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"Channeling the Positive Passions of Life"
Transcript of a talk delivered by Br. ChiSing
Breath of Life (Interfaith Mindulfness Fellowship)
March 18, 2007 - Dallas, Texas

Today, we are going to be focusing on another chakra—which is the sexual energy chakra—as we talk about shila paramita. This is, I like to call it eros—all the wonderful energy of life. And it's not just sexual energy at all. Energy is Energy. but when it manifests through this part of our body and energy center, it can be manifest in erotic energy. But, it comes from a deeper source of energy, which is everywhere in nature. So, when you both go outside and take a mindful walk and you feel the sun hitting your cheek, and the breeze blowing across your hair, that is erotic energy. That is universal energy. It's not necessarily manifested sexually. It's the same energy. And that same energy when it's manifested through sexual energy center—that we call it sexually erotic. But, really it's all eros. It's all energy. Universal life energy.

And the point of shila paramita is to know what to do with this abundant energy in our lives. Shila comes from a root word in Sanskrit that means coolness, calming, pacifying. It's as if there is this great big fire that needs to be somewhat cooled or calmed, pacified. Sometimes I've heard people who are just learning about Buddhism. They complain it seems that Buddhism is about destroying, suppressing or repressing—getting rid of desire. Because they hear sometimes that desire is the so-called root of all suffering. But actually that's a misinterpretation of the Buddhist teachings. The word in Buddhism can be translated as desire. But it's the kind of uncontrolled desire—grasping, craving, obsession kind of desire. Whereas the kind of desire that is helpful and wholesome, for example, it could be the desire for enlightenment. The desire to open to love. The desire to open to wisdom. So we have to distinguish between that. But desire is desire. And it's just the way we handle the energy of desire. The way we handle the fire of eros, that determines whether it becomes something that causes suffering or leads to an opening, an awakening.

One example, that our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh likes to give sometimes… It's like… like I just said: fire. Fire when channeled in a positive constructive way can become a gas stove with fire cooking our meals, feeding our children, our partner or brothers and sisters, our parents, our friends. So it's a wonderful thing. But fire, that same fire, that same energy when uncontrolled, can lead to burning up a whole forest with all the animals and plants in there, and people. So shila paramita is not about suppression and repression. But rather about channeling the energy.

And how do we channel that energy in ways that will bring about less suffering and more happiness for ourselves and other beings? It's like, another example… Taking that same heat kind of fire energy and focusing it like a laser to make something wonderful… like in some invention that you need a laser to do something. It's really focusing energy. And that's really what our practice is in mindfulness as well. It's taking all this energy that usually causes us suffering. We think that they are the cause of our suffering. But really it's not. The energy itself is neutral. It's how we handle it that cause suffering or bring happiness.

Such as our ability to think. You know, some of us might of been sitting here for twenty minutes thinking, "Oh gosh you know. It's like, oh, these thoughts just never stop." But really, then you start to like hate the thought. Or hate the fact that you think. But really, it's not about hating anything. It's about accepting. Breathing with it. It's wonderful that we have the ability to think. It's wonderful that we have thoughts and have a mind that can produce thoughts and think. But, in our practice, we are trying to channel our thinking, channel our mind, our thoughts. So that instead of being scattered everywhere all the time, they start to slow down and get focused. Until, in our practice, there is something called Samadhi which is one-pointed mind. So that, instead of our thoughts going everywhere uncontrollably, we get to a place in our practice where all of our thoughts and mind just go in one direction, toward awakening. And then we'll have a breakthrough. Sometimes just a small breakthrough or a large breakthrough.

When the Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi tree, one of the visions that he had was imagining as if all of the powers of his mind, the part of his mind that were wanting to keep him asleep rather than to awaken to enlightenment. Imagine as if they were arrows. Arrows like negative thoughts (or whatever you… however you want to think of it) coming at him. But because of his practice of mindfulness and peace and concentration and non-fear, these arrows simply turned into flowers before they touched him. So in his vision, it was as if these arrows of negative thinking or whatever, however you want to think of them—suffering, delusion—they were like headed toward him but they became flowers. So, the same energy can become flowers. So, we don't hate any kind of energy. We don't hate hatred. We don't hate anger. We don't hate depression. Rather, we utilize those energies and work with them. And mold them into a direction that is positive. It's like, one of my friends who is in Aikido They don't attack. They take the energy of the person coming toward them and then redirect it. And then safely defend themselves. And safely bring them back to the mat on the ground without harming them or themselves. So that's what we're doing. Our practice is not to hate our wandering minds. It's not to hate our suffering. It's not to hate anything really. It's just to be with it all, accepting it as it is. And once we come to a place of acceptance, then we can work with it. Mindfully, wisely.

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh once told a story, a few years ago at a retreat, about himself as a celibate monk falling in love with another celibate nun in Vietnam. It was such a lovely story. Because, as a celibate… taking vows of celibacy as a monk or nun is one way of… that they utilize how to take this erotic and universal life energy and redirect it by transforming it through meditation into other kinds of energy for the awakening process and enlightenment and helping other beings. So that they can utilize all that energy… that sexual energy, and erotic energy, life energy, and utilize it. Instead of expending it here at this chakra, they bring it up here to this heart chakra and send it in a very powerful wave of love to all beings. That's one way of utilizing sexual energy. Of course another way is to have it, expressing it through the chakra with someone in a caring way and a mutually respectful way. That's another healthy way of working with the energy as well. But there are some of us who choose celibacy as a way of working with that energy. And so he was starting to get concerned because he started to fall in love with this nun and she fell in love with him. And they didn't have to do it because they were young monks and nuns. And they made these vows to serve all beings, to love all beings, not just one person. And they didn't want to break their vows. And yet, their love was so real and so strong. And they never really touched each other. Except one time when… when they were reading poetry to each other and having tea. And looking into each other's eyes. And then Thich Nhat Hanh laid his head on her lap and she just touched his shaved head. [Audience member says "Oh."]

The monks in his order were very understanding and just said work with this energy. You can have love. But express it in other ways besides sexual and see what happens. See how it manifests. On the other hand, the nuns in the other temple were not as understanding of this nun and they threw away all the love letters that he would write to her. So she never got them. And eventually, she didn't know what happened to him and when he came to the United States and was exiled from Vietnam, he didn't know what happened to her. And later on he heard somehow that she had left the temple and left becoming a nun. And he didn't know what happened after that. But the way he worked with that energy of being in love was that he kept that energy alive in his heart. But instead of being attached to love being expressed to only one form, one person, he took that love that was awakening in his heart from this one person then worked with it. And now he says that whenever he works with any of his young monks and nuns, he loves them as if he's loving that nun. So, he's loving all of us as if he's in love with us. That's how he worked with that energy. So everyone he meets… And that's when you meet Thich Nhat Hanh you feel this powerful heart energy from him. It's as if he is totally loving you. And in a peaceful, mindful way. Not in a very… Not in a sort of kind of erratic kind of, desperate sort of in love sort of thing. But more of a peaceful love. So that's how he worked with that energy. He didn't suppress it. He didn't repress it. He worked with it, channeled it, in a way that would be of benefit to all beings.

We are all called to become like spiritual athletes. You know athletes usually before an event, a competition or a race, will refrain from sexual relations. For a few days before the event so that they can utilize all their energies for that event. So again, they are not suppressing or repressing the energy. They are utilizing and transforming it into another direction.

Now, I'm using the sexual energy as just one example. So don't think I'm saying we have to be celibate or anything like that. I'm saying this energy and like the anger energy or the depression energy. We can work with it… if we understand it… if we know it's part of universal energy. So anytime you feel angry or see someone angry, don't hate the anger. Know that that anger is a manifestation of universal energy. And it can be transformed into something very useful. For instance, when there's injustice in the world, we can transform that anger energy into a kind of motivation to do what is right and right what is wrong. To stand up for justice. So, what was… what could of become an uncontrolled anger, has now been utilized to become a useful motivating energy to protect those who are being hurt and oppressed.

And the energy of sadness… If we can look deeply into it, it's not just sadness. See, we think this is anger, this is sadness, this is whatever. It's actually not. The Buddha taught the… that things are not always as we label them. So anger isn't just anger. Anger's made of energy. And energy is malleable. We can work with it. It can change. So, sadness… we can work with that. Instead of allowing it to become spiraled down into depression, we can work with it by listening to what our heart is saying. We need some time to relax. To rest. To go within. To introspect. To find out what's really going on. To give ourselves a break. So if we listen to that energy, it can be transformed into something very peaceful. If we don't know how to work with the energy, it can transform and spiral down to depression or sadness.

There was a soldier in the Vietnam War who was very angry that some of the Vietnamese Communists had bombed some of his friends with these bombs on the road. So, he and his friends wanted to take revenge on the Vietnamese people and they put these sandwiches out with bombs in them. Some detonation devices waiting for whoever would come. And they didn't expect this but children came down the road. And children were very happy to find this basket full of food and they began to eat it and some of them began to feel poisoned or explode or whatever and feel great pain. That image of the children writhing in pain until they died was so embedded in his memory. That after the war, he wasn't able to sleep at night, at many times. And anytime he was in a room that had any children, he had to get out of that room. And he wanted so much to take back what he did. To go back to that village in Vietnam and find the parents and say sorry and to make amends and to give them money or something. But of course, he didn't know how to find them. And so he felt like he had to live with this guilt all of his life. And so he asked our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh what to do. And Thay… "Thay" means teacher. It's just a formal way of addressing our teacher. Thay said "Forgiveness is not about making amends." Because, really you can never make amends. Forgiveness is about letting go of the past and beginning a fresh now. So, instead of being stuck, regretting the past that you cannot change—feeling stuck, worrying about the children that already died—why not begin a fresh now in the present moment? And find the children in your own neighborhood here in America that you can save… that you can tutor. You can volunteer to help with them so they don't become gang members or something like that. Why not save five children here and now rather than regretting and staying stuck with those five children who already died? Forgiveness is not about making amends but about starting a fresh, a new here and now… letting go of the past and opening to what you can do now. So that soldier was able to transform his regret energy and revenge energy that he had. And utilize all those energies into something constructive… to save children now and in the future instead of being stuck in his depression and regret from the past.

And just like dana paramita, shila paramita is about examining ourselves—our heart energy. What is it that we are giving and receiving? These mindfulness trainings, these fourteen mindfulness trainings are an expansion of the five basic mindfulness trainings that the Buddha taught. Which in general are… you can just… in short form:

  • Training ourselves not to kill but to reverence life
  • Training ourselves not to steal but to be generous
  • Training ourselves not to cause sexual harm but to be sexually responsible
  • Training ourselves not to hurt others in our speech but to speak truthfully and encouragingly
  • And fifth, training ourselves not to become so intoxicated by alcohol, drugs, or whatever… conversations even or films… anything that totally hurt others and ourselves. But rather being mindful of what we eat, what we drink, what we take into our mind, into our heart… and allowing that to benefit ourselves and others.
So, these five trainings aren't commandments like the 10 commandments or anything like that. They're about a way of dealing with this energy and looking… examining it the way we're dealing with the energy.

So, in the way we're dealing with our energy, is it causing suffering or is it causing happiness?

  • Is it causing us to hurt life or to reverence life?
  • Is it causing us to steal from others or to be beneficially generous to others?
  • Is it causing us to be sexually harmful to others or sexually loving towards others?
  • Is it causing us to be communicating unmindfully or mindfully?
  • Is it helping us to consume and nurture ourselves in a healthy way or an unhealthy way?
So, to me shila paramita boils down to these five. But even those five boil down, I think, to the fifth—healthy consumption—of the [set of] five [trainings]. Of the fourteen [trainings], it would be number… I think it is number five here too (papers softly rustling) Yes, so it is the fifth mindfulness training—simple healthy living—as well.

So, it is all about paying attention. That's what mindfulness is—paying attention to the cause and effect, consequences of our actions, and thoughts and speech. When we do this, is it nurturing us? How is it nurturing us? Is it causing us to get mentally, spiritually sick or mentally, spiritually healthy and happy? Is it causing someone else to be suffering or happy? So, shila paramita is like a way to safeguard, protect our energies—to test what's happening with the way we are handling our energies—so that we are directing it always with our true intention. Which is, to bring about personal and collective awakening, wisdom, love, and joy.

And this of course ties into next time's topic of Kshanti paramita which is inclusivity, patience, the ability to transform suffering into joy. And just to give one example as a segue into that for next time… One of the Buddhist symbols that is used often is the symbol of the peacock because peacocks eat a very poisonous plant which gives them those iridescent colors in their feathers and causes beauty to manifest. So, peacocks are symbols to Buddhists of our practice… to be able to take the poisons of suffering, transform it in our heart to produce beautiful feathers of colors of the… of life.

And if we're very open in our practice, we'll always find teachers everywhere. Including today, I saw this bumper sticker that said "Smile, Jesus loves you." And then I smiled and said, "Yeah, he does." [Audience gentle laughter] And this other reminder that happened a few weeks ago when I was late… almost late to preach at this church in Oak Cliff. And I forgot to bring my little protein shake with me. So, I rushed over to the store to buy something and I was running to get the shake and ran to the cashier because I was almost going to be late. Anyway… And the cashier said "Honey Child, you need to slow down." [Audience warm laughter] So I smiled and I thought, "Ah the Buddha is speaking now. Reminding me. That's right. There's no need to be rushing when I'm about to preach about slowing down." [More audience laughter]

So when our hearts are open, the universal life energy always will bring an example to remind us to come back to the here and now. To slow down. Slow down enough so we can work with the energy wisely and mindfully.

Transcribed by Hal German

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