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ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 2):
Four Aspects of Meditation Practice
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ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 2): Four Aspects of Meditation Practice (19 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
May 20, 2012 - Dallas, Texas

Well, tonight I would like to share something that I share in the beginner's meditation workshop. I keep hoping that everyone will come to the beginner's meditation workshop so they can get some of these teachings. Raise your hand if you have not yet come to the beginner's meditation workshop. So that's why I'm going to say it tonight, just in case you never come, but even if you get to hear it tonight, you still should, because there are a lot more other things that we learn in the workshop.

But I would like to share to very simply that when we come to practice, when we come to meditation, we have a lot of different ideas about it. One of the first aspects of meditation that we usually think of is the aspect of focus. In Buddhism, we call that concentration. And when you are fully focused or concentrated, it can lead to feelings of bliss many times. And you can actually focus or concentrate in other ways besides meditation. I mean, you could do drumming. You could do running. You could do something for about 20 minutes or so constantly, and it can lead you to a state of bliss as well to varying degrees.

But this is what most people seem to think of when they think of meditation, is they want to focus. They try to focus on the breath, focus on the mantra, focus on counting from one to 10, or focus on whatever your focus is in meditation. And, they are also looking for that sense of stress relief and peace and bliss, especially that bliss. And that is okay, except this is only one aspect of meditation. There are at least three others or more, and I am only going to talk about four.

The problem with seeking bliss as the end goal is that you can cause your self to miss out on the true benefit and the deeper benefits of meditation by only being stuck in one. (Phone rings) That is so beautiful. I wish all of our cell phones had that sound. Thank you, Pauline.

Woman: The bliss phone.

Chi-Sing: The bliss phone. Okay. Because the reality is that we live in a universe that requires basically two kinds of ingredients, and that is that which is blissful and that which is difficult. Basically it can be boiled down to those. And the reason why this is so is because in reality the whole universe is only for one purpose. The universe is simply just a Buddha-making machine, and the existence of everything is simply here to produce Buddhas, to help the baby Buddhas grow up into fully mature enlightened Buddhas.

The Buddha is calling, and this truth of the universe is the same true we visit in meditation because the meditation is just simply a microcosm of the macrocosm. What we do in meditation helps us to see the larger reality of the whole universe, so that is why it is helpful to practice meditation, because then it helps us to be in touch with the nature of the universe.

So just as in life there is the blissful and the difficult, there is also the difficult and the blissful in meditation. These two ingredients are what help to make us into Buddhas, into the fully enlightened beings. We really are already that, but we just don't know it quite yet, and we are allowing ourselves to grow up into being able to manifest and realize that more and more.

When we have blissful experiences in meditation, what does that do? It encourages us to keep practicing, right? If no one ever had a feeling of peace or joy or bliss in their meditation, would they continue? Would you continue? I wouldn't. No. So the bliss helps us to encourage us. The bliss is like cheerleaders just motivating us to keep on keeping on. But the difficulties in our meditation, whether they are just neutral difficulties like boredom or difficulties that are a little bit more than that, like pain in the legs or not being able to deal with what the mind is like, being all crazy and everything, that difficulty serves us, too, because as you practice even in the midst of those difficulties, it creates internal strength.

And guess what? When you can sit in the midst of things coming and going throughout your mind and body and sounds, thoughts, sensations, and you still sit there, breathing in and breathing out, that is a microcosm of your macrocosm. If you can do that in meditation, guess what happens in your daily life? You are more able to be grounded and centered as you move through your life. You know, when crises happen or when people yell like you or when things happen unexpectedly, you are much more able to be centered and grounded because you have been practicing that in your daily meditations. You see? One affects the other.

So that is why it is important not to hate the difficulties. They have a purpose, too. So practice with both the bliss and the difficulties, because the bliss will help keep you encouraged, and the difficulties will make you stronger. And both of these produce the qualities of a Buddha. And two main qualities are wisdom and compassion. But you can't have wisdom and compassion without going through the difficulties, right? Can you imagine someone having true compassion if they have never actually suffered or they have never seen suffering? No. And does anyone have true wisdom without going through life experiences of all kinds? You might have knowledge. You might have facts, but not wisdom. So, since wisdom and compassion are two main ingredients of a Buddha, then that is what is being cultivated in us because we are all Buddhas to be. So the bliss and the difficulties are helping us to cultivate wisdom and compassion as we mature into our full Buddhahood.

Now let's say you're trying to focus in your meditation, and you are counting your breath, breathing in one, breathing out one, breathing in two, breathing out two, breathing in three, what is for lunch, breathing out three. Breathing in four--I wonder what I'm going to do tomorrow? I thought about someone last week who just really irritated me. And then you just completely lost count, and oh, I have to start over. Okay. Breathing in one, breathing out one. Right? So maybe your focus is not so great, but that is true of everyone, so don't think you are not good at meditation just because you don't have the best focus. There are other aspects of meditation.

Let's say you're not very focused but you are very mindful and aware that you are counting the breath and then that you're doing your shopping list and you come back to counting the breath, and you're very aware that you thought about someone last week who irritated you, but you come back to the breath again. You are still aware. You are aware when you are focused and you are aware when you are wandering, as you are aware enough to bring yourself back to the focus. You are still meditating very well. So that is called awareness, and in Buddhism, we have a fancier word called mindfulness. So maybe your focus is not so good, but at least you have a good awareness, mindfulness, and that's part of your practice.

Of course you could be like me and from time to time I'm not so focused, and then even my mindfulness goes out the window for 10, 15 minutes at a time, right? You start moving into a daydream and you are lost in it for more than five minutes or 10 minutes or 15 minutes, and you do not even know you are meditating for several minutes so you are not very aware or mindful. But the good news is you can still be benefiting from your practice of meditation. You still can be a good meditator even if you're not that focused or mindful, because you need this third aspect, which is perseverance or discipline. In Buddhism we would call it right effort, diligence, etc. If you have this quality, if you cultivate this quality, you are still benefiting from the meditation, and you're still a good meditator, so don't judge yourself too badly if you are not the most focused or most aware person. You know?

If you can persevere in the practice and just--versus if you make a goal, I'm going to sit for 25 minutes right now, and then you sit the whole time even though your leg fell asleep, your mind was running crazy, and you really wanted to make a phone call because you just thought of someone that you needed to call, but you still sat for the full 25 minutes, you--even though you didn't feel focused or very mindful, you still benefited from it. There was an internal strength created, and one really good example of this is a student I had a few years ago in California.

She came to sangha every week for three months, but she kept saying, "I am not getting any benefit from this meditation." Of course I was really shocked that she was still meditating every day, but she said, "I don't think I am getting this. I am not feeling bliss. I am not getting revelations. I'm not hearing God." All these different notions that we have. Well one day she was driving on the highway, and a car suddenly cut her off, and instantly her first thought was to slow down and let them past because maybe they have an emergency or something. And then she caught herself, and she said, "Oh my gosh. I can't believe I just did that. I just thought that." Because her normal reaction her entire life would be to speed up, cut them back off and give them a hand signal. And she laughed and laughed and laughed, and she said, "The meditation is working."

So she was so excited, and this is a wonderful teaching because we may have notions or expectations about what the meditation is supposed to feel like or look like or the benefits and when they are supposed to happen or what they are supposed to do, but let me tell you when you practice, there is something greater than your ego that is working, and it has a wisdom far greater than the ego, and it knows where the energy of the practice needs to go first.

You might think you want to have revelations or visions or hear voices or have psychic abilities, but it knows you need more patience. You know? You need more loving-kindness, things like that, right? So that is where it is going to go because that is where it is needed most. And of course eventually it will go to these other areas also, but we shouldn't put expectations on our practice. Simply trust in the practice and practice. And of course we trust because we know we have seen others benefiting. We know that we've probably benefited some, so we know that. It is not blind faith. It is confidence based on empirical evidence. So we know, even though we don't know all of it, we know enough that it is good for us, and so we do that.

And you know when we practice, it is like planting a seed in the soil of our consciousness, the seed of mindfulness in the soil of our consciousness. We don't suddenly start digging up the seed, "Okay, is it sprouting yet? What color is that? Has it made flowers yet? Any fruit?" You don't do that. But what we do is we practice and we just let it go, and we don't try to judge the meditation by what we are feeling in the meditation, just like not digging up the seed as we're planting it.

We just practice and let it go, practice and let it go, practice and let it go, and over time we will start seeing the practice sprouting and leafing and flowering and fruiting and benefiting our lives and the lives around us. I know this to be the truth because I have experienced it in my own life and I've seen others--and I see for instance Tashi and my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

I see their lives, and I know they don't just become like that overnight. I know that it is because of their practice. That is why I have so much confidence in the practice of mindfulness, because I have seen people whose lives are so transformative, just being around them is so wonderful, and I know that is because of the practice. And I know I've seen it in my own life. I'm a lot more mindful, loving person than I used to be, a lot more grounded person, too, because of the practice. So I know it works.

But what if you are not that focused, and you're not that mindful, and you give up too easily on the practice? You say you're going to meditate 25 minutes, you only do it for five. You say you're going to meditate every day this week, and you only meditate one time this week. Can you still benefit from the practice of meditation? No. Yes, you can. But only if you have this fourth ingredient, because if you don't have this fourth ingredient, I don't know how else to help you.

This fourth ingredient is the quality of being able to begin anew, to start fresh and new, and is based in the practice of loving-kindness toward yourself and self-forgiveness, self-compassion. It is the attitude that says, "Well, I didn't do so well yesterday or last week. I didn't quite follow through on my intention. Oh well. I am starting again today, and I'm not going to have any guilt about the past, because I am a baby Buddha. I have every right to do whatever I need to do to grow, and so today I start again, and I know I can do it, and I do not give up, because that is who I am. It is my destiny to be a fully mature Buddha. I am a wonderful baby Buddha, and I just love my self enough to give myself a new day today, to start again today. I'll just start again today."

And if you have to start again every day, okay. Do it again and again. You know, the reason why I'm here standing before you today in this Dallas Meditation Center is primarily because of this practice of beginning anew, because I'm not the most focused person. I am not always the most mindful person either, and my perseverance and discipline, you know, it kind of comes and goes in waves over periods of time and seasons, but I keep coming back to the practice over and over and over again, and usually what I do is I set one particular day of my day of mindfulness.

For me it is Sunday, so every Sunday I think about, okay, so how did I do this past week? What are my goals for this next week? And then I do that, and then I look back again, so okay, maybe I should make more reasonable goals. Because what you want to do is you want to make goals that you can actually fulfill, so if practicing meditation twice a day two hours a day is a little high, too high for you, start with five minutes every other day. And then when you have done a whole week of that, then for the next week you can do, let's say, seven minutes every day or something.

But do things that you can follow through on, because the universe, the spiritual laws of the universe are such that when it sees you make an intention and you don't follow through, what it reads is, oh, this person does not take this seriously and does not really need or want the support right now. You see? That is the signal you are giving to the universe. But when you make the intention and you follow through on it, the universe automatically sees that as a sign, oh, here is someone taking something seriously. Let us support that. You see? That is why it is so important to be aware of our intentions and to follow through on them.

So anyway, that is just a little teaching I wanted to share with you today that I usually give at my beginner's meditation workshop. I hope you will still come to the beginner's meditation workshop if you haven't yet, but this is one of the things I share with people, just to encourage them so that they know that meditation is not so daunting. You know, there are different aspects, and anyone can do it.

I really believe anyone can meditate, and that does not mean that everyone is going to be like a Zen meditator, you know, meditating several hours every day or whatever in a monastery, but you can meditate in some way in your own way, you know? Maybe you practice walking meditation for 20 minutes every day, like on your lunch break or something, and maybe just something mindful for several minutes each day or each week.

I think everyone can do it. That is my message. I really believe one of my life missions is to help as many people as possible to know that they are not a bad meditator. They can do it. And they can find their own way to do it. And so I just want to make it easier for as many people as possible and to help people know that they can be confident in themselves to practice. So, Amitabha.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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