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ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 5):
Mindfulness, Concentration, Insight
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ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 5): Mindfulness, Concentration, Insight (29 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
August 19, 2012 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you, dear friends, for your beautiful practice here tonight and your presence, which supports each of us in here and also those we do not see here in this room right now, as well as all beings everywhere, throughout space and time.

Well, last Sunday, I shared about the 12 spiritual practices that we are encouraged to practice during this 21-day spiritual practice period, but actually it applies for any time and always. But sometimes it is helpful to do a specific time period to help us solidify our practice energy.

I also mentioned our solidarity with the Sikh community. The one thing I forgot to share with you was that even though I was invited to speak at their candlelight vigil, because there were so many speakers and some shared a little longer than they were supposed to, they decided to just cut it off, so I did not get a chance to say anything there. There were 800 people there in solidarity with the community, and that was really beautiful, and that was enough, just to be present.

So as I meditated on it, I really was using my deepest intuition to determine whether or not to fly back from the Northwest one day early from my vacation, and I really felt like I saw the signs that seemed to nudge me toward that direction. One sign was that this place I was going to stay at my one last evening was at a Russian orthodox monastery on Vashon Island, and the wonderful abbot called me and said, "Something came up at the monastery, and we had to leave and go somewhere else, so there would not be anyone there." So I cannot really stay there by myself. He was sorry and hoped I could come next time.

Then there was another sign as well. Other things happened that just kind of indicated, well, it is time to go back. It is time to go back a day early so that I can be personally present at the candlelight vigil to share some words of solidarity. So I thought the universe wanted me to do that, so I went, and then I did not get to say anything.

So I meditated on that, and I was thinking, well, I saw all the signs that kind of nudged me toward coming back a day early, and yet I did not get a chance to share anything. So was it a waste of my time to come back a day early? I don't think it was a waste of time, because I realized I felt the signs and I was following my intuition, so I meditated.

Okay. What else besides that happened because I came back a day early? Because, see, I was so focused on one expectation, one result, that I was completely ignoring everything else. We do that so many times. We so focus our conscious intention and expectation on something, and we forget that there may be other things going on too, beyond our ego's awareness. Maybe the universe is actually doing something different than what our small human mind is conceiving at the moment. So as I meditated on it, okay, well what else happened because I came back a day early?

I realize there were two things. One was very important and one was not as important to me. The not so important one was that the water pipe broke in my family's house and if I had not come back a day early, it would have flooded the entire house. So it was good we caught it one day early, as it started trickling. But that is not so important to me. Maybe it was more important to my family. But I'm glad we got it fixed

The more important thing to me was that I realized I came back a day early, so I sat next to completely different people on the airplane, and the person I sat next to on the plane ride actually was this man who is 48 years old going through a divorce. His wife left him for another man. He is going through a midlife crisis also, and he is really dissatisfied with his whole life that he has up to that point, and he was really hungry for something spiritual, something different to make sense and meaning of the rest of his life before he dies. And he was also very heartbroken and grieving. So I got an opportunity to speak with him, and he was so excited to talk with me and to learn more about meditation and mindfulness, and he wanted to get different websites and book recommendations. He was just so ready to hear the Dharma.

Not only that. There is also a psychotherapist sitting next to us, so he was surrounded by a Buddhist minister and a psychotherapist. He was not going to get away. The universe had it all planned out. The last words I spoke with him before he left the plane were, "Just remember, the universe is looking out for you, even though you may feel separated right now. The fact that you had these two people around you to share with you means a lot, so don't take these little signs from the universe for granted." Not only he, but all of us are being taken care of, and it may not always look like we're being taken care of every single moment in time, but if we can see the bigger picture, we are being taken care of.

From time to time there are little critters that crawl around the room. Recently I saw a few geckos. We've had crickets. We've had cockroaches. We've got other little insects, but I made a vow that we would protect the lives of any creatures in the building, so sometimes we just grab them lightly and carefully, and the thing is, it's just frantic, thinking oh my gosh, a monster. You know? I'm going to be killed. I don't know what it was thinking, but it's frightened. It seems it is frightened. But that's its perception. But in reality what is happening is someone who is compassionate is trying to save his life and put it someplace else so it will not be stomped on accidentally in this building. We put it outside, where it hopefully will be safer.

So, when you think about it, sometimes things happen that we do not understand why they happen. All kinds of crazy things happen in our lives, and from our perspective, it may seem like the universe is out to get us. You know, "Oh, I have had such bad karma. I must've done something really bad." We blame ourselves. We go into this negative thinking. But in reality, perhaps it is just the universe trying to help us, to help us grow, to help us to learn the lessons that we came to learn. And not all of our lessons are about bliss and joy and pleasure. Many of our lessons are about patience or getting through our anger and our sadness, learning how to be compassionate by going through something ourselves.

We have many, many lessons, and are most important lessons are wisdom and compassion, which are the ingredients of the Buddha, of an enlightened being. You don't get wisdom and compassion if you're always just in bliss and only living in pleasure, you know? It is like a pearl. You know, when a little sand irritant comes into the oyster, it immediately responds with creating this substance that eventually over time creates a pearl, which is a very precious thing in nature.

So the pearl of wisdom and compassion, the pearl of our Buddhahood does not come from pleasure only or bliss only. It comes from a combination of joy and happiness as well as becoming strengthened through trials and difficulties and mindfully maneuvering our way through life and learning how to respond in more skillful ways. But we cannot develop the pearl of wisdom, compassion, and skillfulness without going through life as it is with all of its ups and downs and all of its joys and sorrows and all of its certainties and uncertainties.

So now I come to the teaching part of the evening. So, mindfulness, concentration, and insight. These three qualities, these three substances that create the pearl are not linear. They are inter-influential on each other. So mindfulness leads to concentration. Concentration leads to mindfulness. Concentration leads to insight. Insight can lead to more concentration. Insight can lead to mindfulness. Mindfulness can lead to more insight. And so on. So they are all interrelated and supportive of each other.

Now, what is the difference between mindfulness, concentration, and insight? Well, mindfulness is simply awareness. And concentration is focus. And they actually help each other. One might illustrate mindfulness as that mindfulness is being fully, deeply present and aware, like space, very spacious. It is a very spacious quality, and so the awareness--here is your center of awareness, and you are just equally allowing your awareness to just accept everything, just to be aware of everything without judging or without favoring. So mindfulness has the quality of equanimity and non-judgment and is full of substance.

So if you are practicing and suddenly you hear someone cough, and then you start reacting to the cough, like I do not like that cough, that is no longer pure mindfulness, okay? Because it is no longer just accepting it equally with the silence, right? And so, obviously it's hard for us to develop that. That is such an intensive kind of mindfulness at first. So, you know you have a small mindfulness that at least can be present, just aware. I'm aware that I'm really not liking that cough, or I'm aware that I'm really having an itch, or whatever. You may be slightly judging, but that is okay. We have to start somewhere.

But eventually your mindfulness will be so strong that it's just nonjudgmental accepting awareness, just being present with everything that arises in our consciousness, through our sense doors, whatever we smell, whatever we see, whatever we touch, whatever we taste. It is just present, and we are just with it. We are just open to it, not labeling it, judging it, reacting to it, or craving it. It is neither craving nor aversion. It is just being with, being with. And this is a really important quality to cultivate in our practice because we are so uncentered in our life because we are constantly being pushed and pulled by our reactivity. Some mindfulness helps us to just stop, be present, let go, and just accept and be. And this is a very important quality to cultivate.

Now, concentration is also very wonderful energy, but to illustrate it, it is more like you're bringing all of your awareness and your attention onto one focus, rather than having complete spacious awareness. Now you're just taking your focus deeply into one focus point. Maybe it is just this step as you are stepping, just this breath as you are breathing, just the sound of this mantra as you are chanting. Or if you are doing the listening meditation with someone, just listening to that person, not thinking about what you're going to say or how you will respond. Just listen.

So that is the concentration energy. And when concentration is fully developed, it can help you to have a powerful experience of complete oneness, and our oneness can lead to a very, very powerful state of bliss, which we call samadhi, if you have very, very powerful full concentration. And the Buddha taught that concentration is a good thing to cultivate, but it is not the supreme goal of the path to experience just bliss, even though samadhi can lead to states of bliss. That's not really the goal. That's not really the point of our practice.

It's a good thing to develop concentration because we need that concentrated energy. The reason we develop concentrated energy is not because we are always in bliss all the time, but because we use that concentration energy to create wisdom, insight, and understanding, and that understanding is what will help us let go of the things that we cause ourselves, like suffering and other people suffering. We can start letting go of that and start transforming it because now we understand what's really going on that we can now go about doing something constructive, whereas before we did not quite understand what was actually happening, so it was difficult for us to know what to actually do to change things.

So my goal is by developing that spacious awareness, it just makes it easier for you to then take that equanimity and focus and concentration, but also, by having concentration and energy, it can allow you to then have that mindfulness because you see by having the concentration energy, you are able to really fully and deeply be present and stable and then as you are doing your mindfulness practice, it is coming from the stable center. Whereas if you didn't have that stable center, your mindfulness kind of wavers. It is kind of wobbly mindfulness. It's like yeah, I'm aware of everything, but I do have a slight--I'm pulled by that. That's interesting. That's interesting. We get pulled off center. But if we have strong concentration, we can keep the mindfulness steady, even, and equanimous.

So the Buddha was one of the first spiritual teachers in history to teach the dual use of concentration and mindfulness together to break through into insight, into wisdom, and understanding. This is called prajna. This is not just any kind of understanding or insight. It is the deepest kind of insight or understanding into the nature of reality, the nature of our self or nonself, into the nature of suffering, into the nature of permanence, into the nature of nirvana, into the nature of everyone. So these kinds of insights, as we begin to open up to them through the combined practice of concentration and mindfulness, will help us to eventually fully awaken to full enlightenment.

Now, how do you practice mindfulness and concentration? Well, mindfulness and concentration do not have to be only cultivated in formal sitting meditation. But, the formal practice of sitting and walking meditation and other meditation practices are almost indispensable toward the cultivation of the practice for deepest insight. So even though it's not the only way to cultivate mindfulness and concentration, I think we do ourselves a disservice if we ignore the practice of formal sitting and walking meditation and other mindful meditation practices, because those are just so very, very helpful, and they are still available, and there are so many teachers now than before in history. I mean, we have so much more at our disposal now then ever in history, in human history.

This is the most unique time in history, when there are so many people who have access to the practices and teachings. Now, whether they accept it or not is another question, but they have the ability before them. Every time they log onto the computer and access Google it is available to them. If they only knew it was available to them. But it is available. We have everything available to us necessary.

So do not deprive yourself. I know I'm preaching to the choir right now, but maybe when you share with friends who do not practice meditation yet, maybe eventually you might share this. It is a resource that is so invaluable. Why ignore this resource? You know? But, it is not just in the formal times that we cultivate mindfulness and concentration. In fact, the Buddha offered many practices to help all kinds of people practice mindfulness and concentration in various settings. In fact, he recommended they you practice these before you try to do any of the deeper kinds of meditation practices to help prepare you.

Of course, we do not have time for that in this 21st century. I think we need to do both. We need to do the preparatory and the deeper stuff at the same time because we just are so inundated by things from the world that we need to counteract all of it as much as possible so we can do it simultaneously. So I'm not one of those people who says, first spend a few years studying Buddhist teachings and practice generosity and loving-kindness before you meditate. You know, after 10 years of service, then you can meditate maybe. I don't believe in that. I think that meditation can help anyone at any stage of life. You might have to adjust the kind of meditation you do depending on what stage you're at in the practice. So maybe not everyone can do the half lotus posture sitting for 25 minutes, but maybe you can do walking. Maybe you can do sitting on a chair for 5 minutes. So you just adjust for yourself and where you're at.

You know, mindfulness, since it is just simply awareness, you can bring that awareness right now in this moment, in every moment. Just bring awareness. One of my teachers, one of her practices at the beginning of her practice was she chose one or two items in her daily experience to be her bells of mindfulness. So a bell of mindfulness--(rings bell). A bell of mindfulness is a reminder to stop and breathe and be present and to relax and enjoy this breath, this moment here and now. But it does not have to be just a literal bell of mindfulness. You can have other bells of mindfulness.

Anyway, my one teacher, she chose doorknobs to be her bell of mindfulness, so every time she touched a doorknob to turn the doorknob, that was a reminder for her to just be completely present and aware and open the door with great loving kindness and mindfulness. So every doorknob she would encounter throughout the day would be her bell of mindfulness to remind her of this. In this moment, let's bring our full awareness and full concentration and full presence here and now.

So if we can do that in the little moments of the day, it makes it easier to grow those moments, to make them longer, so that the moments of mindfulness are more spacious and they occur more frequently and closer together until someday we create a string of pearls of mindfulness that are constant, and on that day, you are called a full-time Buddha. Right now we're kind of half-time, part-time Buddhas. We're fully mindful a little throughout the day. That's fine. That is just where were at. But that is very helpful, to just bring our full attention and awareness in the here, in the now. Start off with a certain moment, and then start growing those moments, right?

So take something simple. Maybe every time you put your palms together and bow, let that be a bell of mindfulness for yourself and for the other. Every time you stop at a red light, let that be a moment of practice. So that's just some simple ways of cultivating mindfulness, and you can let your mindfulness just permeate your whole daily life, your walking, your driving, your eating, your drinking, your hugging, and the way you wake up and the way you go to sleep and the way you schedule your day and the priorities that you set, and the way that you communicate with others. It is all an opportunity for the practice of mindfulness.

So I'd like to ask Michael for a two to three minute sharing of anything that he learned from his experience at Plum Village this summer that helped him with his practice of mindfulness. Just anything you want to share for two to three minutes, if you like.

Michael: When I think about establishing mindfulness, I think about having tea with one of the brothers at Plum Village, and it was myself and another American and a guy from Holland, and we sat with this brother to have tea. This is a special kind of tea that the night before, we put the green tea in the lotus flower that was coming up from the pond, and the lotus flower closes at night and with the dew, the fragrant incense enters the tea, and this particular brother put a rubber band around the lotus for 2 or 3 days so it was very strong.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about the 16 ways of breathing, and you can find these dharma talks on the Internet. We can apply these 16 ways of breathing to any activity and, in brief, as we were having tea, the monk mentioned this. When we have tea, there are three points of contact. There is the breath and the body and the tea. So we become aware of breathing in, I'm aware of my in breath. Breathing out, I'm aware of my out breath. Breathing in, I'm aware that there is a body here and then breathing in, I am tasting the tea. The monk shared that we do not have to question the taste of the tea or what kind of tea it is. We just enjoy the tea. He said, "Remember. When we drink tea, we know we are drinking tea." That is at least what comes to mind on establishing mindfulness.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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