Buddha statue quiet lake
The Secret of ZEN
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The Secret of ZEN (32 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
June 26, 2011 - Dallas, Texas

Tonight we will be talking about the secret of Zen. And as I meditated on what is the secret of Zen, I realized that the secret of Zen cannot be spoken. So, thank you very much. Wake up. So, actually I will talk about 3 non-secrets of Zen tonight: letting go, letting be, and letting flow.

And before I begin to talk about that, I would like to share a few experiences from my trip to Hong Kong this past couple of weeks. On last Sunday in the morning, I took a trip to one of the larger islands in the Hong Kong area called Lantau Island. It is very famous because it has on one of the mountains, I think, one of the largest sitting Buddha statues in the world. It is very, very big. It is beautiful. It was very beautiful.

Now I did not go to this large Buddha statue, because I had already gone a few years before, but I went to the island because there is the new Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism, AIAB, which is the sister organization to the European Institute of Applied Buddhism, EIAB. And tonight I am going to talk to you about E-I-E-I-O. No. I'm just kidding.

The European and Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism are Thich Nhat Hanh's new schools that have formed to help train monks and nuns as well as laypeople in the art of applied Buddhism. Now, in our tradition, we have several different labels for what we're all about, and fortunately or unfortunately there is not really one particular label, so it is sometimes a little bit confusing for some people. But it does show us our diversity as a practice.

So sometimes our particular communities are called Unified Buddhism, because of what happened in Vietnam, which is where Thich Nhat Hanh comes from, where the 3 major schools of Buddhism and a few others decided to unify and to cooperate, so they called themselves the Unified Buddhist Church, or in French at the time, Église Buddhique Unifié. I think that's what it is. So in English, the Unified Buddhist Church, because of the sense of unity.

So the Mahayana school of Zen and Pure Land, as well as the Theravada school of the earlier forms of Buddhism, cooperated in unity. Now, this did not mean that they all had to do and believe the same exact thing. It meant that every school of Buddhism could still do what they do and believe what they do, but in a spirit of unity and harmony with the other schools, and so the different traditions of Buddhism would be allowed within each temple. So even though a particular temple may be a Zen temple, it was totally fine for a Pure Land practitioner or a Theravada practitioner to practice at the temple simultaneously.

So, it is a very interesting phenomenon in history because it is very rare for that sort of thing to happen. So in Christianity, you see some of this movement taking place with the ecumenical movement. I think there is one particular denomination that actually was a unification of the few different factions of Protestant Christianity. The United Church of Christ was a unification of, I think, 3 particular branches of Protestant Christianity.

But anyway, I am sure that in the next centuries, you will see more of these kinds of movements happening. It is sort of the reverse phenomenon of the earlier centuries when everyone kept splitting and arguing and wanting to do their own thing. So I think in the next few centuries you'll see more unifying and unity happening.

Now, another label for our tradition besides Unified Buddhism is Engaged Buddhism, or Socially Engaged Buddhism. This was a term that was coined by our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, maybe in the 50s and 60s, especially during the Vietnam War, right before and right during the Vietnam War, because there was so much devastation and poverty and, especially during the war, destruction of land and villages that Thich Nhat Hanh's students and cooperative branches numbered at about 10,000, 10,000 lay Buddhists and monks and nuns working together to form the Socially Engaged Buddhist movement.

In other words, what he was trying to say is that true Buddhism is not about only just chanting to be reborn in some other realm when you die. And it is not just about going off into your monastery and just forgetting about everyone else. True Buddhism of course incorporates chanting and it incorporates meditation, but it has to be the kind of chanting and meditation and practice that will equip you to then go out into the world and engage the world and be socially active in the world and be a part of the movement of really transforming the world and helping others.

So, this is why Thich Nhat Hanh coined the phrase Engaged Buddhism, to remind Buddhists and all people that spirituality--true spirituality--is not just about the inner life. It has to be the inner life and the outward action. It has to be both. In fact, there is a Christian saying to this effect: "Prayer in action," or something like that. I can't remember the exact phrase, but it is something about prayer is action, prayer is service.

Now, another term that is newly coined is Applied Buddhism. This was invented just in the last few years because some people took the word Engaged Buddhism--and of course, it is a word that is used all around the world in many different communities, not just Thich Nhat Hanh's communities--but some people have taken the word Engaged Buddhism, and now what it only means to them is just simply a bunch of Buddhists shouting and picketing and making trouble.

And that's not really the true spirit of Engaged Buddhism. It is not just about socially active issues that are the major issues, the politically hot issues. True Engaged Buddhism, and yes, it does apply to that, but it also applies to the kind of Engaged Buddhism or engaged spirituality that affects the way you cook your meals, the way you teach your kindergarten class, the way you go about your work or raising your family or planting seeds in your garden.

So Engaged Buddhism is not just about socially activist kinds of activities. It should apply to all areas of life, because not all of us are the kind of people that are going to be at the front line of protests. And I know certainly many of us may not feel called to join, for instance, the monks over in Myanmar or Burma, where they protested by marching as thousands of monks with their begging bowls upside down through the streets to protest the atrocities of the particular government at this time there. So many of them were beaten, some to death, and things like that.

Some of us may not feel called to be that outwardly active, and we should not feel guilty if that is not our calling, because Engaged Buddhism means that all of us in whatever ways we are called to be engaged. So it is not just about the social, political kind of activism, although it does include that. It also means what we can do here and now, what we can do as a mother or a father, what we can do as a brother or sister, what we can do as a coworker, what we can do as a neighbor, what we can do as a volunteer and a shelter. So this is also Engaged Buddhism.

That is why we came up with the term Applied Buddhism, because we want to apply the principles of meditation and mindfulness in daily life, in every day ordinary life. Then there are a few other labels that we have, like the Community of Mindful Living. That is another umbrella word for our community. There is also the Plum Village and the Plum Village Branches.

Plum Village is the name of the main retreat center where Thich Nhat Hanh lives near Bordeaux, France. And if any of you ever have the time or the money to go to our mothership, I highly recommend that, especially if you can go for at least a week or 2 weeks. Because you will want to actually stay longer once you get there. It is beautiful. Many, many, many, many, many, many acres of land in the countryside. Beautiful French countryside. And sunflowers everywhere, and it is just--and you can feel the decades of peace that have soaked into the soil through their mindful walks and people practicing together. I mean, it is a pure land of the Buddha on earth. It is a heaven on earth, paradise on earth, and I highly recommend that if you ever get a chance to do that.

Now, I also know that not everyone has the means to do that in their lifetime maybe, and if that is the case, maybe you could at least go to a one-week retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh when he comes to the United States every 2 years. And 2011 is one of those years when he does come with his several monks and nuns.

And by the way, Thich Nhat Hanh never travels by himself anymore. He is trying to make a statement. He only travels with his entourage of at least several monks and nuns, usually around 80. Can you imagine the plane ticket cost? And even though it does cost a lot to do that, Thich Nhat Hanh has refused to do it any other way because he is trying to make a statement. What is the statement is trying to make? He is trying to make the statement that the true teacher is not one person. The true teacher is the community.

That is his statement that he is trying to make. And this is the meaning of Applied Buddhism, Engaged Buddhism. It is not about individualism anymore. It is about community action, living together in harmony and being heaven on earth, being the Pure Land of the Buddha. It is no longer about being Christ or being a Buddha on the earth. It is about being heaven of God on earth or the Pure Land of the Buddha. See? There is a difference.

It is not about superstar spirituality anymore. It is about community spirituality. That is why Thich Nhat Hanh is not emphasizing Buddha but the Pure Land of the Buddha, meaning the community that we co-create together, the energy field that radiates from each part as we practice together. That is the deepest meaning of the Pure Land. That is the deepest meaning of heaven on earth.

That wasn't my topic, but anyway, let's get to my topic. So as we practice together, we want to practice letting go. You know, the actual essence of our practice is not about acquiring things. That is our tendency, you know, especially in our Western culture. We want to get enlightenment. We want to get happiness. We want to get wisdom. And even though that may be okay in the beginning of our practice to have that kind of motivation--because as a beginner, it is better to start with something rather than nothing, and at least it gets us through the door and it keeps us going, and that is fine. There's nothing wrong with that.

But after we practice, we start to realize over time that it really is not about trying to get enlightenment or get anything really. It is really more about letting go--letting go of ignorance, letting go of delusion, letting go of attachment, letting go of aversion, letting go of all those different things that have accumulated individually and socially around our hearts that keep us from letting the light that is already there to shine fully.

All of us are kind of like really dirty light bulbs. You know? We are already connected, and the switch is on, and the light is already shining but we cannot see it or feel it fully yet because there is so much muck around our light bulb. And so our practice is really not trying to get the light, because we already are the light. Our practice is to slowly let go, let go, let go of all those accumulations of generations of stuff that prevent us from really realizing and embodying the light that we are.

And there is no such thing as Buddhist light versus Christian light versus Jewish light versus Hindu light versus secular light. It is all light. If it helps you to have a Buddhist lampshade or a Christian lampshade, that is fine. More power to you, you know? Diversity and creativity is all a part of life, that is the light itself; there is no such thing as Buddhist light or Christian light. Only one light.

So let go, let go, let go. And as you let go, you start to feel the fruits of letting go, which are more peace and feeling more at home in the present moment. I am home. I am home. So, practice. Keep practicing letting go with every breath, for example. You know? Sometimes we emphasize the in breath or maybe equally the in breath and the out breath, but in one particular teaching of Zen, the emphasis is really on the out breath, because we're letting go with the out breath.

And if you can just practice with letting go with the out breath, you do not even need to worry about the in breath. So let go and let yourself completely surrender into the out breath. Let yourself completely go, surrendering into the infiniteness of the universe. Let yourself go and just die to every attachment to anything and just trust yourself, letting go into the great unknown, with every out breath.

And then what happens instantly, effortlessly as a gift of grace, an in breath just comes without you even trying. And then what happens is we can be very grateful and feel the happiness and joy of the in breath without even trying to make ourselves feel the joy of the in breath our make ourselves mindful of the in breath. It just automatically comes as a response to the gift of grace that is manifested as in breath. But we do not hold onto this gift. We still let it go.

You see? That is the key, even in our daily life. When we receive gifts of grace, we just receive it with joy and we celebrate it, and then instead of clinging to it, we also let it go. "Oh my goodness. I got this wonderful paycheck. I rejoice in it, and now I'm going to let it go pay some bills, give some donations to the Dallas Meditation Center," right?

Because if we stifle the energy of anything, including the energy of money or the energy of any gift of the universe, we will suffocate ourselves, literally and metaphorically. Guess what, if you hold on to the in breath, it does not work. You receive all these gifts, but do not cling. Receive them and celebrate, but let go. Let go just with the out breath once again. Oh, another gift. The gift of life comes without even making it happen. It is a gift of grace.

And that is why meditation on the breath is so powerful, because if we truly meditate on the breath deeply, we will see these kinds of insights, and it will help us. If we can be so grateful for the breath, then it will not be so hard to be grateful for anything else. If we can be grateful for something as simple and ordinary as the breath, then everything becomes extraordinary around us. So let go. Let go. Because as we let go, joy is natural. Peace is just natural. Feeling present is natural. I am home in the present moment becomes natural.

The second secret or non-secret of Zen besides letting go is letting be. Now, letting be has many different meanings. I do not have time to go through all of them, but the one particular meaning I want to emphasize tonight is letting be in the sense of Be with a capital B. Let be, meaning being or beingness. And this is the insight of enlightenment.

The first insight of letting go is where we start. We start with the practice of letting go, and then we uncover these gifts of stress-relief and peace and being present in the here and now and having a smoother life and love. Letting the light shine. But as we keep practicing and deepening in the practice, there will suddenly be an opening. We call it different things in Buddhism. One particular word is kensho in the Japanese Zen tradition, which means to see our true nature. Kensho.

To see our true nature. To see the true nature of all of reality. There's only one true nature. It is not like my nature or your nature or his nature and her nature. It is one nature that we are all manifestations of, and that is what we see, and I do not necessarily mean that we literally physically see, but it does include that. It is to see, to perceive, to really be it. That is what we mean, to fully embody it and feel it with our whole being--to see being with our whole being. And so that is what I mean by letting be, seeing your true beingness.

And that is another meaning of I am home. I am Home with a capital H. You see? Not just I am at home in the here and the now, and I'm getting to be at home with peace and love and joy, but actually realizing that I am the home that I've been seeking all along, that I am one with the great infinite home, and I have always been home. I have never left. I only fell asleep and dreamt that I left, but I have never left. I have always been home here. I have always been the great I am. I've always been Buddha nature. I just fell asleep and forgot for a little while. But even as I fell asleep and forgot, I was sleeping in the bed of Buddha, in the bed of the divine, in the bed of heaven. You see? So I am the home. I am one of the infinite, the divine Buddha nature. Whatever you want to call it.

And last but not least, the 3rd non-secret of Zen is letting flow. So letting go, letting be, letting flow. And what do I mean by letting flow? Well, letting flow has many different meanings as well, but the one I want to emphasize tonight is that just finding peace in the moment is wonderful, but that's not all it's about. Which is why we also practice enlightenment.

But the enlightenment of realizing who you truly are is not the end of enlightenment. It's actually only half of enlightenment, even though as you experience it, it feels like full, true enlightenment. But if you have a wise teacher, he will (snipping noises). So make sure you don't get stuck in your half enlightenment. It is kind of like being a sophomore. You finally know everything. You are way smarter than the freshmen, but there are still other things to learn and to grow.

But for our enlightenment to be full enlightenment we not only let go and let be, which is wonderful and we need that, but also we let flow, to allow this realization to then become embodied in every area of our life to affect every relationship and to affect every part of our minds and emotional and psychological aspects and social aspects and physical aspects to transform every area of our lives as individuals and families and communities and nations and as a whole planet. And when we are ready to see our brothers and sisters on other planets, interplanetary sangha.

Yes. One day we will have interplanetary Buddhism, right? So let it flow means that I, meaning the individual I, which has now realized the great I, is in harmony and is creating, co-creating a life, a Pure Land, a heaven on earth as a home for all beings. So that is the third meaning of I am home. Not just I am home, I am at home in the here and now, and not just I am the home, but also I co-create home for others. My life, my ministry, my vocation is to co-create home so that all beings feel and know home, refuge, safety, love, family, because of me and all my brothers and sisters together.

This is our true nature's mission is to awaken first of all to who we already have been and will be but then once we awaken to that then to forever manifest new and creative ways to make this universe a friendly, welcoming home for all mini Buddhas so that we can keep going forever.

You see, in one sense, enlightenment is a once and for all awakening, but in another sense enlightenment never ends, always continues forever, because there are always new and creative ways to express enlightenment in the physical world, and there are always new and creative, diverse ways to express enlightenment through our words and through our actions and through the things that we create.

I mean, Buddha didn't have iPods and all that kind of stuff, and now we do, and there are new ways that we can express the truth, you know? So if silent meditation is kind of hard for you right now, it is okay. Buddha didn't have a CD player back then, but we do today. Put on a guided CD meditation. You know? Or put on some chanting music while you meditate until you get the point where you don't need it anymore, that you can be okay meditating silently.

Or like me, be okay with needing things like meditation beads. I still use them from time to time when my crazy ADD mind is really active, and so I breathe with each bead, namo Amitabha. Namo Amitabha. Namo Amitabha. I just go to each speed, and usually one round until I get to the main bead is about 12 minutes for me. So I have done 12 minutes, and then if I do 2 rounds I had done 24 minutes of meditation. And that is helpful because it helps me stay grounded physically in the present moment in my body in the here and now, because I have a tendency to go off into fantasyland. So this helps me to stay real, here and now.

So if you need to do that, go ahead. Do not be ashamed. We are all baby Buddhas anyway. None of us have graduated or we would not be here. Just do what you need to do. There is no comparison. Not every Buddha is going to be like your Buddha. Every Buddha will be different. There are no Buddhas in the whole universe of infinite Buddhas that are exactly alike, so we have nobody to judge you and you have nobody to judge, no one to compare yourself with. You are very unique and beautiful, and if you do not know it yet, it is okay. Other people will know it for you. I know it for you, and when I see you, I see how beautiful you are, and my hope is that someday you will see how beautiful you are, too. Amitabha.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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