The Buddha gave us teachings that were based on his exploration of
truth in his own mind and experience and practice. Toward the end of
his life, when people asked him, "When you die, what are we going to
do? Who are we going to rely on? You have been the teacher of truth
for us for so many years," the Buddha said the same thing he said at
the beginning of his enlightenment: "Do not believe anything anyone
says, even if they claim to be enlightened and even if it's what your
religion and culture told you to believe or even if someone with
authority says, "It is true," don't believe it, until you have tested
it for yourself. Then you can believe it based on your own experience
and practice and investigation of the truth."
So basically he said, "You have what you need to rely on, your own
ability to investigate and study and practice the truth for
yourself. " This is what he meant when he said, "Be a lamp unto
yourself, be your own lamp, because the truth is already in you; it
just requires a little dusting."
A dust has settled around your beautiful light bulb, but a light is
still there, within. So what the Buddha taught was his own
experience, and if we investigate the same things he investigated, we
may find that he was right. We also may find that we may have a
different angle of understanding relevant to our modern times. We may
have an understanding that has a little bit more nuance and detail
based on the evolution of humanity and modern science and psychology.
I'm going to present four different teachings tonight, but from a
different angle than I have taught before. Sometimes during this
series of twelve essential teachings of the Buddha, I may go back and
talk about the four noble truths and the different parts. This
teaching is contained in that, but I may give the traditional teaching
later. Tonight I wanted to give you a different angle on four
different teachings I recently have been meditating on, so they're not
going to necessarily be what the Buddha actually said or taught, but
it's based on my own experience and insight; sort of a different angle
on these teachings.
I'm going to talk tonight about suffering, impermanence, not-self, and
nirvana, or peace. I meditated on what sort of order I wanted to do
this in, and this is the order I wanted to teach it. So, I'd like to
take these traditional teachings and apply them in a more practical
way--experimental way-- for us to use in our meditation practice and
in our everyday life practice. Think of these as four different
glasses or microscopes or telescopes--however you like to think about
it--four different lenses with which we can become clearer in our
understanding of truth for ourselves.
So this first teaching on suffering is basically, after your
practicing with just concentration and just being present meditation,
then you can move on to your insight meditation--investigating
reality, right, but I highly recommend if you're new to meditation,
keep practicing the concentration aspects of meditation--just feeling
the breath--because you need to exercise those meditation muscles
until they are strong, because it is difficult to arrive at deep
insight without deep mindfulness and concentration developed.
Once you've practiced and developed that, then you can take that to
the next step. Meditation isn't just to make you peaceful; that's not
the point, although it does have that wonderful byproduct from time to
time when your leg doesn't fall asleep, when your neighbor isn't
coughing, or whatever--but you learn to just accept things and you
come into a place of peace. The reason why we cultivate the peace is
not just to have the peace; it's so that we can go deeper into our
investigations of truth, by having a mind that is more concentrated
and more mindful and a strong mind that is able to deeply be present
to reality--then we can penetrate the truth of reality.
I'd like for us to practice toward having an insight into our
suffering, so basically look at everything that's happening this week,
every moment, see the suffering, see what is the dissatisfaction, see
what is the discontent. Find those places or moments or thoughts or
feelings or reactions that where you are feeling that discontent or
that dissatisfaction or that suffering or that unease and then instead
of doing our usual thing of, "Ew, go away, get away from me, I don't
want this," just mindfully use it as a lens to look at what are you
doing that is feeding that suffering, to see what part you are playing
in creating that unease or that discontent.
If you can look deeply then you start seeing this causes suffering,
this causes suffering. Even though your motivation was that you
wanted pleasure or something pleasant and yet it's causing suffering.
In certain aspects it may be causing suffering or unease or
discontent. If you can see that more deeply it becomes easier to let
go of those causes of suffering--why is that? Because you already are
enlightened in your true nature, and that's why when you finally see
the truth about something, and then the transition automatically just
happens. When you see that when you do this, you cause suffering;
when you really see it deeply and truly there is something in you that
automatically lets go of that cause of suffering, but the problem is
that we don't see it clearly.
We might intellectually have an idea sometimes, "Yeah, that's not so
good for me," but emotionally, psychologically, subconsciously, we're
still clinging to those causes of suffering. So with your meditation
and mindful living in everyday life, we can start seeing the truth of
suffering and how we cause so much of our own suffering. We can start
letting go as we see the truth and as we let go of those causes.
A simple example: I really love Braum's peppermint ice cream a lot and
when I lived in California they didn't have Braum's and for a short
time I lived in Minnesota they didn't have Braum's, so when I moved
back to Texas the first thing I did was go to Braum's and get
peppermint ice cream. Over the last few years, I noticed sometimes
that if I was not being very mindful I would just get a whole gallon
and watch a movie and eat the whole thing and I didn't realize I was
eating the whole thing because I was watching a movie and I felt so
sick afterwards. Actually I did this about two or three times before
I saw the truth of this cause of suffering and now, from time to time,
I still have a desire to eat Braum's ice cream but I'll just get a
cone of Braum's ice cream. I won't get a whole gallon because I know
myself; if I get the whole gallon I'll probably just eat the whole
Now I kind of let go of that desire; I enjoy the Braum's peppermint
ice cream but the craving isn't so strong anymore because I realize
it's nice but it's not everything to me--it's not necessarily bringing
me bliss and happiness. I don't have to have it all of the time, so
now I might go once every two or three months to Braum's but it's no
longer this strong craving anymore because I realized the truth, that
it's not a source of great happiness. It's pleasant in small doses,
but it's not a source of great happiness.
Maybe unconsciously I saw it as a source of great happiness... why? I
grew up in Texas and Braum's was one of the things I enjoyed growing
up around so I associated it psychologically to comfort, family, old
times, being a child. I still smile when I hear an ice cream truck
with the music. It reminds me and brings me back to some pleasant
memories, but now I know better: if I eat a whole bunch of that, I'm
going to be sick. I was able to let go of that craving because now I
see why I got that feeling of craving and I don't need it anymore.
As we continue our practice, we can also look at the issue of
impermanence. There are many different angles on this teaching, but I
am only going to give you one angle tonight, which is to see the
things, the people, the situations that we cling to and crave to
possess that actually aren't everlasting. We put so much time and
energy and effort into things that aren't even permanent. Of course
we have to take care of things, but can we do it with less attachment,
knowing things are impermanent?
Like when you buy a new car, you just load it and want to clean it and
keep everything clean inside and you put so much time and effort into
maintaining it but what will it look like one hundred years from now...
or your house, or this center? It doesn't mean that we don't take
care of things; we do it without attachment. We also investigate how
much time and energy do we spend on things that are fleeting or our
time and energy on things that are longer lasting?
One example that I am just coming up with in my mind just now is, last
year as I was starting to experience some of the early stages of my
mid-life crisis (I'm almost 43 now) and I didn't realize that it was a
real thing, I thought it was just a joke, but it's truly, at least for
me, quite real.
When I started to want to move or get a new car or get a new apartment
or someone younger, things like that and I started to want to hang out
with younger people and there were a few people that I started to be
friends with and I realized that I just really don't like this. I
can't relate to anything they interested in and they're constantly on
their cellphones texting. It's just a different culture and part of
me felt like, oh I can still be young and cool and hip and everything
but at least for these particular persons I didn't feel particularly
spiritually nourished around them. And I was thinking to myself,
"Gosh, all they want to do is go to the mall or things I just don't
have any interest in and they don't even want to come to the
meditation center--I keep inviting them, so..."
Then I realized, gosh, with the time I'm spending with them, I could
be doing other things that are of a much more lasting importance and
when I investigated that I said, "Oh." When I saw that, it was very
easy to just say, "I'm glad I met you guys, but you know, bye!" Of
course they didn't care; they are always changing friends and going
off and doing their own thing, so...
Now I'm trying to be more mindful of who am I trying to spend time
with and, is this going to be of a much more lasting import? Who am I
spending time with and what am I doing with the second half of my
life? These are questions that all of us should meditate on, whether
we are at midlife or before or after. What am I doing with the second
part of my life, what am I spending time on, and what is going to be
of a more positive, lasting impact in the world? Since things are
changing and impermanent, can I spend more time on the things that are
of a more lasting impermanence rather than things that are of just a
temporary, fleeting impermanence? Everything is impermanent, even the
longer lasting things, so let's focus on the things that will have a
much greater impact in the world.
The third teaching on not-self. I'm going to call it, "Not-self,"
instead of, "Non-self," because I'm going to give it a slight
different twist here, not some sort of metaphysical concept or, "What
is the self," or whatever... I'm just talking about, "What is not
yourself?" as far as your feelings or stories and our judgments and
our interpretations and our labels. That's to really investigate, is
your clothing yourself? Are your possessions yourself? Start looking
at how much importance you put into those things that are not even
your true self and how much time and effort you put into that.
There's nothing wrong with taking care of your appearance. I do that
every day when I shower and shave and comb my hair and put on my
clothes-- it's nice!
But when I think of how many minutes every day I do that, it adds up a
lot of time. So it's not about not taking care of these things but
just realize, these are not myself... I am not my appearance, I am not
my clothing, I am not the designer labels I wear, I'm not the car I
drive, I'm not my job (that's a big one, right, "I'm not my job?"), so
you start to take away all of your psychological and emotional and
spiritual energy from these labels and definitions that instead of
becoming useful have become a trap to you, so start letting go of
attachment to those things so that you can spend more time and energy
on what is really important.
One enlightened teacher once said, "That the only reason why you are
here is to be enlightened, that's it, everything else is secondary or
sometimes a false goal."
When we investigate that, because enlightenment is simply to realize
your true self, that's your real career too, so to realize your true
self and to be that in the world... to realize the light that you are
and to shine that light in the world... that's really your only purpose
here. If you are spending a lot of time and energy on certain
relationships that aren't really serving the world or on certain
habits that are not serving the world, like Facebook (Some people have
allowed Facebook and the Internet to be a little bit more than
necessary)...So what I'm teaching tonight is not absolute truth; it's
just a method of investigation, because you still have to find the
truth for yourself.
The fourth teaching is on nirvana and I'm not going to talk about
ultimate nirvana or anything like that. I'm just going to talk about
investigating, "Ok, whatever situation you are in, what is the nirvana
here? What is the truth here? What is the lesson here? What is the
jewel here? What is the wisdom here? If you are going through a
difficult situation or you are in a situation that you really don't
like being in or something like that or when you remember the past and
certain things that were very negative for you and you wonder why that
happened... instead of going into a place of anger or regret or hatred,
see if you can just rest in the wisdom, the lesson that is there for
you. Try to see everything through the lens of, "What jewel can I
take from this experience?"
As you go through this next week, look at everything through these
four lenses: what is a suffering and how am I causing it, and look at
how much time you spend on the impermanent versus that which is of a
much more longer lasting importance and also see how you identify
yourself with things and other relationships and jobs and other things
rather than relating to your true self and also, fourthly, in
everything that's happening, keep asking yourself the question, "Ok,
what is the wisdom here, what is the lesson here, what is the truth
here, what is the jewel in this situation?" And that way it can help
us not to fall into despair or feel completely overwhelmed by any
situation no matter how negative it may be to find the jewel in it.
Don't focus, so much, on the overwhelm, but focus on finding the jewel
That's just my little teaching for tonight on these four topics; it's
definitely not exhaustive and there is another way of teaching it from
the traditional point of view, which I'll do in a few weeks or months,
but I just wanted to share four different lenses for looking at our
experience... so that's your homework for this week because this isn't
absolute truth, it's just pointers for you to investigate the truth.
See if you can find some insight in your meditation and life
experience this week, looking at everything from these four lenses,
angles... ok... thank you.