Albert: The 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.
Colleen: Dear Thay, dear Terry, dear sangha, dear mindful friends, my name is Colleen, and today is May 15, 2016. Thank you, Cornell and Bobbie, for inviting me today. To help you understand who is speaking, I will share a little bit about my practice. I took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the sangha February 26, 2012 in a simple but deeply meaningful ceremony at the Dallas Meditation Center with Brother ChiSing and Tashi Nyima. I was given the Dharma name Dekyi Chodron, Truth Light of Joy and Happiness. I received the transmission by Thich Nhat Hanh for all 5 of the Mindfulness Trainings on September 29, 2013 at the Magnolia Grove Monastery. I was given the Dharma name Generous Practice of the Heart.
I will share today about the 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." Our Dharma teacher, Terry Cortes-Vega, reminded me that rather than a behavioral rule, the Training is an encouragement to look deeply into our lives and the lives around us. Once we see clearly we are creating unnecessary suffering, our behavior will naturally change.
With the deepest appreciation, I see the Mindfulness Trainings as the light that shows me the way. The first Training is to protect life, to decrease violence in oneself, in the family, and in society. Life is precious. It is everywhere, inside us, and all around us. It has so many forms. Thay teaches it is important to practice nonviolence so that when a situation presents itself, we will not create more suffering. To practice nonviolence, we need gentleness, lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity directed at our own bodies, our own feelings, and to other people.
With mindfulness, the practice of peace, we can begin working to transform the wars within ourselves. There are techniques for doing this: studying the Dharma, meditation, conscious breathing, walking meditation. By cultivating peace within, we bring about peace in society. It depends on us. To practice peace in ourselves is to minimize the number of wars between this and that feeling or this and that perception, and then we can have real peace with others, including members of our own family.
The First Mindfulness Training is born from the awareness that lives everywhere are being destroyed. We see the suffering caused by the destruction of life, and we undertake to cultivate compassion and use it as a source of energy for the protection of people, animals, minerals, and plants. The First Mindfulness Training is a precept of compassion, karuna, the ability to remove suffering and transform it. When we see suffering, compassion is born in us. Suffering leads to compassion.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with aortic valve disorder. This is a genetic condition from the ancestors on my father's side, which caused many of my loved ones to suffer. My father and grandfather died early. Many complications arise from this one genetic condition. Their suffering is my suffering. Awareness of their suffering led to compassion in me. Awareness plus compassion equals a source of energy for the protection of people, animals, plants, and minerals.
Thay teaches that it is important for us to stay in touch with suffering, the suffering of the world. We need to nourish that awareness through many means--sounds, images, direct contact, visits, and so on--in order to keep the compassion alive within us. But we must be careful not to take in too much. Any remedy must be taken in its proper dosage. We need to stay in touch with suffering only to the extent that we will not forget that compassion will flow within us and is the source of energy for our actions. If we use anger at injustice as the source of our energy, then we may do something harmful, something that we will regret later. According to Buddhism, compassion is the only source of energy that is useful and safe. With compassion, your energy is born from insight. It is not blind energy.
So with this awareness, I have a relationship with a cardiologist. I've read books like Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. I watch movies like Forks over Knives. This led me to a lifestyle that is primarily vegan, although I will eat foods prepared for me by my family and friends. It took me about a year to become a vegan. During the process, I realized I had habit energy. After all, I was a wife and mother for so many years. I shopped and prepared food for my family. Even after I stopped eating meat, I bought it. I put it in my freezer. When my son would come to visit, I would give it to him. One day, he came and he said to me very tenderly, "Mom, what makes you think I want your frozen meat?" I didn't know. We just laughed. I now know. I was acting from habit energy, the habit energy of being a mother, of shopping and preparing food for my family. Awareness plus compassion equals this source of energy for the protection of people, animals, plants, and minerals. In this case, the protection of life was my own.
"I'm 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 comes from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, nondiscrimination, and nonattachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, dogmatism in myself and in the world." Our Dharma teacher, Terry Cortes-Vega, shared that the second part of the Training which arises from the dualistic and discriminative thinking reminds her that the Reverence for Life is more about deepening our practice than accumulating scientific data. We are able to see clearly and act with compassion when we are neither limited by our notions or constricted by our fears. Brilliant.
Thay teaches that thinking is at the base of everything. It is important for us to put an eye of awareness into each thought. Without a correct understanding of a situation or a person, our thoughts can be misleading and create confusion, despair, anger, and hatred. Our most important task is to develop correct insight. If we see deeply into the nature of interbeing, that all things inter-are, we will stop blaming, arguing, and killing. We will become friends with everyone. To practice nonviolence, we must first learn of ways to deal with ourselves peacefully. If we create true harmony within ourselves, we will know how to deal with family and friends and the world. Thank you, Thay. Thank you, Terry. Thank you, sangha. Thank you, mindful friends.
Albert: Second Mindfulness Training: True Happiness. Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.
Jim: I think for me, True Happiness has kind of taken a lifetime to get there for me. I was one, I think, that spent a lot of time trying to prove my self-worth and to gain things, which really just kind of had to do with the kind of family I came from and a need to separate myself and be different. But as I have grown older and had situations where I have suffered and seen other people suffer, and being a therapist for 30 years and watching people suffer, it really began to be a paradigm shift within my being and within my soul to really realize that material things and cravings really do not bring any type of happiness. I've seen very wealthy people not happy. I've seen wealthy people that are. But for me also, I realized that I can't have True Happiness unless I am at peace with myself, and for me that is about who I am and my own self-worth and my own truth as a human being.
For me, it's been about what brings me meaning and purpose to my life. As a social worker for 30 years, I did a lot of that, and I thought that was really the real calling--and maybe at that time it was. But as I have grown older and my spiritual journey has changed, I've realized there are other purposes and other meanings that would bring purpose to my life in terms of how I help others, and that's kind of what I'm focused on now. For me, that is for people who have suffered traumatic situations and helping them to be able to heal from them.
Albert: Third Mindfulness Training: True Love. Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness - which are the four basic elements of true love - for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.
Jessica: Okay. So this Training is one when I first received it, I kind of thought this seems stodgy and maybe old-fashioned, and I questioned the validity of the training. And ultimately, that is exactly what we are supposed to do is question it and practice it and see whether it creates suffering or not. In my case, I found that sexual activity motivated by craving did indeed have harmful effects on myself and others. I could see physical effects, emotional effects, mental effects, and spiritual effects. Of course, there are consequences in the short-term and the long-term, too.
You know, out there in this world, there is a strong media presence, and a lot of the messages about sexuality I have found to be very detrimental to me as a woman. And I'm sure it happens to people regardless of their gender. So practicing this Training helps me understand how I felt, how I really responded to my actions. And so something may be a lot of people don't consider because the mainstream image is of this almost fantasy sexuality that is disconnected from truth--you know, having sex is like a life or death experience. It could create life. It could also kill somebody if they contracted a disease. You know? And so it is an energy to be taken very seriously, and it is very powerful, too. So by practicing this, I was able to discern my missteps and to make better choices each time I went out there. And so in the long run, I kind of came around to see, you know, there is some validity here.
But on the other hand, like Cornell said, these are not Commandments. So, I had a friend in the sangha who is gay, and her family would totally just invalidate her relationship. It may even cause harm in the family relationship if she brought up her partner. So this part about, you know, "I'm not going to engage in sexual relations without a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends," in her case, you know, that may have actually been a more harmful thing. So you know, those are all just things to consider with this training.
Albert: The Fourth Mindfulness Training, Loving Speech and Deep Listening. Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.
Julie: Hi. I'm Julie. I've been part of this community from the beginning. I started meditating in college and learning the Vedanta, the metaphysical side of Hinduism, which gave Jesus and Christianity back to me in a fresh way. Then when I returned to Texas from California, I started looking for a way to practice here, and over a long time I encountered 3 different places where I could learn about Thich Nhat Hanh, whose writings I had read, and to meditate. At one of those, I met ChiSing, and I followed him to an apartment clubhouse that he had gotten permission for us to use for meditation. So that was the beginning of my coming into my almost daily practice. I think my practice is daily, varying amongst different styles of practices--sometimes sitting, sometimes walking.
This precept of Loving Speech and Deep Listening has been very important to me personally, but first I want to give just a couple of observations from an airplane view, and then I'd like to talk about some of the applications of this teaching developed by Thay it also expanded by ChiSing that I found helpful. From a broad view, stepping back and looking at this Training, I see that the essential intent of this precept is to communicate for the purposes of understanding, love, harmony, and reconciliation.
And so I asked myself, what are the purposes of communication that I see in our culture? Many times, it is to win, to be right, to get your way over somebody else's way. So it has become important for me to ask myself before I speak or when someone asks me to listen, what is my intent behind this? And I find that the more mind chatter I come up with about my views, if here's how it is, this is what it was to me, the more likely it is that I am totally off-base, and it is my ego generating a bunch of negative energy to club someone else with.
So, that process of learning to stop and reflect that we learn in meditation is really valuable, and we see it used in many ways. It is a miracle of deep listening that understanding can be created even among people who are deadly opposed to each other. An example is our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh bringing together retreats of the Israelis and Palestinians to learn to love each other over a period of a few weeks, and taking that back to their communities.
There are some details about the Training and some practices that I would like to share. One that I recall from the Buddha and from Thay--roughly paraphrased--is that loving speech or truthful speech should be true, kind, and appropriate. A piece of information may be accurate to fact and true in that limited sense and yet unkind to speak. It can be kind to speak and truthful and yet, if you don't take care to be appropriate, it can be unproductive. For example, speaking to someone when they are too tired to hear or speaking to someone in the kinds of words that they do not hear--using college language with a 5-year-old would be a really good example. But the better that you know someone and appreciate their backgrounds and their perspective, the easier it is to be appropriate. So true, kind, and appropriate.
This is an example of using what Thay often called skillful means that applies to many practices on the path, and here are a few skillful means related to communication. One, like I've mentioned, is stopping before speaking. Another that Thay has written about extensively is called flower watering. It means encouraging speech that "waters the seeds of goodness in the other person." This starts with considering his or her good qualities that we appreciate and enjoy. I found this to be especially valuable before talking to someone with whom I have a disagreement or difficulty, because often a disagreement or difficulty kind of inflates itself in our minds and blocks out the reason we are in a relationship--whatever kind of relationship it is--with that person in the first place--all of their good qualities.
I have found that if I take the time to think about all of the good qualities of my friends or coworker, it softens my heart. It brings me to balance, in which I see that this fault or this conflict is just a tiny part of a better whole. Even with difficult people, focusing on the positive can have very beneficial results. Thay adopted a formal Buddhist practice in the monastery called "Shining a Light" to a simplified version for laypeople, and in the past ChiSing taught us this process, and we practiced it. I hope we have time and some opportunity to do this in the future, to learn "Shining a Light" as a way to resolve conflict.
Briefly, I will just say what its steps are. The first one is flower watering, Taking time to share with the person after preparing something good. The second is confessing my own mistakes, errors, and limitations, and the third--which sometimes just follows naturally--because when I say, "I know I've been crabby, and I questioned you about things instead of trusting your judgment," this can often bring the other person to spontaneously just say, "Well, here is what I do that I know isn't for the best also." And then they may volunteer their mistakes. Often this can start a discussion that leads to discussing wishes or good intentions for the future, and the relationship can be reborn.
This has been helpful to me in a dating relationship that just really turned out to be a misfit, but by taking the time to talk about what we didn't understand, we knew each other better, and we could decide together to transition back to friendship. It helped me in a work relationship, which was not successful in eliciting a positive response from the person involved. A counselor said, " You can't always communicate with a sociopath, someone who is entirely self-involved. But what you can do is take responsibility for positive communication." And in this case, it resulted in better information to our supervisor that was not rendered in a punitive way, and it opened transition in the organization. So those are just a few things.
I would like to conclude by just saying that in my early life, not speaking, especially about difficult things, was the family motto. And through practice and working continuously to improve my communication, I have learned that hiding what needs to be said is a lie equally as stating a falsehood. Depriving people with whom I am in relationship with of my real and valid response to our experience is not positive, and therefore I need to learn skillful means to speak for myself, because each of us has a fragment of the truth--maybe a big fragment. Maybe our piece is what the puzzle we are involved in needs in order to form a full picture, and especially in the world that we are living in now, where there are many conflicts and injustices that need to be called to attention. The phrase, "If you see it, say it," has value. And we are called as practitioners of the path of awakening to say it in a mindful, compassionate, and loving way.
Jessica: Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.
Bobbie: So we have about 10 minutes for questions for any of the people that spoke. Hopefully one of us will be able to answer your question. So the question was basically, as a beginner and just starting out, what is your experience? What did you learn that could be helpful to somebody that is just starting out?
Jim: It was relatively new for me, and so what I realized was learning how to meditate is like learning how to type or ride a bike. It is a skill set. And with mindfulness, I didn't have to do it right or correctly, and the atmosphere that you notice here is a loving atmosphere where you're asked to come and kind of do your best. And so my suggestion would be just keep coming back and talking with people that have the skill set and practicing. And as you come and you stay on the road of practicing, it will naturally come to you.
Julie: I would like to add one little thing. Having a regular pattern of sitting at home was the second most important thing after coming to sangha, and it didn't really matter if it was brief, as long as it was regular. After a while, it becomes like brushing your teeth in the morning, but even better, and it gets rid of some particles that you don't want to cling to you in much the same way. So that's what I would say.
Bobbie: So in case some of you didn't hear the question--and I will restate it, hopefully, correctly--the question is, did you commit to all 5 or just 1 or 2? How did you choose which of the ones you chose to commit to? And then, when you made that commitment, how did you integrate it into your lifestyle? How did it show up in your life? Is that pretty much what you were asking?
Bobbie: Okay. I want to talk about the ceremony because I wanted to tell everybody about that anyway, and then I will invite somebody else to talk about how you go about incorporating these into your life. So this ceremony that you would participate in is an ancient ceremony that is handed down to us through the generations from the time of the Buddha. It started out, of course, when he was ordaining monks and nuns, but eventually laypeople wanted to be a disciple, and so this ceremony comes out of that tradition.
In the ceremony, the people who are making a commitment to training will be sitting in the center, and on either side will be the witnesses or the people that are there to support, the sangha. And so the people in the center are facing front, the Buddha, or the altar, and the people on the sides are facing those that are ready to make the commitment. And because of the ceremony itself, which involves the same kinds of chants, the same kinds of rituals that were done 2600 years ago, there is a feeling of transmission. There is a feeling that there is this river of energy--I guess I could call it--that is coming to us from our spiritual ancestors and being transmitted through the Dharma teachers and the ritual and the prostrations--all of the things that we do. It is one of those kinds of events, in my opinion, that is more felt than there is an ability to describe with words. It kind of transcends words.
And it is that very transmission, that very feeling that gives you--gave me a sense that I am not in this alone. I have a lot of support. I have support of spiritual ancestors. I have the support of the community that is there watching and bearing witness to this whole process. I have the support of all the other people that are making this commitment. I have a lot of support. And that was really very important to me and also made it feel like to me this is doable. I can do this because I've got a lot of help. I've got a lot of support. So that is a little bit about the ceremony itself, and all that somebody else talk about how they kind of made this work in their lives.
Jessica: Yeah. When I did the ceremony, it was at the monastery, and they gave us a little booklet. We have it here. It has all the Trainings in it, and so what I did was just read them. Like there are 5, so on Monday, read the first one. Tuesday, second one, and so on. Weekends I get a break, or if I am really wanting to study, I can. And I like to keep things really simple, so I kept it by my toilet. I had to go in there every day anyway in the morning, so I would just pick it up and read it. And I found that the act of reading it just made it fresh in my mind, and then as I would be going about my day, the words would come back to me if they needed to--like especially the one, "When I'm angry, I'm determined not to speak. I'm going to look deeply at the root cause." I've noticed that even if I hadn't been looking at it that day, if the situation arose, I would remember.
And I would also recommend talking to Dharma friends and other people in the sangha about them, because the more we talk about them, go on retreats, or come here and talk about them, the more they are a part of our life, and we can hear how other people are interacting with them. So I think it is just having kind of a regular committed way to easily integrate them into your life. They start to kind of take shape on their own and just arise within when you need them.
Julie: Yeah. I have just one little thing to say about choosing which ones to take. I've taken 2, 3, 4, and 5. I haven't taken the first one, although I am very mindful of not killing in most ways. I have yet to stop eating animal products, and when I have attempted to, I haven't responded well to it. So one of them monks that I spoke to at the Magnolia Grove, where we took the transmission, said, "Don't worry. Take the ones that you feel drawn to. The other ones will talk to you in your thinking as time goes by, and you can always renew the transmission. It doesn't have to be once for your whole lifetime, the ceremony. You can take it again."
Bobbie: We have actually come to the end of our time together, and so what I would like to do is invite you if you still have questions to hang around after we conclude and do our closing and somebody will be happy to answer your questions.