This was a chant that we did every morning and every night in Chinese at the Chinese Buddhist temple during my week monastic retreat: tsug wei faw duan yin duong shun tee jee dao dao fa woo sun sheen tsug wei fa duan yin duong shun shun woo ching son shu wei hu hi tzu wei sun duan yin duong shun tong lee da shun yee cha woo ey. Yes. It is interesting. Chinese Buddhism has interesting characteristics. It is very strict. Very, very strict. But not just Chinese. Most of the Eastern Asian cultures are very strict, like Korean, Japanese, Chinese. And that is fine. Every culture is a little bit different.
And I was contemplating on the strictness of it. I did not read the fine print before I went. It was not a peace meditation retreat. It was a disciplined precepts retreat, training you to give you a taste of what it is like to be a monk in the Chinese Buddhist tradition. So we woke up very early in the morning. At the sound of the gong, you had to get up within 30 seconds and use the shower or the bathroom up to 5 minutes only and then get ready and stand in line outside in the right order with all of your fellow monks. You had to put your robes on the correct way, and there were many little details to remember throughout the day and there was not really much time for breaks. And at mealtimes, you had to know when to have your palms together or when to have them down at your waist, when to bow and also which bowls to use for what kinds of foods and how to put them all back at the right location without dropping your chopsticks.
And also, we were asked to memorize sutras and chants, so at any point randomly throughout the day, you might be picked: "Please recite the whole Heart Sutra or something," and in front of hundreds—well, how many were there? Maybe 150 people. In front of all of them, you had to recite, and it was sometimes embarrassing if you have not memorized all of it yet, so if you did not get it right, after lunch you had to go and kneel for 20 minutes, just kneel on your cushion and stay there for 20 minutes to repent.
And there were a lot of other parts to the retreat: lectures and chanting and ritual, beautiful ritual. I mean, one of the wonderful things about this retreat was I just felt the spirit of centuries of Buddhist practice in the Chinese culture, and many of these chants were written hundreds of years ago in the Chinese tradition and are still chanted in the same way. It is very beautiful.
But I was reflecting that if I had known it was this kind of retreat, I probably would not have signed up for this one, and I would've gone to another one instead. I was trying to decide between these two, but you see, there is no use once you are there to think those thoughts, because then you are not in the present moment anymore, and when you're not in the present moment, any time you dwell outside of the present moment, you start creating the agitations that can lead to suffering. And that kind of retreat, where you have all of these details to follow, you can test yourself more easily on how mindful you really are. And so I got a lot of chances to meditate, to repent, and to see where I have a need for more mindfulness.
But really, it is not that anyone was ever punished. You know, when they use the word repentance, it was not like anyone was actually punishing you. It was more used as a way of training yourself to see where you are mindful and where you are not so mindful and then do better. It is just like that. There is no supreme being trying to send the lightning bolts at you. It is just, here is an opportunity, a structure, so you can see yourself better: where you are mindful and where you're not. And also to see where thoughts arise and what kind of thoughts and feelings arise at certain points of stress, when you do not know what to do or you cannot remember what to do. It is interesting because then, you can see where the real stress comes from.
Sure, there is a small stress from the unknown and not knowing exactly what you are supposed to do. There is a small stress there. But, there is an extra added stress that is so subtle and so quick, and when you're in that kind of setting, you can see it much easier. And I thought many times. I suddenly would have a small difficulty, and then suddenly I had thought of, oh my gosh, shame or inferiority or, I need to be doing better than this. Judging myself. That was an extra thought that was not necessary. You see? And so on top of the thought of, oh, what am I supposed to do? the ego added on another thought, oh, I am just not good at this. Or, I should be better at this. Or, what are they going to think? Things like that. These extra thoughts. I started noticing how it would like multiply the normal stress into like 100 times more.
So I got a chance to do this kind of retreat and see how our thoughts really do cause us suffering. And then of course I also reflected, okay. Well, I need to be in this retreat. I am here. There is no way to get out of it. I already paid my plane ticket and they also took away my cell phone and keys and put them away. I have no idea where they are, so I cannot just like sneak out. So I might as well just be here now and accept it. You know, accept what is. Whatever reasons brought me there karmically, that is what it is, and I need to just accept it.
I also had a roommate that snored like a bear, and the walls would shake every night for hours. I am probably exaggerating, but that is what my mind was saying, then finally I would just suddenly out of exhaustion just fall asleep for like 5 minutes and then you hear the sound to wake up. It is like, oh. The first couple of nights, I had this thought of irritation, like irritation at my roommate, irritation at the sound of the bell. Why do I have to wake up at 5:30 and get less than 8 hours of sleep? But after getting into the retreat, I really just gave up and surrendered, okay, I am here.
By the middle of the retreat, the monk gave me some advice on my snoring roommate, and he said, "You know, other sounds do not necessarily bother us when we sleep, like the sound of the rain or the sound of a bird or the sound of the wind, or even the sound of your own breath or your own snoring does not wake you up. So why are we allowing this other sound to?" We are judging it. On top of just the normal sound of snoring, I—my mind—was adding something else that was making it harder for me to sleep. It was adding a judgment, and it was also creating a feeling inside. I was actually sending myself a message subconsciously that because of the retreat, I could actually hear myself saying it: I cannot sleep under these circumstances. And that was an affirmation I was saying over and over and over again. And of course it came true.
So I followed the monk's advice who told me to just think of it as just another sound, without it being a bad sound, just like the sound of the rain or the sound of bird or the sound of the wind. And instead of hating my roommate, saying a prayer of lovingkindness, like just wishing them well, and actually being grateful for the roommate. Because anyone who is snoring is obviously in very deep sleep because they cannot even wake up from their own loud snoring, right? So he asked me to think about what he is feeling. He is feeling deep sleep, lots of rest. I mean, he would even get up like half an hour before wake up time to sit up and meditate. I mean, goodness gracious. He was getting a lot of good rest and sleep and felt good enough to even get up before anyone else and meditate.
So I was like, oh. So I just started trying to feel what he is feeling. Oh. Deep sleep, deep rest. Oh, how wonderful. And then I began to feel grateful. Grateful that at least one of us was getting some sleep, you know? At least one of us is getting some good sleep. And then I started to just send messages to myself: I am resting. I am refreshed. I may not be completely asleep right now, but I am getting enough rest and refreshment. I can just lie here and be still, even if I have to stare at the wall or ceiling or just close my eyes while I am awake and lying down. That is fine. It is okay.
And what is interesting is that even though just looking at it from an objective point of view, I was definitely being sleep deprived accumulatively every day, yet at the last day, I did not feel sleep deprived even though I was maybe sleeping only 4 hours or so of real sleep. I did not feel sleep deprived the way I did the first couple of days, and I realized that it was my mind that was responsible for a lot of how I react and respond to circumstances. You know, before, maybe I was just blaming the circumstances 100%. Now I realized circumstances are only 10% of the issue. Ninety percent of the issue is my mind and how I am interpreting, how I am reacting to it. So that was very, very good for me. And also after the retreat was over, of course I made certain decisions: I will never go back to that kind of retreat ever again.
Audience member: [Inaudible]
ChiSing: No. I'm not going to miss that snoring, but we were very friendly on the last day when we got a chance to talk, and I got a chance to talk to some of the monks. But we had to be silent most of the time and not talk and chitchat. But on the last day we were able to talk, and we had a nice conversation. I had no bad feelings toward him. He just happens to snore.
And instead of blaming him, it is my karma. It is my karma. It is my karma that put me in that situation, so if it is my karma that is putting me in that situation, why should I blame the other person? I don't need to blame the other person. I drew them to me based on my karmic attraction, based on my karmic energy. And actually, by turning it around and using it as practice, it actually became a blessing in disguise because even though I did not like the snoring, it taught me a good lesson on my mind, which I had never thought about before in that particular way.
So, that was good. But of course, now that the retreat is over, I am pretty sure I'm not going to go to anything like that ever again. But if I had thought that during the retreat, I would create more suffering for myself. Now after the fact, I can think that thought and make that decision, now that I am no longer in the retreat. But while I'm in it, I need to be in it. So yeah. You might find yourself sometimes in a situation that you really do not want to be in, but if you are in it, be in it. Otherwise, you create more suffering. You see?
So if you're already in it, be in it. Be in it mindfully and see what lesson can be learned from it while you are in. Now after this over, you can make decisions like, okay, I do not want to do that ever again, and I am going to do things differently so I don't have to. That is okay. But while you are in it, be in it. That was one of the lessons that I learned.
Now, as I reflected on this kind of retreat, I realized that—oh, and another wonderful thing that happened at retreat was while I was going through the suffering and the hardships and the challenges—by the way they also would make us exercise and do some kung fu while the sun was out shining on our bald heads, so there we were sweating. Speaking of—that means the air conditioner just went off again. But that is okay. Be in it.
So, we were doing that, and it was like, so this is suffering. While I was feeling the hardship of it, I remembered, oh, any difficulty I experience, I can turn it into a blessing. And this was a wonderful way of using a difficult feeling in the body. If we are going through sickness in the body, pain in the body, you can turn it around by using it as a way of praying, a way of blessing.
For example, a couple of years ago I was really nauseous with some sort of stomach flu, and I remembered something I was taught, and I tried to practice it while I was in that feeling of nausea and pain. And it was that just as I am feeling this, so also someone else in the world may be feeling the same thing or maybe someone in the near future will be feeling something similar. So therefore, may I go through this in mindfulness so that I can relieve the suffering of those other persons, even if just a little bit.
So by my mindfully going through this suffering, may I send out a ray of light to those people who are going through the same thing now or in the future so that it can relieve their suffering even just for a little bit, or if it cannot relieve their physical suffering, at least may my mindfulness bring them mental relief during their suffering. And what I noticed is that suddenly as I thought that thought, I still had a little nausea and pain, but it went down from 100% to 75%. I noticeably felt the difference in the pain. It went down because of this turning around attitude.
So I did the same thing at this retreat as I was sweating in the hot sun and doing all these difficult things. I realized, oh, I can use this as energy and send it out as a blessing to someone. So I thought of my own father who had a stroke a few years ago, and so I said to myself, dear father, may I go through the hardships of this retreat and any positive energy that comes from it, I give it to you. Any positive karma I gain from this retreat, I do not wish it for myself, but send it only to you for your healing. And so that is what I did. So any time I felt like, oh, this is very hard, instead of feeling angry about how hard it was, I relaxed and just let myself experience the hardship and send the positive lessons of the retreat to my father.
Now, also, as I reflected on this kind of retreat, I thought about, well, I really like Thich Nhat Hanh's style of retreat. It is much more gentle, easy-going, relaxed, and joyful, with a lot of social community building. And after all the different retreats of different traditions I've gone to in the last several years, I really do appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh even more now. I really do think that he is one of the greatest enlightened beings on the planet today. I now know that even more so than when I started the practice. I see that now after experiencing many, many different ways of practice. I see the genius and the truth and the power of his particular approach now.
But, at the same time, I am not necessarily criticizing the Chinese Buddhist way. In fact, I saw an insight during this retreat of why it is the way it is. Because things are the way they are. And we do not always know the reason, but they are. And there may be a reason for it now or in the future, but we do not necessarily see it. But things are as they are. And as I reflected on it, I realized, oh, traditions that are very strict are like a container that is very thick and impenetrable and hard holding a precious liquid inside or a precious substance. But the harder and the more impenetrable and the thicker a container is, the more likely it will endure for several years, decades, centuries, millennia.
And then I thought, oh. You see, the Chinese Buddhists today have a lot of giant temples with a lot of practitioners, and I realized that they are going to last for centuries. They are going to last a long time. And yes, I do believe they need a little bit of reform also. They need to lighten up a bit. But, when the time comes for some great Buddhist teacher in the future to come whom everyone respects to help lighten them up, that will happen at the right time in the future. So it is okay that they're a little strict right now and have been in the past, because if they had not been that strict for the last several centuries, they probably would not have existed up to this day, because all of the different wars and emperors and communist governments trying to suppress Buddhism would have killed it off by now. So because there is a strictness to it, it lasted for many, many centuries, and today it will last for many more centuries. I felt and saw that.
Oh, that is what it is. And that is why it is okay that there are conservatives and liberals simultaneously, because both are necessary. Conservatism helps carry on certain things to last longer into the future. And the liberalism helps to make it more human and realistic and helpful, right? But see, if liberalism did not have conservatism existing at the same time, many of the wonderful reforms of liberalism might not last very long, because there is not enough structure to help something to go on without falling into chaos or anarchy. You see, there needs to be a certain amount of conservative structure as well as liberalizing humanism, but they have to be in balance because if there is only structure and no liberalism, it is not very humanist. It is not very humane. But if it is all liberal, it easily goes into anarchy, and you know what happens with that.
So I got an insight into why things are as they are. So now, even though I may not agree with certain conservative things, I now appreciate them. That is because that is the way it is because that conservative container will help the essence of that spiritual tradition to last longer through all of the changes of a certain time. So I saw that, and when the time is right for reform movements within that tradition, it will happen, just like it is happening now in America, right? There is so much reform going on in Christianity and so much reform in other religions, so much reform in human society. And there is also reform happening in Buddhism, and Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the prime examples of reformed Buddhism, humane Buddhism, real realistic engaged Buddhism. That is why I so appreciate him.
So one of my other thoughts that I had during this retreat was based on some of the lectures that the monks and nuns were giving on reincarnation. Now, you do not have to believe in reincarnation to practice mindfulness, and you do not have to believe in reincarnation to be a good Buddhist. However, if you can at least believe in the possibility that maybe, yes, maybe reincarnation is true—just give it a possibility. Maybe it is possibly true. Then think about or contemplate on the logic of if it is true. What happens is you start seeing that you have been living many lives in the past. And imagine all of the different things you have gone through, and yet now you do not remember them or they do not really matter to you in the present life.
So if you can think that, you can think, well, imagine what it is like in the future lives. Are the things that I am bothered about even going to matter to the future life me? It puts it in perspective basically. It puts your life in perspective, because a lot of things that we get so much suffering about in this life, if you put it in that perspective, you realize it is not worth the energy I am putting into getting all suffering over this. You know?
Also, when you think about it, if you are not spending this lifetime on enlightenment, then you're just going to go through the same lessons over and over and over and over again, going through the same kinds of sufferings of puberty. Why do you want to go through that again? And heartbreak and loss and death and losing loved ones. I mean, over and over and over again. Because what happens is if you are good in a lifetime, then you will be reborn in good circumstances usually. I mean, there is more to it than that, but that is a simplified version.
But what happens when you're born into good circumstances? A lot of the time, you take it for granted. You become like some of those wealthy people who treat other people badly, take their luxury for granted and start doing bad things in their life. And of course when you do those bad things, that is bad karma, and most likely in the next life, you will be reborn in not so great circumstances. And so, if you're born in not so great circumstances, sometimes you can be bitter and do bad things and go into an even worse next life, but sometimes because of a bad circumstance, you try harder to do better, and then you are reborn into good circumstances. But then when you are reborn into good circumstances, many times you take it for granted and do bad things, and you do that over and over, up and down, up and down, lifetime after lifetime.
That is why when you contemplate about the possibility of this, you realize the only life worth living is an enlightenment life now, a life that will put you and me on the path of enlightenment so firmly that bad or good karma is not going to affect us to the point that we forget our deepest vow and intention. And this is the importance of making a vow of the heart, because the more we make about—you know, we do vows every week when we take refuge. I take refuge in the awakening heart of the infinite light—things like that. We are constantly planting seeds in our subconscious mind that are so strong over and over and over again, affirmations, so that by the time we end this life and go to the next life, those seeds of enlightenment are so strong that even if we do not consciously remember them, subconsciously in the next life we will have that tendency to want to keep going on the path of enlightenment rather than forgetting and then just going up and down, up and down, up and down. That is why.
So I realize for many of us, we have this desire, okay? We want to have a surviving life. Many of us might be actually in a circumstance where we at least want to survive. We want to survive through this life, get through it intact. But, just living a surviving life, just coping and getting through is just a minimalist kind of life. That is not the best you can do. So we want to go from surviving to a thriving life. We want to go from surviving to thriving. We want to not just survive and just to make it paycheck by paycheck, but we want to thrive. We want to be successful, abundant, prosperous, healthy, happy. Right? But that is not enough. Because if we're just thriving, we may be like people born to good circumstances who take things for granted and keep going down, up and down, up and down. So it is not enough to just be abundant. It is not enough to be successful. It is not enough to use meditation to manifest all your desires. I mean, it is better than surviving, surviving is not enough.
We have to go from surviving to thriving in a life of generosity, a life that actually brings positive benefit to the world. Otherwise, our life is meaningless because when you die what is left in the world is all your actions and the effects of your actions. That is it. Are people even going to remember you? Is your life going to have had an effect on others in a positive way? Would you have made some difference in the course of the evolution of the human world? That is the only meaningful life. Otherwise, you might as well not have even existed.
However, as good as a giving life is, a life that is positive in the world, it is still not enough. Because even if you do good things and you live the good life and you reorient your circumstances because you are a giving person and others are benefiting from it, sometimes people benefit from material things but they take it for granted. And just because you gave them a lot of good things does not mean that they have actually entered into a life of enlightenment yet. So they're going to go up and down, up and down, so all of the things that you give to help other people is wasted, because they just don't know how to use the things that you gave them, right?
So that is why the most important life, not a surviving life or even a thriving life or even the wonderful giving life, which is very good—we need to have that—but an enlightening life, a dharma life. That is the supreme life, a life that is on the path of enlightenment, where you are becoming enlightened and you are enlightening others, because that is the greatest gift you can give. That is the greatest good to yourself and others, because that is the only guarantee not to be caught in this up-and-down cycle.
And even if you don't believe in literal personal reincarnation, you at least can believe in generations of family wounds and history, generational inheritance and patterns. It is up to you to transform the suffering of all of your ancestral patterns. They have given certain patterns of life and thinking and suffering to you. Now make their life worth something by taking what they gave you and transforming it by living an enlightened life, getting on the path of enlightenment so that now all of your descendants, whether physical descendants or spiritual descendants, can have a different pattern, so that future generations can have a different way, and so it is up to us in the present generation to make a difference for future generations.
See? You don't have to believe in literal reincarnation to understand this. You can also just look at evolution of time and history and generational stuff. So that is the most important. So be determined to make sure that everything in your life, every thought, every word, every action, every pattern in your life is helping you to be completely centered in the enlightening life so that when this lifetime ends at death, you will have enough spiritual and karmic energy to positively affect your next life, whether you believe in personal or just generational next life of history, so that however you lived could now then carry on into dharma life to help others. That is the only truly meaningful life.
And so, to help us live an enlightening life, I made a list of some things that I think are very important. One of the things that I learned that was a great benefit from this hard retreat was the positive benefits of a schedule. When you do not have a schedule in your life, your life can more easily become chaotic, and it is harder for you to see where you're being mindful and where you are not in your lifestyle. So, a schedule it is so important.
I mean there are a lot of other things that maybe I will go over next month when I come back from my four-week retreat, but I realized 14 things that are very, very helpful on the enlightening life: spending enough time in nature so that you're not addicted to technology your whole week, taking a break from technology and getting in touch with nature. I mean it is amazing how people do not realize that some of their suffering is actually from not getting enough nature in their life. So mindfully examine how much of your suffering is being caused by the fact that you're not spending enough time in nature.
A good diet. What we eat does affect our minds and our bodies of course. Getting some exercise helps a lot. You know, having a spiritual guide is very, very important also, because a lot of times we may be thinking I am an independent spiritual person. I am my own teacher. That is fine, because ultimately, yes, we are all our own teacher, but usually that is the ego talking because we are not yet enlightened, you know? And so, those kinds of thoughts are usually your ego talking rather than your Higher Self talking. Usually it is just an excuse to not benefit from a teacher. But a guide is important.
You know, you don't have to spend 24/7, 365 with your guide. You could just come once a year to a guide or once a month to a guide or once a week to a guide, and even if I am not an enlightened teacher like Thich Nhat Hanh, I do know enough to help. I know enough to help you. I don't have to be a perfect teacher or perfectly enlightened to be of service. So you do not have to have a perfectly enlightened teacher to benefit from a teacher. It is only your ego that wants only the most perfect and enlightened teacher. But that is like a kindergartner wanting to have a PhD professor. Even if they teach you certain things, you won't even understand it. So be grateful for a kindergarten teacher. Don't make your kindergarten teacher's life suffering. Appreciate them a little more.
So anyway, I will just e-mail you the list. There are lots of different things that are helpful, but a schedule was the primary thing I realized. Oh, the schedule is so important and helpful. So try scheduling your life little bit more, but in a mindful way. Schedule in when you're going to wake up and what you're going to do right away. Is it going to be listening to the radio or watching TV right when you wake up? That won't be necessarily mindful. How about when you wake up, brush your teeth, don't talk yet, drink a little water, do a little exercise, and then meditate or do a mindful walk or jog or something mindful and then eat your breakfast mindfully and shower and go to work and all of those things? When you come home from work, what are you going to do? Schedule that. Maybe do a little bit of relaxing yoga to get the stress from the work out of your body and then some meditation before dinner. Or if you don't have time for meditation, meditate while you're cooking. Breathing in, I am stirring the pot. Breathing out, I am happy.
Actually, there is a story of some housewives that realized the first of 4 stages of enlightenment just from mindful cooking because they were mindful of each motion, breathing in and breathing out. Because how is this any different from walking meditation? It is not. As long as you are mindful, it is still meditation. A schedule. And schedule when you're going to bed and a schedule to make sure you have enough sleep, because if you don't get enough sleep every night it's very hard to meditate during the day because you're like thinking the whole time and your mind is wandering a lot more than it normally would when you are sleep deprived. So schedule things.