Winter Solstice
Different Styles of Practice
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Different Styles of Practice (39 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
February 7, 2010 - Dallas, Texas

I wanted to just share a little something that came to me a few months ago that expresses the different aspects of our being, and then from there you might be able to understand why there are different styles of practice and different schools of Buddhism as well as different faith traditions. So one aspect of our life is the realm of thinking, thinking mind, and sometimes it can feel wonderful, and sometimes it can drive us crazy.

There is another aspect, doing, the doing aspect of life, which of course is a wonderful thing, action and activity and activism. But also sometimes we can feel exhausted always running and running and running and not really knowing why we're doing the things we are doing. Has anyone ever felt that way before? A friend of mine in Austin had told me with all the activism he was doing, he said this week had just felt so tiring, like he was working for nothing, like what is he doing all this for? No one really cares, you know?

And then there is also the feeling aspect of our life, just being aware of our heart, our emotions, our intuitive sensations, feeling, perceiving things as pleasant or unpleasant or maybe neutral.

And then there's also that aspect of life that maybe you might call willing or volition, our ability to decide, the part of us that feels like it is making a decision and choosing.

So these are all very important aspects of our life and our being, but really, they can all go astray when they are not deeply connected to the core of who we are, which I express in the word being. So this is really primarily what our practice is about. Meditation and mindfulness is to help us come back to center, to the core, to the infinite ground of our being and beingness. They call it being or beingness to give it a little bit more oomph. Beingness has a relationship with all of these other four aspects of our life. Sometimes you hear about, we are a human being, not a human doing, you know? Right? But also when you become caught in the fantasy mind, we want to return back to being who we really are.

And of course, feeling is a wonderful thing. In fact, I would say feeling is closest to being. So if you're caught in thinking or doing without knowing why you're doing it, come back to feeling, which will usually help you come back into being. Feeling the breath, feeling the body, feeling life here and now. Sensation can lead you back to being very easily. Now of course, there are other kinds of feeling, too. When a feeling is caught in cahoots with thinking mind, if the feeling is simply being completely enslaved by thinking, then that is not the kind of feeling that is going to bring you back to being, because what happens is you're having this thought and this judgment and this belief and it feels this negative feeling of whatever that is, anger or sadness or confusion or whatever. So when feeling is caught in that negative thinking mode, feeling then does not necessarily help you to come back to being. But just feeling without being caught in the thinking mind and just feeling the heart, feeling the body, feeling the present moment, that is one of the easiest ways to come back to being in my experience.

Now doing—this is interesting, too. When doing is caught in thinking mind—so you are doing, but you are analyzing and thinking and processing while you are doing, you're not really just doing it. It is like doing is just sort of the instant reaction to whatever you believe in your mind. It is like you're just on automatic pilot. Your negative thinking mind is just doing stuff to the body. It is like your body is just channeling this incessant thinking mind. That kind of doing it is not conducive to coming back to beingness, but there is a kind of doing that does help us to come back to being, and that is the kind that the Zen masters talk about: Just do it. Don't think about it. Don't judge it. Don't analyze it, but from the heart in this moment, what is called for without having to think about it? That is why people who are enlightened, if they see someone who needs help, they just help. They don't have to think, now, is this person Buddhist? Are they spiritual enough? Or maybe is there bad karma? I don't know if I should help. No. They just do it. So when we are in the flow of deep, divine wisdom and life and love and the heart, then we just do it. We just do whatever it is that needs to be done without needing to judge it or think about it or whatever, process it. So that kind of doing will help us come back to feeling what is the present moment wisdom and heart, will bring us back to being.

Now, this one, willing, this is one that we have a lot of struggle with, because it is our willpower, you know? We struggle with this a lot. In fact, we believe that willing helps to kind of control everything else. There's a part of us that believes that, and for practical purposes, you know, there is that part of our human mind that is the willing part, the part that makes the decision, that chooses. When the willing is in alignment from being so that it is Thy will be done, then there's no problem because it is the divine, infinite life that is choosing to express as love, as kindness, as compassion, as joy, as helpfulness. But you see what happens is when it gets caught in just thinking—see, it seems like this is sort of the problem. But remember, we don't want to reject it or hate it because this is monkey mind, and we just want to hug our monkey mind and take care of it. But it is like programming. It is like computer programming that has gone a little bit haywire. So when willing then gets caught in thinking mind, it is like, oh, you know, all these different beliefs and judgments and false information, it colors our ability to make a decision, to choose, and we're going to choose things that are not necessarily healthy for us or for others. So then our practice is to just do it, come to feeling our true nature and then allow beingness to form our decisions, our will.

So, that is what our practice is about. And for most of us, it starts with the thinking mind. That is why we just don't fight the thinking mind. We just let go, and we just focus on what else is there besides thinking mind. Well, there is a body breathing, and I am deciding to be in the present moment here and now and to just be, and I am feeling my breath in my body. I am doing this resting meditation, and all of that helps then—and if you have to do some thinking during meditation, what we do in meditation sometimes is we give the thinking mind something to do, a mantra, I am home, Thy will be done, All is well, Amitabha. See, give it a positive thought. Then with all four engaged, it is so much easier to remember, oh, hey, there is this beingness, vast, infinite, and free. So see, we are so involved with the thinking mind that we do not see it at all, and then through time in the practice, we begin to see, oh, there's is this nice little beingness inside of me. But when we have our first glimpse of enlightenment, when everything relaxes, that beingness isn't the small little thing inside of me. Beingness is who I am, which is actually everything, infinite, vast, spacious, and free.

Okay. So now, in traditional Western language, sometimes we call being spirit, related to spirit, and we might call feeling related to heart. We might call doing related to body, and we might relate thinking mind to the word mind, and then will is an interesting word. In Western language, we don't really put much there, but we can say maybe we can use the word soul, because the seat of the soul is the will, so you might use the word soul, although the word soul usually encompasses mind, heart, and will. And that is an interesting thing because in our language, we use a lot of words kind of sloppily. You know, when some people say heart, they really mean spirit. The heart of who we are, that is our spirit. And some Buddhists use the term mind not to refer to thinking mind but to the deep Buddha mind, which is spirit or beingness.

And of course when we use the word soul, usually we are referring to the heart. I was just so soulful. That touched my soul. Usually that has something to do with emotions. But technically Western theology, soul is really referring to the heart and mind together and the will. So that is why sometimes you see the phrase, "Spirit, soul, and body," as different aspects. So this is the physical aspect, and this is the nonphysical aspect, which can be divided into pure spirit, which is divine beingness, and the soul, which is sort of in between. It is like that invisible aspect that is very tied to the physical, very tied to desires, very tied to thinking.

So in a way, what is happening in our practice, we come back to our body and then we transform and purify our consciousness so that we can let who we really are shine without obstruction. Now, don't take this too literally. Everything is one anyway. You could divide this up into different parts or three instead of five or four or whatever. And sometimes you see four as the most common, like earth, air, fire, water; physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual aspects of our being. Because will is usually plopped in with thinking or feeling or some other thing. I like to think of it as a little bit—it is helpful to think of it as separate, I think, just to understand.

Now in Buddhism, if you were to think about different schools of Buddhism that developed after the Buddha, I would say that thinking mind, you might want to say this is like—the Theravadan tradition of Buddhism, which is a very early form of Buddhism and has kept to sort of the literalness of the earliest writings that were ever reported of the Buddhist teachings—so they're very orthodox, by the book. And they like to analyze everything step-by-step and just to make sure everything is logical.

And then you might say that, well, would say the different aspects—I mean, this is not going to be completely accurate. I'm just giving an example. But let's just say this is like the Zen Buddhist aspect of emphasis on the body and of the energy body in particular, the energy body that can be accessed through all these rituals and mantras and magical ways of relating to the combined forces in all these different beings.

And so you might want to think of it that way, and of course the body, that means the outward. Of all the different schools of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhists have some of the most colorful, beautiful paintings and temples and statues and everything and so much ritual and so much music and all of that.

But then the feeling aspect you might say is like the Pure Land Buddhist tradition of Amitabha, coming back to the heart, coming back to realizing the infinite love of enlightened beings for us that help us to remember that we also have that light and we can help all beings as well. Very emotional. That is why they do so much devotional aspects of practice.

And then being, you might say is like Zen because Zen is beyond just devotional practice, beyond words, beyond magic formulas or anything, but just stripping that all away to the bare core essence but the truth of the Buddha, beingness.

And for long time, I did not know where to put willing, but I thought maybe I would put another school, which I never talk about really, is the Nichiren school of Buddhism, like Soka Gakkai, for instance. They chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Tina Turner does that form. But I decided to put them there because I thought, well, you know, that is a good example of the will aspect of our being, of our whole, because as they are chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, which is honoring the power and the truth of the Lotus Sutra, which talks about that all of us are potential Buddhas. No one is left out. All of us are potential Buddhas. That truth is like aligning our will with that truth, and of course they also are trying to transform their will so that they are deciding to create positive things in life and manifesting things, too. But anyway.

So, let me do a different way of explaining the different schools of Buddhism. Okay. Let's look at the chakras for example, just as a metaphor, not necessarily literally. Here is a person with energy centers in their body. And let us talk about the seven basic major energy centers, the one that grounds us to the earth; the one that is our sexual energy center and vitality; the one that is our solar plexus and willpower, inner light, kind of self identity of who we are; the heart, love chakra; and then the throat chakra, creativity and expression; and the eyebrow chakra, third eye, which is like the divine wisdom, insight, knowledge; and then the crown chakra, which is our connection to the universe and to the divine and to nature. So there are seven.

So this would be like the Theravada school of Buddhism. You know, step-by-step, this is what you do, seven major things, right? It is like the Eightfold Path of the Buddha because the Theravada school really emphasizes that, the Eightfold Path. You've got to do those steps to enlightenment. And then what would the Tibetan school of Buddhism be like in comparison to that? Well, it would include the seven chakras, like the step-by-step approach of the Theravada school, but Tibetans also talk about all the different other chakras and minor chakras, the foot chakra and the hand chakra and then the higher vibrational chakras and the aura chakras and all the little meridians and everything else. So you have like 1,000 chakras in your body that you can work with, right? And so it is just like that.

In the Theravadan school of Buddhism, you have the teachings, the basic teachings. You have the step-by-step approaches. You have some past Buddhas. You have Shakyamuni Buddha, and you have a future Buddha called Maitreya, but that is about it. We don't talk about thousands of Buddhas everywhere, just three Buddhas, like past, present, future. That is good enough. But the Tibetans are really into Buddhas: blue Buddhas, red Buddhas, green Buddhas, white Buddhas, female Buddhas and dakinis, and all these different deities that help all the Buddhas as assistants and thousands and millions of bodhisattvas and 100-syllable mantras and all these different things. It is sort of like taking the basics and then multiplying it by 100-fold, right? That is just the style that Tibetans love. It is like variety and more.

So then, what would be the Pure Land tradition if we were to use this metaphor with chakras? Well, the Pure Land takes the teachings of the Buddha in all these different aspects and collapses it into one pure, deep metaphor, Amitabha, infinite light. Because all of the teachings of the Buddha are contained—any teaching is contained in any other teaching. Any truth of the Buddha is contained in every other truth. So just focusing on that one, deep truth of the heart already contains everything else, and it simplifies it so that even children can practice. It simplifies it so that more beings are able to feel like they can be a part of the path, and that really is the reason why Pure Land Buddhism began to develop.

It was part of the early part of the Mahayana movement, because the Theravadan tradition, it was almost like, gosh, you know, laypeople have no chance at all. Just monks can practice deeply, and what else can we do? We can only just give food to the monks. That is it. And hope that we have a better chance in the next life, that we are a monk in the next life. Then the Mahayana Buddhists were like, "No. No. No. Everyone can have a chance at enlightenment, even if you don't have time to be a monk. Even just regular people that can work really hard. Just focus on the infinite love of the Buddha in your heart and chant, "Amitabha, Amitabha," to remind you of that infinite, vast support, and somehow that opens up everything else, the divine wisdom, the divine action, and the divine heart.

So then, what would be the Zen metaphor? You know, if you have the seven chakras, no more, no less in the Theravadan tradition, and you have millions of different energy centers in the Theravadan and just one, the one contains the all. The all is in the one. Then what would be the Zen approach as a metaphor? It would be this. Have you ever seen a Zen circle? It is no form, just pure potentiality. It is pointing back to the source from which the body and the practice and everything else comes, the source from which any of these teachings of the Buddha come. So going back beyond the Buddha to the source, which is inexpressible, and yet having to be expressed. So this is the Zen way, which is like don't mess with all of this. Just practice and remember who you really are, the source before the source. And so that is the genius of that tradition.

But you know, I believe all of these have a place. It is just that some need one type over the other kind, and that is okay. I try to learn as much as I can from all the different kinds just because that is my role as a spiritual facilitator. I want to be able to understand what the needs are of most of the people of various types that come to the sangha, but for most of us, we don't have time to go about and practice all these things, so it is important to focus on whatever seems to resonate most with us. But, I must say, I have—I guess I would say that aesthetically, I am Tibetan Buddhist. I love all the colors, but intellectually, I am a Theravada Buddhist. I really think they have a good grasp on the logical aspect of the Buddha's teachings. But in my actual practice, I practice Zen meditation. That is my training. But in my heart, I am Pure Land Buddhist because Amitabha is everything, infinite light, the divine, whatever you want to call it.

Most of you have noticed in the past year I've been starting to emphasize more and more of this approach to the practice. And it is not that I don't believe that the other approaches are also good. I'm just falling in love with the Amitabha practice, and I can't help it. I figure I don't feel bad about sharing it with you, because I figure it is your karma that you come here to my sangha, so Amitabha's good enough for you too. All right. See, this is the thing. You have—let me compare Tibetan Buddhism with Pure Land Buddhism real quick.

You know, Tibetan Buddhism, you have Vairocana Buddha, and then you have these other Buddhas, these primordial Buddhas, including Amitabha Buddha in the West. I think it is Aksobhya or somebody else in the East, somebody else in the North, someone else in the South of the cosmos. Although in the cosmos, there is no north, south, east, or west. But it is just a symbol, just a metaphor. But Vairocana Buddha represents this source of all the Buddhas. Okay? And that is Tibetan Buddhism, but in Pure Land Buddhism, Amitabha Buddha began to take on a deeper meaning then just the story form of Amitabha so that really in reality, Pure Land Buddhists are actually coming back to Vairocana Buddha, the source of all Buddhas, and this source includes everything else. So, Pure Land Buddhism, when they practice Amitabha, it is not really just about this one Buddha in the universe that is in this Western Pure Land. What it means is it is talking about the source so that infinite why Buddha is not just one among many. It is actually referring to the one source of all Buddhas, and in Western language, we call that God. But we don't say that here because this is a sangha.

But it is true that Amitabha, infinite light, that is what it is pointing to, and it includes everything, the whole universe. So, in Tibetan Buddhism, your different Buddhas for different occasions, just like in the Catholic Church are different things for different things, right? But in Pure Land Buddhism, Amitabha is all of that. So, you know, I love Tibetan Buddhism. It is very colorful, but it is all Amitabha to me. So, they have this beautiful chant for healing from the blue medicine Buddha, they have all these different things from other Buddhas and bodhisattvas to help with different aspects, but for me, I'm a very simple person. I just get really confused by all of it, and I'm a simple person, and maybe everyone comes to the sangha because they are drawn here because they're simple like me. I just need something I can just do without thinking too much about it. I just can't memorize all those 100-syllable mantras.

So, Amitabha. Four syllables. That is really, really helpful for me, and it is just one Buddha, which includes all the other Buddhas: healing Buddha, compassion Buddha, all Amitabha. And that is just simpler for me. It doesn't deny the reality that the Tibetan Buddhists or the Theravadan Buddhists or the Zen Buddhists are talking about, because actually, it is all of that. Amitabha is that step-by-step enlightenment of the Theravadan tradition. Amitabha is all of the varieties in Buddhism in the Tibetan tradition, and Amitabha is pointing to that infinite, vast emptiness that is the source from which all comes. But what I like about Amitabha is that it centers in the heart, and I really feel like in our age, in our society, in our time, that is the most important part of our practice, more important than any other thing, just come back to the heart, come back to love, come back the courage, commitment, connection, compassion.

And you see, in—I know I am talking a long time, but I never get to teach, you know, so I'm always talking love. In the Pure Land metaphor, it is said that when you are reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha, there are nine lotuses that you might be born in. How many is that? All right. They represent kind of a low-grade karma, average karma, and really good karma, and they each have the low of the low, average of the low, highest of the low, and then medium, and then high, okay? All right. This can be humorous. Because if you're not quite ready, not fully pure, you don't spring into the Pure Land as a fully enlightened Buddha. You kind of have to like be in this lotus flower that incubates you until you're ready, and then your lotus flower opens and then you're in the Pure Land, the heavenly paradise of Amitabha Buddha and all these different bodhisattvas that help you to become enlightened in just one lifetime in that Pure Land.

Now, in the Theravadan tradition, which is more orthodox and by the book, they talk about four stages of enlightenment, and the first stage is called stream enterer. And then once returner, non-returner, arhat. I won't get into all of that, but basically, if you enter the stream, it is said that you only need seven or less more lifetimes to reach enlightenment of an arhat, okay? An arhat is an enlightened person. Now, the once returner just needs one more lifetime. The non-returner does anything need to come back here. They can just be in this heavenly realm and go into enlightenment, and of course arhat is already enlightened. So, seven lifetimes, okay?

I really believe that the Pure Land metaphor is the same as this Theravadan teaching of the Buddha because in seven lifetimes, you just kind of knockout the lowest and the highest. I really believe this is what it really is referring to, but it is not necessarily your literally being reborn into this paradise world with the lotus flower, but that in each of these seven lifetimes—and the word seven in the original language isn't a literal seven. It just means a few, okay? It has several different meanings, but seven is one of them. So, what it is saying is the Pure Land tradition says you're guaranteed enlightenment one you are born in the Pure Land with no regression, right? In the Theravadan tradition, they say the same thing. If you attain stream enterer Enlightenment, you are guaranteed in seven or less lifetimes to become enlightened.

Audience Member: ChiSing, what would be an example from someone's life of the moment at which they entered the stream?

ChiSing: Well, it is said that there are three aspects of stream entering: that you no longer believe in a separate self because you have actually experienced that reality of the infinite, vast, true self, not just the small self, and that you no longer rely on rituals and rules and regulations as the way. You know, you realize that it is enlightenment that is important, not following all these rituals and rules. Now, you can still have the rules and rituals, but you know that they are just a nice icing, but they're not the cake. And then the third one is you are living a very virtuous life, and you no longer have any desire to really hurt people. You are living life in such a way that you're only doing good, so anyway. But once you are a stream enterer, you are guaranteed.

So in a way, the genius of the Pure Land tradition is that it is the same metaphor for this because once you're guaranteed, you're really there. Do you see what I'm saying? If you're already guarantee it, then you're already there. Do you get that? Because there's no way you can't be, so it is like it is a done deal. So I believe that each of these seven lifetimes, it is not that you are born into some other realm just because you just prayed for Amitabha to do that, but that sincere, heartfelt devotion to the infinite light somehow has helped you to realize nonself, uselessness of rituals, and the ability to live a virtuous life. That allows you—each lifetime is like a lotus flower, and each lifetime you progress, because in the Pure Land teachings, it says that someone does not even need to die and be reborn in the Pure Land to enter into the Pure Land.

That is the key sentence in the whole sutra. That one sentence is the key because it describes this beautiful paradise realm with flower petals falling down from the heavens and all these beings full of light and love and everything, and it is like if people can truly devote their heart to Amitabha, Amitabha will bring them into the Pure Land when they die. But then it says toward the end of the sutra that you do not have to die to be reborn in the Pure Land. In this very moment, right now, if your heart is completely devoted, you are already in the Pure Land. You are already in the Buddha-field of incident light. That is what I really believe is the true meaning of Pure Land Buddhism. So in these seven lifetimes, even though you have to be reborn here on the earth again, yes, you are in the Pure Land while on earth. It's like heaven on earth. You are already in heaven on earth in this moment, in this life. You see?

So, all of these different teachings of Buddhism, like the Tibetan teaching, Om Mani Padme Hum, which is the mantra of compassion of Avalokiteshvara, we know as Quan Yin, the goddess of compassion, the mother aspect of the Buddha. You see, again, this is like that is just simply Amitabha in female drag, in my opinion. Some people need that. Some people need expressing it in one way and then another way just to explain it. For instance, in Buddhism, it is traditional, like we have the Buddha, and then we have these bodhisattvas of wisdom, of compassion, of vows, of action, but they are all really just aspects of this one Buddha nature, right? But some people need all of that variety because they just need that. They need everything to keep them in check, and other people, it is too confusing. They just need that one, Amitabha, right? It is okay.

That is why there are so many different schools of Buddhism, but they are also wonderful and good, and I also believe that is why there's so many religions. They all have jewels. They're all good. And also they maybe have some things that could be changed in them, too. Buddhism, too. So, Om Mani Padme Hum. You know what? Om Mani Padme Hum, that is a lot of syllables, so let's just break it into Amitabha. Really, Om Mani Padme Hum is Amitabha. Amitabha. And if that is even too much, just, "Ah. Ah." And I like the word Amitabha because you can take "Am" and then "Ah," "Amma," mother. Or you can say, "Ah," "Ba," father. Or you can say, "Ami" or "Mita," which in Sanskrit means friend. You know, this is very close to the Christian idea of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit, you see? So anyway, don't get caught up in words and specifics. Just open your heart and use whatever method your heart resonates with and just do it.


Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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