Meditation helps us to remember the beautiful gifts that exist here
and now: the ability to hear. We have 2 eyes that can see. We have 10
fingers, 10 or 11 toes. We have a non-toothache. So there are so many
beautiful realities right here and now, so many causes and conditions
for happiness right here and now. Mindfulness helps us to cultivate
the ability to access those realities more deeply.
And mindfulness also helps us to grow and develop emotionally,
psychologically, and spiritually. There are so many different voices
calling us these days. There are thousands of channels in the realm of
consciousness. It is up to us to choose the channel that we listen to,
just like there are many channels on the radio station and the TV
station. They are always playing constantly, even if we have not tuned
in. They are always there on the airwaves.
So also there are many voices and many different things in the
universe calling out to us. Some are negative. Some are positive. Some
are neutral. Some are beneficial. Some are harmful. Some are just
distractions. It is up to us to choose what we tune into.
A few months ago, I went to Deer Park Monastery to get away for about
a week, away from technology, away from my cell phone, away from the
computer. This is very difficult. About 10 years ago, I started to get
into doing lots of e-mails, and I remember my roommate Mark at the
time, when I was living in Los Angeles, the very first thing he would
do when he woke up was to check his e-mail, and I kind of laughed at
him because of it, but I started to do the same thing.
Over the years, I've noticed I do that more and more. The very first
thing when I wake up, I want to check my e-mail. It is really
difficult to resist the temptation because my brother got me an iPhone
for my birthday a couple of years ago, and now you can check your
e-mail on the iPhone. So you can have your iPhone by your bedside and
then the alarm goes off, and then you turn it off, but you can also
check your e-mail just by pushing a button. So one of my resolutions
is not to check my e-mail before I meditate in the morning and not to
watch TV or listen to the radio. I wish I didn't do those things
anyway, but that is something we can all maybe try to practice.
But I found that when I went to the retreat at the monastery a few
months ago, I found that I had withdrawal symptoms from technology. It
sometimes takes a retreat to realize what is going on, to get yourself
out of the situation to know what is actually happening. And so I was
like, wow, there is this withdrawal symptom of, oh my gosh, I cannot
check my e-mail while I'm out this monastery, you know? And this
signal is not strong enough to do too much on my phone.
And so I made a decision not to use my phone during those 7 days
except for maybe one day where I just absolutely had to. But for the
most part, I did not use my phone. I did not check e-mail. And I just
put myself into the schedule of the monastery. And there is something
very beautiful about going to a monastery for a week. I highly
recommend it to everyone. It will change your life.
It just puts you back into the rhythm of nature, just waking up a
little bit before the sunrise, meditating with all the monks and nuns
and the laypeople there, and then walking mindfully, doing some
exercise, and then eating breakfast in silence together, appreciating
each bite of food, and then doing working meditation afterwards,
enjoying the fresh air and sunshine and the sound of the birds and
working together, not frantically, not rushing, just joyfully and
And it is okay that you do not finish whatever task you were
given. You only work for the amount of time, and then you stop when
the bell rings, and you know that someone else will finish the job
tomorrow, or maybe you will be given the same task tomorrow. But it is
not working to get anything done. It is just working because that is
what we do as human beings, and that is what we need to do to get
things done, but it is not to get something done. It is just to work
to enjoy the work.
I remember the first time I did sweeping meditation in the lunch
hall. I thought, this is a really large hall, and I only have one and
a half hours of working meditation, and I needed to get this done
fast. So, I was really, really sweating and trying to figure out these
weird looking broom things. So the monks came over to me and smiled
and bowed and said, "This is how we practice working meditation. We
take the broom and we breathe in, sweep, and breathe out,
sweep. Breathe in, sweep. Breathe out, sweep." And I thought, you have
got to be kidding me.
But that is what I did. So I stopped. I slowed down. I breathed, and I
just started sweeping. And I stopped sweating, and I just started to
enjoy the motions. It was rhythmic, like my breath, rhythmic like
walking meditation, sweeping in, and just enjoying sweeping.
And I remember also at night during the evening meditation before
dinner as the sun was setting, right in the middle of the silence in
the meditation hall you started to hear howls from the coyotes in the
hills. They started to sing and to howl and to laugh. It was
beautiful. I think they might've been hyenas too. I do not know, but
it was a very, very interesting sound. And some other nights, we would
hear the crickets start to sing and the frogs.
And that night, after dinner, we had informal practice times, so
sometimes I would just take a walk by myself under the beautiful
starry night sky. And since we were away from a lot of the city
limits, you can see more stars, and they are much brighter. And this I
do not experience right here in Dallas very often. It was just
wonderful to feel the immensity of the universe and the beautiful
quiet of the hills and all the different animals and plants coexisting
harmoniously together with the humans.
I just simply put myself into the rhythm of practice. I did not have
to make everything happen. It was already made available on the
schedule. All I had to do was choose this channel and then say, "Yes,"
and to completely immerse myself into the schedule, and then just
being in that routine without trying too hard, without even trying to
get enlightened or trying to read as much as I could or practice
I did not have to do any of those things, just one meditation in the
morning, breakfast, working, lunch, personal practice, group practice,
meditation, dinner, personal practice at night or sometimes community
practice at night. That is not a lot. But that rhythm over several
days seeped into my bones, and I started to let go of my addiction to
the technology, and I started literally and tangibly feeling myself
letting go of that habitual habit of my fingers wanting to push little
It felt so freeing, and I remember when I had to leave the monastery
and go back to civilization the feeling of relief that, oh, I do not
have to check my e-mail right away. I do not have to make these phone
calls. I do not have to do these text messages. Then of course, after
a few weeks, if slowly has crept in again, that habit energy, but I'm
a little bit more aware of it now. That is good, that I am a little
bit more aware.
This year is a year to take refuge in the Sangha, in the community. So
I hope all of us together will really take that to heart. Put yourself
into the rhythm of practice. Make a schedule for yourself. Do not just
meditate whenever you feel like it. Schedule it in. If meditation
really is that important to you, why wouldn't you want to schedule it
in? It is not something you just do haphazardly. I mean, it you can,
but let's see how far you go in that approach. With our busy lives
these days, it is not a very helpful approach. I really believe we
have to schedule it in. We have to make the intention that we are
going to meditate.
And you know what? It is okay if you do not do it every day yet. Just
make the intention starting today for the next week, I will do it
every day. And then at the end of the week, assess if you did or not,
and let it go. Start again next Sunday. Okay? Choose one of these days
of the week which is your mindfulness day. Maybe it's Saturday. Maybe
it's Sunday, but it is your day to assess the previous week and to
recommit to the practice for the upcoming week.
Usually Sunday is my mindfulness day. So, choose a day that will
always be your day to remind you to assess the past week and plan for
the next week the practice of mindfulness and meditation.
The 3rd chakra, which is what we are talking about tonight, is in the
solar plexus. We usually associate it with the color yellow, like the
sun. You see, the 1st chakra you might say it's about survival. Money
issues sometimes come up. And the 2nd chakra is sexual energy,
creativity energy, and then the 3rd chakra is personal power and
personal individuation, really knowing who you are, being your own
person apart from society and family and the dictates of those who
have raised you to actually know who are you for who you are.
That is what this 3rd chakra is about, but it is interesting. These 3
areas for many spiritual teachers are difficult areas, especially if
they have developed their 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th chakras really, really
highly but neglected these. It is important that we develop all of
them in balance. But of course, everyone does them in different
orders, so we all have different journeys, but it is interesting. The
1st, 2nd, 3rd chakras are all about money, sex, and power, which is
usually part of scandals. So we have to be mindful of that.
You see here in the 3rd chakra, we make decisions. This is where we
make personal choice, and if we are not strong in this, we will not be
able to make the choice to put ourselves in the rhythm of practice, to
make the choice to take refuge in the Sangha. This is an area where we
really need to cultivate so that we are not just pulled here and there
by social pressures, especially if they are negative social pressures,
but that we can stand on our own 2 feet and be who we are and be
strong in who we are and make that choice, the choice of meditation,
mindfulness, the path of enlightenment.
And it takes time to develop our ability to trust our gut feelings,
our intuition, but if we do not start now, it does not just happen
automatically. Every day, every moment, we need to keep listening to
the inner light and just follow our intuition and you might not follow
it exactly. It is okay. But you have to start listening now and start
following now, and just take that risk. You know, the 3rd chakra is
about taking risks, stepping out of your comfort zone, making a stand,
being who you are, and just trusting.
You know, in January, while I was meditating, I heard an inner--not
necessarily an inner voice, but an inner knowing--and it told me to
investigate this building because it had been empty for a year and to
see if I could do something here and see if anyone else was interested
in helping me make something happen. So I followed that intuition, and
4 months later, we had our open house.
So, all of my life, I have been listening to that voice within, and I
do not follow it perfectly, but I keep trying, and that is what
matters, that we just keep trying. And the key to having more clarity
in listening to the inner voice is when you have community to help you
listen together. And this will help prevent cults from being formed,
or going off the deep end, because your true spiritual friends can
help you by listening together with you, and they can give you sound
advice and give you their perspective in spiritual community.
So it is important that we listen to the inner voice, but in the
context of community, so that we are not so vulnerable to maybe
listening to a false voice. But we cannot allow the fear of listening
to a false voice to stop us from listening at all, because when we do
that, then we are very vulnerable to only listening to external voices
or internalized external voices like your mother's voice or your
father's voice or whoever's voice, which might have been positive, but
sometimes might have been negative.
Individuation is key on the spiritual path because it starts to help
us to trust our own voice and our own way. Yes, we learn from our
ancestors and our parents and our teachers and our society, but we
still have to make the choice ourselves. No one else can walk the path
for you; only you can walk the path--only you. Teachers, parents,
society, spiritual communities can give you the teachings, but they
cannot walk the path for you. You have to walk the path.
A few months ago, I had a great joy come to my heart. It was a great
joy because I realized what my mission in life is, and it brought me
such great joy because I realized my mission in life is not
necessarily to be fully enlightened in this life. My mission in life
is not necessarily to try to bring everyone else to full
enlightenment. What a daunting task that is. Rather, I realized, my
mission in life is simply to realize at least the 1st stage of
enlightenment and to help all of my brothers and sisters to realize
that same 1st, initial stage of enlightenment.
Now, that might not make you smile, but it brings a smile to me,
because that is not so hard. That is not as hard as full
enlightenment. Though I was just so happy. I realize, oh, yes, and I'm
totally content with that, just to realize the 1st stage of
enlightenment and to help all of my brothers and sisters to realize
the same initial stage of enlightenment.
Now, why am I smiling about that? It is because it is not so hard. It
is very attainable for all of us, but it does take practice and
commitment. I believe we can do it, and I bet if we did it together,
we could do it by December 21, 2012. And that is just in less than 2
years. I bet we could.
What is the 1st stage of enlightenment? There are 4 stages. The 4th
is, you know, full enlightenment. In the 1st stage, you just simply
take complete refuge in the Buddha, not necessarily the teacher we
called the Buddha 2600 years ago, but we take refuge in Buddha,
meaning we take refuge in the fact that there is this enlightened
nature within and all around us and that this enlightenment is
embodied by those who are enlightened, such as the Buddha 2600 years
ago or any other spiritual teachers who are fully enlightened that we
know or may not know.
But we take refuge. We completely trust and have faith in and devotion
in the truth that enlightenment is possible because there have been
people who have been enlightened. And even if you do not know anyone
who is fully enlightened, you at least know at least one person who is
more enlightened than you, and that is good enough, right? I mean,
that is good enough for me. I do not really know who is fully
I never met the Buddha 2600 years ago. You know? I did not even meet
Jesus, whom I totally love and admire too, but I met Thich Nhat Hanh,
and he's definitely more enlightened than I am, and that is good
enough for me to know that enlightenment is possible, and so I take
refuge in the Buddha by taking refuge in the fact that there are those
like Thich Nhat Hanh who are more enlightened than me. And so I know
that enlightenment is possible for me.
And, we take refuge in the Dharma, in the teachings of enlightenment
and the practices of enlightenment, such as meditation, mindful
living, and we completely immerse ourselves in these practices of
generosity, loving-kindness, feeding food to the monks and nuns who
are on the path of enlightenment, all of these different
practices. Completely immerse yourself in those practices.
And then taking refuge in the Sangha, in the community, supporting the
community financially, with presents, with volunteering, putting
yourself in the company of those who are on the path with you. This is
important, because in our everyday life, most of our hours are spent
with those who may not be consciously on the path of enlightenment, so
it drains us slowly over time, slows us down over time, which is why
we need to at least once a week or more surround ourselves with those
who are definitely on the path of enlightenment and consciously so. It
is very important to uplift us.
So, these are the only requirements for attaining and realizing the
1st stage of enlightenment: taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma,
and the Sangha deeply in every area of our life--and to practice the
Mindfulness Trainings: nonviolence, non-greediness, sexual
responsibility, mindful communication and healthy
consumption. Continually immersing ourselves in the Mindfulness
Trainings on those precepts and in that lifestyle of kindness, that is
it. That is it.
And if we can do that deeply and fully, suddenly we may find ourselves
awakening to who we really are. And so the sign of the 1st stage of
enlightenment is that you realize the truth of nonself and
emptiness. It is no longer a concept. It is a reality you have
actually experienced deeply. And I am not going to explain what it is
to you, because I do not know it fully, although I have had a glimpse
And also, the 2nd is that you, for the most part, live your life
completely by the Mindfulness Trainings without much failure in those
areas. So you are usually a very ethical person, saintly person. And
the 3rd sign is that you no longer rely on rituals and rules. You
realize that they have a place at a certain stage in development and
practice, but they are not really your true refuge, rules and
rituals. You may have rules and rituals to engage in, as a part of
your spiritual, beautiful practice and aesthetics and also some
guidelines to help you, but you do not rely fully on those. The truth
is within, beyond all rules and all rituals.
So those are the 3 signs that you have realized the 1st stage of
enlightenment. I, personally, have not realized the 1st stage of
enlightenment, but I've come right to the brink about 3 years ago. And
at least I realized a glimpse of the meaning of nonself and emptiness,
but my keeping the Mindfulness Trainings still has a way to go, and I
think relying on rules and rituals is not so strong in me, so I think
I'm good in that.
Because, you know, I grew up Baptist and a Virgo, and so there is a
part of me that really likes to cling to rituals and rules to
guarantee my happiness or to guarantee that I will be loved and, you
know? This is something that we sometimes do. We try to rely on rules
or rituals, and if we do them, then we will be saved or then we will
be enlightened or then we will be loved. You see?
The more we practice on the path, we start to let go of that
dependency, and we realize we can still have rules and we can still
have rituals, but our relationship to them is different. Instead of
them being our Savior, they are just simply expressions of who we
truly are. You see? See the difference? It is like good works. Instead
of doing that so that you will be good enough to go to heaven, now
good works are just simply the natural expression of your gratitude
for the love that has already been given to you. You see? That is the
So, to attain the 1st stage of enlightenment requires that we are
strong in our 3rd chakra, in our individuation, because it takes
commitment and choice and perseverance and true willpower to go on the
path. It can be very difficult for many people because so many times
we sabotage our willpower or we give away our power, right?
If we could see our energy field when we engage in our everyday life,
we would see that certain chakras have energy draining out toward
people. It is like we are hooking ourselves into others that we
physically see and also that we just do not physically see, like
memories of other people. You know, someone does not have to be
present physical in the room to have a powerful effect on you, right?
Even people who have already died in their life can still have a very
powerful influence on you--even if you divorced them--because our mind
still looks energetically to them.
So through the practice of meditation and mindfulness, we can start
looking at how especially our 3rd chakra is still hooked into
dependency and codependency on many, many other beings, and we can
start letting those go and cutting back into our own true self.