In true or perfect meditation, like I mentioned earlier, you let go of thinking mind—not that thoughts cease, not that thoughts don't keep happening, but we let go of the attachment to it. Do you see the difference?
I could have a beautiful car, and I can let go of that car in two different ways. One is to just let it go by letting someone take away and then never seeing it ever again. A second way to let go of that car is to still have that car, still drive the car, but now there is no attachment to the car, and I have let go of the car even though I am driving in the car. This second meaning is the actual deeper meaning of the Buddha's teachings.
The Buddha is not saying that you have to let go in the sense of getting rid of everything, although maybe it might be good to get rid of some of the things that we have in our life, but that is not the primary meaning. The primary fundamental meaning is even in the midst of your relationships, your having a house, having a car, having a job, having a partner or lover or spouse to let go. Maybe still having it, but to let go while having it--this nonattachment is very important.
So, in perfect meditation, we let go of attachment to thinking mind even though we still have thinking mind. We let go of that attachment, and we are simply resting in being the infinite mind of vast spacious beingness. Now, for most of us, that kind of meditation and practice seems very difficult because we have never done it before, and it takes some time and some practice to get to a place where we really can let go that much and practice a kind of meditation. In Zen, we call that [shi-kan-ta-za], which means just sitting, just being, just present, just here and now—no other method than just being right here and now.
However, the Buddha knew that most of us cannot just suddenly do that kind of meditation practice, so we have all of these wonderful preliminary meditations that we can practice to prepare our hearts and our minds and our bodies and our whole being—to prepare us for that more true and deep and perfect kind of meditation.
So, because there are so many beginners in the room, and because I have a friend here who really prefers the way of prayer for meditation, I decided let's do a prayerful kind of meditation which the Buddha taught called metta, loving kindness. I guided it in a more prayerful kind of way.
Now for me, whether you want to practice meditation with a prayerful understanding of the presence of God or whether you want to practice meditation from a more scientific point of view of just technique and step-by-step processes, it doesn't matter to me as long as you meditate and as long as you continue to mature and evolve and become all that you are meant to be. That is what matters to me. So if you want to do it in a prayerful way or a more process kind of way, fine with me.
You see, you may call ultimate reality God, and that is fine with me. It is fine with me because I know that this ultimate reality's real name is not God, because God is just an English human word of symbolic representation. The ultimate reality is beyond all symbolic representations. So, I am fine with people calling it God or calling it Buddha nature or calling it universal spirit or whatever, source of all life.
The problem is not what you are calling it. The problem is that we sometimes use the excuse of labeling it, thinking now we understand that and we seem to put all of our ideas on it as an excuse not to investigate the reality of it, you see?
Have you ever done that? I remember one friend of mine was telling me about going into the forest and seeing all these different wonderful flowers, and I was walking and just enjoying. I did not know the names of these flowers, but I was just enjoying them. Wow, this kind of leaves and that kind of petal and that color and those kind of leaves and the little bristles and furry parts of the flower.
I was fascinated with the diversity and variety and beauty there, but my friend was like, "That is a sinilica camina," or whatever. "Oh, that is just a da, da, da, da." My friend wasn't really with the flower because my friend labeled it and was content with the label and no longer was able to go beyond the label to the actual reality in front of him with this beautiful manifestation of the universe or the divine in the form of a flower, in the form of whatever this is. I don't even want to say flower, because just by saying flower I am defining and categorizing and limiting it, but actually it is more than that.
Thich Nhat Hanh says if you really look deeply into anything in the universe like a flower, not only will you see a flower, but you will see the sun, and the rain, and the minerals, and the air, and all the universe that makes this flower possible. You see?
And the same way, when we practice this with our relationships with other humans, instead of saying, "Oh, black people. Oh, gay people. Women. Men. It is. Jews," whatever—when we do that, we stopped relating to the reality of it because we have now used the name or the symbolic representation to now be what we are relating to no longer relating to the actual reality of it, and that makes it more easy to discriminate and to be prejudiced and to shun and exclude. But when we practice opening to the reality and the deep reality of the thing or a person or place or an experience, it goes way beyond our labels, and now we can really engage it with our whole heart.
This is really what meditation is about. For me, whether you want to connect with the ultimate reality that you might call God or whether you want to connect with a Buddha—by the way, all of us are potential Buddhas, and anyone who is already a Buddha in the universe, basically it boils down to this. They no longer believe in the illusion of separation. They have fully realized and embodied their oneness with the ultimate source.
So because of that, when you meet a Buddha, it is exactly the same as meeting God or the ultimate reality because a Buddha no longer sees or experiences or makes any separation between him- or herself and ultimate reality. That is why have today is a perfect channel of God or a perfect channel of divine universal reality, whatever you want to call it. The Buddha is someone who is a perfect channel of Buddha nature, and that is why it is okay to pray to a Buddha, because in effect, you are praying to God, because of Buddha is a perfect channel of God, if you want to use the word God.
Now anyone who is a traditional Buddhist in the room, please stop cringing. I know Buddhists don't use those kinds of words, but for the sake of those who are from a background where the word God is meaningful, I am using that language.
And so, you know, in Christianity, for example, perhaps Jesus was a Buddha, and that is why he was able to say, "He or she who has seen me has seen the Father," or the divine parent, because when a person no longer believes in separation, no longer embodies separation, that is complete at-one-ment, atonement, at-one-ment with their source, then to see them is to see the source. They are the source in manifestation now, because they are a pure channel of that. Maybe Jesus was the Buddha. Definitely Siddhartha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha, was a Buddha, and all of us are potential Buddhas.
When Jesus said something about being the only begotten son of God, that is just poetic language. It does not means that Jesus is the only son of God excluding everyone else being a son of God or a daughter of God. That is not really what it means. What it means is he knew his true reality in such a way knowing that the ultimate source considers every single being in the universe as if they are the only beloved child. And that is how the Buddha loves us. That is how the divine loves us, as if each and every being in the universe were the only being in existence, and that is the meaning of "only begotten son of God." It means that Jesus realized that is how much she is loved, as if he is the only child to exist. That is how much he knew love.
And when we awaken to that same reality that Jesus awoke to and that the Buddha awoke to and not all enlightened teachers have awakened to, then we will know the same reality is a feeling as if all the Buddhas, the ultimate source of reality and all of its various forms, loves me as if I am the only child in this universe. That is enlightenment.
That is why I always think it is so silly, these arguments between Christians and Buddhists and others like, "No. No. You should only pray to God." "No. We can pray to the Buddhas also." There is no difference, no difference. Because in you simply are praying to the source for the embodiment of infinite light, infinite love, infinite life. And that is what the word amitabha means, but amitabha it is also just a word, just like the word God is also just a word.
So we must go beyond the words, but you can still use the word as long as you are not attached to the words, you see? I love the word amitabha and I love the word Buddha, but I can use it because I am not attached to the word amitabha. I'm not attached to the word Buddha, and you can use the word God as long as you are not attached to your narrow, small definition, conception of God. You can still use it, just like you can drive the car but still not be attached to the car.
It is when we are attached to our words and our definitions and our concepts and our notions that religious wars occur, denominational splits occur. I am not saying that we should not use thoughts and words and language and symbols. We have to as human beings. That is the way we talk, but we do it without attachments, without dogmatism, without fundamentalism, without rigidity. We talk with an openness of wanting to meet each other heart-to-heart, because after all, we are all just baby Buddhas growing up, maturing into fully enlightened Buddhas. That is the Buddhist way of saying it. You can say is been the Jewish or Muslim or Christian way, that we are all children of the divine growing up to be fully mature children of the divine.
I have gone off topic tonight. Thank you for listening, and maybe that is what some people in the room needed to hear. So I guess I will start on the teachings on the Four Noble Truths, if you want to still hear some of that.
So, the Buddha taught four Noble Truths. The first is the truth of suffering. The second is that there is a cause of suffering, that it is not just some random accident that we are suffering and not some imposition of some angry, judgmental Zeus god figure that is zapping us just because he is having a bad day. There are actual causes of suffering that we can do something about and that there is the possibility of the cessation of the causes of suffering and therefore suffering. And, there is a path to the cessation of the causes of suffering, which means an end to suffering.
This is Buddha's teachings on life. It all boils down to this for him. There are an infinite number of other teachings, but basically all of those other teachings still boil down to this. The Buddha's bottom line was transformation of suffering. Jesus' bottom line was forgiveness, healing, and love. Other teacher's bottom lines may have been other things, but what is your bottom line is the real question.
So the Buddha's bottom line is the transformation of suffering. I am only going to teach you the basic understanding of this tonight. I do not have time to go into the deeper Zen way of looking at this. Maybe I can do that next week, but there are deeper ways of looking at this. I am just going to give you the simple way of looking at this, just at face value.
Here is this thing that we do not want, suffering, right? How do we obtain the cessation of suffering? First we have to understand the causes, and then we need to walk the path. It is not enough to just want the cessation of suffering. All beings want the cessation of suffering, but you're not going to get the cessation of suffering just by wanting it only. There has to be an understanding of the causes so that you can stop creating the causes, and you need to start walking a path toward happiness and the cessation of suffering. We need to understand the causes and the path. This is very, very important.
The Buddha once talked to a whole bunch of religious people in India during his time, and they were talking about how they enjoy these religious practices of praying to the gods to help them, doing rituals, chants, sacrifices—animal sacrifices sometimes—to appease the gods and ask for their favor or even sacrificing themselves into the holy river of the Ganges. There is nothing wrong with rituals and prayers and chants and bathing in the river, but the Buddha was questioning their understanding of what they were doing and the attitude in which they were doing it.
This is what the Buddha said: If you are on one side of the river where there is a lot of sadness in poverty and disease and filth and on the other side of the river, the other shore, there is golden sand and beautiful flowers and beautiful people having a good time over there, what do you do? Do you say, "Other shore, I pray to you. I beseech you. Please help me. Please come to me"? That would be very foolish.
The Buddha said it would be wiser to go about creating a process by which you can build a raft and go across the river to the other shore. That is a much wiser way of practice than just begging external deities to help you or relying on rituals that may or may not really do anything. The important thing is to use your own true wisdom that the divine is already instilled within you and use that wisdom and create the raft to go to the other shore of happiness, away from suffering.
I learned this lesson when I was 5 years old. I was being bullied by the second graders when I was in kindergarten. Every afternoon during recess time, I would try to climb up the ladder to the slide to slide down, and they would pull me down before I could get to the slide every single time. One day I asked my mom what I should do. She was gardening, so she wasn't really paying much attention to me, so she said, "Just ask God."
She might not have thought what a profound impact she made on me. I took her seriously. Maybe she was being flippant, but I took her seriously. So I did. I prayed, "Dear God, please show me. Please help me. Make these bullies stop bullying me." So I listened for an answer—nothing. Okay. I don't know. Maybe God is busy doing something else. I don't know. Maybe He is thinking about the answer.
So the next day, I went to school, and it is recess time again, and here come the bullies, and so I try to climb the ladder, and they taught me and pulled me down, and I could not do it. So went to another part of the playground, and I was like, what am I going to do? I prayed one more time. All of a sudden, instead of hearing God tell me what to do or instead of God zapping the bullies with lightning or something else, instead I had an inner wisdom bubble up from within my spirit. You can say it is from God, but for me, it was an experience of, well, it is already within me, because that is what God created me with, so why not take advantage of the inner wisdom that is deep within my own being?
That is what happened. This bubble of thought arose in my 5-year-old mind, and it said, "Run to the slide. Climb as fast as you can. Wait at the top until they all catch up, and then slide down." So that is what I did. I ran, waited for them. When I almost caught me, I slowed down, and I went, "Wahoo!" And they laughed and laughed and laughed, and they did the same thing. They slid down all crazy, and then we had so much fun going up and down, up and down the ladder and the slide. They forgot that they were bullies. They were just children like me, having fun, and they forgot their attachment to the identity or label of bully.
And so, as a 5-year-old child, I realized very early on that God does not answer prayer simply by external kinds of things, like zapping someone with a lightning but you want to be zapped. Rather, the way God answers prayer is by the wisdom that has already been built in within you. There is a deep Buddha wisdom already within you.
So instead of begging externally for answers, go for the answers that are already within your system. Go for the deep inner Buddha wisdom already within you, and allow that to come forth, because the answers are there already. You do not have to beg for them. They are built-in. You were created with this.
The Christians and Jews would say, "You are created in the image of God." The Buddhists would say, "You are a manifestation of Buddha nature already, so you have that inner wisdom already." So, look to that within and let that come forth. This is the true way of prayer and finding the answers to prayer, not constantly begging. Prayer is not about begging. Prayer is about going within, and you can do that with true prayer or through meditation or just by being like a 5-year-old child, openhearted. That is why I think Jesus and others said, "If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, then become like a little child."
In fact, when we meditate, it is a way of becoming that child once more because we are letting go of all the encrustation of all of the crazy ideas and beliefs that we have built around our heart as adults. We come back to the original essence and the original innocence of our true Buddha nature, our true childlike nature that is originally built within us at birth, or as Buddhists say, before birth.
Tonight I am just going to briefly talk about the causes and the path, but I am going to go into some more detail next week. What are the causes of suffering? Attachment is usually mentioned as the primary cause of suffering. However, attachment there's really only one of three in the list, and sometimes you can say one thing of a list to mean the whole list, you know? I am trying to think of an example, like when you say one part of something that you really mean the whole thing, you know? I can't think of one right now.
Female: The White House.
ChiSing: The White House. But what you really mean is the president and the whole government. You are just using one thing to mean the whole thing. So, attachment is usually used to mean the three basic delusions or poisons within our mind. I usually label them as craving, aversion--and you can think of it as delusion or ignorance. Tashi always says indifference, which is a very interesting translation.
We tend to cause ourselves suffering because we crave things for things and we become attached to things, rather than appreciating things as they are without attachment. We quickly attach when we appreciate or when we want, but the secret to happiness is to have things without attaching to them.
We also do that equal thing of aversion, meaning that we resist things. Instead of meeting whatever is happening in the moment with an open heart and as an opportunity to learn something or should be of help or service, we cringe from that and we want to push it away, and this action of pushing away also causes us suffering. You can say that craving and aversion are twins of each other. They are just two sides of the same kind of reality, of attachment. One is attachment to pleasure and the other is attachment to non-suffering or non-unpleasantness. So you are attached to one not unpleasantness.
To me, the real, true causes of suffering is delusion and ignorance of reality, because that is the basis for which we create craving and aversion in my opinion. Other teachers would say a version is the number one cause. Others would say craving is the number one cause. I am of the camp that delusion is the number one cause. But they are all such primary causes that all three really are causes, but I say delusion because based on our ignorance of the way reality is, we then pray for things and we resist things when in fact our true happiness is letting go if the craving, letting go of the resistance, and just being present.
I will just talk about what we are deluded about, just mention it, and I will go into more detail next week. We are deluded about four things primarily that cause great suffering. One is we are deluded about impermanence. We are deluded about nonself or the self. We are deluded about all of that. We are deluded about the nature of suffering, and we are deluded about the reality of nirvana.
I think tonight I only have time to talk about the first two and maybe just the first one. Let me see how much time I have. Because there is this internal belief that certain things should be permanent, then instead of being with reality, which is all about change and evolution and impermanence, we then start creating suffering for ourselves because we are resisting the way reality actually is. Instead of flowing in harmony with reality, we are resisting it because of this belief. It may be an unconscious belief. Not all beliefs are conscious. Many beliefs are unconscious.
For example, what is the reality? I am growing older. My hairline is receding. I have more gray hairs this year than ever before. You cannot see them yet, but I can. I have more wrinkles now than I did 10 years ago. A friend of mine posted a Facebook picture of me when I first met him 10 years ago. I was like, wow, how cute I was. Now I'm like, oh, gosh.
Female: Because you smile so much.
ChiSing: But the reality is as long as I am expressing in the human body in the physical universe, this is going to get older. This is going to have wrinkles. This is going to have gray hair, loss of hair. My youthful beauty is not permanent. And so that is reality, and not just for me, but billions of other people on the planet and millions of people who has lived on earth for centuries, millennia. And here I am thinking, oh my gosh! You know? As if it has never happened before. This is delusion, and it causes us suffering.
Now, I may know that of course everything is impermanent, but I may have an emotional attachment to permanence. You see? I may intellectually know that of course everything is impermanent, but I may have certain emotional attachments to permanence, like my body being alive forever because I have this fear of what is going to happen when I die.
But when you observe reality, you have to realize you are going to die. There are no exceptions, except in some religions there are, but for most of us, no exceptions. Everyone will die. Everyone gets older. Everyone ages. Everyone gets sick at some point, and everyone dies. This is just reality of the physical world.
But if we have an attachment to the opposite, we create suffering. For example, I may believe intellectually in impermanence, but then when I lose something in my life, I have so much suffering over it. Now I intellectually know that my mother and my father will not always be alive in the human, physical form but they are in, but I am not emotionally ready for that reality because I still bump into that inner attachment to them being alive forever. But I know that is not reality.
I am still working with that. I'm still meditating with that. If I had a loved one die on me, there is the normal response of grief that everyone has as a human being. If you didn't have it, I think there is some problem. There is always a normal, human grief, and it lasts for a few minutes, hours, days, maybe weeks, but if it lasts for months and years and decades that is a clue to you that there is something not quite right in your mind, because normal human grief does not last that long. It happens. You express it. You release it. You cry, and then you move on. If you are not able to move on, that means that you are creating your own suffering because you have an internal, unconscious emotional attachment to permanence, to unreality.
So, you see, painful things happen. The Buddha did not come to remove our pain. The Buddha came to teach us how to transform our suffering. There is a difference. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. So pain would be like me walking over here and ow, stubbing my toe. Oh, that is pain. It is unpleasant. It is a sensation. It is like throbbing and burning or whatever. That is just pain, and pain just happens.
But the problem is not with pain. The problem is now my human mind not only senses the pain. Is it now creates a story around the pain. Oh my gosh, I just stubbed my toe, but the hospital is closed today, so I'm going to have to wait till tomorrow, and by the time I get there, it will have gangrene and we're going up to amputate my leg, and then I am going to be a one-footed person the rest of my life. Nobody is going to want to be my partner or spouse. I'm going to die an old, old man all alone on my deathbed.
That is suffering. Pain, suffering. Can you see the difference? And the Buddha did not come to remove our pain, but rather to help us to stop creating the suffering around our pain and pleasure in life. So, we need to actually practice mindfulness and meditation in order to really root out every single aspect of this attachment to unreality, because until they get all rooted out—like, have you ever weeded the garden? If you do not get to the root of the weed, it will grow back again in a few weeks. So you do not just take off the leaves. A good gardener goes deep into the soil to take all of the different roots of that weed to remove it.
This is what we do and mindfulness and meditation, which is why it is a practice, like gardening is a practice. We can't just say, "Oh God, please make my garden grow."Something is going to grow, but it may not be pretty. No. A true gardener knows that God has given us the gift of gardening, and we do the work of God through practice.
So true prayer is not just about begging God. True prayer is taking the tools God has already given us and working with our mind, meditating, practicing mindfulness comment using the processes that we've learned from our spiritual teachers to uproot all that delusion, all the craving, and all the aversion that causes so much suffering in life. That is true prayer. That is true religion—not begging God, but taking what God has given you and applying it in practical spiritual practice. That is true religion. That's true prayer, and that is true wisdom.