Tonight, dear friends, I'd like to talk about… whatever I talk about…
When we first enter into the practice of meditation, much of our motivation is to try to get something out of it. It's very normal. It's very common. I want to ask you what it is that you're trying to get out of meditation? Why do come here every week? Or, if this is your first time, why are you trying it out? And for those of you who practice every day at home, why do you do it?
Over the years in the last ten years of practice for me, I've noticed how my motivation has evolved and changed and grown. I've noticed that, as I began, I really wanted to have more peace. I wanted to know what this thing called "enlightenment" was. I wanted to transform my suffering. But as I continue to pour myself into the practice over and over and over again, starting over once more, I'm starting to notice how I'm not practicing meditation, meditation is practicing me. What I mean by that is, as the human ego self starts to relax more and more from doing it busy job of being in control of everything, so it thinks, as it relaxes more and more, there's an awareness of something that's always been there greater than the human ego self, who has always been there in every breath, in every moment. Just this… just this…
And so in the past couple of years… in the last year, I've shifted my practice and my attitude towards practice a little bit. Yes, there's still this little part that wants to get something out of it, because I always to get something out of it. But there's this deeper realization that the practice is just sitting with what is already been given. The infinite generosity of the universe. This oxygen that I am breathing. It doesn't come from me. I'm just sitting with this gift of life, with each breath. And I'm sitting with all the trees of our planet, who are just being themselves… just being trees. And because they are just being themselves it makes it possible for me to be me. And the fact that I even know about meditation and spirituality and Buddhism and anything else, it doesn't come from me either. It comes from all the generations of teachers who have passed down their practice, down to this present moment. And the fact that I'm talking with you right now with some energy is because of the food I ate which doesn't come from me, but from the earth and the sky and the rain and the sun… from the whole miraculous process of the universe through time and space. And even the thought and the motivation to want to practice meditation and to realize awakening doesn't come from me either. It is simply the universal impulse of life itself expressing in, through and as this very moment as this very body and mind.
It's only this programming, this story called the ego that says, "Oh, I made all this up and I'm the one that wants to do this and want to get this and this out of it." It's there. It's okay but it's not true. So our practice is to rest and relax into the enormous generosity of life itself in every breath in every moment. So, I'm not trying to get something out of meditation. I'm sitting so that I can realize what has already been given to me, what is being given to me in every moment. And in that realization my practice is just "Yes" and "Thank You." Yes and thank you.
In the history of Zen Buddhism, especially as it developed in Japan, certain schools of Buddhism began to become quite separate and had a little bit of rivalry. Of course this happens in every culture and every religion. In China, the tendency was to just sort of have everybody doing their different practices in one temple because they're trying to be practical. You know how Chinese people are very practical. It's like fried rice, just throw it all together and stir it up. But in Japan, they love to have everything in their neat little categories, like bento boxes. And the same thing happened with spirituality and Zen and Buddhism there as well. What happened was, whereas in China, Zen Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism, two of the most popular forms of Mahayana Buddhism, which we can talk about later if you want, they always tended to cooperate or blend, but in Japan they separated out.
So, the Zen meditation schools in Japan were all about self power. You must do it. You can't let anyone else do it for you. I mean, someone else cannot breathe for you, or eat for you, or meditate for you, or become enlightened for you. You must do it. You know, that's why the Zen masters, "Just do it!" The Pure Land schools of Buddhism in Japan as it developed, began to emphasize more of other power. There's nothing that you actually do anyway. Nothing comes from you. How can you say that you can even be enlightened on your own without the teachings of the Buddha, without the food that you eat, without all the generosity of the universe? How could you possibly do anything on your own? It's all other power.
And yet, as I've practiced in my own life, I've gone to Soto Zen retreats, Rinzai Zen retreats. I've practiced Pure Land chanting. I've witnessed Nichiren chanting. I've gone to Vipassana retreats. I've gone to retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh. I've gone to secular meditation retreats. One-day, three-day, five-day, seven-day, ten-day, two weeks. I find one thing in common with all of them. They all say, "We have the right way." Or the only way. Or the true way. But seriously though, underneath all the differences and even some of the rigidities, and narrow-mindedness perhaps of some, there is this deep core to the true teachings, expressed in many different ways. It's pointing to the same reality that's sitting right here, right now.
In my own practice, I don't know why but in my heart I'm a Pure Land Buddhist. In my heart, I'm always chanting Amitabha's name, the reality of infinite light and love and life. And in the forms of practice, primarily, I'm a Zen Buddhist. Other power? Self power? Is there a contradiction? For me, as I'm practicing Zen meditation, even when my mind is a little agitated, or my back and body are aching, and maybe I just don't want to get up that early for the retreat, or if I just want to meditate again, I still put myself into doing it. Why? Because meditation itself is the gift of Amitabha, of the infiniteness of life. The opportunity to practice self-power comes from other-power. And I don't believe that they're separate. So, the Pure Land Buddhist's, they mock the Zen Buddhists because they say, "Well you know, all that meditation, you're just trying strive on your own power. You should just rely on Amitabha Buddha. You don't need to do anything. Just have faith." And the Zen Buddhists mock the Pure Land Buddhists. It's like, "You don't even practice. You're just relying on some other mythological Buddha to save you. But you've got to practice the teachings of the Buddha, which is meditation." But could it be that meditation doesn't come from yourself? It is the gift of the universe. And Amitabha is liberating all beings through meditation, through spirituality, through loving kindness.
For me, as I sit and my mind goes a little crazy, it's okay. Even my human mind and ego self is a gift of the universe. It sort of the jalapeņos of life. Too much can hurt and burn and it isn't pleasant. But, just right, it gives a little spice to life.
So as I sit, my mind may wander. And that's okay. What I do personally is, I go to the three refuges. If my mind goes into lots of stories and I even forgot that I'm even breathing or reciting a mantra, I'll just stop and say, "I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life. I take refuge in the Dharma, the way of understanding and of love. I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness. Amitabha. Amitabha. Amitabha." Then just come back to that reality of Amitabha, that this practice of meditation isn't coming from me but it is the gift of the universe and I am always supported in every breath, in every moment. Why? So that my being supported, I have this awesome opportunity to share in the work of Amitabha, of the universe, in supporting all beings also.
So, if you aren't at a place in your life yet that you are practicing as much as I do, that's okay. Just practice what it is that you are given to practice right now. In my own life, the reason why I think that I'm being given the opportunity to practice a little bit more than the average person, is not because there's anything special about me, or that I'm going to get more enlightened than anyone else or anything like that. It's because I have the opportunity to give to others. So when I do just the normal amount of meditation, that helps me. But when I a little bit more than the normal amount, I find it generates great internal power that radiates out to others, so that all I have to do is have one smile or one look or just a few words or sing a few lines of a song and hearts are touched, minds are opened, bodies relaxed into the reality of here and now. Now, I'm not always in that powerful state, that's just my own ebb and flow of up and down like anyone else. But I have found that when I have dedicated myself to intensive practice, by the grace of the universe, that miracles take place a little bit more often.
I remember coming out of the monastery in January and the first few weeks of when I would give talks or did things, people would come up to me and say they felt an energy or they had a vision or something happened in their heart. And they said this more frequently than normal. And, I have practiced 105 days of spiritual, what I call my spiritual practice period. Today is day 105 and in three days, it will end my spiritual practice period on my birthday, one hundred and eight days. And during this time, I've been going to retreats. I've been trying to be more diligent about coming back to meditation and listening to the universe. I came back from the retreat in Colorado with Thay, Thich Nhat Hanh. He wasn't there physically because he's very ill right now. He was in the hospital. But the monks and nuns were there to support the 900 persons that were at the retreat. I was asked by the monks and nuns to sing a song on the second day of the retreat. And they asked me to sing a particular song. And so, I did. I've sung this before in different retreats. I've sung it with you. It's just a nice little cute song. "You are a Buddha. You are in my heart. You are a part of me. You are a Buddha." Very cute. And yet, maybe because of my one hundred and so forth days of spiritual practice and the practice of the monks and nuns and the practice of all the people there, the 900 persons, for whatever reason, power was generated and radiated. After singing that song a few times through, it seemed that half the room was in tears and dozens of people afterwards shared with me that that was a moment in the retreat where their heart opened in a way that happen during other times of the retreat. I've sung it before. And yet, it had more power. That power didn't come from me. It came from the gift of practice.
So as you're practicing, don't think it as yourself practicing. Think of it as simply saying, "Yes," to the gift of practice that is offered to you in this moment, whatever that practice is. Whether that is meditation practice, loving kindness practice, letting go practice, gratitude practice.
You know, before I gave the Dharma talk tonight, I was feeling a little nervous, now and then, and I thought something will come through in my during meditation. And so I'm meditating, nothing's coming through. One more minute left, nothing's coming through. I had a moment there where I said, "Uh oh. There's all these people here and they expect me to say something. I have no idea what I'm going to say." I had a choice in that moment because we always have a choice in every moment. I could have chosen to be afraid and to rely a little bit more on my self power to come up with something. But I chose to just let it go and relax and I told myself, "If nothing comes through, I won't even talk," because this practice is not about words anyway. It's about being. And from that place of being, then springs forth silence, or words, or music, or actions, or whatever is needed in that moment. So, I just trusted.
So, my Dharma talk, even though it's not prepared and I had no idea what I was going to say and I don't even know what I'm still going to stay, the point of this lesson, I think, is to trust who you really are, to trust the universal wisdom and power of who you really are in each moment, each choice. Choose gratitude. Choose to say Yes and Thank You. It's not about you or me. It actually never has been about that at all. We just think it is.
So, in your practice of meditation can I encourage to be okay with everything just as it is? See it as a gift. Even when it feels difficult at times, relax into the gift of it. In a way, you can use the difficulty to generate love for all beings. So, in my own practice, whenever I've thought my legs have fallen asleep or my back is a little bit achey, but it's not so bad I have to move, right? If it's really really bad, obviously you should move so that you don't hurt yourself. But it it's not so bad, if it's just a normal agitation, ache or pain, then imagine that you're taking on a little bit of… you're practicing in solidarity with some of the pain of all beings and you're holding it with love and healing, so that somewhere in the world someone has a little less suffering because you're willing to hold it in your heart. Practice like that. See what happens. The funny thing is, when you practice on behalf of other beings, the benefit comes to you tenfold.
Another gift that came to me for all of you is this weekly practice here on the board. If you're like me, a little A-D-D, and your mind goes all over the place, I find certain mantras very helpful.
So, for me, "Amitabha" is the universal mantra. It symbolizes a remembering of the universal support of life, of love, of light always there. So, as you practice, it's not about me but it's that support that's always there. So, that can be your general mantra, even though you don't say it in your mind or your mouth, it's just in your heart. It's what's vibrating in your heart always in every heartbeat.
But on Sunday, you could add a secondary mantra such as, "Maranatha" in honor and recognition of some of the Judeo-Christian traditions of our Western culture. Maranatha in Aramaic means "Our Lord, Come." In a more deeper meaning, it means, the true boss is always showing up in each moment, right here, right now. Right?
And then Monday, coming back to work, "Here Now." Here now, here now. Don't regret the past. Don't worry about the rest of the week. Just here now. I'm right here, right now. I'm walking to my car. I'm picking up the kids. I am making a meal. I'm here now.
And then Tuesday, "Yes, Thank you." Breathing in, yes. Breathing out, thank you. Yes, thank you. Yes, thank you.
And then Wednesday, "I Am Home." And this has very many deep meanings. But we don't have time for all of that. You can listen to some of the Dharma talks on the website. There is one called "I Am Home" and there are three deep meanings of "I Am Home" that I discovered as I practiced with that mantra.
On Thursday, "Thy Will Be Done." Oh, I really like this one because whenever I'm kind of like stressing and things don't go the way I want them to go, I just relax, thy will be done, and I know that the will of the universe, which is goodness, truth and beauty is being done. Even if I don't see it, it's being done. Just rest in that truth.
Then on Friday, at the end of the work week, "All Is Well." All is well. Maybe not that particular thing seems well, but the big picture of the universe, all is well. All is becoming and manifesting the wellness inherent in all beings.
And then in solidarity with all of our Jewish ancestors, Saturday on the Sabbath, "Shabbat, Shalom." Breathing in Shabbat, the rest, the deep rest of who we are. Breathing out Shalom, the peace of sharing with all beings. Resting in our infinite true nature and breathing out, sharing with all beings, peace, harmony, joy, love.
And if that doesn't work, then "Let Go and Let God, Let Be and Let Buddha." A little humor is good in our practice because all Buddhas everywhere are laughing eternally. We're so funny.