Thank you, dear friends, for your beautiful practice tonight. I felt all of us shining the light as one heart, the heart of Amitabha, the heart of Quan Yin, the heart of all enlightened beings, of all shapes, traditions, colors, traditions, etc.
Well, today is 9-11, and I think it is not necessarily a coincidence only that this great big event that happened 10 years ago happened on 9-11, which is coincidentally the number we call for emergencies. It is interesting that the universe coordinated it in that kind of a way, that we would have that wake-up call with that symbolism, so that instead of only seeing fear and tragedy, we could turn it around into a way to wake up, a way to wake up from our delusions and distractions of American culture, to see that we are part of a greater world, an international, intercultural world, an interfaith world, where we are not the only ones who are important on the planet.
That event 10 years ago alerted us to the fact that there is a global emergency that has been going on for a long time, but maybe Americans in our comfort zone, we did not fully realize this. And so, if we can take the tragedy of 10 years ago and turn it mindfully into something positive, then all those who died and suffered will not have done so in vain. So let us learn from this and move forward in wisdom and compassion.
And so we see that our world is in a state of global emergency, and we are being called by the enlightened ones to wake up and be a part of the movement for global enlightenment, from global emergency to global enlightenment. And it is not enough just to practice for ourselves alone today. We can't just practice just for ourselves, practice just enough for our own little piece of mind, our own little bliss apart from the world, apart from community.
Because the emergency is global in nature, it requires a global solution. So personal enlightenment is no longer enough. Just the enlightenment of one or two or three teachers, as great as they may be, it is not enough. Relying on an enlightened one from thousands of years ago, no matter how great they were, is not enough. We need the enlightened ones of today, and that is you and me. And it is not just individuals, but it is collective communities moving together as one sangha, as one body, as one light, as one heart. That is the solution to the global emergency that is before us. We must have a global enlightenment.
And so, as we are in this 11-week practice period that culminates in just a couple of months on 11/11/11, if you will look on your insert in the inside, you will see 11 spiritual practices. I hope that you will take the time to truly dedicate yourselves to this and see where in your life you are missing something and see if adding it may actually transform your life, because you see, we need you. That is the bottom line. You are indispensable. And you are not here on the planet at this time by accident.
So, we need you. You are needed. What we need is for you to become awake, enlightened. We need you to dedicate yourself to the path of enlightenment. We need you to be a part of this global movement of enlightenment, because without you, we will not be able to turn the tide. There will not be enough of us to turn the great shift.
You see, 11/11/11 to me is basically a nice wake-up call, one last reminder before the next big date of 12/21/12. And I'm not saying that I believe it is a literal date or that I believe in any of the crazy people out there talking about some of the things about the end of the world. It is not about the end of the world. It is about a global opportunity and a wake-up call, and basically it is saying, "Now is the time, at this time in history. We have the opportunity now, one last chance to turn things around."
And that doesn't mean that everything will be suddenly wonderful in one day. It means the direction in which history is going will be shifted into another direction, but of course the unfoldment of history still continues. It will take decades to unfold the global awakening, but now is the decisive time. And so I believe that 11/11/11 is a wonderful way that the universe has conspired to help us to wake up, one last year to gather as many light workers as possible to come together to collectively shift things, because if we can get enough people by 12/21/12 to shift the global consciousness of humanity, then there is hope for a global awakening. And that is what I think this is all about.
It does not mean that everything is going to happen all in one day. No, no, no. That is immature. You know those people who talk about one date that is going to transform the whole world or whatever? That is just very immature, very, very immature. A more mature understanding is to see the synchronicity of the world and see how everything is fitting together and what is the message in each moment, what is the message in 11/11/11? Well, the message of 11/11/11 is oneness, alignment, and synchronicity.
You know, just this morning, as I got out of my place of abode and I was just checking the time, I just looked at my cell phone. It happened to be 11:11, you know? And I smiled because this has been happening a lot for me. 11:11, as well as 108 is another symbolic number for me, and for those who don't know about 108, that is a sacred number in India, and for Buddhists, it just simply means—the 8 part is the Eightfold Path of Enlightenment. And tonight, if I have time, I will go over the Four Noble Truths from a new perspective, if I have time. Otherwise, you can wait for the next time I speak. But you know, actually, I am thinking I may not get to it. I've so much to say tonight. But it is okay. We will see what happens.
Well, Friday night, I had the opportunity to speak at SMU on a panel discussion with other religious and political leaders of the Dallas area on the topic of, "Has America Healed from 9-11?" And it was interesting what came up through my mouth, because sometimes I don't know what I'm going to say, and I just channel, you know, whatever is coming through from the heart, and I just kind of—once it was my turn to speak, I just kind of—my first sentence was, "Well, the truth is, according to the Buddha, all human beings are mentally ill. And some of us are very mentally ill, but the majority of us have a mild enough level of mental illness that it is socially acceptable, though most of us are basically mentally ill in such a way that it is at least acceptable mental illness."
But all of us are mentally ill—and please forgive me, those who do have, you know, actual mental illness conditions. I am not making fun of you at all. In fact, I am saying all of us have mental issues and problems. And that is our condition, and that is the First Noble Truth of the enlightened one. You know, he said it, "There is suffering," and the way I am saying it is, "There is mental illness in all of us." And if we can see that, we can start healing. Just like in a 12-step program, you can't really start recovering until you admit that there is a problem. So we need to start seeing that we are in fact mentally ill, all of us. And if you don't like the term mental illness, you can just say we are mentally off or mentally disturbed. Whatever you like.
But you see, when one nation attacks another nation, and that nation takes revenge, it is like someone taking a hammer, trying to put a nail in the wall and accidentally taking the left hand and then the left hand taking the hammer and wanting to take revenge on the right hand. If someone were to do that, you would know there was a mental problem there. But that is exactly what we are doing when nation rises up against nation and takes revenge on another. When a culture or a people or a religion strikes against another, that is mental illness in action.
Because we do not realize the truth, that we are deluded into thinking we are separate, just like the right hand and left hand thought that they were separate, that is mental illness. Because we are mentally deluded, because we cannot see the truth of our oneness, we are deluded into believing in separateness, and so this is suffering. This is the First Noble Truth.
And the Second Noble Truth is the cause of suffering. Basically it boils down to three things: craving, aversion, and delusion. Now some traditions emphasize craving. Others emphasize aversion. I personally like to emphasize delusion since mental illness is my major theme tonight. I believe it all boils down to mental delusion. Because we do not see things as they truly are, we suffer.
And we do not see things as they are on four fundamental areas of life. We believe that, like I said earlier, we are separate from other humans and other species and the planet and all physical matter, and we act—maybe we might not consciously believe it, but we unconsciously believe that, which is shown by our actions: tearing down the forest, polluting the earth, striking out against others. This is all showing us that we do not realize our oneness. We believe in a separate self, when the truth is we are only one. One. You might say one self or true self, but you don't even have to use the word self. We are simply one, and to believe in a separate self is delusion.
The second area of delusion is to believe in permanence when in fact the truth is impermanence. Now, you may consciously say, well, of course I know everything is impermanent, but look at your behavior to see your unconscious beliefs of permanence. Because if you take your loved ones for granted as if they're going to always be there, then you are acting out the unconscious belief in permanence, which will lead to suffering because the truth is your loved ones will not always be there in that form, so it is important to appreciate them now, to say, "I love you," to them today. For tomorrow, you do not know if they will be there in that form. Don't take all the wonders around you for granted.
And the third area of delusion is nirvana. And the fourth area is suffering, which we have already talked about. What we don't realize actually ties into the Third Noble Truth, that there is an end to suffering, that there is well-being. There is nirvana, peace already present, but all we see is suffering because of our deluded mind. Within and all around us, it is already enlightenment. Within and all around us is already oneness. Within and all around us is already love, joy, peace, and the oneness of the source, but we do not feel it.
We do not experience it because of our mental illness. We do not see things as they truly are. And so we cannot see the wisdom and the guidance and the purpose and meaning in our lives. We only see suffering and chaos and misery, and we believe in a vengeful God, and we believe that everything is just haphazard accident and that it is just a survival of the fittest kind of universe, a dog-eat-dog world. But that is not the truth.
So you see, in this world of form, there will always be unpleasantness and pain. That is just normal. The fight against the existence of pain and unpleasantness in the physical world is delusion. But, let me tell you this truth, that even within this world of form and physical pain and unpleasantness, right in the very midst of this samsara is nirvana. Right in the midst of this physical world of unpleasantness and pain is already nirvana, peace. And that is the Third Noble Truth.
And the Fourth is the Eightfold Path of enlightened wisdom, enlightened virtue, and enlightened meditation. The Eightfold Path can be subdivided into those three categories: wisdom, virtue, and meditation, and if you're missing any of those three, your path is incomplete. Your spiritual path is incomplete, and it is important to make sure you have all three.
Now, in the traditional Theravadan understanding of the Four Noble Truth, it is linear, so you can have, well, life is suffering. And the second, you know, craving, aversion, and delusion cause that suffering. And the Third Noble Truth, that good news, there is the possibility of ending suffering. And the Fourth, this is the Eightfold Path that leads to the ending of suffering. Now, this is a linear approach to the Path of Enlightenment, and it is legitimate and valid and good.
However, the later Mahayana development of our understanding of the Four Noble Truths—and it is more specifically a Zen approach to the Four Noble Truths—sees these not as linear but as simultaneous. You see? The First Noble Truth, there is suffering present. The Second Noble Truth, craving, aversion, and delusion is suffering. It does not cause it. It is suffering. It is the manifestation of suffering itself. And the Third Noble Truth, within the very midst of this suffering, this samsara, is nirvana. Samsara is nirvana. Nirvana is samsara. So within the very midst of your suffering are already the seeds of peace. Already within this very physical form is enlightenment. It is not separate.
And the Fourth Noble Truth, that living wisdom, virtue, and meditation already is enlightenment. Not leading to enlightenment. It is the expression of enlightenment. Wisdom, virtue, and meditation. For those who don't know what they are specifically: right view, right aspiration—there are different ways of translating that word—are the wisdom aspect, and then right speech, right action, and right livelihood is the virtue aspect, and right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration is the meditation aspect.
So if you can live a life of mindfulness, allowing insights to arise, if you can live a virtuous life of lovingkindness and generosity, if you live a life of meditation, then you already are enlightened. You are already expressing enlightenment. You are enlightenment, and what does enlightenment do? Does it sit around and just bliss out, not caring about the rest of the world? No. What does enlightenment do? Enlightenment practices right understanding, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. This is already the state of enlightenment.
So that is a little Zen spin on the Four Noble Truths. And for those who are Zen students in here, I just want to remind you that true Zen is not just about the form of Zen. There is Renzai Zen and Soto Zen, and there were other schools of Zen that died out along the way, but those kinds of Zen, that is just a form, a method of Zen. But you have to go back to the original Zen, which is the spirit of Zen, which is beyond Scriptures, beyond words, beyond form to the heart of enlightenment. That is the true Zen, the spirit of Zen, which can take any tradition and uncover the essence of it and then practice and manifest that in daily life.
So this is the truth of Zen, which means that you do not have to be Buddhist to practice enlightenment. That is really the heart of Zen, because really, if you study any of the religions, including Buddhism, there is a lot of the muck and mud in it that have developed over the centuries, and I claim to be a Buddhist, so I can say that about Buddhism. But yes, when I study Buddhism, there is a lot of really weird stuff. But, I'm still Buddhist because I see that in every religion, too, so pick your ick.
What is important is to dedicate yourself to whatever path you feel called to and dig through the ick until you find the jewel in that lotus and then live it out. That is what the meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum is. The Jewel is in the lotus, but you must find it. Find that jewel in your tradition, in your life, in your path, in your community, and then live that out. I do not get stuck in the forms. Always keep coming back to the essence of religion, not just the forms of religion, because being stuck in the forms of religion is like eating from the tree that leads to death, but coming to the essence in the spirit of the religion is like eating from the tree of life.
This is the meaning of the Genesis story, but if you get stuck in the literalness of the story, you miss the whole point. It is not about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil leading to death. What does that mean? It means basically you are nitpicking about morality and right and wrong, and this is the right doctrine versus that is the wrong doctrine and inquisitions and tests of faith. That is the tree the knowledge of good and evil that leads to death, but the true tree of life is Zen, is the Zen spirit of finding the jewel, the essence of spirituality, the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. The spirit gives life. The letter, the literalness, kills.
That is the meaning of Zen, and you'll find Zen in every religious tradition. It probably will not be called Zen, except in Buddhism, but you can find it. And that is your duty today, is to find your Zen, find your Zen, find our Zen, find the Zen of the world, because that is what will save the world.