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Practical Spirituality
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Practical Spirituality (28 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
March 1, 2009 - Dallas, Texas

Tonight's talk is on the theme of practical spirituality, wisdom and compassion in action. That really is our practice. Wisdom and compassion in action. This is going to be our theme for the whole month, and tonight is going to be more like a dharma collage, as I say. You can tell already.

There've been many different things that have been very helpful for me on my spiritual path. I started out in the Christian tradition, and I learned a lot of wonderful things there, especially the importance of the heart and of love and realizing that it is all about grace. And as I journeyed on on my path, I also discovered many jewels and other traditions.

When I lived in California, I would visit with different friends in different places, and one weekend I would go to a Muslim Sufi circle dance, sacred dance gathering, where they were dancing and chanting and drumming for hours and hours past midnight just in ecstatic love and praise of the divine. And on Friday nights I would go to the Shabbat service with my Jewish friends at the synagogue in Berkeley, where they would be singing and chanting and also dancing in the aisles and worshiping with their full heart.

And of course, I also discovered the Buddhist path, which helped me to just let go of all the judgments and the worries and the self criticisms and just see what is actually here and now without adding those layers of emotional and mental suffering on top of it. Well, just what is right here. I am alive. I do not have a toothache. I can celebrate my non-toothache right now. You know, whenever we have a toothache, we just want so much for it to go away, and when it does, we feel so happy and relieved. Well, in this very moment, we can get in touch with that beautiful non-toothache. We can get in touch with the fact that our heart is beating, our lungs breathe, our legs can walk, our hands can write, our bodies can hug, our eyes can see, our ears can hear, our tongues can taste, our noses can smell.

All of the ingredients for happiness are already right here and right now. But we act like this person who is at this beautiful banquet table full of wonderful vegetarian cuisine made by the top chefs of the world, but they are unhappy and hungry because they don't want to eat anything on the table because the only thing that they want is a BLT, a hamburger. But if they would just like go of that idea of what they think is what they want and just be with the nourishment that is right there in front of them, they could be happy and they could be full. You see, many times our notion of happiness prevents us from being happy, just like that person who only has a certain idea of what he wants for a meal and is unable to actually see and enjoy what is already in front of them.

It also reminds me of a Hindu story that was told by a guru that someone died and went to the heavenly realm who was a thief, and he walked the streets of heaven, and this other person died also who was a really good person, in the same place, in the same heavenly realm, looking at all the different beings there in that heavenly realm. And so this spiritual being asked the good person what they saw, and they saw these beautiful open hearts, people with smiles, lights. They saw saints and angels everywhere. And the same spiritual being asked the thief what he saw, and all he saw were their pockets. He didn't even realize the beauty and the wonder of where he was at because all he was thinking about was what he was limiting himself just looking at their pockets, trying to see what he could get. And he could not even enjoy paradise.

You know, we actually are in paradise. This is the kingdom of God. This is the Pure Land of the Buddha. We don't have to die to get there. In fact, we have to be fully alive here and now to really be there. So many of you already know this somewhere in your consciousness, so I don't need to repeat any of these things.

Let us talk a little bit practical. Through the years, I've had many opportunities to read many, many books—hundreds of books. I just brought a random sample of a few with me, and you know, spiritual education is very important in our lives, and I would just mention a few books to you. But I want to mention them because I also want to mention that reading books is not enough. But for some, is a very good place to start. And I know for me it was. For instance, here is a wonderful book called The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity, and if you think that being spiritual and being Buddhist or being Christian is supposed to be about poverty, well, think again.

I also loved this book by a Zen master called Zen beyond All Words. He is a German who is also a Zen master, and he weaves together the beauties of Christianity and Buddhism very beautifully in this book.

Of course, you know all about Eckhart Tolle. He is a wonderful modern spiritual teacher whom I had a chance to meet last year by chance at the airport, and I gave him a big hug and thanked him for teaching about the essential truths of Buddhism and of Christianity and of all true spirituality, but in a way that is accessible to so many more people.

And of course, my favorite modern spiritual teacher besides of course Thich Nhat Hanh is Adyashanti. I hope all of you will get a chance to read some of his books or watch him online on YouTube or maybe even go to a retreat with him. He is a wonderful, wonderful spiritual teacher, Adyashanti.

Of course, Ken Wilber is the premier philosopher these days, and I really highly recommend if you can read philosophy to read some of these books. This one is not so philosophical. It is called The Simple Feeling of Being. This is one of his more poetic works, kind of extracted from his philosophy books and put into one, which I love. Actually when I read this on an airplane after retreat, I had a breakthrough experience just from reading one line. I opened and read one line, and because I was ready from after the retreat, after meditating that much, it does not take that much to send you into a breakthrough. But that one line about that we are not two, that we are oneness, it just—I started to feel expansiveness and I felt very high—literally, too, because I was on an airplane. Literally and spiritually, too.

This was a wonderful book by a Tibetan Buddhist called How to be Happy. And it is so wonderful of a small little book, but so powerful. I just want to read a little portion of it for you because recently I had a friendship that kind of broke down. So this was very nice to listen to, especially if any of you have any separations and friendships and relationships or any kind of relationship. "You are never alone. You are never alone. Everywhere all the time, there are numberless Buddhas and bodhisattvas surrounding you, loving you, guiding you. After all, that is what they do. When it comes time for a relationship to end or even if your partner leads you for another person, you can begin to transform some of your suffering by thinking like this. Well, since I enjoyed being with my partner, why shouldn't somebody else have the same enjoyment? That other person is just as important as I am. Just like me, that person wants happiness and does not want suffering." Isn't that great?

And for those of you especially to young adults, I highly recommend this book by Lama Surya Das, The Big Questions: How to Find Your Own Answers to Life's Essential Mysteries. It is a great, great book. And you know, I will just read some of the chapter titles. What is happiness? What is the meaning of life? Who am I? Does God exist? What is love? What is karma? What is enlightenment? What happens after death? How can I integrate spirituality into my life? Do I need a spiritual teacher? Can a spiritual life include sex, meat, drugs, and alcohol? How can I remain nonviolent in a violent world? How can I transform anger? Is homosexuality wrong? How can I balance taking care of myself and helping others? It is a great book, and I especially recommend the chapter on those God exists, because sometimes people mistakenly believe that Buddhists do not believe in God. That is actually not true. It is just maybe that traditional Buddhist may not use the word God. They are not trying to encourage you to believe in God because they are busy practicing just experiencing the divine mystery which is beyond words.

And I mentioned Ken Wilber earlier, but these two books, if you just want something that is really helpful to help you understand a map of reality and consciousness, this one is very wonderful, The Integral Vision, and it is very colorful and lots of graphics and everything. It is a wonderful little book, rather than reading a really thick one. That is a nice condensation. But more importantly, it is important to practice, so this is a new book that just came out, Integral Life Practice. We were actually going to do that theme this month on integral spirituality and evolutionary enlightenment, but it is such a complex topic. I was not prepared. It takes a lot to really prepared to teach this, so maybe in a few months we will be ready and we can have other guest speakers, who are much better at explaining these concepts than I am. But this is really practical about how to incorporate the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, etc.—all of these different aspects—integrating them into our spiritual lives.

Let's see. And Byron Katie is a wonderful spiritual teacher, and she really helps us cut through our crazy thinking with four wonderful questions that she asks: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it is true? How do you react when you believe that thought? Who would you be without that thought? And then turn around and apply it to yourself. I can't explain the whole thing to you, but Byron Katie is wonderful.

Let us see what else we have here. Is anyone Jewish in here? Jewish background?

Audience Member: Here.

ChiSing: Yeah? Wonderful. Well, there's a great book called Meditation from the Heart of Judaism, and it is actually edited by Rabbi Avram Davis, whom I knew in Berkeley. He is a wonderful Rabbi, part of the Jewish renewal movement. When I read the first few chapters, I was so touched that I was thinking of maybe going to a Jewish meditation retreat in the Washington, DC area, but I could not go in January because I was at the monastery. But maybe sometime, or maybe you can go for me. You know? All right.

And of course, last but not least—actually, raise your hand if you're from a Christian background. Wonderful. Well, this book is called Blessed Relief, by an Episcopal Christian minister named Gordan Peerman, who is also a professor at Vanderbilt University and a psychotherapist and a meditation teacher. This book is called Blessed Relief: What Christians Can Learn from Buddhist about Suffering. So it is a wonderful book, and actually I meant to photocopy one of the pages here, but I forgot, so I will just read you this portion if that is okay.

Basically there is something called RAIN. The practice of RAIN in dealing with difficult emotions. First of all, recognition. So when you find yourself on an emotional overload, this simple stop, look, and listen step is a fundamental place to start. All you need to do is recognize the emotion that you are feeling, so simply acknowledge the anger or whatever it is. Here is anger. It is just a fact. Try saying to yourself, "Anger is like this. It is here." The key is to be nonjudgmental and open about what in fact is taking place. And then there is acceptance. This is the time to turn your inner critic off. You may not like how you feel, you can acknowledge that it is what it is, and you can stop demanding that it be other than it is. Try saying to yourself, "I accept the presence of this anger," or whatever emotion. "I will let it be, and I will let my resistance to anger be." This is the necessary first step in letting go of your emotion's hold on you.

And then there is investigation. Here's where it gets interesting. Think of this step as a wide open invitation for your curiosity. What kind exploration ask some questions. What is this anger like in my mind? What exact moment did this anger arise? What triggered it? What thoughts accompanied my anger? What is this anger like my body? Specifically where does the energy of anger show up in my body? How does the bodily energy of anger change moment to moment? How big is this anger in my body? Is this energy stationary or moving? Hot or cold? If it had color, what color would this energy be? What beliefs and thoughts come with the story of anger? All of these questions are ways to investigate, to witness, to hold anger without letting it take over you.

And then non-identification. All right. So this is a time to sort out who is who. Non-identification as a matter of remembering that your feelings are not you. Can you say that with me?

Everyone: My feelings are not me.

ChiSing: Let us do that one more time.

Everyone: My feelings are not me.

ChiSing: All right. The clever way of practicing non-identification is to imagine for a moment that this feeling you are having belongs maybe to someone else. This strategy is a way to temporarily distance yourself from the delusion that you're nothing but this feeling. Most important, let yourself rest in the awareness of anger or whatever feeling it is. Let the anger be just one mental concept flowing down your mind stream. Notice what other contents are also in your mind stream, and recognize that you are more that any passing content. Your anger has come and gone and may come again, but who you are, pure awareness, remains. So this is a wonderful teaching. It is not only in this book, but it is taught by all mindfulness meditation teachers, as well as Jack Kornfield, one of my favorite mindfulness meditation teachers. I highly recommend this book. I know that the Maria Kannon Zen Center is using this book as part of their study, and our Thursday night small group is using this book along with another book. It is called The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, and it is really wonderful.

The one I did want to also mention is Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. These are the two books that I am going to encourage all of you to purchase at some point soon. Starting in March and April, if you look at your newsletter, our theme will be on the seven spiritual laws of success, and each week we will go over each law, and there'll be practices that you can do every day and every week to really tune yourself in to that quality of true spiritual success. And if you would like, Susan will be teaching yoga according to the principles in this book at 4:00 on Sundays in April and May, so that way we will be going through each one. And of course, they all correspond to a different chakra, energy center in the body. So this is a wonderful way for us to kind of experiment together and practice these things, and then at the end of May, let us see if it has made any difference in our lives. It is not like we're trying to say that you have to do this, and you have to exactly do this, this, and this. No. Spirituality is having an openness, an experimental curiosity just to play together. Let us to do this together and see what happens.

You know, the Buddha taught that everything I say, I know it's true from my experience, but you don't have to believe it just because of what I say. You go and try it out for yourself, and you test it. That is the Buddha's wisdom. And that can apply to all wisdom, the Christian teachings, Jewish teachings, whatever.

But I want to tell you something. All of these hundreds of books I have read over the past few years do not even compare to just one day of practice. When I started to actually practice with a spiritual community, with a spiritual teacher, with my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, and his monks and nuns and lay practitioners, that is when it became real for me. To read a book is helpful, if that is what it takes to get you on the path, but reading books alone is like going to a restaurant, reading the menu, singing songs about the menu, having sermons preached about the menu, talking to the wait staff about the menu, but not eating anything. You see? But this community, yes, we have music. We have a message. We have sharing. We have fellowship. We have food once a month. But all of it revolves around the practice of eating, of nourishing ourselves spiritually through meditation and mindfulness.

That is the missing ingredient in Western spiritual practice I believe. We don't emphasize enough about the real spiritual nourishment of getting in touch with our true self through meditation. We cannot just think about it and preach about it and read about it enter discussions about it and all of that. Those are great, and they are necessary for a full, balanced spirituality. But we cannot neglect the spiritual food, the center of it all, which is communion, which is our oneness with the divine, which you access through being here and now fully, breathing in, breathing out so that you can truly commune and enjoy the banquet that is set before us and within us right here and right now.

So I've been talking a lot about the practice. But let's eat in each moment. It does not happen just with formal walking meditation, with formal sitting meditation. It happens in each moment when we are aware of our breath and of the miracle of being alive. It happens in every moment when we simply relax and be present to the whole and not just the part. It happens every time we realize whenever someone is hugging us or we are hugging someone else that in fact that is God hugging God. That is Buddha hugging Buddha.

And a final word which came to me during my lunch today. This is called lunch notes. You know—

Audience Member: Brown bag Buddhism.

ChiSing: And actually my friend Gary here actually kind of helped me with this today. You know, when you brush your teeth every day, you just brush your teeth. You spit out the water and all that stuff, and you go about your day. You do not obsess and like look back in the mirror like, is it still brushed? How come I don't get the results? You don't do that. And then you just brush your teeth every day. And you know that by doing that every day, you are keeping your teeth healthy, hygienic, and preventing tooth decay. What if you do after brushing your teeth every day for a few days suddenly have a toothache? And you think, oh, brushing my teeth didn't work. I'm going to stop. You would not say that.

But so many of my students here in Dallas do that. They think they just need to brush their teeth just once every few weeks or months—that means meditation, by the way. Or after little bit of meditation, suddenly they don't always feel that peace in the present moment when they meditate. The meditation didn't work. That is just as silly as stopping brushing your teeth. It is just a matter of just doing it, not making a big deal out of it, just doing it, just like eating and sleeping. Just doing it. And over time, it has powerful effects in our lives. Or another metaphor is when you plant the seed in the ground, you don't dig it up and see how the seed is doing. You plant your seed, let it go, and trust the universe is doing its work. Nature is taking its course. When we sit and meditate, we don't—okay. I'm waiting to feel that peace. Where's that joy? No. We just sit and be and let things be and allow the process.

So many times I've had breakthroughs, but they were not during the meditation period or during the retreat, but just after. I did my homework without trying to force the results out of it and just let it be, and in its own time, that seed sprouts and bears fruit. And that is also our practice. So, if you do not keep coming to weekly community, if you don't try to practice somewhat regularly at home, if you do not have a solid spiritual teacher that you can call up or e-mail or whatever, it is very hard to keep from getting discouraged. It is very hard to keep from quitting.

So I encourage you to take refuge in the Buddha, which means to take refuge in enlightenment itself, to take refuge in the dharma, which is to say the path and the practice of enlightenment, and to take refuge in the sangha, those communities and friends who support you in the path of enlightenment. Why? Because as you take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, which of course it is called by different words in other religions—it is universal. As you take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha take refuge in you because only through us is enlightenment actualized, manifested, and made real. So we need the three jewels, and the three jewels need us.

Thank you so much for being here tonight and practicing together. Namaste.

Everyone: Namaste.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch