that is we, are the same way. ... That the whole road appears has nothing to do with beginning and end ...
    -----

    Though talking about those ox carts, Dogen said something like this in Zazenshin, a wonderful image of the relativity of motion and stillness, for is it the car moving or the road or is the whole world or the mind moving ... all ultimately stillness moving?

    -----
    Now, when it is said, "the car doesn't go", what does that mean by the car's "going" or the car's "not going"? For example, is the road flowing by the car's "going", or is road's not flowing the car's going? We can say that flowing is road's "not going", and it should also be that road's "going" is not its flowing. Therefore, in investigating the saying, "the car doesn't go", we should approach it both in terms of "not going" and in terms of not "not going"; for it is time. The saying, "[the car] doesn't go" is not saying simply that it does not go.
    -----

    As we sit still in Zazen, the whole world is turning. Oh, and we do not need a seatbelt on a Zafu ... and the gas tank is always full. Hit the road!

    Does that convey the experience a bit? But I am just the high school driving coach, and your job is to actually now get out there and drive! Drive a little each day, beyond long or short distances or fast and slow time, beyond coming or going or here and there and any other destination but THIS. "Zen driving" is moving yet perfectly still. This moment of pedal to the metal is all distances and all time, here and there and everywhere.

    Gassho, J

    STLah[

    driving buddha.jpg
    Last edited by Jundo; 02-12-2019 at 03:17 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    Thank you Jundo for this teaching. I like your analogy of driving down the highway. It has helped with my understanding of open, spacious awareness. To be aware of everything in our surrounding with a non-judgemental attitude.

    I am trying to practise bringing this equanimity into my daily life.

    Gassho
    Van
    satToday _/|\_

    Sent from my LYA-L09 using Tapatalk

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by vanbui View Post
    Thank you Jundo for this teaching. I like your analogy of driving down the highway. It has helped with my understanding of open, spacious awareness. To be aware of everything in our surrounding with a non-judgemental attitude.

    I am trying to practise bringing this equanimity into my daily life.

    Gassho
    Van
    satToday _/|\_

    Sent from my LYA-L09 using Tapatalk
    It really helped me when I got in the car crash. The other fellow was quite upset. It was just an accident, and we were both a little at fault. But he was upset, and I was pretty calm about it all. It is just a fender, things, life.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Thank you Jundo


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah

  5. #5

  6. #6
    Thank you Jundo. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen

    Sat/LAH
    RINDO SHINGEN
    倫道 真現

  7. #7
    Thank you Jundo for the wonderful explanation.

    Gassho,

    Junkyo
    SAT

    Sent from my SM-G955W using Tapatalk

  8. #8
    Thank you for the teaching Jundo

    Gassho
    Mikkel

  9. #9
    Thank you Jundo. This is a really great analogy.

    I can remember when I was first learning to drive you kind of have to attend to many things. One of the things that was hard was that there seemed to be so many things to pay attention to. How much you were pushing on the gas pedal, turn signals for the turn, being in the correct lane, watching the road - and for signs, watching for stop lights. And then, as I learned to drive it all started to settle down and I would just drive - going with the flow of the process. I think sitting can be a bit like that. So much seems to be going on in your head when you start - which is why I think techniques like following the breath or the like help you when are getting started. Then as you get more experience you can let go of those and, like driving, settle down and go with the flow.

    Gassho, Shinshi

    SaT-LaH

  10. #10
    Excellent description. I love driving meditation. Flowing down the road.

    St lah


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

    I may be wrong and not knowing is acceptable

  11. #11
    Thank you for your teaching, Jundo. I am at peace with the process of trying to understand.

    Gassho,
    然芸 Nengei
    Sat today. LAH.

    You deserve to be happy.
    You deserve to be loved.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Shinshi View Post

    I can remember when I was first learning to drive you kind of have to attend to many things. One of the things that was hard was that there seemed to be so many things to pay attention to. How much you were pushing on the gas pedal, turn signals for the turn, being in the correct lane, watching the road - and for signs, watching for stop lights. And then, as I learned to drive it all started to settle down and I would just drive - going with the flow of the process. I think sitting can be a bit like that. So much seems to be going on in your head when you start - which is why I think techniques like following the breath or the like help you when are getting started. Then as you get more experience you can let go of those and, like driving, settle down and go with the flow.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    Thank you, Jundo. I agree with the kind comments of everyone above. Very well explained.

    Your explanation reminded me of a quote from a book I read years ago:

    “Look, don't see, listen, don't hear.”
    -Lee Child, Gone Tomorrow

    It actually comes out of an action mystery book, of all things, but I think it communicates the idea that you described so well.


    Gassho,
    Randy
    s2d

  14. #14
    Thanks a lot for these metaphors!


    gil
    sat today

  15. #15
    Thanks, Jundo, I think this works even better ridding on a road bike through the high desert of West Texas. Mile after mile, note a cow, a hawk, another hill, sort of like an outdoor kinhin.

    SAT TODAY
    Shozan

  16. #16
    Many thanks for this wisdom Jundo.

    I keep reading again and again, it brings about a better understanding of the practice. Iím still working on my daily commitment, though reading it motivates me more for practice.

    I live in Hong Kong, hope to visit you with my family one day.

    Gassho

    Moy


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post


    Come take a little drive ... sorry if the road is a bit winding ...

    I have encountered a few people in recent days asking about the "Open Spacious Awareness" of Shikantaza. I always try to describe things in clear terms that modern folks can relate to. So, although Dogen surely did not own a car (he did sometimes talk about oxen and carts), I would like to try the analogy of driving down the boundless highway.

    First, what is "Open Spacious Awareness"? In Zazen, we may place the mind on following the breath, the posture, the belly, in the palm of the upturned hands or (as I recommend when people can, after having developed a bit of settled stability in mind and body) in "Open Spacious Awareness." This "Open Spacious Awareness" is simply to have the place of attention on everything, and nothing in particular, with equanimity. In such sitting, the mind can move from and to anything in experience amid the field of awareness, or it can take in the entire field of awareness at once (or just a slice) ... but the key is equanimity. One is observing without judging, not thinking about, getting tangled in chains of thoughts about what one is experiencing.


    Gassho, J

    STLah[

    driving buddha.jpg
    Thank you for your teachings Jundo Roshi . I reread it several times and the analogy of driving is a very useful one. Here I go again with the martial arts but the part I quoted in this post is known as zanshin in Iaido, kendo, and Jodo, and probably in other martial arts too. I know you speak Japanese so you might be familiar with the term.


    Gassho,
    Jack
    SatToday/lah

  18. #18
    Thank you for the teaching, Jundo. I like this analogy. When I sit on the cushion
    and "driving zazen" I often go fast with a thought speed. When I notice I went
    too far I mentally "disengage the clutch"..then again and again.

    Gassho,
    Washin
    stlah
    Last edited by Washin; 02-25-2019 at 10:45 AM.
    Wa (和) Harmony
    Shin (心) Heart-Mind

  19. #19
    Thank you, Jundo Roshi.

    Gassho
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  20. #20
    I had to laugh a little reading this as I'm a terrible driver. I learned to drive late in life and still get very tense on new roads. I recently started a new route along a curvy road I find very harrowing (to get to a Doctor's office), but about the fourth or fifth time I noticed that completely unconsciously my brain sort of knew what to do and was responding more intuitively even though I would have told you that I was just as confused by the road as ever. Hope that happens with Zazen as well.

    Thank you for your teaching--Gassho--
    Deborah

    SatToday

  21. #21
    Hello,

    somehow, I missed this until today.
    Thank you Jundo!

    When sitting in the driver's seat of all this, don't forget facing east if you don't like travelling back- or sidewards

    Gassho,
    Kotei sat/lah today.
    古庭 KoTei / Ralf

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