Simplicity Simple rose
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"Simplicity, Surrender & Surprise"
Transcript of a talk delivered by Br. ChiSing
Breath of Life (Interfaith Mindfulness Fellowship)
May 6, 2007 - Dallas, Texas

A little over a week ago, as you know, I was in Minnesota leading some workshops and retreats. I had the privilege of working with Reverend Carolyn from one of the United Church of Christ congregations there in Minneapolis.

I really love the UCC denomination there. They're very, very open-hearted and open-minded. It was because of her bumping into me, leading a retreat last year that she invited me to lead a retreat at her church. And also they opened their doors to another workshop I was supposed to do at another church. But because of some of the conservative members who didn't want someone like me coming to their church, we had it at this other church. And then she also invited me to do something on Sunday at her church, in the worship service—basically give the sermon, but it was a musical service, so it was more creative than just talking—and working with the youth group as well, at the church, whichwas a wonderful experience. I had the youth group doing walking meditation with me outside, and they all said it was "cool."

She also was responsible for having opened doors for me at the United Theological Seminary near Minneapolis, to lead their chapel service. And it was wonderful for me to be able to speak to seminary students who are training to become ministers, because I do believe it is so important for our spiritual leaders to understand the importance of mindfulness and the effective power of meditation practice, not just theological practice, not just liturgical music practice, not just social justice practice, but also the practice of meditation, mindfulness, the contemplative dimension of our spirituality.

Very rarely do I find ministers coming and wanting to help with something and actually staying for the whole day-long retreat. Many times, in my experience, they like to plan, help and do other things, but then when it comes to actually joining in the whole day of meditation retreat, they will just say hello, and then goodbye. They won't stay. And I'm not sure what it is, that they're afraid of showing that they're beginners at this, or maybe they feel like they don't need it because they've already been trained in seminary. But I can guarantee you, I went to seminary myself. They don't teach you this kind of stuff. But she stayed, and she loved it, and she wanted it. And I loved seeing that.

On the last day I was there, she drove me to the airport, her husband drove me to the airport… she and her husband were in the car with me. She told me of a dream she had that morning before she woke up. In the dream, I was handing her her pair of glasses, so they were her glasses, but I was handing them to her, in this dream. And they were shiny, bright, new lenses in the glass frames. She said it was an extremely spiritual, powerful dream for her. And I immediately knew what the dream meant, when she told me, and it was very humbling. Basically she was telling me that this dream, and also her own experience of doing a whole day of mindfulness retreat, meditating together with others, with me, brought a whole new light to her spiritual practice and journey.

And it wasn't that I gave her anything that wasn't already hers, you see. Any time a spiritual facilitator does something like this, it's not that he or she is giving you anything that isn't already yours. But, maybe we put a different spin on things, or there's new lenses or something in there, so you can see more clearly, because maybe the lens that you had was all covered up with dirt and dust and discoloration, and simply, the facilitator simply helped you clean them… made them look brand new. So when we put those on, we can see much more clearly the truth of who we already are, the truth that has already always been ours.

I love her dream. It's like, so perfect. It's like as a facilitator we give each other what's already ours, but maybe with more cleansed lenses, to see more clearly.

Anyway, I'm very happy about my new relationship with her as a spiritual friend, and I look forward to many more things to come in future days as I go to Minneapolis once in the fall and once in the spring every year. I never go in the winter. It's too cold for me. And in the summer, those mosquitoes, are just everywhere, they just like to bite me. If I were more advanced in my practice, maybe I wouldn't mind.

But in Minneapolis, at the day of mindfulness, I gave a short talk about our practice as a practice of returning to spirit. A return to spirit. Which, I gave three qualities of returning to spirit: Simplicity, surrender and surprise.

I'm not going to give you the exact stories that I shared because I think I've talked about one of the stories already here before and I don't want to repeat myself too much. But, I'll share one story on simplicity.

When I was at my first Soto Zen retreat, we are very… it's a very strict format, and the schedule is very rigorous with a lot of sitting meditation and little else of anything else. And even during eating meditation, it's not very meditative, at least it wasn't for me. We had to eat really fast. We had to use the chopsticks and the bowl in a certain way, and then if you're not finished, you don't get seconds, because they just come around, and if you're not ready, they just go to the next person.

Anyway, so eventually, though, I kind of got the hang of the whole routine, and there's a reason why they do this routine, to help you be really mindful of the order of things, all the details. Japanese Zen is very into details.

And I remember every day, we would be sitting on the same cushion and the same mat and we would have to like brush, we'd have to get up, bow to our cushion and mat, and then brush it and fluff the zafu—and by the way, I hope you all fluff the ones that are fluffable, because it keeps them nice and fluffy, for future use—and I just, you know, wiped my mat.

And the thing is, it was extremely clean in that room, because everyone was so, so clean, and after three or four days of this I just kept thinking, "It's clean already!" But I didn't say that out loud. I just breathed in and breathed out, and I just did as I was told.

But on the fourth day or so of the retreat… and I don't know what it is about the third or fourth or fifth day of retreats, but something happens to me during that period, I think it just gives me enough time. The first days I really enjoy it, second day it's starting to get a little hard, third day I'm miserable, and the fourth day I have a breakthrough. And the fifth day I just love it there. But that's just my pattern. I don't know what it would be for you.

But on around the fourth day, the bell rang and we got up to bow to our mat and cushion and then as I hit the mat, it was as if—I don't even know how to say it—it's… it's as if I was, my hand was the universe, sweeping the universe, and every moment of the motion was completely present. And I got it! In that moment. At least this little aspect of the practice, I got it. I began to have tears in my eyes, and I just had this joy, and one aspect of what I realized… and some of it was just wordless, but the part that I can put into words is, every day we vow to save all beings in the Zen tradition. You know… countless beings, we vow to save, ceaseless afflictions we vow to end, limitless Dharma doors we vow to open, the deepest path of awakening we vow to realize. Well, I realized that this is a practice, if I can truly take care of the dust particles, if I can truly love the mat with all my being, that is the foundation of loving others. Loving yourself, loving your neighbor, loving other creatures, loving the world. Loving the universe.

So how can we possibly save the whole world, or liberate other beings, or love other creatures if we can't even bring our whole being into loving this? This moment, right here right now.

You know, it reminds me of, there was this one very beautiful person at the college students mindfulness club in Minneapolis. And this person remarked that he found that it was very, very difficult for him to love individual humans. I mean, he loved the whole human race, and he loved to do lots of social activism to help the human race, but during the meditation retreat he realized that he did not like other human beings. He did not think that individuals were so important. And he realized this is how he really feels. So our practice is, you know, we have these ideals, but they're no good if they're not real. And so to take care of this mat, take care of this body, take care of this moment, that is the foundation of taking care of the universe.

Simplicity. And surprise. I already gave an example a few weeks ago of surrender, so I won't do that again, but surprise… I remember the very first retreat with Thich Nat Hanh I went on. I made a good friend named Elizabeth, and she invited me to come visit her in Nashville, Tennessee, and we had a wonderful time, and we rode bicycles, and we walked around the lake, and she showed me the forest path and everything, and it's beautiful there. Well anyway, she gave me this nice little hat that had a word on it, and I think I still have it somewhere, in one of my boxes somewhere, I should probably find it, that says "sister" on it. And I just love that hat. We were like sisters.

Anyway, she let me borrow her brother's bicycle, and she had her bike, and we were biking down this trail, and then went into a residential section to get to the lake. While we were there the wind started to blow a little bit harder, and suddenly I could feel my hat start to take off from my head. So I just kind of reacted and I just tried to grab the hat, and as I grabbed it, I realized that I'm not a really great bicyclist. And, uh, so my next thought was, I'd better put my hands back on the bike and let go of the hat, you know. So I did, but what I didn't realize until a second later was that I had put my hands on both handlebars with both the front and back brakes. So time stopped still, and I began to fly, and it was just wondrous! The sky, the clouds… and the sky and the clouds and… oh, the blacktop. I hit my chin first, face first, and then my hands reacted, and I scraped my palms down to try to break as much of the fall as possible. But then my bike had turned too and fell on top of me just to add things to that experience.

Well, I didn't really have any words to say at that time. Actually I couldn't, because the wind was knocked out of me. But my friend Elizabeth was screaming thinking that I had just killed myself, and she was screaming, "ChiSing! ChiSing!" She was like coming over to me, she turned me over and she saw blood, but she saw that I was still alive, and so she was happy.

I actually felt sorry for her because I knew, just based on what I was feeling, that I was for the most part pretty okay. I was really feeling bad for her because I thought, "I must look awful. My hair must be a mess right now." And so I was feeling sorry for her so I tried to comfort her, that I'm not dead and I'm okay, and nothing seems to be broken, and I just need to relax right now, but it was like this hot, kind of tar road, and… asphalt, that's what it's called. And so I looked over and there's this oak tree, and this grassy area, and I asked her to please just roll me over, gently, over to the grassy area under the tree. And so she did, she rolled me over gently, because it was too painful to be dragged, and so I just sat there.

And it was so nice to feel Mother Earth under my back, and to look up at the sky through the leaves and the branches of the tree, and in that moment there was nothing to say, there was nothing to do, just be with the sky and the tree, and my breath, which was so precious at that time, and the grass under my back. And I just felt so much gratitude and love for that tree as an expression of the divine, as an expression of Buddha nature, of everything taking care of me in that moment.

If it weren't for my bike accident, I would never have noticed how beautiful that oak tree was. So sometimes the universe can send things along our way to help stop us, to pay attention to our lives.

Now, we don't need to wait for accidents for this to occur. That's why we practice mindfulness every day, and every week with each other, so we can be accident prone without the accidents. Our practice of mindfulness makes us accident prone. Prone to the accidental grace of the universe… truth, the goodness and the beauty available always.

Today's talk was going to be on Prajna Paramita, "The Perfection of Wisdom." But I didn't really talk a lot about that directly, and that's because the kind of wisdom we're talking about is transcendent wisdom—not the kind of wisdom that you can just learn from reading, or going to a class—the wisdom that is already within you, that bubbles forth spontaneously through the experiences of an open heart. So actually I was talking about transcendent wisdom. I was sharing my heart, and how it opens. And that is why, in a lot of Zen traditions, for instance, we don't tell you what the answer is, we give you the tools with which you find the answers within yourself.

The Buddha once took a handful of leaves from a tree in this forest and said to his disciples, "You see these leaves in my hand? Are they less than or more than the leaves in all this forest?" And they said, "Teacher, of course the leaves in your hand are less than, much less than all the leaves in the forest." And the Buddha said, "Just so, every teaching that I have ever offered to you is only the amount of these leaves in my hand compared to the leaves of all the knowledge of the universe. But what I have given you isenough to awaken, and I have only given you want is enough to awaken." And when you're awakened, then you'll find out all these other answers about all the metaphysical questions about the universe that you would like to know about. But what we teach in mindfulness practice is not a lot of all these facts and figures, but just enough for you to remember who you are. To know that you are the truth itself.

We are not the clouds of our emotional dramas and thoughts and ideas and stories. We are the vast sky and spaciousness of the here and now.

Transcribed by Jennifer Jonnson

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