Winter Solstice
YOU are the Message
Listen to this talk:
YOU are the Message (22 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing and Shelly Niebuhr
April 18, 2010 - Dallas, Texas

Good evening, dear friends. One of my Zen teachers from Austin had asked me to give some talks at the Zen center last year. And I was a little nervous about it at first because those Zen people can be so serious, and I was not sure if they would be a little too shocked by my style of sharing, which is much more laid-back, spontaneous, and down to earth. Maybe some of them might think it was a little touchy-feely.

So I was feeling nervous. I was letting my thoughts run around in my head, and then I told the teacher, "I'm not sure what to talk about. I'm feeling very nervous. Are you sure you want me to talk?" And then he reminded me, "ChiSing, it doesn't really matter what you say. Just be yourself, because you are the message. And that is what I want our Zen center to see, just to see you and you as the message. Just be yourself. Just allow your heart to be present, be vulnerable, be real. That is why I asked you to talk, to share that, so it doesn't matter what you say. Just say what is on your heart."

Another time, I heard my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh—our teacher—share about the practice of simply drinking tea together, no need for anything else, just sitting together and drinking tea mindfully together. And I remember one of the dharma talks one morning was him just drinking tea in front of all of us and smiling for about half an hour. Well, that is what I am feeling like right now. I always love it when Tracy facilitates and when Gary sings and when Annette does the bells and when Cornell plays the flute or not, just sitting there with his flute ready and willing. It is so beautiful. And so just sitting here together, it is already enough.

But some of us like sugar and milk in our tea, so here is a reading from Jeff Wilson's new book called Buddhism of the Heart. He is a Pure Land Buddhist, and so he writes from that perspective. "The Buddha became the Buddha because of his father and mother, because of his courtiers and peasants in the fields, because of the horse that he rode through the forest, the sages who encouraged his pursuits, the ascetics who taught him mortification and also ultimately led him see that mortification is not the answer. This stream that bathed him, the girl who fed him and the food, the boy and the grass, the tree, the serpent, and the earth. Because of this star that rose and shone just as it was, because of the air that Siddhartha breathed in as he sat, because of the sun that provided him heat and nourished the plants that he ate, everything everywhere came together to produce the Buddha. And most of all the Buddha became the Buddha because he was already held by the liberated nature of reality to begin with. He only discovered what had been the true state of himself and all things, all beings all along, vast emptiness, nothing set aside and holy, nothing outside of the interconnected embrace of reality."

"The Buddha did not discover something unique and special about himself. He did not become something different from other things or people. He awakened to the true nature of all things, himself included, as he liberated suchness. This awakening came after he'd been supported in innumerable ways by countless beings and conditions, and after he had ceased to strive after enlightenment and relaxed back into his natural state. As a much later Japanese Zen thinker named Dogen said, ‘To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.'"

"I'm not saying that the Buddha put out no effort, but effort too is empty of independent nature and arises interdependently from the contingency of all things. Siddhartha could only put out his effort after and while being supported by the entire universe. Likewise, our own efforts toward deeper insight and understanding can only take place within an infinite matrix of supportive actions by others. How blessed we are to live in such an open-ended universe where we can receive what we need from others and contribute to the happiness and awakening of one another."

I love that passage from this book. It encapsulates the very heart of Buddhism, as well as Pure Land Buddhism, which is the insight that our enlightenment is interdependent with everything else and is completely relying upon the grace of others, the grace of the universe. I was at the Amitabha Chinese Buddhist temple yesterday morning, and they have a one-and-a-half hour to two-hour service, and they chant the Amitabha Sutra for half an hour and then they walk for 20 minutes while chanting Amitabha, and then they sit for 20 minutes while chanting Amitabha, and then there is 10 minutes of silence, and then another 20 minutes of chanting Amitabha, infinite light, and then the closing meditation while standing and praying for others, dedicating all the energy that has been created in the service and sending it out to others, reciting the names of those who you are praying for. It is a very beautiful practice.

And I've been there several times off and on in the last year or so, and every time there's this old Vietnamese man amongst all these Chinese people, this one old Vietnamese man who goes there, and we've never conversed, but he always smiles at me and bows, to make sure I have the right book in English, and if I don't know what page to turn to, he turns it to the right page for me and gives me the book. And yesterday, when we were going to be doing some bowing, he gently took the book from my hand, put it on the table, so I would not have to have it in my hands while I was bowing. He is just a very kind, kind person, and even though we have never talked, so much has been communicated between us.

And while I was chanting, I suddenly felt deeply this brother's kindness in his heart, and I had a mental picture in my heart of some day when I die from this body and move toward the light, I imagined that there would be various beings to greet me, and all the sudden I realized that one of them could be this man, just smiling at the end of the tunnel of light to greet me. And when I realized that and I realized that all these wonderful people are all going to be there in the Pure Land of the Buddha, and the kingdom of God, and the paradise of heaven, the heaven that starts here in our heart here on earth—when I realized that, it was just so beautiful, and I just—my heart was just opened, and I just began to have tears in my eyes as we were chanting, just to know that there is this kindness, this love, and this care from someone I don't even really know, but whose heart is so pure because of this practice.

And later in the service, I noticed he was starting to cry, too. And even though he did not say a single word, my intuition told me that he had a realization that I am the next generation and that his practice is of benefit to me, the next generation, because he is very old, and not very many young people come and practice in this tradition anymore. It seems like only the old people do it, but they just do it so faithfully every week, every day, and I think he just was very touched that a young person could come and enjoy this practice. That is at least what came to my mind was he was having that same realization I was in the opposite direction, but just as he is going to go ahead before me and get to greet me into the Pure Land, he is passing on to me the privilege of sharing this practice with my generation and those after me. And it is just this beautiful web of life, this interconnected love that is just rippling across time and space, so beautiful.

And you know, it is true. The kingdom of God is not far away at all. The Pure Land of the Buddha, you do not have to wait to die to enter because the kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha is simply the pure heart that is love, that is God, that is Buddha, that is Christ, that is Tracy, Cornell, Leslie, Gary, ChiSing. This one heart has so many names, so many faces. So, to touch the kingdom of God and to enter into the Pure Land of the Buddha, it is impossible because you are already in it, so you cannot enter it. You already are it, so you cannot touch it. So what is our practice? To remember and to realize, to embody and to share that truth by drinking tea mindfully, by sitting together quietly, by working noisily and joyfully in the work that we are called to do with presence, with an open heart.

A few years ago, I was in Austin for a Day of Mindfulness retreat hosted by the sangha members in Austin. I love practicing with them. We did walking meditation and sitting meditation, singing, bowing, and then we had a dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on DVD. For this particular retreat, I noticed that everyone in the room have been someone who had already had already experienced personally being with Thich Nhat Hanh. So we all already knew that heart energy that we could easily just connect with that with each other. So as we were watching this DVD, I could feel everyone just settle deeper and deeper, almost as if we were actually with Thich Nhat Hanh in person. And I don't even remember what the words were on the DVD. I just don't remember at all.

All I remember is breathing together, listening together, and when the DVD ended and stopped, the next activity was to prepare for lunch, but nobody moved for 15 minutes. Nobody moved. Nobody said a word, and everyone knew why. It was wonderful. It was one of those moments where everyone was psychically in tune with each other, and we knew we were in this holy moment together and that there was no need for words, no need for getting up and going to the next activity, just breathing together in that palpable energy of love.

You see, when you have touched that place of the infinite, even for just a moment, whether through the teacher Thich Nhat Hanh or through some other circumstance or experience or modality or spiritual community, when you have touched it, your heart resonates on that frequency. And it knows that frequency when you are with other people who know that same frequency, because we all knew that same frequency from our teacher, and we were instantly able to tap right back in even though he was not in the room, but listening to his voice triggered all of our hearts to beat with that same frequency, to vibrate with that same frequency together, and it was as if Thich Nhat Hanh was sitting with us. It was so powerful.

So as we are each sitting here deep inside each of us, we know that frequency of deep wisdom comment deep peace, deep love. That is why we come together, to support each other's hearts, to be able to open to the one heart that we are all expressions of. We do not have to do a lot, just sitting together, hearts connected on the same frequency, that is actually what creates the field of energy that is healing, that is enlightenment, that is peace. And when we leave from here, we each feel refreshed, and we can't continue to let that light shine from our heart throughout our day, throughout our week, throughout our work and our relationships, and then we come back again the next week for a recharge. And so much is done. Maybe not tangibly in this two-hour period, but so much is done through this practice out there throughout the week. It is a ripple effect.

And I know you don't always hear the stories of what happens through this practice, but I hear a lot of them because people e-mail me and tell me. This practice is powerful. It is life changing. People have stopped short of committing suicide sometimes. And several other stories, you know, and I'm sorry I don't always have a chance to share all this with you. It is so amazing, all because you are willing to come and sit and breathe with each other. So do not think that you are not doing anything. Do not think that you are not important. Don't think that your life doesn't matter, because you do matter, and you are powerful, and you are brilliant. You don't have to be the president of the United States. You don't have to be the world's greatest scientist or doctor. Just be you and breathe mindfully with me and each other, and that is it.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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