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The 1st of the Five Mindfulness Trainings - Reverence for Life
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The 1st of the Five Mindfulness Trainings - Reverence for Life (40 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
March 1, 2015 - Dallas, Texas

Tonight we're going to begin our mindfulness training series of teachings, and I'm going to focus on the First Mindfulness Training tonight, reverence for life, nonviolence, and also the transformation of anger. I also want to talk a little bit about why I so appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh's particular way of practicing mindfulness in comparison to some other traditions.

I struggle a little bit about that because when you compare, it tends to lead to criticism and making other traditions less than your own, but I do not know how else to teach it. So I will just say don't take it to mean that everything else is inferior, but I just want to share with you why Thich Nhat Hanh's particular way of practicing mindfulness is so valuable for me. So that does not mean that there is not value in all the other traditions, but when you compare things, that is the nature of it.

So, first of all, you should have a copy of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Over the years, originally 2,600 years ago, the original mindfulness trainings or precepts were just one short line at each, so it was very simple and basic, and so basically the First Mindfulness Training was originally something like: "I undertake the training not to harm living creatures." And the second one: "I undertake the training not to take what has not been given to me." The third: "I undertake the training not to engage in sexual misconduct or harm through my sexuality." And then for monks and nuns it was, "I undertake the training not to even have sexual conduct." But for the rest of us, it is not about refraining from sexuality, but not engaging in the harmful expressions of that.

The fourth training was, "I undertake the training not to engage in wrongful speech." And the fifth one was, "I undertake the training not to take intoxicants that will lead to carelessness." Now that has a few different interpretations, which we will talk about when we come to that subject, because some Buddhists interpret that to mean you can take a little bit of intoxicants as long as it doesn't lead to carelessness. You can have a sip of wine or something as long as you don't get drunk or whatever. But then other Buddhists have interpreted that a little bit more strictly where you cannot have any intoxicants like alcohol or drugs or whatever. But anyway.

Thich Nhat Hanh's community developed a way of expanding these Five Mindfulness Trainings, which the Buddha originally taught in a simple way, to add the modern insights and the insights from these past few centuries in creating a modern version of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, which have been revised every 10 years or so in Thich Nhat Hanh's community. And I am sure it will be revised again in another 10 years from now.

When we get to the Fifth Mindfulness Training, I am going to show you how I think it is a little peculiar in some ways. I kept wondering who was on the committee to rephrase things, because there are some things that I think would be better changed. But anyway, what matters is not the literalness of the text, but the spirit of it. You know, what is the motivation to expand these mindfulness trainings? It is the spirit of wanting to clarify and help people to practice more than just a simple understanding, a deeper understanding. So the mindfulness training is not just about, "Thou shall not," but it is about learning how to observe all your behaviors and thoughts and speech and actions in the light of mindfulness and seek deeper truths and insight that can arise when we practice observing.

So, first of all, why are they called mindfulness trainings? They are not called commandments. They are rather trainings. And no one really expects you to completely be able to practice all of them 100% of the time for your whole life. Rather, it is kind of like when sailors used to try to find a particular direction, maybe at night, and they tried to find where the North Star was, and then they tried to navigate in that direction to get to where they were trying to get to. Now, does that mean they think they're going to actually end up at the North Star? No, but they're using the North Star as a direction to go.

And so, we are using the mindfulness trainings not as absolute commandment. We do not expect everyone to be able to keep them 100% all the time, but rather it is a direction for us to gear our lives towards. It is an ideal for us to reach out and stretch out for. So it does not matter whether you arrive all the way. What matters is that you are going in the direction of wisdom, love, peace, enlightenment. So that is what we mean by mindfulness trainings. We use it as a practical tool, not as rules and regulations, laws and commandments. We are using it as a way to practice mindfulness in our lives.

Now the word mindfulness has three wonderful meanings. One is observance or awareness, and so we observe things. We feel things. We become aware of things. And that is why we focus a lot meditation on the breath, because it is a way of training ourselves to become observers of something simple like the breath and be aware and to feel it, to really be with it. Because a lot of times, we live our whole lives. We do not really feel much. We do not feel our feelings fully. We do not spend a lot of time really, really being with our loved ones. We kind of take people and things for granted. We kind of rush through our days. So mindfulness helps us to stop and be aware, take time out to just really be feeling alive.

And so a second meaning of mindfulness is nonjudgmental acceptance or nonjudgmental awareness and acceptance. Basically in mindfulness practice, not only are you aware of things; you are also learning how to be aware without judging it. That is why during meditation, even if you have wandering thoughts or your legs fall asleep or you are really feeling annoyed by your neighbor snoring or breathing hard or whatever, that is an opportunity to practice in that meditation on how to just let it be.

Nonjudgmental acceptance. This is, "Okay. In this moment, I am noticing some irritation, and I am accepting that, and I'm coming back to my breath. I am noticing my legs kind of fell asleep. I'm aware of it, and I accept it, and I come back to my breath." You know, I noticed that my mind is really racing today for some reason—for whatever reason. I accepted, and I do not judge it, and I come back to my breath here and now.

So that is why whether you are having positive feelings during meditation, which of course are very nice or negative feelings during meditation, if you learn a lot of mindful acceptance, you are still benefiting from the meditation. Isn't that great? You benefit either way, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant in your meditation, because you get to practice building up your ability to be aware and your ability to be nonjudgmentally accepting.

So it is a very good thing, because what you do in your meditation carries out into your everyday life and relationships, so you start learning how to really be aware of the truth and reality of what your life is all about and your relationships. You can see more clearly what is really going on, and you can start being less judgmental of other people and more accepting of them and letting them be because you practice it in meditation. Whatever you practice in meditation carries out in your everyday life.

Now another meaning of mindfulness is to remember, and there is a slightly active aspect of it, to remember and also return. So most mindfulness practice is about letting go of control, and you are just accepting, and you're just aware, nonjudgmental, which is also another part of mindfulness. It has a little active aspect, okay? You might call them more passive aspect as yin energy and the little bit more active aspect as yang energy.

Yin and yang. Have you ever seen the circle with the two swirling things? That is yin and yang, balance of passive and active energy, or masculine and feminine, or however you want to label it. But the active aspect is to remember, so there is a discipline and diligence and mindfulness also, which is if you are in the middle of the meditation, and you start daydreaming and wandering off for several minutes, then mindfulness will help you remember, oh, right now I do not need to engage in this daydreaming. I can just simply say, "Hi. I see you. I smile at you. I let you go, and I remember to come back to my focus," which is the breath or whatever, your mantra, and come back to the meditation and return to your purpose.

Now, this also applies not only in meditation, but also in your everyday life, because when you practice mindfulness, you can remember to come back to your center in whatever situation you find yourself in—to come back to responding to others with understanding, compassion, and peace. And whenever you are having some strong emotion that may be overwhelming, you're not going to remember. You have to practice to calm the emotion down so that you can make decisions and choices in that crisis moment that will be beneficial rather than worsening the situation. And so that is the active aspect, remembering.

And in fact, there are many practices on learning how to remember. There is even a Buddhist practice called Buddha smrti, which means to remember or to be mindful of the Buddha. And that is what chanting is. When you chant, "Amitabha, Amitabha, Amitabha, Amitabha," etcetera, it is a form of practice to help you to really bring to mind the qualities of the Buddha of infinite light, infinite love, infinite life. And as you bring those qualities to mind—or if you are from a Christian background, as you think about Jesus's life and the stories and his teachings and his parable, you fill your mind with the Scriptures of the Gospels. That is a way of helping you remember all of these positive qualities of Jesus, and also you can do that in Buddhism, too. Remember all of the positive qualities of the Buddha.

So it is important to remember to mindfully engage in filling our minds with these positive qualities, because as we think, so we manifest. What you put in is what comes out. So just like garbage in, garbage out, it is also the beautiful positive qualities in, positive beautiful qualities out. In universal spiritual law, it is very common sense. So just be careful of what you are focusing your thoughts on all day long.

I noticed that this is very true, because I remember one week I got really, really into this miniseries on Netflix, but I did not realize that it was completely negative. Like there was not any humor in it at all, and it was very gory—lots of blood and guts. It was about Salem, the witches, and all of that stuff. I was fascinated, because I've always been fascinated by the supernatural. But anyway, after several nights of this, I had to stop because I was having so many nightmares, and I was feeling my energy just drain, and I was feeling anxious. I realize of course. When you fill your mind with this stuff, that is going to manifest in your life. So I had to laugh and just stop and watch something else, another series that was more light and comedic.

So be careful what you put into your mind. That is what mindfulness is about. Be careful what you put into your mind. Be careful how you practice, your behaviors and responses and all that.

Now I want to focus on the First Mindfulness Training. And perhaps, Bobbie, you could read it for us.

Bobbie: "First Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life. Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world."

ChiSing: Thank you, Bobbie. So this first training is about reverence for life and nonviolence, non-killing, and how to transform our anger. And of course, you might have different questions that arise as you practice with this, such as, are there certain situations where it is necessary to kill? And so, there are no definitive answers, because it is a training, not a commandment and not an absolute truth. What matters is that you reflect on it, you think twice about something. And if you are thinking twice about something, it is already working, you see? It is training your mind to be reflective and not just on automatic pilot.

So for example, some people choose to become vegetarians because that is how they want to practice this First Mindfulness Training. Of course, the Buddha never required laypeople to become vegetarians. However, he did highly recommended in general as a wonderful healthy lifestyle, but even among his monks and nuns, he never made it an absolute requirement, because monks and nuns, they would travel and go from home to home and just mindfully beg for their food in a sacred way.

Of course, most of the people who were friendly would honor the monks and nuns and give them good food, but some of the poor people, they did not have time to grow vegetables and things like that and prepare vegetarian meals. Some of the poor villagers, all they could do is just share the meat that they had, and so it was easier for them to give meat for food rather than a vegetarian meal.

So the Buddha, out of just honoring the generosity of the laypeople, he did not turn away from them just because they gave him meat. He would accept the offering and eat it, and he required all of his monks and nuns to accept whatever offering was given out of honoring to the generosity of the laypeople.

The only time that the Buddha said that they would need to refuse the food in a polite mindful way is if the laypeople specifically killed the animal just for the monks and nuns. Then they would have to say no to accepting that. Or if they saw or heard the animal in suffering as it was being slaughtered, if that were the case, they could say no to that. This was just a way of helping the laypeople to teach them to just curb how much killing they do.

So there are many reasons to become vegetarian. One of courses at the call, just to help alleviate the suffering of animals, but the thing is, in today's modern world, I am not sure that really applies so much. Just because you're a vegetarian, I'm not sure that you are actually alleviating a lot of suffering of the animals, because the same amount of animals are being slaughtered whether or not you go to the grocery store and buy it and cook it and eat it. So if you really want to practice this deeply, it is not enough to just be a vegetarian if you are a vegetarian. You need to do something to help actually reduce the amount of animals that are suffering and being slaughtered.

You know, because sometimes I meet vegetarians who how this sort of snobbish attitude like they are very superior because they are vegetarian. (Uses snobby voice) "Oh my gosh. You eat meat? Oh my goodness!" You know? But see, I think that is wrong. That is not practicing mindfulness at all. That is just practicing ego. I would rather be friends with a meat-eating friend who is honest and humble and openhearted than be in association with a vegetarian who is uppity and snobbish.

But, if we can collectively encourage all of our churches and synagogues and mosques to start at least lowering our intake of meat consumption, and maybe all of our potlucks should just be vegetarian, because obviously people who eat meat can enjoy vegetarian meals, too. It's not like they can't enjoy that. So that is why here at the Dallas Meditation Center, from the very beginning our policy has been that all of our potlucks are vegetarian. Whether or not every single person is a vegetarian or not, it doesn't matter, but at least our potlucks are vegetarian. So that just helps to encourage the trend toward that kind of lifestyle.

And of course, some people feel that it is too difficult to be completely vegetarian, and that is okay. If that is very difficult for you, then you can still at least cut back, right? Maybe have one meal a day that is completely vegetarian, and maybe once a week a whole day that is completely vegetarian. That is enough. If you can just do that, it helps to set you in that direction, if you do it with mindfulness.

Now of course, there are other reasons people become vegetarian, and it is for health reasons. For example, that is one of the reasons that I am doing that right now, because scientifically speaking, for most people's body types, it is a much more healthy way of living, and it does help to prevent diseases and to heal diseases, too. So there are other reasons besides ethical. You can also be a vegetarian or health reasons, and now we will address in the Fifth Mindfulness Training in a few weeks.

But of course, even vegetarians are not 100% nonviolent, because vegetarians can accidentally kill insects, or when they boil their food or water, there may be microorganisms that they kill inadvertently, so no one should feel superior to anyone else, because no one keeps any of the trainings completely perfectly, whether literally or in the spirit of it. So it is not about perfectionism. It is about opening your heart to compassion and trying your best to go in the direction of compassion.

So, when a police person needs to act aggressively to apprehend a criminal, they can still practice this training because it is not about external action. It is about the internal heart response. So there can be some police persons who are not following this training, and they are very, very aggressive and very angry in their heart and very hateful—some of them, unfortunately.

But a mindful police officer can still act aggressively, have an aggressive face to scare the criminal, and very, very forcefully apprehend them and cuff them and bring them to prison. But they can do it without the anger, without the hatred in their heart. They can do it out of compassion for society rather than hatred for the criminal, see? It's different. It looks the same on the outside, but it is very different from the inside.

So sometimes as a parent, you may have to discipline your child to help them realize that it is very dangerous to cross the street without looking both ways or to not touch the stove when it is hot or other kinds of things. So even though you may have to use a loud voice to get your point across, you can do it with a heart of love and compassion, not out of hatred or anger. And of course, this takes practice.

Violence usually stems from a misunderstanding about the nature of our inter-connectedness with others. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh likes to give this example of someone who one day was trying to hammer a nail into the wall to hang a picture, and with his right hand, he held the hammer, and with the left hand, he held the nail. He accidentally hit the thumb on his left hand, and it was very painful. In that moment, he automatically dropped the hammer, dropped the nail, and with his right hand, he held his left thumb lovingly.

And then he started meditating on this, and he realized, what if my right hand had a different reaction? And my left hand, what if it had a different reaction? What if my right hand and left hand were caught in the delusion of separation and did not realize that they were a part of the same body? What if that were to occur? And so he realized if that were to occur, the left hand might get really angry at the right hand for hitting it, and it would call it stupid and maybe even try to grab the hammer and take revenge. You know, see how foolish that is?

But that is exactly what happens in our every day lives amongst individuals as well as countries and religions and nations. We have forgotten and we have bought into the lie that we are all separate, when in fact we are one body. That is the Christian teaching, that we are one body of Christ, and that is the Buddha's teaching, that we are one reality, one Buddha nature manifesting in many bodies. That is a teaching in Islam and in Judaism and in Hinduism and in Taoism.

All the major positive world religions, it is the same teaching, but the reason why we see all this suffering and violence in the world is because no matter what teachings are available, that does not mean that people practice the teachings very well. So, you see, there are very many wonderful good Christians, good Jews, good Muslims, good Buddhists, good Hindus, etcetera, but there are also a lot of Christians, Jews, Muslims, etcetera who are not really practicing the depth of their faith. They may say they are Jewish or Christian or Muslim, but they act completely opposite of the true teachings of those faiths.

So please be careful when you look on the news, and they are bashing Muslims or something. Be very careful, because if you start bashing Muslims, are you any better then the extremists? No. You are acting just like the extremist that you are bashing. No. It is not because they are Muslim that they are acting so horribly. It is because they are following a false understanding of their faith, not the true understanding. Because a true Muslim is a person of peace. A true Buddhist is a person of peace. A true Christian is a person of peace and nonviolence.

So coming back to a more practical level, how do we transform anger when it arises?

Julie: By knowing you are angry.

ChiSing: Yes. Exactly. First of all, you feel your anger, and you do not reject it, because the moment you reject it and push it away, you are feeding into it. It actually increases the fuel of the fire. The Buddha had a wonderful parable of a man who came home to his house and saw that it was on fire, and he saw that maybe there was someone running off that looked suspicious away from the house, but his first response was not to run after the suspicious man because if he had done that, he would have let his whole house burned down. But instead, he ran into the house and got water and put out the fire before it could consume his whole house.

And that is exactly what we do. When we are finding ourselves consumed with the fire of anger, most of the time, what do we do, foolishly? We start running after someone else to blame for our anger. We start accusing someone else for doing something that caused us to be angry, and what happens when we do that? We get even more angry. We get emotionally more upset, and we get so carried away that we might even do something stupid or violent in a moment of this overwhelming anger. That is not the wise way of dealing with anger.

The wise way is stop trying to blame. Stop trying to externalize the reasons for the anger at that moment. You can always find out about why later, what triggered your anger, but for right now, what you need to do is your own mind is your house, and you need to put out the fire in yourself first.

So how do you do that? First accept that you are feeling angry and try to not go into this story about the anger. Whenever we have a feeling, every feeling is okay. There is initial, normal anger, and there is also unnecessary anger. There is normal anger and unnecessary anger. Normal anger is just having the feeling of anger in the moment that you feel it. If you can accept it and breathe with it and embrace it and transform it, it will dissipate within a few minutes naturally.

But if you fuel the fire of the anger with stories, blaming, accusations, mulling it over in your mind why they did you wrong over and over and over again, guess what? It leads from normal anger to overwhelming, increasing unnecessary anger that lasts for days and weeks and sometimes months or even longer. Grudges, unforgiveness, that sort of thing results, and tragic endings of friendships and relationships that did not have to end.

So we need to be mindful about how we take care of our anger, and of course we can do practical things. In the moment that you are very angry, do your best not to respond right away or react right away to the situation or person. If you need to, just walk away for a few minutes, and the best way I have found of dealing with anger is to do walking meditation or fast walking meditation. It is really helpful to move your body to get the energy kind of flowing, to just kind of get that anger energy, just let it release through the movement of your body.

So do walking meditation or fast walking meditation. Go outside and let Mother Earth help you carry the energy of anger, and then as you slowly take care of it, it will naturally come back to a state of peace. And then you can then deal with the situation better. You can make better choices. Yes?

Audience Member: What if we are already in that second part?

ChiSing: Yeah. Yeah. Okay.

Audience Member: So you said, next time prevent it.

ChiSing: Right.

Audience Member: What about the months and years stuff?

ChiSing: Yeah. Very good question.

Audience Member: I am already there.

ChiSing: Well, you know, the genius of being a spiritual being in a human body is that we are not limited by our human capacities. We actually have spiritual resources, and in fact, we can actually choose and this very moment to let it all go. But we have subconscious choices that we are making. We are subconsciously continually choosing not to let go of the blame and the accusations and the anger. Because of that continual subconscious not letting go, that is why it keeps perpetuating.

But actually, you have the power to just right now completely let go of all suffering, all anger, all delusion, all unforgiveness—right now—and be at peace. You can let go of all negative karmas right now, but you don't because you have the habit energy of subconsciously continually making the choice to hold on to that. You see? That is why we have to meditate, because without meditation, you do not have the mental power to realize what you are doing subconsciously, but through meditation, you have more power to see into your subconscious choices and make the changes.

Enlightenment is actually very easy. It is just simply saying yes to love, joy, peace, wisdom, and compassion and say no to and letting go of everything else. But it is easy if all of the parts of yourself can say yes and no, you see? Yes to enlightenment and no to all of this negativity. But the problem is you are only saying yes with your conscious mind. All these other subconscious and physical and emotional and mental levels of your being, it is like a mixed message. Yes, no, yes, and no, yes, yes, no, yes here it you know?

That is why I love the teachings of the seven chakras, because that is such a perfect way of visualizing. You may be saying yes with your mouth, that you are saying no in your gut or in other parts of yourself. So you are not saying a full yes to enlightenment. That is why it doesn't manifest right away, because we still have our homework to do so that all of the parts of ourselves say yes to enlightenment and no to all negativity. And in that moment, when every part of you is saying yes to enlightenment and saying no, releasing everything else, in that moment, you have a moment of enlightenment.

And of course, if you are not fully enlightened and, after a few seconds of this or days or weeks, you may find yourself instead of all yes, it might be yes, no, yes, no all over again. But that is why you have to keep practicing, the cuts we are all part-time Buddhas learning to be full-time Buddhas. We are all part-time enlightened doing our best to become full-time enlightened, right? Yes?

Audience Member: I was just going to comment on that. You are talking about your angels and spirit guides in a previous lesson, and I've been in that place a lot of times where I know I am angry and I do not want to be angry and I try to breathe and I still feel the anger. Somebody gave me the idea out one time to just ask your spirit guide while you're meditating to cut your energetic cord of attachment that you have to that person. Something is attaching you to that, and that has been powerful to me.

ChiSing: Yeah.

Audience Member: It was weird. It released the anger, and I actually shuddered a little bit when it was cut. That has been tremendously helpful to let go of the nagging. Maybe that is something to try. Whatever your Higher Power is, just ask them to cut that cord.

ChiSing: Yes. It is wonderful to ask for help. And you know there are a lot of new modern techniques for dealing with strong negative emotions. First of all, you have to not hate your strong emotions because by hating it, it does not help. So you have to start learning how to accept or even love your strong emotions, even if they are negative. Then you can start working with it and transforming it.

There are lots of new techniques, like Byron Katie has a wonderful process called The Work. Eckhart Tolle has nice teachings on the pain body and how to alleviate that. There are so many wonderful new modern spiritual teachers who have come out with a lot of things on shadow work, how to work with your inner shadows and to transform them, and all kinds of wonderful processes. So if you are dealing with a lot of stuck anger, not just initial anger, but stuck anger that has been there for years or maybe lifetimes, then you may need to do more things than just mindful walking. You may need to do certain processes to really heal. Like therapy. Like what?

Audience Member: Running.

ChiSing: Yes. Running meditation. Yes. Okay. All right. Well, I guess because of the time, I will not go into comparing this tradition with other traditions. Maybe I will do that another time. But I just want to say how much I appreciate the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh as such a wonderful teacher. He is a beautiful rare jewel in the world today. So let us continue to pray for his health and healing so that he can live a little bit longer and continue to share the teachings and practices for many more thousands of people in the world so that the light will continue to increase.

So thank you so much for practicing reverence for life.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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