I'd like to start my talk by sharing an appreciation to Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism. He was a truly radiant person on the planet. People who would encounter him would be so taken by his pure heart. He lived in a time in India where there was much strife between Muslims and Hindus. And yet by the time he died, he had many disciples, many of whom were Hindus and Muslims. In fact, they had to figure out what to do when he died because the Muslims wanted to bury his body and Hindus wanted to cremate his body. [Laughter] So they decided to divide his shroud in half. One half was given to Muslims to bury and the other half of the shroud was given to Hindus to be cremated. This was the kind of man he was. So beautiful, so pure, so inclusive, that everyone wanted a piece of him, even after his death.
I hope you were able to read the letter I wrote to the Sikh community, and if not, ask Bobbie a she can forward you a copy. While I was in Seattle I encountered some wonderful books, and if you have never read anything by our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, I hope you will give yourself an opportunity to read a wonderful book by him — he has many books, 80 books now—but here's one that I think you'll find very, very wonderful. IT's called, "You are here: discovering the magic of the present moment. So if you've never read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, this is a good first read. There are many good first read books but this is definitely one. It just has very beautiful chapters in it. You are here, so keep that in mind.
If you want something more advanced, I picked up a book called "The Art of Disappearing, the Buddhist's path to lasting joy" by Ah Jan Bran who is an Australian Theravada monk. And he is very humorous but also very deep. And, uh, especially if you're going through issues of letting go of something, this is an excellent book to help you with that process. The Art of Disappearing.
And of course, you can also have some fun reading. My favorite right now is "Lessons from the monk I married". It's a wonderful love story about a woman who went to Korea, South Korea to teach English and encountered a Buddhist celibate monk, and they started spending lots of time together, and they eventually fell in love, so then eventually he left the monastery and married her, and they both moved to Seattle, and he opened up a yoga studio. And, um, it's much better than Eat Pray Love. I'm loving this book; it's great. So those are some wonderful resources.
So Liz was at the Unitarian Universalist Church where I spoke this morning so maybe some of the things I'll share today is a repeat I hope you don't mind. But you know, our teacher once shared a story about having to take a hammer and a nail, so that hammer was in his right hand and nail was in his left hand and he was trying to nail something on the plank. And so he nailed once, twice, and then third time he hit his left thumb, very very very painful, and but he meditated on this experience, rather than hating it. HE said, what's the mindful lesson here, and he realized, oh, if my left and right hand don't have the wisdom of unity, my left hand might get completely go insane, in the illusion of separatedness and take the hammer and take revenge on the right hand. Say you're stupid, you know? But that would be foolish, wouldn't it, because actually right and left are part of the same body and make up one whole. And that is the wisdom of unity. Unfortunately from our day to day we don't have that wisdom among countries, ethnicities, races, colors. We don't have that wisdom. So we act out of delusion and insanity, and separation. Which is not the truth.
So in Wisconsin last Sunday, a man who must be filled with much insanity and delusion and suffering, made an action that's not out of the wisdom of unity. He killed and hurt many people of a faith when it was started, was a faith about inclusivity and tolerance and understanding and universality. So I hope we have been practicing meditation in solidarity with them and our prayers with them, and our solidarity with the man who did this, and our prayers for that person. And all the persons who have the same kind of delusion and insanity and maybe they haven't a acted on it yet but maybe they will at some point. There's never one person only. IT's always, whenever you see one individual you see all individuals who have influenced them in all parts of their life. One of the things I saw on TV was picture fo a man wearing a shirt saying White Supremacist. This comes from the idea of these superior Aryan white race, but the Buddha also used the word Aryan. The four noble truths have the word Arya in it. Arya means noble. But the Buddha realized what is noble is not hereditary or physical. It's not a race or caste. True nobility is the nobility of the heart. Nobility of higher consciousness. And that is the true supremacy. True supremacy of love. True supremacy of wisdom. True supremacy of enlightenment. And this is the real Arya. The real supremacy. And of course, in wisdom of unity and oneness, there's no such thing as supremacy, there's only solidarity. So the true supremacy is actually one of solidarity, and oneness. So let us continue to practice as Buddhas in the making. Because that's really all life is about. You might think out of temporary insanity that life is about making more money, having more sex, or having more stuff, meeting all of your career goals, but that's not really the true purpose. That might be parts of making true purpose happen in your life but they are not your ultimate goal. Your real mission here is being Buddha in the making, Bodhisattvas, here to serve all beings. And so, I'd like to encourage all of us to keep remembering that and support others in that, because if we lose sight of our purpose, then the insanity of the world will just keep increasing. So actually you are very necessary. We need you to stay focused on and remember your true purpose, and to keep coming back over and over again to your true purpose. To be a Buddha, to be a Bodhisattva, to be awake, enlightened for the sake of all beings. We need every single one of us to keep remembering that every moment, every hour, every day, every week. Otherwise, the insanity just keeps increasing.
So these 12 spiritual practices are, you can call them 12 anti-insanity practices. They counteract the insanity of the world. And so, I want to invite you all to take this home, keep it on your refrigerator and your mirror and read them every day to remind you of what these 12 are. And we're going to practice them for 21 days. I started them yesterday but if you have not started you can start today. According to some it takes a minimum of 21 days to create a new habit. Now if you really want to do it well you should do it 40 days. This is a practice in Judaism and Christianity, 40 days, 40 nights. Of course, I prefer to do them 108 days as a Buddhist practice, but at least 21. To kind of break a negative old habit and introduce a positive new habit of meditation.
Meditation, wonderful if you can do it every day for 21 days. I'm going to try to do it twice a day. So if you skip it accidentally one day just remember I meditated once on your behalf. One was for you, okay? Morning one's for me, evening one's for you, ok? Weekly sangha, so important to be part of the community. The community energy is so important. Meditation retreat — you can do half day, one day, weekend, week-long, whatever. You may not have time to do a full week in the next 21 days but at least come to something that's going to be a at least a half day of practice. Maybe the yoga meditation retreat that's happening in the next couple of weeks.
You know, if I had to choose between daily meditation and the weekly sangha or the meditation retreat, you know which one I choose? You know when you can practice daily meditation consistently for several years, you will become a very virtuous, radiant person. But, if you only do that but not the others, too, sometimes it's maybe that you're a very lovely person but you rarely have spiritual breakthroughs in your life. I encountered someone like that — she was 70 years old, she came to one of my workshops in Minneapolis. During our sharing time she said, she really enjoyed the retreat, but she had never had a spiritual breakthrough experience before, after 30 years of meditation, just meditating at home, because she had never gone to a retreat. But on the other hand, I've met lots of other people who have gone to long retreats, maybe a 10-day retreat or something, but they don't practice daily, they don't have a practice at home. They just go to these retreats, maybe once a year, for that spiritual high or something, but their lives are very, they don't seem very transformed, it doesn't seem like they've taken that practice and actually applied it to their everyday life. So basically they have a spiritual high and they crash afterwards. There's nothing at home to sustain it. So the best way is to do both. The daily meditation gets you steady, the retreat lifts you to a higher plane of consciousness, and then you stay at that level, because of your daily meditation, until your next retreat. And I've experienced this viscerally in my body and mind when I do this. I mean, literally felt something shifting in me, energetically. It's real. But, again, if I had to choose between the daily meditation, the weekly sangha, or the meditation retreat, which one would I choose?
[Audience] The weekly sangha.
Yes, I choose the weekly sangha if I had to choose. Ah, you know me too well.
[Audience] It's because you love us too much.
I choose the weekly sangha because, if you really come to weekly sangha every single week, for several months, then there is no way you're not going to start meditating at home, because the energy of support here, just something shifts in you and you want to. You eagerly enthusiastically want to meditate more at home. IT just happens. So it's guaranteed that's going to happen if you keep coming once a week. At least once, more if you want, but at least once a week. And guess what? If you keep coming every week then you start hearing about retreats and you hear announcements about upcoming retreats, so you'll eventually want to come to retreats too. So you actually have all three if you come to sangha every week. So that's why I choose the weekly sangha.
Then the fourth practice is spending time regularly in nature. Preferably in silence; it doesn't count if you're walking in the woods and you're talking on the cell phone the whole entire time. That doesn't count, you know, we as human civilization we've lost touch with nature in a big, great, great way and that actually causes a lot of mental illness, even if it's not a major mental illness, you can have a mental uneasiness. Maybe that's a better word. We have a lot of mental uneasiness in our lives bceause we've lost touch with nature. I'm not saying that's the only reason why we are like that but for many us of, many times when we don't know why we're depressed or we don't know why we're not feeling good, or you're feeling disconnected, think about it. You are disconnected. You are disconnected from mother nature. You know, big mama. [laugher] And when you're disconnected from big mama, it is uneasy, it is disconnecting, right? And so let yourself feel nurtured. And I know there is a real nurturing quality to nature. When I used to live in Oakland hills in California, whenever I felt physically ill or mentally not feeling well, I would go into the hills, and walk amongst the redwood trees, and hug one of them too. And I'd put my blanket on the pine needles, or whatever they are called, just on the ground, and I would just lie there, and just look up at those tall, tall trees, and just breathe in the fresh air, and ask them "Please just help me right now, I just need a bit of healing support." And every single time, I would feel at least a little better, if not very much better. It's real! And there's even now scientific studies, these crazy scientists who would go river rafting, and there's one article where they went river rafting for four days, no cell phones, no technology with them, no watches. Just nature and each other, and they had all these tests done on them, before and after, and they saw a big difference, and I'm sure they felt and experienced that difference. So, of course we in our society these days it is many times necessary to use technology to help us in our lives and our path. However, be careful. Be mindful, not to allow all of that to disconnect you from big mama. Because we need big mama and big mama needs us.
The fifth practice is gratitude. And we don't have time to do it here but I've done it here before where we partner up with someone and just speak gratitude for at least three minutes each and take turns and listen, and that can really uplift your energy. So whenever you're down, call up a friend and just do this simple, five-minute gratitude practice. 2.5 minutes each or whatever. And you'll see a difference. It'll uplift your energy. Why? Because gratitude is just the other side of mindfulness. Gratitude always leads to mindfulness and mindfulness always leads to gratitude. Why? Think about it. When you are more and more aware you start realizing all of the miracles of life that you just ignored or took for granted and then you become grateful, right? Or, if you take the time to just think of things to be grateful for, that forces you to be mindful and aware of the things that you can be grateful for. So your gratitude and mindfulness are very important.
The sixth practice is journal-writing. So, if you don't write in a journal now, I highly recommend you try it during these 21 days. If you want to try to write every day or at least once a week. Just write —just write your spiritual thoughts and questions and maybe you even write down answers that come from your inner being.
The seventh practice is dharma-reading. And this can also include dharma music, but basically spiritually positive truths. Just flood your mind. I remember when I was very, very depressed several years ago, I had just gone through a breakup in a relationship and was extremely depressed. And I hear Thich Nhat Hanh speak on the radio for the first eim, and I put immediately record on my radio tape player. And I kept that tape cassette. This was several years ago, right? And I played it over and over and over again every day, sometimes several times in one day. But listening to that beautiful monk's voice, listening to his wisdom teachings, and just inundating my mind with it over and over again, somehow that fog of depression lifted, much more quickly than normal, for me. And I just felt this strange joy or confidence, knowing that I'm going to be okay and I'm going to love again and be loved again. It was very interesting. So there's power to just flooding your consciousness with these teachings. And you know what we have to do a lot more than our ancestors did because we're just flooded with the opposite. Left and right. So if you're that kind of person that has an alarm that has a radio on it, and that's how you wake up, don't do it any more. Don't do the radio alarm any more if that's going to turn on the news. You've just gone to sleep for 8 hours hopefully, rested your consciousness and maybe some part of you maybe floated to some higher realms and conversed with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who reminded you of what to do while you're on earth, and then you just wake up with all these negative news! Why are you plugging into the system so readily and so quickly in the morning? It's not good for you, it's not necessary. I highly do not recommend it. If I ever catch you do it I'm just going to smash your radio. If you're gonna wake up, wake up to the sounds of Buddhist bells, or spiritual music, or something positive, and dharma-filling.
[Audience] Or Cornell's flute — that's what I wake up to.
Yeah, wonderful! See? That's a good example. So we need to practice even more diligently than our ancestors did to counteract all the negative stuff that keeps flooding our consciousness, ok?
The eighth practice is some kind of psycho spiritual physical exercise. I highly recommend yoga or chi gong but there can be others, too. If you can do weightlifting mindfully that can be a spiritual exercise as well. But there's something really special about yoga or chi gong because not only can it help you physically but there's something that helps your nervous system. That balances your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system; your voluntary and involuntary nervous system, and help you to be in harmony and in balance. That's why so many people feel so much stress relief after doing yoga or chi gong. It really is real, and I highly recommend that you start doing that more if you haven't already.
The ninth practice is some kind of a healthy, mindful diet, whatever that means for you. Now, for some of you, that might mean a vegetarian, or a semi-vegetarian, or just cutting back on meat; or just choosing healthier items to eat. But we need to be much more mindful of what we eat and how we eat, and why we eat when we're eating. Mindfulness is the most important factor here. How it affects not only our body but how it's affecting the environment.
The tenth practice is blessing prayer — this is a new one for me, I didn't have it last year. But I realized that I really need to add this because especially to bless and pray for our community members and our leaders, and our teachers. It takes a lot of energy sometimes to share from our hearts. You know, it's important to become cheerleaders for our spiritual leaders, because I, for instance, don't always hear how you're doing. I don't always know what things you got out of it, so if I don't talk with you, I don't know. And If you happen to leave with a frown on your face, then I am thinking oh no, they didn't like what I had to say or something, I don't know. And I know people have different reasons for walking out of meditation or whatever, they need to, but part of me is like, aw, oh well. But I have to let that go, of course, bceause everyone has different reasons for why they come and why they leave. And you know, over several years' time I always notice there's always a different set of people here. Everyone just comes here for a while, then they may leave, or move or go into something else so I don't always see the same set of people in the community. But when I see the people who are consistent that that makes me so happy, I can't even tell you how happy that makes me for me to see when I see people who have been here consistently for months or years. That just brings me so much joy, it really does. And it really makes me feel supported emotionally because, well, you may think I am an extravert but I started out as an introvert. I only come across as an extravert for the sake of making you feel enthusiastic about dharma but honestly I like to be alone and I like to be off on my own. But you know I actually feel scared when the majority in the room re people I have never seen before and people I don't know. Internally—I may not show it—but I feel nervous and scared. And I feel kind of like, oh my gosh, alone. That's why I like to have the circle with people I know and practice well because it makes me feel safe and amongst friend. So if you come consistently, even if we don't share anything verbally, you're doing a lot for me. You're supporting me, you're supporting yourself, and the others in the room, so thank you for that.
The eleventh practice is generosity and service. And I want to emphasize this one tonight because, you know, we are not, I mean, we are a non-profit, we're not a profit making center. We're not making big bucks here. We're trying to be as efficient as possible and expand the minimum amount necessary to give out the maximal benefit to the community. So we really do count on every single person here. We're not a mega church with a thousand members where it doesn't matter if most don't give and a few give a lot. We don't have people who give thousands and thousands, though from time to time we have had people who have given a thousand or so, and we do appreciate that. But we do depend on everyone giving a little bit, everyone doing a little bit, rather than depending on few giving a lot…because that is not happening. We're really dependent on every single person just giving a little. Like, five dollars a week, or ten dollars, whatever you can. It really helps a lot. So don't' think we don't need you, we need you. So please, please remember that we are one and when you don't give to the community you're not giving to yourself. When you want to give to yourself, give to others. And it's not just here, you can give somewhere else. And it doesn't have to be money; there can be others ways you give. But if you want to have an abundant life, and you feel like the receiving end is kind of stuck, then guess what the Buddha said —z then work on the giving end to get that unstuck. And when you get the giving end unstuck, it frees it up, and now the receiving end is in flow, you see. And so, practice that, and it's real. I don't have time to give you my whole personal story on that but it's real. When you give, you receive.
And the last practice, of course, is the amitabha practice. And it doesn't have to be amitabha but whatever short word or phrase or mantra you can use that you can use and come back to over and over again throughout the day, just to help, like a mindfulness bell, to remind you that you're loved and that you re love. That you're receiving infinite support, and that you're giving infinite support through every mindful breath, and every mindful step.
So I'd like to conclude by reading Buddha's prayer on loving kindness. And then we'll close with medicine Buddha of healing chant for healing to offer our practice's benefits to all beings everywhere.
He or she who wants to attain peace can practice being upright, humble, and capable of using loving speech. He or she will know how to live simply and happily, with senses calm, without being covetous, or being carried away by emotions of the majority. Let him or her not do anything that would be disapproved by the wise ones, and this is what he or she contemplates: may everyone be happy and safe. And may all hearts be filled with joy. May all beings live in security and in peace. Beings who are frail or strong, tall or short, big or small, visible or invisible, near or far away, yet to be born or already born. May all of them dwell in perfect tranquility. Let no one do harm to anyone. Let no one put anyone's life in danger. Let no one out of anger or ill will wish anyone harm. Just as a mother protects her own child at the risk of her own life, we can cultivate boundless love and offer it to all living beings in the entire cosmos. We let our boundless love pervade the whole universe, above, below, and across. Our love knows no obstacles. Our heart is absolutely free from hatred and enmity. Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying down, as long as we're awake, we can maintain this mindfulness of love in our own heart. This is the noblest way of living. This is the Arya way, the supreme.