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Loving Kindness Collage
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Loving Kindness Collage (42 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
May 28, 2011 - Houston Zen Center - Houston, Texas

(Shruti box sounds) You gave it away. Wonderful.

Well, I am so glad to be here with all of you, and I want to say thank you to Gaelyn, a wonderful Zen teacher here in Houston. I want to give thanks to my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, called Thay. It is like Roshi or Sensai. And also, my dharma teacher, Lyn Fine, who trained me to be a member of the Order of Interbeing. And Soto Zen teacher Joen Snyder O'Neal in Minneapolis, who graciously accepted me into her sangha when I lived there for a year. It is a wonderful sangha in Minneapolis where they practice in both the lineages of Thich Nhat Hanh and Soto Zen in harmony. It is so beautiful there. And I also want to give thanks to my teacher, Kosho, in Austin Zen Center as well, and Ruben Habito at the Sanbo Kyodan Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas. And all of you here are my teachers as well.

And this is a wonderful day for me because I was actually born in Houston, Texas, and now 41 years later, here I am at the Houston Zen Center. This is my first time to give a talk, I think, in all of Houston. So thank you so much. So today, it is simply going to be a dharma collage, instead of a dharma talk where it is nicely outlined and streamlined in sequence. It will just be more of a dharma collage, and so part of the collage will have some chanting and music, which you may not be used to here at this Zen Center. I will also present a reading from an ancient sutra and just some thoughts that come up for me as I share with you.

Gaelyn has asked me to talk about lovingkindness at first and then yesterday she mentioned something about the mind, and a few other members here suggested things like concentration, and what was the other one? Where do thoughts come from and some other things. So maybe I will blend in some of those into the collage or the potpourri, if you will, or the salad that we are kind of creating together.

So, I would like to start off with reading the "Discourse on Happiness," and so I am going to read the first couple of paragraphs, and then after it says, "This is the Buddha's answer," I would like to ask the women in the room to read that stanza and then the men and then alternate men and women until the very last stanza that we will read all together. And so some of you may need to share your sheet with someone next to you so that everyone can see them. Does anyone need one nearby to see? Everyone has one they can see? Do you need one? You've got one? Okay. All right.

So, let us take a deep breath. I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Lord was living in the vicinity of Shravasti at the Anathapindika Monastery in the Jeta Grove. Late at night, a deva appeared whose light and beauty made the whole Jeta Grove shine radiantly. After paying respect to the Buddha, the deva asked him a question in the form of a verse: "Many gods and men are eager to know what are the greatest blessings which bring about a peaceful and happy life. Please, Tathagata, will you teach us?" This is the Buddha's answer.

Female Audience: Not to be associated with the foolish ones, to live in the company of wise people, honoring those who are worth honoring—this is the greatest happiness.

Male Audience: To live in a good environment, to have planted good seeds, and to realize that you are on the right path—this is the greatest happiness.

Female Audience: To have a chance to learn and grow, to be skillful in your profession or craft, practicing the precepts and loving speech—this is the greatest happiness.

Male Audience: To be able to serve and support your parents, to cherish your own family, to have a vocation that brings you joy—this is the greatest happiness.

Female Audience: To live honestly, generous in giving, to offer support to relatives and friends, living a life of blameless conduct—this is the greatest happiness.

Male Audience: To avoid unwholesome actions, not caught by addictions, and to be diligent in doing good things—this is the greatest happiness.

Female Audience: To be humble and polite in manner, to be grateful and content with a simple life, not missing the occasion to learn the dharma—this is the greatest happiness.

Male Audience: To persevere and be open to change, to have regular contact with monks and nuns, and to fully participate in dharma discussions—this is the greatest happiness.

Female Audience: To live diligently and attentively, perceiving the Noble Truths, and realize nirvana—this is the greatest happiness.

Audience: To live in the world with your heart undisturbed by the world, with all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace— this is the greatest happiness. For he or she who accomplishes this, unvanquished wherever she goes, always is safe and happy. Happiness lives within oneself.

ChiSing: How many have heard of this discourse before? Raise your hand. Wonderful. And how many have practiced in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh in the room? Okay. Wonderful. This is one of the sutras that is in the main chanting recitation book, and so when I first read it, I really, really enjoyed it, and so over the years as I read it, I have been contemplating it. And most recently as I was contemplating this teaching, I was wondering. This beautiful being asked the Buddha, "What is the greatest happiness?" So why doesn't Buddha give a nice Zen answer in at least one or two or three lines? This is such a long answer, and not only that, there are several items that the Buddha lists of the greatest happiness. Usually when the teacher says, "The greatest happiness is," it's just one item. So I began to meditate and contemplate on this teaching. Why are there so many items listed as the greatest happiness other than just one?

This is a Theravadan text, but within this beautiful teaching, you can see the seeds of the Mahayana Zen understanding. So as I looked at this and I contemplated it, I began to see the story of my life unfolding, and maybe you might be able to see your own life story unfolding in these stanzas as well, because really, any teaching of the Buddha or any enlightened teacher is really just a reflection, a mirror in which we can look and see our own story reflected in the Buddha's story. So I began to remember different times in my life.

I remembered when I was—when our family moved from Houston to Florida when I was 5 years old and I was in kindergarten for the first time, in a new environment, and I remember at recess time, there were the second grade bullies who would pull me down from the slide. I would try to climb up the slide and slide down, and they would pull me down before I could slide down, and so this was very frustrating. So one day I went home to my mom, who was gardening, and I said, "Mom, they are these bullies that keep bullying me during recess time." So she was busy gardening, and she said, "Oh, just ask God what to do." I don't know what her true intention was, but as a 5-year-old, I took it very literally and seriously. So I said, "Okay. I will."

And so I prayed that night and asked God for an answer, and nothing, and no answer came. I didn't hear anything, so I was like, okay. Whatever. So the next day I went to school, and then it was recess time, and I closed my eyes and said, "Okay. What am I supposed to do?" And then, instead of hearing some external source, I heard or felt an answer well up from my little 5-year-old heart, and it was so wise, and the knowing was to climb up the slide as fast as I could, wait until the bullies came up behind me, and right before they could grab me, I was to slide down acting crazy and goofy all the way down. That is what I did. I climbed up. I waited for them, and then as they caught up to me, I let go and I slid down going, "Oh! Ah!" And they laughed and laughed and laughed, and they just started doing the same thing. They slid down, acting goofy, and then we did that over and over and over again a few times, and they never bothered me ever again. They had so much fun with me, they did not see me as someone to prey on. They saw me as someone to have fun with.

So that was one of my first spiritual lessons, that the answer to prayer may not always be something external, but actually comes from within, from deep within our own wisdom. And I also remember about being 10 years old, just taking a walk outside behind the house and by the creek and just walking and feeling the wind blowing on my face and just feeling so peaceful on the earth, being among the trees and the water. And I was practicing walking meditation without realizing that is what I would call it later. So that was very wonderful.

And I also remember when I was in college in my last year and coming out of the closet as a liberal at my church, and upsetting the elders of the church, and they called a council together to decide what to do, and so they decided to call all the other college students in the college student program at the church to ask me certain doctrinal questions to make sure I was going to agree with them, and if not, I needed to leave the church or be excommunicated. They wanted to make an example of me for all the other college students so no one else would go out of line or be affected by me and my heresies.

Well, it was actually—even though we're laughing now, it was actually quite a traumatic experience for me, and I was in shock, and a lot of my friends there were in shock and crying, but anyway, I said I had nothing to repent of, so they formally excommunicated me, and I left the church, and I've never gone back there since. But I remember a few days after that just doing prayer walking outside, and I just—my heart opened, and I realized there are probably many other people in the world experiencing some form of rejection for thinking differently, and maybe they are feeling lonely, and I vowed in my heart that day that I wanted to live my life in such a way that I would be able to prevent things like this from happening and also to be able to be there for those who are experiencing similar various kinds of rejections so that they knew that they are understood and they are not alone, that they are cared for and loved and understood.

I remember that very clearly, just 20 years of age, and a few years later at age 29, I remember going to my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, and I was a little bit scared to go because I was afraid that I might be converted to become a Buddhist, but when I went to the retreat, it was so wonderful, very interfaith. In fact, Thay said in one of his dharma talks that, "I am not here to convert you from being Christian or whatever or Jewish or whatever to being Buddhist, but just to encourage you to become a more mindful Christian or a more mindful Jew or a more mindful Hindu or a more mindful Buddhist. So that was a relief. Of course, a few years later, I did convert to Buddhism. But I was okay by the time it happened.

I also remember a year ago or so—actually, a little bit more than a year ago, I was sitting in meditation at home, minding my own business, when all of a sudden in the middle of meditation, this very strong thought or knowing arose from within, and it was this thought of, there is this property that my family owns that has been sitting vacant for a year now, and there is a Catholic church across the street. I wonder if something could be done with that property, maybe something spiritual.

So from that seed thought—and I never imagined that it would end up being the Dallas Meditation Center, but from January all the way till May of last year, it manifested as the Dallas Meditation Center, and we had our open house a year ago this past Sunday. So this past Sunday, we celebrated our one-year anniversary, and so it is very interesting to me to observe how quickly that manifested just from this thought that arose effortlessly, which I courageously followed through on that thought, step-by-step. It was not very difficult. It just seemed at each step of the way, something happened to support the idea.

I also remember the time a few years ago right after graduate school, I was completely, very poor, and I did not know what I was going to do because I wanted to move across states, and I had no money to even do that, and my landlord accidentally gave me a check that bounced to get my deposit back. So then I became -0 because of the bank debts, you know, that they do for that, so I was very concerned, and I started to practice complaining meditation with my friends. And then they said, "ChiSing, you keep telling other people to have faith and that we are supported by the whole universe and we take refuge in the Buddha, dharma, sangha, and here you are complaining. You know, you need to walk your talk." And I was quite shocked. What kind of friends are these? They're supposed to, you know, pity with me, but no. They are true friends.

And so, I was quite shocked by that, and I took that to heart, and I began to contemplate that and meditate on that that evening, and so I said a prayer in my heart. I said, "Okay, universe. Here I am. I am trained to be a spiritual facilitator, but I cannot seem to follow through on this if I'm always presently worried about money and how I am going to eat the next day. I can't do this. So if the plan here is that I am supposed to be a spiritual facilitator of some sort, then I need you to do something about this. And so, I am available for whatever answers there are."

So the next morning, I have this thought arise in meditation to go to the nearby Buddhist temple, Theravadan Temple, and I asked the monk to please give me a blessing, and so he blessed me with sacred water and did a chant, and afterwards, I bowed in gratitude, and the thought occurred to me that I should give a donation, an offering because that is what you do. You know, that is just a natural thing to do when you're at a temple, so even though I only had about $50 in cash and -0 in the bank, I just effortlessly in gratitude just took out a $10 bill and put it in the donation box.

The next day, after our meditation group met and after I gave the teaching, someone that I did not really recognize came up to me and bowed, and he said he came a few weeks ago for the first time and he was so touched by the practice and the teaching that he had been contemplating what to do since then, and so he knew that day in his heart what to do, and so he presented me with this check and a bow, and I bowed back, and I put it in my pocket. And later on when I looked at it, it was a check for $10,000. So I got on my knees and go, "Okay. I believe. I believe."

And I'm also remembering a time a couple of years after that, after I had settled here in Texas again, and I flew to Oakland, California, to give a dharma talk at the center. I lost my wallet I think in the airport or somewhere along the way, and so when I arrived at my hotel, they would not let me take the hotel. It was a very cheap hotel in Oakland. I think it was a Motel 6 or something like that. Maybe I shouldn't say that if I'm going to be recorded. So they wouldn't because I did not have my ID. Now luckily I did have enough cash—just enough cash on me, but I did not have my ID. So I talked, and I explained my situation. "Please. It is at night. It is past 9 PM, and I need to stay somewhere," and so they would not do that. I needed an ID.

So I sat on the curb, and I just tried to remember that I am supported and that all is well and that I can receive the support that is available. And so I am meditating. An hour passes by, and then I hear a gunshot nearby. Okay. I am supported. I know the universe is taking care of me. And then a half an hour goes by, and someone comes in late and asks me why I am sitting on the curb, and I explained my situation. And then he says, "Here. I will help you." So he uses his ID to let me get a room, and I thank him very much. And he says, "Well, I am a Christian, and I just think this is the right thing to do." And I said, "Well, I am a Buddhist, and I think that the Buddha and Jesus bowed to each other tonight. Thank you."

I also remember practicing walking meditation a few years ago at the monastery, and just taking each step and each breath in mindfulness, deeply present, with beautiful dharma friends, beautiful monks and nuns. And in one of the moments of stepping and breathing, my heart just completely opened, and I realized if I were to put it in words that there are countless life forms all around us and within us, countless love letters just waiting to be opened, and through our mindfulness, through our deep presence, through our here and now gratitude, those letters become opened, the flowers, the trees, the grass, our neighbor, our heartbeat, our lungs, our liver. Everything is a love letter that becomes open to be read, to be received. That is so beautiful to me, but even more beautiful, if there can be anything more beautiful than that, was the realization that as I become present here and now mindfully, opening up to all these beautiful love letters of the universe, I realize I, too, am a love letter. I, too, am a love letter loving the universe, loving the being right in front of me, this breath, this step. It is so beautiful.

And, you know, through various insights through this practice of Zen and mindfulness, being present, being grateful, I realized that it really can be boiled down to just simply gratitude. Everything is a gift. Even our practice is a gift. Even our ability and our desire sit in Zazen is a gift. After all, the idea came from somewhere else. Maybe your teacher taught you how to sit. Maybe you read a dharma book that introduced you to the idea of sitting. And the trees are providing us oxygen to be able to breathe in and breathe out, and our parents and our ancestors gave us the DNA to manifest such a wondrous, miraculous body that can do a half lotus position or something similar. And the food we ate this morning is helping us not to faint right at this moment so that we can listen to this dharma talk, which is not just coming from me, but everything, the yogurt I ate this morning, which came from a cow. So a cow is giving the dharma talk this morning. Moo.

In every stage of our life and our practice, it is not just about getting somewhere, wanting to practice so that we can become more wise, more compassionate, more enlightened. Our happiness is not dependent on a future goal, if you will. We can find the love letters of peace and joy and love and kindness right here and now. You see? All these different stanzas, all these different parts of our life story in every moment, this is the greatest happiness if we can be truly present, if we can gratefully receive and embrace the wondrous beauty of this moment.

So whether you think you are a beginner, just simply trying not to associate with foolish ones, you're doing pretty good just doing that. Or all the way maybe to having regular contact with monks and nuns and regularly participating in dharma discussions, or maybe if you have realized perfect nirvana. It does not matter, because in every stage of life, in every moment, is the greatest happiness. The state of the greatest happiness lies already within this moment, every moment.

So love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Yes, everything changes, and so inevitably, you are continually growing, continually opening, continually unfolding the enlightenment that you already are, and in this moment, you already are so beautiful, so precious, so wonderful. Can you open that love letter? It only takes one mindful breath, one mindful step, and you can find the greatest of happiness, right here, right now.

Now, to be true to Gaelyn's request, I will share a little bit about lovingkindness, which of course I've been doing the whole time really, but just for those who may be new to the practice, I want to give this little tidbit, and also, I would love your help with knowing what time it is, how much time I have left.

Female: Maybe 10 minutes.

ChiSing: Okay. Good. So I will try to close this one in 5 minutes so I can share some songs with you as well. So, I'm going to talk in very beginner terms for the sake of those who may be beginners and of course those who might not consider ourselves beginners as well. Let us practice our beginner's mind right now. You're coming to the practice of meditation, and so many times many of us are looking at focus as what we think of as meditation. Okay. I'm going to focus on my breath. I'm going to focus on the here and now, you know, and we find many times we are not very focused, and so we might think, oh, this meditation is not for me. I'm a terrible meditator. I just have a big monkey mind. I can't meditate very well, and I'm just not going to do very well.

But love yourself. Be okay with that. In fact, I think this is the situation for most of us, if not all of us, at the beginning of our practice and maybe even now after several years of our practice. We may not be the most focused person, but focus or concentration is not the only ingredient of meditation, if you want to call it an ingredient. So if you're not very focused, don't worry. Maybe you are a very aware person, you are very aware when you're focused, and you're very aware when you're not focused, and you are aware when you come back to being focused. And so if you can practice awareness, which is mindfulness, then you are still meditating.

But what if you are not very focused and you're not even that very aware. You start daydreaming for 10, 20 minutes during the sitting period. Okay. Well, can you still experience the benefit of meditation? Can you still be a meditator? Yes. Because there is also the ingredient of perseverance or discipline or patience, whatever you want to call it. So maybe you're not so focused, and your awareness is come and go, but you stick to the practice, and you follow through on your intention that you said you're going to sit for 20 minutes, and you sit the whole 20 minutes. Maybe your intention was I'm going to sit every other day this week, and you did sit every other day this week. Wonderful. You are still going to grow in your practice because of this powerful ingredient of persistence.

And to illustrate this, I had a student who was practicing for three months and was expecting, you know, bliss, light, voices or something, like visions. Did not get any of that, and was like, "Well, I don't think I'm getting anything out of meditation." But she still persevered and did it, which is a miracle in and of itself. Most people when they do not feel any benefit, they just quit. But she did. She practiced diligently for three months, and one day she was driving on the highway, and someone cut her off, and so her first thought was, oh, I had better slow down. Maybe they had an emergency. And then she caught herself. Oh my gosh. I can't believe I had that thought. Because her usual thinking was to speed up and give a hand signal. So she realized with laughter and joy that actually there was something transformative happening within her psyche that she did not realize was going on through the perseverance of the practice.

So you see, even if you do not feel like you're very focused or very aware, even if you do not feel like a good meditator, just the fact that you are just doing it, just sitting, no matter what, that is already powerful. So don't worry if you have a big monkey mind. You know, there's a little secret. I don't know if I should share with you, but, well, maybe I will. Guess what happens when you are fully enlightened? Your monkey mind becomes your best friend. It becomes the head of the Buddha, so to speak. It is the source of the Buddha's creative power. Even though we think our monkey mind, we hate it, you don't need to hate it because eventually, when we fully manifest our innate enlightenment, the monkey mind, then we realize that without it, the Buddha does not know how to teach, does not know to talk to come up with new skillful means, does not know how to become creative in shining the dharma, and that is why we don't need to hate the monkey mind.

And this leads us to the fourth, most important ingredient in meditation. Maybe you're not so focused. Maybe you are not so aware. Maybe you skip meditation or you give up after 10 minutes sometimes. I know I did this for several years in the first few years my practice, but can you still be considered a good meditator and benefit from the practice? Yes, if you have lovingkindness in your heart toward yourself, if you can simply begin anew, if you can just let go of judgment and self-criticism and just say, "Oh well. I did not meditate this week. But today, I am starting anew." This week I started fresh, and the reason why I can be a dharma facilitator and the director of the Dallas Meditation Center is because for several years, I just began anew every week, every day, every moment, just started over, no judgment, no condemnation, no guilt tripping of myself, just beginning anew. And that quality of beginning anew and lovingkindness toward oneself is the very basis of lovingkindness toward all beings.

And I know in our Western society, it is so hard to love ourselves. You know, traditional metta lovingkindness practice begins with sending love to ourselves, and we find that so difficult, so here's an extra little twist on the practice. Contemplate on the love that you already have from others. Gratitude practice. Receive the love that is already there for you, and as you accept that, it will become so much easier for you to love yourself and to love all beings.

So in that spirit, let's sing this song with our full voice and heart. Just repeat after me. If you'd like, place your palms together at the heart.

(Plays shruti box and sings) May all beings be happy.

Audience: May all beings be happy.

ChiSing: May all beings be free.

Audience: May all beings be free.

ChiSing: May all beings be joyful.

Audience: May all beings be joyful.

ChiSing: May all beings be at peace.

Audience: May all beings be at peace.

ChiSing: May all beings be happy.

Audience: May all beings be happy.

ChiSing: May all beings be free.

Audience: May all beings be free.

ChiSing: May all beings be joyful.

Audience: May all beings be joyful.

ChiSing: May all beings be at peace.

Audience: May all beings be at peace.

ChiSing: May all beings be happy.

Audience: May all beings be happy.

ChiSing: May all beings be free.

Audience: May all beings be free.

ChiSing: May all beings be joyful.

Audience: May all beings be joyful.

ChiSing: May all beings be at peace.

Audience: May all beings be at peace.

ChiSing: May all beings be happy.

Audience: May all beings be happy.

ChiSing: May all beings be free.

Audience: May all beings be free.

ChiSing: May all beings be joyful.

Audience: May all beings be joyful.

ChiSing: May all beings be at peace.

Audience: May all beings be at peace.

ChiSing: May all beings be at peace.

Audience: May all beings be at peace.

ChiSing: May all beings be at peace.

Audience: May all beings be at peace.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch