I would like to talk tonight about the fourth chakra, the central chakra, of the heart. And I would also like to give an overview like I promised last week of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path and how it can correspond to the chakras. I would also like to talk about the path toward the first of 4 stages of enlightenment. And I talked about that a little bit in a letter I wrote a couple of days ago, but I am going to read it to you again just in case some of you did not read that e-mail.
I would also like to talk tonight about the heart of Mahayana practice. Mahayana means "Great Vehicle," as opposed to Hinayana, the "Small Vehicle." It was used by the Mahayana school of Buddhism to basically make a statement that our practice should not be small, only for a few elite people, but it should be a practice for everyone to practice and engage in. Unfortunately, there was a bit of tension in the Buddhist schools, so it was like, "I'm Mahayana, and you're a little Hinayana." It is not very nice, but nowadays, we no longer use that term. Just Mahayana. You don't need to compare it to somebody else.
And honestly, to me Mahayana can exist in the traditional Mahayana schools like Zen and Pure Land and others, Tibetan Buddhism. To me Mahayana is not about which school is Buddhism. It is an attitude, so you could still be Zen or Pure Land or Tibetan Buddhist, which are traditionally called Mahayana Buddhism but not be Mahayana, whereas you could be a Theravada Buddhist, which is traditionally not Mahayana, but you could be truly Mahayana. Because to me Mahayana is not about a tradition or school. It is about an attitude of the heart. So it is not about what school of Buddhism you are a part of or practicing. It is about what is the attitude of your heart. What is the openness of your heart? Is it truly a great, open heart or not?
I would also like to talk about the Pure Land approach to the practice and show you how it corresponds to the 4 stages of enlightenment in the Theravada practice. So I want to show you how Mahayana practice can also be the same as the Theravada practice. They are just talking about the same thing, but from 2 different angles. And if I have time, I would like to also talk about loving kindness meditation practice, which we did just a little bit of that during the silent meditation tonight. I doubt I'll be able to talk about all of that tonight. Maybe we will have to do a part 2.
I would like to read this letter to you that I wrote a couple of days ago:
This is a message of encouragement to you, my dear mindful
friends. Continue to intensify your commitment to mindfulness
meditation and enlightened living. If you have slacked off a bit,
just start over today or start over this weekend or start over on
Sunday. Every week, just start over again.
The ability to let go of the past without regret or judgment and
to begin anew again today, fresh and open, here and now, is
powerful and will serve you on your path to full enlightenment and
Buddhahood. It does not matter how many times you fall. What
matters is how many times you get up again and start over. This is
the secret to inner strength. Failure is meant to be there to give
as an opportunity to get up again and therefore, there is no such
thing as failure ultimately, for all things, both the negative as
well as the positive, serve to bring us to full spiritual
maturity, to full enlightenment, to full adulthood.
Once we set forth on the true path of enlightenment, there's no
turning back, and all the negativity is transformed into compost
to become fertilizer for the garden of the flowers of
enlightenment, wisdom, compassion, peace, joy, true power, and
true beauty. That is why ultimately nothing in the universe of our
experience is ever really against us, but only for us, only for
our enlightenment, our maturity, our Buddhahood. Only for our
wisdom and compassion. Only for us, not against us.
But until we truly and deeply enter into this stream of the path
of true enlightenment, all negativity is only seen as
negative. All suffering only seems hopeless and meaningless, and
we feel overwhelmed by the fears, uncertainties, and tragedies of
life. And yet once we set forth toward the true path, there will
come a time attainable in this very lifetime when we will enter
the first of 4 gateless gates of enlightenment, never to regress,
only to move forward in "7 lifetimes or less" toward full
enlightenment. [You can take that literally or
metaphorically.] All that is required is the 7 practices to
enter the stream.
What are these 7 practices? They are, number 1, great generosity,
especially giving food to monks and nuns and supporting
mindfulness centers [including this one]. Number 2, great loving
kindness, including metta lovingkindness meditation. Three, deeply
taking refuge fully in the Buddha. And Buddha simply means our own
potential for enlightenment, as well as teachers more enlightened
than ourselves and fully enlightened ones, seen and unseen.
Four, deeply taking refuge fully in the Dharma. The Dharma are the
teachings and the practice of enlightenment, including meditation
and mindful living. Five, deeply taking refuge fully in the
Sangha, and the Sangha is the spiritual community of all of our
sisters and brothers who are on the path of enlightenment with
us. [That means you and me, right here and now.] Six,
deeply practicing fully the 5 mindfulness trainings, non-killing,
non-stealing, non-harmful sex, non-lying, and
non-intoxication. And number 7, great devotion. That is, great
faith, great vows, great practice. And one particular powerful way
to practice this is through Amitabha practice.
I believe with all my heart that if we deeply practice fully
together for the next several months, that most of us will
certainly realize this initial enlightenment, perhaps in just 2 or
3 years. Maybe even by the winter solstice of 12-21-12, which
coincidentally occurs at exactly 11:11 universal time.
By the way, this is an aside from the letter. I really would love for
us to use that date, 12-21-12, as a personal goal date of our own,
that you definitely will on that date or near that date realize the
first stage of enlightenment.
I mean, that is my goal. So I just wanted to use it. Even if it is not going to be literally true, just use it metaphorically as a way of encouraging your practice. Use that. And, you know, this summer solstice in June of this year will be 6 seasons before that winter solstice, and I would like for us to use that as the six chakras. Each of these then, we will be focusing on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chakras between the fall equinox and then that winter solstice. Then that winter solstice onward into the year 2013 will be the seventh chakra, full light.
And this year on 11-11, which happens to be on a Friday, we will have a great celebration, 11-11-11. We're going to celebrate oneness as we prepare one more year before that 12-21-12, okay? And I am looking for a wonderful place to do that, at Unity Church or somewhere, but we will probably need a lot of space because I think a lot of people will want to come for that, maybe 1,111 people.
So, back to the letter:
The time is now. No turning back, no more maybes. We either say
yes to the path at this critical time in human history, or else
our silent indecision will become our "no." There is only "yes" or
"no" now. Maybe is no longer an option, and it is not enough that
we say yes with just our mouth or with our surface minds. We must
say yes with all parts and all aspects of ourselves, all 7 chakras
of our being, our nooks and crannies and closets and shadows and
voices of our multilayered thoughts, beliefs, desires, and will.
Our entire body, our entire mind, our entire being must say yes,
and that takes practice. That takes commitment. That takes the
support of the sangha, the spiritual community of mindfulness
practitioners. You cannot do this alone. There is no room for a
Lone Ranger spirituality anymore. Our enlightenment must be
collective or not at all. We practice with each other and for all
beings. This is the only enlightenment that is real. Any other
so-called enlightenment is incomplete at best and deluded at
So, my dear mindful friends, please take refuge in the Buddha, for
the Buddha takes refuge in you. Please take refuge in the Dharma,
for the Dharma takes refuge in you. Please take refuge in the
Sangha, for the Sangha takes refuge in you. Without the Buddha,
the Dharma, and the Sangha, you will never be able to realize
enlightenment on your own by yourself.
And the other side of this truth is that without you, without
you,the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha can never be fully
embodied and manifested here on earth. To become real on earth,
they need you just as much as you need them. I believe in you, so
just do it. Yes.
You know, today I got a response to this letter. I mean, I got a few responses that were very positive, but one response today had a little bit of a spiritual challenge or criticism, and so I would like to answer this brother, even though he may not be here. But he was criticizing my overemphasis, he thought, on Sangha and community, saying that it is also important to—you've got it do it on your own. No one can do it for you. You've got to practice on your own. You've got to go on the mountaintop alone. You've got to face your demons alone. Well, yes, of course this is true, but you see, it's only part of the picture.
If I were to err on either side of the community versus individual practice, I would rather err on the side of community because when you look at the whole path, if you start with the support of teachers and community, and at some point, you have got to strike out on your own, and really only you can be enlightened for yourself. No one else can do it for you. Yes, that is true, but then, what happens after that enlightenment? Then you come back to community and service for all beings.
So, those people who are overemphasizing the individual stuff, they've only got half the picture, and they have forgotten the other half, and this is actually true of a lot of so-called new so-called Neo-Advaita followers and teachers. They only have one side of the picture, but to get the whole picture, it starts out in community and then yes, you know, enlightenment of the individual, but always coming back to community, always in service for all beings. I mean, really, what is the point of your enlightenment if it is not to serve all beings and to come back in solidarity with all? So, that is my answer anyway.
I am not ashamed at all of overemphasizing community. I don't think it's overemphasizing at all. It is just remembering the importance of that and our collective enlightenment.
Audience Member: It is also easier to be enlightened on the mountain.
ChiSing: Yes. It is very easy to feel really fully enlightened on the mountain, but what about relating with your spouse or your crying kids or the grumpy employer? That is the real test of your enlightenment, right? In everyday life, here and now. That is right.
So, as we move from the lower chakras into the heart chakra, you see, the first chakra, you could say it is like your connection to them, your tribe. As you move into your second chakra, you are relating maybe you and me, kind of perhaps like in relationship. But then in the third chakra, it is about who are you, who am I, me, getting to know your true me. But as we move from the lower chakras into the heart chakra, it is from me to we. We. It's about we. It is not just about me, but we.
So, in Buddhism, there is a term called bodhicitta, which is the awakening heart, which is where our group name comes from. It is also translated as enlightened mind or enlightened heart or awakened heart or the enlightened attitude, awakened attitude. Basically, it means to practice with the attitude that you are not just practicing for yourself alone, but for the benefit of all beings. That is just basically what it means.
And this is an attitude that was found in early Buddhism and exists today in the Theravadan tradition even though they are not called Mahayana, but it is in the form of metta practice, lovingkindness practice, compassion practice. It is found in the fact that monks and some nuns, although there are not so many nuns in the Theravadan tradition, though that is starting to happen more now. Monks and nuns are always engaged with the people.
You know, why did the Buddha have the monks and nuns practice begging for food? It was to prevent them from just going off on the mountaintop. They would always be in touch with the common people. That is why the Buddha made this practice of the monks and nuns always have to beg for their food every day, to prevent them from—because there is a tendency to want to bliss out and the off on your own or whatever, and there is a time for that. You know, some monks and nuns are given permission to do that for a time, but not forever, just for a time. But for the most part, you are always engaged with each other in community with other monks and nuns and with the common people.
So this is what bodhicitta means, always opening the heart, always including others in your practice. And in the Zen tradition, you see this very clearly in the way they do their retreats. Yes, most of it is silent, but look at the way they do everything. Everyone has an assignment during working meditation. Everyone has their place and their part to play, even though there is only silence. And the way that meals are done, so lovingly and carefully, and the way the services and the rituals are done and the way they walk and the way they sit, everything is done with careful consideration and community. Even though there is silence, there's great communication taking place at a deeper level.
Anyone who has done a Zen retreat of at least 5 or 7 days knows that there is a deep intimacy of the heart with your fellow brothers and sisters in the silence. There is a great and deep heart communication through simply practicing together in the silence and doing things together without words. There is a harmony and communion that takes place. At first, there are a lot of jagged edges of the ego and not knowing what you are doing, but then after several days, you start to go in harmony and flow, and you do not even have to look at anyone. You just know what to do in the moment. And you know that the other person is doing what they are supposed to do, and everything is in harmony.
In the Tibetan tradition, this bodhicitta is symbolized by certain kinds of bodhisattvas and Buddhas. Tibetan Buddhists love to be very colorful and diverse in their expressive art forms of Buddhism. It is somewhat opposite of Zen. Zen is very simple, plain, and stark, and Tibetan Buddhists love lots of color, lots of statues, lots of paintings, lots of ritual, lots of music, lots of chanting, lots of incense, everything. But that is how they express bodhicitta, the open heart that is able to include everything, all colors, all sounds, all smells, all tastes, all kinds of personality types. That is why they have so many Buddhas and bodhisattvas that kind of speak to each personality type, you know?
And tonight, it is so amazing to me the synchronicity that since we are talking about the heart chakra, that is love, forgiveness, compassion, bodhicitta, and lo and behold, Susan, our yoga teacher, brought in a beautiful symbol of bodhicitta of the heart of Avalokiteshvara, bodhisattva of love, also known in China as Quan Yin and in Tibet known as Tara and in Japan Kannon or Kanzeon, the divine feminine aspect of compassion and love, which of course can manifest as male and female.
It is said that the Dalai Lama is an incarnation of this energy of compassion. And that is why before meditation, I chose to focus on the mantra om mani padme hum, which is the mantra of Quan Yin, of Avalokiteshvara. And that is how the Tibetans express bodhicitta.
And how do the Pure Land Buddhists express bodhicitta? Through the story of Buddha Amitabha, who refuses full enlightenment unless certain conditions can be met, that anyone who wants to come to his Buddha field, his Pure Land, is able to, and it is not going to be difficult and it can be easy. And in even just one lifetime, everyone can be enlightened if they choose. And that everyone who comes to his Pure Land—it is not the same as heaven because heaven is someplace most people want to go to and stay there forever, but the Pure Land of all Buddhas—and every Buddha is said to have a Pure Land.
The original word is Buddha-ksetra, the field of energy and enlightenment. And actually all of us have our own field of energy of enlightenment. It is just that when we are fully enlightened, it is a very big field and a very strong field. So every Buddha has a field. Every person has a field, great or small. But in the Pure Land, people come to a Pure Land not to stay, but only to become enlightened, be equipped and refreshed, and then to be sent forth to different worlds to share the light. See? This story, whether it is literal or not does not matter. It is a metaphor for what our practice is supposed to be. It is a blueprint for how we need to practice with the attitude of bodhicitta.
So when we come to a place of great enlightenment, the point is not to stay there, but then to go forth back into the world, into all worlds, into this world, whatever world you want to go to, then share the light of all beings. You see? That is our practice, and every time we say Amitabha or Namo Amitabha, we are affirming that attitude, that we are not practicing only for ourselves and that we are not practicing by ourselves, that other beings, other Buddhas, other brothers and sisters are all practicing for me. And when you can feel that, when you can really feel that, it will break your heart open, and tears will come forth. You will realize how much love there is for you, great love, and your only response is simply, "Thank you." The practice for others.
You see, when you are practicing, it is not really for yourself. Other people, other Buddhas, have practiced for you already, and that is why you can attain enlightenment. So you say, "Why do I practice?" It is because of that truth, you want to practice for someone else. It is like the movie Pass It Forwardrepl. Someone else has practiced so that you can be where you are right now and continue on the path of enlightenment. Therefore, what you are doing on the path isn't really for you, but now for someone else. And that is the Mahayana spirit. That is the deepest meaning of bodhicitta. This is the true depth of Pure Land Buddhist practice, beyond this story beyond the metaphor beyond the literal, the deepest spirit is this spirit of the heart, of gratitude, of solidarity and inclusivity.
Amitabha means that someone has practiced for me. Amitabha means I am practicing for someone else. That is it. And in the Theravadan tradition, it is said that when you can attain the first stage of enlightenment, you only have 7 more lifetimes left or less to reach full enlightenment. Which is pretty exciting, because if you can get to the first stage, it is pretty much guaranteed full enlightenment, right? And you do not have to strive. You know it is going to happen. It is wonderful. That is why my mission is to attain or realize the first stage of enlightenment in this lifetime, maybe by 12-21-12, and to get all of us to do it also, together.
How does this correspond to the Pure Land path? In the Pure Land tradition, it is said that once you're born in the Pure Lands, you are guaranteed within one lifetime to be enlightened, although that one lifetime in the Pure Land is millions of billions of years. But it is said that people of different stages of the practice, when they are born in the Pure Land, maybe they are not fully ready yet at the highest stage, so you are born into a little lotus flower, it is said. And there are 9 different grades of lotus flowers.
So there is the low grade, the medium grade, and the high grade, and then at each grade, there is the low, medium, and high of the low grade, low, medium, and high of the middle grade, and the low, medium, and high of the highest grade of the lotus flower. So you have 9. But I don't like to compare people. I don't like the lowest and highest. So take away the lowest and the highest, and you have 7, and that corresponds to the 7 lifetimes of the Theravadan tradition of enlightenment.
You see? To me, it is just a metaphor, and I believe now that entering into the Pure Land, it does not necessarily mean you only enter that Buddha world after death but that you have entered into that field. Even if you come back to earth, you are still in life, in that field. You are still in that field, so you could actually be in the Pure Land on earth over 7 lifetimes here, even though it says it is only one lifetime, but it is one lifetime in the field, even though it is manifesting in several physical lifetimes.
And to me, to say you are entering into the Pure Land is the same thing as saying like the Theravadan tradition, entering into the stream of enlightenment. That is what happens when you enter the first stage of enlightenment. You have entered the stream, and you are called stream enterer. And then there are other terms for those who are deeper and further until they are an arhat in the fourth stage.
But you see, this does not have to be any conflict between the original Theravadan tradition and the later Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. To me, the Theravadan tradition basically gives us the basic outline, and the Mahayana tradition gives us a more metaphorical, artistic, creative attitude upon which we can practice. And so, yes, you can become an arhat, but with the bodhisattva attitude that you are not trying to become enlightened for yourself only, but for all beings.
Remember the 7 practices. It is not that hard, but it does take commitment to do. And, you know, one of the 7 practices is great lovingkindness, so I really want to encourage you to practice lovingkindness meditation. Maybe you cannot—if you are not good at concentration meditation, if you are not that good at mindfulness meditation, it is okay. Practice lovingkindness meditation. It is easier. Just practice prayerful love, sending love prayerfully to people and to yourself. That is a lot easier, and that will help you on your path to enlightenment.
So, in closing, I want to share with you since I did promise you I would talk about the Noble Eightforld path corresponds to the chakras, let me give you an outline on that. So, we have got the seventh crown chakra. We've got that third eye brow chakra. We've got the throat chakra. And we've got the central heart chakra. We've got the solar plexus chakra. We've got the sexual energy chakra and somewhere in here, we've got the root chakra at the base of the spine.
If we correspond these to the Buddhist Eightfold Path of enlightenment, we have right view, which basically is of right understanding of the Four Noble Truths of the way things are. If you were here on Monday last week, you heard me teach on this. I can think of another overview tomorrow night if some of you want more basic teachings on the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Then we got right intention or thinking, right speech, right action. And this is from the heart, so it starts with the feeling, but it always extends from feeling to action.
See how the heart is where the arms are? To do. That is why. And then right here, right livelihood. Right livelihood. Right here in the abdomen area, which is near the stomach, feed yourself. Likelihood, you got to eat. You've got to make a living. And then right effort is this sexual energy, which is your vitality. Right effort and energy, vitality, and then right mindfulness, which is the foundation, the root of our practice. And guess what Buddhas are usually depicted sitting on in meditation?
Audience Member: A lotus.
ChiSing: A lotus flower. That is right concentration, the seat of our Buddhahood, being right here and now slowly and deeply with every step truly being here on earth. So, creating our Buddha field, our lotus flowers, our Pure Land here on earth. That is right concentration.