Thank you, dear friends, for your beautiful practice. This is a very critical time in history, and each one of you has chosen to be in this existence now and here. I used to scoff at people who used to say there are no accidents, everything happens for a reason. I would kind of roll my eyes and say, "Yeah. Right."
But a few years ago when I had my first glimpse of enlightenment, even though it was a small glimpse, I knew in my bones the truth of that statement. There are no accidents, and everything happens for a reason.
This truth cannot actually be understood or experienced in your bones just by saying it or listening to that statement. It has no meaning. But through the practice of meditation and mindful living and just simply letting go into the possibility of the truth, there does come a moment, even if just a small glimmer of a moment, when you understand deep in your bones the truth of that statement.
But until then, don't go around saying that to people, okay? Because actually you're lying. Until you know it in your heart, to say it with words is a lie. In fact, to say anything that is spiritually true before you have experienced the truth of it is a lie for you, so do not start talking spiritual talk. Otherwise, I will roll my eyes and say, "Whatever. Yeah. Right." Or maybe someone else will roll their eyes and say that also.
The fundamental principle of our practice is that—to practice until you know the truth of the principle. That is the fundamental principle of our practice, to practice until you know the truth of the principles. So do not talk too much about spirituality. Practice spirituality and let the words flow from your experience.
Sometimes people ask me to talk a lot about different topics, and once in a while I will and go and share my experience or understanding of certain principles or topics. I know for many in the room it's nice to blend the mixture of silence and heartfelt chanting with something a little bit intellectually stimulating. I understand that. But I just want to let you know sometimes I do not do that in the dharma talk, not because I am not able to.
I certainly can. I have a bachelor's in religion and a master's in spirituality and another master's degree in divinity. I've read a lot of books. I've studied. I've gone to a lot of classes. I can talk about a lot of things. I have even taught world religions at a community college. So I can, but I do not always talk so intellectually, not because I can't, but maybe it is because I am waiting until I truly feel the truth of something deeply, experientially before I share about it.
And maybe I repeat myself a lot throughout the year, and I come back to certain themes over and over again because that is what I can talk about. Now, other things I might know a lot about them, but I may refrain from talking about it until I really experience the truth of it deeply.
Now another reason may be because I might be sensing in the majority of the room most of you don't really need another lecture on principles. You just need encouragement to keep practicing, to keep coming back to the mat or the chair to meditate, to keep going out in the world, walking through the world, living mindfully in the world. So in that case, when I sense that is the majority of the need, I just come back to the simple things, come back to the basics. I just take my role not as your professor but as your cheerleader.
So I do have a lot I want to share with you. I'm not going to get to share most of it tonight. But throughout this fall, I am planning on covering some basics once again, like I always do every year, and I will give you some nice intellectual lectures from time to time this fall on the Four Noble Truths, the eight-fold path of enlightenment, four qualities of loving kindness and compassion, joy, and equanimity, the different kinds of Buddhism, four main branches that reflect four different spiritual, intellectual, emotional and energetic qualities. I will talk about the practice of meditation, mindfulness, and mantras. Toward Christmas time, I will talk about the teachings of Jesus.
And by the way, I love Buddhism for many different reasons, but one of the things I love about Buddhism is that my love for Buddhism does not exclude my love for any other spiritual teachings. Unlike the fundamentalist tradition I grew up with, which said this teacher and no one else, it included some, we do not say that, because all of us are potential Buddhas, so we all have a perspective of truth.
So I will talk about Jesus because as a Buddhist, I see a lot of enlightenment in the life and teachings of Jesus, and so why not? Why not share the light that I see in, through, and in Jesus from a Buddhist perspective? And there are some scholars who think that it is possible—maybe, who knows? Maybe Jesus was trained by those who understood the principles and practices of Buddhism. Whether that means he went to India and came back or maybe there were Buddhists in the Egyptian area who influenced some of the communities, who knows? I do not know. Or maybe Jesus simply meditated and obtained the realizations of the same truths that anyone can attain, including Buddha and others, just by the practice. I do not know.
If you want intellectual stimulation, you can always come to my Monday night meditation group. Since it is smaller and I take questions, I can answer them. But are you committed enough to come more than just once a week on Sundays? Can you see the value of coming more than one time a week, making time to come more often? There are a lot of offerings here at the Dallas Meditation Center. Are you willing to take advantage of your library card here?
Of course, on Tuesday nights, I have the more beginner-friendly guided meditation group. You can come there also, and you can ask your questions there as well. But you know, this practice is a community practice, yes, but also it is a self practice, self-study, study the self. To know the self. Know the self to forget the self. Forget the self and be the infinite, myriad, 10,000 things.
You need to take responsibility for your life and your practice and your spirituality. Sometimes I know you would like me to be a little bit more personally available to you, and I know that I am not always available for individual counseling as much as you would like or as much as I would like even. I also have a life too. But do not think that you need one-on-one counseling all the time. If you rely on the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, which means to rely on enlightenment within yourself, in the practice of enlightenment through meditation and mindful living, and the community of enlightenment, of those who are practicing with you.
If you just take refuge and rely on that diligently, faithfully, consistently, many times you will get the answer you've been searching for just by the practice. Sometimes the answer will come to you in your own heart from the inner voice in the middle of practice, and sometimes you may think taking refuge in the sangha, in the community, means that everyone is supposed to meet your needs.
But let me give you another perspective on what it means to take refuge in the sangha. Maybe instead of it just meaning that you're taking refuge in the sangha so that it can give you what you need, can you rethink that attitude and change it to I take refuge in the sangha, meaning what can I do for the sangha? How can I be of benefit to others? How can my practice be in harmony with all of my brothers and sisters here so that world can be transformed even just a little bit more?
I am here for you, and all of us are here for you, but maybe it is in a different way than you are expecting. As I continue to keep practicing, and when I go away on retreats and come back, don't you know that is for you? And when I come here as much as I can, prepare for the meditations, prepare for the classes, that is my way of being here for you. And every one of you who just keeps simply coming back, improving your practice, volunteering, giving financially, even sharing a smile, sitting as still as possible so you do not disturb your neighbor, then you are also giving, and you are receiving from all of us.
This afternoon when I went to Whole Foods, I was feeling very tired from my drive from Austin and the conversation on the cell phone of somebody who really drained me—or maybe I should more accurately say that I let myself get drained from this conversation—take a little responsibility, right? I thought to myself, oh, I don't know if I have any energy to share with the sangha tonight. You know those little thoughts that come up. The nice thing after practicing for several years, you can have the thoughts but not believe the thoughts. You can just kind of smile and say, "Hello, friend. Familiar visitor. I see you. I hear you. Thank you. Next."
When I got my food, the person who was in front of me was so happy. He was smiling. He was talking pleasantly with the cashier, and his presence, his positive energy was so contagious I couldn't help but feeling uplifted just standing behind him at the cash register, and I said a little prayer in my heart. He will never know consciously, but I just said thank you. Thank you for your contagious happiness. Thank you for contributing to my life today. Thank you for uplifting me just by being who you are. That was my prayer of gratitude.
So if you are feeling a little grumpy sometimes, and you have lots of guest thoughts visiting that are crowding your mental room, just consciously invite some other guests into your mental room, the thoughts of gratitude and appreciation. This is one of the many deep meanings of Namo Amitabha. Breathing in namo, breathing out Amitabha, namo Amitabha. Gratitude to the infinite light, gratitude of the infinite light, gratitude for the incident light of love and life. What is interesting is that as you breathe in on namo, you are receiving, right? You are receiving the breath, and you are saying namo in your heart, which means gratitude.
And here is the secret: you are always receiving gifts from the universe, but only when you practice gratitude do you consciously receive them. So even as you practice appreciation in gratitude and conscious awareness of the positive already here and now, receive that through that gratitude. That is how you receive it, through gratitude, namo. And then as you consciously give, as you breathe out, that is symbolic of giving of yourself, letting go and just being here and now and just radiating light from the heart to all beings. That is Amitabha, but that is the infinite light, not owned by your ego. Rather it is your personal self allowing itself to be a pure, clear channel of the infinite light of the universe through you. It is not your light. It is the light through you, and you can allow yourself to be a pure channel of that light as you give. It is not you giving; it is the One giving through you. Namo Amitabha. Namo Amitabha.
If you want to receive support from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, then practice gratitude and let the light shine through you, give. If you want to receive, then practice giving, radical giving. Even if you are in this room and you do not have a job, you are not making any money, give. Because if you want to receive, practice giving. And I'm not saying that I need your money, because if all you can give is $1, well, it might not make that much difference to me, but it will make a huge difference for you.
A long time ago, I made a vow that I would never, ever dare set foot in any spiritual center and not give at least $1, $2, or $3 at the very least. $1 at least for the air conditioning, $1 for the chair I am sitting in, and another $1 for whatever I have received by being there. You know, sometimes I would just give $1 if I didn't like what I got from there, and maybe $2 if it was okay, and $3 if I really liked it. There is no reason that you can't at least give $1 or $2 or $3 any time you come to a spiritual center. And I'm not saying that because I need it.
I'm not sure that $1, $2, or $3, will make that much of a difference for me, but it will make a huge difference for you. So if you want to receive, give, not just financially but also in volunteer work or even just with your presence or your smile, just like that person at the grocery store. He gave so much and he uplifted me enough that I felt I think I do have enough energy tonight to be with the sangha and to share.
One more thing. The reason I shared about the statement that everything happens for a reason and there are no accidents kind of ties in with something that I said last week or the week before. One of my realizations at the retreat was that everything in nature and in my own body and in everyone else is so intricately amazing. There is so much thought and care that has gone into details of the universe, and I said, "How can you ever doubt that you are deeply cared for, that you are so precious?"
During the next 11 weeks, I want you to notice—because you know, before you can be grateful, you have to notice. You see? That is why mindfulness and gratitude always go together. To practice gratitude, you have to be aware, and that is mindfulness. And of course mindfulness always leads to gratitude because you begin to be aware of all the gifts that you have taken for granted in life. I realize through synchronicities, which is what I hope you're going to notice, how sometimes there are moments where there are things completely lined up, and there is no way to miss the message from the universe, which is that you are in the right place at the right time and everything in the universe is conspiring for your enlightenment.
Both the positive and the negative experiences all work together toward a greater end but you may not be able to see completely right now. If you get hit from the universe, don't get discouraged, right? I bet every single one of you has at least one major synchronicity that is the message in the universe saying it is going to be okay, and you are in the right place at the right time, and there are greater forces at work in your life as well.
Something like that happened to me during my stay at a monastery a few weeks ago. I remember one day I was meditating for hours and hours and hours. Actually every day was hours and hours and hours. I began to get this memory of somebody who recently cheated me financially a lot of money, and I started feeling angry, and I started playing the memories over and over and over again in my mind. I have lots of time to do this. All day long, I could not get it out of my emotional energy field, and I could not get it out of my mind, and it was driving me crazy. I had to meditate and sit with that. I thought I am so angry with this person, and now he is ruining my retreat.
The next day, as I still could not shake this, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, I couldn't just peacefully meditate and bliss out. I was having to just sit with this, and this happens in meditation sometimes. Sometimes it is wonderfully peaceful, and sometimes you just have to sit with whatever comes up and be with it until it transforms after a few days or hours or weeks. So I said, okay. "Dear universe, dear Buddha, dear whatever, should I leave? Should I leave this monastery? Am I going to be able to resolve this? I cannot stand this anymore. I do not want this. Please help me. Give me a sign so that I can get through this—I can sit through this."
That day one of the monks thought it would be nice to put something on the DVD player or the cable from Thailand because they have a spiritual Buddhist channel there, and it was a cartoon story of a Buddha from long ago in a galaxy far, far away. In this story, there was a layperson who someone stole this beautiful precious jewel that he had offered to the Buddha. Of course he was giving jewels away to everyone, but this one precious one he wanted to give to the Buddha and somebody stole it. He thought, I give away so many things. Why am I so attached to this one thing? He could not get it out of his mind, and he was suffering. He asked the Buddha, "What should I do?" And the Buddha smiled and said, "You know what to do." I love that. You already know what to do.
And with that, the person had an eye-opening experience, and he knew what to do, and so he made it a point to practice all week long meditating and living mindfully and offering food to the monks every day, giving, giving, and then at the end of 7 days of giving, he made a spiritual vow. If you want to make spiritual vows that are powerful and not weak, you need to take actions like practices like what this person said, giving for 7 days. At the end, he said, "By the power and merit of my practice, may this become true, that no one from now on and in all future lives can ever steal from me." And it happened, at least in the story. Anything can happen in the story, right?
It happened from that day forward through all his future lives. He was always wealthy, and no one could ever steal from him, and I love the story not because I think it's literal. I love this story because of the synchronicity of the story, because the moment I heard that, all of my suffering was released. All of those knots in my stomach that I had for hours the day before completely released, and I was filled with so much peaceful joy. I realized that I already know the answer. I already know how to practice. If I do not want to suffer from others cheating me, then I already know what to do, and that is to practice even more diligently the life of generosity. Keep giving.
That was a synchronicity, one of many. I have told you before of other synchronicities, such as having zero in the bank and only about $50 cash in my pocket and not knowing what I'm going to do, going to a Buddhist temple, asking for a blessing from the monk, putting $10 in the offering box, even though logically I should not have given anything because I almost had nothing. I should save it, right? But this practice goes beyond surface logic to the spiritual laws of the universe. If I want to receive, then I need to give, and so I did, and the next day of course, as you know, someone gave me a check at the sangha for $10,000. This was in California several years ago. There are many, many other stories like these, and I do not share them all with you, but I want you to notice synchronicities and remember each time you receive this synchronicity, it is a reminder that there are greater forces at work in your life.
Think about it. The reason I said nothing is an accident and everything happens for a reason is because spiritually, the logic goes like this: if that much detail is occurring in the synchronicity of events swirling around to make certain things happen in your life, do you honestly think there could possibly be accidents or things just happening without a reason? There are greater forces at work to the very smallest details in our lives.
So when you're going through difficulty, practice awareness and mindfulness and practice gratitude and practice remembering all the times that you have had synchronicities occur, and then it will help you to try to find the gift and the truth even in the difficulty, because if you do not practice this, it is very easy to practice forgetfulness, complaining, whining, despair, but we cannot afford to practice those anymore. I want everyone to take home the 11 spiritual practices, and I want you to commit to practicing all of them, starting today, and keep starting over every week. It doesn't matter how many times you fail. What matters is how many times you keep trying.
Let's try for 11 weeks together. Keep coming back. There is more to be learned, more to share. I only shared tonight. I went way longer than I thought I should, but even that was only like maybe 1% or 5% of what I really want to share with you. That is okay. I think I shared what you needed hopefully tonight. Can you hear it? Listen. You are loved. Every breath is saying that you are loved. Every heartbeat is saying that you are loved. Every sound, every smell, every taste, every touch is saying you are loved.