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Bobbie Perkins - Breathe (24 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Bobbie Perkins
March 11, 2018 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you for that wonderful meditation practice. I'm still kind of a little spacey, I think!

So for the last couple of weeks we've been talking about how we are one, and I know that many of you have been here for those two sessions. But I see that a few of you have not, so I'm going to do a brief recap to kind of at least give you some context for what we're going to talk about tonight.

So the first thing that we talked about is the truth of interbeing. And last week we looked at some questions. Like, one of the questions was, "How did you get here tonight?" And most of us came in a car or a truck. We talked about, where did the car or the truck come from? How is it manufactured? Where did the parts come from? Where'd the raw materials come from? All of those things had to be in place in order for that truck or that car to manifest. Then there had to be a factory in which it could be built, there had to be people who knew how to build that factory, there had to be people on the line to put the parts together to create the vehicle. And then the story just gets bigger and bigger because once you have your vehicle, you need a road to drive on; that's another whole process of materials and people and engineering. And then we didn't even talk about the fact that your very existence is dependent on your biological ancestors, and to some extent the land ancestors who kind of paved the way for your biological ancestors. So the point, the thing that we finally came to, is the fact, the truth, that we are completely dependent on one another, on the resources of our earth, in order for us to even exist. And we are not in any way separate from anything. So we finally came to the understanding, whether it was kind of difficult or challenging, but we came to at least the intellectual understanding that we have not, we do not have a separate self. There's no place to find this separate self. And we're going to explore that even more tonight.

But I want to just recap by reading, or talking about, rather, what Thay refers to as "the rivers within us," the rivers of your body: feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. All of these rivers within us are constantly flowing and changing. I said this last time, but I'll say it again: your body is not the same now as it was when you came. And when you leave, your body will be different again. It's constantly changing. Cells are dying, cells are being born. Your body is constantly changing. Your perceptions are constantly changing. You have different views about things now than you had, maybe even a year ago, but certainly more than ten years ago. Your perceptions change, your views change, your understandings change, nothing stays the same. It's all impermanent, it's all changing, all the time.

There's nothing we can pin down and say, "This is separate, this is permanent." You can't find it; it doesn't exist. It's an illusion. And it's actually one of the illusions that causes us a lot of pain and suffering. Sometimes this separate self has been called the "ego," and that's probably as good a name as any for it. But we have to remember also that we are living in a kind of a dual existence. We are living in what Thay calls the "historical dimension," meaning things kind of move in what looks like a linear path, and so we have a history. But we also exist simultaneously in the "ultimate dimension." And the ultimate dimension is where we really come to understand and to know that we are not separate from anything else, that we don't have a separate self. In the historical dimension, that is where we find the challenge, because we want to believe that there's something about us that's not only unique, but permanent, something we can sort of hang onto.

Here's what Thay says about these rivers (they are also called skandhas) :"To say that our five skandhas—our body, our feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, and our consciousness—are empty of a separate self is also to say that none of these five rivers can exist by itself alone. Each of the five rivers has to be made by the other four. It has to co-exist. It has to inter-be with all the others. So even among these rivers, there is nothing that can be separate from the others. They all depend on one another. They co-exist."

So let's just think about... So the topic tonight is not only "We are one" but specifically "breathe." So let's talk about breath. Your breath is always present as long as you are alive. Your breath is actually life-giving. We don't live without breath. Breath can be very calming and restorative; we use it that way in meditation. It is our focus of attention very often in meditation.

But if we look more closely, we have to recognize that there is no part of us that controls the breath. Now, I know that some people learn how to hold their breath for fairly long periods of time, especially divers in some countries, in some islands. They can hold their breath for several minutes, I'm told. But they cannot hold their breath indefinitely. They have to breathe at some point, so there's a limit to how long a person can hold their breath. I've heard—I've never seen this, but I think it's true—that a person could hold his breath or her breath until they pass out. But once you pass out, you start to breathe again. So breath is not something that there is some kind of mechanism or system or something within us that we control. Breath is automatic. So you can't say that there is a separate self that is breathing. There is breath.

In the same way... Well, let me... I want to be sure I put these points in as well. So we don't have to tell our lungs to breathe. Our lungs know how to breathe. And our lungs are able to adapt to changes in the air, the environment, even our thoughts. If you have thoughts of panic, for instance, your breath probably gets more shallow and faster. So our breath changes in response to all of these various different things. Your breath is not exactly the same from one moment to the next, and certainly not from one day to the next. In other words, breath is impermanent. It's always changing and adapting to whatever the circumstances are.

In the same way, you can think about the other organs in your body. We don't have to tell our heart to beat; we don't have to tell our liver what to do; we don't tell any of our internal organs how to operate. It's built in, thank goodness! So there is no separate self, there is no separate "me" or "I" that controls breathing, heart rate, any of those things. And they all work together; they're all dependent on one another. Lungs depend on the circulation of your blood; your blood depends on the lungs to kind of cleanse the blood; all of these parts, all of these organs have to work together. They depend on one another. And if one of them fails, the whole system is at risk. So it's all interdependent, it's all changing, and it's all impermanent.

Thinking about walking, because the song we're going to listen to in a minute is ChiSing's song called, "Breathing and Walking." It is true that when we were babies, we had to kind of learn how to walk. I don't think—I don't remember, with my daughter or other babies I've seen, I don't remember anyone actually saying TO the baby, "Okay, now this is what you have to do," giving instruction, like a lesson. No, the baby crawls first, and pushes against things, and pulls up using the chair or the couch or a table to pull itself up, and there's just kind of this innate understanding about making the body move. Once the baby learns how to walk, there's no going back. There's walking, then there's running. So when you are ready to walk, you don't have to, like, pick up your leg, and position your foot in one place, and kind of balance your body... We don't have to do any of those things. We simply think, "I'm going to walk now," and we walk. So there is walking, there's not some separate self that directs the walking, there is just the walking.

You could say that about everything, really, when we get into it. There is just seeing. There's not a separate self that is seeing. Any of your senses. There is touching. It goes with everything. And the point, the thing that I really want us to see if we can experience, is exactly that idea of just seeing, just breathing. And it comes back to, and down to, just being. There's no doing involved, there's just being.

In the historical dimension we might say, "I am breathing. I am walking. I am thinking." But in the ultimate dimension, we might say, "Breathing is occurring. Breathing is happening. Walking is happening. Thinking is happening." You could also say, "Anger is happening. Depression is happening. Sadness is happening. Happiness is happening." So all of these skandhas—the thoughts, the body, the feelings, the perceptions, the consciousness—it's all arising. There is nothing we have to DO about it. It simply is arising. It simply is.

See if you can notice the two dimensions in ChiSing's song called, "Breathing and Walking." Let's listen to that now.

(ChiSing's song "Breathing and Walking" from the album Buddha Is My Refuge plays)

Let the Buddha breathe 
Let the Buddha walk 
I don't have to breathe 
I don't have to walk 

The Buddha is breathing 
The Buddha is walking 
I enjoy the breathing 
I enjoy the walking 

Buddha is the breathing 
Buddha is the walking 
I am the breathing 
I am the walking 

There is just the breathing 
There is just the walking 
There is no breather 
There is no walker 

Peace and joy while breathing 
Peace and joy while walking 
Peace and joy . . . the breathing 
Peace and joy . . . the walking 

Breathing, walking 
Sitting, smiling 
Laughing, crying 
Working, playing 
Sleeping, waking 
Breathing, walking 

I confess, when I heard this song for the first time, I didn't get it. It didn't make any sense to me. And it's only after I've come to kind of understand this idea, this truth of no-self, that it begins to make sense to me.

So, ChiSing started out, "Let the Buddha breathe / Let the Buddha walk / I don't have to breathe / I don't have to walk." So he has combined looking at it from the ultimate ("Let the Buddha breathe" and "walk") and he then took us back to the historical "I," like your ego, said, "I don't have to do that. I can let the Buddha in me do it." And then he said, "The Buddha is breathing / The Buddha is walking / I enjoy the breathing / I enjoy the walking." So this, even though it uses the word "I," to me, it's still in the ultimate dimension, because it's just an expression of joy, enjoying the walking, the breathing, but you could think of it in the other way. This phrase, "Buddha is the breathing / Buddha is the walking / I am the breathing / I am the walking"... So for me, this combines, this says that I am the Buddha breathing and walking. "There is just the breathing / There is just the walking / There is no breather / There is no walker." And the rest of it is just "Peace and joy... / Peace and joy." When we let the Buddha walk, when we let the Buddha breathe, from within us, we are just left with peace and joy. And then I think it was pretty great that he ended up with all of these other things: "Breathing, walking / Sitting, smiling..." All of these things, you know, can just be part of just being. There is no doing involved, just "Sitting, smiling / Laughing, crying," and so on.

Last year at the Plum Blossom Retreat in Austin, I wrote this haiku, which was, I think, an opening of insight for me about no-self. I called it, "Living Buddha."

See with Buddha's eyes
Hear with Buddha's ears
Touch with Buddha's hands
Smell with Buddha's nose
Taste with Buddha's mouth
Feel with Buddha's heart
In Buddha-nature, all delusions drop away
Peace and love remain.

Here's what Thay says about it. He encourages us to enjoy being a Buddha. "Becoming a Buddha is not so difficult. A Buddha is someone who is enlightened, capable of loving and forgiving. You know that at times you're like that. So enjoy being a Buddha. When you sit, allow the Buddha in you to sit. When you walk, allow the Buddha in you to walk. Enjoy your practice. If you don't become a Buddha, who will?"

Thank you, dear Sangha.

Transcribed by Meghan Horton

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