Today is a very special day in the Zen Buddhist calendar. Today, we celebrate the Buddha's Enlightenment on December 8 (in the Japanese calendar). Thousands of Zen Buddhists in America and across the world are celebrating last week or this week by meditating all day long for up to seven days in a row in "sesshin" (retreat). Let us practice at least an hour of meditation today and this week in solidarity. Let us give thanks for the Buddha's Enlightenment, and the enlightenment of all our ancestral spiritual Teachers since then up to the present, including Thich Nhat Hanh (and let us continue to pray for his healing recovery).
Please take the time to read this Dharma Talk below which I gave from my heart. You will be blessed to read it and share it with others! And please do your best to attend our "Awakening Heart" Sunday Sangha or another sangha each week. The last several weeks have been very well-attended with wonderfully deep practice (we had about 44 persons this past Sunday). Let us continue to deepen and grow, so that our Sangha can be even more of a Light to the people of the Dallas area through our solidarity and support.
JUST BE IT:
Reflections on God, Buddha, Prayer, Meditation,
Enlightenment, and Experiential Practice/Realization
~ by Brother ChiSing
I will keep it simple tonight. I want us to keep in mind, for those who have been practicing with us for a while now, think about what are your top three spiritual insights that have arisen from actual experiential practice. You know, there is a difference between intellectual knowledge and understanding and deep knowing of your own practice.
And so what is the difference between this and going to a lecture or something, or going to a spiritual center where it is primarily only about belief? Well, the difference is that spiritual centers that primarily only focus on beliefs, they are only minimally transformative in your life because as long as a belief only stays as intellectual knowledge, it can help a little bit in your life, but it is not going to do the deepest kind of transformation, especially the kind that awakens you to full enlightenment.
So does that mean there is no place for that kind of part of our practice? Of course not. We're not just spirit and soul and heart. We are also mind, and we are body, too. So we have all these different aspects of our being, and they all need attention, and they all need nurturing. They all need cultivation. But I particularly grew up in a tradition that I felt emphasized too much on belief, and they did not teach me as much about meditation and practical prayer.
See, the only kind of prayer I knew was the kind that they keep seeming to perpetuate over and over and over again, the kind that they taught you in kindergarten. And I'm sorry, but the kind of prayer that you learn in kindergarten, it should evolve by the time you are an adult. Right? If the kinds of spiritual practices you've been doing since kindergarten, they are still the same ones you are doing, you might want to look into have you been growing? Have you been maturing in your spiritual practice? If all you know about prayer is just about thank God for this food, rub a dub dub, or whatever, thank you for this grub. Or if all you know about prayer is begging God for things as if God is Santa Claus, then you might want to look at your understanding of prayer. By now, it should have evolved and deepened and matured much deeper. But how can it if you are never taught how to deepen your prayer life?
So meditation is a very deep form of prayer. So I am very happy that all of you are here because you're obviously ready to go deeper in your spiritual life, not just the kindergarten version of prayer, but a deeper more rich, mature practice of prayer, which is meditation. So in meditation, we are not trying to necessarily beg God for things. We are instead just being with God. Or if you don't resonate with the word God, you can use a different word, such as your True Nature, the Universal Reality or your Buddha Nature, if you will. But I like to use the word God because what it does is it helps in transforming people's understanding of what that word means, you see? I'm not willing to let the fundamentalists take ownership of the word God. It does not belong to them. You know? It doesn't.
So I am reclaiming that word for myself and for any of you who want to do the same, to transform that word, to really point to that deep Universal Reality, that True Nature, that Buddha Nature. So don't think of prayer, meditation, as just talking to God. You know, it is not a one-way street here. But meditation is a form of prayer where we're not just talking to God, but we're just being in God. And if you go deep enough in your practice of being in God, you may even glimpse this deep reality of being God. But I'm not going to say it too loudly, because it freaks people out because they are not ready to understand what does that mean. Being God? How can you be God? Well, if I say I am God, obviously if you're listening to me from the ego point of view, it is blasphemous.
But if you're listening to me from your deepest True Self, from the experience of knowing what I am talking about, then it is very different from the ego's understanding. I'm not saying that my human self is the same as the Infinite Divine Everything-ness of the universe. That is just an inflated ego talking. But when you're practicing being with God and being in God, eventually the separation between self and other for me and God and whatever other boundaries we artificially make in our minds, when they melt away, there is only God. There is only Being. And if you want, there is only being God. You see? But if saying being God is way too out of your mental range of understanding, don't worry about it. You don't need to say those words, being God. You can say Being or just God. Just Being. Just This.
So, if you're coming from a point of view of spiritual practice that is focusing on correct beliefs rather than deep experience, you're going to have a problem with what I just said because you're going to want to philosophically analyze how can it be that a limited human being can experience itself as Infinite Divine Being? That does not make any sense. Maybe theologically it doesn't ring true for your tradition. However, I am not talking about correct belief here. I'm talking about practice and experience and a deep, rich knowingness that comes from the Reality of this.
So when you experience that Infinite Reality that we call God, well, no words can fully adequately express that Reality and Truth of Being. So that is why language is going to come across as a little bit off when trying to use words to describe this experience. But don't get caught up in the words. Rather keep coming back to the experience, to the Reality, to the Knowing-ness, to the Truth of Being-ness. That is what really matters.
That is why I really love the practice in the Zen tradition of Buddhism, because it always reminds us over and over and over again not to be caught up in our intellect and our thinking and our words and our language. That doesn't mean we don't use language. We do have to use words to help people to point to this Reality, but when you actually come to this experience of this Reality, you have to let go of the words. But as you are just being with the Reality of the Truth, eventually you do have to go fully learn how to express that Truth in words. Why? Because Enlightenment is not just experiencing the Infinite. It is also how to share that Infinite Reality in practical ways with others.
So there are always two parts to Enlightenment. The first part, it feels like you're trying to leave things behind, leave all the distractions of the world and all the delusions of others, thoughts, and your own delusions. You're trying to transcend all of these suffering and problems and ignorance, all of these emotional ups and downs. You're trying to transcend the world of form and chaos and realize the Infinite Reality of who you really are beyond all this form. But that is only part one, because part two is after you come out of the "cloud nine" mountaintop experience, you need to walk down the mountain again to the valley, and you need to learn how to express the Enlightenment with words, how to express Enlightenment with actions, how to express this Enlightenment in your job, your relationships, in the way you think and speak and act in the world, in how you serve others. So full Enlightenment is always part one and part two. So the part two of Enlightenment is always to skillfully learn how to express.
And really, even though I am putting this Enlightenment into two parts, part one and part two, which of course implies time, linear time—so first you have to get part one down first, and then you have to do part two. But actually, that is just an illustration of how to help us to look at what is this Enlightenment. But in truth, Enlightenment is beyond time. It is timeless, so you are actually each moment practicing both part one and part two. And even though you may not feel like you are fully enlightened right now, yet there is a part of You, the Real Part of you, which is always Enlightened.
So you are always both realizing the fullness of enlightenment, becoming enlightened, and at the same time you already are Enlightenment learning to express itself in this moment, in this moment, in this moment, in this situation, in this circumstance, in this relationship. So it is always both true. So we are becoming Buddha, AND we already are Buddha. We are realizing enlightenment, and we are Enlightenment expressing Itself. We are transcending the world, and we are engaging the world.
But the Universe allows us to be very creative and diverse in the way we travel this path, so for some people it is really helpful if we do it step-by-step, linearly, okay? And then for others, maybe in your particular place in your life now, this step-by-step linear thing is not as helpful, but moment by moment reality and realization, the oneness of practice and realization is very helpful for you. So especially for beginners, it might be best to practice first, and then you start realizing, opening, later.
For those of us who maybe have already been practicing a while, you do not need to do so much of the step-by-step stuff, but realize that there is no separation between practice and enlightenment or practice and realization. It is simultaneous. So for you, do not practice as if you're trying to realize enlightenment. Simply practice because that is what Enlightenment does. So Who YOU Really Are, which is Buddha, is practicing meditation. Do you see the difference?
But, that does not mean that one is more true than the other. It just depends on where you are at in your particular journey. So for beginners, it is probably more helpful to practice with this kind of goal in mind of wanting to realize enlightenment, because maybe that is what you need to motivate yourself. You know? Because if you hear some teacher say, "Well, you're already the Buddha. You are already enlightened," you might get really lazy. I don't need to do anything. Right? That would be an incorrect understanding. So for beginners, you want to realize enlightenment step-by-step with faithfulness and diligence and persistence and right effort daily or at least weekly or minimally monthly.
But for the rest of us who may have already been practicing for a while, stop trying to be enlightened. You know? Stop it. Just be. Just be. And realize that Enlightenment is taking care of everything. Enlightenment manifested this whole universe. Enlightenment brought about our ancestral spiritual teachers. Enlightenment inspired millions of practitioners to keep practicing and sharing these teachings of enlightenment down through the centuries so that future generations, including us, can have this practice. Enlightenment inspired people to invent meditation mats and cushions. Enlightenment put the idea in my mind four years ago or so to be brave and listen to this idea that came to me in meditation to start the Dallas Meditation Center, even though I had no idea how to do it. I had no money to do it. I had no help to do it, and yet I was told to do it. And within just three months, it was a reality. Amazing miracle. Enlightenment is what led us through all of our difficulties and sufferings in life to help us, to teach us, to grow us, and to evolve us and to transform us. And Enlightenment is what brought you to this place tonight.
So, why are you seeking enlightenment when Enlightenment has been there all along? Just let go into it. Breathe into it. Be it. Allow it to flow into and as Who YOU Really Are. So when you sit and you practice meditation, let go of this feeling that: "I have got to get somewhere. I've got to get more wise. I've got to get more peaceful. I've got to get more openhearted." No. Just let that go. Enlightenment has been working on your behalf for millennia. Do you think that Enlightenment is going to give up on you now? No. Enlightenment is conspiring for your good already, so when you practice meditation or any spiritual practice, do it with the attitude that it is already done. It is already the Reality. And so all I can do is just breathe in and breathe out in gratitude, allow enlightenment, Enlightenment of Who YOU Really Are, to express Itself as this breath, this mindful moment, this affirmation, this mantra, this chant … "I Am Safe, I Am Loved, I Am Free."
We come from God. We exist in God. And we are destined to be one with God. Another way of putting it is we come from Enlightenment. We live and have our being in Enlightenment, and our destiny is to be enlightened Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of this universe. So the only thing then is practice. There's really nothing else. Everything is practice. So see everything as your practice. Not just meditation, but everything is practice.
The person you honk your car horn at in traffic, that is practice. That is a moment of practice. Maybe you felt like you didn't practice so well in that moment. That is okay. Let that go and be present and the next moment, right? "Oh gosh. I allowed myself to get carried away by unnecessary anger and by honking, so I will just breathe in and breathe out." So, everything is practice because everything is enlightening. I mean, there is nothing else. There is only God or there is only Enlightenment or there is only Universal Spirit—whatever you want to call This. And That Is It. And anything else that you think is important, if it is not in alignment with that Truth, then it is not really as important as you think.
So the way we treat our mother and father, that is practice. The way we treat our son or our daughter, that is practice. The way we treat our bodies with how we eat or how we exercise or don't exercise or whatever, that is practice. So you are either practicing at being really good at pretending not to be Buddha or you are practicing at being the Buddha that you really are. That is it.
There is another spiritual text that has this teaching in it -- Everyone and everything is either a call of love, meaning it is very obviously expressing love to you. It is either that or it is a call for love, meaning they are suffering. They may be in their delusional thinking, and therefore they're acting in a way that doesn't look like love. But it is still related to love because it is a call for love, so they're acting in this way that seems very not love, it is actually still about love. They're asking you on a deeper level to help them, to help them remember love. So really everything that you are experiencing is either the call of love—it is just such an obvious expression of love—or it is a brother or sister who is crying out on a deeper level for love. "I've forgotten momentarily my True Self as love. Can you please help me remember who I really am?" You see? So that particular spiritual text, I really like the way it says that it is either a call of love or a call for love, and in the same way, everything is an expression of Buddha very obviously or it is the Buddha in disguise and an opportunity for us to keep practicing deeper, to really realize the fullness of Buddha here and now.
~ Brother ChiSing (2014)