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"Living an Awakened Life"
Transcript of a dialogue between
Rev. Ed Townley and Br. ChiSing.
Unity Church of Dallas
June 10, 2007 - Dallas, Texas

Rev. Ed:
I was reminded this morning of a time very early in my ministry when I had the church in Beaverton, Oregon. And very early on a Sunday Morning about 6 o'clock, I was at my desk working on the Bible lesson for that week. And I had chosen for no particular reason… I don't even remember what the theme of the talk was… I'm sure it was brilliant but I don't remember what it was… Astute and true but I don't know beyond that. I was working on the passage… I think it was Matthew 11:14… I think, I'm not sure of that… where Jesus talks about the man who cleaned his house left and came back and it was worse than when he left it.

And the phone rang and it was my friend Mary Manin Morrisey who was the Minister living at Richmond Center fifteen miles down the road… knew how to reach me at 6 o'clock on a Sunday morning of course. And said, "I'm really having a terrible time. You've got to help me. I want to use the bible verse and I don't know where it is. It's the one about the man who cleans his house and goes away." And I thought, "Whoa… there is a power."

And the same thing sort of happened with us this morning. Because in my meditation time this morning, I came to that awareness that I began the service with very strongly. And I thought that's going to slightly shift what ChiSing and I have agreed we will discuss. But of course, he's very adaptable being Buddhist and all so, I'm sure he won't mind. And we came in and he came in and came right up to me. And said Reverand Ed, I had an awareness this morning in meditation that I think we need to shift a little bit and it was exactly the same awareness. The same awareness that the opposite of ignorance is not learning things and memorizing things and understanding things and studying things. It is… It is awareness. It is mindfulness.

Br. ChiSing:
Yes. You know a really wonderful story in the Zen tradition is… One time when the Buddha was going to give a talk… And of course, the Buddha was very eloquent. If you read the recorded teachings, it's the whole library shelf full of books. Many times greater than the Judeo-Christian Bible. So, it's not that the Buddha wasn't eloquent. He was very eloquent with words.

Buddha and Mahakashyapa But one time, according to the Zen tradition, he held up a lotus flower in front of an assembly of 1,250 monks and nuns. And didn't say a word for a very long time. And the monks and nuns kept looking at each other, wondering "What is he doing?" Then in the far back Mahakashyapa, a monk, smiled. And the Buddha smiled and said "Ah, Mahakashyapa has received my teachings. He has the true eye of wisdom. And in the Zen tradition this is called mind to mind transmission of true wisdom. It can also be translated heart to heart transmission. A heart to heart intuitive knowing wisdom beyond just the kind of knowing from words and memorizing lists of different information and facts.

Heart Sutra (Ban Chu Han) This story hit home in a real way for me a few years ago when I was on retreat at Deer Park Monastery near San Diego, California with the monks and nuns over there. It's one of the retreat centers of Thich Nhat Hanh in California. So about the third or fourth day of the retreat during the morning meditation, we did our sitting and then we did our walking and then we sat down to do chanting. Most of the chants that particular week were in English. But that morning, the monks decided they wanted to chant in Vietnamese. I'm Chinese and it's a little bit of a different language. So I didn't quite understand what they were chanting. But it didn't matter because I was just there and I was absorbing the wonderful mindful energy.

Well, as I began to chant, suddenly… Maybe because I was so open from several days of retreat already… My mind just opened up and I visualized this beautiful mountainside and the sun coming up overhead in the morning. And the Buddha, and monks, and nuns were there chanting with their palms togther with this beautiful smile — like they knew something. A secret. Then I just started to see other people, lay disciples, in their white robes down in the valley as well doing the same thing. And then the whole planet of people, of all races and colors and religions and languages, were all doing the same chanting with a smile… like they knew this great secret.

And then I knew. This has got to be the Heart Sutra that they are chanting. And as soon as I had that thought, they chanted from Vietnamese to Sanskrit:


Which means in some translations: "gone, gone, gone all the way, everyone gone all the way to enlightenment, yahoo!" … That's a loose translation.

Rev. Ed:
We like that translation.

Br. ChiSing:
So you see, I didn't have to know the language to know in my heart an intuitive knowing and awareness — that this is what they were chanting. That chant is a wonderful chant. It is a secret. That even though all of us are trying so hard to liberate ourselves and save the world and whatever. Yet, it's already done in the realm of truth. And it's not that anyone is excluded. Everyone is included.

Gone, Gone, Gone, All the Way, Everyone gone all the way to enlightenment.

See, this is in the past tense. It is so confident. It is done. Yahoo!

Rev. Ed:
So… And that's such a distinctive energy to Buddhism, I think. Which is that… it is not… it does not ask us to turn our backs on this life experience or what our senses report or the choices we have to make as we move through the day. It doesn't tell us that if we obey the rules now, that we get a reward later. It tells us that the possibility is always here.

Br. ChiSing:
Yes, you know and every religious tradition I believe has a gift to offer to the world. And the gift that I think Buddhist spirituality has to offer for all of us is just to remind us… That in our spiritual journeys, it's not just about accumulating information, facts, knowledge about this and that. But, rather it is an experiential practice — of coming back to who we really are in awareness. Our true nature of enlightenment. And from that heart of intuitive knowingness, we know things. Wisdom arises naturally, because it is our true nature. So, I can't even tell you how many times during my retreats and meditations, answers will just come naturally. And I didn't have to think too hard about it, or strive about it… But just like this morning. I just knew, just like you knew, what the topic was.

Rev. Ed:
And then the challenge becomes trusting…

Br. ChiSing:

Rev. Ed:
Our… Because it really… from a human perspective we are asked to trust ourselves. And no one is more aware than I, of how many reasons there are not to trust me. I am… There is that voice in me that is all too willing to run through the litany of stupid choices I have made in my life and consequences I have suffered through. So, that fear-based resistence to simply trusting the guidance, yes?

Br. ChiSing:
Uh huh.

Rev. Ed:
You told me a story earlier this week about I think your first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. Could you share that? It was just so beautiful.

Br. ChiSing:
Sure, well this wasn't my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. But, it was my first retreat at his center in France. Which is a beautiful place near Bordeaux. It's called Plum Village. And I hope all of you get a chance some day to go there. Well, during the retreat, around the fourth or fifth day… It's always the fourth or fifth day, I don't know why it is for me. You know the first day is so wonderful. The second day is, you know, OK. And the third day I'm miserable. And all my stuff is coming up. And then the fourth day it just transforms. And then the fifth day I can just enjoy.

Related links:
Well, we had been practicing—sitting meditation, walking meditation, listening meditation, speaking mindfully meditation—but the one I didn't like was the eating meditation. You had to sit there and chew fifty times the food, and, like, not talk to anybody and not read anything: just eat. Just really eat and enjoy it. That was very difficult for me because I grew up watching TV and cartoons as a kid, you know, after school. My parents were still working late hours. And that's what I was used to. So this was a very tough practice for me. But I still did it because I believed in the teacher and the teachings. I had experienced enough from previous retreats that I knew this was real and powerful.

So here I was at the lunch table, and I'm just eating my tofu, broccoli and rice. Chewing, chewing, chewing. And then I looked up for the first time. And I saw all of these beautiful people chewing their food so peacefully. And I had the sense of being nourished by their peaceful mindful eating practice. And then I looked outside and saw the tree swaying in the wind, and the sunlight streaming through. And I heard the children laughing outside, as they were playing with their parents, eating outside. And in that moment I had that intuitive heart knowing. And it was as if my heart just expanded and expanded until it was the whole universe. Tears came down my eyes. And I knew in that moment that everything is eating meditation.

Or at least that's how I interpreted that experience. That just as I am being nourished by this food, later on I'll be going to the bathroom and nourishing micro-organisms. And just as the tree was giving oxygen, I was also giving the tree carbon dioxide. And as my friends around the table were feeding me with their mindful presence, hopefully I was also feeding them with my mindful presence. And as the children, they were feeding the adults with their playful energy and the adults were feeding the children with their mindful stability and safety. Everything in the universe is inter-nourishment.

This is the same insight that Jesus gave us in communion. Everything is offering our life to one another. That is true communion. It is the whole universe: the whole universe is Eucharist, the whole universe is eating meditation, the whole universe is the inter-being of feeding one another. And so that was just one of many experiences I've had just from the meditation.

Rev. Ed:
And that's the point, isn't it? I mean that's the counter energy to spiritual ignorance: it's mindfulness—it's spiritual presence as you eat, as you walk down the street, as you go to the bathroom, as you drive through, you know, traffic… doing it mindfully and being aware of the spiritual energies that are working beneath it. It's such a beautiful story.

Transcribed by Alessandra, Chelsea, and Hal German

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