Thank you, dear friends, for your beautiful practice tonight. Even though I am feeling a little tired, I feel very nourished by the practice. I felt some energy from the practice tonight, so thank you.
Tonight, I would like to start off by just reminding us to continue to keep coming back to our spiritual practices, especially the 11th spiritual practices that we are all doing together during this 11-week spiritual practice period that culminates on 11/11/11. And of course all of these practices—the mantra practice, meditation practice, sangha practice, retreat practice, nature practice, gratitude practice, journal writing practice, dharma reading practice, yoga or Chi gong or some other spiritual exercise practice, a semi vegetarian diet or any kind of healthy diet, generosity and service practice—all of these are simply manifestations of mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness practice takes many different forms, so you can be creative in how you practice mindfulness. You know, when I sit in meditation at home in the morning, not only am I practicing mindfulness of the breath, mindfulness of the present moment, mindfulness of the here and now, but I also practice mindfulness of gratitude because when I take my seat in the seat of enlightenment, I do so with gratitude for this seat is a gift, and whenever you sit on your seat of enlightenment, that seat is also a gift. After all, you did not make your butt, and you probably didn't create the material of your meditation cushion either. It is a gift. Right?
So every time my butt sits down on my cushion, I automatically have 2 things to be grateful for, and if I continue to meditate in gratitude, I discover so many more wondrous elements of gratitude—this breath, this heartbeat, this opportunity to meditate. It is wonderful.
I also practice mindfulness of the Buddha. In Buddhism, we call that Buddha nusmrti, mindfulness of Buddha. And of course, mindfulness of Buddha can take many forms. One way of practicing mindfulness of Buddha is to chant the name of any Buddha: Shakyamuni Buddha, who lived 2,500 years ago; Amitabha Buddha, who is transhistorical, cosmic Buddha. Some other favorites are medicine Buddha, and many bodhisattvas are also popular, such as Avalokiteshvara bodhisattva, in China known as Quan Yin, the mother of compassion.
But the interesting thing is Buddhas and bodhisattvas are never jealous of each other, and it doesn't really matter to them which Buddha or bodhisattva you are being mindful of. They're kind of like the musketeers, you know, one and all and all in one. I am changing the words little bit now. So all Buddhas are within one Buddha, and each Buddha contains all Buddhas. So take your pick.
I am mindful of the Buddha through chanting Amitabha. It is just a way to remind myself that everything is a gift. And if you come from a different tradition than Buddhism, perhaps you can practice Buddha nusmrti in a different way, mindfulness of God.
There was a wonderful monk a few centuries ago named Brother Lawrence, who wrote a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God. And he discovered a joy that he had never known it in this practice when it came to him to practice the presence of God, which is his Christian way of practicing what I call Buddha nusmrti. Every time he would wash the dishes, he would do so in the presence of God. Every time he swept the floor, he would do so in the presence of God. Every time he read a book or went to church or greeted a brother or went to bed, he would do every activity in the presence of God, mindful of the divine presence in every activity.
And so when I practice Buddha nusmrti in the form of Amitabha chanting, it helps me not only to be mindful of Buddha in the moment I am chanting, but throughout the rest of the day because the energy of the chanting in the morning carries over throughout the rest of the day, and the practice of just simply coming to each breath and each moment during sitting meditation is not just for that hour of practice. It carries out throughout the rest of the day, and it helps me to stay mindful and in the moment throughout the day.
Another way I practice mindfulness is by being mindful of all my teachers and spiritual friends. So sometimes, if I really, really need it in a more tangible way, I will put a picture of Thich Nhat Hanh right near me, in front of me, and some other pictures of some favorite monks and nuns of mine, and maybe some spiritual friends. If I do not have their picture, I will just write their name on a piece of paper, and I will surround myself in a circle of all these names of people that I know who love me and support me in my practice. And then I will sit in the center of the circle of support.
Nowadays, I don't usually do those literal tangible things, but I still think of them in my heart, so I begin my practice by visualizing that I'm sitting in here and the now and that my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is before me and not my monk friends and nun friends that I know are next to me and all my good spiritual friends here in Dallas are with me—all of you. Sometimes I imagine that all of you are sitting with me supporting me and letting me support you, and that is another way of practicing mindfulness of love and friendship, mindfulness of support.
And another way I sometimes practice mindfulness is mindfulness of the heart. And I just allow myself to come back to the heart over and over and over again during my meditation practice as well as throughout the rest of the day. A friend of mine likes to do this practice also, and she likes to wear a necklace with some precious stone that is right over her heart so that as she walks it kind of bumps along and she is always reminded to be mindful of the heart. Mindfulness of the heart.
And you might want to try that. Just when you are breathing in, breathe in into the heart. Breathe out from the heart. Or if you use a mantra like Amitabha, breathing in Amitabha, breathing out Amitabha from the heart, in the heart. Or if you are a bit more visual person, visualize a light of love shining in the heart, always present, always there throughout the day. If you're from the Christian tradition, you might even practice the Sacred Heart, right here. After all, where else was Jesus except right here? Right? Jesus is right here in the Sacred Heart within your own heart.
So you just come back to the heart. This is a wonderful practice, and it opens up the heart to love and forgiveness and compassion and generosity and joy. It's not necessarily an ecstatic kind of joy, but a very deep peaceful joy. Honestly there are days when I realized, yeah, that is the joy I would rather have, you know? I mean, I like ecstatic joy also from time to time, but I suppose if I was always ecstatically joyful, I would be very tired. It is very hard to sustain that. But peaceful joy is wonderful, a peaceful joy of the heart.
You know, one of the practices on our list here is journal writing practice, and this also is a form of mindfulness practice, because mindfulness not only means awareness and being present, but mindfulness also means to remember. So when you are writing in your journal, you can remember the positive things that you have learned that day or that week and write them down. You write them down so that maybe a few weeks or months or years from now, you will have a record to remember to be mindful of all the good things that you have received as a gift, all the different questions and struggles and searches that you have gone through.
It is funny. I went through my old journals from a few years ago recently, and I was shocked. One of the things I wrote down about 6 years ago was when I first moved back to the Dallas area. I had to outline what it might be like if there were a meditation center here. And I listed a few different things that it might be nice to have at the center, and almost every single one of those things that I listed actually is manifested now. I was really shocked. I kind of double checked the dates, like what? How could I have written about this so long ago? And yet, that is what I did. So it is a good thing I wrote it down so I could remember it that I thought about it, but that also helps me to practice with the reality that what you think can manifest, and what you want to manifest starts from the thought, right?
So, write these things down, and during this 11-week period, write down any synchronicities that occur to you. Be mindful of the coincidences. You know, just a couple of days ago I was really frustrated with someone who really pushes my buttons. And I was thinking to myself, this is just impossible. Why does this have to happen all the time? And so I got into my car I turned on the car. It was 11:11 PM. And I kind of laughed. It was like okay, okay.
Because 11:11, I have been seeing that a lot, and each time I see it, it just reminds me that even in the times when I'm frustrated and I do not understand why I have to deal with certain things that are happening and yet, when I see that, it reminds me that is fine. Everything is right on time. Everything is as it is, and so I just have the opportunity to choose to just accept or whine. It is my choice.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a short little meditation retreat near Houston. I don't think I shared this with the Sunday group yet, but I think I shared it with some other groups. Everything was in Chinese, and I just don't understand Mandarin Chinese especially. I am good with Cantonese, but even then I can't really understand all of it. I thought there was going to be a translator, but there was not a translator, and so I had to sit through 2 days of not knowing what they were talking about. But that is okay, because I just listened to the heart and just kind of followed along. You don't need instructions on walking and sitting anyway, so you just do that.
But during his one-hour very long dharma talk in a language I could not understand, the word happiness came to my mind, and so I just gave myself a dharma talk. I started thinking about happiness. What is happiness? And things related to happiness. And then we came to my mind eventually was my favorite teaching of the Buddha is the Sutra on Happiness, and the Buddha lists different items of happiness. As I started meditating on that and thinking about that, about 3 minutes later, the monk concluded his Chinese dharma talk by picking up a book with Thich Nhat Hanh's name on it and opened it up and read it in English, the Sutra on Happiness.
So he read it in English, and then he translated it into Chinese for the rest of the talk. So I wrote that in my journal as another synchronicity, and it made me smile because part of that day I was thinking, why am I here? I don't understand what is going on. And yet that is another sign that you are exactly where you need to be, and it is fine. It is a good thing to remember and be mindful of the synchronicity times because life can be really tough.
Life can be very difficult. If I had known that I would have to go through all of this stuff, I probably would not have signed up for this. Those sneaky Buddhas! They make earth look so wonderful, and then when you arrive, it is like oh my gosh! But remember the times of synchronicities in your life, because they will help you during the difficult times. They will be reminders to you that it is going to be okay, that you can handle it, and that you are not alone.
There've been so many times in my life when I've thought, I've completely messed up. There is no way that I am following the correct timeline that I was supposed to in this life. I have deviated from the path somehow. But every time a synchronicity happens. Then I remember that no, the reality is that everything is right on time, and I may not always understand it, and I may not always like what is going on, but if I am mindful enough that there is a greater good holding me, then I can just take one step at a time through the pain, one breath at a time through the difficulty.
If you think about all the future moments of how long this particular moment of difficulty is going to occur, you will make it very hard on yourself unnecessarily. I learned this a couple of years ago at another 7-day meditation retreat. Talk about kick butt retreat, you know? But while I was sitting there on maybe day 4 and there are like 3 more days left, the pain of my legs, the pain in my back, and the pain of not talking to anyone and not looking at anyone and just being with myself—oh, the pain! As I started thinking about how many more minutes are left in this 45-minute sit—these Chinese people are really tough, it you know. In the other Zen traditions, you know, 25 minutes, but 45, sometimes 50 minutes at a time. Oh my goodness.
Well, I noticed that my pain every time I thought about anything other than this second right now. When I started thinking about how many more days are left, how many more minutes are left, how many more sittings are left today out of the 14 we are going to do today, oh my goodness, it was unbearable, mentally unbearable. So because I realized how unbearable I was making it on myself, I started to like get smart, and I stopped thinking about the future and I just breathed in this moment. I just made myself—don't think about tomorrow, don't think about the next hour, don't think about tonight. Just this moment. Just sit and endure this moment. Just this moment. And I discovered that there was less pain and less mental affliction.
I'm sharing all of this for the sake of one of my students here today. I hope she doesn't mind me sharing, and I won't give the name away, but she is going through some pain with her teeth, and like all of us, we are very afraid of the dentist. So there is pain, and then there is also the fear about having to deal with this pain and going to the dentist and not knowing if it is going to go away or not and how many procedures. So I didn't have a chance to tell her directly, so I will just tell her to the whole sangha, which would you choose if you could choose? And I'm not saying you have to choose, but if you could choose, which would you choose: to have the pain with fear or have the pain without fear? Maybe you have no control over the pain. But you do have something to do with the fear.
So, as we are all going through difficulties in life, tragedies, pain, physical suffering, circumstances out of our control, what are you going to choose? Will you choose to simply go through whatever you are experiencing in mindfulness? Or will you choose to go through it with the addition of fear, resentment, added suffering? It is up to you. Because life happens. But how we respond to life, that is up to us. So please enjoy your toothache in mindfulness. It is much more pleasant than going through your toothache in fear and worry and stress. And when your toothache is gone, appreciate your non-toothache. Don't take it for granted.
And that is not just to this one person, but to all of us here tonight. Be mindful of your non-toothache, and don't take all the gifts of life for granted. This is the practice of mindfulness. You see how mindfulness is not just mindfulness of the breath sitting on the cushion. That is just a nice starting point. True mindfulness is our everyday practice moment by moment as we greet and respond to life. That is the real practice of mindfulness.
Amitabha. Good night.