Good evening, dear friends. This past few months we've been studying
the six paramitas
of Bodhisattvas: the six practices of
awakening beings that help us to develop skillful capacities for
radiating our true nature for the benefit of all beings. Dana
, generosity; shila paramita
, patience; virya paramita
, meditation; and prajna paramita
I probably shared as many stories as I possibly could and I felt, at
first this morning, that I have nothing more to share. All of that I
have to share I've shared already. And tonight's topic is free, and so
whatever comes up…
So, this morning when I meditated, afterwards I decided to pick my
little soul cards that I have on my altar. And the one I picked this
morning was of this beautiful woman, just radiating up into the sky,
and the word was "gratitude." So as I sat with that word and that
picture of gratitude, the topic of this evening came very clearly and
naturally. And that's what happens when we practice mindfulness and
meditation. We don't have to try so hard to figure everything out. We
let our true nature do the work, effortlessly, as we allow our
rational ego mind and chatter mind to just relax enough to let our
true nature shine through.
We don't want to destroy our ego or destroy our rational mind or
destroy or annihilate anything. But we have to realize who's the
boss. Because, if our ego, if our rational mind, our small separate
self identity thinks that it's boss, that's the cause of most of our
suffering in the world. But we can embrace that aspect of ourselves,
because those are necessary aspects in this world of form, so we can
operate in this world of form. But we can do it in a way that we
realize who is the true master.
So, we don't annihilate anything in our practice. We don't fight
against the wandering mind. We include it and we relax it enough that
the true strength of who we really are—our vast nature—shines
through. And our priorities are shifted, and we know who is really the
In America as this practice of metta meditation was being
taught—metta meaning loving kindness, also the word can
be maitri, which is Sanskrit; metta is Pali (they're
related languages)—so loving kindness meditation has four or
The first part is to love yourself, to wish yourself well, to
visualize yourself well, just giving yourself love. "May I be
happy. May I be peaceful. May I be healthy. May I be loved," things
like that. And we meditate with this metta meditation until we really
feel it deeply, this love for ourselves.
And then when we're strong in that love we then think of someone easy
for us to send love to, and we say, "May you be happy," and we
visualize that person, we see them happy, we send them love from our
heart, light from our heart.
And then when we feel very solid in this love, we expand it to someone
neutral. Maybe someone you see everyday at the bus stop or passing by
work or school. You know, "May that bus driver be happy. May she be
well. May she have good health," and just really feel it.
And then, if you're strong in that, you can go to someone a little bit
difficult to love. "May you be happy. May you be peaceful."
And then eventually you're able to radiate loving kindness to all
beings. "May all beings be well, happy, peaceful, healthy, free."
But the interesting thing is, as the Asian meditation teachers were
teaching this in America and in the Western countries, the very first
step, which should be the most easy, was one of the hardest: to love
yourself. It was so difficult for many Westerners. It shocked many of
the Asian teachers, why this would be so. But we in the West have a
different psychological history and upbringing and social history.
And there's a lot of self-judgment, self-doubt, self-criticism, that
isn't necessarily as strong in other cultures.
So, we need to adapt the Buddha's teachings. And as I was meditating
on this, what I came up with was the practice, before we send our
self-love, then is the practice of gratitude; to think of all the ways
we already are loved, by others, by the universe. So then we receive
that love, we think of that love, we visualize that love. Maybe, even
just one person in our life that has truly loved us. We visualize
that, we receive it deeply. We think about it. We let it really seep
in. Maybe we can then think about trees, always giving us oxygen. The
blue sky. The smile of a little baby. Just anything that we can
receive as love. This is the practice of gratitude.
And so, if it is difficult for us to love ourselves, and thus to love
others, then might we first practice the practice of gratitude. Which
is just simply to recognize all the ways we are supported, all the
ways that we are loved, all the ways that we are affirmed and held by
the universe. And if we can truly feel that it then becomes much
easier for us to then give that to ourselves, as well, and then
others, and to all the universe.
You know, Jesus once said, "Unless you become like a little child you
cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)
A lot of conservative people might have interpreted this to mean
unless you become naive and simplistic and just believe what we tell
you, you can't enter into heaven when you die.
But I, reading this scripture from the point of view of mindfulness
practice, from my true nature reading it, the interpretation that
comes very clearly for me is: unless we become childlike in our
simplicity and surrender to the receptivity of all the wonders of the
universe, we cannot enter into a heavenly life here on earth. A life
that is free. A life that recognizes heaven on earth. You don't have
to wait till you die to enter heaven.
Unless you become like a little child… and we don't mean to say
that you have to become childish, but childlike: this open
receptivity. Children find it very easy to be grateful, to be open to
the wonders and surprises of life. So let us get in touch with our
inner child, once again.
You know, as I was a child I used to go out in the fields and walk
among the grass and trees and the creek behind our house. And I just
loved it. And I would just walk slowly, prayerfully. And as the wind
would blow, I remember just, even though I was an eight-year-old
child, I would just silently allow the wind to just caress my face,
and feel so grateful to the divine spirit, for life.
I didn't realize I was practicing walking meditation. But that's what
I was doing, just so purely and naturally, as a child.
Effortlessly. So, there is a key to our enlightenment in this
scripture: unless you become like a little child…
The Buddha, as he was about to awaken, in his meditations sitting
against the Bodhi tree, he was trying so hard to meditate. And he
even, for a few years, starved himself, thinking that denying the
body—making the body suffer—would help his spirit to
awaken to enlightenment. But he realized, "That's not the way."
So, of course, in his earlier life, he was just indulging in
everything. You know: riches, pleasures; all the food, all the girls
he wanted; whatever he needed. He was the prince, so he could have
whatever he wanted. But that didn't satisfy him, and that did not
bring him an answer to the problems of life and how to awaken to who
we really are.
So, he found out in his own experience, the two extremes are not
helpful; but the Middle Way is the way. And what is this "Middle Way,"
between the two extremes of completely indulging in every pleasure
possible and completely hating and denying our body? What is the
Well, as he was about to awaken, he remembered a memory from his
childhood. As about, I guess he was maybe around eight years
old. Just, it was a hot day, so he left the ceremonies of all the
priests that were chanting for the harvest, and he left his father and
all of the different royalty. And he just went under this rose apple
tree. And just sat there, closed his eyes, and just relaxed. And
enjoyed the cool shade of the tree. And just looked and observed
everything that was happening around him, breathing in and breathing
And the Buddha realized—he remembered that he felt such peace
and insight, even for just a glimpse, as a child, meditating like
that. And so he thought, "Perhaps this is the way."
So, he let go of striving so hard and denying his body, and just
relaxed, got in touch with his inner child. And just breathed in that
moment. And he said that very evening, and in the morning as he saw
the morning star rise in the dawn sky, he became enlightened.
I once went on a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and many others, and
afterwards at that retreat I met a friend named Elizabeth and I've
shared this story with you before. And, I'd shared with you also the
story of my bike accident with her when I visited her in Nashville,
Tennessee. Well, my hand was somewhat damaged and hurt. Not
irreparably so, but it was in a lot of pain.
And so, in Nashville, Tennessee there's this place called the Upper
Room. Which is where the United Methodists have their national prayer
headquarters, where they produce a lot of their prayer and spiritual
literature. So, I always wanted to visit them. And so, Elizabeth took
me there and we went inside. It was about four thirty and they close
at about five o'clock. And we were just looking at the bookstore and
the gift shop, and just admiring the grounds. There was a beautiful
fountain, and flowers and a garden.
And so, there was one person behind the desk. And so we went up to her
and we told her about what happened with my accident, and, "I'm just
visiting my friend here in Nashville, and I'm only staying for one
day and I just wanted to ask if there were any prayer counselors
there that could just pray with me about me hand. I've always wanted
to, like, come here and experience prayer with them."
And so, she gave a little call upstairs and then she hung up the phone
and said, "Well, it's almost closing time and everyone's getting ready
to leave now. Maybe you could come back tomorrow."
And I said, "Well, I won't be back tomorrow, because I'm leaving
tomorrow, from Nashville. I'm just visiting for today." And so, I
said, "Maybe could you just see if one person might be able to just do
a brief one-minute prayer? It'd be so lovely."
And so she called and then she hung up the phone and said, "Well,
everyone's already gone now for the day. Um, I'm really sorry."
And then I said, "Well… well, maybe you could pray for me. Um,
you know, since I'm here already and it's such a lovely place and I
can just feel the beautiful spiritual energy here. You know, just
something simple. You could just pray with me and that'd be so
And then she says, "Well, I'm not a trained prayer counselor."
And I said, "Well, that doesn't matter. You know, you're a Christian,
right? And you know how to pray."
And she said, "I'm sorry. We're closing now."
Well, my friend Elizabeth, who was with me, became so red in her
face. She was so angry that she just grabbed my arm and pulled me out
of the building, into the garden area by the fountain and just sat me
down and said, "ChiSing, I'm going to pray for you."
And so she did. And it was one of the most beautiful prayers of my
life. Not only her words, but the sound of the water fountain, and the
little bees that were flying from flower to flower, and the
butterflies that were flying around, and everything; the
sunshine, the grass, everything was alive with prayer—alive with
vibrant spiritual energy and openness of heart.
And from that day forward I vowed that if I ever became a minister I
would never, ever allow such a thing to happen in my
congregation. Where people expect only the trained ministers or prayer
counselors to pray for you… That is not a true church. Every
single member of a church or sangha or temple should feel that they
are empowered to share loving kindness with others through prayer,
through being with each other, through meditation or whatever.
If a church continues to produce people who are co-dependant on their
spiritual leaders, it is not a true church. A true church, a true
sangha, a true temple, a true spiritual community is one in which
spiritual leaders are spiritual facilitators, and the members are the
ministers. And the members are the ones who take care of each other,
who pray for each other, who meditate with each other, who radiate
loving kindness to one another and all beings.
If we were truly in touch with our inner child we would never need to
only go to a trained counselor or minister. We would know that we
ourselves have the capacity to give a hug, like a little child. Give a
hug. If someone scrapes their knee, give a little kiss, a little
touch. Children know they have the capacity to care and to love,
without feeling, like, inadequate or like they're not quite
What is this about our society that makes us grow up feeling
inadequate? Growing up feeling this self-deprecation? Making it so
difficult for us to love ourselves? Through our practice of
mindfulness—the practice of getting in touch with our true
divine child: the Buddha Baby within us, within all beings—we
can transform that, and love unabashedly.
Love like Thich Nhat Hanh, who, a few years ago, I remember, was doing
walking meditation in the fields by the plum trees in France. And the
children were with him, walking with him. And we all sat down in the
grass, as Thich Nhat Hanh just playfully talked with the little
children, while the adults were just resting under the shade of the
And I remember this joy filling my heart. Because I remember, for so
many years, as I was growing up in the Christian church, I always
thought it would be so wonderful if only I'd lived during the time of
Jesus. I could have been one of those little children that sat on his
lap. If only I could have seen how he was with them.
And yet, here I was, with this truly spiritual, realized, enlightened
being, playing with the children, talking with the children, leading
all of us in walking meditation and sitting meditation out in the
fields. And I realized, I don't have to wish I could have been born
two thousand years ago or wish that I would be living in the lifetime
of some great master. Right here, right now… here is Buddha:
with my friends, with the trees, with this beautiful teacher.
Could it be really much different, the way Jesus was with the
children, the way this spiritual teacher is with the children, with
all of us? Is it really any different, the way Shaun and Kara care for
their little baby, Hayden? Is it really that different from the way
all of us take care of each other when we come together; support each
other through silence, and through words, and through actions? Is it
really that different?
We are Jesus, to one another.
We are Buddha, to each other.
We are the hope of the world.
We don't have to wait for the second coming of Christ. We are
it. We don't have to wait for Maitreya Buddha, the future Buddha of
love. When we open our hearts with love, we are the Buddha
Let us not cling to our dogmas and ideas and notions and concepts of
truth. Because if we do we will be like, in the Buddha's teachings,
the father who left his home and left his child there for a few hours,
to go to the market, and when he came back these thieves had broken
into the house, burned the house down. He didn't realize his son had
run away into the nearby forest to protect himself.
So the father was in great despair. He thought he'd lost his
child. And he saw some ashes, and he collected them and put them in a
bag, thinking those were the ashes of his child. And he mourned day
and night, day and night.
And the one day when the child felt safe to come back, he knocked on
the door and said, "Father, it's your son. Let me in, let me in."
And the father, so full of his grief, he thought this was just some
children making fun of him—making fun of his grief. And he said,
"Go away! My son is dead. Can't you see I'm grieving? How dare you
make fun of me?"
And the son just kept saying, "Father! Father, it's me. Open the
door. Please, let me in."
And the father was holding onto his notion and his belief of what the
truth was. He so strongly held that bag of ashes and cried and cried
and would not open the door. And finally the son left. And the father
and son lost to each other forever, because the father was clinging so
hard to his concept of truth.
So, the Buddha invites us to awaken, to be enlightened—by
letting go, and being open enough, like a child. Fresh truth, moment
to moment, here and now.
And with that openness of heart, awakening to truth, there is only gratitude.