So, since I am just going to speak briefly, I will just share some more snippets of wisdom from the monastery, not in any particular order. But really, the message is our practice, so the practice itself is already the message, and I hope that you have been gaining insight from the practice, even just from today.
Last week, when I was in Vancouver at Thich Nhat Hanh's retreat, in my small group, one of the women in our sharing discussion was a little upset. She was upset because during question and answer with Thay, with Thich Nhat Hanh, there seemed to be a problem. The first of 3 questions were from children, and Thay had specifically asked for just children, and then after that they can all go into their activities and the adults could have a chance to have questions as well. But there was this fourth child, a boy, who was up on stage and really wanted to ask him a question, but the bell rang, and the children were escorted out of the building. And to this woman's perception, it was as if our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, was being very cold and not responsive to the child. In her mind, she started creating the story. This boy, you know, was looking to this living Buddha, you know, for an answer. This is his one chance. He is right on stage in front of him, and he is being rejected by this religious figure in his life, religious authority.
So probably as she was thinking these thoughts, they were probably also stirring up buttons in her own heart. Maybe something happened in her childhood, feeling very disappointed by a religious authority figure or some other authority figure, and she just became very angry and felt how can she trust Thich Nhat Hanh anymore? You know, he is so insensitive. But after she shared and one of the nuns shared in our group—actually, the facilitator in the group--to give her this perspective, this child had been one of the more hyperactive children in the children's activities and, several days in he was already holding hands with Thay and getting questions answered personally and doing a walking meditation, and Thay even let him hold the bell while he rang it during one of the walking and sitting meditations outside. So in actuality, the child had actually a lot of attention from Thich Nhat Hanh and was a little bit—sometimes a little bit rude and kind of boisterous and kind of pushing children down and things like that. So he was a little bit too active, and the monks and nuns were taking special care of this child. So from her perspective, Thich Nhat Hanh was actually doing the right thing because if he had taken the microphone, who knows what he would've blurted out in front of 800 people.
So there is also a teaching in silence as well as with words. So we just need to listen more deeply. What is interesting, two different perspectives. Two different kinds of perception. Two different stories going on in the minds. And that is what is actually happening a lot of the time in our own minds. So in our own practice of mindfulness and meditation and spiritual living, we get an opportunity to re-examine the processes of our minds, re-examine our perceptions, use our mantra, our 3-word mantra, are you sure? This is very, very helpful.
So as I contemplated on this interesting sharing, an insight dawns in my heart, and that is that a lot of our suffering stems from believing this thought that may be unconscious that this person or this experience or this opportunity or this relationship or this job is going to be the only one for me to find happiness, or it is going to be the pivotal, definitive moment in my life or in that child's life or in that person's life. This thought, I realized, is pervasive, isn't it? It is an interesting kind of thought because when you examine it and how you believe it and then how you act on it, wow, so much suffering, right? We cling. We cling. It's the kind of thought that makes us cling.
You see, this woman thought that this was the definitive, defining moment for this child and that he would be damaged for the rest of his life because he was rejected, but in fact the truth was this boy had many other moments prior to that day at that retreat, and who knows what the future will bring? Possibly--maybe probably--that boy will continue to have other definitive, pivotal moments, opportunities, to wake up. Right? But it is our belief that makes us cling that causes the suffering.
And it's interesting because I had this come up for me during the retreat, too, because I was thinking to myself, okay. I spent a lot of money to get here, and now I am getting sick. I started getting sick toward the middle of the retreat. And there is a moment of fear where I started to cling. Oh no. I spent all these weeks and this is the culminating, final week of my retreat, and I still haven't gotten that thing, you know, whatever it is that I was looking for, you know? And it's like, oh no. So I had an interesting opportunity to look at this process in my mind. Oh no.
Then I re-examined my thinking and I realized, oh, I have had many retreats before this retreat. I have already had more opportunities than most people to practice, and I shouldn't hoard retreat experiences. And it is not like I'm not going to have other retreat experiences later. I mean, I'm supposed to go to the September retreat with 20 of you guys next month, and probably I will have more retreat opportunities later. So I realize, oh, this thought that, no, this is a defining moment. I'm going to lose this opportunity forever. Well no. Actually, it is not true. I can let that go.
And so in fact, I did in that moment let go. I let go. I let go of needing this retreat to be everything for me. I let go of needing this retreat to be perfect, you know, because as I was getting ill, I had to skip one of the morning sessions, and I had to skip the evening session, and I just couldn't meditate very well. I just kind of laid down on my bed to meditate that way. You know, I even missed 3 meals because I didn't have enough strength to walk all the way to the cafeteria. But as I would observe this thought of fear and, oh no, I have got to cling. I'm going to lose something--as I would meet that with a mindful smile of understanding, I just let it go, and I just rejoiced in the truth that, no, the universe has given me so many opportunities before, and the universe will give me more opportunities for later. And right now the universe is giving me this opportunity in this moment just to accept and to appreciate what is and, you know, if this is what is happening, let's see what the gift is here. And I realized I had the opportunity to practice while ill, so thank the universe, thank Buddha that I got sick right in the middle of the retreat so I had the opportunity to be surrounded by mindful people so I could practice my mindfulness while feeling ill.
I realize that this is something precious and to be grateful for because there is another Buddhist teaching, the 5 remembrances, and one of them is, "I am of the nature to get sick. There is no way to escape getting sick. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. I'm of the nature to die. There is no way to escape dying." These are 3 of the 5 remembrances. I might as well say the other two. "All whom I love, I will be separated from in some way at some time," whether the friendship is lost or they die or I die or we have to move or something. And the last one, "I am responsible for all my actions and the fruits of my actions." So we call that karma, and everyone is responsible for their own karma.
But anyway, that is not my topic for tonight. I wanted to talk about the sickness. I was able to practice, and it was really wonderful because I actually felt peace. And actually, it was during this letting go that this gentle, strong peace and equanimity, which I mentioned to you last week, started to just fill my whole being. And this peace allowed me to just be able to feel joy, even while I was feeling ill. And one of the members of my discussion group remarked on the last day how inspired she felt by me because she was just inspired by the fact that I was so sick and yet so happy. That inspired her that it was possible for her too.
But this was a wonderful opportunity as I began to see the gift in it, rather than complaining and whining, which is my normal practice. But gratitude practice and acceptance practice allowed me to completely be at peace and receive a deep equanimity and peace that then gave rise to joy. If you're looking for bliss and joy and happiness, let me give you a little secret. Don't look for bliss, joy, or happiness directly, and don't cling to a particular idea of what it should feel like or be like, because I guarantee when you do that, it kind of pushes it away. If you want joy, then let go in the peace and contentment and gratitude. That is the secret key to joy, if you can just let go into peace, contentment, and gratitude, that peace will give rise to joy. Not necessarily an ecstatic, wild, crazy joy, but a true joy, which is deeply stable and peaceful, a true joy, true happiness.
You see, some day, I will become very ill possibly and go into a dying process and die. It may be that I will go through a lot of physical pain in the process. I do not know. But by being given this opportunity to practice with just a small illness, it was a gift so that it will help me to practice when I have a bigger illness so that I can continue to experience joy and peace even in the midst of pain. It is possible, but it takes practice, so we start now. We start with the little things, and we continue to cultivate as we grow.
I may have to share what I wanted to share with you next week, because I don't want to take up the time for communities sharing, but I'll give you a hint about what I want to talk about next week on Amitabha. And for me, Amitabha is a word that is a symbol pointing toward a universal reality of our true nature. So don't think that when you hear the word Amitabha I'm talking about a particular sect of Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, because that is not what I'm talking about. I'm using that word, that symbol, to point to something that Zen Buddhists also point to and the Tibetan Buddhists also point to and all the spiritual traditions point to beyond the symbols, to the reality beyond words.
But in the Buddhist tradition, in the Pure Land tradition, the way they share the story of Amitabha is through the myth or the metaphor or the mythology, the story form of this person named Dharmakara, who had a teacher who was the Buddha in some other world somewhere. You know, mythology is like, once upon a time, far, far away, in a galaxy or whatever. But just because the truth is being conveyed in a story does not mean it is not true. It is a truth hidden within the symbols, so you have to really concentrate and meditate on it. So in the story of Dharmakara, who had a teacher who was a Buddha, he made vows. He wanted to become a Buddha too, and he decided that lifetime after lifetime, he would be reborn in different parts of the universe in different Buddha's lands, because every Buddha has a realm, what is called a buddhakashetra, a Buddha field, a field of enlightened energy which then manifests, at least in our minds, as a place. You know, you can think of this place also as a Buddha field manifested as a center. You know, our collective energy as Buddhas to be or baby Buddhas.
So since we are all baby Buddhas, Buddhas to be, we all have our Pure Land or Buddha field. Maybe it is a little small right now, but it will grow as you become more enlightened. So Dharmakara began to visit different Buddha fields, different Pure Lands, different places where the Buddhas of the universe create these beautiful practice centers. He did this because he wanted to learn what were the most unique, best qualities of each Pure Land. He wanted to find the jewels of each Pure Land. What is it about this particular Buddha or the way they made this particular Pure Land that helps people? What kind of methods are these Buddhas using, and what kinds of beautiful things are existing in these beautiful realms?
He did that so that he could collect ideas because he had vowed that when he became a Buddha, he would create the most beautiful, the most wondrous, the largest Pure Land in the whole universe containing all the best of all the Pure Lands. That was his heart's desire, his bodhicitta, his enlightened desire. The story doesn't say if he became a Buddha and created the Pure Land necessarily, but that is okay, because you see, it is being created right here and right now, because who is Dharmakara but you and me? It is a story about you and me because deep down inside your heart, if you dig deep enough, you will find that the purest, most holy desire within your heart is to create a better world for all the things. Your deepest, truest desire is to be the best and to present the best in this universe. That is the desire of Dharmakara. That is the desire of Amitabha.
And so, to me, the story of Amitabha is not finished because we are Amitabha in the making, and this is the Pure Land in the making. And I realized that as I was going to different retreats in the last few years, different kinds of traditions, different monasteries, I had this great joy well up in me a couple weeks ago when I realized, oh. I am Dharmakara. That is my story, too. Because I want to find out why and how different traditions and monasteries and temples and centers do things so I can take what is best from all of them and create—put them all together to create a practice that will reach out to the most people possible and be the most helpful.
So I am Dharmakara. I am Amitabha. This is the Pure Land. You are Dharmakara. You are Amitabha, and this is your Pure Land.