Winter Solstice
Many Forms of Practice
Listen to this talk:
Many Forms of Practice (19 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing and Shelly Niebuhr
June 27, 2010 - Dallas, Texas

ChiSing: Well, tonight, instead of giving a message with words, I feel more like giving a message through whatever happens in the next 15 minutes. It could include some words. It could include some poems or songs or maybe questions and answers. We will see. I just feel very open right now just to sit together in silence and in chanting is already enough. Just to gather together, hearts opening is already the message.

My teacher—our teacher—Thich Nhat Hanh once went to Korea a couple of years ago, and everyone there seems to really, really like him for some reason, and all the news report channels gave him a lot of praise. And one of his books was the number one best seller in Korea. Guess which book it was?

Audience Member: Be in Peace.

ChiSing: Nope.

Audience Member: Happiness.

ChiSing: Nope. Anger.

Audience Member: Anger.

ChiSing: Anger. Anger. Yes. They really related to that one for whatever reason.

Audience Member: South Korea.

ChiSing: South Korea. So, Anger. So they really, really enjoyed that. Number one bestseller. So he was going to lead a walking meditation in public, and there were so many people, thousands of people in the streets wanting to take his picture or touch him because in the East there is a tradition if you can at least touch the guru, you maybe get a blessing. I think in the Bible, in the Christian scriptures, we have the same story with someone trying to touch Jesus' robe as well. So can you imagine thousands of people trying to touch you? It is a little difficult to meditate in that country.

So, Thich Nhat Hanh closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and he said, "Inner Buddha, please walk for me." And so he just let go of all worries and concerns and just allowed life itself to just do what it needed to do, and this step was taken, and then another step. And it was as if the Red Sea parted and everyone quieted down, made a path right for him as he walked mindfully, peacefully, lovingly, and everyone joined in quietly. And he said it was one of the most profound walking meditations, public walking meditations, he had ever led in his life.

So he wrote a poem in Vietnamese after this experience, and then he translated it into English with the help of some of his monks and nuns and lay friends, and then I translated it into music. And so it is a beautiful Zen poem with very deep, profound meanings. And you may not get it all from just one time of listening to it, but on some deeper level, I know that you are getting the message because the message is already in you. It just wants to be watered like a flower just so it can blossom more deeply and fully. So just repeat after me.

By the way, I love this poem/song because many times in my life, and I'm sure in yours as well, I feel like I am struggling a lot. I am trying to best with my limited understanding, my ego abilities, but it doesn't always seem to work. So we can all take a deep breath and rely on a deeper wisdom within, and that is the point of the song. So when we say, "Let the Buddha breathe. Let the Buddha walk," we are not just talking about that wonderful teacher 2,600 years ago. We are referring more deeply to that inner light within all of us, Amitabha, the Buddha nature, whatever you want to call it, the deep wisdom within us. And when I say, "I don't have to breathe. I don't have to walk," I am not saying that breathing and walking are not necessary in life. I am saying that the I doesn't have to do it, that little ego that always thinks it is control. When we sit in meditation, we notice we do not have to consciously make ourselves breathe. There's just breathing. So let that light that is already there glow.

(Sings) Let the Buddha breathe.
Audience: Let the Buddha breathe.

ChiSing: Let the Buddha walk.
Audience: Let the Buddha walk.

ChiSing: I don't have to breathe.
Audience: I don't have to breathe.

ChiSing: I don't have to walk.
Audience: I don't have to walk.

ChiSing: The Buddha is breathing.
Audience: The Buddha is breathing.

ChiSing: The Buddha is walking.
Audience: The Buddha is walking.

ChiSing: I enjoy the breathing.
Audience: I enjoy the breathing.

ChiSing: I enjoy the walking.
Audience: I enjoy the walking.

ChiSing: Buddha is the breathing.
Audience: Buddha is the breathing.

ChiSing: Buddha is the walking.
Audience: Buddha is the walking.

ChiSing: I am the breathing.
Audience: I am the breathing.

ChiSing: I am the walking.
Audience: I am the walking.

ChiSing: There is just the breathing.
Audience: There is just the breathing.

ChiSing: There is just the walking.
Audience: There is just the walking.

ChiSing: There is no breather.
Audience: There is no breather.

ChiSing: There is no walker.
Audience: There is no walker.

ChiSing: Peace and joy while breathing.
Audience: Peace and joy while breathing.

ChiSing: Peace and joy while walking.
Audience: Peace and joy while walking.

ChiSing: Peace and joy, the breathing.
Audience: Peace and joy, the breathing.

ChiSing: Peace and joy, the walking.
Audience: Peace and joy, the walking.

ChiSing: Breathing, walking.
Audience: Breathing, walking.

ChiSing: Sitting, smiling.
Audience: Sitting, smiling.

ChiSing: Sleeping, waking.
Audience: Sleeping, waking.

ChiSing: Working, playing.
Audience: Working, playing.

ChiSing: Breathing, walking.
Audience: Breathing, walking.

ChiSing: My dear friends, we have a choice in every moment. We can choose to let the Buddha breathe and walk and work, and play, and create, and plan, and serve, and love, and hug, and water the plants. Or we may also choose to try to control everything through the small, separate self, the limited ego mind, full of fear and worry and stress and struggle and strife. And deeper than those two choices, I want to share with you another truth, that either way, whether you choose to let the Buddha breathe and walk or choose to assert the ego self, I, in each moment, either way you are embraced. You are supported. You are loved. You are beautiful, just as you are. And it is completely okay to the whole universe whatever choice you make. Because if you choose to let the Buddha breathe and walk, you learn the way of happiness, wisdom, liberation, peace, joy, and love. And if you choose not to let the Buddha breathe and walk, you also learn. You learn so much wisdom from the way of suffering. You learn so much wisdom from that way.

So, that is why it is completely, perfectly okay to the whole universe whichever choice you make, either way you learn, and to learn is part of enlightenment. To learn is to grow. And so do what you need to do, learn through the way of peace and learn through the way of suffering and know that no matter what, you are always held, always supported, and you are always on the path of enlightenment. No one and nothing can ever take that away from you because you are not separate from Buddha nature. You are not separate from all enlightened beings. There is no such thing as separation in this one universe, this uni-verse, this one poem of life. So everyone, without exception, is destined to be awakened.

So when we realize that truth, is that the end of our practice and our journey? Not quite. Because you see, enlightenment never ends. The moment you think you got it, think again. We need to be—it is good to realize and be aware that our practice, our life is really a dance. It is the dance of the Middle Path between polarities. On one hand, there is the truth that we need to work and put right effort into our practice of enlightenment, and that if we make choices that are contrary, it is not a good thing. That is one part of the truth, but if you get stuck in that truth, then we come up with ideas that are very false, such as that we are unworthy and that we are small, separate beings, that we can't possibly compare ourselves to our elder brothers and sisters who are enlightened and that we are just puny, wretched souls. What is that famous song? That "saved a wretch like me."

Audience Member: "Amazing Grace."

ChiSing: But on the other hand, the truth is that we are always supported no matter what choice we make, we are always embraced and we are destined no matter what for enlightenment. If we get stuck in that truth, it may lend itself to the false ideas and notions of laziness and not it does not matter what we do because we're going to get there anyway eventually, so who cares? We don't need to practice. It is okay. I have many more lifetimes to do it anyway. Yes you do. Lifetimes of hell and making health for others. So be careful not to be stuck in extremes. Always come back to the Middle Path and know that truth is not so much absolute truth as it is practical truth.

When someone is on a very slim road and on one side is flaming fire and on the other side is a bottomless pit, and you are blindfolded, there is a teacher ahead on the road calling your name and helping you guide your way from the dangers on your left and right. Sometimes the teacher will say, "Go to the left," and then she might say, "Go to the right. Go to the left. More to the left. Go to the right. More to the right." Does this mean that the teacher is contradicting herself or himself? No. It is just that depending on where we are in our practice, sometimes we need to hear, "You've got to put effort in your practice." And sometimes you need to hear, "Don't beat yourself up so much. Let go and just flow." They sound contradictory, and yet they are necessary at different stages of our practice, so I cannot tell you one blanket statement in your practice because there are so many of you in here today. All I can do is encourage you to listen to your inner teacher, your inner Buddha, and let the Buddha breathe. Let the Buddha walk. Amitabha.

ChiSing asks Shelly: Would you like to give a reflection, too?

Shelly: Well, it is interesting that you brought up that song, "Amazing Grace." It made me immediately think of the author. How many of you know much about that song? Anything? The history of the song. Does anybody know the history of the song? It was written by John Newton, and actually, he was a slave trader in the 1700s. It was probably the late 1700s, and he actually was the captain of the ship that sailed to the shores of African and brought slaves over into the New World. And that is why he used that word wretched. He felt it. And one night on the ship, there was a terrible storm. And he really believed he was going to die. And I don't know how many of you have ever been faced with death. I have been, due to a car accident, but I also work with people were faced with that almost every day, as I work with people who are dying. And that can be a huge waking up for some people.

But that night on the ship, John Newton was faced with the reality of that, and in that moment he had a big realization. What I am doing is not right. And he woke up. He woke up, and later actually became a person who was part of the slavery abolishment movement and really fought it. So as he wrote those words, I mean, you know, just the depth of how he felt, the sorrow and grief for the pain he had caused. And I think that is why that song is still like one of the most famous songs, most sung songs of the world, because on some level, we can all maybe just identify with him. Maybe on some level, we just felt really low. He was lifted up. And certainly, so can we be. So, I don't know if I need to say anything else tonight.

ChiSing: Want to sing "Amazing Grace"?

Shelly: Oh. Well, sometimes a lot of people do leave out those words saying "a wretch like me," because it sounds so horrible. They just don't want to affirm that in ourselves. If we look at the whole picture, I can understand why he wrote those words. I think I get it. He needed to release how he felt. He needed to do that. It was important for his transformation. It was important to call it by its name, call it by its true name. This is an interfaith meeting, an interfaith sangha. So this fits. We will do the first verse.

(Sings with ChiSing and Audience) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found. Was blind, but now I see. Was blind, but now I see.

ChiSing: Let's sing it one more time.

Shelly: One more time. (Sings with ChiSing and Audience) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found. Was blind, but now I see.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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