Winter Solstice
7-Week Zen Practice Period / The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Week 6: "The Power of INSIGHT"
Listen to this talk:
The Power of INSIGHT (35 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
March 13, 2011 - Dallas, Texas

So tonight, we will continue our series on the seven powers of your inner Buddha. The first chakra is about being rooted in our here and now on the earth, and the second chakra is our sexual and creative, vital energy that vitalizes and energizes us. Our third chakra is about our willpower and our sense of healthy sense of self and of our individual individuation. And the fourth chakra of the heart is about love, healing, forgiveness, and the fifth chakra in the throat is about speaking our truth and also manifesting, and the sixth chakra tonight we are going to talk about is the eyebrow area in the forehead, which is the energy center of insight and of seeing clearly, seeing deeply. It is also the energy center of inspired ideas. And then of course, next week, we will talk about the last chakra, the seventh crown chakra on the top of the head, which is our connection to source, to the infinite, to the ultimate, our true nature, which is Buddha nature, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it.

But tonight, I want to talk about right view and right understanding, which corresponds to the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha taught, which also corresponds to the Eightfold Path, which a few weeks ago I told you how there is one particular way you can correspond each of the Eightfold Path to the seven chakras. The aura, I suppose, could be the eighth. So I came up with one, and then one of my students here came up with another way of corresponding them that actually was better than mine, so I gave her a little A+ on her paper.

So, tonight, I would like to talk about some insights that we can have in meditation, and there is a certaom kind of meditation that Buddha taught called insight meditation or Vipasyana meditation, or Vipassana, which simply means looking deeply, and the Buddha taught two different kinds of meditations in general. There are also some other kinds as well. But one kind is Samatha meditation. I will just write that on the board right now. Samatha is basically stopping, calming. And so actually, most of the time when we are practicing together here in this community, it is Samatha meditation, you know, which is a concentrating on the breath, on the mantra, on visualizing inner light, perhaps concentrating on the heart of love, sending metta, lovingkindness to others. These are all forms of Samatha meditation. And the reason why I am focusing mostly on this in our community is because our community is very new, and people in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are somewhat new to meditation, so Samatha is a very important foundation for our meditation practice.

However, for those of you who have been practicing for at least a year, I hope that you will start to practice the other kind of meditation, which is very profound, which the Buddha said would lead to enlightenment, and that is Vipasyana, or Vipassana meditation, depending on whether you are spelling it in the Sanskrit or the Pali way. So, Vipassana. That means deep looking, and so on the foundation of being able to concentrate and be still, to calm, to stop and be present, from that basis then you can then use your mindful energy and concentrated energy and then penetrate deeply into reality. It is said that we can penetrate deeply into the four different foundations, the foundation of—well, you could say body, feelings, mind, and object of mind.

And I will not go into all of this tonight, but basically we start off with the foundation looking deeply into the body. What is the nature of this body? What is the nature of this breath? What is the nature of what is here? What is actually here? You meditate on the different parts of the body. That's one way of doing it. And then you go into feelings, which have two meanings. Feelings in the sense of physical sensation, just observing the sensation of the body, every feeling, the feeling of breath, the feeling of body, every sensation that is appearing in your awareness.

But the second meaning of awareness of feelings is emotional feelings, because feelings are sort of that in between place between the physical and mental, so feelings have both a physical aspect and an emotional aspect or mental aspect. So in that sense, if you investigate and label your feelings, your emotional feelings—which also can include physical feelings, too—basically, is this a pleasant feeling? Or is this an unpleasant feeling? And you notice these things, and as you meditate on that pleasant, unpleasant, and if you want to go deeper, you start to realize that the thing itself is not necessarily pleasant. The thing itself is not necessarily unpleasant. There may be layers of interpretation that are causing you to respond or interpret it as pleasant or unpleasant, so that helps you go into the mind area because the mind is what is actually causing you to interpret something as pleasant or unpleasant.

But anyway, there is pleasant or unpleasant. There is also neutral. So neutral. Notice what you respond to as neutral. What is very interesting is that we react to everything in those three broad categories. If it is pleasant, notice in yourself how you start to want to grab it and own it and attached to it, right? Notice that part of you. And then when there's something unpleasant, notice how you push it away, right? Notice how you do that just reactively. But then notice how when something is neutral, you ignore it. It is just boring. You ignore it. Just ignore it. You take it for granted. Right? But these reactivities are causes of suffering, as most of the time we are attaching to the things that are going to cause us some sort of suffering, because it may be pleasurable in the moment, but maybe not always, and if we are reacting against something that may be unpleasant at first, some of those things might actually be good for us, you know?

Like some healthy foods. We may not like the taste of some of them, but if we eat it, it will be actually good for us, but we are just being reactive and pushing it away. I'm just giving you a surface example, but a deeper example is meditation practice is actually good for us, but maybe our body aches sometimes or our mind is going crazy or is restless and we don't want to meditate, so we are pushing it away because at that moment during that stage, it feels unpleasant to us. But you will never get anywhere if you keep pushing that away, just because initially it may have a little unpleasantness to it, and then of course neutral things, we just ignore them. You know, it is like we just completely ignore things that don't feel pleasurable or unpleasant to us. It is not even worth it.

So as we meditate, you start noticing things we take for granted. You know, in our practice, many practitioners told me with eating meditation, they never actually realized what a tomato actually tasted like until they did eating meditation, and they were amazed at such interesting tastes. You know? And then one person was telling me one day after retreat they never realized that there are small little microscopic little flowers, little white flowers that grow in many grasses, you know, in his neighborhood. And it is like during walking meditation, he is like, oh wow. It is not just grass down there. There are all kinds of things. But you see, it is just because it is neutral to us, we just take it for granted.

And then of course mind and objects of mind, and mind can include all of the different aspects of the mind and then objects of mind meaning like the perceptions of the mind. So I'm not going to get into that today, but that is just something to look into later on.

Okay. Now, I talked about this in my Monday night class a few weeks ago, so for the sake of those of you who were not there, I want to talk about through our practice, we can have insight into four different areas: impermanence, nonself, suffering, and nirvana. Normally, there's a list of three. Some schools say impermanence, nonself, suffering. Other schools say impermanence, nonself, and nirvana. I'm just very inclusive. I will have four. There are now four areas of insight that are very, very important on the path of enlightenment, and I'm not the only one who does this. The Tibetan Buddhists who are trying to be very inclusive kind of have four also.

So impermanence, what does that mean? Well, it seems like we can all understand it just means everything is not permanent. Nothing is permanent. Nothing stays the same from moment to moment. Everything changes, right? But, we need to meditate on impermanence until it becomes a real insight, you see? And not just a surface, logical thought. Because you may have an idea of impermanence, but it does not change your life until it becomes a true insight. That is what changes your life. Because as we practice, we might have a belief in impermanence on a surface level, but in our emotional level, we still cling to things hoping that they will be permanent, hoping that this feeling of bliss will stay forever, hoping that this partner will always be there and always love us exactly the same way as right now. And even though we may logically know, well, everyone will eventually die, but we don't act as if that is true.

And we may realize that our beloved ones around us aren't going to stay forever, yet emotionally, we act as if, well, we take them for granted. But if we really realize how everyone is impermanent, and we may not have our loved one tomorrow, then we would practice in such a way that we would not take them for granted today and that we would fully love them now, knowing that they may not be there tomorrow. This is an area—you know, everyone grows old, you know?

And growing old, it entails hair falling out for some of us, graying of hair for some of us, wrinkles for most of us—except for me. Wrinkles. Health issues, back issues, you know, all these things are part of growing old for most of us. But, how much suffering do we cause ourselves when we just go against the truth about reality of aging as being part of our life? Especially if we are hitting midlife. It is like, oh my gosh. You know? I know a few friends who are like they are suffering in their forties because they just can't stand the fact that they don't look like they used to look, like when they were in their twenties. You know? They're starting to get wrinkles. They are not getting as many whistles or whatever. They are suffering. But I have other friends who are aging gracefully. They just enjoy their body as it is. They enjoy their age as it is, and I know that is just normal. It is just part of life. And they're radiant because they have not only physical beauty, but they have this inner beauty that radiates because they're not all concerned about all of this stuff, and that is what is making them so beautiful, see? When they're just radiant that way. So, we need to practice the insight of impermanence. Otherwise, we cause ourselves suffering.

Now what is the insight of nonself? Now a lot of people misinterpret the teaching on nonself, you know? They just think that means, oh, I do not exist or the world doesn't really exist. This is all just illusion. Well see, you have to be careful because words only capture part of the meeting that they're trying to point to, so even though we have to use words, we have to also realize that words are limited, okay? So yes, when I say things, there is an illusory nature to our perception of reality. That is true on one level, but that is not to say that everything is an illusion, you see? You have to understand the meeting of the sentence.

Same thing with the word emptiness, everything is empty. But see, what does that really mean? Because emptiness at the deepest level also means fullness and richness in everything. So, what does nonself mean? It does not mean that you don't exist. It just means that you don't exist. Okay. What I mean by that is there are at least three levels of meaning to nonself. The first level of meaning any of us can understand. The second level of meaning, those of us who had a glimpse of enlightenment understand. On the third level of meaning, I think it's only understood when you have—when you're fully enlightened or at least very, very close to that. I don't know the third meaning, and there may be even deeper meanings I don't know about, but I only know the first two meanings. So I will share with you the first one, and then I will just give you an example of my experience of the second one, but don't worry if you do not understand, because you can only understand it by experiencing it at the deepest level.

So the first meaning is interbeing. So let's say Susan here—by the way, can we turn the air conditioner off? It is quite cold now in here. So Susan is cold right now, but if the air conditioning was not on, is she cold? No. So her feeling cold is existing because of the fact that there is air conditioning. Anyway, that wasn't really what I was going to talk about. So here is Susan. We consider her and call her a self. We call her a Susan self. But if the sun did not exist, could this Susan self exist in the form, in this way, sitting here right now? No. If there were no vegetation on the planet, could Susan exist in this form? Well, none of us could. If the earth were about 1,000,000 miles closer to the sun, would Susan be sitting here in this room like the way she is right now? No. It may be that there would not be life possible or if it were, it would be a very different looking kind of life than Susan sitting here right now.

If Susan's parents did not exist, would Susan, this Susan self here, exists? No. If Susan grew up in a completely different country with a different language and with a different education system, would Susan be sitting here—with this Susan mind as we know the Susan mind with the English language and her understanding and education exist here? No. She would be a different person, actually, wouldn't she? Would Susan exist in this form right now as we know her mentally and emotionally if she did not have all of her experiences of friends and family and schooling and teachers and all the different life experiences that she has had? No. No.

So, this Susan self only exists because of all the other factors of existence. So, in fact, then, you cannot separate the Susan self from all of the other things and selves in the universe. So in fact, a self is only made of what we might consider nonself elements. Herself really only exists because it inter-exists with everything else. So there is no actual boundary between this self and everything else, so actually, if you want to talk about yourself, you have to point to the entire universe of reality. The entire universe of reality is the true self.

So, what these things are sitting here are just body/mind constructs, manifestations of the universe through which the entire universe expresses in particular, the universal expressing through the particular. So actually, who you really are is the entire universe expressing as Cornell, expressing as Susan, right? So actually who you really are is the entire universe that happens to be expressing as your particular body/mind form, right? That is the reality. So, that is one meaning that I think everyone can understand that nonself means. But when we meditate on it, it has an impact on all areas of our life, especially emotional because you see, when you really understand nonself, you won't kill another tribe because they are actually a part of you. You will not destroy the rainforest because you know they are part of your lungs, the lungs of the planet, you see? You will not—

I mean, the Native Americans understood this, you know? If you affect any part of the web of life, it affects everything else because we are all interconnected, so interbeing is an insight which, by the way I had this insight—and there is a difference between—because I just told you about it, so it is now an idea, which is great, and it might make light bulbs go off in some of your heads, but when it actually is your personal insight through meditation practice, it is very powerful. After two years of meditating, I finally had my first insight breakthrough experience after two years. I won't go into the whole story, but I've told many of you about it several times already. I was doing eating meditation, and then I had an opening where my heart just expanded, and I was just in love with the whole universe. I realized that everything was nourishing everything else, you know? Everything is nourishing everything else. And we are all connected and loved.

But anyway, that is an insight. Now, a second level of understanding, which I will not go into full detail—let me see. Okay. But I was meditating three years ago, and all of a sudden, you know, I think I shared this with you a few weeks ago. You know, I was meditating, and all of a sudden my sense of self just popped like a bubble, and I realized my sense of self was as fragile as a bubble, and suddenly there was no—see, a bubble creates this separation, this artificial separation between inside air versus outside air, but really it is all air. So when the bubble pops, there is no inside. There is no outside. It is just what is, and so when my sense of self popped, I had a few seconds or minutes—I mean, I don't even know, because it is timeless—but of just not being tied down or attached to this body/mind identity, but simply who I really was, who I really am is just this spaciousness, which I realize, oh, you could call the spaciousness emptiness. But it is an emptiness that is vast and infinite and rich and full. It is presence. It is beingness. It is who we all really are, and there is not my true self versus your true self. There are not many true selves. There is only this one infinite, vast self if you want to call it a self. But you do not even have to call it a self.

And I looked—I mean, I can't say I looked down, but there was an awareness of oh, body. There's a body here, and there's the floor and the wall in the table and the flower. It is like all of these were equally manifestations of this one self, and there is nothing special about this human manifestation. Everything was a manifestation through which this one self expresses, and then I looked at this, and I thought, what about the mind? Don't I have a separate soul? There is none. There is a mind construct, but there is no self in it, no separate self in it. It, too, is just like a chair or a table or a body. It is just another vehicle of expression, and it is only this one self.

For those of you from a Christian background, you might call it the divine spirit, or you could call it Buddha nature, but that is the only self that exists. There is only that self. And all of these little body/minds are not selves. That is what it means by nonself. But rather, just vehicles of expression for the one self.

Okay. Again, I just shared with you an idea, but when you actually experience it, it is way more powerful than any words or ideas, and then I cannot explain the third one, because I don't know. So anyway, suffering, the insight into suffering. So I've given this example many times before also. You know, let's say, you know, I walk around and I hurt myself. That is pain, okay? Now, I'm going to talk about the difference between pain and suffering, right? Now, that is pain. It is an unpleasant feeling that I am interpreting as pain. Then, what if I do this? Oh my gosh. I think I probably like broke my leg, but I still have to be here in this meditation group, so I cannot go to the hospital, and by the time it is over, the hospital's closed, and I will have to wait till tomorrow, and then there'll be gangrene and they will have to operate and take off my whole leg, and I will be a one-legged man the rest of my life, and nobody will marry me. I will die alone at 90.

Okay. That is suffering. Right? That is suffering. But the sensation of unpleasant sensation is just pain. That is the mental and emotional story we add to the initial sensation of pain. That is suffering. And the teaching here is that pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Let's say that together.

All Together: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

ChiSing: If you learn nothing else tonight, that is the key to the transformation of all your problems. So, let's see, this two-part truth about suffering, pain and suffering, this is important. Pain is inevitable, so that means stop fighting the fact that pain exists in your life. Be okay that sometimes you have toothaches. Sometimes you get sick. Sometimes, you know, things happen that are out of your control. That is just the nature of the physical universe. Accept it and go with it and flow with it and don't create suffering by fighting and resisting that.

Work with it, just like in aikido. In aikido, they teach you not to oppose your opponent and fight their energy, but rather, when they come towards you—Susan, why don't you just demonstrate here? Stand over here. Or I will stand over here. Just come at me, all right? And then I—okay. So come at me one more time. I took her energy and instead of resisting it, I received it and redirected it. You see? It is a redirecting, and that is what we do. When we experience pain in life, unpleasantness, we do not fight against it. We just accept it and then redirect it, transform it. That is how we deal with the pain in life, and suffering, since that is optional, we can stop causing suffering in our lives. We can start practicing not creating more suffering, not adding the mental or emotional story on top of things, which causes all this extra suffering that is not necessary.

So our spiritual teachers, the Buddha and others, they do not come to take away our pain. They did not come to take away pain's existence, so stop trying to do that. They've come to remind us that we all can stop suffering, that we can take away our suffering. We can take that away. That is not necessary. So, now I am moving onto nirvana. This truth is that nirvana means extinguished, like if I, you know, blew out this candle. It is nirvana. What does that mean? It means to extinguish delusion, to extinguish craving for that which is not good to crave and pushing away that which is not good to push away. It is also to extinguish suffering, and it basically means perfect peace. Divine peace. Enlightened peace. The truth of nirvana is that peace already exists inherent in all things. Inherent in you and in all things is nirvana, that we are always living in an ocean of nirvana within and all around us, but we do not see it because of our delusions, our misperceptions, and all of the blockages we have placed on top of the perfect peace that is already here.

So our practice then is to realize the peace that is already available, and this is the interesting thing. Sometimes—see, we have this idea that we have to have no conflict to have peace, no unpleasantness to have peace. That is not true. Because you can actually feel and experience this the peace even in the midst of being in a jail, even in the midst of being in a horrible situation, in a war or whatever. And even if you are physically having pain or even if you are grieving, there can still be that peace underneath the grief, the part of you that knows, I guess, this human part of me is grieving, but the higher, deeper part of me also knows that this too shall pass. So there is a peace even in the midst of having emotional turmoil. You see? So it is not either-or. You can actually—because peace, Nirvana is already a part of every person and every thing and every situation, it is there at the deepest level. You can actually experience that even if you are still experiencing the ups and downs of stuff.

The best illustration I ever heard was from Thich Nhat Hanh. An ocean wave—maybe it is very windy and the ocean waves are really high and crashing, and so if an ocean wave thought of itself as a separate self, you know, it is like, "Oh, I am born. And now I'm about to die. Oh!" Or, "Look. I am so beautiful, and you are so small and ugly." Or, "I am so puny. Look at those other big waves. Why can't I be like them?" If we only identify ourselves with the form of the wave, we suffer because we do not realize that our true nature, nirvana, is the ocean, is water. So yes, we are expressing through this wave form, but who we really are is water. So when we realize who we really are, nirvana, then we will still have our wave of emotions or whatever, but there will be a deeper part of us that will know that there is no birth, there is no death. Who I really am can never be born and can never die. Who I really am is beyond the categories of ugly versus beautiful. Who I really am is beyond the categories of long life, short life. So when the wave is enlightened and realizes it is water, that is nirvana, because it is no longer suffering from the ups and downs. It is okay with the ups and downs. That is just what waves do, because within it is always perfect peace, enlightenment. It is water.

So these are insights. And of course I told you ideas, but remember there is a difference between ideas and insights. So as we continue to practice our Samatha meditation, start to engage in Vipassana meditation and look deeply so that you can have insight. And again, this kind of looking deeply is not like solving a math problem, like you have to think hard about it. You just meditate, practice. It will come in its own time. Just like you plant the seed in the soil and it will sprout in its right time. It will leave at the right time. It will flower at the right time. It will fruit in its own time. You don't have to worry about it. You just do your part. Fertilize the soil, water your practice, give it the sunshine of mindfulness and lovingkindness, things like that, and it will just naturally—wisdom will arise. Insight will arise. Understanding will arise. And this has happened over and over and over again in my own practice, so I know that it is happening in your practice also and it will continue to do so in your practice. You cannot give up. That is the ticket. You cannot stop watering. You can't stop letting the sunshine in. You can't stop fertilizing it. You need to keep doing your part and just keeping the practice, and then the practice will keep you. You see? That is how it works.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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